Invictus Gaming decided five years ago that they wanted to win Worlds. The team, founded by Chinese playboy Wang Si-Cong, had competed in League of Legends since the beginning, but without much success. So they went out and signed a hyped Korean teenager by the name of Song Eui-jin. As is common for pro gamers, he was better known by his in-game name: Rookie.
Rookie came to the Chinese LPL as the first in a wave of Korean imports who would later become known as the Korean Exodus. After two-straight second-place finishes to Korean teams, it seemed like China was on the cusp of winning it all. Invictus signed Rookie to push them over the edge.
This started a five-year odyssey of tragedy and heartbreak for not only IG, but all LPL teams. That journey finally ended today with Invictus Gaming’s convincing sweep of Fnatic in the 2018 World Championship finals. For the first time, the Summoner’s Cup is going to China, League’s biggest and most important region.
Five long years
If you haven’t yet caught up on Rookie’s incredible history, you really should. He was just 17 when he won a Korean championship with kt Rolster Arrows and then signed with Invictus Gaming.
Rookie actually made it to Worlds in his very first season with IG. Paired with another star Korean, jungler Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, he led IG into the group stage. Their opponent? Fnatic of the EU LCS.
Rookie and IG were smashed by Fnatic in their first game and crashed out of Worlds 2015 in last place. But they weren’t alone in failure. LGD Gaming tied IG for last place. EDG, much hyped after their MSI victory that year, were unable to get even a single game before losing to Fnatic in the quarterfinals. And thus, a dramatic fall from grace began for LPL teams.
EDG and RNG barely got out of groups in 2016, and only managed to pick up two wins between the both of them in the quarterfinals. Last year didn’t go much better. It was supposed to be the perfect setup: Worlds was being held on Chinese soil with the final in Beijing’s magnificent Bird’s Nest stadium. Both RNG and Team WE made it into the top four. The Cup was in their reach. Then they both lost to their Korean competition, setting up yet another all-LCK final.
That tortured history is what makes IG’s victory today so meaningful.
Sacrifice and triumph
To be fair to traditional LPL torchbearers like EDG and RNG, IG hardly won this championship alone. They did it on the backs of all those teams that had tried and failed before, like standing on the shoulders of giants.
In 2015, LPL teams failed to understand the intricacies of cross-map play and lane swaps. The next year, the weakness was their inability to pressure mid lane in advantageous matchups. Finally in 2017, they had the tools but not the closing instincts, the clutch gene, necessary to win it all.
One by one, LPL teams dissected those weaknesses and overcame them. The final result was this year’s Invictus Gaming. They rampaged through the LPL in both splits. But in the playoffs, they were felled by a familiar foe: RNG.
RNG had paid the price too for their past failures. In another world, it could easily be them holding the trophy. But IG learned one last thing from their failures: How to play like an LPL team. In all three playoff rounds, they played to their identity no matter the style of their competition. They beat KT, a strong laning, smash-early team in the quarterfinals. Next was G2, a macro-heavy splitpushing beast. The final test was Fnatic, a team that could play around nearly any lane and style.
Only one game in those two series lasted longer than 30 minutes. They played with the ferocity that only a Chinese team could bring to Worlds.
What it means
It’s impossible to tell how much this victory means for IG and for China. For IG, it’s the culmination of hard work that started in season one, got serious five years ago, and survived the torturous path they’ve been on. It’s no coincidence that of all those Korean pros who came to China years ago, Rookie is the only one left grinding in the starting lineup. He persevered, learned the language, and ingratiated himself to the Chinese fans. Korea is where he’s from, but China is his home now. And now he gets to bring home something nobody has before: The Summoner’s Cup.
And it’s not just him. Every single player stepped up for IG in the final. Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok was an absolute monster in the top lane. Jungler Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning and support Wang “Baolan” Liu-Yi set up Rookie with constant roams to mid lane. And in the last game, it was a local Chinese talent, mechanical prodigy Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-bo, who showed up big with pristine teamfighting. JackeyLove has been criticized all year for failing at crucial junctures, but in the biggest moment, he went 13/0/7 on Kai’Sa to win it all.
For China, this means that League’s biggest region has finally broken through on the grandest stage. The hope of RNG’s two finals losses all those years ago has finally been realized. In the first year of LPL franchising, China is finally the best. IG proved that China’s skirmish-heavy, fight-at-all-odds style can win it all.
There’s no more deserving team or region in all of League esports to have won this championship. Congratulations to IG for playing true to themselves year after year until it worked. And praise to China for finally giving us a champion.