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With Worlds 2021 on the horizon, the third seed representatives from the League of Legends Pro League, LNG Esports are one of 22 teams from across the globe that are gearing up for their biggest and most important event of the year. The 2021 League of Legends World Championship will feature each region’s best players, all fighting for the same goal: to stand atop the mountain and hoist the Season 11 Summoner’s Cup.

After a rollercoaster 2021, with the highest of highs and lowest of lows, LNG Esports finally managed to run hot when it mattered the most, making a Cinderella run in the playoffs and regional finals. LNG are now making their first trip to the League of Legends World Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland on the backs of their retooled roster and one of the best junglers in the world.

LNG Esports (LPL) Worlds 2021 starting roster breakdown

  • Top: Hu “Ale” Jia-Le | Signed in January, 2021. Formerly a member of TT Gaming
  • Jungle: Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong | Signed in December, 2020. Formerly a member of Griffin
  • Mid: Xie “icon” Tian-Yu | Signed in December, 2020. Formerly a member of Oh My God
  • Bot: Wang “Light”  Guang-Yu | Signed in December, 2019
  • Support: Liao “Iwandy” Ding-Yang | Signed in December, 2019. Formerly a member of EDG Youth Team

How they got here

In May of 2019, Li-Ning, a Chinese sportswear company, acquired the Snake Esports roster along with their spot in the LPL. The organization, now known as LNG Esports, has had a long history of turning heads in the LPL but never stayed consistent enough to make their noise matter.

After a poor 2020, that turned ugly with the fallout of their long term captain Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun being benched for a majority of the year, LNG decided to do a major overhaul of their roster in preparation of the 2021 year. The only two starters that were on the team in 2020 that made it to 2021 was their bot lane duo of Light and Iwandy. The rest of the roster was replaced and the moves included a couple of big time upgrades.

In the mid lane, LNG decided to go after Icon, one of the longest tenured players in the history of the league. They followed that up by making an even bigger splash when they acquired superstar South Korean jungler Tarzan. They rounded out their roster by taking a flyer on two top laners: Ale and rookie Chang “M1kuya” Xiao. Heading into the spring split, M1kuya was given the starting top lane position.

2021 LPL spring split

As the spring split kicked off, LNG turned heads once again. The team jumped out to an impressive 4-1 start over the first three weeks of the season. During that run, Icon in particular showed that he was still able to compete at a high level by picking up player of the week honors in the mid lane in two of the first three weeks.

But a hard collapse by LNG beyond that point saw the team stumble down the standings. While LNG were able to right the ship in time to grab the very last playoff spot with an 8-8 record, their road in the 2021 LPL spring split didn’t stretch much further than that. The squad was quickly 3-0’d by former team member Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and his new Suning Gaming squad in the first round.

Even though LNG bowed out of the spring split with a fairly mediocre performance overall, the team only made one additional roster swap heading into the summer: M1kuya was out in the top lane and Ale was in.

2021 LPL summer split

LNG Esports took a similar path in the summer split that they did in the spring. Unlike the spring season, when they went 4-1 before crashing down the standings, LNG got all the way to 7-0 in the summer. At the time, the team held the top spot in the LPL standings and looked good enough to temporarily nab the second spot in Upcomer’s power rankings.

But the collapse still came. Closing out the summer split with a 3-6 record, LNG found themselves back in the No. 8 position heading into playoffs. A team that had been contending for a three-round bye had to once again face Suning in the first round.

While they needed the full five games to do it, LNG Esports were able to break the cycle from 2021 spring by defeating Suning. In Round 2, they faced off against a surging Top Esports who had climbed up the standings late in the season. This is where we saw the first real upset of the summer playoffs. In a shocker for LPL fans, LNG dispatched TES 3-1 to move onto the third round.

Facing off against the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational Champions in Royal Never Give Up, LNG pulled off a serious upset for the second round in a row. The eighty seed made it look easy as they took down RNG in a 3-1 series to move onto the quarterfinals.

From there, the Cinderella run was cut short. LNG Esports were rolled over by LPL juggernauts FunPlus Phoenix in a 3-0 series and then lost to ex-coach Flandre’s new team, Edward Gaming, 3-1. Yet, it wasn’t all for nought. LNG Esports had made enough waves in the playoffs to secure a spot at the regional finals, a tournament meant to decide China’s final two seeds for Worlds 2021. For LNG to punch their ticket to Worlds, they simply had to win two best of five series. If they could do that, they were in.

In the first best of five series, LNG went up against Rare Atom, a team that had finished in third place in the regular season standings. LNG, making a habit of pulling off upsets, made quick work of RA in a 3-0 sweep. They then moved onto the qualifying match for the last seed against Team WE.

Carrying their momentum forward, LNG Esports dismantled Team WE 3-1 and secured their place at the Worlds 2021 tournament.

Players to watch

All eyes for LNG Esports will be on superstar jungler Tarzan. After being left off all three LPL All-Pro teams in the spring split, Tarzan delivered an MVP-worthy performance in the summer. The jungler ended the summer regular season with the third most “Man of the Match” awards and was the easy choice for the first team LPL All-Pro jungler.

Tarzan is a player that can’t be analyzed on a stat sheet. The numbers don’t do him justice. He didn’t lead all junglers in kill participation or damage share. He didn’t lead his role in gold per minute. What Tarzan brought to LNG are the intangibles that can’t be measured in raw statistics. Tarzan’s MVP performances come in clutch teamfights around objectives that just always seem to go in his favor.

However, the numbers were there for Tarzan in the summer playoffs and in the regional finals. He ranked near the top in all statistical categories among junglers and his playmaking ability shined through even more. He had the third most player of the game awards throughout the playoffs. He led all players in those same awards in the regional finals by a wide margin. His accolades included being named the MVP in the qualifying match that got LNG Esports to Worlds 2021.

How LNG can succeed at Worlds 2021

Tarzan is the only member of this LNG squad that has had any experience in international play, let alone Worlds. For LNG to succeed, they are going to have to shore up that inexperience fast.

That being said, after having played intense and meaningful series in the best region in the world all summer long, this team shouldn’t be afraid of the level of their competition. That is especially true in the play-in stage. While LNG will face some resistance from South Korea’s Hanwha Life Esports in the play-ins, the rest of their group consists of emerging region teams in Oceania’s PEACE, Brazil’s RED Canids and Latin America’s Infinity Esports. It goes without saying, the LPL’s fourth seed are heavy favorites to make it through to the group stage.

If this team can draw from their late summer run, they should easily breeze through play-ins and should have a great shot of getting into the knockout stage. But if their inexperience shows, especially on the top side of the map, a group stage appearance may be the best we see from LNG Esports at Worlds 2021.

This article is part of an ongoing preview series of all 22 teams competing at Worlds 2021. For our complete release schedule and more information on the other 21 teams attending Worlds, check out Upcomer’s Worlds 2021 Outlook Series hub.