Fading cheers for FunPlus Phoenix traveled through the LoL Pro League audience on July 21 following FPX's loss to Invictus Gaming as the camera made one final pan across the crowd, catching a variety of neon fan signs. The most prominently featured one expressed confidence that Invictus Gaming would reach the League of Legends World Championship final. It read: "iG va à Paris" (iG goes to Paris). Two weeks after their win over FPX, iG's starting jungler and previous world championship final MVP Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning would be benched for Lu "Leyan" Jue, who had just turned 17.
FunPlus lost only one series during the LPL summer regular season: their July 21 best-of-three against iG. They lost only four games in total throughout the season. Half of them came from this series. Now, they'll face off in the League of Legends World Championship semifinals on Saturday.
A cursory glance at their draft reveals a pre-rework Pantheon was still a must-ban against FunPlus mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang alongside his signature Ryze. Not so coincidentally, both champions allow Doinb to do what he loves best: roam and play toward FPX's side lanes. This was the last time that Doinb played Nautilus in the mid lane this year. Invictus Gaming picked up the popular Varus-Tahm Kench lane that FunPlus has continued to run at the current world championship when Kai'Sa and Xayah have been picked or banned by their opponents. FunPlus made sure to ban iG top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok's Jayce and Kennen.
Come Saturday, the draft might look eerily similar. These two teams know each other well. Invictus Gaming won't give FPX the same leeway in draft and on Summoner's Rift as Fnatic did in their recent quarterfinal, but FunPlus have a more defined and cohesive playstyle than iG. It's not as simple as "teamwork" versus "raw talent," and the outcome will depend highly on drafting and mid/jungle map movements.
Invictus Gaming win conditions:
Thus far, iG's run through this world championship has looked a bit like their run through last year's world championship. They have relied on strong mechanical outplays from TheShy, Song "Rookie" Eui-jin and even bot laner Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo. JackeyLove has admittedly had a disappointing tournament thus far -- especially compared to his stunning displays in iG's regional qualifier run to qualify for worlds -- but his teamfighting is still strong, and the potential for greatness is always bubbling under the surface. His performances at worlds are, in many ways, a microcosm for iG as a team.
Arguably, the current iteration of iG is slightly weaker than last year's due to Ning's lack of play time with the team through the final few matches of summer and the regional qualifier, but iG's raw power was still on display in full force in their match against Griffin. A common line uttered by the LPL faithful, screamed at their computers while iG are playing, is, "They can't keep getting away with this!" Somehow, iG almost always do, finding the magical teamfight or skirmish where TheShy, Rookie or JackeyLove can mow down iG's opponents en route to another victory.
Yet, when iG don't find that winning combination, they ultimately look foolish and lost. Invictus Gaming's laners love to push up far past where it's wise to do so and don't always consider where the opposing jungler is on the map. This should give FunPlus' Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang more leeway than Ning, whose options are always limited simply due to the way iG like to draft and play their lanes. Ning typically is found in the top side giving advantages to TheShy, which will take some pressure off of FunPlus' bot lane. It will be up to JackeyLove and support Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi to prevent FPX support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song from roaming to group up with Tian and Doinb.
FunPlus Phoenix win conditions:
FunPlus lack the brute force of iG and the raw skill of iG's individual laners. The truth of this matchup is far more nuanced than the simplistic "FunPlus have better teamwork and that's how they win this." However, boiled down to its essence, that is what this series will likely come down to. Much of this can be accomplished through drafting. If Doinb can have a champion that allows him to affect FunPlus' side lanes without keeping him locked in a one-on-one against Rookie, the odds of a FunPlus victory increase exponentially. As much as Doinb is touted for picking tanky melee bruisers and taking them mid, these champion picks don't offer as many opportunities as a Ryze, especially against Rookie. FunPlus will have to be careful about Doinb's champion picks, ensuring that he's on a champion that can push his wave and wreak havoc on the rest of the map, rather than staying locked in mid against a significantly stronger laner.
Throughout the season, Doinb primarily looked toward the bot side for his roams, which in turn opens up Crisp to roam alongside both Doinb and Tian while also facilitating Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang. Tian will likely spend most of his time top side, either to match Ning or ensure that Kim "GimGoon" Han-saem can keep TheShy under control -- another tall task for FunPlus as a whole. FunPlus have the stronger jungle/support duo, and alongside Doinb, these three will be the key to a FunPlus Phoenix victory.