Described by some commentators as the strongest team in League of Legends esports’ short history, G2 Esports couldn’t hold out against FunPlus Phoenix (FPX). The Chinese team bested G2, three games to none at the World Championship Finals and claimed the $1 million prize.
European fans had been hopeful about this year’s matchup because of G2’s unconventional play style and its consecutive victories at earlier 2019 tournaments. A European team hasn’t won finals since 2011, which wasn’t a truly global event.
In the years following, Korean teams dominated — until 2018 when a Chinese team took the top spot. As FunPlus’s mid-laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang put it before the match, today’s victory “cements China as the number one region.” Indeed, next year’s championships will be held in Shanghai, Riot announced after the conclusion of the match.
“We lost 3-0, but we’re going to hold our heads high for next year," G2 Esports coach Fabian ‘GrabbZ’ Lohmann said. "Today, FPX was just better.”
The loss fell particularly hard on this pro-G2 audience. By the beginning of the doomed third game, fans’ excitement had begun to waver. The 15,000-strong crowd, which had been chanting in decided unison at the beginning of this championship, seemed to have fractured after two losses. The hall was full of noise but, aside from a few late-game rallies, the sound of the commentators drowned out the crowd, not the other way round. After FPX won, the crowd largely stayed in their seats and when the Chinese team hoisted the Summoner’s Cup cheered the new champions.
“The entire year it seemed like there were more people supporting our opponents than us,” FPX’s Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang said. “We want to work harder to make people like us.”
In the end, FunPlus’s sheer speed of play outpaced G2’s ability to solve problems creatively. Wei-Xiang finished the finals without dying once, and Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang was awarded MVP honors, despite what he considered a middling performance.
“I was kind of shocked I took the MVP," Tian-Liang said. "I played well but I would rate my performance as only 50-to-60 percent.”
G2’s third game was by far its best of the day, but it wasn’t enough. Disappointed European fans can take solace in one fact: neither of these teams was favored to make it this far at the beginning of the season. Even with a change of venue that will take the 2020 championship to the other side of the globe, competitive League of Legends is a sport that can still be shaken up by anyone.
“I definitely think Europe is a strong region,” G2′s Rasmus “Caps” Winther said. “I think we can bounce back next year. We need to work on a few things and we’ll be there.”
Highlights and match analysis
How FPX won Game 3
FunPlus Phoenix won the Summoner’s Cup by building a massive lead in the most unexpected place: Bot lane. Lwx completed his deathless grand final performance — the first in history — by smashing Perkz and Mikyx in lane, breaking the Tier 1 turret before 8 minutes had passed — the fastest first turret of Worlds 2019 — and denying Perkz a single creep for the matchup’s first three minutes.
Despite the early deficit, G2 fought bravely in the mid game, catching FPX in a few uncomfortable fights and buying time for Caps to scale. FPX had no intention of waiting around for that, quickly taking Baron and regaining the initiative. — Yim
Another Baron for FPX and G2 is on the ropes
You can’t take that Baron in that map state without extreme discipline and a high level of coordination. FPX are staying poised in the face of G2′s best game of the series. Doinb followed by going top lane for a tower and in the process, set the stage for a staggering sequence from FPX, as they take the top inhibitor but were unable to end the game thanks to low respawn timers.
Tian somehow managed to stay alive after engaging into four G2 players, and Crisp landed a face-melting Thresh hook to kill Wunder on the back end of the play. — Yim
A spark for G2
Jankos picks up a critical first blood for G2, benefiting from Lwx being split away from the fight and unable to contribute damage over the wall. But FPX’s 11-2 turret plate advantage is more than enough to sustain their momentum after that brief teamfight mishap.
Shortly after comes a clutch smite from Jankos to secure the Infernal drake and its powerful damage buff. Its a drake that G2′s scaling composition needs. — Yim
FPX seizing on early opportunities
Early bot-side priority for FPX gets them first drake, a mountain, a perfect complement to the speed at which they play because the Mountain buff gives the players extra damage against structures, Baron, and other drakes.
FPX also gets the first turret bot before 8 minutes have elapsed, an incredibly fast take indicative of the team’s focus on the bot lane. In fact, it’s the quickest turret of 2019 Worlds. Tian and Doinb have added to Lwx and Crisp’s already dominant 2v2 to extend the lead. — Yim
Game 3 champion selection
G2 first picks both of Doinb’s signature champions, then lock in a Veigar mid to counter the Galio engage. Ezreal will help Perkz get through the lane, but a lot rests on Caps’s ability to make a feast-or-famine mage work. This is the third straight Lee Sin game for Tian, and he’s looked great on the bruiser in the previous two wins.
GimGoon gets his comfort Gangplank again, which worked well against Wunder’s Ryze in Game 1. — Yim
That ... was a beating
FunPlus Phoenix put on the afterburners in Game 2, running G2 Esports off Summoner’s Rift in under 26 minutes. The map presence of Ryze and Kled’s ultimate abilities, plus an early lead for Lwx that he never relinquished, paved the way for a massive 7,900 gold lead by 22 minutes. Side note: I don’t think Lwx has died this series, he was 9-0-8 in Game 2.
Buoyed by the fastest Baron take at Worlds, just fifteen seconds after it spawned, gave FPX more than enough momentum to finish a game in which it never trailed. The 20-4 kill score in favor of FunPlus Phoenix flattered G2; it wasn’t nearly that close.
FPX opted into only one Teleport spell for the first time in the bracket stage, believing they could match the spell’s mobility with Kled’s team-wide speed boost during his ultimate, and they were right. Through two games, G2 has been unable to answer FPX’s sheer speed on the rift, and without significant improvement from all five players in Game 3, they never will.
FPX is one game away from proving to be the Phoenix named in this year’s Worlds anthem. For G2, they’ll need a miracle reverse sweep to win the Summoner’s Cup on home soil. — Yim
FPX takes 2-0 lead
If it weren’t for a lengthy delay to resolve a lag issue, you could have blinked and missed Game 2, an easy win for FPX, which is winning pretty much every team fight in lopsided fashion. The Summoner’s Cup will belong to FPX with just one more win.
The crowd, which had been chanting in decided unison at the beginning of this championship, seems to have fractured after two losses. There’s noise and cheering of course, but it’s muted in comparison to earlier. Outside the arena some fans seem down-trodden and others are still hyped. But G2’s fans seem to have lost their momentum along with their team.
Stars are fans too
It’s not just a gig for two pop stars. Valerie Broussard and Cailin Russo, two of the performers from the opening ceremony, have come up from the back of the house and are sitting in the stands amount fans watching Game 2. Somewhat surprisingly, they’re taking turns petting a golden retriever. He looks like a good boy.
A Baron record
FunPlus Phoenix take Baron on spawn, catching G2 completely off guard. They are just too fast on the play. In fact, according to the broadcast team, it was the fastest Baron taken in 2019 Worlds. For reference, Baron spawns every game at 20 minutes, and FPX just took it at 20:15.
Shortly after, the game is paused for a technical difficulty due to reported lag. The announcers are hyping the crowd as the championship’s momentum slows.
G2 is in heaps of trouble
G2 is dead in the water right now, they can’t fight against the speed, crowd control and damage from FPX. This looks like a game that, with a Baron, FPX could win before 30 minutes.
FPX trades drake for 3 kills
An early skirmish around the dragon pit ends with G2 securing an early Infernal drake, but they lose three players in the process as FunPlus Phoenix collapse on the contest. Because of the extra damage the Infernal drake grants its killers, G2 manage to draw even on the play despite giving two kills and First Blood to Lwx’s Kai’Sa, who carried hard on Sivir in Game 1. FPX leads early. — Yim
Game 2 champion selection
FunPlus Phoenix decides to leave open Akali, a permaban champion throughout the bracket stage for both teams, in favor of banning Syndra, a flex pick specific to G2. They answer with Kled, given to GimGoon top instead of Doinb mid, who gets a comfort Ryze. This is a more teamfight-centric draft from FPX, but with a Yasuo/Gragas bot lane, G2 can more than match them in the 5v5. — Yim
Game 1 goes to FPX
It was an excellent Game 1 showing from FunPlus Phoenix, quieting the highly-partisan Parisan crowd by playing to their composition’s win conditions and outrunning G2 in the early game.
G2 drafted to match FPX’s roaming game plan, placing Pyke mid to face Doinb’s comfort Nautilus, but G2′s unfamiliarity with the style showed in early deaths and a failure to match roams based on the waveclear difference between Pyke and Nautilus.
It’s worth mentioning here that while G2 drafted a Varus/Tahm Kench bot lane duo, denying FPX their favored duo as of late, Perkz and Mikyx used those champions very differently than FPX would have and has done. For Chinese teams, Tahm Kench is a proactive champion who enables aggressive turret dives and quick cross-map skirmishes with his ultimate. Western teams like G2 have never used Tahm Kench that way, preferring to rely on his defensive capabilities to play a reactive, safe lane.
In other words, G2 tried to be FPX, but only FPX can play like FPX.
Tian was fantastic on Lee Sin, an propulsive early-game champion that needed kills to scale, and he got them. Wunder died seven times, a tournament high, and a bot-lane skirmish that cost Jankos and Perkz their lives because of Tian’s engagement was a highlight.
G2 tried to trade in objectives as they did against SKT, sacrificing Elder Drake priority to take a top inhibitor, and it nearly worked. But Lwx’s deathless Sivir was enough to hold the base. He finished 11-0-5 on a champion that we haven’t seen since the Worlds play-in stage last month.
FunPlus Phoenix have made their opening statement: We’re going to play exactly the way you thought we would and win. Can you stop us? Let’s see what adaptations G2 make in Game 2. I highly doubt we’ll see another Pyke mid. — Yim
That’s a Baron for FPX, opened by the three kills on Perkz, Mikyx and Jankos on the botside, with a fantastic Lee Sin play to prevent Perkz from finishing his Teleport away.
G2 survived giving up Barons to SK Telecom T1 in the semis by controlling minion waves and punishing SKT’s overagression during the play. FPX so far has been steadier during the power play, getting a crucial mid-inhibitor.
FPX also has a 17-7 edge in kills.
In the bracket stage, FunPlus Phoenix is 7-1 in games in which it took more dragons than its opponent. FPX currently leads G2 3-1 in dragons, though none of the dragons so far have been the valuable Infernal or Mountain Drake. — Yim
Rift Herald play by G2 steadies a shaky early game
Perkz died on a lane swa
p top by G2 to try and gain priority on the Rift Herald. They eventually get the objective, but post-14 minutes they won’t get the turret plates with the Herald, only tempo on the map.
G2 does get the first top turret with it, and the bonus gold that objective grants, then picked up another with the Herald and a charge on the Tier 3. FPX decided to match by taking both turrets bot side to mitigate the damage.
In the mid game, G2 Esports has slowed FunPlus Phoenix’s tempo, evening the gold difference as they begin to find joy team-fighting as five. FPX has a very difficult team composition to execute from a disadvantage, forcing them to hunt for pickoffs or risk a late-game deficit they can’t overcome.
Lwx’s Sivir, a late-game carry, will not be enough by herself to keep FPX relevant in the late game. — Yim
Home crowd advantage is clear
This audience clearly favors G2, the European team. There are enormous cheers each time G2 notches a kill or narrowly escapes one. At moments when FPX seem to have the upper hand, encouraging chants of “Let’s go G2” break out.
First Blood is taken by GimGoon and was set up by the split-map start. Tian paired with Doinb and secured the kill. FPX have read the situation correctly: They can’t gank bot effectively because of the defensive abilities of Tahm Kench, so they focus top on a squishy, relatively immobile Ryze pre-level 6, when he gets Realm Warp.
One of the problems Caps is facing early is that Nautilus has better wave clear than Pyke, allowing Doinb to shove the wave quickly and leave lane to roam and pressure the sidelanes. It’s mostly been top lane, so far. Caps hasn’t been able to match his roams because of this. — Yim
Within seconds of starting, the match was paused for technical reasons. One of the players’ keyboards wasn’t resoundingly properly, apparently. The crowd, which had already been cheering the game start at full volume got even louder. After a few moments, the audience quieted down and began doing the wave to pass the time.
So far, G2 has drafted the FunPlus Phoenix draft with a bot lane their China-based opponent has favored, but thrown in their own flavor with a Pyke top, a Wunder special. FPX have put Doinb on Nautilus, a champion he’s favored since playing it three straight times against Invictus Gaming in the semis.
Doinb will face Caps’ Ryze, another Doinb staple, who will try to match the Nautilus roams. G2 knows exactly what FPX want to do with their draft, and want to match it with a bot lane that can protect against the dive, and Pyke who can leave top lane quickly on a roam.
The last time FPX ran two “hook” champions was Game 2 against IG, and they lost in one of the bloodiest games in Worlds history.
GimGoon got his comfort Gangplank, a champion that can stay relevant throughout the game even if he loses lane. Gangplank’s global ultimate lends damage to FPX’s early four-man skirmishes without needing to be there. GimGoon last played Gangplank in Games 3 and 4 in the semifinals against Invictus Gaming. He won both games against TheShy, widely regarded as the best top-laner in the world.
This is the first time Sivir has been picked at the main event this year. The last time we saw Sivir was in the play-in stage when Flamengo’s AD brTT picked her in a losing effort to Royal Youth. — Yim
Opening ceremony highlights
This year’s opening ceremony has all the high-production theatrics fans have come to expect from Worlds. Two years ago, a giant augmented reality dragon flew through the stadium. Last year introduced a virtual K-pop group KDA, who’s single shot to the top of the iTunes charts. But Riot’s team says it wanted to put the drama of the season at the center of this year’s event. The performances are as flashy as ever, but they are peppered through with shots of this years big upsets and victories.
The heavy emphasis on AR effects means, ironically, that viewers watching at home sometimes get the best view of the show’s special effects. Toa Dunn, head of Riot’s Music Group, says the company is trying to create narratives that carry-on between events. “We’re all born story tellers,” he says. "We want to make sure the music universe is as rich as the game.
With the help of a glass enclosure projecting graphics that included League of Legends champions and spectacular animations, the newly-formed pop super group True Damage opened the 2019 World Championship final, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a performance of their song “GIANTS.” Shortly after the performance, Riot dropped the single on YouTube.
The concert prefaced the team introductions, with loud cheers for FunPlus Phoenix mid-laner Doinb and yet louder ovations for Europe-based G2 Esports and its mid-laner, Caps. Both teams carried their regional championship trophies on stage for introductions.
Outside the AccorHotels Arena, it was a perfectly average November Sunday in Paris. The city seemed asleep beneath a heavy blanket of fog that rendered the top half go the Eiffel Tower indecipherable. Inside the 20,000-seat stadium, all hell was about to break loose. A manic, sold-out crowd erupted in cheers at the mere appearance of a countdown timer clicking towards opening ceremonies.
Welcome to the League of Legends World Championships Finals, the culmination of the annual esports tournament hosted by Riot Games. At stake: the champion title, a 70-pound Summoner’s Cup and $1 million. Both teams competing this year — China’s FunPlus Phoenix and Europe’s G2 Esports — beat conventional wisdom to get here. Whoever wins will set new records for this young but fast-growing sport.
This Worlds, as fans call it, will also certainly break records. It is likely to be the most-watched esports event in history. Last weekend’s semi-finals contest between G2 Esports and SK Telecom T1 peaked at 4-million concurrent viewers.
2019 League of Legends World Championship Finals
G2 Esports (LEC) vs. FunPlus Phoenix (LPL)
Where: AccorHotels Arena, Paris
Time: 7 a.m. (ET) / 1 p.m. (GMT+1)
With a victory in the best-of-five finals, European-based G2 Esports (combined record of 28-8) has a chance do to do something no team has ever done in the history of League of Legends esports. A finals win would give G2 a world title in addition to victories in both of its regional league splits and a win at the Mid-Season Invitational — a competitive LoL grand slam.
G2 is thought by some to be a “dream team” after the addition of mid-laner Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and a win Sunday would make G2 the first European team to claim the World Championship since Fnatic won the first title in 2011 when the tournament was held at Dreamhack in Sweden. Since then Asian teams have claimed seven straight titles, including China’s Invictus Gaming last year.
This season, Invictus was foiled in the semifinals by fellow China-based FunPlus Phoenix (27-3), who have benefited from the 2019 additions of mid-laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang and jungler Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang.
Following in the success of 2018′s augmented reality act, K/DA, the 2019 opening ceremony will feature a performance by newly formed pop super group, True Damage, comprised of Becky G, Keke Palmer, Thutmose, Duckwrth and K/DA star Soyeon. The group, represented by five League of Legends champions, will feature outfits designed by Louis Vuitton.
Keys to victory
After every draft phase, each player chooses two Summoner Spells that significantly impact how they play. Most players select Flash as their first spell, but second is determined both by their individual positions and the team’s overarching game plan.
As a fast, highly unified team eager to race around the map for skirmish after skirmish, FunPlus Phoenix love to run the Teleport spell on three of their five players. Despite its six-minute cool-down, Teleport allows a player to, well, teleport to a friendly minion, turret or ward anywhere on the map, granting more options for objective pressure, map control and teamfight flanks.
While FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) ran three Teleports in all but one of their bracket stage games, G2 Esports did so in only two of theirs — and lost both. G2 seem more comfortable indexing on lane and teamfight-centric spells such as Ignite, Heal, Exhaust and Cleanse. Those spells help G2 win advantages in lanes and enable the mechanical outplays that makes them so devastating in teamfights.
G2 and FPX signal their contrasting playstyles through Summoner Spell choices, a battle between individual precision and collective speed. In a series this close, expect those long cooldowns to be decisive.
Watch the mid-Lane roams
In mid-laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang, FunPlus Phoenix have a superstar that blends into the background until you can’t miss him. Although Doinb’s two signature champions of the bracket stage — Ryze and Nautilus — couldn’t be more different, his goals remain the same on both: Sacrifice farm mid to pressure a sideline. Doinb’s participation in FPX’s four-man gank squad is often the difference between its failure and success, creating advantages that opponents have struggled to match.
Against G2, Doinb will meet his roaming superior. At Worlds, Danish mid-laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther spent 43.3 percent of his early game roaming, the highest among all mid-laners. Caps will look to match Doinb’s roams at every opportunity, likely preventing FPX from cleanly executing their desired turret dives. This counter, combined with G2’s lane-centric Summoner Spells, could stall FPX’s early momentum and give G2 necessary room to breathe.
But watch the bot-lane roams, too
Usually when executing a bot-lane roam in the early game, the bot duo will call their mid-laner down for a gank. But with G2 and FPX, the reverse is also true: often, their bot lanes will roam up and gank the mid lane. It’s a reciprocal idea, giving the mid-laner a lead, so he’s able to roam bot and give them a lead, and so on.
No duo in the world executes this particular unorthodox play better than G2’s Luka "Perkz" Perković and Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle, but FPX’s Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang and Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song are right behind them. The bot-to-mid roam is dependent on getting bot lane priority, which (in brief) means putting the lane in such an advantageous state that the players can leave without missing too much gold and experience. Getting bot lane priority is normally dependent on a jungler’s attention, but can also be gained by simply outplaying the opposing duo in the 2-on-2.
In the straight 2-on-2 bot matchup, G2 and FPX are very close in skill. But throughout Worlds, Perkz and Mikyx have shown, absent third-party attention, a greater aptitude for outplays than Lwx and Crisp. And while the bot lane is only one piece of a larger teamplay-focused puzzle, its relative size in the Paris final’s ultimate picture will be immense. — Miles Yim
Matt Vella has written about technology and culture for Time Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal and McSweeney’s.
Miles Yim is a freelance esports writer who lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @milesyim.