MADRID -- The five starting members of Invictus Gaming weren't supposed to be at the League of Legends World Championship, let alone the Palacio Vistalegre. They weren't supposed to be in Berlin, Germany for the group stages because they weren't expected to qualify for the world championship at all.
They qualified as the LoL Pro League's third seed anyway.
Following iG's unexpected semifinals loss at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational, the LPL summer was a downward spiral for the reigning world champions. They finished sixth in the summer season, they called up rookie Lu "Leyan" Jue after benching starting jungler and 2018 worlds finals MVP Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning due to internal issues and in-game performance. In summer playoffs they were quickly swept by LNG Esports, and were not a heavy favorite to make it out of the LPL regional qualifier. After a shaky series against JD Gaming that iG barely won. Most expected the talented roster of up-and-coming LPL team TOP Esports to make it.
Invictus beat them 3-2.
Placed in a worlds group with Damwon Gaming and Team Liquid, most anticipated that this would be Team Liquid's best chance at taking bot laner Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
Invictus did not look good in the first week. They obviously had the raw talent -- this has always been iG's strength -- especially in top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok and mid laner Song "Rookie" Eui-jin, but lacked any semblance of cohesion. Although Leyan was, and still is, a top prospect from China's LoL Development League, he wasn't ready for this big of a spotlight this soon and his inexperience showed. Yet it wasn't the pressure of defending their world championship title that was getting to iG. It was simply how they played - taking any and all fights, this time with even less synergy due to having a young, rookie jungler. Ning returned for the second round, and iG went 2-1 to take the second seed from Group D.
"I don't think there's much pressure at all," iG bot laner Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-bo said after iG's first two group stage games.
"You just play the game how you're supposed to play it and try to make it as far as possible."
Last year, JackeyLove was a 17 year-old rookie, swaying under the weight of the Summoner's Cup that he refused to put down in post-match interviews after winning the world championship.
People forget that iG weren't supposed to win worlds last year either. That honor of "supposed to" went to their fellow LPL brethren, Royal Never Give Up. Yet, at the end of the year, it was iG who raised the Summoner's Cup in Incheon, and RNG who unexpectedly lost in worlds quarterfinals after winning every other possible tournament that year. iG weren't supposed to beat KT Rolster, as volatile of a team as they were. This roster is always microns away from handing the game to their opponents at any given time, but their talent is undeniable. Their in-game prowess doesn't have a ceiling, but it also doesn't have a floor.
"Supposed to" is what we say when all we have is the past - which is all League of Legends gives us in terms of analysis. "Supposed to" is based off of recent performances. "Supposed to" means coming up with some sort of prediction from what can be gleaned from the past, harvested and turned into something that makes sense in the present.
Yet iG have never made sense.
Watching iG play is often a comedy of errors -- a highlight reel of mechanical feats coupled with highly questionable decision-making. They take remarkable risks for seemingly no reason. In today's loss to LPL first-seed, FunPlus Phoenix, iG facechecked brushes as early as Level 1, picking fights when they were at obvious disadvantages.
There were times that everything clicked and iG was the most beautiful team in the world again: TheShy's Kayle ultimate onto JackeyLove's Kai'Sa to clean up a fight in the top side jungle, the time when FunPlus Phoenix went forward into a choke point and iG's Galio/Rakan combination collapsed onto them for an iG teamfight win. Then, there were times when FunPlus mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang's Nautilus was targeting out iG's carries, or TheShy made some extremely rare mechanical misplays.
These same five members of iG were world champions. Now, FunPlus Phoenix and iG's own mistakes have ensured that a different champion will be crowned this year.
Invictus means unconquerable and in the end, iG were just that. While FunPlus played well and certainly deserve to make it to worlds finals, iG were the ones who ultimately took themselves out of the fight and they did it in the way that they always do: by picking bad fights and making confusing decisions.
Throughout multiple years and iterations of the team, Invictus Gaming has been unconquerable by others, but easily taken down from within. Analyzing iG's earliest lineups involved a lot of guesswork because no one knew what version of iG would show up on that day. They had the talent, but lacked discipline. This applies nearly eight years later to the current iG.
This may be the last time that we see this particular iG lineup and this certainly isn't the way that they wanted to go out. There's an odd sense of loss when talking about iG now - a team that could set records with a 16:01 single game time at MSI and still lose to Team Liquid in the semifinals. This is a team that won the LPL's first world championship and that too is fitting. Considering the general volatility, high kill-count, and memetic aggression of LPL teams, iG embodied that too.