DG had the blue side in their first game against SLG.
As the red team, SLG would be able to counter DG's picks.
Both sides used their bans to send a message to the other team. DG banned Twisted Fate, the champion Crown had frequently been using in ranked games as of late. They also banned Kai'Sa, the champion SLG had used against BLX not so long ago.
And Xayah was banned as well.
SLG, for their part, took out Elise, LeBlanc, and Aatrox.
As those bans rolled out, the atmosphere at the venue grew more and more heated—
BLX's Lele and Mo Mo were both in the audience, but they weren't sitting anywhere near the front of the crowd. Rather, they'd been some of the last spectators to arrive. They were seated near the back of the stands, watching the game on the big screens in the venue.
Lele was even wearing a scarf and dark sunglasses. Upon seeing the bans come out, he whispered to Mo Mo, "It looks like they've studied up on each other. We'll have to see if SLG is decimated today, or if DG is ground to a slow and painful death."
Due to the scathing comments that were being flung at BLX those days, neither Lele nor Mo Mo wanted to be seen in public. BLX fans had nothing to watch now that their team had been eliminated. In their 'spare time', they would surely be spewing all sorts of vitriol online.
It wasn't hard to guess what the content of their comments would be—
[Mo Mo should have retired when he won the summer tournament. Could've been immortalized at the top of his game. But he just had to go off and disgrace himself at worlds. I gotta ask, did he fly out to Europe just to shop duty-free at the airport?]
[You guys didn't think BLX could really win the world championship, right? Just look at their top laner and jungler this year. Sometimes they can get things going, and sometimes they drag everyone down. Xu Xiao is too inconsistent, you can't rely on him. Is BLX incapable of affording a good top laner and jungler? Are they short on money?]
[You gotta look on the bright side. Their bottom lane duo clearly planned all this out. They can at least watch the tournament for free now. Doge.jpg]
[Forget the world championship. It's time to think about their next careers.]
As Lele pulled himself out of his thoughts, he heard his teammate hum slowly from next to him.
Lele looked at the screen and saw that DG had already taken Shen Qiao's best champion, Renekton. Mere seconds later, SLG took Mordekaiser, clearly preparing to put some pressure on the top lane.
Then SLG took Lissandra.
This was a champion who had also appeared in the tournament before. It seemed SLG wanted to take advantage of the fact that their players had been very stable as of late. They wanted to continue their usual style of play. Lissandra was useful in team fights and could hold her own in early-game matchups in her lane. Playing her well would be a test of game awareness.
Even after Lissandra was locked in, DG didn't rush to choose a middle lane champion for themselves. They took Varus and Thresh for their bottom lane first.
SLG immediately took Shauna Vayne.
Next, DG banned Nautilus and Jarvan IV. SLG responded in kind and banned Talon, which would have been a promising assassin for Qian Bao to play in the middle lane. SLG followed that up by banning Lee Sin as well.
It seemed like all of Lu Zhe's usual champions were on the ban list now.
In DG's voice chat—
"Gragas?" Coach Fang slowly suggested. "Would be a good choice for initiating fights."
Lu Zhe considered it for a moment. "What about… Jax? I used Jax in ranking a few days ago. Might not be great for snatching up resources on the map, but he goes well with Renekton and Syndra. Qian Bao will take Syndra for the middle lane, right?"
Qian Bao hummed and said, "I'll have to go with a burst champion against Lissandra, right, Coach?"
Coach Fang also agreed with a curt hum.
He considered the lineup for a while longer. Renekton and Jax, with Syndra in the middle and Varus and Thresh on the bottom lane… in almost all regards, whether it was initiating or controlling team fights, cutting into the back line, or managing AP and AD, there was nothing wrong with this lineup.
Finally, he nodded. "Alright, take Jax for the jungle. Lu Zhe, you're good at ganking on the lanes, so even if SLG drags this out to late-game, we still have a chance. Of course, taking the kill count advantage in the early stages of the game is still what we want to do."
DG took Jax as their second-to-last champion.
All five bans from both sides were already in place. Seeing DG take Jax, SLG went ahead and took Morgana as their support. She had crowd control abilities and could enable Vayne to do a great amount of damage in the bottom lane against Varus and Thresh. Plus, with her shield, she could also support her teammates well in team fights.
Seeing Morgana didn't change DG's final choice. They took Syndra for Qian Bao as their last pick.
And SLG took Rek'Sai as their jungler.
The lineups for both teams were finalized—
DG had Renekton, Jax, Syndra, Varus, and Thresh.
SLG would be running Mordekaiser, Rek'Sai, Lissandra, Shauna Vayne, and Morgana.
Lele took stock of the outcome of this picks and bans stage, then shook his head. "It's definitely worth it for us to study up on the LCK's methods of researching their opponents."
It was obvious from just a glance that DG's lineup was powerful. Renekton was a champion that allowed room for error in a team's gameplay. He could become an extremely powerful carry if he got going, but even if he didn't, he could still be a meaty tank. Just by planting himself in front of his team's AD, he could take a lot of damage during team fights, and he could help his team catch the enemy's back line off guard.
Jax was tanky as well, and he had crowd control skills. He could continuously dole out damage while keeping the enemy under control in team fights. After Syndra did her damage, Jax could slip in and do some follow-up damage of his own.
Varus had Thresh's lanterns to protect him. He could comfortably do his damage with a few tanks to protect him.
SLG had chosen the perfect counters to their lineup in the picks and bans phase. They seemed to be saying, so what if your Renekton could get going? If he dared to charge at them, their Mordekaiser would seal him away. The two of them could go one-on-one in Mordekaiser's prison, like real men.
Plus, Vayne had the ability to nullify Jax's crowd control. And she had Morgana to protect her as well.
No one could guess how their team fights would play out.
As expected, after both sides entered the game—
The predictions based on each team's champions popped up on the screen. DG had a forty-seven percent chance of victory in the early stages of the game, which became fifty-three percent in late-game. Their carry, Varus, would need a long time to develop, after all, and Renekton also needed some kills before he could truly take flight.
But if they dragged things out into the later stages of the game…
That was SLG's favorite way to play.
To make things worse for DG, Lu Zhe was playing Jax, who he hadn't pulled out in many tournament games before. Jax would be less efficient at taking resources in the jungle, when compared to Rek'Sai, and he would be slower to support his teammates as well. It was likely that he wouldn't be able to gain an advantage in the early stages of the game. Not only that, if he lost out on too many resources, he might cause his team to fall too far behind later in the game as well.
As Lele watched the players enter the game, he stroked his chin and mused, "This round won't last more than forty minutes, will it?"
In DG's voice chat—
Lu Zhe studied SLG's lineup. His lips curved into a faint smile as he said, "Lots of people are probably doubting our stamina right now, huh?"
Qian Bao laughed and agreed, "Yep."
Old Wo and Er-Hua followed Lu Zhe towards the red buff. While Er-Hua planted a ward in the underbrush, Old Wo laughed as well and said, "Didn't we play a one-hour game with BLX last spring?"
"Ai, it's all because Daddy Wolf has filled us up with the vigor of youth. Now people think we can't work overtime and play long games."
DG wasn't necessarily weaker than SLG in this regard.
Er-Hua didn't say anything. He crouched in the underbrush and gazed out at another patch of grass across from him. He seemed to think about something for a while, then blindly shot out a hook at that spot—shockingly, it hit.
Morgana was dragged out.
Coincidentally, Qian Bao had been a little late to head out to her lane. When she saw this going on in the jungle, she'd yet to make it to the middle lane. She immediately headed down to the bottom lane now to help. Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Lu Zhe all chased after the enemy Morgana. In order to save Morgana, Vayne had no choice but to use an E to pin Er-Hua's Thresh to the wall.
But Lu Zhe stunned Morgana and worked with Old Wo's Varus to throw an endless barrage of attacks at her. Rek'Sai wanted to come over to help, but unfortunately couldn't do anything useful so early on in the game. Besides, Qian Bao's Syndra had already rushed over—
Seeing that none of her teammates were coming over to save her, Morgana had no choice but to use her flash to get away.
SLG's attempt at Level 1 counter-jungling failed.
Morgana had used up her flash. When she teamed up with Vayne against Varus and Thresh later, she would be a weaker link.
After taking the red buff, Lu Zhe decided not to let go of this opportunity to take care of SLG's bottom laners. He slipped back down to the bottom lane and surrounded Vayne and Morgana with Varus and Thresh, determinedly taking Morgana's head.
Shen Qiao took down a badly wounded Mordekaiser in the top lane. He'd already built up a creep score advantage of twenty by then as well.
"Wolfy-ge… you really can't just let him choose Renekton."
Lele leaned forward, gripping the back of the seat in front of him with one hand as he watched the game. His tension eased a little as he saw DG take the lead for the time being. Relief shone in his eyes for a moment, and he instantly thought back to the way Shen Qiao had run wild when he played with BLX in the spring tournament.
At that time, Shen Qiao had also played Renekton.
Mordekaiser, Renekton, Ornn, Maokai… these champions could all hold up under pressure. BLX's coach had been insistent on playing these champions in the top lane back when Shen Qiao was with them. Shen Qiao hadn't complained. He never showed a special preference for any particular champions, and he always practiced whatever the team needed him to practice, so he wound up being able to dole out a beautiful amount of damage even with these tanks.
Back then, as long as Shen Qiao could get Renekton, he could basically carry.
The teams in the LPL were all familiar with one another, so when they faced off against Shen Qiao, they almost always instinctively banned Renekton, knowing that it was one of his best champions.
Was it fate?
This was a champion Shen Qiao could play regardless of the season. Even if the current season weakened him, Shen Qiao could play more beautifully with him than anyone else.
Lele could see that Shen Qiao didn't need any help from their jungler for the time being. He was wailing on Mordekaiser like Mordekaiser was his defenseless little didi. Lele couldn't help but think back to all the champions Shen Qiao had played throughout that season.
Aatrox, Akali, Vladimir…
Mostly top lane champions who could thrive under pressure, even on their own.
More and more people were noticing Shen Qiao's metamorphosis.
BLX hadn't advanced to the semifinals this year, and there were plenty of fans in their supertopic openly mocking them for letting go of their promising top laner, only to recruit a new player from the Korean league who couldn't carry their weight. The top laner they'd released from their team, on the other hand, was flourishing.
Lele obviously wouldn't respond to comments like that. But as Shen Qiao's old friend, he couldn't help but feel silently happy for Shen Qiao as he watched him play his own way in the top lane.
BLX had never won a world championship in all their years, and Shen Qiao had spent a considerable amount of time with them. Seeing Shen Qiao go off to DG wasn't so bad…
If DG could win another championship title again, then BLX could more or less feel like they were close to that glory as well.
He felt a little frustrated at their loss, but also optimistic about their brush with the potential champions. He was lost in thought for a long while until he heard Mo Mo say from next to him, "Twelve minutes in. Ten kills, eight for DG. If they don't fall apart later, SLG won't stand a chance."
Lele collected his thoughts and looked at the headcount on the big screen, and the gold advantage of two thousand that DG had managed to build up. "DG should be fine as long as they don't get too reckless. SLG isn't as good at turning things around as some teams in the LPL, and Crown's condition has been declining. If they can't snowball to an advantage, they're probably not going to make a comeback."
Lele paused and flashed a self-deprecating smile. "Ai, if DG takes SLG down three games to none today, won't our fans all call for us to retire en masse? It's this sort of thing that'll make them realize just how shittily BLX actually played."
"Most likely," Mo Mo calmly agreed.
While the two of them cracked bleak jokes over their recent tournament results—
A team fight broke out in the middle lane. DG successfully traded two lives for four kills. Lu Zhe led his teammates towards Baron Nashor after that, taking Baron Nashor's buff for themselves at the twenty-minute mark in the game.
Neither team had managed to take the Rift Herald earlier, so this buff would become critical in pushing towards the enemy base.
After getting five kills without dying even once, Shen Qiao's Renekton had already become a powerful daddy in that round. He pushed onwards with his teammates in a 1-4 split; while he attacked the top lane tower alone, his teammates took Baron Nashor's buff and confronted the middle lane inhibitor, while protecting their cannons to bolster their offensive force.
SLG was being crushed on two fronts. Mordekaiser charged down the top lane, intending to go one-on-one against Renekton. But his own equipment fell short, and he was slain by Renekton in his own prison. Afterwards, the middle lane became a 4v4 brawl.
And on the top lane, Renekton continued to happily hack away at the tower.
Before Baron Nashor's buff elapsed, DG continued to grind away at SLG's middle inhibitor. They also took one of the Nexus turrets down to half health before retreating to their own base to heal up and strengthen their gear.
However, SLG didn't get a chance to struggle for much longer in this round—
Thirty-two minutes into the game, their Nexus was blown into oblivion.
The MVP of the game was Renekton by a mile. He had the highest participation rate, damage output, and kill count.
In a foreign language, a commentator excitedly roared, "Congratulations to Team DG for taking the first point!"
The audience also filled up with the sounds of DG's fans, cheering and waving their signs of support.
But the first round didn't decide anything.
SLG didn't seem especially affected by their defeat. They quickly adjusted their tactics and immediately sent Shen Qiao's Renekton to the ban list at the start of the second round. They also chose to play the blue side that time, taking the Varus and Thresh duo.
It seemed they'd settled on the 'if you can't beat them, join them' strategy.
Seeing SLG take Varus and Thresh, DG went ahead and locked in Kalista and Taric. This duo was known for their ability to execute a 'mutual protection' strategy. Kalista was extremely advantageous in early-game, and though her damage output would never be extraordinarily high in team fights later on, she had a lot of skills to help protect herself.
And Taric's ult was extremely useful in team fights.
After seeing Taric locked in—
SLG suddenly selected Poppy, a more tanky top lane champion.
Poppy's ult could send an enemy champion flying from one side of the rift to the other. During a team fight, she could easily get rid of that pesky enemy carry or some opponent who could change the tides of the battle. After flinging her opponent far, far away, the opposing champion could only slink back step by step.
So what if Taric could protect his teammates with his ult? It wouldn't matter if they were ejected from the fight. Poppy's presence seemed to say that Taric's shield was absolutely meaningless, because she could hammer him straight out of the jungle, and by the time he trudged back, her team would have taken Baron Nashor down already.
SLG's unpredictable choice of Poppy did put DG on edge during this second round. Since Poppy was too good at jumping into fights, she was able to repeatedly smash Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe straight out of their team fights. Not only did she prevent Lu Zhe from grabbing dragons and resources, she also rendered Shen Qiao ineffective, robbing DG of one of their sources of damage.
And so, in the thirty-fifth minute of the game, DG's Nexus was destroyed.
Both sides fought back and forth, tying up the match.
In the third game, DG took the blue side back.
They chose Varus and Braum for this third round. With Braum's shield, they would be able to effectively hold their own against high-damage champions like Poppy and Miss Fortune. At the same time, they dismantled SLG's favored combo of Kai'Sa and Braum.
But SLG simply played it by the book and calmly took Xayah and Rakan.
Seeing this Xayah and Rakan duo in play, Coach Fang assigned Qian Bao a champion she hadn't shown off in a long while… a tank in the middle lane.
DG had practiced with this sort of team comp a bit in the past, but they hadn't used it extensively during the summer tournament. They'd only pulled it out once in a practice game against WTG, and the results were a bit interesting.
It could be called…
An ace up DG's sleeve.
Although WTG had learned of this trick a long time ago.
Faced with this strange choice for Qian Bao, SLG seemed a bit bewildered. They dragged out their next pick until the timer was nearly elapsed. Their coaches must have been deliberating over something.
Crown was a bit stumped. He hadn't faced off against this style of mid-laner much in the past, and in the past two rounds, Qian Bao had been going toe-to-toe with him. Now his opponent was stubbornly hiding under her own tower, refusing to come out. Just like a turtle in its shell. She was completely immovable, and she refused to come out to play.
Qian Bao was even willing to sacrifice her own minions. She only left her post to teleport up to the top lane, becoming the link between the top laner and the jungler to help them wail on SLG's top laner.
SLG's top-lane champion Jayce was ruined in the early stages of the game.
From then on, SLG was short on damage. Jayce was rendered ineffective, and DG slowly, carefully widened the gap between them and SLG through little wins throughout the game.
They ended the game in the twenty-ninth minute!
At that moment, in the chat of the domestic stream—
[DG has reached match point! Oh my god!]
[I'm so nervous I'm so nervous I'm so nervous]
[DG, hurry up and win! Take us home with a three to one victory! Mama is ready to celebrate!]
[Ahhhhh, worlds is really way too exciting! Wahhhh, I'm going to watch today's match over and over again for sure! I love Wolf Cub I love Emperor Zhe I love Money Money Wo Wo and Little Hua!]
[Wait, previous commenter, hold your horses. What the hell is Little Hua?]
[I don't care about anything else, I just want to see DG in the finals again! Your fans have been waiting for this all year. Use all your strength to show everyone who the real kings of the LPL are!]
Backstage, in the players' lounge area—
Shen Qiao accepted a cup of warm water that Lu Zhe had poured for him. As soon as he downed it all, he heard the coach and staff members reminding them the next round would be starting soon. Shen Qiao glanced over at Lu Zhe as they started to head out.
Lu Zhe smiled faintly and asked, "Nervous?"
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows.
Old Wo also turned back when he heard Lu Zhe's voice. "What? Who's nervous? Daddy Wolf? Oh, that's right. This is his first time in the semifinals of worlds, isn't it? He wasn't with BLX the last time they got to the finals, huh?"
"Aiya, don't be nervous," Qian Bao coaxed. "Wait until we win this match to be nervous. We're not even at the finals yet."
Er-Hua thought of the water he'd just seen Shen Qiao drink, and he thoughtfully reminded, "If you're nervous, don't drink too much water. If SLG tries to drag this out into a long game, you'll be miserable in half an hour."
Even Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo scooted over. Their palms were clearly both sweating with their own nerves, yet they still looked like they wanted to reassure and support Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao was silent.
Expressionlessly, he said, "I'm not nervous."
Lu Zhe good-naturedly answered, "Mm, okay. Then, let's go. The fourth round is starting—"
Shen Qiao hooked one hand into his pocket and glanced at him again. He followed Lu Zhe another few steps forward. As they passed through the dark corridor leading back to the stage, he deliberately slowed his pace and fell to the back with Lu Zhe.
Once they were a fair distance from the staff members, he whispered, "I'm really not nervous."
"Hm?" Lu Zhe looked over.
Shen Qiao saw that Lu Zhe was listening attentively, but he deliberately held back what he wanted to say. He looked straight ahead again, at the lights of the stage.
"After this round, I'll tell you."