HANOI, Vietnam -- Over the course of eight years, the world champions of League of Legends have often followed the same blueprint.
SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy, the two winningest organizations -- sharing five Summoner's Cups between them -- were known for their vision control and late-game prowess. If they were given an inch, they would take a mile. Samsung White, one of the most dominant teams in history, were renowned for their boa constrictor-like control over the map, choking teams out until there was no hope left. SKT throughout their history have been the best counterpunchers in the game, taking inevitable defeats and turning them into flash knockouts.
The current world champion, Invictus Gaming of China, the first from that region, is nothing like the champions of the past. Counterpunching is not a technique that iG has ever implemented. They are always the first to the punch, and then after that first punch lands, another three follow right after it. Invictus play the game as if it's a fighting game rather than a war of tactics, sometimes looking foolish in their hotheaded movements but never shying away from a brawl.
They have swagger. From the way they play, to the clothes the players wear, to the way they conduct themselves in interviews, they walk with a swagger that is all their own, unlike any past world champion. Past world champions will do their best to speak positively of all their opponents, even if not all their answers hold up on a lie detector. That's not iG.
When asked at the post-League of Legends World Championships news conference if anyone could match him as a rival, iG's superstar top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok bluntly answered by saying he didn't think there was a player who could.
Their team owner, Wang Sicong, son of one of the richest men in the world, Wang Jianlin, is all that and more. Sicong might very well be the real-life Tony Stark without the Iron Man suit (yet), lavishly showing off his money. In 2016, he bought his pet dog eight new iPhones, just because he could.
Nothing showcased the passing of the torch more between the old and the new than Invictus Gaming's win over SKT on Day 2 of the Mid-Season Invitational main-event group stage. What was the most hyped match of the tournament coming into the event -- the expected final for the MSI title -- turned into a legendary stomp.
In only 16 minutes, 1 second, iG recorded the quickest victory in major international tournament history, treating the best player in the game's history, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, as if he had just recently downloaded the game for the first time. SKT's Sona and Taric-centered composition never got out of the laning phase, and before the heavily SKT-favored crowd could get their bearings, the reigning world champions were already walking off the stage.
Now that's swagger.
"I'm very happy," said Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning, the team's jungler and last year's world championship final MVP. "I think we just proved that we're the strongest team in the world right now."
SKT was supposed to be the team that disrupted iG's road to becoming a dynasty. After winning worlds, iG followed up their international success by winning the first domestic title in team history, sweeping JD Gaming to secure back-to-back trophies. A third, especially a major international at MSI, would be a hat trick, and put them in exclusive company alongside only the South Korean giant.
Purists might say Invictus Gaming is a nuisance. They will play down to their opponent -- the words "mud wrestling" being used to describe their performance in a few more recent games. The team's opening game of the tournament with Phong Vu Buffalo, considered the weakest of the teams in the main-event group stage, became a hilarity of errors, Invictus escaping with a win only because of poor decision-making by the opponent. Ning, the most volatile of the starting players, will have games in which he appears to be simply smashing his face across the keyboard, flinging himself in every direction looking for someone to delete from the map.
Invictus don't care. The thrill of lighting the blueprint on fire and setting their own path is what motivates them to continue onward. For them, the rush they get from playing the game at supersonic speed is like no other sensation in the world.
"I think all five of us really enjoy the superaggressive, extreme type of style," Ning said. "And the feeling it gives you is like I'm better than you and I'm going to chase you around the map."
At the 2018 world finals, Ning was spotted lifting the Summoner's Cup in "Red October" shoes that can be bought online for between $6,000 to $8,000. When asked how much he has spent on clothes and streetwear in the last few years on Invictus Gaming, he said it's somewhere between 2 million yuan ($293,000) and 3 million yuan ($440,000). During the All-Stars event in Las Vegas, his teammate Song "Rookie" Eui-jin was decked out in Balenciaga gear, sporting a bag available for around $1,000.
In and out of the game, the new kings of League of Legends are enveloped in style, and with G2 Esports and even SKT seemingly out of their league, who can stop them?
Ning could find only one rival to the growing Invictus Gaming empire.
"No one can defeat us," Ning said. "The only person that can do that is ourselves."