The LPL has gone through quite a revolution this year. Traditional powerhouses like EDG and RNG are still strong, but the two conferences are being led by Invictus Gaming and Rogue Warriors, who look poised to become the next generation of strong Chinese squads.
But just below this upper tier lies a team that came out of nowhere to dominate the region. JD Gaming has a 12-3 record in the more competitive East Region, just one match behind RNG and two behind league-leading IG. They’re already guaranteed a playoff spot and are now just hunting for a first round bye.
So who are these guys and how did they get so good?
The ghosts of Qiao Gu
IG and Rogue Warriors have been on a path to the top for a while. Since joining as an expansion team last year, Rogue Warriors have had consistent success integrating foreign imports into their roster. And IG are the best example of a foreign import succeeding: star Korean mid laner Song “Rookie” Eui-jin is absolutely beloved by Chinese fans. IG has been on the brink of greatness for a while—it seemed like they were just waiting for ADC prodigy Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-bo to be age-eligible for the league.
JD Gaming took another path. They acquired one of the region’s most cursed franchises in the Qiao Gu Reapers and somehow overcame years of disappointing history to finally succeed.
Qiao Gu first arrived on the scene more than three years ago when they started playing well against the top Chinese squads—EDG in particular. They were led by the strong mid-jungle duo of Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang and Baek “Swift” Da-hoon. But years of playoff heartbreak took their toll—the team totally imploded in 2016, even forfeiting a playoff match.
After JD Gaming acquired the floundering squad in late 2017, they jettisoned Doinb, finally moving on from the gifted but doomed mid laner. The result was not good—the team plummeted to the bottom of their group.
Things didn’t really improve in the 2018 Spring Split. The best they could achieve was mediocrity, a 10-9 record. Sure they discovered some of their old magic in two upsets of RNG, but it didn’t look like they had much to build on heading into the summer.
Out of nowhere
Against all expectations, JD Gaming has been absolutely dominant this split. Their 12-3 record is buttressed by impressive victories over the likes of EDG, RNG, and Rogue Warriors.
JD Gaming plays the classic LPL of constant skirmishing around mid lane priority. As a team, JD Gaming has by far the most kills in the league. That only works if your mid laner is good though, and a year after moving on from Doinb (who’s now with Rogue Warriors), JD Gaming has found a star in Zeng “Yagao” Qi.
Yagao’s most-played champion is Zoe, and his ability to hold mid with that champ gives jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min freedom around the map. But Yagao on a carry, and he might be even scarier: he’s a combined 9-1 on the likes of Yasuo and LeBlanc.
In a key cross-conference match vs. Doinb and Rogue Warriors a few weeks ago, Yagao proved how strong he can be. Playing Zoe in both of JD Gaming’s wins, he held mid with an iron fist, extracting major concessions for each time Rogue Warriors wanted to take his turret.
Yagao’s mid control gave his team free reign over the Baron area, which eventually won them the match.
Can it last?
JD Gaming actually made it into the playoffs last split. They were thoroughly beaten by Bilibili Gaming in the first round, but nobody expected them to win.
This split is different, though. With Yagao playing well and both side lanes carrying when required, expectations have risen. If they earn a playoff bye, they will automatically make it further than they did last time. The question is how far they can take it.
The team are not without their warts. They love aggressive teamfights around mid lane, but sometimes that aggression can be turned against them. Their engages are sometimes too confident—another hallmark of the way LPL teams play.
Finally, there has to be a word of warning directed at any team looking to usurp the EDG-RNG stranglehold over the LPL. Last split, we thought IG would finally break through, but in the final, their late game fell apart against RNG.
All of the new upstarts will have to eventually prove that their stuff works in the playoffs against the hegemony of EDG and RNG. Only then can a new era in the LPL truly begin.