The 2021 League of Legends Professional League Summer Playoffs are officially underway with the top 10 teams of the 17-team league competing in a best-of-five serie format to see who will represent China when it hosts the World Championship this fall. After Royal Never Give Up won the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational this past spring, China’s depth has been praised as the best in the world, and while the World Championship trophy currently resides in South Korea with DWG KIA, China is considered by the majority of the LoL Esports community to be the premier competitive region.
In the first round of competition, LNG Esports eliminated Worlds 2020 finalist Suning in a narrow 3-2 series, and the next day, Team WE triumphed over Oh My God on the other side of the bracket. With eight teams left heading into round 2 of the 2021 LPL Summer Playoffs, let’s take a quick look at every squad competing for the championship.
Team WE (in Round 2)
➕ Strengths: Team WE’s playstyle is more reminiscent of the controlled, measured pace of South Korean teams than the typical Chinese aggression. WE only gets First Blood 38% of the time, but still manages to secure the first tower 77% of the time regardless of which team secures the first kill of the game.
➖ Weaknesses: Team WE is too strong to be called a pushover, but its early game is definitely exploitable by some of the top LPL teams, particularly those who have a large individual skill gap in a solo lane position.
🔑 Key Player: Li "Mole" Hao-Yan has not started for Team WE for quite some time since joining the team at the beginning of summer, but Mole’s unique flexibility as a sixth man who can play both mid lane and support could be WE’s secret weapon in a best-of-5 series if properly utilized.
LNG Esports (in Round 2)
➕ Strengths: LNG does not possess the early game firepower of other teams in the LPL Summer Playoffs. Instead, LNG opts for a more cerebral approach to the game. The squad is top 3 in wards placed and is the second most optimal team in terms of clearing vision. A controlled, well-paced gameplan is often what allows LNG to win games despite a 50% first blood rate, a 38% first tower rate, and a 44% dragon secure rate.
➖ Weaknesses: LNG’s vision control is admirable, but the approach is by design as much as it is by necessity. Regardless of how well its macro is executed, LNG may simply lack the firepower and champion pool depth to compete with the more experienced squads deeper in the post-season bracket.
🔑 Key Player: Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong has found a new home in the LPL following the collapse of Griffin and the organization’s unceremonious exit from LCK. As LNG’s starting jungler, he has been the difference-maker in pushing the team to a playoff force in 2021. Tarzan’s consistent excellence in the jungle isn’t just a large factor in LNG’s success — it’s practically a requirement.
Top Esports (in Round 2)
➕ Strengths: Top Esports still displays the same strengths from its 2020 season. The squad’s individual talent and experience are undeniable, and their wins have often come from large, clutch performances from an individual member in a vital teamfight as indicated by TES’ LPL-best 63% Baron Nashor secure rate.
➖ Weaknesses: As a unit, TES simply doesn’t seem to possess the same gear as it did in 2020. The support position continues to be a weak point at best and a question mark at worst, and the pieces surrounding TES’ crown jewel in the mid lane aren’t quite as sharp as they were in 2020, sans AD carry Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo.
🔑 Key Player: Top Esports is a far cry from its 2020 peak, but mid-laner Zhuo “knight” Ding has remained excellent throughout the season. In the Summer Split, knight finished top 3 in KDA, assists, and least deaths, while racking up the most kills of any mid laner in the LPL.
➕ Strengths: After re-tooling its roster piece by piece across the past three splits, Bilibili Gaming has qualified for the post-season for the first time since the summer of 2019. BLG’s hybrid roster features three Chinese players who are excellent at facilitating the South Korean carry duo, and most impressively, the team has been able to retain its core identity throughout multiple metas and various compositions.
➖ Weaknesses: Despite its cohesion, BLG hasn't been convincing firepower-wise for most of the season. The team looked excellent in its 2-1 win over Royal Never Give Up at the end of the split, but whether that form can be maintained across a best-of-5 series has yet to be seen.
🔑 Key Player: Both Kim “Aiming” Ha-ram and Kim “Zeka” Geon-woo have performed admirably for BLG, but Aiming’s damage share is superior to his mid laner and he plays a pivotal role within the team alongside support Guo “ppgod” Peng. Aiming’s 581 damage per minute and 29% damage share are among the best sharpshooters in the LPL Summer Split, and for BLG to take on the top teams in best-of-five series play, Aiming must continue to deliver in the post-season.
Royal Never Give Up (in Round 3)
➕ Strengths: Save for an early summer slump, Royal Never Give Up looks largely like the same team who won MSI 2021 about three months ago. Mid laner turned top laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao continues to excel in his first season at his new position, and young AD carry Chen "GALA" Wei is continuing to develop nicely under the mentorship of support Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming.
➖ Weaknesses: RNG mid laner Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei continues to be the team’s weakest member, and while he’s been far from terrible, simply being "good enough" might not be what it takes for RNG to defend its spring title.
🔑 Key Player: It’d be easy to point at RNG’s stars as any of its key players, but RNG looked at its best this season at MSI with jungler Yan "Wei" Yang-Wei playing out of his mind. If Wei can reach new heights once again alongside the rest of RNG, it might be the difference in whether RNG can defend its spring championship from the rest of the competition.
Rare Atom (in Round 3)
➕ Strengths: When it comes to suffocating vision, Rare Atom is the best in the business. Despite buying fewer Vision Wards than Suning, RA is tied for the most wards cleared per minute in the league. No other team in the LPL is able to establish vision control over a previously uncontrolled area as clinically efficient as Rare Atom.
➖ Weaknesses: Rare Atom has plenty of talent, but its experience pales in comparison to other top LPL rosters. Continuing to maintain its composure in the longer post-season series’ will be the deciding factor in whether RA is title contender or pretender.
🔑 Key Player: Chu “FoFo” Chun-lan has done it all for Rare Atom this summer, playing 14 champions on the way to a top 3 finish in the Summer Split. RA has many talented players on its roster, but the versatility of FoFo is the glue that holds the team’s top status together. Whether that will continue to hold in a best-of-five format will be crucial in whether RA can make a deep run in the post-season to potentially represent China at Worlds 2021.
EDward Gaming (in Round 4)
➕ Strengthss: To say EDward Gaming is the cleanest team in the LPL is an understatement. At 360 deaths, EDG has died the least times of any team in the LPL this summer. The second place team in this statistic? Suning, with a whopping 85 more deaths than EDG. EDG’s 1.43 KD is a league best, but that doesn’t mean the team is avoiding risk in the early game — EDG’s 78% first blood rate is second in the LPL only to RNG’s 79%.
➖ Weaknesses: EDG, while undeniably elite, has players who have historically failed to deliver in large moments. It’s not as egregious as previous seasons, given how close the LPL Spring Playoffs were, but one has to wonder whether one small change could have resulted in EDG winning one or more of those deciding game 5s.
🔑 Key Player: Mid laner Lee "Scout" Ye-chan has had plenty of elite seasons on EDG, but this season, he’s had arguably his best AD carry in Park "Viper" Do-hyeon. EDG finally having a second reliable carry to Scout in Viper might be what it needs to return to the Worlds stage.
FunPlus Phoenix (in Round 4)
➕ Strengths: FPX, while aggressive, is not your typical LPL team. Its First Blood rate is only 38%, but its 67% drake secure is the best dragon control in the LPL. FPX will often take individual deficits for teamwide advantage in order to further enable mid laner and LPL Summer Split MVP Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang to take over games the way he’s been doing all summer long.
➖ Weaknesses: FPX’s sole weak point, at least in a world-class context, is in the bot lane. Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang has been serviceable, but the AD carry simply doesn’t compare to the elite level shown by his teammates throughout various parts of the season.
🔑 Key Player: FPX is far from a one-dimensional team, but it’s undeniable that the team has access to its highest gear only when Doinb is excelling. FPX’s man in the mid lane might have just had the best split of his entire career, and if he can continue this form into the Summer Playoffs, FPX’s odds of winning the post-season are high.