Invictus Gaming will be starting Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning in its next game against ahq e-Sports Club. The first game in the final day of the 2019 League of Legends World Championship Group Stage will be the the IG veteran's first start since August 23rd in the 2019 LPL Summer Playoffs.
IG has preferred starting rookie Jungler Lu "Leyan" Jue while Ning warms the bench with Lee "Duke" Ho-seong. Leyan started playing for IG towards the end of the Summer Split at the beginning of August, and after splitting time with Ning, seemed to have taken the starting spot full time. Leyan started every game of Invictus Gaming's run through the 2019 LPL Regional Final to secure China's 3rd seed for the World Championship.
IG is currently tied at 2-1 with LCS #1 seed Team Liquid and LCK #3 seed DAMWON Gaming, who qualified for Group D through the Worlds 2019 Play-In. In last place, ahq e-Sports Club anchors the group as it still looks for Taiwan's first Group D victory.
IG defeated ahq in its first meeting, and may be using the perceived easiest opponent of the Group to get Ning some stage time should he need to sub in for Leyan for the rest of Group D or the Knockout Stage should IG qualify.
While the reason behind Ning's benching has yet to be fully explained by the team, implications point towards a potential attitude or team morale issue stemming from the veteran Jungler. Last off-season in South Korea, Inven interviewed then IG Head Coach Kim "Micro" Mok-kyoung and Assistant Coach Won "Mafa" Sang-yeon about working with Ning leading up to IG's 2018 Worlds triumph.
"Ning practices less than others but he has a lot of talent. That's why from the coaches' perspective, it's very unfortunate," said Mafa. "We are able to bring good results with his talent for now, but it's a shame that he puts his mechanical ability above all else." Micro, who parted ways with the team days after the interview and is now the Head Coach of DAMWON Gaming, put his personal experience in coaching Ning into detail.
"I fought with this player the most and had trouble dealing with him. It was my first experience working with somebody like that, who also practices little," said Micro. "He is very talented. However, he has a tendency to negatively impact the team's atmosphere. Because of his stubbornness, there were many scrims in which he could not bring out his best ability. In scrims, players will usually declare 'GG' when they tilt. Most of the time, Ning was the first to do so."
Mafa is currently the on-stage coach for Invictus Gaming and is calling the shots for the team out of game at Worlds 2019, so it's safe to assume he's aware of the potential drawbacks of starting Ning if the same issues have continued to persist. However, it's important to remember that Ning was the MVP in IG's 3-0 sweep of Fnatic in the Worlds 2018 Grand Finals. If he can reclaim his World Champion form from the year previous, IG's chances of making a run this year would skyrocket.