In a surprising four-game series, FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) upset one of the most prominent Chinese League of Legends teams.
Royal Never Give Up (RNG) entered playoffs at third seed and two wins behind FPX, who held a 14-1 record in the regular season. Despite this, RNG was the expected favorites by a large margin. FPX also got first seed in the Spring season but ended up exiting playoffs in semifinals. RNG’s numerous titles, international best of five experience, and overall star power left guest analyst and famous EU top laner Paul “sOAZ“ Boyer predicting a 3-0 in their favor.
Once the games started, sOAZ’s intuitions seemed true. RNG used their blue side first pick to grab Kai’sa for Uzi, and a Morgana to protect him. FPX tried a lane counter pick of Lucian Nautilus. RNG picked Elise and FPX picked Gragas, a jungle matchup present in all but one game. FPX saved their counter pick for a surprise Yasuo, but RNG showed great adaptation by flexing Renekton mid and putting their Corki top against Akali.
At just two minutes in, Lwx’s Lucian dashed right into a Dark Binding from Ming, leading Uzi to first blood. More early skirmishes and turret plates brought RNG a 2.5K gold lead at twenty minutes. With their two Mountain Dragons, RNG snuck in a 23-minute baron. Baron buff was used to break the base but as they reset for next baron, RNG’s Jungler Karsa was caught out. FPX turned that into a baron of their own, but RNG traded for two inhibitors and a second Infernal Dragon. Once Elder Dragon spawned, RNG rushed it down then went mid to end. FPX bumbled the fight and were subsequently destroyed, giving RNG game one.
Looking to make a change, FPX on blue side took Kai’sa for themselves. RNG’s responded with Ezreal for Uzi and their preferred Elise for the jungle matchup. FPX paired Alistar Gragas with the Kai’sa, both giving options to stack her passive on multiple enemies. Solo laners were again left until phase two, with FPX snagging Karma and Gnar. RNG took Aatrox and counter picked Karma mid with Zoe.
Game two started quieter, with first blood not in until six minutes. RNG tried to gank bot lane, but a phenomenal Alistar play from Crisp let FPX turn it around. With this lead, FPX stalled the game in order to let Kai’sa farm up. By the time it was twenty minutes, FPX was up two Dragons and 2K gold. The next minute, FPX set up a flank in mid from Alistar, Gragas, and Gnar. Kai’sa got her passive stacks and Ulted in to clean up the fight. FPX took baron and ended the game with a bang from Lwx at twenty-eight minutes.
Game three’s draft started similarly, with FPX first picking blue side Kai’sa. RNG’s response was taking away the enabling Gragas and not drafting an ADC in the first phase. FPX’s then grabbed Elise and Alistar while RNG took Nautilus and Corki. RNG picking Quinn for Uzi was the biggest curveball of the match. Professional play in 2019 never saw Quinn in the ADC role. RNG thought to bully their opposing laners with early game picks and FPX obliged. They gave RNG the early game by drafting Ryze and Gangplank, two of the hardest scaling champions in pro play.
RNG made good on their promise, getting multiple dives onto Gangplank and giving Langx’s Camille a lead. By twenty minutes, GimGoon’s Gangplank amassed four deaths. However, FPX was taking over the rest of the map with Kai’sa out-farming Quinn and Ryze keeping even with Corki. FPX also got three Ocean Dragons while Karsa camped top lane, giving their scaling champs a massive sustain boost. After thirty minutes, RNG could not extend their gold lead, so they tried sneaking Baron. It worked but by then, FPX’s carries had three to four items, so winning was impossible without a decisive team fight.
At thirty-five minutes, FPX tried rushing Elder Dragon. Karsa managed to steal it but FPX got 3 kills right after. On the ensuing base rush, RNG spawned just in time to save their Nexus with 1300 of 5500 HP left. Now it was RNG’s turn to attempt a base rush, but they had much further to go. All of FPX were wiped out with long spawn timers besides their under-leveled support. Crisp spawned first and stalled the RNG push long enough that FPX respawned. RNG again lost three players, and this time their base as well.
RNG was desperate to bring the series back. They chose the blue side and went to first pick the Kai’sa that won every game so far. FPX retried the Lucian Nautilus lane that failed to counter Kai’sa in game one. RNG chose Jarvan IV, the only jungler not named Gragas or Elise in this series. That said, they did take Gragas for support, leaving Elise to FPX. For solo laners, RNG picked Aatrox and Neeko while FPX opted towards unique picks of Mordekaiser and Qiyana.
Looking to find their winning formula, Karsa took a surprising path from Red Buff into bot gank that net RNG the first blood to Uzi. A few skirmishes around top side brought RNG a 3-2 kill lead at ten minutes. The first major fight hit mid lane with both teams doubling their kill count. The game then stalled to thirty-three minutes. A fight broke out mid lane over Baron positioning which FPX won 3-1 in kills. They now led by 3.5K gold, Baron, and four Dragons. However, nobody could break RNG’s base, leading FPX to take Elder and wait for the next Baron. At forty minutes, RNG had to give Baron for free due to bad positioning. RNG tried one last desperate engage when their base broke but to no avail. FPX won in forty-two minutes and were crowned kings of the LPL.
— FunPlus PhoeniX (@FPX_Esports) September 6, 2019
This marks Doinb’s first LPL title in over four years of playing. He is a long-time fan favorite who got close many times on Qiao Gu Reapers and Rogue Warriors. For a team that started competing in the LPL in 2018, FPX’s finishes in both Spring and Summer highlight that recent expansion orgs can compete with the best in China.
This is not the end for RNG, as they qualified for the World Championship off circuit points. They and FPX are going to Europe along with the eventual qualifier winner to represent China on the world stage. There are big expectations to live up to for the region that won last year’s tournament.
Credit: Zakaria Almughrabi