BERLIN -- FunPlus Phoenix's champions for their first League of Legends World Championship group stage match were locked in. The draft order was Kai'Sa, Galio, Elise, Sion and Mordekaiser.
It was a draft that no other team would have. Remove the nameplates, and anyone who had watched FPX throughout the League of Legends Pro League season would know exactly which team was playing. As China's first seed, FPX entered the world championship with high expectations. Their group, Group B, was (and still is) seen as an easy path to quarterfinals.
Thirty-seven minutes later, FPX lost to the League of Legends Master Series' top seeded J Team.
Community reaction was immediate. Connections were drawn between top-seeded 2015 LGD Gaming -- a specious comparison at best -- and FPX were spammed with criticism on various social media platforms. After one game, FPX went from a favored first seed to "chokers" who may not even make it out of groups.
This assumes that FPX played differently against J Team than they did all year in a remarkable regular-season run where they lost only four games all summer.
To reiterate, had the nameplates been removed during draft, even prior to swapping champions to their assigned players and lanes, anyone who had watched FPX this year would have immediately identified the team. Similarly, anyone who watched the LPL this year is not shocked at the loss to J Team, although they are likely disappointed that FPX looked so flat and relied on such a one-dimensional draft.
There's a lot to unpack in the community reaction to this single-game FPX loss, including the perception of the LPL by the West, FPX mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang's true role on his teams and how FPX play.
FunPlus are unequaled in their playstyle, and that in and of itself makes them a formidable opponent. It's not an approach that most teams would want to attempt, never mind succeed with, and it all begins with Doinb.
Doinb's primary role on the team is not as a mid laner but as a pseudo support jungler. He plays off-meta, tanky melee champions, or builds tankier-than-usual on the mages he does lock in. His goal is to shoves his wave and then roam as often as possible. Doinb is constantly in FPX's side lanes, helping his teammates get ahead while giving up resources in the mid lane to do so.
The other two stars of FPX are not their carries, top laner Kim "Gimgoon" Han-saem and bot laner Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang, but jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang and support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song. Tian and Crisp are somewhat unsung heroes because when they do their jobs, it's Gimgoon, Lwx and Doinb who end up looking like heroes. FunPlus as a team works well together within this specific style.
Within these parameters, in an odd way, there is no knocking FPX off-course in drafting. Ban out the champions you think that they want, and they'll lock in other champions and play the exact same way. There is no doubt that FunPlus drafted exactly what they wanted against J Team, but it also wasn't what would commonly considered to be a strong draft. It had specific weaknesses that could be, and were, countered in game.
FPX ran into similar issues in their first game against Bilibili Gaming in China's summer playoffs, and FunPlus have previously stubbornly stuck to these types of compositions and shown little to no adaptation going into a new patch or meta. That approach was FPX's demise in spring and was almost a problem in both their semifinals series against Bilibili and the final against Royal Never Give Up. Still, FunPlus Phoenix qualified as China's top seed.
Adding to the perception of FPX as chokers is the general perception of LPL teams, particularly in the Western League of Legends community. The failure of LGD Gaming, EDward Gaming, and Invictus Gaming at the 2015 world championship still looms over all other LPL teams, despite the fact that Invictus Gaming won the title last year and RNG won every other available international accolade in 2018.
FunPlus feature a fun group of players who are remarkably strong when playing their distinct style, but that gameplan is counterable, and the team lacks flexibility outside of it. This has been the case for FPX throughout 2019, even in their most recent playoff series.
Their loss to J Team wasn't choking, and it certainly wasn't at odds with anything seen from FPX all year. Similarly, if they still make it out of groups, especially as the first seed, that too would be just like FPX.