There are few off-season moves stranger than making a roster swap hot off an international LAN win but that’s what happened with Royal Never Give Up. Days after their MSI 2022 championship, Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin has swapped places with Chen “Breathe” Chen.
The reasoning behind this swap is a bit hazy, but what’s important is that Breathe will be starting for RNG going into the 2022 Summer Split.
Without a doubt, Bin is a good top laner, but he’s also a fairly inconsistent one. Like many other peers in the LPL’s upper echelon, Bin excels at 1v1ing. But his often lane-dominant playstyle comes with a cost: His willingness to fight and take trades leaves him open to ganks and rotations and he certainly had his fair share of weaknesses during his time on RNG. Could Breathe be an upgrade for RNG and make them an even scarier team?
Win lane, lose game
Here’s the thing about Bin and Breathe: on the surface, their playstyles are very similar. Even if there are some differences in their champ pools, both love to outplay their opponent and flex their mechanics in 1v1s. Breathe is a player that often wins lane and finds a lead whether the rest of his team is doing well or not. On top of that, he knows how to recover from an early deficit.
Here’s Breathe in BLG’s set against LNG back in Spring. Breathe picked Fiora into Hu "Ale" Jia-Le’s Camille, confident in his ability to win the 1v1 against arguably the best 1v1 player in China. After gaining pressure and an early CS advantage, LNG shut down Breathe’s early lead and put him on the backfoot. Fortunately, BLG managed to get Herald after Breathe’s death, but putting Breathe behind in this matchup could have been catastrophic for BLG.
Fortunately, BLG were able to answer LNG’s second big rotation and come out on top. Wei “Weiwei” Bo-Han’s willingness to run headlong into the fight and take on three members of LNG by himself is admirable, but take note of just how patient Breathe was in this fight.
Breathe could have gone for the other two vitals on Camille for the heal on Fiora’s ultimate, but he decided to let Weiwei take the lead. With Breathe hovering in tower range and Weiwei having the advantage of Xin Zhao’s ultimate, Breathe didn’t give LNG an opening to focus him while they waited for Chu “FoFo” Chun-Lan’s TP to channel.
Breathe also mitigated risk for himself by waiting for Weiwei to take tower aggro. Breathe could have dived by himself, but he likely would have had to burn flash to ensure he didn’t die under tower. This is one of the biggest advantages Breathe has over a player like Bin. Both love to fight, but Breathe does everything he can to actively mitigate risk and keep himself alive.
This playstyle, however, comes with some caveats.
Outside of a Gragas or Gnar game here or there, Breathe doesn’t play any champs that could be mistaken for a frontliner. He does ok when weaksided on picks like Akali and Graves, but a distinct lack of champ diversity is one of Breathe’s biggest weaknesses. He’s here to do damage and carry the game with almost no exceptions. Breathe would much rather go toward champs like Fiora, Riven, and Tryndamere, even if there are better picks available.
That mentality comes at a cost in drafts like the one in Game 2 of BLG’s set against LNG. Breathe was in a position to pick a champion that could counter the tanky, teamfight-y, all in composition that LNG put together in this draft. Instead, he opted for Akali, a champion whose one-shot potential wouldn’t last into the late game. Even if Akali is the champ Breathe wanted to play, she wasn’t the right pick with BLG’s draft.
Despite Breathe’s strong individual performance in this game, his lead didn’t matter. While Breathe was in the backline trying to kill tanks as Akali, his backline damage dealers were unable to get into the fight and do damage. Breathe has the potential to carry games consistently, but it requires his team to draft in a way that enables him to do so. Individual performance can only get you so far.
Fortunately, this playstyle in top lane is something RNG are very used to.
RNG’s path to MSI was not an easy one. Top Esports almost managed a reverse sweep them in the 2022 Spring Playoff Finals, but there was one draft decision that stopped TES’ momentum and gave RNG the edge.
Bin didn’t have the R5 (last pick on red side) counterpick on his side, but it didn’t matter. His Jax was already going to be a great counter for whatever TES decided to draft for their last pick. With how much AP damage TES had with their first four picks, Huang "Wayward" Ren-Xing was forced to draft an AD Champion. And considering Jax counters most of Wayward’s champion pool, one of the biggest draft advantages that red side grants got completely negated by RNG.
The biggest thing that both the LPL Final and the MSI best-of-5 that followed for RNG have showed us is that draft is really, really important. RNG outdrafted their opponent in Game 5 for their most important wins this year. It could certainly be argued that TES and T1 both blundered pretty hard in building their team compositions, but those blunders only matter if the opposing team is in a place to capitalize on them.
Not to mention, Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao’s time in top lane was marked by RNG playing around getting him a lead in almost every game. Xiaohu’s playstyle was more about creating CS leads (in this case, doubling his opponent’s CS) and getting objectives than killing the opponent, but the resource allocation in draft and in game is very similar.
RNG have been drafting to enable top lane for over a year, and there’s room on the team for Breathe to be the star of the show in the same way that Bin and Xiaohu often were. At the very least, Breathe is a sidegrade in comparison to Bin. However, his more careful and calculated method of trading and fighting in lane could make him an even better fit for RNG than Bin was.
And, according to Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang’s opinion on stream, Bin may be a better fit for BLG than Breathe was. Considering Weiwei is always willing to fight and loves to find openings in top lane, this is unsurprising. This may be one of the rare cases where two players being traded in this manner is an upgrade for both teams.
There’s a lot of pressure on Breathe to maintain RNG’s top spot, but he’s a top laner who is surely up to the task. If RNG can properly utilize Breathe’s strengths, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing him at Worlds.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.