JD Gaming finished second in the 2020 League of Legends Pro League (LPL) Summer regular season with the exact same match record as league-leaders, Top Esports. The only difference separating the two giants was a single game, as JD Gaming lost 11 compared to Top Esports’ 10.

Last split, even though JD Gaming edged out Top Esports 3-2 for the Spring championship, Top Esports stole headlines after they soared through the Mid-Season Cup, proving that they were the best among LPL and LCK teams.

Expectations surrounding the star-studded TES lineup continued through Summer and they opened with an 8-match perfect win streak that included a 2-0 sweep over JDG in Week 2.

So why should JDG be considered the favorites for Worlds?

After a shaky start to the season, which also saw them drop a second consecutive series to Royal Never Give Up in Week 3, JDG then went on a quiet 11-match win streak before finally losing to an on-fire Victory Five in Week 9.

Going up against LGD in the semifinals was their first playoffs showing. Despite a shaky 3-1 win, JDG look poised to take another domestic championship, and possibly more.

Competing on a fresh new patch, it was JDG’s first series on 10.16. Right off the bat, viewers could feel the power behind the draft in game one — the most important game, for it sets the momentum of the entire series. JDG wasted no time locking in their champions, as the draft reflected a high level of confidence, decisiveness, and preparedness.

In the first round, JDG banned out Han “Peanut” Wang-ho’s signature Nidalee and Graves, and denied Xie “Langx” Zhen-Ying one of his most played champion in Summer, Renekton.

Without hesitation, JDG went on to first pick the top tier AD carry, Ashe, on blue side. They chose to give up Twisted Fate to Su “xiye” Han-We, his most played this Summer, and a key map pressurizing tool that LGD used to take down Invictus Gaming in the quarterfinals.

Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

In response, Zeng “Yagao” Qi picked Galio — a champion he’s only played twice towards the end of Summer’s regular season, and none at all during Spring. Known for his skills on Zoe and Azir, it was surprising for JDG’s mid laner to pull out something new that wasn’t affected by recent patches.

They wanted to match Xiye’s roams on Galio, and with Ornn, provide a thick front line for Ashe and Kindred.

As both teams’ playstyles revolved around their junglers, they saved jungle for last. Seo “Kanavi” Jin-hyeok managed to get the longer end of the stick on a carry champion, while LGD put their eggs in the Xie “Langx” Zhen-Ying basket on a scaling Kayle, as Peanut took on play-making duty.

A low kill game in which the early pace was dictated by Kindred, both teams played around objectives. Individual mistakes were made, but JDG came out on top every teamfight. The turning point came 27 minutes into the game at the fifth dragon spawn.

Langx’s Kayle was level 16. He had hit his desired level and two-item power spike. JDG wanted none of that to manifest in action.

They positioned their 3-man front line around the Mountain Dragon, with Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran’s Ornn stepping out to zone two. The moment dragon was secured, JDG had already split LGD up.

Their two carries, Ashe and Kindred, focused down Lee Sin and Nautilus with Ornn, who then turned his attention to LGD’s back line that was fully exposed. Zuo “LvMao” Ming-Hao, Zoom and Yagao took turns to soak up the damage with Zhonyas and a heal, buying time for their AD carries to scoot over.

Even though Kanavi may have overstepped for a few autos onto Ha “Kramer” Jong-hun’s Jhin, Lamb’s Respite, a reengage from his teammates, and a delicate tanking of Kayle’s output damage meant no one on JDG went down as they aced LGD.

All five players worked around their spells, abilities and cooldowns as a cohesive unit. Not only that, they juggled enemy aggro, and were many steps ahead as they set up the initial front to back team fight while the objective was going down.

Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

JDG wasn’t done surprising. As the higher seed with side selection for the first three game, they decided to change things up and move to the red side despite gaining victory on blue.

In game two, Lucian was chosen for Yagao — another champion we do not usually associate him with. He played him four times in spring, and none at all in Summer. Clearly another prepared pick against his opposing laner, he took advantage of Lucian’s mobility, pressured Zoe, and led in CS.

Most surprisingly, they last picked Evelynn for Kanavi. Buffed on patch 10.16, Hate Spike’s cooldown was halved. Prior to this, she has not been played in the major leagues at all this year.

Without a real tank or solid front line, JDG pulled a 180, and were playing with fire against an Olaf-Yuumi combo, pokes from Ezreal and Zoe, and the best tank in 2020, Ornn.

Barely five minutes in, they cleverly created a favorable back timing at bot lane for both sides. With mid priority, LvMao’s Bard and Kanavi’s Evelynn aggressively invaded LGD’s bot jungle for first blood onto Olaf, into first dragon.

JDG were up ten kills to none at one point, consistently playing around Eve. Giving away three kills, they ended game two with 20 kills just past the 24-minute mark.

Perhaps trying to push the limit a little more, JDG opted to ban Ashe instead of Kindred on red side in game three. Going up against Peanut’s Kindred and Kramer’s Ezreal, JDG did not have any consistent source of damage with Jhin as their sole ranged carry.

Reeling back from the game three draft, JDG on blue side in game four traded Kindred by leaving open Renekton. LGD prioritized Ezreal for Kramer and proceeded to put together a draft that played around him instead of Peanut.

This round, despite the narrow kill score, JDG led in turrets and CS, and were up in gold throughout. At level four, LvMao even roamed top to participate in a tower dive.

The highlight of game four was JDG’s one-minute dance around the third Cloud dragon. LGD got the jump onto Kanavi, and took down Kindred first. Even though JDG were at a numbers disadvantage, they opened with Jihn’s Curtain Call to reduce the threat of a flanking Bard and almost killed him.

After a handful of successful poke damage, LGD’s health bars were getting low, and they were forced to give it up despite the former numbers advantage.

Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

It is no wonder that the LPL English broadcast calls JD Gaming the “Teamfight Titans”. Commonly on initiating champions, LvMao and Zoom lead engages, while the rest position according to their champion’s role that game.

Unlike Top Esports that heavily plays around Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo, who deals an average of 33.1% of the team’s damage, or Invictus Gaming’s dominant top laner Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok who deals an average of 29.4%, JD Gaming’s players damage spread are more even.

At the most, LokeN deals an average of 27.2% damage, while Yagao typically contributes 24.5%, and Zoom 22.2%.

Because the team plays around Kanavi, it’s no surprise that he leads Summer with the highest average damage to champions per minute at 357, and the highest jungle control at 53.7%. However, when it comes to kill participation, first blood rate, and gold differential at ten minutes, Kanavi doesn’t come close to making top ten.

This speaks more about the team’s playstyle than about him as an individual. Even though JDG’s positive gold difference at 15 minutes is ranked seventh in the league, it’s definitely not because they’re farming passively.

JDG play for mid-term investments and a single Baron that skyrockets them to a quick victory. Utilizing their solid laners who play around their jungler, you’ll notice that their wave control is always in relation to Kanavi’s pathing.

From the ebb and flow of wave priority, objectives like dragons light up on the board. At 58% first dragon rate, they’re third in the league. Their dragon control rate at 56% ranks them second.

In contrast, their first tower rate of 46% is outside top ten.

However, once the early dragons are secured, and tower defenses fall, once wards are cleared and vision laid down, the moment JDG gets Baron, it’s the end game.

This team’s first Baron rate is 71%, the highest in Summer — even higher than Top Esports’ second place 68%. JDG’s Baron control rate also tops the charts at 68%, over Top Esports’ 65% which ranks third.

After securing Baron, JDG march steadily towards victory. It might be surprising because their gameplay is not as explosive, aggressive or bloodthirsty as two of the fastest teams in LPL’s Summer split — Victory Five and Invictus Gaming — but their average game time of 31.6 minutes ranks fourth, just above Top Esports.

Compared to other playoffs teams, JD Gaming appears to have shown the most cards on patch 10.16, and yet it feels like they still haven’t truly shown their full potential.

They executed three extremely different drafts, where almost every player had to change their playstyle as they played a different role each game due to the vastly different champions they were on. Combined with their team fighting prowess and solid players, JD Gaming will be deeply formidable opponents at the LPL Summer final, and at Worlds.

READ MORE: JDG coach Homme: ‘Even though we were Spring champions, our team is still not champion material’