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Nova Esports, the third seed from China's Wild Rift League (WRL), have become the first grand finalists of the Wild Rift Icons Global Championship after they defeated reigning WRL champions FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) in a 3-1 upset win in the semifinals on Tuesday (5 July).
Nova Esports started the tournament at the Play-Ins stage, where they nearly swept all their games in the Play-ins Group A, losing only one game in their match against Argentine team Furious Gaming.
They then advanced to the Group Stage, where they had a flawless to claim the first seed of Group A. Nova scored back-to-back 2-0 sweeps against T1 in the group's opening match and against Team Flash in the Winner’s Match, to make it to the Knockout stage.
In the Knockout Stage quarterfinals, Nova faced Wild Rift Champions Korea (WCK) first seed Rolster Y in a best-of-five.
The Chinese juggernauts emerged victorious with a 3-1 score, which allowed them to face their region’s top seed, FPX, in the semifinals.
FPX, on the other hand, earned a direct entry into the Group Stage as the champions of the WRL.
They were promptly named the tournament favourites because of their cool-headedness and their precision, both from their WRL matches and the way they performed in the Group Stage of the Icons.
FPX swept Wild Rift Champions Southeast Asia (WCS) second seed Flash Wolves, 2-0, in the opening match. They then went on to demolish Wild Tour Brasil (WTO) first seed Omegha Esports in a match that pushed them to their limits to qualify for the Knockout Stage.
And finally, in the quarterfinals, FPX cruised through WCS third seed Rex Regum Qeon (RRQ) in a 3-0 sweep to face Nova Esports in the semifinals.
Here's how the all-Chinese semfinals between Nova Esports and FPX went down:
Nova Esports opted for a more well-rounded composition to start the series, drafting a bit of tankiness, some poke, crowd control, and plenty of damage.
Meanwhile, FPX went for a triple-mage combination that loaded their team with tons of shields and crowd control as well as late-game threats in Morgana and Jax.
Both teams stayed on equal footing throughout the game until the 10-minute mark. Nova gained the upper hand through their counterplays against FPX and built up a gold lead after a fight at Dragon pit. Nova also managed their waves pretty well and slowly took down the turrets of FPX, further accelerating their lead.
FPX tried to pick another fight at the river for the Dragon, but their squishy team were finished off with an ace by Nova’s high damage output.
Nova took the first game of the series after a 19-minute encounter and a 10-2 kill lead, becoming the first team in the entire tournament to give FPX a game loss.
The game two draft for FPX tried to set up Yu “0711” Hong to carry the game with his Jax pick with a bit of poke and CC from Morgana and Gragas. Nova stuck their guns from the first game’s draft, only prioritizing Ziggs after an Orianna ban.
The early game started pretty aggressively, with Nova taking first blood in the bottom lane in just under three minutes.
While FPX tried to be aggressive in the early teamfights and skirmishes, Nova still won them all and took all the objectives across the map.
FPX fought back by stealing the Rift Herald but lost a turret in the process. Nova continued to win teamfights in the Dragon and Baron pits by an inch, killing off or driving away the members of FPX out of the river.
FPX were once again routed when they tried to steal the Elder Dragon from Nova Esports, which led to a disastrous ace that allowed Nova to finish the game in 23 minutes and with a 15-5 kill lead.
With Nova having a commanding 2-0 series lead, FPX opted for more damage and some tanky champions for their draft in game three.
FPX rotated through the map unpredictably which allowed them to outsmart Nova in the early laning phase.
Nova were able to counter FPX in the side lanes, letting them build a small gold advantage. However, FPX snuck their way into the Dragon pit, stealing the Infernal drake and then finishing off Nova with an ace.
The WRL third seed, however, were still able to steal the Baron from FPX. But the WRL champions once again found a way to ace Nova in the mid lane, giving FPX the game three win after 22 minutes and a 17-2 kill lead.
FPX picked up the pace in a bloody fourth game with their early game composition starting off aggressively in an attempt to snowball their lead against Nova.
FPX won teamfights and map objectives, allowing them gain a 5,000 gold lead against their opponents.
But Nova’s late game champions kept on scaling slowly as they traded kills with FPX. In a fight for the Elder Dragon, FPX started off by losing one member, and as both teams reset the Dragon, FPX’s main damage-dealer, Ma “Xiaaoma” Juntao, made a fatal mistake of trying to recall in a warded bush that nearly aced their team and lost them the Elder Drake and an inhibitor turret.
With Nova’s champions fully scaled, the tides turned to their favour and allowed them to drive FPX out of the Baron pit.
After killing the Baron, Nova marched down the base of FPX and destroyed the Nexus in 27 minutes and a 15-11 kill lead, giving them the 3-1 series victory and a ticket to the Icons grand finals.
Nova will be facing the winner of the other semifinals match between fellow Chinese squad J Team and Vietnam's Team Flash on Saturday (9 July).
In the post-match interview, all the members of Nova Esports said that their only goal for this tournament is the championship title.
An “Long” Xulong, Nova’s jungler said that the biggest factor in their win against FPX was “will[power]. Especially the Baron laner… he’s ‘unleashed the wild’, or his inner power and leveraged his skills into the match.”
Nova support Tang “Yami” Zhiqang said that they will prepare and do their best for the finals, “and most importantly, to stay humble,” so that they don’t underestimate the opponents.
The team’s consensus was that the semifinalists all have equal strengths, so it’s a matter of how the game is played, but have agreed that it will most likely be J Team who will win against Team Flash in tomorrow’s semifinal.
Meanwhile, after a shocking loss, FPX bow out of the tournament in 3rd-4th place and with US$160,000 in consolation.
The semifinal match between J Team and Team Flash will resume on Wednesday (6 June). The winner of the match will face Nova Esports in the best-of-seven grand finals match on Saturday (9 July).
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee.