As the 2019 LPL season began, Invictus Gaming were acknowledged as the team to beat. Being the first Chinese team to ever win a World Championship meant that they were expected to dominate domestically, despite a revamped competition format. The fact that they won Worlds with a 6-0 semi-final and final record also heavily contributed to the high expectations the team faced as they came into 2019.
However, as the LPL enters Week 6, a new challenger is taking hold of the competition, FunPlus Phoenix. Being a new roster in the LPL after its inception at the beginning of 2018, FunPlus are a relatively unknown team, let alone a title-challenger. With an average team age of 20.6 years, they are also a very young squad who’s jungler, Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang, is only 18. Despite this, Funplus sit atop the LPL leaderboard with a 7-0 record, ahead of Invictus Gaming (6-2), EDward Gaming (4-3), and Royal Never Give Up (3-2).
As the 2019 season began, FunPlus recorded a 2-0 first week, beating Rogue Warriors and Snake Esports without dropping a match. This didn’t surprise many, as both of Phoenix’s opponents were considered bottom tier teams. But as the tournament progressed, FunPlus took down challenger after challenger, beating JDG, Suning, Team WE, LGD and OMG on their way to a 7-0 record. They haven’t shown that they’re invulnerable by any means, and the team’s inexperience shows from time to time, but as the season passes the half way mark, it is a position that FunPlus have no complaints being situated in.
Still, FunPlus have a lot more proving to do, particularly as the tail end of the season draws near. Their next match will be a strong indicator of how far the team can go as they take on World Champions Invictus Gaming in what is expected to be a firework showdown. The week after, FunPlus will battle it out with powerhouses RNG in the second match which will determine the final course for the new and inexperienced roster.
Overall, FunPlus are still looking like a dominant challenger in the LPL, but there are still important matches with iG and RNG to go, particularly if they want to let the league know that they are a genuine title contender. Their strong start will help FunPlus with their playoff endeavour, but as the second half of the season enters full swing, fans and teams alike are beginning to wonder just how far this rookie squad can go.