Worlds always brings the best of the best players to one stage for the sake of entertaining the masses and crowning a king, and 2020 is no different (barring leaving Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok at home and the lack of an in-person audience outside of the Finals). And despite the incredible players with long international histories — like Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan, Rasmus "Caps" Winther, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, etc. — the Vietnamese jungler of Suning, Lê "SofM" Quang Duy, is by far the most influential of the event in his debut attendance.
SofM took over the tournament by storm. At the very beginning, people were interested in the jungler for his unique tank builds, especially his Knight's Vow + Spirit Visage Lee Sin. But honing in on that one specific detail greatly undermines what he does, and what he has done, for the meta in both the LPL and Worlds.
Fog of war? Not for Suning!
Zooming out to take a glance at the bigger picture, SofM was making waves with his outrageous vision control by popularizing and perfecting the trinket swap method for abusing cooldowns back in Summer 2019. Essentially, SofM would swap between the yellow warding trinket and the red sweeping trinket on his bases to take advantage of the lower cooldown of the red trinket, which was only half that of yellow. By doing so, he could place twice as many wards as other junglers, or one and a third as many wards with one use of the sweeper. Even when he based to heal, but wanted to keep his yellow trinket, he would swap to red for the 10 seconds standing there to get an additional ward ten seconds faster upon returning to the map. He was meticulously efficient.
Riot has since removed this mechanic, likely due to SofM, and eventually the rest of high Elo and pro play, taking too much advantage of it. However, it has remained a somewhat popular strategy at the start of the game, with junglers often placing an early defensive ward and immediately backing for red trinket to clear the enemy's vision or secure a sneaky early gank before their first base where they return to the yellow trinket. You can no longer continue swapping back and forth for reduced cooldowns, but swapping is still important in certain situations.
While this has been a popular strategy for over a year now, none of the apprentices have managed to overtake the master. SofM had both the highest wards placed per minute of any non-support in the group stage, and had the second-highest wards cleared per minute of every single player attending, including supports. I spoke about his incredible vision control previously, but it's clear that his efforts in supplying and denying vision have been helpful for Suning's success.
In his quarterfinal series against JDG, SofM outscored his opponent jungler, Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok's, vision score by 77 in their first loss and then by 75, 98, and 18 in their three wins. Furthermore, he had the highest vision score in each of the four games, including the supports on both teams.
Beyond his influence on the map with his vision control, SofM inspired Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen to copy his tank Lee Sin build and baited Karsa into thinking Jarvan IV was playable. He has truly embraced the whole "farming junglers meta," often leaving his laners on an island while he racks up his CS. He is tied for first in CSPM of junglers, and is second highest in CSD at 10 minutes, nearly double third place. He even flame horizoned an enemy jungler in one of his games. Additionally, he also secures twice as many many dragons for his team than he gives up, with 34 taken and 17 lost. He is constantly on the map finding something to farm, be it monsters, drakes, or wards.
SofM, the people's champion
But his gameplay isn't even what makes him influential — his true influence is found in his fandom and in his sole representation of the Vietnamese League of Legends scene. SofM hails from Vietnam and played his first years there before transferring to the LPL in 2016. He played for Snake Esports — now LNG Esports — for nearly four years before moving to Suning, struggling to find any real success.
Now, in his first-ever international competition, out of over 100 players attending Worlds 2020, SofM is the single Vietnamese player in attendance due to travel restrictions prohibiting the two VCS representatives from taking their place in the tournament. This was heartbreaking news leading into Worlds. But as a minor consolation, the region was represented instead by its greatest star ever produced, SofM.
And his fans came out in droves to support him and watch him perform. According to Esports Charts, most of the quarterfinals matches had around a 250,000 Vietnamese peak viewership. However, the Suning vs JDG game had a 380,000 Vietnamese peak, bringing around 130,000 additional people to those games than the other three.
SofM is a legend and role model for VCS pros as well, and his success actually propels the region forward. After MSI 2019, I spoke with a deeply involved manager in the VCS, Nguyễn Vũ Đôn, who worked for many of the most successful VCS teams, including EVOS at MSI 2018 and then Phong Vũ/Dashing/Saigon Buffalo at both MSI and Worlds. He spoke of the influence players like SofM have when they leave the VCS to play internationally.
"They’ll see that and think, 'One day, if I try hard enough, I could make 10K a month! I can play in Korea, I can play in China, I can go anywhere in the world and change my life.' If they see that, if they see their role model do that and see that target, they’ll want that. Before, nobody did it, so nobody ever thought China would one day want one of us to play for them," he explained.
"It will make young players believe this is a serious career. Then they have a name to show their mom and dad. 'Look Dad! This guy plays for 10K per month. I can be that, I am that good. Let me try. In a few years, I can get there.' It’s not like they’d just believe us, now they have a name to persuade them. It’s big enough to go to national television. And then we will have more players, we will have a much more competitive scene. That creates a more interesting league, and that attracts money, and that money changes the league again and again. It’s a very proud thing to see, our player is going to compete in another region."
And his point is crucial, that the VCS' shortcomings are not playerbase nor skill, but rather opportunity and financial stability — something that is completely taken care of if a player moves abroad. This was reiterated in a later conversation I had with the popular VCS jungler and legend, Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh, after his stint in NA Academy and his return to Vietnam concerning the region's growth and shortcomings.
"We have more young talented players and more confidence in our region, but the average salary of the pros is still really low compared to other regions, even the other wildcard regions in the World," said the jungler. "What we need is to make it higher someday so our players will try harder to keep their spot and also we will be able to find more young talents." Levi's points prove the necessity for model players like himself and SofM, and that's why — with Levi's return to the VCS and their inability to travel to Worlds this year — SofM is incredibly important and influential.
Regardless of how fun he is to watch, beyond how he dismantles teams by controlling vision, and no matter how tanky his Lee Sin gets, SofM's greatest quality is his influence and representation of a budding emerging region with the clear need for one. It is a complete and absolute shame that GAM Esports and Team Flash couldn't attend Worlds, but it's crucial that SofM made his debut and performed so well in it. Regardless of the outcome in the Semis, his career in the past years and throughout this tournament have been incredibly influential, not only for the meta, but for the development, confidence, and inspiration of an entire region that so wholly deserves it.
Catch SofM and Suning in their semifinal match against the LPL first seed, Top Esports, on Sunday on watch.lolesports.com.
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