Viewed by more fans than any of the game’s other major regions, China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL) has unearthed world champions for the last two years as meta changes during this period have greatly benefited its sides’ scrappy playstyle.
In Spring 2020, the league’s teams battled it out once again to show who had put together the strongest squad to kick off the new season, another that they hoped would be dominated by Chinese organisations.
In a region with more teams than any other (16) as well as a player base that dwarfs all other servers, rosters in the LPL are often stacked with the top Chinese talent as well as both up-and-coming Korean imports and veteran Korean players.
The region’s arguably most recognisable team, RNG, were expected to put up a strong fight with former world champion support Mata retiring to become their coach. Last year’s Worlds winner FunPlus Phoenix kept their entire lineup together, adding a second top-laner in the form of Khan, while 2018 champions Invictus Gaming kept their core of TheShy, Ning and Rookie to spearhead their title charge.
Jingdong Gaming, a side with a mixture of both rookie and veteran talent, were not widely tipped to push for the LPL title but were instead expected to be a lower end playoff side. A solid start saw them kick off the season with back to back wins, however any momentum that they were gathering was quickly halted as the COVID-19 outbreak in the country stopped play for almost two months.
Their return brought with it some shaky form, as defeats to FPX, EDG, TOP and RNG saw them pick up 6 wins and 4 losses in their next ten series. This was the turning point where JD showed their true strength, going unbeaten for the remainder of the regular season; earning 7 consecutive wins and finishing 2nd in the table (behind only IG).
This earned Jingdong a bye all the way to the semifinals of the playoffs, where a series against Worlds holders FPX was all that stood in the way of them and a place in the grand final. Despite heading into the series as underdogs, JD Gaming managed to overthrow FPX and grind their way to a 3-0 victory, one where they were made to work in each match with an average game time of 40 minutes.
Meeting JD in the final was Top Esports, another side that exceeded initial expectations in order to make it this far and whose lineup was not to be taken lightly. The gripping series started off in JD’s favour with a win, however two subsequent victories for Top put them in the driving seat as they were only a single win away from the title.
JD Gaming fought back in game 4, earning a victory to level the series at 2-2, before securing the championship for the first time in their history to complete the 3-2 win and make their mark as the best team in China.
As most series in the playoffs proved to be relatively one-sided, only one match went to the full five games; the grand final. Both sides had made it with relative ease, TES knocking out WE and IG in two 3-1 wins while JDG beat only FPX (3-0) to reach this stage.
The final itself was extremely close to call. Both sides had made it further than expected and their regular season form could only be separated by a single match as Top finished below JD with only one less win.
Game 1 saw the series start off in JDG’s favour, driven through LokeN’s Miss Fortune performance (6/1/4) where Yuumi heals and an Ornn/Olaf frontline made it almost impossible for Top to get onto the carry.
Top Esports clearly took note of this strategy, opting for the Miss Fortune themselves to be piloted by JackeyLove for game 2, where a frontline of Aatrox, Trundle and Leona allowed him to pick up the most kills and most CS in the game. Top’s subsequent win levelled the series at 1-1 heading into game 3.
So far the botlane matchup of MF vs Aphelios had only gone the way of the former, however JackeyLove’s game 3 on Aphelios was finally the time to end the trend. A particularly strong Corki game from knight (6/0/5) in which Jayce (369), Gragas (Karsa) and Braum (QiuQiu) were drafted for his side with clear initiation options onto the enemy Miss Fortune. A 30-minute win for Top put them in pole position and only 1 game away from clinching the LPL title.
JD Gaming had other ideas for game 4, choosing the Aphelios themselves and drafting a side capable of shutting down the MF. Yagao’s LeBlanc and Kanavi’s Sylas gave JD great initiation potential, while LokeN’s 6/1/5 record helped the team to a sub-30 minute victory to level the series at 2-2.
Game 5 saw a rare Bard pick from LvMao in the bot lane for JD, one whose clutch ultimates were often the deciding factor in fights during the match. The quickest game in the series, JD Gaming needed only 28 minutes to dismantle Top for the final time, ending the split with a 3-2 victory and becoming the latest champions of the dominant region.
Even to Western audiences, Kanavi’s name is one that’s easily recognisable after his part in the Griffin/cvMax drama that unfolded during the 2019 World Championship and the following off-season. Kanavi himself was allegedly coerced into a heavily unfavourable contract, one where a potential health issue could lead to his termination (with a clause preventing him from even joining another side if this happened).
Kanavi eventually clinched a permanent move to China and has not looked back since. If winning the league in his first split wasn’t enough, the 19-year-old even earned the title of split MVP having been the stand out player in the region since his switch.
A strong carry-oriented jungler, the Korean boasted the highest KDA (5.85) and highest CSPM (6.14) of any starting jungler while also having the 2nd highest kill share (28.7%). Jungling in this way can be tough to pull off in the LPL, a region with so many top-tier laners who would often need the resources themselves.
JD Gaming to win the Spring split
After finishing 10th place in 2019 Summer, JD Gaming only brought in a single new member (LokeN) for the 2020 Spring split, while they also ties with a number of substitute players who had bit-parts last year. With limited changes, few could’ve expected Jingdong to show the vast improvement necessary to make a serious title push.
However, the trimmed-down squad, including a now permanent Kanavi, looked a much stronger side this split as they ultimately went on to secure the LPL title. Having been underdogs before play began, those willing to bet on the team’s success would’ve also been happy winners as JD were crowned Spring 2020 LPL champions.