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The Moment: Just how good are the Flash Wolves?

The Flash Wolves at the 2017 MSI Play-In (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

The Flash Wolves are an early game team.

This is likely to be repeated multiple times when describing LoL Master Series’ finest at the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational. Although it will be written off due to SuperMassive’s minor region status, they did little to dissuade this theory in their short time on the Play-In stage. They only played three games, but managed an average of 2,038 gold on SuperMassive at 15 minutes.

Throughout the 2017 LMS Spring split, the Flash Wolves accrued a 1,962 average gold lead at 15 minutes above their opponents. When weighted with their whopping 2,469 average in playoffs, this gives them a ridiculous average of 2,031 gold at 15 minutes over their LMS adversaries. Perhaps we should be giving SuperMassive credit for not falling as far behind the Flash Wolves as ahq e-Sports did in the 2017 LMS Spring Finals.

Yet the overall strength of the LMS casts the Flash Wolves’ dominance in doubt. Just how good are the Flash Wolves if their region includes only two and a half strong teams? That is, the Flash Wolves themselves, ahq, and sometimes J-Team depending on the day and matchup.

This gold lead means little when the rest of the LMS simply cannot keep up with jungler Hung “Karsa” Hauhsuan, mid laner Huang “Maple” Yitang, and the vision coverage of Hu “SwordArt” Shuojie. Now that the veteran support is paired with AD carry Lu “Betty” Yuhung instead of the dubious Hsiung “NL” Wenan, the training weights are truly off the Flash Wolves’ ankles, leaving little but utter dominance over their Taiwanese brethren.

The Flash Wolves at the 2016 MSI opening ceremonies (Riot Games/lolesports)

Just how good are the Flash Wolves? is asked every time the team takes the stage at an international event. From the core lineup’s appearance at the Season 3 League of Legends World Championship as Gamania Bears, the Flash Wolves’ strength is often obfuscated by the relative isolation of their region and what came before, or after. The Gamania Bears, for example, were automatically seeded into the bracket stage of Season 3 Worlds thanks to the Taipei Assassins’ Season 2 championship title only to become quick fodder for SK Telecom T1’s first Summoner’s Cup.

The Season 3 World Championship marked one of the few times that SK Telecom T1 had the upper hand over the core team that became the Flash Wolves. Including the record of the Gamania Bears at Season 3 Worlds, their team has a 3:3 score against the Korean powerhouse squad. Take those away, and the Flash Wolves have a rare winning record against SKT at 3-1, something few League of Legends teams have been able to accomplish.

Their strong historical matchup against SKT, remarkable early game statistics, and recent 2017 IEM World Championship victory make Flash Wolves a near-guaranteed second-place position  in pre-2017 Mid-Season Invitational power rankings.

Throughout their history as a team, Flash Wolves developed their early style in spite of NL. They pushed creative early game strategies that no other team at the time would dare in an attempt to allow NL to farm until he could teamfight. At times, they often necessitated falling behind in other areas on the map with the hope that they would recoup these losses when grouping for mid to late game teamfights or objectives.

NL’s laning was so unreliable that Flash Wolves often set up a long lane for him to freeze while freeing up SwordArt to roam elsewhere, ganking lanes or setting up vision. Wave manipulation wasn’t the Flash Wolves’ strong point, but their oft-creative turret takedowns, laneswaps, and early-game timing were.

This has all changed with Betty in the bottom lane. The Flash Wolves are now a far more standard team, but have stronger lane assignments and better skirmishing. They funnel resources to Betty, not to prop him into relevance, but to give yet another carry on the team a solid gold share. The Flash Wolves’ gold distribution has hardly changed from 2016 Summer, but Betty is more efficient and useful with his 24.1 percent of his team’s gold and 30.8 percent of the team’s CS after 15 minutes than NL was with his 24.7 percent and 29.4 percent respective shares.

Karsa’s jungle pathing has also opened up thanks to his new AD carry. Where Karsa previously played more tenuously around the bottom lane, he appears to have much more confidence in Betty, ganking as early as Level 2 or 3 if their opponents are pushed up.

Top laner Yu “MMD” Lihong has also reaped the benefits of having Betty on the team. He doesn’t receive more gold or attention because of Betty, but again, having a stronger bottom lane threat creates more pressure, which helps all members of the team regardless of lane. This split, MMD has had success on Rumble, Kled, and Camille, adding a few more carries into his previously all-tank repertoire.

In the past, it seemed as if Flash Wolves would never be able to grow beyond NL. They had tried other AD carries before — most notably Ha “Kramer” Jong-hun — but always returned to NL. Having a better AD carry in the bot lane wasn’t worth fracturing their strong team synergy, and many of their more inventive strategies were borne of NL’s weaknesses. This came to a head at the 2016 World Championship, where Flash Wolves proved that they had one of the best early games in the world, but that it ultimately didn’t matter if they couldn’t execute a competent mid game, and lost late game teamfights.

Finally, this particular iteration of the Flash Wolves could go no further.

Top laner Yu “MMD” Lihung and jungler Hung “Karsa” Hauhsuan at the 2016 World Championship (Riot Games/lolesports)

NL’s temporary retirement this past offseason forced Flash Wolves to make a change and they’re a stronger team for it. That being said, their weaknesses — minus NL — are still the same. Although their mid game is more competent, that’s where they’re more likely to make mistakes by overextending or taking disadvantageous fights.

Everything you criticize the Flash Wolves for, they’ll absorb, adding extra flavor and flair. This is the same team that turned “NL?” — a chat meme criticizing the AD carry’s poor positioning — into a bestselling t-shirt. They’ve spent the past split integrating a more competent AD carry onto the team in Betty and honing their playstyle. Combined with their strong early game, it’s hard not to like the Flash Wolves and even more difficult to count them out of this tournament, regardless of the LMS’ lack of parity.

Statistics courtesy of Oracle’s Elixir.

Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter