ggChronicle proudly continues our “Twelve Days of eSports” series with a comprehensive profile of Invictus Gaming. Every day between now and the World Finals, we will release one article highlighting each of the teams going to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check back daily for our new content, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
The teams competing in the Season Two World Championship have gone dark. They practice in private, escaping the prying eyes of their opponents and honing their secret strategies to win in Los Angeles. No matter how teams try to warp conventional strategies in their month long bootcamps, they cannot rival the experience of a team that has been innovative for far longer: Invictus Gaming.
|Interview with Invictus Gaming (Translation Here)|
Invictus remains shrouded in mystery in the West, with rare recordings of their matches leaking out of the Chinese circuit. Only a handful of high-profile showmatches reveal their bizarre skill-set and unusual champion pool. They are the enigma of the World Finals, the big question mark that threatens to bamboozle squads accustomed to the international stage.
CCM and the $6,000,000 Buyout
Invictus Gaming began as multi-gaming organization Catastrophic Cruel Memory (CCM), and was famed for its DotA players. In August of 2011, Wang Sicong, the son of a Chinese billionaire, spent six million dollars to acquire the team and all of its divisions. This princely sum paid dividends to the DotA 2 squad, as iG recently captured first place and a million dollar prize at Valve’s International in Seattle. The League of Legends team now seeks to match the accomplishments of their MOBA brethren, and heads to Los Angeles to add another trophy to the iG cabinet.
Invictus’ roster underwent numerous changes over the course of Season Two, and it differs dramatically from the team that Western fans witnessed at IEM Guangzhou nearly a year ago. Two of the most famous players in the Chinese scene, Wh1tezZ and MikakoTabe, left in the beginning of 2012. IG’s Jungler, illuSioN, remains the only member of the original line-up who has not swapped positions. Their current Support player, XiaoXiao, switched from AP Carry to fill in for ChrIs’ departure. Pdd, Zz1tai, and kid all joined in the first few months of 2012.
The Early Days
A little less than a year ago, Invictus Gaming failed to ignite against Western teams at the the Intel Extreme Masters in Guangzhou. They did not advance from the group stage and looked far less threatening than their rivals World Elite, who went on to beat CLG Prime in the finals.
Less than one month later, iG received another chance to face international competition at the World Cyber Games in Korea thanks to their victory against WE in the Chinese qualifier. Due to their weak showing in Guangzhou, fans were surprised when they won their group, leaving dignitas in second. Despite their sweep in the group stage, they lost 2-0 in the quarterfinals to the Canadian team comprised of HotshotGG, Elementz, Chaox, bigfatlp, and TheOddOne.
|The Old iG Roster at WCG 2011|
The defeat in Busan marked the last time fans would see Invictus Gaming compete at an international LAN tournament before the upcoming World Championship. Though they qualified for both IEM Kiev and the IEM World Championship in Hanover, visa issues thwarted the team.
Invictus Gaming’s Rise in China
Unable to compete internationally due to travel restrictions, Invictus Gaming made a name for themselves in China. In 2012, iG strung together a series of podium finishes at the World GameMaster Tournament, CPL Shenyang, and the Ultimate Game Tournament. While Chinese counterpart World Elite frequently serve as iG’s kryptonite, beating them in tournament finals, Invictus’ overall record remains strong. World Elite’s early qualification for the Season Two World Championship allowed iG to dominate in Shanghai’s Chinese Regional Finals, and they swept the tournament to clinch the number two seed in L.A.
|The Current iG Roster After Winning CPL Shenyang|
While Invictus Gaming may not possess the international LAN experience of their peers World Elite, they spent the last two months showing their prowess online. The team regularly appears in a Korean showmatch called Battle Royal and has beaten World Championship contenders CLG Prime, Azubu Frost, and the Taipei Assassins in best-of-five series. IG also competed in the most recent North American qualifier for IPL 5, knocking out CLG Prime and mMe Ferus before losing to Meat Playground in the finals. For those keeping score, iG holds a total tally of 8-2 against North American powerhouse CLG Prime. Moreover, Invictus has never lost online against World Championship teams they have faced in the past two months. Even with their latency handicap.
“Generally speaking, NA teams play standard and slow games. Korean teams are significantly more aggressive than NA teams. They push lanes, push towers, and put pressure everywhere. They drive the game to a much faster pace. EU teams are also more aggressive than NA teams but with a different style from Korean. Our style is at somewhere in between. Overall I feel the more aggressive the better.” -Pdd
Invictus Gaming plays to crush their opponents in lane. While many international teams tacitly agree on a metagame that emphasizes compositions tailored for teamfights, iG takes a different approach. They fool their opponents with non-standard lane picks and swap champions at the last second in an effort to reduce the effectiveness of their opponents’ rune pages, masteries, and knowledge of match-ups.
Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao is the key to their deceiving tactics. The team will almost always lock in the middle lane champion last, allowing him to freely counter-pick his lane opponent. This versatile player has been known to play bruisers like Lee Sin, Jarvan, and Jayce in mid while Liu “Pdd” Mou pilots AP champions like Vladimir in top lane. This tactic allows iG to properly balance their physical and magical damage, while directly countering their lanes.
Fans of iG know to rarely expect the team to willingly engage in a traditional teamfight. Kings of the split push, iG focuses on putting pressure on their opponents’ lanes and continues this tactic long after most teams group together to roam. When iG chooses to enter combat, they rely on hard-engaging champions. They have been known to employ Twisted Fate, Leona, Skarner, Shen, and Sona to catch their enemies out of position and pick off a champion or two. The Chinese squad can successfully engage from multiple angles, as they use the element of surprise to snipe opponents’ carries.
In addition to champions that engage well, iG typically fields at least one global ultimate. Their picks frequently include Nocturne or Karthus to further pressure lanes and ensure that they can counter-gank.
“Push the lane while your opponent can do nothing to stop you.” – Zz1tai
iG pushes lanes at any cost. They will shove each lane’s minion wave into the enemy turret, using the farm pressure to heavily harass their opponents. Even if they die to ganks due to their higher-risk play, opponents rarely have time to take an iG tower before the Chinese players return to lane. Conversely, when a gank or tower dive from illuSioN goes in iG’s favor, they immediately seize the advantage to damage or destroy the enemy turret. Like their peers Azubu Blaze, iG like to push, though the latter tend to focus on killing champions instead of destroying turrets. By keeping enemy towers up longer, iG increases the number of kills they can amass during the laning phase, where they exploit their engineered advantage.
|Zz1tai Mordekaiser Highlight|
When Invictus develops a major lead in the laning phase, the momentum propels them to an eventual victory. Unfortunately, the emphasis on laning has also been their undoing. Their team compositions are rarely as strong as their opponents’ in a standard 5v5 team fight. As a result, teams like Meat Playground and Azubu Blaze beat iG by grouping together and pushing a single lane, ignoring the split-push. Against iG, teams have had success feeding them their own medicine — by pushing lanes hard, they relieve the map pressure.
Beating iG comes down to having the mindset from judo: a team must achieve victory by using iG’s strength and aggression against them.
Chen “illuSioN” Xinlin
One of the founding members of iG, Chen “illuSioN” Xinlin has been jungling for Invictus Gaming’s since 2011. Due to his team’s emphasis on pushing lanes, illuSioN typically chooses champions capable of diving under the enemy turret for kills. Skarner, Alistar, and Nocturne give iG the ability to catch opponents out of position, and illuSioN uses Shyvana’s ultimate over walls to engage teamfights at an unexpected angle.
Like Helios from Azubu Blaze, illuSioN has become a master of counter-ganking since his teammates are typically caught close to an enemy turret. His skill allows him to turn fights around with his keen eye for target selection and concentrated attack. When helping his allies, illuSioN usually creates advantages in middle and bottom lane, while rarely visiting top.
Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao
The true ace of iG, Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao is one of the most versatile professional players in League of Legends. The team’s strategy in champion select revolves around picking last for their Mid so that he can effectively dominate his solo lane. Wildly unpredictable, his champion pool is so broad that iG will frequently swap an unlikely champion to him at the last second to negate the effectiveness of their opponents’ runes and masteries. Zz1tai’s recent staples include: AP Master Yi, AP Maokai, Evelynn, Viktor, Jayce, Lee Sin, Jarvan, or the more traditional Swain, Twisted Fate, Vladmir, Anivia, and Mordekaiser.
“I think I like Mordekaiser the most. For tips, push the lane, farm a lot, become a monster, and carry the late game.” – Zz1tai
“Zz1tai [is] one of the few competitive [V]iktors that I’ve seen.” – Scarra
As a result of his emphasis on pushing, Zz1tai ganks lanes less than many other middle lane players. Instead of helping his team through roaming, he relieves pressure from his allies by assassinating his lane opponent. On certain champions like Mordekaiser, he emphasizes farming, and can hit nearly 250 CS at the 20 minute mark. More passive, farm-based players like bigfatlp have faced difficulties against Zz1tai. Look for him to acquire early, unassisted kills.
Liu “Pdd” Mou
While most of the action occurs in Invictus Gaming’s Middle and Bottom lanes, Liu “Pdd” Mou stoically holds top lane. A veteran player of Vladimir and Diana, iG relies on Pdd to provide AP damage when Zz1tai plays an AD bruiser in mid. Last-second swaps between Pdd and Zz1tai in champion select are commonplace, particularly when iG picks Vladimir.
Pdd’s tendancy to push is tempered by his more passive play. Top lane is usually drowned out by action elsewhere on the map, which forces the enemy jungler to attend to middle and bottom. In the mid and late game, Pdd will call enemy attention while he attempts to split-push a vacant lane.
Ge “kid” Yang
Ge “kid” Yang, known as FULIYE on the NA Server, sets a high bar for aggression. In his normal style, he will attempt to repeatedly execute his laning opponent, no matter the price. Kid plays almost exclusively Ezreal, which is typically iG’s first pick. While most Arcane Shift to kite, kid initiates with the ability, passing over walls to surprise opponents. In the rare instance that iG is unable to pick the Prodigal Explorer, kid will play Corki or Graves as a substitute.
“We also use lane switch, maybe not like WE, who switch lane almost every game. Our understanding of lane switch meta is that it is good if it can give us early advantage or if it can help us go around some early level disadvantage between certain match-ups.” -Pdd
Kid and his partner XiaoXiao almost never choose to lane swap into a 2v1. Why switch when there’s one fewer person to kill? iG’s bottom lane loves to go all-in for first blood as soon as they hit level two, which sometimes hilariously results in both Chinese teammates dying. They tend to steal enemy wraiths or take their own double golems to hit level two faster than their opponents, giving them a window to execute a deadly timing attack.
Sun “XiaoXiao” Yalong
The other half of iG’s murderous bottom lane duo, Sun “XiaoXiao” Yalong plays with a reckless abandon rare among professional supports. Keeping with iG’s strategy, XiaoXiao picks supports with a strong presence in lane, notably Leona, Sona, or the occasional Janna. IlluSioN relies on the initiation provided by XiaoXiao to tower dive, and the rest of the team needs these champions to engage fights later in the game.
Invictus takes cues from XiaoXiao, allowing him to lead them into battle, both in lane and while roaming. Since he and kid love to push, XiaoXiao tends to buy five wards with health potions, using his initial gold to protect his naked backside from lusty junglers.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let their lack of international accomplishments fool you; Invictus Gaming is dangerous. Teams that can withstand their early aggression can defeat iG in late game teamfights, but they must be prepared for an all-out offensive. Invictus refuses to play the League of Legends that many Westerners know.
“Of course, we have [a secret strategy]. It [wouldn’t be] worth the travel if we [didn’t] have [a] special strategy. [edited for clarity]” -XiaoXiao
The structure of the Season Two World Championship works in iG’s favor, as a best-of-one group stage gives their successive opponents no opportunity to adapt to their unorthodox play. Should they progress past the group stage, the single-elimination bracket is also a boon to Invictus, for similar reasons. IG’s champion pool already proved deep enough to win best-of-fives against CLG Prime, Azubu Frost, and the Taipei Assassins. Will this League of Legends team do justice to the Invictus brand? Will they be the ones to bring home another million?