Invictus Gaming is close to winning everything. The organization struggled for years to achieve success, stumbling over and over as its inability to translate regular season form into playoffs destroyed the chances of reaching domestic titles and the international stage.
Now, in 2019, IG stands atop of the League of Legends world. After overthrowing Korean champion and tournament favorite KT Rolster in a tough five-game series, Invictus Gaming rampaged unchallenged through G2 Esports and Fnatic to reach the title of 2018 world champion.
Invictus Gaming maintained momentum into the 2019 spring split of the Tencent League of Legends Pro League (LPL). The newly-crowned kings had an occasional stumble in the domestic league but still finished second with a strong 11-4 record before coming alive once more in the playoffs. There, IG displayed a convincing 3-1 win against Topsports Gaming and crushed JD Gaming in a 3-0 stomp to take the finals and its first LPL title along with an invitation to debut at the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI).
Invictus Gaming has maintained the same lineup from its world championship run as one of the most individually talented rosters in League of Legends.
- Top Laner: Keung-lok "TheShy" Kang
- Jungler: Zhen-ning "Ning" Gao
- Mid Laner: Eui-jin "Rookie" Song
- Bot Laner: Wen-Bo "JackeyLove" Yu
- Support: Liu-Yi "Baolan" Wang
- Coach: Ga-ram Kim
Additionally, Invictus Gaming can field two-time world champion Ho-seong "Duke" Lee in the top lane.
Winning at MSI would make IG the second team to collect the hat trick of holding domestic, MSI and worlds trophies, ushering in the era of the LPL. And that era is looking increasingly likely to begin.
Of the 13 teams attending MSI this May in Vietnam and Taipei, only three pose a realistic threat to Invictus Gaming. The rest simply lack the experience, skill and/or teamwork needed to challenge the reigning world champions.
Not coincidentally, these teams are the representatives of the other major regions: Team Liquid of North America's League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), G2 Esports of Europe's League of Legends European Championship (LEC) and SK Telecom T1 of South Korea's League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK).
- Top Laner: Eon-yeong "Impact" Jung
- Jungler: Jake "Xmithie" Puchero
- Mid Laner: Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen
- Bot Laner: Yiliang Peter "Doublelift" Peng
- Support: Yong-in "CoreJJ" Jo
- Coach: Nu-ri "Cain" Jang
On paper, Team Liquid looks most likely to test Invictus Gaming. A squad that features two world champions in Impact and CoreJJ, with the three players best in their roles in North America to round out the roster, this team has the credibility of a conqueror,
But Team Liquid -- and especially the North American region -- has historically struggled in international competition, and even the addition of consistent performer Jensen is unlikely to reverse that trajectory. There seems to be a continuous theme that the regional meta of North America often leaves teams ill-prepared to face against foreign opponents.
Specifically within the matchup, Team Liquid can generally hold its own across the map in terms of individual skill, but are disadvantaged in the top lane. Impact is strong on tanks but struggles on carries, whilst TheShy might be the most talented player in all of League of Legends and can go berserk on multiple top lane carries. In the event that tanks are required, then iG has the additional fallback of fielding Duke, who can play tanks and carries with equal ability.
- Top Laner: Martin "Wunder" Hansen
- Jungler: Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski
- Mid Laner: Rasmus "Caps" Winther
- Bot Laner: Luka "Perkz" Perković
- Support: Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle
- Coach: Fabian "GrabbZ" Lohmann
G2 might pose the most interesting challenge against iG. The European super team had supreme regular season dominance on the way to a championship and showed off multiple play styles and unorthodox strategies, including a surprise reveal of a Funnel composition that, while no doubt showboating, poses a question that must be considered.
The key aspects favoring iG over G2 lie in the mid and bot lane. Caps has yet to show off his domestic form in international competition, and he was near-invisible during his previous outing against Rookie while on Fnatic in last year's world final. It's not a question of skill, but if Caps can overcome whatever seems to hold him back when on the global stage.
In the bot lane, Perkz has transitioned impressively to bot laner, showing off ability even on traditional AD Carries, and on mages and typically solo lane carries. It will be an interesting test of his ability against JackeyLove, who has largely overcome his previous problems with over-aggression to become a model late-game powerhouse carry.
The bigger issue is Mikyx, whose wrist injury could impact his form or even see him subbed out in favor of significantly less-proven Hampus "Promisq" Abrahamsson. When faced with Baolan and Ning incoming from the jungle, this bot lane can quickly become a massacre site for iG without a strong support to safeguard Perkz through the laning phase.
SK Telecom T1
- Top Laner: Dong-ha "Khan" Kim
- Jungler: Tae-min "Clid" Kim
- Mid Laner: Sang-hyeok "Faker" Lee
- Bot Laner: Jin-seong "Teddy" Park
- Support: Se-hyeong "Mata" Cho
- Coach: Jeong-gyun "kkOma" Kim
The only organization to have done it all, SKT T1 completed the League of Legends hat-trick before Invictus Gaming could even achieve one milestone. But that was before; the present is very different.
The nature of SKT's victory in the 2019 LCK spring split is what draws concerns over their showing at MSI. SKT bulldozed over KingZone DragonX in the semifinal and then sat and watched as Griffin fell apart, their split-long drafting issues rearing once again to practically gift-wrap SKT the win.
The key weaknesses in SKT are in their solo lanes. While Khan is a mechanical monster, he has historically struggled internationally on both Longzhu Gaming and on KingZone DragonX at the previous MSI. Meanwhile, Faker is no longer the head-and-shoulders best player in the world, and has demonstrated repeated over-aggression that has been game-losing at times.
When faced with TheShy and Rookie, the most intimidating solo laners on a single team, SKT will be hard-pressed to find victory. Their hopes will lie in the bot lane around Teddy, their best performer, but JackeyLove is no stranger to playing against teams that focus their attention down south.
This MSI may be the most meaningful for SKT, but hopes and dreams are poor substitutes for skill, smart play and simple data. And in those realms, all three point to an Invictus Gaming championship.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games