For a team with the
best record across all five major leagues (LCS, LEC, LPL, LCK, LMS), FunPlus Phoenix has received very little hype comparing to other top teams such as Griffin/IG/G2/Liquid. Instead, whenever discussions about the best teams in the world come up, FPX is typically quickly dismissed with familiar but nevertheless lazy narratives, such as:
- Doinb is the only good player on the roster.
- Doinb is only good because he plays cheesy picks.
- FPX is a regular-season team.
- FPX has a lower ceiling than other top teams.
- They are just lucky due to easy schedule / a suitable meta.
- IG vs TOP are the real finals.
As someone who follows the LPL scene closely, I'd like to shed some light on FPX and break down why their seemingly mediocre roster has yielded unexpected success, and more importantly, why their success is not a fluke and very likely to continue into playoffs and international events.
But first, a bit of history.
FPX was founded in 2017 and fielded a roster that already contained GimGoon (TOP), Lwx (ADC), and Crisp (Support). However, the team was solidly average in their first year, having narrowly missed playoffs in spring and was eliminated in the first round in summer.
Fast forward to the off-season, FPX let go of their mid and jungle positions and signed Doinb and Tian. Back then, the signings were considered a mild upgrade at best. Doinb was undoubtedly one of the better mid laners in the LPL and known for his off-meta picks and shot-calling, but he was often criticized for a relatively weak laning phase and a lack of mastery for meta champions. Tian just came off his rookie year, having spent most of his time on the bench for Suning. The lack of hype was understandable, and most people weren't even sure if the team would make the playoffs.
Before the spring season started, it was rumored from an anonymous source that FPX was rolling over other LPL teams in scrims and going toe-to-toe with Griffin. Understandably, most people dismissed the rumor as bullshit; that is, until FPX started the season with a 8-match winning streak and became at one point the last undefeated team across all major regions. Doinb and Tian, the new blood who no one thought twice of, would go on to win 22 MVPs this split, the most out of any mid-jungle duo.
So how did they do it?
While the FPX players are relatively unknown to the western audience, hardcore LPL fans will recognize that all of them, with the exception of Tian who's effectively a rookie, had been major carries on their previous albeit unsuccessful teams.
Most people already know Doinb from his days on QG and RW and his Kled game against KZ in last year's Rift Rivals. Despite repeatedly leading his teams into playoffs as the main carry and shotcaller, Doinb had never really won anything of note, and was often ridiculed for his weak laning and inability to play meta picks such as Zoe.
This split, Doinb made a name for himself for being perhaps the hardest-working player, playing an insane amount of soloqueue games on top of scrims, to the point that fans worry about his health. It's no coincidence then that Doinb has somehow managed to significantly improve his laning, posting the highest CSM (CS per minute) and CSD (CS difference) out of all LPL mid laners. Having previously been mocked for his "Rookie-phobia" in the Chinese community since he always lost lane against Rookie, Doinb decidedly won his matchup against Rookie in the regular season.
Lwx was, for a long time, the Teddy of China, an ADC with incredible mechanics but never found any team success. This season, Lwx has the 5th highest CSM and the 3rd highest CSD out of all AD carries. In advanced stats, he has the 3rd lowest "blunders per game", despite having the second highest "risky plays per game", showing an incredible ability to successfully execute risky plays.
Crisp is a support that's well respected by other pros in the LPL. Similar to the likes of Mata and Meiko, Crisp prefers roaming over dominating lanes, and has had the 6th most assists and the 2nd highest KDA out of all supports. In terms of picks, Crisp shines on engage supports like Thresh and Alistar, but has shown that he can play protective picks like Tahm Kench and even Soraka as well.
GimGoon has long been known as one of the most stable and versatile top laners in the LPL, having demonstrated mastery on meta carry and tank picks alike. GimGoon belongs in the group of top laners in China that are considered "just below TheShy" and considered equals to the likes of Zoom, Ray, and 369 (though Zoom's recent performances are separating him from the rest).
It might come as a surprise that Tian, who spent most of his first year on the bench for Suning, would so quickly become one of the best-performing junglers in the league, having won 11 MVPs, the most out of his position. But Tian had actually been known within the pro circle as one of the most coveted prospects, having graduated from Young Miracles, a famous LSPL (China's development league) team that produced the likes of Ming, Ning, and Knight.
In fact, part of the major reasons why Tian did not play at all last split was due to the contractual disputes that Suning had with Knight, and the fact that Tian and Knight were represented by the same agent (LPL former top laner PDD). Albeit a fascinating story in its own right, we don't have the time to cover it here.
It's a very common misconception that FPX plays around Doinb. While Doinb is FPX's major shotcaller, the main driver of FPX's gameplay is in fact Tian.
If I had to summarize FPX's early game in three words, it would be invading with Tian. Part of what makes FPX so successful as a team is their players' total commitment in supporting Tian. While for some less coordinated teams, the jungler would overextend in the enemy jungle with their laners being late to follow up, you never see that with FPX. On the contrary, Doinb, GimGoon, and the bot lane almost always arrive faster than their counterparts whenever a jungle skirmish breaks out, which is precisely why FPX wins so many of them. As a result, Tian has by far the largest GD (gold difference) among junglers at 3.4K per game (Ning is at 2.5K), and FPX as a team has by far the highest first-blood rate (at 73.7%) and the second highest "win rate after first blood".
But Tian doesn't just get ahead for his own sake. He and Doinb and sometimes Crisp typically roam to other lanes together for tower dives or simply to zone the laners away from waves in order to take turrets. In fact, FPX has both the highest first-turret rate and the highest "win rate after taking first turret" out of any team.
Once FPX is ahead in the early game, they are typically able to close out the game methodically due to excellent vision control around baron and wave management. FPX has the 4th highest vision score and the highest baron control rate out of any team.
Coaching & Management
If the history of LoL esports tells us anything, it's that no team can win championships without a great supporting staff. The legacy of SKT is as much Faker and Bang's as it is kkOma and cCarter's. Invictus Gaming did not take off until they've hired a second coach in Kim, now the head coach for DAMWON.
FPX significantly upgraded their coaching stuff for this split, notably signing
WarHorse, the former head coach for Flash Wolves in 2018, when they had two dominant splits in the LMS and respectable showings in MSI and worlds despite losing Karsa.
It's not just the head coach though. FPX's staff is known within LPL for their insane work ethics. For those of you who can read Chinese, this post sheds some lights on the people behind FPX's success. One interesting tidbit is that FPX's general manager used to be a game designer for Riot who was known for nerfing Irelia…
Conclusion and Predictions
TLDR: FPX is a real championship contender with the most oppressive early game in the LPL that's enabled by strong individual players across all five positions who are obsessed with roaming and invading, supported by a dedicated and highly regarded coaching and management staff.
If you walk away from this post with more respect for FPX than before, then I've done my job. Despite personally considering FPX as the favorite to win the split, I must say that FPX will face difficult challenges in their remaining playoffs run. Here are my predictions:
- FPX vs JDG (semifinals, April 13): I think FPX is by far the worst matchup for JDG out of the remaining teams, since FPX plays around mid-jungle better than any team, and JDG's mid-jungle duo is arguably their weakest link. JDG's win condition will be around Zoom, who may be able to outclass GimGoon at their current forms. If Yagao can regain his 2018 form and Flawless has a good showing, then JDG can very well upset FPX (or any team in the world for that matter) . But without the ifs, it will be a 70-30 in favor of FPX.
- FPX vs winner of TOP/IG (finals, April 20): Personally I think TOP is the better team than IG at the moment, but they seem somewhat mentally blocked against IG, having lost against them in Demacia Cup as well as in the regular season. Therefore, I personally predict that IG wins against TOP and then lose to FPX in the finals, though if TOP wins against IG, then I think TOP will win it all, since their mid-jungle duo has shown that they can keep up with FPX's and they have a top laner with insane ceilings in 369.
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© Post "[OC] Demystifying FunPlus Phoenix (FPX), China’s first seed and the most underrated team in the world" for game League of Legends.
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