The first week of EU LCS has arrived and slipped by with a string of (mostly) one-sided matches. Top teams from last split still look like the top teams, and a thick layer separates them from the rest. A few surprises, however, demand explanation. So, to frame a perspective around some of the most important EU LCS topics, I’m starting a weekly reflection.
Some of the most surprising events of the week have a narrative thread that links them. Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian’s departure from Team ROCCAT apparently left them an indecisive mess incapable of defeating G2 Esports with substitutes — a far cry from the ROCCAT that took down G2’s main lineup last spring. Meanwhile, his addition to Misfits hasn’t appeared to change that team much at all. Their decisive fall at the hands of Fnatic contrasts with the final series of the week in which the expected bottom-of-the-table Ninjas in Pyjamas dragged Fnatic across the rift in a series of extended brawls.
Misfits with Maxlore — and the same problems
Last split, I criticized Misfits for an inability to trade sides effectively. By trade sides, I mean when they make a play on one half of the map (bottom or top), the other team will usually respond by trying to get something on the other side. In this way, they trade control of different sides of the map.
For Misfits, this usually meant sending too many members bottom — pulling Barney “Alphari” Morris’ TP to get a first tier turret with Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage joining in from mid — or leaving Alphari stranded without a sense of where the enemy jungler was, leading to deaths. Later on in the game, it meant a slow reaction to a side lane push and getting an inferior objective in trade (a kill for a turret, for example).
Some of these problems can be placed on poor communication or failing to track the enemy jungler. Maxlore, with a reputation for understanding how to do both, seemed like a solution, but Misfits’ problems only seemed worse this week.
In Game 1, at around eight minutes, Maxlore invaded the enemy red buff after leashing blue for PowerOfEvil. Both top and mid lane pushed in against Misfits, making it hard for him to go to the top side of the map to get his own red buff, but Misfits’ winning bottom lane opened up Fnatic’s. Fnatic’s Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, at the same time, was spotted by a ward in Misfits’ red buff jungle.
It should have been obvious that Broxah had remained top, especially when Rasmus “Caps” Winther briefly headed toward top side. And yet, Alphari still drifted from top turret and fell prey to the gank, giving Fnatic the first turret.
Game 2’s highly questionable bottom side base-race saw Misfits group up to try to break the bottom inhibitor turret, racing against Fnatic’s Tristana and a Rift Herald. Fnatic broke the mid lane inhibitor turret 12 minutes into the game, and Misfits hardly responded.
This happened when Fnatic’s bottom lane appeared on the top side, and Misfits reacted by sending Alphari to join Steven “Hans Sama” Liv and Lee “IgNar” Donggeun in a faster push. When Fnatic started to pressure mid with Rift Herald, Misfits seemingly panic-reacted by committing even more members bottom.
It’s almost as if, when Misfits feel they’re being out-rotated, they double-down. Part of the problem may come from an apparent willingness to give up mid lane control. In both games this week, for example, Misfits chose a losing mid lane matchup.
A winning mid lane matchup gives the mid laner the freedom to push out the lane and move freely to either side of the map to take initiative. PowerOfEvil either sits trapped under his own turret or has to fall behind his opponent to answer a trade. As such, it’s harder for Misfits to respond to pressure in multiple lanes.
Alphari also has apparent discomfort in being the odd man out. Despite knowing the jungler sat top, he fell for a bait with the creep wave held just outside his turret. Elise has been a menace that keeps punishing top laners for over-extending in the current meta. Simply picking that champion near completely restricts the enemy top laner from pushing out a wave without getting stunned and killed.
But Misfits should be able to set up some measure that keeps Alphari stable in side trades. That might mean prioritizing a stronger mid matchup in draft so PowerOfEvil can head top when Maxlore goes bottom. It may also mean more tough love for the UK top laner until he learns to back off when he knows the enemy jungler is nearby.
Are ROCCAT’s players really just bad?
Then there’s ROCCAT, the team Maxlore left behind. They do indeed appear much worse for wear. LCK caster Nick “LS” de Cesare had an interesting take in the post-match Reddit threat.
He seemed to be of the opinion that G2’s sub players were just “mechanically superior” to such a glaring extent that no amount of communication and preparation could have fixed the problem. ROCCAT’s staff and communication could have done nothing to save them from getting run over by G2’s sub squad, particularly Korean mid laner Jin “Blanc” Seongmin.
Nevermind that four of five of ROCCAT’s players beat G2’s main lineup in a best of three at the conclusion of the 2017 Spring Split. Nevermind that ROCCAT won Game 1 somewhat handily.
I can point to specific errors in decision-making that cost ROCCAT the game. For example, because of Lucian’s ability to control mid lane and open the map, he’s become an increasingly trendy pick. Oddly, however, people keep picking him into Orianna, one of the few picks he doesn’t straight out beat in the 1v1.
With a second point in Q at level 4, Orianna has enough pushing power and can use her shield for added safety. There’s a narrow window for the jungler to apply pressure and snowball the Lucian before this happens. Despite having Elise, a champion that should be able to take advantage of this, the gank never came, and both Orianna and the top lane Galio began pushing back on their matchups at about the same time.
Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin invaded ROCCAT’s red buff when his top lane Galio and mid lane Orianna hit level 4 in Game 2. Even though the Kha’Zix vs. Elise matchup could go poorly for loulex, because Orianna had just pushed the wave into Felix “Betsy” Edling’s Lucian, Orianna could answer the invade faster, and the two killed Milo “Pridestalker” Wehnes before Betsy could respond.
Pridestalker and ROCCAT gave up control at several other points. When Pridestalker would lay vision in river, ROCCAT as a team wouldn’t defend it, and he would transition between bottom and top, never gaining ground. loulex also made mistakes, like committing so hard to a mid with the enemy’s Shen ult up that G2 had to burn a flash when it was free for him to interfere top lane — either by invading or ganking — instead. G2’s mistakes were just less severe or went unpunished.
Ultimately, however, ROCCAT showed an overall failure to understand when they could take advantage of spikes in their own team composition relative to G2’s. This didn’t occur, for the most part, because of mechanical superiority. There are certainly better players on G2’s squad, but LS’ response on the whole felt disingenuous.
Other top teams, because of a strong system, can continue to dominate their opposition with substitutions. Royal Never Give Up, throughout the course of the 2017 Spring regular season, frequently subbed out their jungler and AD carry. They won all of the series they played without their main lineup with the exception of the one BO3 they played against WE, and even then, they took a game.
How “random” were these subs? One was a jungler without any prior competitive experience that RNG fielded because their entire official sub roster and Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu fell sick. One AD carry substitute was a mid lane main on their bench. It would be sad to say these players were just baseline superior to LPL starters on mid tier teams.
RNG kept a defined identity. They understood their game plan from match-to-match and retained their main shotcaller. The same can be said about G2 Esports here. Some facets of G2’s pay, like their understanding of minion wave build up and how to play around the map as a team, give them an inherently better system than most other teams in the LCS.
But have ROCCAT as a team gotten significantly worse in Maxlore’s absence? It certainly feels like it.
NiPping it in the bud
That leaves one last item on the table: Ninjas in Pyjamas’ unexpectedly close series against the same Fnatic that dismantled Misfits.
NiP lost both games, but they showed surprising resilience in Game 2. They ran a composition against Fnatic designed to do exactly what Misfits don’t: answer side lane pressure well.
Fnatic have a defined tendency to run 1-3-1’s and use their jungler to collapse on a side lane. This tendency has gotten them in trouble in the past when the jungler has gone bottom, and opposing teams have reacted by taking Baron. Today, it resulted in a series of brutal skirmishes that allowed NiP to take an inhibitor from one of Europe’s top teams.
NiP’s Game 2 draft had three pushing lanes at early levels. To Caps’ credit, he managed to find openings to roam, and Fnatic gained an early lead and swapped their duo lane top side before this cost them. But having three matchups that push early emphasizes the mobility of NiP’s composition.
Taliyah and Tahm Kench are both very strong picks against 1-3-1 setups. NiP’s Taliyah and Tahm Kench globals can collapse on a champion like Twitch in a side lane, which limited Fnatic to either only putting Twitch in a side lane when Paul “sOAZ” Boyer’s Shen has his ultimate up, settling for 1-4’s and forcing mid, or creating opportunities to bait out these cooldowns.
Fnatic decided to do the latter, which resulted in an incredibly brawly game. When Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s Twitch appeared in a sidelane, the rest of Fnatic usually hovered, but that also meant NiP brought their full arsenal.
If Fnatic made a play on one side of the map, NiP could react really well to shut it down. In this manner, they avoided putting themselves in Misfits-esque situations. It’s an option the former team can certainly look into as a crutch while they figure out a better solution.
But are NiP better than expected? Tentatively, yes. Kim “Nagne” Sangmoon at least had the flexibility to play a strong matchup, but Caps still got way more control than he should have early on. In LSPL, Nagne lost mid lane control frequently, even in winning matchups, which happened this weekend as well.
Yet Nagne, at least, managed to demonstrate an ability to cross the map outside laning phase, and he and the rest of the team shut down many of Fnatic’s attempts on their base with a tilt-worthy composition. NiP’s match against Misfits next week may prove surprisingly illuminating.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.