Text by: Adel Choadria
Special to VPEsports
It took Invictus Gaming sixteen minutes and one second (16:01) to make a statement against SK Telecom T1, on the way to a dominant 4:0 start in the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational.
The LPL’s finest squad seemed to play on a completely different level, untouchable. After a shaky start against Vietnam’s Phong Vu Buffalo, they shifted gears and demolished G2 Esports, Team Liquid and, more notably, SKT in a new official record for international competition.
However, the experience left the team’s long-time mid laner, Song “Rookie” Ui-jin, wanting. After all, neither SK Telecom T1 nor G2 Esports played within their comfort zones. As such, he is looking forward to matching up against them again during days 4 and 5.
“[SKT and G2] were trying something new,” he said. “I want to see what they got with their full potential; we have to be prepared for what they can do with their usual compositions, but we weren’t able to do that. […] I will be extra happy if I can take them down with their usual picks.”
However, the fact remains: Invictus Gaming dismantled SK Telecom T1 in a record mark that is unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. In truth, the game had ended at a level 1 skirmish after SKT and iG met in the bottom side of the river and exchanged kills. SKT may have secured first blood, but iG secured a return kill that was worth far more in the long run.
SKT uncharacteristically picked a Sona/Taric bot lane, which iG had correctly scouted and even faced during scrimmage sessions, Rookie noted. In time, iG unleashed an obvious countermeasure: Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-bo’s Draven, a player who had mastered the champion seasons before becoming a professional.
Draven’s high damage output helps nullify Sona during the laning phase, turning her into a free adoration stack generator at best. In the end, SKT neglected that factor, leading into JackeyLove’s takeover of the game after securing a kill at level 1, during the initial river skirmish.
What can other teams unleash against iG? Hard to tell,
And iG may have more countermeasures than Draven against Sona/Taric — provided they ever showcase them.
“I guess not, if they haven’t prepared really well,” Rookie said regarding the possibility of opposing teams selecting the support duo in the bot lane. “Even though [SKT] prepared a lot, this composition has a lot of huge risk with it. It might have worked in the very early beginning of the tournament, but it’s week 2, and we’re moving to quarterfinals. I don’t think this kind of cheese composition will work.”
What can other teams unleash against iG? Hard to tell, considering that G2 Esports’ flex wars against the flex specialists has ended in brutal defeat (but not thorough humiliation). In that victory, TheShy proved especially devastating on Akali against Martin “Wunder” Hansen’s visibly stranded Vayne in the top lane.
Perhaps, Phong Vu Buffalo’s chaotic all-out brawling could help solve the puzzle, but iG’s composure and steadiness on a macro standpoint helped them overcome them in the past. Baolan’s contributions were particularly notable during that encounter.
As for Team Liquid’s valiance, it could only carry them so far against Ning’s Rek’Sai and Rookie’s bold Akali play in an unfavorable Sylas matchup, highlighting the power behind the mid/jungle duo that had taken shape in 2017 onward — all of this with TheShy taking a backseat.
How does one solve Invictus Gaming at the Mid-Season Invitational when they have so many options — even an otherwise underpowered jungle Camille pick? Perhaps, the players will wear off eventually. Even then, think again.
[Sona/Taric] might have worked in the very early beginning of the tournament, but it’s week 2, and we’re moving to quarterfinals. I don’t think this kind of cheese composition will work.
“The biggest strength in my team is that our players are really young; so, they’re mechanically really good, and they’re really bold to pull some of the outplays,” Rookie said. “They can make the opponents kind of zone out during the games.”
“There are a lot of games where some players have personal failures or have hard times, but other players can come up and carry for them.”
It was not always this way for iG, who had once struggled to make it past the first round of the LPL playoffs for years until their rebuilding effort took shape. From the team that Rookie joined in 2015, no player remains on the lineup. In fact, in 2018, he was one of the elder statesmen alongside 2016 (and 2018, as it turned out) World Champion Duke.
From the moment Baolan and Ning joined in 2017, he had seen signs of greatness within the team. With JackeyLove finally joining the roster in 2018 upon reaching the minimum age requirement for LPL participation, and with TheShy blossoming into a powerhouse, the world stage was theirs for the taking.
And Rookie would have it no other way.
“I am honestly thankful for all the talented players who joined my team,” he said. “Their personalities and lifestyle connected with me and iG really well, so we were able to pick up really good results with great synergy.”
Rookie even jokingly noted, laughing: “I was really good back in the day, so [I bet] a lot of players wanted to join iG!”
But his effots at guiding his teammates have paid off, and they continue to do so with four younger players on Summoners’ Rift (when Duke sits on the sidelines). Despite the novelty of being the veteran guiding young players in 2018, he fully embraced the task. And it has paid fruit.
“I’m thankful for my teammates for making me able to join these big stages and events,” he concluded, with the 2018 World Championship and the 2019 LPL spring titles on the rear view, and with the MSI trophy in his sights.
Disclaimer: the article was built from a press conference that included The Shotcaller’s Darius Matuschak, Mais Esports’ Eric Texeira, Inven’s Woo “Ready” Hyun, and the writer of this article.