What you need to know about China's summer 'League of Legends' season
China’s premier League of Legends series launches this weekend in front of what should be a capacity crowd of 1,000 at Shanghai's Expo Arena.
The region is well known for strong bottom lanes, a deep talent pool, and undeveloped strategy. Yet this Summer Split proves to be an opportunity for the way the Chinese play League of Legends to shift dramatically. Korea has been dominating Chinese teams in the last set of international tournaments, largely down to a superior grasp of strategy.
Now, Korean coaches are flocking to the Chinese scene to help develop its raw talent and impart a deeper understanding of the game. In addition, upcoming item changes promise to make AD carries stronger than they’ve been since season two when bottom lanes ruled the Rift.
The 2014 Summer LoL Pro League is the most exciting time to get into Chinese League of Legends. To get you off to a good start, we’re giving you a look at the eight teams competing in the LPL this Summer, how they like to play the game, and any changes and expectations we have for them. Tread lightly, as the possibility for an upset lurks around every corner.
Edward Gaming made a name for themselves in their first LPL split by taking home the title, but it wasn’t an easy feat.
They learned to stall games while they perfected their synergy, controlling the Baron area and buying more Oracle’s Lenses than any other team in the league. They learned to master vision denial and punish opponents who found themselves out of position, a skill they carried into their early game in the playoffs. They also became the first team to isolate OMG’s weakness after they dominated the season with a record of 25-3. Edward Gaming put the counter-strategy on display for the world to see, and both SKT Telecom T1 K and Invictus Gaming have abused it since.
Edward Gaming still has more to show us. Their mid laner, Ceng “U” Long, has admitted that he doesn’t even like to play Ziggs, the champion Edward Gaming relied upon so heavily to extend their games, and instead prefers to play Zed or Nidalee.
Edward Gaming's new handle on the early game could open up a wide array of strategies that showcase Ceng's versatility. Tong “Koro” Yang has begun to hold his own in laning phase, freeing up the map for Ming “Clearlove” Kai to make more plays. We’ve even seen Zhu “NaMei” Jia-Wen fall back on his old habits and roam with Twitch.
We’re hoping Edward Gaming can begin to innovate now that they’ve picked up some vision denial techniques and perfected their synergy. If they can learn to ward as well as they’ve learned to cut out vision, Edward Gaming will find their way to the Season Four World Championships in Seoul.
Invictus Gaming’s last season was anything but predictable. At times, they looked like both the best and the worst team in the league.
The team’s jungler, Chen “IlluSion” Xin-Lin, has an aggressive style that focuses on snowballing his laners early. If he cannot find the right opportunities for ambush, the team often lags behind. Yet every member of Invictus Gaming is known for versatility, and the team played a larger number of unique champions than any other team in LPL Spring. Using this to their advantage, they found a way to throw off the opposition by bringing out new champions and compositions.
Invictus Gaming's strategies are liable to change considerably this season, however, as Liu “PDD” Mou, their top laner, will be replaced by YoungSu, a Korean top laner from amateur team Mook Comet. YoungSu represents an unknown element, but Liu's style was central to the way Invictus Gaming played their game.
In a region where more supportive top laners who give up farm and learn to control zones are prized, PDD was a hold-out from an era where the top lane was an island. He often prioritized damage over survivability in his builds. Without PDD, Invictus Gaming’s fast-paced, lane-crushing style might be off the table, and more opportunities will need to arise in its place, else Invictus Gaming will fall to the bottom.
OMG had a monumental Spring LPL split. Though many of their early games looked sloppy as they attempted to find ways to work with their new mid laner, Hu “xiyang” Bin, they managed to lose only three games of twenty eight the entire split.
Their assets were in Hu's ability to go one-on-one with his signature champions, Syndra and Leblanc, Gao “Gogoing” Di-Ping’s early game pressure as a roaming top laner, and Guo “san” Jun-Liang’s ability to pick off targets in narrow corridors as an AD carry.
When Edward Gaming and SK Telecom T1 K exposed Hu's small champion pool and inability to deal with jungle pressure, it became clear OMG would make changes.
Yin “Allen” Le and Ouyang “pomelo” Wei-Qi have now traded roles between jungle and support three times, as Yin will be returning to the jungle and pomelo supporting san in the bottom lane.
When Yin played jungle last, OMG’s vision control was much more on-point, as he left deep wards in enemy territory and focused on starving the opposition. With the return of Yu “Cool” Jia-Jun to the mid lane after he took the spring off for health reasons, his versatility should aid some of Allen’s wilder plays. Yet if neither player is up to form, OMG will implode rather than improve their early game.
World Elite recently announced a change to their roster that will take a hefty toll.
The rumor is that World Elite were looking for replacements for Tengyang “Ruo” Tianxia in the jungle and Chen "suk1M" Zhiyuan in the mid lane, but they were initially outbid. Just yesterday, the team announced that Tengyang and Chen will be replaced by Korean players, Actscene and Ninja. Tengyang and Chen’s departure will dent the synergy the team turned into an asset toward the end of the spring split.
Ruo evolved as an expert Pantheon player, garnering bans as he used Grand Skyfalls to herd enemies in the direction of his choosing, and his coordination with Chen aided the team again and again. World Elite had one of the more polished transitions between early and late game, though their late game shot-calling could have used improvements. How a new jungle-mid duo will alter the team’s playstyle remains to be scene. World Elite can be sure that the players will need to work out a system of communication, given the language barrier, which will likely translate to a rocky start for World Elite.
The most interesting story prior to these roster changes was World Elite's new Korean coach, Lee “Hiro” Woo-suk. Though he reportedly specializes more in emotional coaching than in strategy, the effects of his presence were clear in the LPL Spring Playoffs. Though World Elite placed fourth, they took commanding wins from both Edward Gaming and OMG with two strategies: one based around disengaging from fights, and another centered on the support roaming alongside the jungler.
These were strategies World Elite hadn’t used before and strategies they didn’t understand well, as they struggled to adjust when Edward Gaming and OMG adapted in both series. With more practice and enough time to work in their new jungler, World Elite can master their strategies and learn to cope when the opposition makes moves to shorten the laning phase. Until then, World Elite may start at a deficit once again.
In the Spring, LGD Gaming performed better when the circumstances of the game suited their style. They exploded on the scene, shooting up to third place when Riven was in vogue. The team’s top laner, Fu “Star” Yang, was an adept Riven player, sometimes taking down opponents with three levels on him.
When LGD couldn’t get their hands on Riven, they could still rely on the ban to let them have some of their other comfort picks like Lee Sin and Caitlyn. After Riven saw changes to some of her powerful abilities, LGD couldn’t pick themselves up. Zhu “Quan” Yong-Quan became the new target in the ban phase, and Qu “Styz” Zi-Liang had trouble finding protection in large fights.
Fed up with his team’s plummet from third to fifth place, Qu tried to find another team before his contract with LGD expired and instead ended up with a ban from competitive play. In response, LGD picked up two promising mid laners. Wei “We1less” Lian played mid for Vici Gaming, a team that placed third in the Challenger Chinese league, LoL Secondary Pro League (LSPL), barely missing an opportunity to join LPL. He will be starting in the mid lane for LGD, and his reputation as a selfish player constantly seeking to make flashy plays could fill a void left by Styz.
The second pickup, Killer17, is a strong solo queue mid lane player who will be starting as an AD carry. His lack of familiarity with his new role could set LGD even further behind than they were in the spring.
StarHorn Royal Club
While LGD and WE both picked up Korean coaches, SH Royal Club took one step further and acquired Korean players. Choi “InSec” In-seok, renowned Lee Sin player, has made the trip to China with Yoon “Zero” Kyung-sup. Both players hail from the KT organization. The team has played a best-of-three already in the Demacia Cup against Young Glory, and they won both games with deep early warding, a rare sight in Chinese games. InSec then abused Young Glory's lack of vision with a stealthy Rengar pick.
It was clear, however, that communication, likely due to the language barrier, was a problem, as warding deteriorated toward the mid and late game when the team needed to rely more on moving with each other to secure vision. In addition, InSec got caught out several times engaging ahead of his team, which could have been avoided with clearer flow. Regardless, if SH Royal Club continues to place wards and punish for a lack of vision, they could have a massive effect on the way Chinese teams move around the map in general.
World Elite Academy
The sister team to World Elite, World Elite Academy, is a new addition to LPL this summer.
They managed a 28-2 record in LSPL, taking first and automatically entering the LoL Pro League. The team typically relies upon lane dominance to carry them through, and their star talent includes Han “SmLz” Jin, hand-picked by WE’s Gao “WeiXiao” Xuecheng as his eventual successor in the AD carry position, and Xu “xiye” Han-Wei, who many regard as a contender for the title of best mid laner in China.
Some are wondering whether the World Elite Academy hype is overblown, however. They appeared in the International Esports Tournament, an event sponsored by the Chinese government that featured seven of the spring LPL teams, and managed to lose a game to last-place Spring LPL team Positive Energy. After narrowly advancing to the second round, Edward Gaming demolished World Elite Academy early.
At the time, Edward Gaming had a reputation for a weak laning phase, and most of World Elite Academy was highly regarded for their fast-paced one-on-one style. This raised some questions regarding whether they were truly better than World Elite.
The last match of the first weekend is a best-of-two between sister teams, and it serves to give fans something of an answer.
WE Academy looked strong in LSPL, even against second place Young Glory:
Young Glory is the second team to rise to LPL from LSPL this split. Like World Elite Academy and most LSPL teams, Young Glory relies upon a strong laning phase to get ahead. Unlike WE.A, this isn’t YG’s first foray into LPL.
They appeared in 2013 LPL Summer with a different jungler and Ke “Conan” Yi, now the support player for WE, in the bottom lane alongside Chen “ZhenLong” Junliang. Now, their once top laner, Hou “DianGun” Guo-Yu plays in the mid lane to make room for Weng “Number1” Shi-Jie and Ye “Yinfu” Can in top and jungle. This duo has a tendency to try to find kills deep behind enemy lines and never look back, and the team has discovered a balance around their style of play.
As their Demacia Cup games against SH Royal Club revealed, however, Young Glory doesn’t have a contingency plan for when they fall behind. Their warding needs considerable work, and though their players have a certain amount of skill, ZhenLong and Huang “YanSir” Li will melt against the power bottom lane duos of LPL. Young Glory has a lot of kinks to work out if they seek to prove they belong in the top eight, and they aren’t off to the best of starts.
Young Glory's first set against their sister team, Invictus Gaming, kicks off the whole of LPL Summer on June 14 at 4pm China time.