Photo: Riot Games

The day we’ve all been waiting for. The clash of the year. The one Best of 5 that will define not just the entire 2019 competitive season, but also the world of competitive League going forward. Talk about a barnburner. Months upon months of playing, grinding, VOD reviewing, endless strategizing and meta adapting has brought G2 Esports and FunPlus Phoenix to this one moment in time — the 2019 World Championship finals.

It is a prestigious moment, without a doubt. Many teams and players across the globe dream of this one moment; the moment when they step foot on stage and hear their names chanted by thousands of roaring fans, all eager to watch these talented individuals play their heart out on the Summoner’s Rift. Many dream of these scenes, and yet they’re reserved for only a handful of people each year.

And this time, we’re getting a clash that’s — at least regionally speaking — a repeat of 2018. We are once again witnessing a clash between China and Europe, much like last year. The only difference this time are the teams that are playing: G2 Esports instead of Fnatic, and FunPlus Phoenix instead of Invictus Gaming. These two challengers have taken over their predecessors; they have beaten them both back on home soil, but also at Worlds (at least in FunPlus’ case). By all accounts, this is a fight between two of the best, most stacked, talented, flexible and capable teams in the world of competitive League.

Heck, they’re so talented and capable it’s not even fair to the rest of the teams competing. There’s such a huge gap between them, it’s baffling, really. And no matter which patch they fight on, these two titans always find a way to win. But they’re somewhat different — FunPlus Phoenix mostly consists of young, “unproven” players who burst onto the scene in incredible fashion. G2 Esports, on the other hand, is dominated by European legends; players who have been competing at the highest of levels of years now. It’s also home to — arguably — the best jungler Europe ever fostered Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, the best mid laner in Rasmus “Caps” Winther, and the best Western player of all time: Luka “Perkz” Perković.

It is this veteran presence — along with a boatload of innate talent — that brought G2 Esports so much success throughout 2019. They already went through thick and thin. They’re well aware of the tenacity that’s necessary to survive in competitive League, and they’ve fought many a time in those high-pressure situations in which a single click often ends up being the difference between victory and defeat. They know what it takes to be a champion, and they’ve fought through many years of ups and downs to get to where they are now.

FunPlus, on the other hand, just started dominating in their most recent split. Now sure, they definitely dominated, but it’s still a relatively fresh result. But despite the recency of their success, they showed no signs of stopping throughout their entire Worlds run; they have shown no obvious weakness. Most of their players are absolute behemoths in their respective roles, and some might argue that they have the best jungler and support in the world right. And the frightening thing is, they don’t always win through their most potent tools. Instead, they take turns. You’ll see their mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang dominate in one game, after which Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang takes on the burden of hardcarrying and plays out of his mind. You can never tell how they’ll play, nor what they’ll draft. Some of their decisions don’t always make sense on first glance — like putting Doinb, one of their best and most mechanically talented players, on Nautilus for four games in a row. In hindsight, however, it all makes sense.

They’re always a couple of steps ahead of their opposition, and are always prepared no matter the opponent. While they did have a couple of miss-steps against Splyce, they were quick to adapt and fix their biggest flaws. There aren’t any evident kinks in their armor, and even the problems that most teams have in the current meta are absent whenever FunPlus plays. But how is that possible?

Most of it boils down to their inherent playstyle — the patented LPL aggression. When FPX decides on a play, they follow through, regardless of the odds. They all get on the same page and play with such staggering confidence, that a 50/50 play becomes 70/30, or 80/20. When you’re willing to fight for every inch of the Summoner’s Rift and haven’t the faintest notion of losing on your mind, then you’ve increased your chances tenfold. Such conviction is present only with the best LPL teams, and FunPlus reigns supreme in that regard.

Their series against Invictus Gaming was an absolute masterclass in execution, team play, and mechanical prowess.

The first game of the series was insane, but it wasn’t until the second one that we were blessed with some true insanity. FunPlus Phoenix had the edge in every regard, but Invictus fought back to the best of their ability. Invictus adapted after their first loss and brought comfort picks and stellar teamfighting tools to the second game.

When you have ten individuals who fully believe they have what it takes to make the game-winning play, you’re bound to be entertained. It wasn’t long before IG found the one opening they needed and capitalized by focusing on Doinb and evening the series 1-1.

The best LPL teams and players will take humongous gambles because they always have full faith that they can make things happen. Sometimes it backfires, that’s for sure, but when it doesn’t — which is fortunately far more frequent — they make miracles happen.

Their jungler Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang is also incredibly impactful on Qiyana, a champion G2 didn’t show any proficiency on and has been banning it in every single game.

FPX wanted to get out of their bad lane match-ups, whereas IG just wanted to scale into the late-game and capitalize through their incredible teamfighting. But FunPlus always showed the willingness to make a step forward and engage on their own terms, when and how they feel like it. Their insane champion pools are staggering, and they’re definitely greater than the sum of their parts.

IG was slow, which allowed FPX to set the pace of each game and dominate right from the very get-go. Both teams showcased immense resilience and mental fortitude, but it was FPX who prevailed in the end.

It was a fantastic series that had 169 deaths across four games. Let that sink in. That’s carnage in every way, shape, and form. Everyone hoped that an LPL vs. LPL semifinal would deliver, and it definitely did. Perhaps most importantly, FPX showcased incredible flexibility and creativity which are paramount when facing a team like G2. You need to play their game as well, to understand how they want to do things and when.

G2 Esports’ series against SKT T1 was, by all accounts, even better. And that’s saying something, really. Game one was a back-and-forth affair that saw both teams trade heavy blows, albeit in somewhat slow fashion. Neither team was willing to over-extend and, in doing so, give over a lead to their opponent. Macro was the name of the game, as G2 split-pushed whenever possible. In the end, their better team fighting and ability to control the pace of the game without ever giving in to SKT and their pressure was what got them the lead in the series. It wasn’t as hectic as many anticipated, and the gold difference by the end was barely one thousand.

A clash of two seemingly equal titans.

Game two was much of the same, as both teams went back and forth, although this time it was SKT who had control of the game. Even after twenty minutes of action, the gold difference was two-thousand. Pretty negligible at this level of play. But as time went on, SKT got more and more ahead, until their lead became insurmountable. At that point, closing things out was more of a formality. This was the SKT many expected, and even though G2 fought to the best of their ability, it simply wasn’t enough. The series continued developing in fairly similar fashion, as both teams traded leads in game three. There were just six kills on the board fifteen minutes in, but it felt like chaos was almost guaranteed one both teams attained their level and item spikes. In the end, it was Perkz who was able to push his team over the finish line with his incredible 9/0/4 Xayah performance.

Coming into game four, G2 Esports had match point. But multiple egregious errors across the map gaev SKT a noticeable lead. It wasn’t as evident in their gold or objectives, but they were definitely the more proactive team, But G2 never surrendered. They fought their hearts out and utilized their team fight to perfection. It was an incredible, commanding performance. When everything was on the line, they persevered and thrived under pressure. A huge blunder from Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok at the thirty-minute mark allowed G2 to take down two SKT members, kill Baron and turn the game around. A Perkz Yasuo quadra kill was the final, finishing touch, and it signaled to the world that Europe really belongs in the pantheon of competitive League of Legends.

So what about this one match-up, in particular? There’s not a lot of information overall, as these two teams never fought against each other. For every similarity between them, there’s a huge difference as well. This World Championship has been an absolute nightmare betting-wise as you’re never really sure who’s going to win. That, on one hand, is incredibly exciting and engaging. On the other, however, it’s infuriating as no amount of preparation or statistical analysis will give you peace of mind. This really will be a game of inches. Both teams have what it takes to go the distance and to ultimately hoist the World Championship trophy. And when both competitors meet on such a level playing field, predicting anything with confidence becomes impossible.

It all boils down to who plays better on the day. And everything that we knew beforehand — like FunPlus’ international inexperience — is pretty much negated as this point in time. Both teams deserve our full benefit of the doubt, as they already attained a metric ton of success even against such stiff opposition.

In the end, however, we’ll side with G2 Esports. There’s an actual chance that they might win it all, and that, when put in context, is awe-inspiring. They have the right players and the depth which is necessary to win the whole thing. This is the best European team to ever play the game. And while some still discredit their accomplishment and doubt their potential, they’ve already proven their worth throughout 2019. Finally, preparing for G2 is as hard as one can imagine. There’s no one way in which they play the game, and their weapons are as diverse as their players. If they draft as well as they can, play to their strengths and perhaps put a bit of emphasis on Perkz and his deep and creative champion pool, they could definitely pull this off and become the first year in competitive League’s history to complete a golden calendar slam.

All of that said, do have in mind that this series can truly go either way. FunPlus Phoenix has shown no big weakness, and Europe has a history of faltering against LPL giants. The sights of Fnatic losing to Invictus last year still linger in the minds of many, and while the odds (depending on the website) paint a fairly one-sided picture, don’t let that fool you. The LPL behemoth is more than well-equipped for any strategy that G2 Esports can come out with. Further, FunPlus has arguably been far more consistent when it mattered the most.

Regardless of the final outcome, it’s fair to say that this Best of 5 could become one of the best and most competitive clashes in history.

Winner: G2 Esports, 1.90 (odds @ Bet365)