LPL offseason report cards -- FPX soars, Team WE doesn't cut it

FunPlus mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang, center front, celebrates with his teammates following their League of Legends World Championship semifinal victory over Invictus Gaming on Saturday at Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Provided by Riot Games

The 2020 competitive League of Legends season is almost upon us, and China's LoL Pro League is stronger than ever. This offseason saw a large, talented influx of rookie talent as well as the league's latest organizational addition, eStar, bringing the total number of teams up to 17. Here is a look at them.

Bilibili Gaming: B

  • Top: Hwang "Kingen" Seong-hoon, Kang "ADD" Geon-mo

  • Jungle: Zeng "Meteor" Guo-Hao

  • Mid: Chu "FoFo" Chun-Lan

  • Bot: Xie "Jinjiao" Jin-Shan, Wang "xiaoliulian" Shu-Kai

  • Support: Li "Xinmo" Qian-Xi, Yang "Moonlight" En-Jian

Kingen and FoFo are the two big pickups for BLG this offseason. A larger percentage of Western fans will likely know Kingen from his KT Rolster days, but the major signing for me personally is former J Team mid laner FoFo, who replaces veteran mid Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng.

FoFo has been one of the top mids in the now-defunct LoL Masters League for years, and it's about time he finally started for an LPL squad. How well he does against the significantly stronger LPL competition will be a major factor in how well BLG will do as a whole. The top side of this team is definitely the flashier, stronger side, but Jinjiao is typically steady enough in bot lane. Early predictions place BLG as a playoff team but not necessarily a title contender.

Dominus Esports: B+

  • Top: Hu "Natural" Jia-Le, Liu "Melody" Yi-Fan

  • Jungle: Wang "Xiaopeng" Peng, Xiang "Bless" Yi-Tong

  • Mid: Su "Xiye" Han-Wei, Huang "Xiaowei" Ting-Wei

  • Bot: Chen "GALA" Wei

  • Support: Ling "Mark" Xu

Seeing Xiye onstage at the Demacia Cup in a Dominus Esports jersey was jarring. This is the first time he has played outside of Team WE and will be relied upon by this young Dominus lineup as a strong veteran carry. Amid WE's struggles over the past few years, Xiye has been a constant, often dazzling audiences even in hard losses. He'll have to return to that form to help steer his new team -- a team with a lot of promising young talent but not a lot of in-game direction.

EDward Gaming: C

  • Top: Lim "Jinoo" Jin-woo, Zhao "Aodi" Ao-Di, Wang "Sleepy" He-Yong, Huang "xiaoxiang" Xiang (trainee)

  • Jungle: Zhao "JieJie" Li-Jie, Chang "Xinyi" Ping, Yu "Junjia" Chun-Chia

  • Mid: Lee "Scout" Ye-chan

  • Bot: Wang "Hope" Jie, Wu "BBD" Ling-Feng

  • Support: Tian "Meiko" Ye

EDG are in an interesting conundrum in a post-Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao world. For years they've been steadfastly focused on the bot side of the map to the point of caricature. Demacia Cup saw the debut of top lane trainee Huang "xiaoxiang" Xiang, who performed very well for the team, helping take their new lineup all the way to the Demacia Cup finals. While Demacia Cup isn't the best tournament from which to draw conclusions based on results, xiaoxiang looked strong and the rest of the team seemed a bit more willing to at least consider playing toward top side. A lot of EDG's success this split may depend on how flexible they can learn to be since Hope is unlikely to reach the highs of iBoy.

eStar: C at best

  • Top: Chen "CJJ" Jia-Jun, Yang "Xiaobai" Zhong-He

  • Jungle: Yan "Wei" Yang-Wei

  • Mid: Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei

  • Bot: Peng "rat" Qiao-Yu, Zhang "Wink" Rui

  • Support: Wang "Alu" Zhi-Yi, Liu "ShiauC" Chia-Hao

I hesitate to give a grade when there's no roster from the previous year to compare to, but the latest team to enter the LPL is helmed by none other than former Invictus Gaming top laner and streaming icon Liu "PDD" Mou, who has been trying to promote Young Miracles into the LPL for years. It should come as no surprise that there are several alumni on this lineup from that team alongside other talented LDL players from Royal Club. Former Flash Wolves support ShiauC rounds out the roster in the bot lane. There is talent on this lineup but they're young and inexperienced when it comes to going up against stronger LPL opponents. eStar should be fun to watch from a talent development perspective, but playoffs are likely out of their reach.

FunPlus Phoenix: A

  • Top: Kim "Gimgoon" Han-saem, Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, Li "xiao7" Zhong-Qi

  • Jungle: Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang, Xie "Mingjing" Ming-Jing

  • Mid: Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang

  • Bot: Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang, Zhang "April" Jun-Chao

  • Support: Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song

FPX managed to hold on to their world championship lineup, including Doinb, who was seriously thinking about retirement, for one more year. Putting their worlds win aside, this FPX lineup was the strongest regular-season LPL team for the entirety of last year, only losing three regular-season series.

FPX added one of the hottest free agents on the market in Khan and promoted three rookies from their LDL roster. The only danger of adding Khan is in how he'll affect what appears to be a finely tuned lineup. If FPX have done their scouting homework with Khan as well as they did their 2019 lineup, they'll remain the team to beat.

Invictus Gaming: B+

  • Top: Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok

  • Jungle: Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning, Lu "Leyan" Jue

  • Mid: Song "Rookie" Eui-jin

  • Bot: Ding "Puff" Wang

  • Support: Su "Southwind" Zhi-Lin, Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi, Peng "Fate" Jun-Jie

Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo was a highly anticipated iG trainee for years before he made his 2018 debut and played a major role in elevating iG enough on the bot side of the map so they could win a world championship that same year. Last year, despite a disappointing worlds performance, he was one of the primary reasons iG made it to the tournament at all.

Losing JackeyLove hurts. Yet the Puff and Southwind duo lane was the reason to watch Vici Gaming last year, and here we see them move up to a more prominent LoL organization. The big question for iG remains in their jungle position. Ning is inconsistent and Leyan was unfortunately not ready for the gigantic spotlight and pressure that was placed on him at worlds. Hopefully Leyan will be given more time to ease into the position through the lengthy regular season.

JD Gaming: A

  • Top: Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran, He "705" Yu-Long

  • Jungle: Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok

  • Mid: Zeng "Yagao" Qi

  • Bot: Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook

  • Support: Zuo "LvMao" Ming-Hao, Lin "Peace" Shang-Ren, Wang "Teeen" Yao-Ji

JD Gaming has one of the strongest top sides in the LPL with Kanavi and Zoom. While Yagao hasn't panned out as well as his initial debut would have suggested, he's still a strong, albeit inconsistent, mid. The key for JDG was supplementing these three with a less volatile bot lane for 2020. They seem to have found that with LokeN returning to the team, reuniting with former bot lane partner LvMao, who had a particularly strong spring split last year. At worst JDG is a playoff team, but at best they could make a surprising run at the LPL title.

LGD Gaming: C

  • Top: Guo "Lies" Hao-Tian, Fang "Garvey" Jia-Wei, Chen "Cult" Guo-Ji

  • Jungle: Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, Ding "Kui" Zi-Hao, Zhang "BadeMan" Yu-Nong

  • Mid: Hu "Yuuki" Hao-Ming, Huang "Fenfen" Chen

  • Bot: Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun

  • Support: Chen "Pyl" Bo, Liu "Killua" Dan-Yang, Liang "RD" Teng-Li, Pei "Chance" Piao

LGD is beginning the split with 13 players on their roster, something that doesn't bode particularly well for finding a cohesive lineup. The star of this team is indubitably Kramer, one of the LPL's best last split despite LGD's overall performance. The headlining move of LGD's offseason was signing former Gen.G, Kingzone, T1 and ROX Tigers jungler Peanut, who is fully expected to start. I don't see this LGD lineup doing particularly worse than last year's.

LNG Esports: C-

  • Top: Li "Flandre" Xuan-Jun

  • Jungle: Xiong "Xx" Yu-Long

  • Mid: Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang

  • Bot: Lu "Asura" Qi, Wang "Light" Guang-Yu

  • Support: Duan "Duan" De-Liang, Liao "lwandy" Ding-Yang

Of all three Flash Wolves players to make the initial transition to mainland China, Maple's LPL debut was the least successful. Maple isn't bad, but he's not going to be the primary carry of this team.

The loss of explosive jungler Lê "SofM" Quang Duy to Suning is a particularly sore spot for LNG going into this split. Xx is a solid jungler but lacks the playmaking ability of SofM. Despite a fairly surprising appearance in the LPL summer playoffs last year, it's difficult to see LNG doing much more than eking into the first round of playoffs again given the strength of the rest of the LPL. The grade reflects how important SofM was to the squad.

Oh My God: B+

  • Top: Chen "Curse" Chen

  • Jungle: Yang "H4cker" Zhi-Hao

  • Mid: Xie "icon" Tian-Yu

  • Bot: Han "Smlz" Jin, Chen "Kane" Hao

  • Support: Liu "cold" Shi-Yu

You may notice a trend in that most LPL organizations had one or two major signings that they then built the rest of their roster around. OMG's signing was bot laner Smlz, who returns to the organization after two years on Rogue Warriors and Suning. While Smlz typically requires a lot of resources, that could work with this OMG squad, where he is obviously the primary carry on paper. Icon will have to be more consistent and H4cker will need to control the early game well, but I'm cautiously optimistic about this OMG squad -- they could make playoffs if they manage to synergize well enough.

Overall, this OMG roster is much better than the variety of lineups they trotted out onstage last year.

Rogue Warriors: C+

  • Top: Kim "Crazy" Jae-hee, Bae "Holder" Jae-cheol

  • Jungle: Chen "Haro" Wen-Lin, Wang "WeiYan" Xiang

  • Mid: Lee "Ruby" Sol-min, Zhang "HwQ" Tao

  • Bot: Mei "ZWuji" Hong-Hui

  • Support: Xia "Huanggai" Long-Yang, Le "Ley" Yi

The primary reason to watch Rogue Warriors last year was bot laner ZWuji, who could single-handedly carry games. This year the reason to watch Rogue Warriors is still ZWuji, but he may have a slightly better cast around him to succeed, especially with the addition of former Afreeca Freecs substitute and VSG mid laner Ruby and former EDG jungler Haro.

Royal Never Give Up: B

  • Top: Xie "Langx" Zhen-Ying, Zhang "yuekai" Yue-Kai

  • Jungle: Li "XLB" Xiao-Long, Wang "S1xu" Kang-Can

  • Mid: Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao

  • Bot: Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao, Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung

  • Support: Shi Sen-Ming

Given Uzi's health problems, it's highly likely that Betty will be starting for the first part of the spring split. Betty is unlike a lot of the other Uzi substitutes that RNG has had over the past two years -- he's already an established player in his own right with both LMS and international experience. The LPL is certainly stronger than the LMS, but he shouldn't have as much of a learning period as past RNG bot lane trainees, or rookie jungler XLB, who will be making his LPL debut after strong performances on Young Miracles.

The jungle position is actually the most shaky for RNG going into 2020, not because XLB isn't talented but because (based on his Demacia Cup performances) he has all the hallmarks of an LDL jungler making the initial jump, including a disregard for vision and pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a safe invade. Much of his success will depend on the stability of Xiaohu, who I don't think is as bad as Weibo thinks he is, but he hasn't been at the top of his game in recent performances.

Suning: C-

  • Top: Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin, Yu "Biubiu" Lei-Xin

  • Jungle: Lê "SofM" Quang Duy

  • Mid: Xiang "Angel" Tao

  • Bot: Wei "Weiwei" Bo-Han

  • Support: Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh

Although most Weibo rumors pinpointed Suning as former iG bot laner JackeyLove's destination, he has not yet been announced to Suning or any other team. That means that currently, Weiwei will be partnered with veteran support SwordArt in the bot lane, while SofM takes over the Suning jungle position. SofM is a consistent risk taker, and while his style is explosive, he's not likely to have a partner in crime on this Suning lineup like he did with LNG's Flandre.

Team WE: D+

  • Top: Park "Morgan" Gi-tae, Kim "Poss" Min-cheol

  • Jungle: Jiang "Beishang" Zhi-Peng

  • Mid: Bae "Plex" Ho-young, Chen "yimeng" Ming-Yong, Jiang "Teacherma" Chen

  • Bot: Zhao "Jiumeng" Jia-Hao

  • Support: Lou "Missing" Yun-Feng

Team WE lost two key components of their lineup this past offseason in Mystic and Xiye. While Beishang was instrumental in WE's surprising playoff appearance last spring, losing one of the strongest mid and bot laners in the LPL hurts his early-game options significantly. The addition to watch for is Morgan, who looked fairly strong in his few matches with JDG last year and would have likely started on a team without Zoom as their primary top.

Top Esports: A

  • Top: Bai "369" Jia-Hao, Xiong "Moyu" Hui-Dong

  • Jungle: Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan, Mao "AKi" An

  • Mid: Zhuo "Knight" Ding

  • Bot: Ying "Photic" Qi-Shen

  • Support: Liang "yuyanjia" Jia-Yuan, Zhang "QiuQiu" Ming

How you feel about Top Esports going into 2020 is going to depend greatly on how much you believe in their ability to promote talent within the organization -- namely, their new bot lane of Photic and yuyanjia. Based on how well TES immediately integrated 369, and based on the talent of these two promoted players (particularly Photic, who has been recognized as one of China's up-and-coming bot lane players), TES deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. Top barely missed out on making it to worlds last year. They've shored up their bot lane and picked up one of the strongest junglers available in Karsa, effectively addressing the previous team's issues with presumed upgrades. This is a team that's aiming at the LPL title and a worlds spot in 2020.

Vici Gaming: B

  • Top: Dai "Cube" Yi, Zhu "Zdz" De-Zhang

  • Jungle: Li "Aix" Yang, Lee "Chieftain" Jae-yub

  • Mid: Deng "Forge" Jie, Kim "Zeka" Geon-woo

  • Bot: Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao

  • Support: Hu "Maestro" Jian-Xin

Vici Gaming doesn't exactly have the best reputation among Western League of Legends fans, but this year they have one of the more interesting lineups to watch out for. Along with former T1 coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun and former EDG bot laner iBoy, VG picked up former iG trainee Forge. Forge is a strong mechanical talent who, as seen in the recent Demacia Cup, lacks experience and strong decision-making. Cube had a surprisingly good Demacia Cup performance but Aix was inconsistent and frequently overwhelmed by some of his jungle opponents. All that being said, this VG roster is intriguing because if it does end up working, they could be a surprise upset team for a potentially deep playoff run. Their success will depend on how volatile this roster ends up being. Even iBoy, a phenomenal talent in the bot lane, isn't exactly known for his consistency.

Victory Five: C-

  • Top: Li "997" Hao-Feng

  • Jungle: Pan "Xiaohan" Han

  • Mid: Li "Mole" Hao-Yan, Tao "Windy" Xiang, Chen "cix" Yi

  • Bot: Wang "y4" Nong-Mo

  • Support: Li "Max" Xiao-Qiang

This is an average lineup that will struggle against top LPL teams but likely beat up on a few teams that slide down to the bottom if they don't themselves. The problem with V5 isn't that this lineup is bad per se, it's that so many other lineups are stronger. If V5 does surprise, look for y4 to have a breakout season in the process.