With all the major regions up and running, we finally have a snapshot, albeit small, of what the field of contenders looks like. Some are surprising, such as Sandbox in the LCK, while others are faltering, such as Fnatic in the LEC.
A few things we're sure of, though: The LPL is still the strongest region, and Griffin remains the LCK's main source of hope (so far).
Record: 4-0 | League: LCK | +/-: +1
In what can be considered the weakest state the South Korean region has been in since the exodus of many of its top talents in the 2014 offseason, Griffin stands as the country's lone silver lining. During a 2018 free-agency period in which teams were wheeling and dealing following a disastrous world championship in South Korea, Griffin did the opposite and locked down its starting five from its rookie season in the LCK.
Not only did Griffin keep its stars locked down for 2019, but it also has them under contract until the end of the 2021 season. That's good news because Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon has amassed an unparalleled 84 KDA through the team's first eight games of the season.
The team's impeccable late-game teamfigthing is still intact -- Griffin's comeback from almost a 10K gold deficit against Hanwha Life Esports is proof of that -- but a vastly improved laning phase has transformed Griffin into a juggernaut not seen in the LCK since SK Telecom T1's 17-1 reign of terror in the summer of 2015.
2. Suning Gaming
Record: 4-0 | League: LPL | +/-: +6
No doubt, this is controversial. Invictus Gaming dropped 1-2 to JD Gaming last week -- the team's first regular-season series loss since 2017. Meanwhile, Suning remain perfect in the League of Legends Pro League regular season, continually dismantling opponents in the mid game. Suning's success doesn't feel quite as real as it should, due the quality of opposition, but the talent shows up each game, whether it's mid laner Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang or Xie "XiaoAL" Zhen-Ying. It's hard to peg Suning as the strongest team in the LPL, but overall, it has been the league's best performer. Moving forward, if the team really wants to prove that it's hot start is more than easy wins against weaker opponents, Suning will have to address its occasional communication failures in the mid game, whether it be poor teamfights or mismanaged objective control.
3. Invictus Gaming
Record: 3-1 | League: LPL | +/-: -2
They finally did it. In Game 3 against JD Gaming, Invictus Gaming did what seemed impossible for the team and drafted three losing lanes. We're certain this has happened before -- especially in the 2018 LPL Summer days of iG trying to improve the 5-on-5 teamfighting in preparation for an inevitable playoff clash with Royal Never Give Up -- but it's worth reiterating that iG succeed when they draft strong lanes. This allows jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning to play around pressure created by Song "Rookie" Eui-jin and top laners Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok and Lee "Duke" Ho-seong. Even in that Game 3 against JDG, it seemed that iG was only a strong teamfight from taking the victory away from JDG.
Is this the beginning of the end for iG? Not likely. For those who didn't watch the team last year, there were a lot of 2-1 and even 2-0 wins from iG in which the team played fast and loose with leads, ceding advantages they didn't need to give up, and that could have cost them if they had less talented individuals. This iG, the same lineup with a year's worth of experience and a world championship under their belts, is stronger than the team in 2018, even with the top Chinese teams looking stronger as well. Ning in particular is having a phenomenal start to the season.
4. Topsports Gaming
Record: 3-1 | League: LPL | +/-: +2
Looking at Topsports Gaming right now is a bit like watching Invictus Gaming at the beginning of last year. You know that you're likely watching a special team, but they're not there yet. Topsports are aggressive, scrappy and talented. They've made it a point to pick compositions that layer crowd control so they can teamfight or, as the team seems to prefer, divide and conquer in smaller skirmishes. Rookie top laner Bai "369" Jia-Hao, who turned 17 years old just in time to be eligible for this season, has helped set the top lane meta with his Renekton. Mid laner Zhuo "Knight" Ding has looked every bit as strong as promised. Jungler Xiong "Xx" Yu-Long, who was a part of TOP's initial rise last year, has continued to look good, and the bottom lane of Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook and Nam "Ben" Dong-hyun has added yet another facet to this multidimensional team.
Prior to the start of the split, we ranked TOP highly due to their individual talent, picking up players such as Knight, LokeN and Ben in the offseason. That talent has suited them well thus far, but to challenge for the title, they'll need a more cohesive and calculated mid-to-late game with fewer overextensions.
5. FunPlus Phoenix
Record: 3-0 | League: LPL | +/-: +14
FunPlus Phoenix have spent the better part of their time in the LoL Pro League as a dark horse playoff pick who were never quite able to synchronize their many moving parts. Little did we know that the player who would bring this lineup together would be eccentric mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang. Along with the addition of former Suning and Young Miracles jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang, Doinb has transformed FPX into a surprisingly well-oiled machine in the first few weeks of the LPL. Tian received a lot of criticism while on Suning before he was fully replaced by Yang "H4cker" Zhi-Hao but has since looked not only more stable but also more innovative -- the level 2 blue side mid lane gank against JDG was fun -- in the jungle/mid 2-on-2 with Doinb.
Although they share a mid laner, this year's FPX is not just a remake of Rogue Warriors' 2018 playstyle. They're a lot more focused on clean finishes, coordinated teamfights and playing through their solo laners in Doinb and top laner Kim "GimGoon" Han-saem, though the bottom lane of Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang and Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song has looked strong as well.
6. JD Gaming
Record: 2-1 | League: LPL | +/-: +9
We weren't certain how well JD Gaming would perform after losing jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min to SK Telecom T1 and bot laner LokeN to Topsports Gaming. The two key pressure points in JD's solo lanes remained in Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran and Zeng "YaGao" Qi (also known as "Toothpaste to his English-speaking fans), but the team's status was unknown. Sung "Flawless" Yeon-jun had improved, but his aggressiveness sometimes still cost his team during his time on Rogue Warriors last year, and Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh had spent a year in North America's Academy league. Above all else, we didn't know how well Gu "Imp" Seung-bin or Ju "Bvoy" Yeong-hoon would perform in the bottom lane, despite Zuo "LvMao" Ming-Hao's support skills.
The answer thus far in most of JD Gaming's games has been well enough to allow YaGao or Zoom to take center stage, which is all the team really needs. Their surprising 2-1 victory over Invictus Gaming proved that this team is still a significant threat, especially their two solo laners. Although JDG looked shaky against Rogue Warriors and were stomped by FunPlus Phoenix, this is still a playoff-caliber team.
7. G2 Esports
Record: 4-0| League: LEC | +/-: --
While worlds finalist Fnatic continues to struggle in the new year, with an 0-4 record, G2 esports sits comfortably at the top with a perfect 4-0 record. G2's addition of superstar mid laner Rasmus "Caps" Winther continues to pay dividends as he separates himself from the rest of the European pack. G2's current level of flexibility is unparalleled in the League European Championship, but that means the team can get carried away, even flexing Sejuani to top lane for Martin "Wunder" Hansen. Right now, it seems like G2's hubris is the only thing that can stop it, as the team stands alone at the top of Europe.
8. SK Telecom T1
Record: 3-1 | League: LCK | +/-: -4
The dubbed SKT "dream team" has gotten off to a decent start -- three victories in its first four matches -- but it hasn't been all that pretty. When SKT put on one of the most dominant single-game performances ever in League of Legends against the BBQ Olivers in the KeSPA Cup, sucking the life out of the minor league squad in a perfect game, the expectations were sent. Fans wanted to see the three-time world champion organization play with an air of superiority and style. While that's what Griffin is doing atop of the standings, it has been a dogfight for SKT, who have already dropped a series to the surprising Sandbox Gaming and needed three games to put away another newly promoted side in DAMWON Gaming.
How long will Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok be on Urgot and Galio duty? In a league in which Chovy is chopping up the competition with champions such as Zoe and Akali, Faker has been a background character almost for the first two weeks of the season. SKT's next match with Griffin will tell a lot about how the rest of the first half of the year is going to go. A victory over the seemingly unbeatable Griffin would shoot SKT up the rankings and bring back the same sort of excitement as when this roster was first announced. With a loss -- or, even worse, a blowout loss -- the calls for substitutions and a change in drafting coach are going to flood western and eastern social media alike.
9. Royal Never Give Up
Record: 1-1 | League: LPL | +/-: -6
Ranking Royal Never Give Up before the Lunar New Year break requires remarkable patience, as the organization frequently gives certain veteran players some much-needed rest after a lengthy competitive season. We're neither condoning this nor denigrating it, but these circumstances make it particularly difficult to rank RNG in these first few weeks when history has shown that they will inevitably change their lineup following the two-week break and return to being one of the best teams in China. This current iteration of RNG has featured Ying "Tianci" Tian-Ci and Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho in the top lane in lieu of Yan "LetMe" Jun-Ze and bot laner Zhang "Wink" Rui for Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. Tianci did not look synchronized with the team in the series against Suning, a 2-0 loss despite a strong Game 2 start from RNG jungler Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan. AmazingJ is the better option, at least until LetMe returns. Fortunately for RNG, they don't have another match until two weeks from now, after the Lunar New Year. This will hopefully give the team more time to practice, either with their two newest top laners and Wink or with a more seasoned iteration featuring LetMe and Uzi.
Record: 3-1 | League: LEC | +/-: +4
Misfits is nothing short of a pleasant surprise in the inaugural LEC split but not because the team is good -- that was vaguely expected -- but because the team got good so fast. Misfits isn't exactly at the untouchable level of G2 Esports, but with all the veterans aboard, few teams have shown the ability to be more decisive when it comes to big moments in game. Steven "Hans Sama" Liv is a bit of a mixed bag at AD carry, but his talent is apparent game-in and game-out. Still, Misfits' loss to Vitality last weekend proved that the team might be getting a bit too comfortable with a slightly slower approach, being challenged by Lee "Mowgli" Jae-ha's Olaf and Amadeu "Attila" Carvalho's Draven in the early game.