With Worlds 2021 on the horizon, the second seed representatives from the League of Legends Pro League, FunPlus Phoenix, are one of 22 teams from across the globe that are gearing up for their biggest and most important event of the year. The 2021 League of Legends World Championship will feature each region’s best players, all fighting for the same goal: to stand atop the mountain and hoist the Season 11 Summoner’s Cup.
After back-to-back LPL finals losses, FPX are heading to Reykjavík, Iceland as one of the favorites to win the event. FPX have looked like the best team in the world throughout the year, at times, and with a roster featuring five world champions (including a reigning one in the top lane), this team it’s no wonder. Led by Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang, who is having the best year of his career, FPX look poised to win their second Worlds in three years.
FunPlus Phoenix (LPL) Worlds 2021 starting roster breakdown
Top: Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon | Signed in December 2020. Formerly a member of DWG KIA
Jungle: Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang | Signed in December 2018. Formerly a member of Suning
Mid: Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang | Signed in December 2018. Formerly a member of Rogue Warriors
Bot: Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang | Signed in December 2017. Formerly a member of Newbee
Support: Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song | Signed in December 2017. Formerly a member of Newbee
How they got here
After a failed attempt to defend their title in 2020 (or even get to Worlds in the first place), FunPlus Phoenix decided it was time to mix it up. For the first time in two years, FPX changed their starting roster heading into the 2021 season.
Although they only brought in a single new player, FPX made the biggest signing of the off-season by acquiring the reigning world champion top laner, Nuguri, from DWG KIA. Essentially, they replaced their world champion top laner with a newer and better one.
As the 2021 spring season kicked off, the 2019 World champions, now featuring Nuguri, hobbled out of the gate with a 1-1 record in the first week. The org, taking no chances, decided to make another change, this time substituting Tian for a rookie named Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo. Bo turned out to be a monster, and with him in the starting jungler role, FPX won 10 straight games to end up 7-1 by Week 5.
But in between that time, Bo was caught for his part in a matchmaking scandal when he played in the challenger scene. A bright future vanished for both him and FPX overnight, and with Bo suspended, FPX looked back toward Tian and another rookie jungler, Yang “Beichuan” Ling. With FPX struggling to find the same success they had with Bo, the team faltered and finished with an 11-5 record heading into the playoffs.
As playoffs started, Tian won the position battle over Beichuan to reclaim his original starting jungler position. But just weeks prior, Tian was in danger of losing his spot on FPX all together. With that in mind, Tian set out to prove that not only was he the best choice for FPX all along, but he was the best jungler in the LPL.
FPX quickly rose back to the level of play that the team saw with Bo, as they ran through Rare Atom, JDG, Royal Never Give Up and Edward Gaming on their way to the grand finals. Although RNG secured their revenge, FPX finished the split in a very respectable second place. Tian ended up winning six player of the game awards throughout the playoffs run, which was the most among all players.
The summer split ran fairly similarly to the spring split, minus a big collapse toward the end. FPX never dipped below fourth place in the standings, but they also only reached the top spot once. Thankfully for them, it was the last week.
FPX finished with a league-best 13-3 record in the Summer. The reason? The resurgence of former MVP, Doinb, who turned around a poor spring split to secure himself his second MVP award.
In the playoffs, FPX defended their top seed well, as they 3-0’d both of their opponents leading up to the grand finals. But just like in the spring split, it was their opponent, who made their way up through the losers bracket, that ended up winning in the end. Edward Gaming defeated FPX 3-1 to capture the LPL title. But with back-to-back finals appearances, FPX easily made it to Worlds as the second seed through Championship Points.
Players to watch
The king of the LPL has made his return, not only as the best player from the region but in the world. Doinb is not only FPX’s player to watch — he’s THE player to watch at Worlds this year.
His 2019 season was crazy good, but his 2021 summer season was even better. During the regular season, Doinb led all mid-laners in Kill/Death/Assist ratio, damage per minute and gold per minute. In the playoffs, he played even better. Doinb led all players with more than three games played in KDA and Kill Participation, all from the mid-lane.
Not only is Doinb known for his team-fight-focused play, but he’s also known for his oddball picks. In fact, Doinb’s most played champion in his summer split MVP campaign was Kled. Doinb played the champion six times in the mid-lane. Out of every other LPL mid laner combined, Kled was only seen twice. Doinb will turn heads with his play and his picks come Worlds.
Despite being the most exciting pick-up in the offseason, Nuguri has had a very quiet 2021 with FPX. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t playing well. Although he was left off all the LPL all-pro teams in both the spring and summer, Nuguri ranked highly among top laners in many stats.
In the summer split, Nuguri ranked in the top three in Creep Score per minute, damage per minute and gold per minute. His one weakness has been in the kill participation department.
At Worlds 2020, Nuguri was among the best top laners in the stat. In the 2021 LPL summer split, he was dead last with a measly 53.8%. Nuguri did play better in the playoffs, though, as he bumped his kill participation up to a 61.8%, which put him in the top half. He also led all top laners in KDA.
Ironically, the reigning world champion doesn’t have the spotlight on him, but that could change as name recognition will catch up to him, especially in his group where he will get a chance to face his former team, DK, immediately. A showdown between DK’s new top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha and Nuguri awaits. Nuguri will also be tested against Rogue’s LEC All-Pro top laner Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu
How FPX can succeed at Worlds 2021
FPX are entering Worlds as one of the clear favorites to capture the Summoner’s Cup. As one of the top three teams at the event, nothing short of a finals appearance will be acceptable.
FPX have looked like the best team in the world throughout the year, but they still have competition. One of their biggest threats awaits them right away, as DWG KIA is in their group. The good part about that is FPX guarantee they will be able to dodge them in the Knockout Stage until finals, setting up an easier road to the Summoner’s Cup by default. The question that remains is whether or not they can dodge Edward Gaming, and if not, can they get their revenge for their loss in the LPL summer playoffs?
If FPX can play at their peak, there is not a team in the tournament that can defeat them. But if FPX run into EDG or another really hot team early in the Knockout Stages, one poor series from Doinb or Nuguri can end their run prematurely.