After a disappointing 2020, FunPlus Phoenix intends to become the first LPL organization to have two World Championships.
In 2019 FunPlus Phoenix silenced the European crowd as they dominated hometown heroes G2 Esports 3-0 to lift the Summoner’s Cup. In the following season, FPX was determined to make it back into the world championship and to defend their title. Kim “Khan” Dong-ha was taken in to have an additional carry threat on the team, but unfortunately things did not quite work out, and they missed out on Worlds. In the offseason after Worlds 2020, Khan went back to South Korea and joined the 2020 World Champions, Damwon Kia. Damwon’s World Championship top laner, Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, joined FPX.
Expectations were still high for them in 2021. In the spring regular season, they were not able to meet those all that well. The team shuffled through junglers for the entirety of the spring— Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang was replaced briefly by Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo, who brought out the aggression from the members of FPX rather systematically. Bo was looking quite the good fit for this roster of veterans, but he got suspended because of an investigation around match-fixing in the LDL, China’s secondary league. As he came forward with the needed evidence and cooperated with the investigation, he was banned from professional play for four months. This meant that FPX had to promote yet another jungler from their academy team. Yang “Beichuan” Ling was nothing close to what Bo was to the team, and FPX fell a bit in the standings. They finished fifth in the spring regular season.
In the playoffs, Tian returned, and he seemed to be back in his Worlds 2019 Finals MVP form. They had to battle it out from the second round of playoffs and they had a very convincing run to the finals, defeating Rare Atom, JD Gaming, Royal Never Give Up, and Edward Gaming to make it there. Despite being the favorites and never dropping a series in their playoff run, they were taken down by Royal Never Give Up 1-3 in the final.
In the summer, they were dominant from the regular season, ending up in first place with a 13-3 record. They seemed to be in top form in the postseason as well, defeating LNG Esports 3-0, and cleanly swept Team WE 3-0 to get to the finals. Once again, they were the favorites in this match, but they seemed to have lost the form they had in previous series. They lost the series 1-3 to Edward Gaming, even losing the fourth game where they had a lead that most analysts thought was too big to lose the game from.
This team has the fastest games in the LPL— this is because they will keep forcing fights to expand their lead, and when losing, this team will also keep on forcing fights as a means to get back into the game. This means that if they keep winning fights, then they will simply stomp their way through a game, and if they are unable to outplay their opponents from a losing position, they will simply lose harder. Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang would often make over-aggressive moves, which means that he is also prone to getting caught out or mispositioning in a team fight. Nuguri is still the strong laner that he has always been, and is an excellent carry threat. However, there are times that he appears to be out of sync with the rest of the team. Despite Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang’s newfound dominance in the mid lane, in addition to his further expanded champion pool (he now also has carries such as Akali in Irelia in his arsenal), it is difficult to carry games at times when the rest of the map falls apart.
When each player is on form and working well together, this team is almost certainly the best in the world. Their problem, however, is the fact that when it mattered the most this year, they fell apart. Will they be able to successfully reclaim glory for themselves and the LPL?
(Header image via FPX Esports)