FunPlus Phoenix came into the finals of the 2021 LPL Spring Playoffs heavily favored against Royal Never Give Up after sweeping them in the semifinals just one week prior. However, it was RNG who took the finals against FPX in a convincing 3-1 fashion to move on to represent China at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, looking every bit the team that finished 1st in the regular season.
How did RNG recover to win the finals of the LPL Spring Playoffs after losing so convincingly to FPX in their previous encounter? The answer: a combination of strong solo lane presence, the crippling of FPX support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song, and one hell of a Pentakill...
Step 1: Shackling Crisp
FPX led all teams in the 2021 LPL Spring Split in kills, averaging nearly one per minute. The way they’ve won most of their games this season was through leveraging best-in-class coordination for early game dives to then build a door-slamming advantage and seal with unmatched teamfight synergy.
RNG knew this. They also knew how to beat it — cripple Crisp’s champion pool.
In four games, Crisp endured a staggering 13 bans. With FPX having to use support bans of its own against Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming — arguably the best support in the LPL — the position faced 21 bans throughout the series (22 if you count the lone Gragas ban as a flex).
Even though this looks like a bot lane 2v2 strategy, it really wasn’t — Ming can more than handle himself against Crisp. But Crisp’s limited individual agency greatly hurt FPX’s early game pace. With Crisp taken off of his playmakers, there were far less windows in the early game for FPX to make the aggressive team-wide plays that defined the team’s winning approach throughout the Spring Split. The slew of bans also allowed Ming to outroam Crisp while leaving AD Carry Chen "GALA" Wei safe in the 1v2 against FPX’s duo.
Step 2: Solo laners step up
Now that they had taken care of Crisp, RNG needed to deal with the top side of the map next, with top laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon and jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang spearheading the FPX offense, especially with mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang trading in a lot of specialty picks to act as a stabilizer for FPX on control mages like Viktor and Orianna.
Both solo lanes for RNG were going into severe opposition.Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao averaged a -500GD@15 — a gap too big to be confident against a world champion top laner. Doinb was also as fierce as ever, despite playing mostly conventional picks, so RNG mid laner Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei also needed to step up individually.
In the beginning of the series, it looked as though FPX’s solo laners didn’t need Crisp’s help. Doinb carried a back-and-forth game 1 on Orianna, and when aided by game-changing teamfight plays courtesy of Nuguri’s Irelia, FPX’s solo laners were enough to scrape out a win.
Still, this was not the blood-soaked FPX that fans were seeing in the games before the finals, and there were several moments of individual outplay coming from RNG. FPX’s early game fire had been quelled, but it was still able to pull out the win despite playing much more of RNG’s style of game than its own.
Things looked to go from bad to worse for RNG in game 2. On his Irelia once again, Nuguri got two quick solo kills against Xiaohu’s Jayce (one of them in a 1v2 skirmish) and when RNG sent four members to the top lane to shut Nuguri down, he miraculously managed to trade another kill onto Xiaohu.
But while FPX was enjoying the Nuguri show in the top lane, the rest of RNG was edging out advantages around the map, and the gap between the bot lanes continued to widen as game 2 progressed. Ultimately, Xiaohu was able to equalize in coordination with his teammates — owing much to it to the plenty of practice playing from behind early on in the regular season. Cryin, on the other hand, took the entire game into his own hands on Ryze, ending the game with more kills than all of FPX combined.
By the time game 3 rolled around, RNG’s plan had fully formed. Xiaohu wasn’t going to beat Nuguri up top, so he locked a safer weak-side Gragas. His one task: soak pressure from Nuguri’s Jayce and Tian’s Volibear. Cryin was tasked with the same, and RNG’s solo laners only needed to keep Nuguri and Doinb occupied while GALA and Ming built up a lead down bot. A 2v2 double kill for GALA broke the dam and RNG’s domination started flooding the Rift. And then, it happened...
Step 3: GALA’s gamebreaking moment
GALA had showcased exceptional team fighting on Tristana in game 1, outclassing FPX’s weak point of AD carry Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang throughout the match and almost immediately answering the question of whether he was ready to step up in the finals. However, it wasn’t until game 3 where GALA reached new heights on Kai’Sa. Despite RNG’s bot lane lead, the team’s gold lead was only 1,000 — more than negligible in the mid-game — and with FPX continuing to keep in step with RNG, it looked as if FPX might turn the series back in its favor.
GALA had other plans, executing a frame-perfect teamfight on Kai’Sa that looked all but lost for RNG to bust the game wide open with a Pentakill. Now armed with a 8/0/2 Kai’Sa, RNG had little issue closing out the game to move the series to match point, but GALA did far more than just win a teamfight, or even a game — in breaking the game wide open, he broke FPX along with it.
FunPlus Phoenix seemingly fell apart after GALA’s Pentakill. They had shown resilience throughout game 3 despite playing from a deficit for its near-entirety, but the luster seemed to leave the players after losing such a pivotal teamfight. This was shown in a sudden and uncharacteristic drop in coordination, highlighted by Tian and Lwx’s 2v5 engage at the dragon pit despite the rest of their team being a screen or so away.
Pushed to match point, FPX continued to crumble and fell further behind than any prior early game in the series. RNG boasted a 7,000 gold lead at 15 minutes, but FPX continued to take fights in a disadvantageous position, sometimes even outnumbered, to no avail. With their mentality shattered, FPX’s level of play fell off of a cliff for the remainder of the series, and what was once a contentious battle became a victory lap as RNG cruised to a 3-1 win that was far more difficult to start than it was to finish.
Onward to Iceland
Royal Never Give Up will be attending their third Mid-Season Invitational as the LPL representative, and they did so by keeping FPX in a box. Crisp was limited in the draft phase to take some of the oomph out of FPX’s early game, and Xiaohu and Cryin were able to stand up to Nuguri and Doinb, respectively, long enough for GALA to bust the game wide open after a series of outclassing Lwx at every turn.
One week after a clean sweep at the hands of FPX, RNG showed world class adaptability in ensuring the finals of the 2021 LPL Spring Split was not a repeat of its semifinals loss, and in doing so, has secured the organization’s fourth domestic championship.