Photo: Riot Games

Just three Best of 5s separate us from the end of the 2019 World Championship. It’s feels strange to even write such a thing — the competitive season flew by, and it is only so because it was defined by many exciting, back and forth wars and brand-new narratives that made this into the best and most engaging year in competitive League’s history. We have four teams left competing, and no one’s quite sure what to think.

Will SKT reclaim their long-lost throne? Will China cement itself as the strongest region in the world for the second year in a row? Will G2 Esports upset the status quo and usher in a different kind of era, one that is defined by more equality (skill and success-wise) between all the major regions?

These are all burning questions, and yet there’s no definitive answer in sight. Not yet, at least. This means every single game going forward is an absolute must watch — as if you didn’t know that already. Regardless of which team eventually emerges victorious, one thing is for certain: each and every one of these four challengers has what it takes to go all the way; each team has the right tools to ultimately hoist the World Championship trophy in front of thousands of roaring fans.

That’s why this is all so exciting, but also dangerous — if you’re looking to bet on the three last remaining Best of 5s, that is.

We need to say this flat-out: there are no favorites, and nothing is set in stone. The winner could be decided on a coin-toss — that’s how it feels. It’s no longer region vs. region or the East vs. the West. Instead, it’s team vs. team. One behemoth against another. One titan of competitive League against another.  All four line-ups are brimming with talent. It’s mind-boggling, really. There have never been four teams in the semifinals that were as stacked as they are now.

And to make matters even more interesting, each and every one of them poses a different kind of test and challenge. They all adhere to the meta, but they find success through slightly different means and have slightly different ideas on how they want to play. These minute differences might not seem all that much on paper, but in actuality, they are what makes or breaks the game. Slight nuances that end up being determining factors.

Now it’s all about who prepares the best, and which team adapts the quickest in the Best of 5 setting.

In the end, we’re bound to get one LPL team in the finals against either the Korean or European champions. Regardless of how things eventually unfold, we should be in for one insane, action-packed weekend.

So with that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the first semifinal clash!

FunPlus Phoenix vs. Invictus Gaming

Photo: Riot Games

Whenever we get a clash between two LPL behemoths, there’s a reason to celebrate. Top-tier play is always guaranteed. Always. While it might not be the cleanest League of Legends around, it’s certainly the most exciting. And this clash, in particular, is especially fascinating. It’s a fight between the old and the new guard; a fight between the defending champions (Invictus Gaming) and a pack of hungry, mechanically gifted newcomers who completely mopped the floor with the opposition back on home soil.

In fact, they only lost one Best of 5 on their road to becoming the 2019 Summer Split LPL champions. And that one loss? It was to Invictus Gaming. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Furthermore, the trajectories of both teams throughout the World Champions are fairly similar. They were fairly hyped up coming into the tournament, but they failed to play as well as most expected in the beginning. FunPlus Phoenix struggled mightily against Splyce, whereas Invictus simply couldn’t find a way to beat DAMWON Gaming, who also happens to be a third seed (albeit from Korea). Overall, things looked somewhat dire for both competitors and even though everyone knew they would pick up steam eventually, they were definitely running out of time.

But then the quarterfinals came around, and both FunPlus as well as Invictus dominated beyond measure. To win is one thing, but to win like they did is to make a statement. They wanted redemption for their inconsistent play and they wanted to show the world that they meant business.

And sure enough, they got everyone’s attention.

FunPlus Phoenix had to go through Fnatic, whereas Invictus had Griffin. By all accounts, neither team had an easy road up to this point, and yet they made it look so easy.

Let’s focus on Invictus first. They had to take on a frightening challenger from the LCK; a team that is well-known for their immense mechanical prowess and unrelenting aggression. Everyone was fully aware of just how dangerous and capable Griffin is when they’re at the top of their game, and the fact that they outclassed G2 Esports twice in a row meant they definitely had all the right tools in order to advance further into the tournament and potentially even challenge in the finals. They had all the hype in the world, and their inherent flaws (coupled with their inexperience) seemed like a thing of the past.

But then they faced Invictus Gaming, and everything went awry.

They fought valiantly, but the defending champions definitely had the edge in every regard. Every game was — to a certain degree — a back-and-forth affair that could have gone either way. Griffin had their leads, they were beating Invictus out in multiple facets of play but they simply couldn’t capitalize and close out when they had to. When push came to shove, Invictus’ veteran status prevailed. Then again, that’s a very nice and somewhat diplomatic way of saying that they had Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok and Song “Rookie” Eui-jin who performed out of their minds.

When you’re up against two League of Legends titans, it’s hard to find an opening. Invictus is by no means perfect, but they’re well aware of their weaknesses and they know how to play around them. They’re also well-equipped for every stage of the game and can play through all three of their lanes — much like G2 Esports and SKT T1. They can pick and choose how they want to play things out and in a Best of 5 setting that’s of incredible value.

It was a fascinating match-up primarily because one team’s biggest strength (TheShy) was facing another team’s biggest weakness (Choi “Sword” Sung-won). It was a huge mismatch (although it always is when TheShy plays) and it defined the entire series. And that’s perhaps one of the biggest questions right now: will Invictus’ stellar solo laners be enough against FunPlus Phoenix? Will they once again accept the heavy burden of hard carrying and excel much like they did against Griffin? That’s a big “if” and even though they almost always succeed, it only takes one bad day for everything to fall apart.

Now, they’re not exactly the only ones who do the heavy lifting, but whenever Invictus needs that little extra, whenever they need that final push to get them towards victory, their two Korean imports are there to seal the deal. Knowing you have such talented solo laners — in a meta that favors solo lane dominance and deep champion pools — is absolutely huge. Finally, Invictus already did this whole “thing” once — they already went through thick and thin and succeeded in winning the World Championship. They’re fully aware of the trials and tribulations that come with such an endeavor and are focused on repeating their seismic triumph from last year.

Many doubted them and it’s easy to understand why. They simply didn’t look that good throughout the 2019 Summer Split, but once they had to step up they did. That’s a true hallmark of a veteran team. Finally, the fact that they’re once again playing with Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning is definitely a plus. While Ning is always hard to read (for better and worse), he’s one of their biggest catalysts and can definitely turn the tides with relative ease. When he’s at the top of his game there’s only a handful of junglers in the world who can compete.

By the same token, FunPlus Phoenix blew Fnatic out of the water, and they did so in an even cleaner and more dominant a fashion than Invictus. Once FunPlus got the win over the former “kings of Europe”, there was no doubt left. It was obvious that they were better in every segment of the game and had no opening or weakness for Fnatic to exploit. It was an absolute masterclass in every regard, and it was also slightly heartbreaking because you could see just how hard Fnatic was trying, but nothing went their way — they couldn’t compete at FunPlus’ level.

Things started off with Fnatic’s now staple Garen and Yuumi bottom lane, with Twisted Fate for Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek and Elise and Rengar to round out the top side of the map. It was a very specific, highly idiosyncratic late game-oriented team comp. It was also ill-advised as it could have backfired immensely. Fortunately, Fnatic found a way to make it work, at least early on. They got the lead fairly quickly, but whenever they wanted to engage or set things up, FunPlus was simply faster to react. Whenever Fnatic thought they found a play, FunPlus immediately turned the tides with staggering ease. After a couple of failed engages and team fights, Fnatic started bleeding across the map. It was a slow kind of defeat, and while they did fight to the best of their ability they were simply no match for the Chinese champions.

FunPlus read them like a book and were confident in their play. They controlled the bot side and were incredibly commanding once they got control of the series. They were always first to collapse in a team fight and once they had even the slightest of leads they made no mistakes whatsoever.

Game two wasn’t much different. Fnatic made egregious errors left and right, whereas FunPlus displayed impeccable macro and stellar decision-making. Many people thought Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang wouldn’t be able to match Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s experience and level of play in the bottom lane, but it was actually FunPlus’ AD carry who dominated far beyond what anyone expected. Another game, and yet another one-sided shellacking.

Finally, game three was do or die for the former LEC champions. They adapted quite a lot and were much better from the very get-go. In fact, they nearly took FunPlus down, but thanks to some incredible play from Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang, FunPlus was able to hold on, defend their Nexus and eventually escape defeat by the skin of their teeth. Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang deserves a mention as well as he was able to completely shut down Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen in all three of their games. It was a fascinating thing, really, as Tian always reached level six more than a minute before his adversary. That’s absolutely insane, especially at this level of play and against a player of Broxah’s caliber.

FunPlus is a highly volatile team, but whenever they find their groove they’re almost unstoppable. This is what peak League of Legends looks like, and they’ve shown no signs of stopping or slowing down, in true LPL fashion, one might add.

In the end, we’re siding with Invictus Gaming, although not with full confidence. The sheer talent present within their line-up is baffling, but they’re also fairly inconsistent, and that’s worrying. This one can really go either way, and there’s no favorite whatsoever regardless of what the bookmakers say. Both teams have what it takes to get the win and it’ll all boil down to who plays better on the day. Regardless of how things ultimately unfold, we should be in for one insane, action-packed Best of 5 that’s probably going to be decided in game five.

Winner: Invictus Gaming, 2.20 (odds @ Betway)

SK Telecom T1 vs. G2 Esports

Photo: Riot Games

For our second semifinal clash we have an absolute barnburner. By all means, postpone any kind of responsibility or task you have, because this is one Best of 5 you do not want to miss. Heck, if this series pans out as expected, it could be a clash for the ages. And it’s not just a fight between two exceptional titans and champions — it carries a bit of weight narrative-wise as well.  These two teams already fought back at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational, and it was G2 Esports who were — for the first time ever — able to best the LCK giants in 3-2 fashion. It was an insanely close series that, in all fairness, could have gone either way.

But it ultimately went in G2’s favor as their staggering mechanical prowess and sheer flexibility proved to be superior. It was a seismic upset and for the first time ever, we actually felt like anything could transpire in the world of competitive League. After all, G2’s incredible performance gave us a Western final. For a brief moment, we all felt that change was inevitable; we felt like the West finally found a way to leave a mark in the grand scheme of things.

Whether or not that’s the case still remains to be seen. We were wrong, frankly, in more ways than one. It wasn’t that the West improved leaps and bounds, but rather that individual teams attained a staggering read on the meta and improved as five-man units; it was about the teams, rather than the regions themselves. Not a single North American representative advanced out of the Group Stage, so it’s hard to sing their praises in any way, shape, or form. As for Fnatic and Splyce, even though they surprised in more ways than one, they were still obviously heavily outmatched when they faced FunPlus Phoenix and SKT T1, respectively.

That leaves us with G2 Esports, the best and most successful European team in history. With a roster as stacked and talented as this one, it’s really no surprise that they’ve gotten this far into the tournament even amidst such stiff competition. They’re the one team that defied the meta and in doing so dictated what the best and most optimal way to play the game was. They were “disobedient” because they felt like they had a better understanding of what needed to be done and when in order to attain success. Not everyone was aboard the hype train, but once they started taking heads left and right (a journey that was crowned with the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational trophy), teams started realizing — this is what peak League of Legends looks like.

Five exceptional players, each of them insanely talented and experienced. These are veterans, and within their lines is one of the best junglers in European history (Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski), the best Western mid laner in history (Rasmus “Caps” Winther), and arguably the best Western player of all time (Luka “Perkz” Perković), an individual whose triumphs (across two roles and many years) are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

They’re five madmen, and they’re finding so much success not just because they’re talented, but because they friends both in and out of the game. They revel in their profession and function, attack, defend, and breathe as a single unit. You can see that in their engages as well — whenever one players goes in, the rest of the team follows in a split of second. There’s no hesitation whatsoever. When you have five individuals performing as a unit, then they’ll either dominate beyond measure or implode trying. Fortunately, for G2’s it has only been the former. They’ve attained a seismic amount of success throughout 2019 and have yet to lose a Best of 5. They’re one of the biggest favorites to win the whole tournament and with good reason. They don’t have many flaws and are even more dangerous and capable in a multi-game series than in a double round robin.

They can win through any lane or player, and have some of the biggest champion pools in the history of competitive League. How does one prepare for such a behemoth? Where do you start, when they’re capable of playing nearly any champion in the game and still find immense success? If anything their biggest inherent flaw is their approach to the game. Sometimes, they just want to have fun. They get carried away by their own hype train — they fall to their own hubris. That’s what happens when you win day after day without investing much energy. To them, 2019 was mostly a breeze. They were rarely challenged, and we can count the instances when they were close to defeat on just one hand. The fact that they didn’t lose also speaks volumes about their preparation, mental fortitude and sheer resilience.

There’s simply no team like G2 out there in the world. They are, however, somewhat inconsistent. For G2 to fire on all cylinders, for them to play as well as they can, there can’t be a weak link. And 2019 also gave us a look at a wounded, exploitable G2. Talented and capable though they are, their jungler and support didn’t have the best of performances throughout the tournament. Confusing engages, ill-advised decisions and mechanical misplays were often on full-display whenever G2 faced someone who could match their aggression and early game prowess. Now, they always clean up their play after a loss — as one would expect from a team of their caliber — but they simply cannot afford a bad day when they’re facing a team like SKT T1.

The margin for error shrinks considerably, and even though SKT also makes mistakes, they need a far smaller opening in order to capitalize and win the whole game.

Most of the praise we’ve given to G2 also applies to SKT. They are by no means an inferior team. On the contrary, they can match the European champions lane for lane. They are, however, a bit less flexible. That is, at once, both a positive as well as a negative. On the plus side, being less diverse means they’ll focus on their strengths. On the negative, they won’t be as prepared for the wide array of strategies and team comps that G2 could bring to the table.

Despite this, they’re as well rounded as they come. Again, much like G2, multiple seasoned veterans, multiple avenues for success. They’re SKT T1, after all, and while that is somewhat of a cliche statement, it’s still fully applicable. The fact that they’re still able to compete at the highest of levels even though the roster underwent immense change over the year is a true testament to their coaching staff, coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok — the greatest League of Legends player to ever grace the stage.

If there’s one worrying sign when it comes to SKT, it has to be their confusing willingness to engage and speed things up when they should, instead, be focused on the opposite. They’re often too aggressive and it ends up backfiring. It’s a strange sight as well. Maybe they’re trying a bit too hard to adhere to the current meta, or maybe they just see openings that aren’t there. Be as it may, they’re making uncharacteristic and unforced mistakes, and they’re making them often. And again, at this level of play, you only need one bad decision to completely lose control of the game and/or series.

When they’re at the top of their game, when they come out prepared and fight for every inch of the Summoner’s Rift, they’re an absolute, towering giant. And much like with Invictus Gaming vs. FunPlus Phoenix, this whole Best of 5 will hinge around the smallest of adaptations mid-series. We’re talking minute nuances here, and predicting the outcome with confidence is downright impossible. Both teams have what it takes to get the win; both line-ups are stacked with talent, experience and potential.

There is but a single question that still lingers in the air: now when every team has adapted to the meta, does G2 Esports still have an edge? That’s a key question, and it’s impossible to answer at this point in time.

In the end, however, we’re siding with G2 Esports. We can talk ad nauseam about all the potential factors, the tournament-specific meta, who’s better than whom, and so on and so forth. But none of it will matter once these teams step foot on stage. The fact that G2 already beat SKT a couple of months ago tells us one incredibly important thing: that the LCK giants can bleed and that they’re mortal. If they did it once, they could, by all means, do it again. Now, things are rarely that simple, but we know they’re carrying the expectations of hundreds of thousands of local fans on their shoulders, and they’re a team that thrives under pressure. When everything is on the line, they’re always capable of clutching things out and creating highlight reel moments that’ll be remembered for years to come. That’s G2 Esports, and that’s why we all love them.

Their flexibility could also give them a huge upper hand in their clash against SKT — given that they draft around it. SKT won’t be able to ban them out, nor will they be contain Perkz and his potential champion ocean — AP mages and fighters/bruisers included. G2 Esports has all the right tools to get the win and reach the finals. That’s a fact. Whether or not they made the right moves behind the scenes in order to achieve such a thing still remains to be seen, but we’re optimistic.

If things pan out as expected, we could witness one of the best clashes in competitive League of Legends history, so make sure to tune in!

Winner: G2 Esports, 2.30 (odds @ Betway)