Three of the four major regions have already decided their respective representatives for the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, but China has yet to decide its regional representative.
On Sunday, April 18 at 5:00pm local time, FunPlus Phoenix and Royal Never Give Up will face off in the finals of the 2021 League of Legends Pro League Spring Playoffs to decide who represents China at MSI 2021. Let's take a look at what to expect from the finals this weekend based on what is known about FPX and RNG in context of this season and beyond.
With 17 teams competing in the 2021 LPL Spring Split, FPX and RNG were only able to compete against one another a single time. In the best-of-three match, Royal Never Give Up defeated FunPlus Phoenix in a convincing 2-0, which was one of many pivotal victories that led to RNG's 1st place finish, while FPX settled for 5th place heading into the post-season.
It's undeniable that RNG played better than FPX in the Spring Split match, but FPX had many things working against it. The team was still working to integrate new top laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon, and jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang was in the middle of a month-long competitive break due to health issues. With substitute jungler Yang "Beichuan" Ling starting in Tian's place, FPX was at a disadvantage long before the start of the matchup.
FPX is a team heavily dependent on team cohesion. At its strength, the team is stronger than the sum of its parts, and in the 2021 LPL Spring Playoffs, FPX came online in a 3-0 sweep against RNG, who was knocked into the lower post-season bracket.
Unlike the teams' match in the Spring Split, FPX's bot lane duo of AD carry Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang and support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song were able to withstand RNG's pressure, and while RNG mid laner Yuan "Cryin" Chang-Wei had a strong series individually, FPX mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang was able to equalize his impact around the map in signature fashion.
The EDward Gaming litmus test
FPX's superior cohesion ended up being the difference maker in catching RNG off-guard in their first meeting in the post-season, and sets the tone for the finals with recency favoring FPX. However, both teams have played an additional best-of-five series since their last meeting — both against EDward Gaming. Both teams ended up defeating EDG 3-2 — first FPX, then RNG in the lower bracket — but the nature of each series is indicative in the differences in each team's identity.
EDG finished in 2nd place in the 2021 LPL Spring Split in large part due to incredibly strong individual performances from its laners. Top laner Li "Flandre" Xuan-Jun has brought his usual quirks to EDG and settled in nicely, mid laner Lee "Scout" Ye-chan had one of his best splits in years, and AD carry Park "Viper" Do-hyeon won the Spring Split MVP award. It was off the backs of these players that EDG jumped out ahead 2-1 against FPX in convincing fashion.
EDG looked as if it was going to repeat its Spring Split victory over FPX, but ultimately, FPX adapted and bounced back to win game 4 and took the series in game 5 to move on to the finals of the post-season. In the end, FPX's superior cohesion in executing play-after-play to a more efficient level as the series went on ended up outlasting the strong, explosive individual performances that propelled EDG to its series lead in the first half of the match.
That isn't to say that FPX's players aren't individually talented — Nuguri's Jayce was a linchpin in game 4, and Doinb's Akali defined the final game of the series — but FPX's familiarity within its identity is what makes it such a formidable foe.
This isn't a case of being limited in one's identity, either, such as a team like TSM, who can win effectively due to its understanding of its strengths and weaknesses but has only shown consistency in one style — FPX has shown it can be on the same page in a multitude of playstyles.
The nature of Royal Never Give Up's 3-2 victory over EDward Gaming was different from that of FPX's, and also showcased the differences between the two teams in the finals and pointed out what set each of their victories against EDG apart from one another.
EDG has arguably the strongest individual talent of any roster in the LPL, and FPX has unparalleled team cohesion, and in the middle of that spectrum lies RNG. The team's cohesion is quite not as consistent as FPX's, but when things go right for RNG, it can defeat anyone in the league. EDG matched RNG blow-for-blow throughout the first two early games, but RNG was able to capitalize on its individual and teamwide advantages more effectively to jump ahead in the series 2-0.
While EDG would go on to tie up the series, the nature of its wins against RNG were far different than its losses. RNG was able to land far more impactful counterpunches with EDG in the lead than vice-versa, and game 4 took long enough for EDG to close out that RNG very well could have ended the series in four games. Game 5 looked far more like the first two games than the third and the fourth, and RNG eliminated EDG with its third convincing win of the series.
The competitive level of FunPlus Phoenix and Royal Never Give up make either team an exciting potential representative of China at MSI 2021, especially when considering each organization's international history. FPX has retained 4/5 of its roster that won the 2019 World Championship, and no other Chinese organization has as many international appearances as RNG.
RNG has longterm veterans to match FPX in top laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao, who joined the team as a mid laner in 2015 before roleswapping for the 2021 season to promote Cryin from sub to starter, as well as Ming, who first started in the support position for RNG alongside legendary AD Carry Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao in the 2017 LPL Spring Split.
Recency favors FunPlus Phoenix in the finals of the 2021 LPL Spring Playoffs, but if RNG can maintain its top level of play throughout an entire series, it might be what it needs to complete its lower bracket run and punch its ticket to the organization's third Mid-Season Invitational.