How Fnatic Beat the Giants

I wrote yesterday about how even though Giants have not beaten any strong opponents, their 4-2 record could be an indication of a turnaround from last split’s miserable showing. At the very least, even if the Giants are worse than their record suggests, they have already set themselves up well for their first ever playoff run. Predictably, Fnatic then annihilated them in Giants’ most one-sided game of the season, taking advantage of a bizarre Giants role-swap and generally making the upstart Giants seem totally unprepared. But it is hard for me to care very much about analyzing the actual game, which was a stinker start to finish. Rather, what I found most fascinating was how Fnatic used their three bans to disrupt nearly everything that has made Giants successful this season. So without further ado, here is the ban-by-ban story of how Fnatic beat the Giants.

First ban – Jax

A Jax ban. Get used to it Giants; Jax may never be open for you again. Werlyb has been somewhere between acceptable and decent on other champions, but his Jax has been an out of this world carry. Twice this split teams have challenged Werlyb to beat them on Jax, and twice Jax has turned into an unstoppable killing machine. Especially with Huni a clear step above his Giants counterpart on every other champion, it is elementary for Fnatic to ban Jax away and let their star naturally win his matchup. The key here is that Fnatic is not afraid of any priority top lane picks. Not only is their top champion pool extremely varied, courtesy of the six-toplaner bans from many previous opponents, but they also are willing to challenge Giants to beat them with Hecarim or Gnar or Fizz or any other champion currently favored in competitive play. In a split that has so far been largely dictated by which of a dozen or so unbeatable champions are left open in the pick/ban phase, it is a refreshing change for Fnatic to give their opponent the pick of those champions and target their opponent’s actual strength. In this case, it resulted in an underwhelming Renekton for Giants, vindicating the Jax ban and ultimately contributing to a huge Fnatic advantage.

Second ban – Morgana

Another great target ban for Fnatic. Unlike Jax, Morgana is strong enough to generally be worthy of a ban, and her win rate in 12 games so far in EU is an outstanding 83%, with a 20% ban rate. The Giants themselves are responsible for four of those wins, with 0 losses. For Giants, Morgana is a crucial part of their ability to disengage after attempting plays. Time and again in their victories, Giants have tried a gank or a dive, and survived due to black shields and dark bindings while teammates push towers or secure other objectives. Further, LCS rookie G0DFRED has so far only had success on that champion, and it is a bit surprising how long it has taken LCS teams to attempt to take advantage of his champion pool and inexperience. The end result is that Fnatic once again prioritizes disrupting their opponent’s specific plans over keeping them off of the strongest overall champions, thereby limiting Giants’ ability to control the pace and flow of the game.

Third ban -Thresh

This ban is significant as much for who was not banned as for who was. Sure, Thresh would have filled the same hybrid engage/disengage function of Morgana in Giants’ team composition, and in the only game so far in which G0DFRED did not play Morgana, he played Thresh, meaning that Fnatic’s Thresh ban functions similarly to the previous ban of Morgana. However, just as crucial as the fact that Fnatic bans Thresh is the fact they leave Rek’Sai and Gragas open. Fnatic has yet to ban either of the top two junglers this split, even when their opponent challenges them by banning one. On the flip side, until Fnatic, Giants had only played a single game without both Gragas and Rek’Sai removed, and even in that game Rek’Sai was banned. Fnatic challenged Giants to abandon their recently favored Evelynn in order to play the top jungle matchup, something that had not happened in a single Giants game so far. Giants’ excellent play in tier-two jungle matchups was thus neutralized by Fnatic’s leaving open the first tier junglers. Once again, Fnatic’s ban disrupts Giants’ specific style and forces them out of their comfort zone. For a Giants team that has struggled a bit in teamfight coordination, but excelled in dictating the overall flow of the game with lane control and objectives, Fnatic’s bans are devastating. From the start, Giants are reacting to their opponent’s choices, not forcing their opponent to react to theirs.

Overall, reducing Fnatic-Giants to just three bans is a serious oversimplification. Fnatic is clearly a stronger organization and LoL team, and they would probably win a blind pick game just as easily. Who can say if Fnatic’s banning style would work against Giants if it was attempted by a weaker team? Leaving open so many top tier champions in favor of target bans can backfire terribly against a well-prepared opponent. In fact, it is hard for me to say if these bans would work as well if Fnatic themselves tried them again tomorrow. On the one hand, it is possible that Fnatic found and exploited the pathological weaknesses in Giants’ new style, permanently ending their Cinderella story. Then again, Giants have showed a resilience in their play this split that was previously lacking, and if they really are the contenders they have seemed so far, they will identify and eliminate their weaknesses going forward. Either way, Fnatic’s brilliant banning phase in this game demonstrates yet another reason why Fnatic is the premier western League of Legends team, and how far even promising teams like Giants have to go to catch them.

Is GIANTS! Gaming for real?

By way of introduction, a few facts

  • Fact no. 1) In Spring 2013, Giants Gaming played in the inaugural LCS Split, finishing seventh out of eight teams, and getting relegated, possibly because their elo was not high enough.
  • Fact no. 2) After switching rosters and languishing for over a year in minor circuit events, Giants qualified for LCS expansion due to their ranked ladder performance. They made it into LCS Spring, where this time they tied for ninth (and last) place. In relegations, they beat their favorite punching bag Reason Gaming (Giants have a 9-1 record against RG all time in LCS qualifying events) to retain their spot.
  • Fact no. 3) Giants has begun this season with a surprising 4-1 record, despite returning substantially the same roster that finished in the cellar just a few months ago.

Last season, Giants Gaming had a slam-dunk case for being the least compelling team in the EU LCS. They barely finished ahead of MYM on tiebreakers, but they had neither the history, name recognition nor the drama of their bottom-feeding competitors. They were an “ARAM” team, because it was usually safe to play ARAM instead of watch their snoozers (apologies to Elements vs. Giants W5D1, the most ridiculous game in LCS history).

So what happened this season? For one thing, the Giants have looked like a team with an actual plan, something almost totally lacking last season. They play the lane swap superbly, grabbing objectives and pressing advantages, but their performance in even lanes has been as good or better. Their aggressive laning play mid and bot, combined with opportunistic play in the top lane, puts mapwide pressure on their opponent and allows their jungler Fr3deric to heavily pressure a side lane in the early game. In the first game of the season, Fr3deric tried an aggressive Sejuani with mixed results, but his recent switch to Evelynn has been a revelation. He makes plays all over the map, and he is usually far too slippery for his enemies to catch him in the mid and late-game. The Giants are free to pressure side lanes in this way because of the consistently excellent play of their midlaner PepiiNeRO. Regardless of matchup, he has at least gone even in lane without any help, and when he is allowed to pick a counter matchup, he has invariably annihilated his opponent, either with huge leads in farm or solo kills.

However even last season, when Giants were struggling not to get auto-relegated, there was never any real question about the individual skill of their players. The difference has been the decisiveness with which they make plays and their ability to efficiently use resources all over the map. The Giants have rarely given up objectives for free, and they have been outstanding at intelligently keeping lanes pushing in the late game. This frees them to attempt their decisive plays for objectives, and even if they are forced back, they calmly disengage while pressure materializes elsewhere. Even in their loss, the Giants kept Origen running around and reacting to their plans; they were just unable to win most of the ensuing teamfights.

Yet the Giants still have some major question marks in their gameplay. At times, their decisiveness works against them — they try to aggressively push an objective or make a play, and when they are stymied, they over-pursue or stay too long in dangerous situations. Even more worrisome is the tendency of their players, especially their AD Carry Adryh, to get caught out in the laning phase or midgame skirmishes. His ability to skirt the edges of major teamfights and collect kills has been invaluable to Giants’ resurgence, but his propensity for positioning errors threatens to cost his team victories.

So, despite their obvious gameplay improvements, the question remains: are the Giants for real? They have made real strides, but there are warning signs beyond just some fixable in-game problems:

  • Auxiliary fact no. 1) Giants started last split 2-0, before stumbling on a six game losing streak. Hardly predictive, but Giants has a precedent of disappointing after a hot start.
  • Auxiliary (more important) fact no. 2) The combined record of the opponents Giants has beaten is 3-17.

This is not as damning as it may seem. Giants’ only loss was a hard-fought game against a strong Origen team, and Giants has no control over their schedule, so it is a bit unfair to judge them harshly for beating inferior teams. Further, at this level, it is not actually easy to consistently beat bad teams. Of all the EU teams that finished with a below .500 record in the Spring Split, none had more than a single 2-0 sweep over an LCS opponent. Just as much as performing well against good teams, consistently beating the bad ones is the mark of a good LCS squad.

However, it is hard to deny the significance of the fact that Giants’ opponents combined have barely outperformed Team Coast. Giants has disappointed in their only game against a good team, and in all likelihood, they will be 4-2 at the end of the day after their matchup with a rampaging Fnatic squad. Yet Giants have already gone a long way toward establishing themselves in the LCS middle class with H2K and UOL, and we will see how the Giants perform against those teams in crucial clashes during weeks 4 and 5. Even if the Giants’ surprisingly strong start proves more mirage than reality against better teams, it is encouraging to note that eight wins was enough last season to qualify for a playoff spot, making them about halfway there, less than a third of the way into the season. No matter how the rest of the season plays out, Giants have a pretty sizable head start toward making their first postseason ever.

So, by way of conclusion, an optimistic fact:

  • Fact no. last) In the history of the LCS, NA and EU, there have been 41 total teams with more wins than losses after five games. All but three of those teams qualified for the playoffs.

This includes the pre-expansion era, and some pretty bad final records made the playoffs from those splits. However those splits were longer, so the first five games were correspondingly less important. But even if we remove the pre-expansion splits, nine teams were above .500 this spring after five games, and only Elements missed the playoffs. So perhaps it is irrelevant whether or not the Giants are “for real.” They are an exciting team with a fun playstyle and an emerging star midlaner. Regardless of their overall skill level, we have an excellent chance of finally seeing Giants play meaningful games late in the split, and for the first time I find myself actually interested to see what these guys can do.

Guest Post – Origen’s Coach Titus “LeDuck” Hafner Explains the Wardwheel

Full disclosure: Part of the reason I’ve been so bad at keeping up this blog is that I’ve actually been working as an analyst and IT consultant for Origen. It makes me a bit sad that I haven’t been producing much content but it’s very cool that it results in cool opportunities like this guest post from an LCS coach! (Edit: To all my newly loyal readers, feel free to follow me @n_t_k_ng, where I will update you on any new bit of analysis or content I’m posting here.)

Introduction

Hello! I’m Titus “LeDuck” Hafner, currently working as the Origen Orihen coach.

I was finally able to find some free time and before I start throwing myself into the preparation for the next week, I decided to write a short article to thank you guys for the amazing support you have given us so far. I will share with you a cool system I devised for both casual and competitive players to use to improve their gameplay!

The Pingwheel

pingwheel

As you know the Pingwheel was introduced quite a while ago and has been a great asset to many players. However there has been an ongoing complaint, which is that there is no ping to indicate that an enemy ward has been placed. So instead of waiting for this feature, why not create it ourselves?

Introducing – The Wardwheel

wardwheel

We have four pings available.

  1. Enemy Missing (Yellow)
  2. Danger (Red)
  3. On My Way (Green)
  4. Assist Me (Blue)

Here we are going to do the first step, which is color association. We associate the color of the YELLOW trinket with the YELLOW ping, the GREEN ward with the GREEN ping and the PINK ward with the RED ping since the colors are rather close to each other. We are also using the BLUE ping for teleport, since there are no other types of wards and teleport is another useful cooldown to track. The key is that with these pings, we are able to track not only the location of wards on the minimap, but also we can use chat to track the timers!

Timers

timers

Every ping on the ward wheel is mentioned in chat, meaning that if you use this system, every ward and teleport is automatically timestamped. Instead of writing a timer in chat or guessing in voice comms, the ward wheel gives a one-button system to keep track of many important cooldowns.

So next time you see an enemy place a ward (or teleport), you use the appropriate ping. With this single action you did three things.

  1. You showed your team (if they know this system) WHERE the enemy placed his ward with the help of the minimap.
  2. Your team knows WHICH type of ward he placed (trinket, green, pink).
  3. Therefore, you know WHEN the ward will expire and you can set up a play or gank around this information.

minimap

timerdescription

Tips and Tricks

  1.  If you want to continue using the pingwheel for its actual purpose, use different amount of pings. A single ping means they placed a trinket, 2-3 pings following each other means the enemy is missing.
  2. You can assign a new meaning to the pings. Maybe “Assist Me” means a fight just started and you can use this ping to backtrack the fight to time their flashes afterwards.
  3. Don’t forget that the trinket stays for two minutes after lvl 9.
  4. Try using this system in soloq as well, once you managed to ping wards on reflex it will be a great asset for your team and especially your jungler in teamplay.
  5. Pay attention to the enemy inventory. It will be easier to quickly use the appropriate ping, if you know that he is only able to use a certain type of ward.
  6. Tell your jungler when certain wards are about to expire, so you can create very efficient gank paths and catch your opponent by surprise.
  7. Use the expand chat history hotkey (usually Y / Z ) to look for your timer.

expanded chat

Final Word

Next time you play in ranked with your jungler or team, try using the Wardwheel.

Once everybody starts using it in the laning phase you can heavily improve your gank efficiency, and your jungler can avoid wasting his time in a brush that is warded. From solo queue all the way up to the LCS, being able to consistently track enemy wards is extremely valuable and will help  any player improve his or her teamplay and laning phase.

This concludes my short lesson, hopefully this will help you guys to improve as a player / team!

Want to know more about the guy behind the glasses?

Follow @OGLeDuck on twitter.

Runes and the Ashe Rework

Day one of EULCS is behind us, and, as is the tradition in such things, it is time for the massive overreaction to small samples. Elements is back! Origen is going to worlds! SK is done! Roccat…uh…still sucks! But if we fire up the way-back machine, we can see that just one split ago, Giants kicked off their season with a 2-0 start — immediately before a six-game losing streak and 6-13 final record. The generally hapless Copenhagen Wolves beat eventual third place H2K, and on day 2, the totally hapless Elements beat spring darlings Unicorns of Love. The moral of this story is that early season results, while meaningful in the standings, are often meaningless for actual team analysis, especially in the lawlessly kooky EULCS. But that does not mean that we cannot glean any information from day one results; rather it means that we have to get more granular. Can we guess what picks and styles will emerge in this split, going into playoffs and eventually worlds? Tower pressure from Blue Side Azir was terrifying. Jungle Evelynn made a resurgence in games in which the big two of Gragas and Rek’Sai were banned. And, of course, newly reworked Ashe made a two-game cameo, winning in the capable hands of Fnatic’s new old AD Carry Rekkles and losing in the less capable hands of Giants’ Adryh.

As of Patch 5.9, Ashe got sizable changes to all of her skills besides her Ultimate. According to the patch notes:

We really wanted to solidify Ashe as the utility markswoman of League of Legends

From just a two game sample, it is difficult to evaluate something as nebulous as Ashe’s “utility,” but it is fairly clear that the teams playing Ashe value her damage highly — in both games she was played, Ashe was the only significant source of sustained damage for teams full of mobility and disruption. Part of this is Ashe’s new Ranger’s Focus, giving her a powerful and reliable damage steroid. Another part is Ashe’s new passive, which can lead to some interesting interactions with items, masteries, and, of course, runes.

From the League of Legends Wikia:

Frost Shots
INNATE: Ashe’s basic attacks and abilities apply Frost to enemies damaged, slowing them by 5 / 11 / 17 / 23 / 29 / 35% for 2 seconds.

Ashe’s basic attacks against frosted enemies always critically strike for modified critical damage, but Ashe otherwise cannot perform critical strikes.

TOTAL DAMAGE: 110 + (%Critical Strike Chance × (1 + Bonus Critical Strike Damage)) %AD

Crucially, Ashe’s basic attacks critically strike on all targets, as long as they have been previously Frosted — by basic attacks, Volley, or Enchanted Crystal Arrow. This leads to some interesting results. For example, the magic damage portion of Statikk Shiv will always critically strike for Ashe’s modified critical damage on any Frosted target, adding consistent burst damage. In the offensive Mastery tree, Frenzy is instantly stackable, regardless of Ashe’s critical strike chance, and the now-crucial Reinforced Armor Mastery allows Ashe’s enemies to essentially reduce her damage by 10%. And, of course, there are new runes to investigate. From lolesports, here are the rune pages of the two Ashe users:

Rekkles

3 X +4.5% attack speed Quintessences

9 X +0.95 attack damage Marks

9 X +1 armor Seals

9 X +1.34 magic resist Glyphs

Standard enough. Apparently AD Carries are running two or three Attack Speed quints for tank busting nowadays.

Adryh

2 X +4.5% attack speed Quintessences

1 X +4.26 armor Quintessence

9 X +0.95 attack damage Marks

4 X +8 health Seals

5 X +1 armor Seals

4 X +0.64% attack speed Glyphs

5 X+1.34 magic resist Glyphs

Goofy! Looking back at the Spring Split, it seems that Adryh likes to be a little bit off the wall with his rune choices; for example, he runs Mana Regeneration runes on a lot of his champions. However, there is important commonality with Rekkles — namely the attack speed quintessences and the attack damage marks.

Now let me introduce you to this guy:

GMarks_(2)+ 0.93% critical strike chance

Notorious for its gamechanging inclusion in physical damage rune pages, Critical Strike runes have, for most champions, an interesting tradeoff. They scale multiplicatively, compared to the linear scaling of physical damage or armor penetration, and they do not significantly decrease theoretical damage per second compared to the other runes in the early game. However, for most champions, these runes exchange early game reliability for overall damage, a trade which does not fit the precision required at the highest level of League of Legends. Ashe, on the other hand, can make immediate use of these runes.

From nine Physical Damage marks, Ashe gains 8.55 attack damage, bringing her base total without Masteries to 59.55. Adding a Doran’s Blade to start gives her 66.55 AD, and with her passive, Ashe will deal 73.21 damage to Frosted targets. From nine Critical Strike Chance marks, Ashe gains 8.37% critical strike chance, and, using the fancy math from Ashe’s Frost Shot, every autoattack against a Frosted target will deal 118.37% of Ashe’s AD to an enemy, meaning she deals 68.65 damage to Frosted targets with a Doran’s Blade. In complicated chart form: 

Damage Crit Chance Crit Damage Modifier Unfrosted Autoattack Frosted Autoattack W + Auto Combo
AD Marks Crit Marks AD Marks Crit Marks AD Marks Crit Marks AD Marks Crit Marks AD Marks Crit Marks AD Marks Crit Marks
Base 59.55 51 0 8.37 1 1 59.55 51 65.50 60.37 165.05 151.37
Dorans 66.55 58 0 8.37 1 1 66.55 58 73.20 68.65 179.75 166.65
Infinity Edge 146.55 138 20 28.37 1.5 1.5 146.55 138 205.17 210.52 391.72 388.52
Infinity + Statikk 146.55 138 45 53.37 1.5 1.5 246.55 238 260.12 262.27 624.17 630.33

How to read: Every row represents a different item threshold, and every column is a statistical value based on those items and either AD or Critical Chance runes. The final pair of columns evaluates the damage of a level 1 Volley to apply Frost Shots and then a single autoattack, which is Ashe’s thematic combo. Don’t worry too much about the table; it is just here for the analysis that follows.

First of all, in the early game, physical damage marks are better against both Frosted and unFrosted targets. Ashe will struggle to trade until she finishes her Infinity Edge. Secondly, it is equally clear that once Ashe finishes her Infinity Edge, all autoattack trades will favor the Ashe with critical chance runes. As soon as Ashe gets her Statikk Shiv, Ashe’s Volley + Autoattack Combo is significantly better with critical chance runes. Building more physical damage will widen this gulf, but paradoxically, additional critical chance actually hits a point of diminishing returns, as we notice from the decreased Frost Shots damage between Infinity Edge and Infinity + Statikk. If Ashe is running critical strike runes, she needs to build more physical damage before more critical chance after Statikk Shiv to maximize her total damage.

On the whole, it is unclear that critical strike chance marks are better than physical damage marks, even though they are in this case just as reliable. On the one hand, Ashe’s lategame is significantly improved with critical chance runes, provided she never allows herself to surpass 100% critical strike chance, but on the other hand, it takes a significant item threshold before the critical strike runes equalize with physical damage. Her Volley will always be worse, and she will have a slightly more difficult time last hitting, which can both lose gold and make her laning phase more precarious. Also, physical damage runes play nicer with certain Masteries, especially Warlord. Overall, physical damage marks are probably still preferable, but I know for a fact I will be running a critical chance rune page on Ashe in Solo Queue very soon. If I like it, maybe I will even try some glyphs or quintessences, efficiency be damned!

As a final note, I want to mention critical strike chance’s black-sheep cousin, the critical strike damage mark. In my perfect world, some bizarre mix of critical chance and critical damage is optimal, giving Ashe some early strength combined with late game dominance. Unfortunately, each critical damage rune weakens Ashe’s early game even further, and they do not become relevant until well over 50% critical strike chance. The tradeoff is almost certainly not worth it, especially because we already handicap Ashe’s early game with the critical chance runes. If critical strike chance marks are for Solo Queue, maybe critical damage are for Normal Games. Or maybe just use Quintessences…

Anyway, enjoy LCS today, and maybe something else will catch my fancy from today and I’ll have another update tomorrow! But let’s not dream too much.

The Dragons of the MSI – A Short Recap

I had a narrative in mind when I started researching this piece. Having been away last weekend, I only caught bits and pieces of the Mid Season Invitational, and my main source of MSI information was the reddit recaps. Looking at the statistics, the thing that stood out to me throughout the tournament, day 1 through finals, was how incredibly sloppy the games were. Games averaged nearly a kill per minute, with the winning teams averaging a whopping 14 more kills than their opponents. The game lengths tell the same story; only three games in the entire tournament lasted 40 minutes, of which only one playoff game lasted that long. Even with the close playoff series between SKT and Fnatic, then between SKT and EDG, most individual games in those series were stomps — none of those games lasted into the 39th minute. Then there’s the story of the dragons. This is the story I went looking for through the MSI statistics, and the results are fascinating, if inconclusive. For much of the tournament, teams seemed to congregate around dragon and fight to the death, leaving subtlety and caution to the wind. The result is a tournament full of kills and dragons, with none of the finesse we have come to expect from the highest level of teams.

Yet overall, it is difficult to draw conclusions from the numbers I gathered. For one thing, the samples are incredibly small. One or two outlier games can ruin the analytic value of the data. More importantly, though, is that the data itself is inconclusive. On day 1, teams went for dragons at a much lower rate than they did in their regional playoffs — is that because the teams won so easily that they did not need to fight at dragons, or simply because they were risk-averse on the first day against new opponents? On the second day, dragons were killed at an incredibly high rate — were teams acing their opponents and taking a quick dragon, or did they just take advantage of unprepared enemies to sneak it quickly? At first I planned to take the data I gathered and try to tell the story of the tournament as I saw it, but it is clear to me that doing that would be disingenuous. There are simply too many possible explanations and variables to account for. Instead, I will present the data as I found it, and apart from a bit of editorializing, leave it to the reader to decide what it means.

Day 1: Off to a slow start

Average Game Time: 32:23
Average Number of Kills: 29.2
Average Number of Dragons: 3.43
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 2:43

Day 2: Fast and Loose

Average Game Time: 31:30
Average Number of Kills: 34.7
Average Number of Dragons: 3.86
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 1:31

Day 3: The Spirited Semis

Average Game Time: 35:36
Average Number of Kills: 33.5
Average Number of Dragons: 4.38
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 1:34

Day 4: Fighting in the Finals

Average Game Time: 35:33
Average Number of Kills: 34
Average Number of Dragons: 4
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 2:16

The first day involved fewer kills and fewer dragons than any other days, suggesting a tentativeness to open the tournament. Then in the middle of the tournament, teams were getting kills at incredible rates, and fighting for dragon almost instantly. Finally, as the dust settled in the finals, the kills stayed high but the dragons went back to a more reasonable rate of capture. The evolution of the tournament is interesting, since most of these teams won their regional playoffs based on a much less bloodthirsty style. Disciplined objective-based teams were abandoning the slower style to fight repeatedly at dragon. For reference:

SKT in LCK Playoffs

Average Game Time: 40:26
Average Number of Kills: 27.3
Average Number of Dragons: 4.88
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 1:47

More than any other team, SKT was willing to slow the game down and play for objectives. Even in much longer games, SKT’s LCK playoff games averaged fewer kills than the MSI games to go along with an elevated dragon rate. Where was that opportunistic, objective-based team in the finals?

EDG in LPL Playoffs

Average Game Time: 32:48
Average Number of Kills: 24.8
Average Number of Dragons: 3.85
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 2:07

Despite their kill-happy reputation, EDG averaged quite a low rate of kills in the LPL playoffs. Perhaps the EDG reputation stems more from their insanely fast games; before the MSI, EDG had not played a 40 minute game since the last week of the LPL regular season.

FNC in EULCS Playoffs

Average Game Time: 33:51
Average Number of Kills: 26.9
Average Number of Dragons: 3.9
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 2:19

Again, a famously bloodthirsty team with significantly lower rates of kills and dragons than most of the MSI.

Ahq in LMS Playoffs

Average Game Time: 40:56
Average Number of Kills: 36.9
Average Number of Dragons: 5.2
Average Time Dragon is Alive: 1:23

Finally a team that starts to reach MSI rates of kills and dragons. The glaring difference is that ahq averaged nearly 41 minutes per game in ten LMS playoff games. Quick dragons become more relevant as the game goes longer since the threat of fifth dragon is stronger. Ahq’s regional performance indicates a team that is going for a fifth dragon over a team that simply groups to fight at dragon.

The MSI featured a style of play that was nothing like the style any of the involved teams had played before. Contrary to the controlled, disciplined style that got these teams to the tournament, they played hectically and dangerously. There are any number of explanations for this — teams had jetlag, they were showing off for the fans, lack of time for preparation, unfamiliar opponents — but the end result was a bit of a mess. It is not to say the MSI was not entertaining, but it was definitely not good League of Legends.

Appendix I: Scatterplots

Tough to get a read on what the data means, but I thought I would be remiss in not giving some picture of the numbers I wrote out so meticulously above. For the following scatterplots, red is regional playoff performance, and blue is the different days of the MSI, plus the MSI average.

image (2) image (3)

Appendix II: My data

I do not pretend to have all the answers of what my data means, so I thought I would make it available to whomever wants it. It includes not only the data above, but also more granular statistics about kills and dragons taken in specific games. Of particular interest to me was how frequently the losing team at the MSI had 0 dragons, suggesting a heavily snowballing game. As a contrast, there was only one game in the entire data set in which the winning team had 0 dragons.

Three Games that Caught My Attention: MSI Day 1

It’s partly coincidence that the three games that most caught my attention were the first three, partly MSI hype, and partly I only watched intermittently for the last few games.

Game 1: FNC vs TSM: A draft gone wrong

Let’s start out with a quiz to see how far back you remember. Below is two Fnatic ban lists; can you name which one was against TSM today and which was against H2K in the EU LCS semifinals?

fnc bans


If you said TSM was the top one, good job! You correctly identified which video I was watching in higher resolution! This toplane banning is something Fnatic has been a part of in the past. They know they play a different top lane pool than anyone else and they have plans to use that to their advantage. The last time they did this, they pulled out a clever Lee Sin double jungle, and even though it ultimately lost 2 out of 3 games to H2K, there are two things for TSM to remember. The first is that Fnatic got an early advantage for their top laner in those games. The second is that Fnatic certainly has pocket picks prepared. TSM should know that Fnatic has a plan not only to make a surprise pick but to babysit that pick to relevance.

Meanwhile, TSM has a different thought in mind. They know that the only champion in Febiven’s pool that is safe to first pick is Leblanc. They also know they have the last pick trump card for Bjergsen. Finally, they know that the only all-around powerful toplane pick available after their final ban of Vladimir is Gnar, and Urgot is still available. This is where TSM miscalculates. As the only safe blue side midlaner available, Leblanc is the obvious first pick for Fnatic, leaving TSM Urgot, Gnar and the last pick to counter whatever Fnatic has planned. But Fnatic calls TSM’s bluff; there is no circumstance in which TSM will not last pick their midlaner. Fnatic can save the Leblanc pick for second rotation and grab Urgot first. In response,TSM gets their Gnar, letting Fnatic unleash their unknown pocket toplane pick, and they also make a very committal Rek’Sai pick over Gragas and Sejuani. Rek’Sai is the premier jungler in even lanes — he is the best jungler at ganking and the best at dueling early. TSM has more or less committed to 2v2 laning, with heavy jungle pressure. On the one hand, this lets their mid and bot laners shine with counter picks, and it keeps YellOwStaR in lane instead of roaming, but on the other hand, Fnatic is free to catch TSM totally off guard with their Cassiopeia pick in the third rotation. At this point, not only does TSM have to choose whether to play for scaling with Azir or countering with Cho’Gath, they also have to guess which laner will be going to which solo lane.

Still, this is far from disastrous for TSM. In fact, the draft could even be thought of as favorable. They have the match-ups they want in mid, bot, and in the jungle, and their top laner will be fine as long as he stays more or less even. After a shaky first few levels, not only will Gnar become dangerous in the laning phase for Cassiopeia in 1v1 or 2v1 duels, but he will be much more useful in the midgame as a front line tank than Cass could be on a hyperscaling mage. Even if Cass makes it to the lategame, it is unclear whether Fnatic’s squishy team will be able to kill TSM fast enough anyway. Not only that, but the Cassiopeia pick is even more committal than TSM’s Rek’Sai. Fnatic obviously planned to use Cassiopeia to push TSM’s toplane in a 1v1 and harass Gnar out of lane or dive him. The only thing Gnar had to do to give TSM the edge all over the map was to survive that early 1v1 and 2v1 pressure. This is why TSM did not lane swap. They were correctly counting on their ability to outlane in the bottom ⅔ of the map. Sivir was up 12 cs on Urgot at 10 minutes. Cho’Gath was down a kill but still up 13 cs. Even Rek’Sai had a 4 cs lead. The problem was this:

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Gnar trying to farm at his turret with half health. This matchup is no doubt difficult early for Gnar. Even if it were good for Gnar, Dyrus is surely unpracticed. It is a difficult situation. Yet it is inexcusable for a pro team to allow a strategy so utterly transparent to succeed with such little resistance. No minion kill is worth the harass that Dyrus takes, and TSM needs to formulate a much better contingency plan than just to keep farming all over the map. They either need to send their jungler top sooner or by make plays elsewhere, especially at dragon. TSM did not lose the Summoner’s Rift game in the draft, but they definitely lost the mind game, and they paid dearly for it.

BJK vs SKT: A New God Awakens

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EDG vs ahq: Closer Than You Think

I have to admit, I am really high on ahq. I love the way this team plays hard and does not back down. They were outplayed by EDG in this game, but they were not outclassed. The difference just seemed to be EDG’s level of polish in teamfights. So, let’s make an alternate universe where ahq wins some of those team fights and see what happens.

Teamfight 1: Ahq Ganks Bot

The situation: Ahq has a nice little early lead in kills and gold and they are looking to make a play near dragon. Mountain ambles his way to the botlane against a vulnerable EDG AD Carry and Support.

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Problem: J4 is really far away
Solution: Flag and drag
Better solution: Use the lantern!

Later in this very game in almost the same situation, J4 comes through the lane and easily kills Urgot almost instantly with a knockup ult combo after grabbing a lantern. In this case, Thresh should be on the other side of the lane, ready to pull in Jarvan and then get pulled himself by Kalista. At the very least, this lets J4 use his ultimate after getting knocked away by Alistar, and at best J4 locks down Urgot long enough to take him out instantly. Thresh, meanwhile, does not use his lantern at all in the ensuing fight.

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Problem: Thresh is not next to Urgot
Solution: Use Kalista ult instantly to knockup Alistar, landing outside of J4 ult
Better Solution: Actually get to Urgot

This is a tough one. Alistar does an amazing job of getting in Thresh’s way, thus bouncing Thresh outside of the cataclysm. This would have been mitigated if ahq had used the lantern earlier, but there is nothing to be done about it at this point. Thresh needs to make sure he lands next to Urgot, even if it means not using the Kalista knockup. That way he can flay and hook Urgot, interrupting the position reverser, as well as avoid Alistar’s knockup. At the very least, it would save Jarvan from dying for a significant amount of time, giving ahq a 4v4 with each team having a weakened jungler, rather than a 3v4 after the teleports.

Ultimately, it would have been better for ahq if they had not even tried this fight, but with only two slight differences in execution, they give themselves a chance to at least go even and maybe even come out ahead. The game was not decided by one play, but this is the moment when ahq went from ahead to behind, and it could have gone much differently.

Teamfight 2: Karthus Has Rylais!

EDG camped in a warded bush to get a pick. Chaos ensued.


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Imagine, for a moment that Karthus has a Rylai’s Crystal Scepter. It’s not hard because he does have a Rylai’s Crystal Scepter. Who knows how that Rylai’s impacted the game to that point. Maybe the passive saved someone from Hecarim’s passive. Maybe the extra health changed the game somehow. Who knows? What we do know is that it gives 100 ability power and 400 health, meaning that it gives at least 60 bonus damage to every Lay Waste and 20 extra damage per second to Defile. Against a target with 70 Magic Resistance — we’ll call him “Schmejuani,” a Karthus with 300 ability power and Sorcerer’s Shoes will do 875 Defile damage over 8 seconds, 375 Requiem damage and 270 Lay Waste damage if he hits two multitarget Lay Wastes for an approximate total of 1520.

Now’s pretend that Karthus has a Void Staff. That one’s tougher to picture, but still manageable. If you can’t do it, this is a void staff:

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A void staff gives 70 ability power and 35% magic penetration. This time, against Schmejuani, Karthus with only 270 AP does 970 Defile damage over 8 seconds, 415 Requiem damage and 300 Lay Waste damage for a total of 1685. The difference is only 165. Can that make a difference?

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Seems plausible.

It is not like a void staff alone would 100% turn the competition in ahq’s favor, but this fight was at the level where very marginal bits of damage could absolutely have changed the game. It is definitely arguable that the Rylai’s passive plus bonus health had a significant value in this fight over the raw damage, although it should also be noted that Void Staff is 600g cheaper, leaving room for a bit of tankiness or additional damage from other items. However, as we see here, this fight was really close, and ahq had a real chance, even as behind as they were. An alternate build could conceivably swing the battle and then the game.

My point here is not to argue that these two fights, nor any two fights, could alone swing the game one way or another. My point is just that many small things went in EDG’s favor this game, and that a couple of fixable issues could absolutely have ahq on top.

The Informed Fan’s Viewing Guide to the Mid Season Invitational

As a discerning League of Legends fan, no doubt by now you know all about MSI. You’ve skimmed the fluff pieces, read all about how the teams navigate the early game and made sure to check up on relevant old VODs. You’ve even read my scrupulously researched and relentlessly self-promoted team-by-team preview series. In fact, you’re probably tired of MSI already. You’re debating whether or not you should just sleep through it to make sure you’re well-rested enough to watch Go4LoL. But allow me to present an alternative. I’ve spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert watching VODs, and here are the seven storylines I’ve seen developing, lurking under the surface:

 Patch 5.7. We’ve been on patch 5.8 on the live servers for a week now, so people are starting to get the lay of the land, but according to the MSI rules, this tournament will be on the previous patch. That means no Ryze changes, no Urgot getting a ridiculous 20% CDR from the new Black Cleaver, and crucially, Twitch’s ult still won’t target Nexus turrets. I confess I am a little disappointed. I wanted to see how the pros would (ab)use the newest changes to their advantage, especially if Black Cleaver is better than I think it is on someone like Gnar or Vi. That being said, I like that we have had a bit of stability to see how the Cinderhulk dust has settled in the pro scene. We will get to see each region’s representative who has clearly adjusted to the post-5.5 landscape the best, without giving them a chance to cheese out their opponents with strategies based on brand new changes.

 The death of the level 1 fight. I don’t mean the tactical sorties we still see from time to time, getting deep wards to spot the lane swap or threatening the jungler into an alternative route. I mean the all-out aggressive invasions from weird angles, somehow stealing six buffs and a level 2 dragon. It is clear that with a couple exceptions, the best teams in the world right now play safely and reactively level 1, warding defensively and letting the opponent expose themselves first. Without SKT Tom and his zanily aggressive jungling in the picture, the only real chance we probably have of goofy level 1 or level 2 plays is Fnatic, and theirs always feel more like a gimmick than viable jungle pressure. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I think until there is a major jungle shake-up, the best teams are going to remain afraid to do much early fighting.

 Commentator Bingo. Is there anything more annoying than Phreak laughing at his own puns? Yes! The following words and phrases need to be retired for all time:

 “On the backside” – Every play-by-play guy ever.

This communicates literally no information.

 Power spike/trough” “Win condition” “rotation” “Meta/meta game” – Montecristo, everyone who listens to Montecristo (which is everyone).

Yes, these phrases are generally clear and well-understood. But, for you literary nerds, read the section in this Orwell essay about “dying metaphors.” The problem is that these phrases add no new evocative imagery or information. They are the tools of lazy analysis — esoteric phrases that cannot be questioned and require no critical thought.

“Overall” – Phreak
“Find” (as in “find a tower” instead of “destroy a tower”) – Phreak

Phreak bothers me more than any other commentator on the scene, partly because he actually has some really good insights hiding inside his grating style of speech. When he’s not making surprisingly good puns and then ruining them by laughing like an idiot, he displays a disappointing lack of variety in his diction. Phreak, if you’re reading this, “find” is not the only verb in the English language.

“A long string of gibberish that is total nonsense yet somehow demonstrably incorrect” – Rivington Bisland III

Remember when I said Phreak bothers me more than any other commentator? I lied.

 Dragons. I am curious to see how teams prioritize this objective. Even after all this time, I feel like most teams still treat dragons like they did in season 4 — as much about starting a fight as about actually getting ahead by taking the objective. The problem with this approach is that most dragons are not really worth fighting for. Dragons 2 through 4 are nice, but they are not usually worth risking a bad loss in a teamfight. Teams at this tournament, notably ahq, are starting to see dragons differently. Ahq will rush every single dragon at the expense of all other objectives, trying to get a ridiculously early fifth, while other teams trade mid game dragons for almost anything. Will a dominant style emerge this tournament?

 Blue Side Midlaners. This is another place every team has a different approach, and it might be the most fascinating strategic element of the whole tournament to me. The only consistently all-around good midlaners that are safe enough to first pick for every team at the tournament are Lulu and Leblanc, neither of which will get out of many ban phases. This means that teams will have to make compromises, and every team has shown a different approach to that compromise. PawN likes to pick greedily and threaten to outplay his opponent with someone like Twisted Fate. Westdoor has picked hypercarries like Karthus and played safely, conceding farm for late game relevance. SKT does a version of this same thing, picking a hypershredding lategame carry like Azir or Cassiopeia, then challenging their opponent to camp the lane or match their scaling. TSM and Fnatic have preferred safe midrange laners like Ahri or even Kassadin, trading some lategame relevance against tanks for a dangerous laning phase.

Fashion Power Rankings. Who’s the best dressed? Let me run it down for you:

 6. TSM

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I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

 5. AHQ

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Garish and haphazardly splashed with ugly sponsor patches. Is there a better metaphor for the LMS?

4. EDG

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A t-shirt and a sweatshirt? Does that mean I’m on EDG too?

 3. Fnatic

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They seem a bit optimistic about the shape of gamers’ bodies.

 2. Beşiktaş

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I’m a sucker for the classic looks.

 1. SKT

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I’m not even going to pretend that I’m unbiased here. Classy outfit from a classic team.

 How many times will we hear a commentator say a player’s real name this tournament? I assume Sjokz will occasionally call a player by his given name during an interview, but I cannot remember the last time I ever heard someone else in the booth call a single player by his real name. Sure we all know a few, the legendary Marcus Hills and Bora Kims, but can anyone name me Santorin’s real name? Or Febiven’s? Or, for that matter, Faker’s? Whenever I think about how badly eSports wants to be accepted into the mainstream, I wonder how much we shoot ourselves in the foot every time we unironically talk about “Lustboy” or “Clearlove” or “Dumbledoge.” Just some food for thought.

 

Anyway, for all the work I’ve done preparing for the MSI, I’m actually going to be out of town for most of the tournament. It’s like rain on my wedding day. Tell me how it goes and I’ll be back to blog more in the coming weeks. Love, Nate.