Top Esports players humbly bowed before thousands of empty seats after a close victory over defending champions JD Gaming in the LPL Summer Split finals last month, signaling a changing of the guard. In China, this season marked the end of the reigning dynasties in League of Legends.
With RNG’s star player Uzi retiring without hoisting the Summoner’s Cup and Invictus Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix missing the 2020 World Championship, an era ended. Instead, four teams of promising rookies and veteran players will carry the hopes of China to bring home the Worlds title for the third consecutive time this October.
And in the eyes of many international League fans, TES are the team that’s expected to win it all. “The scenes of our defeat in Spring are still burned in our memories,” TES bot laner JackeyLove said after their LPL Summer victory. “Wear the crown and let TES blossom in the height of summer.”
Finding the perfect formula
The history of TES is a story of rebirth. The organization joined the LPL in 2018 under the name of Topsports Gaming. Despite a good performance in their first season, they fell short in the playoffs. But in 2019, they built a new identity with a new name and players.
Before the Spring Split, TES signed current mid laner knight, support yuyanjia, as well as top laner 369—who was only 18 at that time. On top of those strategic changes, they also rebranded to Top Esports after the split.
The team performed better by coming in fourth place in the spring and third in the summer, but they ended the season by failing to grab the region’s last spot in the 2019 World Championship after losing to Invictus Gaming 3-2 in the Regional Finals. Something was still missing from the formula.
That something turned out to be two veterans to complete the roster made up of rookies. Former Flash Wolves jungler Karsa signed ahead of the 2020 LPL Spring Split, while former world champion JackeyLove joined the roster ahead of the Summer Split. Following these signings, TES’ performance and statistics skyrocketed.
They went from fourth place in the regular Spring Split to first in the summer with an 81-percent win rate, on top of grabbing the Mid-Season Cup and LPL Summer Split title. On paper, they’re now the strongest contenders to hoist the Summoner’s Cup this year, along with JD Gaming.
Taking full control of the jungle
TES can be one of the most frustrating teams to play against, particularly in the early game. Rather than going all-in like their rivals JDG, jungler Karsa puts his efforts into negating offensive moves from the enemy team and taking control of the river. This helps his team grab early objectives, which are especially crucial in this year’s meta. This dedication to helping his teammates earned him the nickname “Radage” (“radar bro” in English).
The playstyle of the other lanes, though, is different than Karsa’s strategy. The three lanes form what many casters call the “aggressive trident.”
The bot lane, made up of JackeyLove and Yuyanjia, is quieter than both other lanes in the early game—but it’s only to focus on farming and unleash their aggressive playstyle in the mid game. On the other side of the map, Knight is undoubtedly a driving force of TES. With strong carry potential and flawless mechanics, his statistics should scare countless mid laners around the globe. He boasts the best KDA and highest gold per minute in the LPL, according to gol.gg, and became the Summer Split MVP and mid laner of the All-Pro team of the split.
TES can rely on Knight not to lose his lane even in a weak matchup, which allows them to focus their draft on top laner 369. When he gets the counter-pick in lane, which frequently happened in their LPL games thanks to his wide champion pool, he can push the lane and use his teleport in the bot lane to earn kills and objectives to accelerate his lead. This strategy secures enough gold for TES to enable the full potential of their players and help them roll through games.
TES’ versatility allows the team to adapt to various situations with the help of a five-person coaching staff. But do they have any weaknesses? LPL caster Robert “Dagda” Price thinks they aren’t unbeatable and their first weakness is over-aggressiveness.
“They will fight you for every objective on the map, even if it isn’t in their best interest to do so comp-wise or with the state of the map,” Dagda told Dot Esports. This can allow their opponents to bait them into committing to unwise moves to get the lead, according to him.
“Even looking at their lanes, in the regular split, teams like V5 exploited their bottom lane, preying on their inexperienced support and over-aggression of JackeyLove,” Dagda said. “Opponents can look to set up early leads through this and snowball the game. That’s all easier said than done, though. There’s a reason that they are the champions of the best region in the World.”
Will TES dominate Group D?
Group D of the 2020 World Championship includes TES, LCK Summer Split runners-up DRX, and LCS runners-up FlyQuest. Russian representatives Unicorns of Love filled the last spot after placing second in the play-in stage. It seems like it should be almost impossible for TES to fail to advance to the playoffs in this group, but their highly-awaited matchup with DRX might be a bloodbath.
Because they weren’t in the same group during the Mid-Season Cup, DRX have yet to face off against TES this season. But DRX’s performance against JDG proved that it might be a challenge for them to beat LPL teams at Worlds. The casters and analysts don’t agree on the predictions, but Dagda stands by his league. “[Top Esports] are going to destroy them,” he said. “I’m expecting a super bloody game though and cannot wait to watch.”
It could be easy to think that the best-of-one format of group matches will put the LPL teams at a disadvantage since all matches of the regular season are best-of-three series. But it’s not as simple as that, according to Dagda.
“I don’t see it as a big issue,” he said. “TES is a team that can play multiple different styles and can use that to their advantage to catch opponents out. TES is also a team that has shown they have that clutch factor even if they fall behind, winning 60 percent of their games when they are behind at 15 mins.”
Ultimately, the inexperience of Knight, 369, and Yuyanjia could be the real question mark since they’ll step onto the international stage for the first time in their careers. The group phase should be the easy part. Difficulties may arise in the playoffs, though, and as favorites, TES will have to deal with a growing amount of pressure at Worlds 2020.