It’s a bit of an understatement to say FunPlus Phoenix underperformed at Worlds 2021. They didn’t just drop out in the group stage, they placed last. It’s pretty difficult to find a way to go 0-4 on a day where there are only supposed to be three games played, but FPX pulled it off. From Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang’s health issues to Jang “Nuguri” Ha-Gwon’s overall poor performance, there are a number of factors to point toward. Regardless of who’s to blame, FPX almost entirely dissolved. Only Lin “LWX” Wei-Xiang remains.
Yet somehow, FPX still looks like one of the best teams in China. With an almost entirely reforged roster, FPX is a team looking to create a new legacy from the bones of a once-great team. What makes this new team stand out?
Loyal to the very end
With Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song, Tian, and Doinb spread across different teams, the death of FPX’s 2021 roster has spread its ashes far and wide. To top it all off, LWX was the only player left. Considering how topside heavy the old iteration of FPX was, it was hard to see keeping LWX as a win going into the Demacia Cup. He was on “Ziggs duty” for a lot of 2021. Rather than being able to stand on his own as a carry, his job was to stay alive in lane and make it to late game. That didn’t make LWX a bad player, but he didn’t stand out.
This new roster has given LWX a new lease on life, and he looks like one of the most bold ADCs China has to offer.
At the Demacia Cup, LWX was relentless. It was less about winning and more about making a statement. He was aggressive to a fault, and seemed focused on showing how high his ceiling could go. Supposedly, there’s a meme going around in China that LWX is here to take down all the traitors that left the organization.
If this LWX is what we’re going to see more of in 2022, the aggressive spirit of FPX may well live on well past the people that created that image for the team. LWX certainly had a few bad games through the Demacia Cup, and he would often get caught out and killed as a result of trying to overforce. However, the fact that he’s willing to push himself to be better is a good sign going into the Spring Split.
Hope for the future
China’s recent legislation restricting the amount of time minors can play per week created speculation as to how much rookie talent we’d see come out of the region in the coming years. Players like EDG’s Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun and RNG’s Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao have been training and playing professionally since their early/mid teens, and some of the best Chinese players have worked for years and years to get where they are now.
FPX’s new roster flies in the face of those fears by putting young players and rookie talent in the spotlight. It’s true that the Demacia Cup is often a place where LDL teams and rookies get their shot at the big stage, FPX’s new roster was playing at a level most starting rosters in the LPL would be lucky to get to.
Fu “Hang” Ming-Hang
18 year old Hang is no rookie. He may be young, but he’s got almost two years of LPL play under his belt. Despite Rare Atom not doing well enough to make their mark internationally, they had some big moments and managed to finish 2021 as a mid-tier team. Hang’s playmaking and aggression was a big part of their success and their failure. His playstyle is no different on FPX.
Hang is always going in, always looking for a fight. This clip encapsulates what can happen sometimes as a result of being too aggressive. Hang played well mechanically, but trying to take the fight may not have been the best idea. He has a lot of potential as a player despite his apparent weaknesses, and time laning with an experienced ADC will do him a lot of good.
Yang “Beichuan” Ling
Beichaun may be older than Hang, but he has much less competitive experience. After being picked up by FunPlus Blaze (FPX’s minor league team) in 2021, he flirted with the main roster on and off through 2021 before getting a starting position going into 2022. Despite being a rookie in every sense of the word, Beichuan more than earned his spot on FPX.
Beichuan is an assassin jungler through and through. Other top LPL junglers like Wei, Tian, and Tarzan excel when playing teamfighters. Xin Zhao and Jarvan IV have been especially popular in China, and, while Beichuan is capable of playing those Champions, he’s not a big teamfighter. Beichuan instead tries to create a series of small 1v1s, dividing up the enemy team and individually taking them down.
In a region defined by big engagements and constant teamfighting, Beichuan’s skillset is fine-tuned for getting picks and pulling off early dives/ganks. This comes with the downside that Beichuan is generally poor at taking teamfights on objectives, and often gets outfarmed by the opposing jungler. He’s a very all-in player, unnecessarily so at times. With some refinement and practice, Beichuan’s playstyle could help him stand out from the competition and own the jungle in his own way.
Ping “xiaolaohu” Xiao-Hu
Another rookie from FunPlus Blaze, xiaolaohu got his start at the same time as Beichuan. They’re both very fresh, and they both got a taste of playing on FPX’s main roster back in 2021. Beichuan did alright when he got the chance to play, but xiaolaohu’s three games with FPX were all standout performances.
In a late-season set against EDG, Nuguri wasn’t cutting it. So, with the set tied 1-1, xiaolaohu got subbed in to bring some stability to the top lane.
xiaolaohu then stomped the lane with the help of Tian, and tore apart the top side of the map. He played well early, avoiding poke from Jayce while getting as much CS as possible in a difficult early matchup. After fighting on Rift Herald and subsequently solo killing Flandre in lane, xiaolaohu took that advantage to teamfights.
xiaolaohu is an expert at flanking the enemy and mowing down the backline when they least expect it. With his very safe lane phase and ability to transition well into the late game, xiaolaohu is more than just a player with potential. In comparison to Nuguri’s 2021, xiaolaohu is an outright upgrade.
Bringing it all together
This FPX roster still has a lot to work on in order to rise to the top. The fact that they got reverse swept in the Demacia Cup Finals against Top Esports made that abundantly clear. A disappointing finish for FPX, but one that proved this team has a long way to go.
Kim “Gori” Tae-woo, FPX’s new mid laner, wasn’t in top shape for the Demacia Cup. His muted performance was a surprise, considering he garnered the most MVP votes in the LCK last split. Gori didn’t play poorly, but he seemed scared to commit everything he had to big teamfights. It’s going to take time for him to get on board with that LPL brand of aggression.
Hang, LWX, and Beichuan all have potential to grow and are great players despite some clear flaws. And, if this bot lane doesn’t work out for FPX, they have Luo “jiang” Bai-Jiang and Dang “Lele” Bo-Lin to sub in for ADC and support, respectively. Lele’s long tenure on Royal Club, RNG’s LDL team, combined with jiang legitimately smurfing LDL games on FunPlus Blaze means there’s a lot of potential here for either player.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to find a place to complain about xiaolaohu. It isn’t every day you get subbed in over the currently reigning World Champion and then top diff the future World Champion. That massive victory for FPX combined with xiaolaohu’s very strong Demacia Cup performance gives this player the potential to be a serious top lane threat against any team.
There’s a lot to live up to for this new roster. FPX shook the world in 2019 with their meta-shattering aggressive playstyle, and taking a 3-0 win in the Finals showed just how dominant this team was at the time. But FPX has fallen a long way since then.
The Demacia Cup isn’t always indicative of the way the upcoming LPL Split will go. Many teams don’t start with their full rosters, and it takes place during a strange and turbulent time in the meta. But it’s hard not to be excited about FPX after they had such a strong performance against Top Esports’ full 2022 roster.
It’s sad to see such an iconic roster go, but this could be a turning point for FPX. What was once viewed as a massive off-season roster collapse may be viewed in retrospect as FPX moving on to bigger and better things. If a relatively new team can stand up to Top Esports, one of China’s best 2022 rosters, who knows the heights they can reach once they carve out a new identity all their own?
FunPlus Phoenix is far from dead.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.