Just who, or what, is Invictus Gaming?
You may have heard of them. They're in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship Finals. They have South Korean mid laner (and two-time MVP this year) Song "Rookie" Eui-jin, who left his home region to become one of the faces of China's LoL Pro League.
They helped transform Jayce and Riven specialist Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok from a high-elo solo queue player into one of the more formidable carry top laners in the world.
AD carry trainee, Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo made his highly-anticipated professional debut this year. While he didn't raze through the LPL as some of the whispers from scrims had promised, JackeyLove performed well enough to allow iG to have two historically dominant regular seasons in the LPL.
Throughout the year, iG has been characterized first and foremost by the strength of the team's individuals. As recently as Game 3 of the worlds' semifinals, when it looked like iG's mistakes had given G2 Esports a window to take a game, TheShy and his Aatrox insisted, no, demanded, a sweep of the EU contingent.
This is Invictus Gaming. Focus on picking winning lane matchups, and wait for a good timing window to skirmish and best opponents with your strong laners.
On Aug. 18, 2018, iG made a specific and highly publicized substitution. Wang "WXZ" Sicong (also known as Principal Wang), son of iG's founder and one of the richest men in China, Wang Jianlin, started in the bot lane position over JackeyLove against last-place Vici Gaming. The crowd roared as WXZ led the team onto the stage with a sly half-smile, cradling his keyboard and mousepad to his chest. JackeyLove stepped into the support position as Tahm Kench. After a grueling start (WXZ isn't bad at LoL but also is not a professional) iG triumphed thanks to VG's inability to close out the game and the strength of their solo laners.
WXZ's debut kicked off a discussion as to whether this cheapened the efforts put in by eager young solo queue performers who had grinded their way up the ladder in the hopes of being noticed by a professional team. Yet, the twinkle in WXZ's eye and the hilarious commentary of whose shotcalling one would listen to with the owner of the team in the game (not his) or whether JackeyLove would lose his job for devouring a minion instead of saving WXZ (he didn't) made this a must-watch match where it wouldn't have been otherwise.
The substitution was arrogant, flaunting the team's high standing and mechanical superiority over the bottom team in their division -- precipitating an announcement that the LPL rules, which had allowed the paperwork for WXZ to go through would be revisited -- but it drew attention. It was flashy in a different way than Rookie's LeBlanc or TheShy's Jayce, but still oddly fitting for the organization.
This too, is Invictus Gaming.
Surely they were always this good, able to rack up style points against one of the weakest teams in their league by starting their owner. As one of China's oldest franchises - something they have in common with finals opponent Fnatic is domestic longevity. Yet, while Fnatic have had a fairly consistent place at the top of Europe since their Season 1 World Championship victory outside of a small blip in 2016, iG's results have been far less consistent.
Wang Sicong's love of video games makes him a bit like us, if we too could buy multiple Apple Watches for our dog. His love of gaming has resulted in large investments in both gaming and esports infrastructure in China rather than simply playing it from home, streaming, and screaming a few choice words at solo queue opponents onscreen. The iG LoL team is one such investment, and regardless of roster, iG has always embodied a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, as far back as 2011 when the Catastrophic Cruel Memory LoL squad (along with all of the organization's esports teams) was purchased by Wang Sicong to form iG.
iG's early LoL days were successful at times but tumultuous. They rose alongside World Elite to become a premier organization in China back when the LPL was but a dream, yet iG's internal issues between players and later, a more relaxed attitude around the time of acquiring solo queue prodigy Liu "Zzitai" Zhi-Hao led to inconsistent performances. iG became known for high-kill games -- a direct contrast to WE's slower style -- and close relationship with their fans. This idea that iG was a team that played a bit looser, relying on their personalities like top laner Liu "PDD" Mou and support Sun "XiaoXiao" Ya-Long both in and out of game has stuck with the team, even through 2015 when Rookie joined with fellow former KT Rolster Arrows teammate Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon and the team performed remarkably poorly at that world championship. Through myriad roster iterations up to this team that's about to take on Fnatic in the worlds finals, iG has always had that slight swagger, even when the team wasn't playing particularly well, sneaking upset victories where they could.
iG have maintained some of the aggression that the organization has historically been known for, but had two dominant regular-season splits this year with only two total series losses. Their playoff results have also been similar across splits, losing out to RNG both times, first in the spring semifinals and then in the summer finals. iG's consistent focus on drafting strong lanes and relying on their laners to carry them through is as much a strength as it has been a weakness in best-of-five series. The members of iG seem acutely aware of the team's issues, but have thus far been unable to fix their inability to adapt quickly, even as they've improved another team weakness, their 5v5 late-game teamfighting.
Going into the upcoming match, it's interesting to note that this has by far and away been iG's most consistent year, both in results and playstyle. Whether that will be a boon or hindrance against Fnatic remains to be seen.