Despite finishing higher than them in the regular season, Victory Five were still considered underdogs going into their first-round playoff match against FunPlus Phoenix. No one expected them to eliminate the reigning World Champions from the playoffs. Not even themselves.

Victory Five mid laner Li “Mole” Hao-Yan admitted in the team’s post-game victory interview that they had already booked their plane tickets home, expecting to lose.

They have now cancelled those tickets.

Victory Five has been the story of the LPL Summer Split. Theirs is an underdog story, a feel-good story, but most of all, it’s a story of redemption.

Just four months ago, in the Spring Split, the team went completely winless (0-16), which was particularly unfortunate considering their team name.

But in Summer, they held a top-three position for the first six weeks of the regular season before finishing fifth.

In fact, Victory Five were the first team to defeat Spring champions, Top Esports, this split. They took the close series 2-1 in Week 7, shattering TES’ perfect record.

Before the start of Summer, fans did not know what to make of Victory Five’s completely overhauled roster. It comprised of unknown players and rookies: Support Guo “ppgod” Peng joined from FunPlus Phoenix’s academy team, top laner Yu “Biubiu” Lei-Xin and jungler Wei “Weiwei” Bo-Han from Suning, bot laner Lee “Samd” Jae-hoon from Suning’s academy team, and Mole who was with V5 since mid-2019.

While most were confident that the organization would be able to avoid finishing last this season, this roster was entirely untested and unproven.

Much like how eStar saw potential in players from the League of Legends Development League (LDL), China’s academy circuit, Victory Five’s staff have shown that they too had an eye for picking out talent under the radar.

Interestingly, what peak eStar and V5 have in common is their incredible chemistry and clean execution. When you watch any game of V5’s, you’ll marvel at how individual members weave in and out of team fights as they play around cooldowns as a unit, echoing LCK’s Griffin back in their 2018 heyday.

As the weeks in the regular season went by, as more and more teams fell to V5’s dominance, the narrative around the team evolved from “How many more wins can Victory Five accumulate?” to “Can Victory Five qualify for Worlds?”, highlighting the importance of this playoffs run.

Besides solid team work, V5 also established their penchant for playing bot side through their legendary support with a legendary name, ppgod. Among starting supports, he ranks second with a 72.9% kill participation, just behind Rogue Warrior’s Le “Ley” Yi’s 73.9%.

Their mid laner Mole, has stood out from the competition too. He earned a total of ten MVPs in the regular season, tied in second place alongside TES superstar bot laner Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo, and veteran mid laner LGD Su “xiye” Han-Wei.

On his most played champion, Zoe, Mole led Victory Five to a decisive game one win over FPX in their first ever playoffs match. He chalked up a whopping 94.4% kill participation and dealt 37.3% of the team’s damage, the most on his team. In comparison, Samd on Senna contributed 22.3%.

Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

What has set V5 apart in the playoffs was their successful ability to play three different team compositions against a big name like FPX. In game one, they unexpectedly opted for a scaling bot lane by drafting Senna, depended on top lane Renekton to tide over the early levels, and Mole’s Zoe for poke and burst.

In game two, they took on skirmishes and team fights with Orianna mid, who was assisted by jungle Sett and top lane Renekton for engages.

In the final game four, BiuBiu shined on Lucian top, who was last picked as a counter to Kim “GimGoon” Han-saem’s trademark Gangplank. On the opposite side of the map, bot lane scaled and poked with current meta favorites, Caitlyn and Lux. The team collectively rallied behind BiuBiu, who sealed the series with a 11/2/2 KDA.

Being able to play through different lanes, win conditions, and pull off different styles through diverse drafts is no easy feat at the highest level of League of Legends. The 2018 World Champions Invictus Gaming for example, had to shift their playstyle after a string of losses in the LPL Spring playoffs and Mid-Season Cup.

Any team that’s able to adapt and execute varied drafts will create more paths to victory.

Despite the criticism of having a “one-dimensional gameplan”, V5 have since have proven otherwise. They’re still a fast and furious team who holds the record for shortest average game time of 29:42 — but they’ve also shown growth in these early stages of the playoffs.

Out of the five teams V5 lost to in the regular season (including FPX), they were swept only once by Edward Gaming in Week 10. Notably, Invictus Gaming and Suning, their next opponents in the playoffs, also found an edge over the young squad.

Just after V5’s glorious triumph over Top Esports, IG halted them in their tracks. Holding the second fastest average game time of 30:15 in the league, the explosive IG matched aggression with even more aggression. The bloody three-game series ended with 97 total kills, which included a quick 25-minute game two that saw IG win by more than 9,400 gold.

In the later weeks, V5’s losses to EDG and Suning revealed more cracks in their armor. Even though V5 were leading in kills, these experienced teams held on, scaled up, and turned around key fights around Baron and Dragon. After securing these major objectives in the late game, they weathered V5 down.

From last place in Spring to becoming the dark horse in Summer, will we see Victory Five at Worlds?

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