Expectations for the Chinese League of Legends having been turned upside down at Worlds 2021, with FunPlus Phoenix struggling as the rest of the region surges ahead.

The League of Legends Pro League – China’s top-flight circuit – is in an interesting place as the 2021 LoL season draws to a close. They’re clearly the most powerful region in the world. Every year, big-name free agents from Korea and Taiwan bolster a region that already has half a dozen world-class teams. And every year, some big, storied team misses out on Worlds.

Despite their financial might and prestige, though, they’re not the only region that can compete. DAMWON Gaming convincingly proved that last year, bringing the Summoner’s Cup back to Korea after two years of clean LPL victories.

China sent an interesting contingent of teams to Worlds this year. Leading the way was first seed EDward Gaming. Built around former Griffin AD Carry Park “Viper” Do-hyeon, many fans felt that they weren’t the strongest of the four; that they’d gotten a good read on the meta and might not have the same strength at Worlds. The team most were higher on was FunPlus Phoenix. They looked like their 2019 Worlds-winning selves again after an off year in 2020, and many saw them as the most individually skilled team in China.

Rounding out the cast was MSI champions Royal Never Give Up, and an unlikely fourth seed, LNG Esports. LNG was a bit of a wild card, with strong but inconsistent solo lanes. RNG were all-around strong, but fell off a bit during summer. During the first week of the group stage, though, we’ve had a complete subversion of expectations.

EDG take solid control of a group full of question marks

EDward Gaming on stage against T1 on Day 2 of Groups. (RIOT GAMES/Michal Konkol)

On paper, Group B appeared volatile. Were EDward Gaming the real deal? How good would T1 be after struggling much of the year? Were 100 Thieves a real contender? And what kind of fight could wild card DetonatioN FocusMe put up?

While some of those questions still remain after one round of games, it’s clear that EDG are on top. With solid wins over every team in the group, they sit in first place with a 3-0 record.

Viper and Tian “Meiko” Ye look like the best botlane in the world. Zhao “Jiejie” Li-Jie is proving his LPL performance wasn’t a fluke. And, barring a disastrous second round of matches, the way looks clear for EDG to advance to the knockout stage.

FPX struggle despite sitting second

FunPlus Phoenix after their win on Day 2 of Groups. (RIOT GAMES/Michal Konkol)

Despite coming in as one of the LPL’s favourites, FunPlus Phoenix have struggled so far. While they currently sit second in their group, at 2-1, it hasn’t been clean. They were dominated by DWG KIA to kick off groups, and barely scraped together wins against both Rogue and Cloud9.

“To be honest, the game content we’ve shown on stage is still not that good,” FunPlus Phoenix bot laner Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang told Esports.gg after Day 2 of groups. “I think in terms of the overall performance, there’s so many parts that we still need to make some improvements on.”

It’s worth noting that FPX looked shaky in groups in 2019, too. They’d finish that event by winning the World Championship. But it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.

“For last year, 2020, we really performed so bad. We didn’t manage to get a chance to play on the world stage. So for this time, we really hold the same mentality as 2019. We would like to have a very good result for this Worlds tournament,” Lwx said. For that to become a reality, we’ll need to see a big pickup in their performance.

RNG and LNG inspire confidence

RNG‘s Ming and Xiaohu walk on stage. (RIOT GAMES/Lance Skundrich)

While EDG and FPX’s trajectories couldn’t be more different, the LPL’s final two representatives are doing the region proud.

RNG were handed a gift when Fnatic AD Carry Elias “Upset” Lipp withdrew from the tournament. With Louis “BEAN” Schmitz standing in for him, FNC haven’t looked the same. Even with this aside, though, RNG have convincingly beat MSI semifinalists PSG Talon, as well as LCK fourth seed Hanwha Life Esports. “My goal for the second round is that we hope we can get all wins as well,” RNG mid laner Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei told Esports.gg.

Cryin also stated that he finds there’s more competition at Worlds compared to MSI, saying “I think, for the Worlds tournament, there will be more strong teams, because the strongest teams from every region will come here together here together, and they all have the various strong abilities and strengths. I feel like in MSI, there’s not many very strong teams from all over the world.” So far, though, RNG are making it look just as easy as they did in May.

As for LNG, they’re tied for the lead in the tightest group of them all. “Looking down from the first one round, I feel like everyone is very similar,” LNG mid laner Xie “icon” Tian-Yu said in an interview with Esports.gg. “I don’t know what to say about this. Everyone’s so close.”

At a 2-1 record, LNG’s job is far from done. But they’ve put themselves in a good spot.

Will all four LPL teams progress out of groups?

Hopes should be high for the LPL in week four. If Week 2’s results are the same as Week 1, every LPL team will get out of groups. But ambitions should be higher than that.

Both EDG and RNG seem to be in the clear. A single win next week for either of those teams all but guarantees them going through. LNG still have a tough fight ahead of them. But if the potential they’ve shown continues to translate – and, maybe more importantly, MAD Lions continue to disappoint – they have a good shot as well.

Lastly, FunPlus Phoenix. FPX’s Group A is the first to resume play. While they can continue to advance with wins over Rogue and Cloud9, things need to get a lot cleaner for them to be seen as legitimate contenders come the bracket stage.


Stay tuned to Esports.gg for the latest League of Legends news and updates, and coverage of Worlds 2021.

Shawn

Shawn "Germanicus" Heerema

Writer of the Month: August | Twitter: @GermanicusCVIII

A writer from Niagara, Canada, Shawn covers VALORANT and League of Legends. Previously of THESPIKE.GG, he's a fervent follower and supporter of the Asian VAL scene. And somehow, he remains convinced that PUBG is the most fun esport to watch as a spectator.