MSI Preview – SK Telecom T1

The Team

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The Players

Top – Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan
Key Champions – Hecarim Maokai Gnar

In 2013, SK Telecom formed two sister teams built around solo queue stars. One became Faker’s legendary SKT T1 K. The other was MaRin’s less celebrated SKT T1 S. While Faker has been much better in the competitive scene, MaRin’s individual skill is near the same level, and it has shown lately, especially on split pushing tanks. Though MaRin’s Maokai has been his best pick this season, he recently debuted a nearly unbeatable Hecarim which will almost certainly be permanently banned against him. MaRin excels at laning, so he spends almost all of every game in one sidelane or another, pushing and outdueling his enemy counterpart. Though his teleports have been occasionally shaky, when he successfully groups he is outstanding in his ability to initiate and draw focus fire as the point man for the SKT teamfight.

Jungle – Bae “bengi” Seong-ung
Key Champions – Rek’Sai Jarvan IV Sejuani

It appears that SKT will bring their maligned veteran jungler bengi to the MSI over their phenom rookie Tom. This makes good sense. At times, especially in the LCK Finals, Tom looked like he was about ten steps ahead of the opposing jungler, but other times he looked completely lost, and he brought SKT to the brink of elimination in the playoffs. Thus, SKT will instead start bengi, whom they hope has overcome whatever slump beset him for 2014 and much of this year so far. Bengi has a deep knowledge of jungle matchups and how to exploit them, and his early gank pressure is spectacular. However, as the game goes on, bengi can be prone to getting caught in awkward situations, and he sometimes seems like he is not in sync with his teammates during teamfights. That being said, his recent form looks unbeatable, as he was the catalyst behind SKT’s reverse sweep of CJ Entus in the LCK semifinals.

Mid –
Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon
Key Champions – Cassiopeia Lulu Azir

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
Key Champions – Leblanc Lulu Everyone Else

Mortal midlaner Easyhoon showed his individual skill in the LCK finals, handily winning the Azir vs. Cassiopeia matchup twice with Cassiopeia and once with Azir. Before that series, Easyhoon was mostly known for his ability to safely farm the midlane on his small pool of supportive or hyperscaling champions. He would then play a primary role in SKT’s late game teamfights. Even when his team fell behind early, Easyhoon was often able through positioning and teamplay to help carry the team to victory. As the season went on, he had especially good synergy with Tom’s aggressive jungle play, supporting the rookie when he went on wild invades or aggressively initiated teamfights.

What more is there to say about Faker, the god of the midlane? It seems likely that based on the way SKT has played the season so far, they will use Easyhoon to substitute for Faker in matches throughout the tournament, and equally likely that everyone watching the tournament will be disappointed when they do. Faker’s best quality is his aggression and utter confidence in his solo plays. There is an aura of victory around him that only rarely has cracked, though notably this happened multiple times against fellow MSI midlaner PawN. As far as champion pool, Faker simply cannot be allowed to play Leblanc or Lulu this tournament; he has never lost with the former, and his team seems unstoppable when he plays the latter.

AD Carry – Bae “Bang” Jun-sik
Key Champions – Sivir Kalista Lucian

Overshadowed by the star power around him, Bang is another dangerous player on this SKT squad. Coupled with his bot lane partner Wolf, Bang consistently wins his lane in farm and pressure, though it is difficult to put that in perspective considering the exodus of bot lane talent from Korea to China. What is easy to see however, is that Bang’s positioning in teamfights is unquestionably excellent. He lets his teammates, especially Faker and MaRin, draw the focus and then aggressively enters and finishes the fight. He is best on mobile midgame carries, since his team asks him to be able to get in and out of fights quickly, rather than hard carry games by himself.

Support – Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan
Key Champions – Thresh Alistar

Wolf works brilliantly in concert with Bang, both in winning the lane and in teamfighting. Wolf is Bang’s personal bodyguard. Together they take control of the midgame with aggressive plays mixing Bang’s damage with Wolf’s crowd control. Wolf is also tremendously important to SKT’s midgame vision dominance, combining with the jungler to get a strangehold on the enemy territory in preparation for objectives. He is best on disruptive tanky supports; he showed a disturbing tendency to get caught and die on his less durable champions. Wolf’s comparatively small champion pool could be a problem for SKT, because they cannot bring Piccaboo to the MSI to substitute as they would during the Korean season. However, as long as he can overcome this potential issue, there are not many bot lanes who can match up with SKT’s in a 2v2.

Picks and Bans

Although Faker is renowned for his Leblanc, Lulu is at least an equally high priority champion for SKT. They never let her through bans on purple side and they invariably pick her first on blue side. Because SKT is so reliant on being able to pressure lanes, they also instantly ban any champion who is able to pressure them back, such as CJ’s Shyvana. This kind of adjustment makes SKT especially dangerous in series play. Every LCK match was a series this season, so SKT perfected their ability to adapt their pick/ban phase to fit their opponent’s strategies. SKT is also adept at outdrafting their opponent, aided in part by the vast champion pool of the best player in the world. Faker is impossible to ban out, and at any time he can bring out a pocket pick to deadly effect, such as his surprise Anivia earlier this season. Another place SKT often gets an advantage is in their selection of bot-lane champions. They pick high priority AD Carries like Sivir or Kalista early in the draft, but they like to save their support pick until later to get a favorable 2v2 matchup for tower pressure.

Playstyle

SKT’s greatest strength is their laning phase, especially their solo laners. To highlight this strength, SKT plays a rigid style, in which they spend most of the early and midgame matching their opponents’ laning setup. This has the dual purpose of allowing their excellent laners to shine and also shutting down a lot of rotational play from their enemies. An enemy that sends three or four-man roams to side lanes has no guarantee of actually coming out ahead and risks falling behind in the other two lanes. As a result, much of the action in SKT’s games happens in the river and in the jungle. Because they usually have such a solid grip on the lanes and draft such highly mobile champions, they spend a lot of effort collapsing on enemies or fighting them in transition. The pressure they create in lane allows their jungler to farm or initiate plays. The flip side is that they struggle if the jungler falls behind or if they lose control of their own jungle, since SKT consistently looks uncomfortable in siege situations or fighting in lane.

SKT plays the typical river-control level one, then usually sends their top laner to a solo lane after perhaps a few jungle camps. In a lane swap, SKT is completely comfortable sending the support to duo lane with the top laner instead of the AD Carry; the point is to match lanes and give the jungler space to farm or make plays. Occasionally, overaggression coupled with a lack of early and midgame wards can lead to silly deaths in lane to ganks, but because the whole team commits to that aggression, an enemy gank in one lane can turn up the pressure in others. When the enemy ganks do not work, it almost always opens up the map for the SKT jungler to respond with ganks or counterjungling, especially because SKT’s laners are so deadly in small skirmishes. For this reason, sometimes the enemy team has a pocket strategy to try and shut down SKT’s jungler instead of their laners. If this works it can be worse for SKT than if they shut down a laner, because of SKT’s reliance on jungle control.

SKT’s early midgame vision is surprisingly mediocre; they spend all their money pushing their lanes and rely instead on smart play and communication to keep safe. However at about ten minutes into the game, as they prepare to take the dragon or towers, SKT suddenly adds a burst of wards to the enemy jungle, pink warding their own jungle defensively. This defensive pink warding is a hallmark of SKT’s style. It forces passiveness from their opponents by limiting enemies’ ability to track SKT’s movements by warding SKT’s jungle instead of their own. If SKT makes it to this part of the game with any sort of lead, they are incredibly difficult to slow down. Their continued lane pressure leads to towers and dragons, and their offensive warding allows them to safely push or collapse on favorable team fights. SKT’s teamfights are also distinctive; they usually have MaRin disrupting the back line while the midlaner chooses either to fight with the other four members and draw focus from the AD Carry or to dive with MaRin. The enemy is faced with an impossible choice — they can try to kill the best player in the world or take out the other carries that are shredding them apart. Additionally, SKT’s players, especially MaRin, have an almost preternatural ability to know exactly how much punishment they can take before they have to get out of fights, leaving the enemy softened up and out of position with nothing to show for it.

SKT lacks a decisive move to close out the game, especially because their preferred solo lane champions do not usually excel at sieging. Rather, SKT will have someone in every lane almost the entire game, keeping waves pushing to cement their vision dominance or to rotate opportunistically to inner turrets. Their lane control is immaculate; they rarely even try to fight until all waves are pushing in their favor. CJ Entus notably had success against this strategy in the LCK semifinals by picking powerful champions that could keep the lanes pushed in their own favor, which stagnated SKT on their own side of the map. However, even then it is difficult to finish SKT off, given their excellent defensive warding and teamfighting skills. The key to beating SKT is to use their rigidity against them, either pushing the lanes or controlling the jungle, since SKT is not spectacular at mapwide rotations, but their individual players’ skill makes it both difficult and risky to try this.

Player to Watch
Faker

I’m not going to get cute here and say to follow Easyhoon’s story or MaRin’s exciting play. Faker is the reason you are going to watch, and rightfully so. It has been over two years since Faker’s ascension, and over a year since his unstoppable rampage through the Korean Champions League and then Worlds. Since then, Faker’s international hegemony has been tested only briefly, when he rose to the occasion at last year’s midseason All-Star event. Will we see him continue to dominate as the best player in the world or could he finally be dethroned?

Key Number – 11

That is the number of times this season, out of 41 total games, that SKT T1 ran their presumptive MSI regular lineup of MaRin, bengi, Faker, Bang and Wolf. Substitute mid lane player Easyhoon only played seven games with the other four players on that list, meaning that in every game, SKT will play a lineup that started fewer than half their games. SKT is a team noted for their willingness to switch up their players within a series, trying to find combinations that work in specific matchups or simply to ride the hot hand to victory. Opposing teams will have more difficulty in scouting them for this reason, but SKT themselves will have to adjust to the loss of flexibility, and they must make sure their synergy is at a high level with a smaller roster.

Outlook

It is tempting, as western fans, to think of SKT T1 as “Faker’s team,” the elite mechanical Korean stars. Hiding behind this flawed narrative is the fact that SKT consistently shows an extremely well-crafted gameplan and a teamwide commitment to disciplined execution. The very fact that they almost invariably perform with each of a half dozen different lineups in arguably the strongest league in the world speaks to that discipline and teamplay. Whatever their weaknesses, this team is almost impossible to overestimate; it has star power, teamwork, and the most storied organization in eSports history at their backs. Anything less than a MSI championship is an upset and likely a disappointment for this team.

 

MSI Preview – Fnatic

The Team

Fnatic’s roster underwent a total makeover this offseason in the wake of their runner-up finish in 2014 LCS Summer Split and disappointing group stage exit at the World Championship. Star midlaner xPeke and jungler Cyanide, the last remaining members of the Season 1 World Champion team, departed for a new team and retirement, respectively. Top laner SoAZ joined xPeke’s nascent Origen squad, and AD Carry Rekkles left for the disappointing new Elements superteam. The sole remaining player, support Yellowstar, scoured the Korean leagues and EU Challenger scene for replacement players who would fit his vision of a new, modern Fnatic. The result was this Spring Championship squad, a team characterized by early support roams and top lane focus. FNC will no doubt be considered an underdog at the MSI, but people have been underestimating this team all season, only to see them emerge at the top of the heap.

The Players

Top – Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon
Key Champions – Rumble Vladimir Lee Sin

Fnatic grabbed Huni, the spring “Rookie of the Split,” from the deep ranks of the Korean Samsung organization to man their vacant top lane spot. Huni responded by tying for the league lead in top laner kills while placing third at his position in deaths. Huni is never afraid to get into the fray for his team, and paired with jungler Reignover, Huni relentlessly carved a path through the enemy with his aoe mages and off-tanks. Unlike top laners from other regions, Huni made almost no effort to switch to a super tanky playstyle post-5.5, at most picking up Hecarim when available and a surprise Lee Sin in the EU semi-finals. Instead, he continued to play his front line mages, complementing a fearsome Rumble with a dangerous Vladimir. Huni’s most outstanding quality is his dynamic teamplay. Not only is he Fnatic’s most dangerous early skirmisher, Fnatic’s lategame teamfights look completely different when Huni is involved; while everyone else on the team has a set role, Huni bounces around between front and backline, drawing focus then leaving. His masterful orchestration often leaves enemy teams out of position and vulnerable, even when they actually manage to take Huni out.

Jungle – Kim “ReignOver” Yeu-jin
Key Champions – Rek’Sai Olaf Rengar

Like Huni, Reignover led all EU players at his position in kills, and, like Huni, was third in deaths, behind the junglers from the hapless CW and Giants Gaming squads. Another Korean import, Reignover teamed with his top lane countryman to form a powerful skirmishing duo; they combined for dozens of ganks and double roams during the season. Reignover is highly aggressive, yet it always seems calculated; his ganks have a high rate of success both because he correctly gauges where to go, but also because he has an intuitive feel for how much damage he and his teammates can output and tank. He also shows an outstanding ability to come at his opponents from surprising angles at all times in the game, especially on Rek’Sai and his signature Rengar. As the game goes on, Fnatic uses Reignover to initiate skirmishes and occupy the enemy while the rest of his team uses the space he creates to pick the opposing team apart. Reignover was extremely useful on his proprietary Olaf for this reason. Even though he died more often than he got kills, his ability to run unimpeded at the enemy made the situation extremely uncomfortable for his opponents, and the rest of his team capitalized on that discomfort. Lately Reignover has had some success on the tanky junglers of the post-5.5 landscape, but he still looks most comfortable on his favored carries.

Mid – Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten
Key Champions – Zed Leblanc Ahri

Febiven mixes in some Ahri, Kassadin, Twisted Fate and Cho’gath when his main assassins are banned or taken, but he is on an entirely different level with Zed and Leblanc. Part of the reason for this is that they are best suited for his farm and flank split pushing style, but even more important is that they are the most potent “safe” assassins. Febiven is best when he has the tools not only to get in but also out of fights. Even if he does not drop his full payload of damage right away, he is incredibly smart about how to distract and frighten the opponent into a mistake that he or his teammates can use. He is always willing to commit to a winning fight, but even more important is that he always gives himself a way out if the fight goes wrong, and he has the discipline to use that way out. It makes for a dangerous threat on his opponents’ flanks that can never be easily disposed. Overall, Febiven is not the most individually skilled player, nor does he have the deepest champion pool, but he meshes so well with his teammates that it rarely matters.

AD Carry – Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi
Key Champions – Everyone

Steeelback is the chameleon of Fnatic, playing whichever champions his team needs and safely doing damage from the back while his teammates make plays. He began the season playing the popular caster-type carries like Graves and Corki, and has lately branched to such varied choices as: hypercarries like Jinx, teamfighters like Sivir, midrange carries like Lucian, and even the occasional supersafe farming Ezreal. Steeelback often falls behind in lane, in part because of mediocre 2v2 laning but also because he is left alone by the roaming of his teammates. However he is prodigiously successful at safely doing damage in fights, as evidenced by his 95 spring split kills compared to only 27 deaths. While his more aggressive teammates are distracting the enemies, Steeelback acts as the fist in the glove, cleaning up the fights and staying alive to push towers.

Support – Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim
Key Champions – Thresh Nautilus Janna

YellOwStaR is Fnatic’s engine. Long before the rest of EU fully understood lane swaps and roaming supports, YellOwStaR was modernizing the European game. Initially on his powerful Annie, but lately on higher utility supports like Janna, Nautilus and especially Thresh, YellOwStaR is Fnatic’s chief playmaker. Not only is YellOwStar superb at using his champion’s skills perfectly in chaotic teamfights, he also is a tremendous in-fight decision-maker, masterfully conducting his teammates in and out of the battle. This is especially apparent on Thresh, as his teammates instantaneously make plays with the knowledge that they will be getting a perfectly timed lantern to escape. YellOwStaR’s glaring weakness is, like Steeelback, his mediocre 2v2 laning. Teams can set him back or at least draw Reignover’s help by setting up 2v2 lanes, and Fnatic often does not work hard enough to get early lane swaps.

Picks and Bans

During the regular season, Fnatic generally banned a mix of their opponents’ best champions, then picked for themselves champions that fit their own style. This seemingly straightforward pick/ban phase usually resulted in an aoe mage toplaner, a mobile carry jungler, an assassin mid, and a roaming support. In the playoffs however, the extent to which home preparation played a role in Fnatic’s pick/ban phase was readily evident; in both series they banned the same three or four champions every game, rather than adjusting to what their opponent showed them. They had a clear gameplan; they would limit their opponent’s access to strong champions like Maokai that they themselves did not play. In their early picks, they prioritized a favored support for YellOwStaR or extremely high overall priority champions like Sivir or Hecarim, leaving a late pick for Febiven to try to counterpick his lane. Fnatic’s picks were based on making sure each player had a strong champion on which he was comfortable, rather than going for a thematic team composition or trying to outpick their opponents. This is a perfect style for them, as their comparative lack of pick/ban creativity increases their ability to catch their opponents off-guard with creative play in the actual game.

Playstyle

Among European teams, Fnatic has the most modern approach to League of Legends, in that they consistently try to maximize their resources with smart rotational play instead of stagnant orthodoxy. As long as Fnatic’s mid and AD carry have a regular stream of lane gold, everyone else is flexibly arranged where they can have the greatest impact. While most teams who play this way early eventually settle into a more settled midgame style, Fnatic continues to roam and fight through the entire game. Though they are happy to simply take free towers or dragons when offered, Fnatic’s greatest strength is their ability to quickly collapse as a team on stragglers or poorly positioned champions.

Alone among MSI teams, Fnatic’s early game is a breath of fresh air. In an era of defensive river control and counterinvades, Fnatic often tries some goofball way to grab early initiative, whether by camping a lane brush, a 4-man tribush invade, or some other wonky tactic. They are not afraid to sneak a 3-buff start, and they have a deep understanding of their champions’ early game strengths and how to use them. Fnatic’s early game hijinks can backfire though, even if they do not give up kills, since spending so much time in the jungle can create strange strength imbalances compared to enemies who have spent that time in lane. However, it is extremely rare for Fnatic to be significantly behind in gold after the early phases of the game, and relatively common for them to be moderately ahead.

A common theme of Fnatic’s early midgame is Reignover and Huni making plays in lane together, either in the 1v1 top lane or by roaming to the duo lane. Fnatic works very hard to get a tower, often trading very early, which frees YellOwStaR to roam around the map while their mid and bot carries farm to relevance. Then, throughout the game, Fnatic works hard to create a weakness in their opponent’s setup, usually their top laner, and relentlessly pressure that weakness until their opponent cracks. On one hand, it can result into multiple teamfights that are essentially 4v5 because one champion is so far behind, but on the other hand, Fnatic is sometimes far too reckless in trading renewable resources like kills for less renewable resources like dragons and towers. As a result, Fnatic can struggle to close out games, having neither the dragons nor the map control to decisively strike at their opponent’s heart. They overly rely on auspicious fights and barons to win the game.

Player to Watch
YellOwStaR

Fnatic’s support will be under a lot of pressure this tournament, not only because of his relatively weak laning and his international counterparts’ great roaming, but also because as captain and shotcaller, he will have the responsibility of making sure Fnatic can initiate the complications that make them successful . Fnatic is likely to struggle if they cannot initiate and sustain their frenetic chaotic style from first blood until the nexus dies, and YellOwStaR is the key orchestrator of that style.

Key Number – 349

That’s Fnatic’s EU-leading kill total during the spring split, ahead of SK’s second-largest total by over 60. They managed that compared to only 231 deaths, meaning that FNC was consistently initiating and dominating teamfights and skirmishes. The flip side is that their 34 total dragons were ahead of only two teams — cellar-dwellars MYM and Giants Gaming — and that total was nearly doubled by SK. FNC was majorly reliant on initiating good teamfights in strange places to win the game, and it is unclear if they can adjust to a disciplined team that fights for objectives and vision control.

Outlook

It seems like Fnatic’s style should have been figured out long ago. They fight early and often, and they turn those fights into towers and barons. A smart team need only avoid those fights and keep FNC on track to hamstring them. It is thus a testament to how brilliantly Fnatic implements that style, with teamwork and preparation, that they could keep it up for a whole split and emerge victorious. So as much as it seems self-evident that Fnatic will run out of steam against the best in the world, FNC always manages to beat the odds, especially when the stakes are highest. Watch for Fnatic to catch unwary opponents off guard at the beginning of the tournament and then continue to surprise throughout the event, maybe even sneaking their way onto the podium by the end of it all.

MSI preview -Team SoloMid

The Team

Legendary North American squad Team SoloMid is one of the oldest League of Legends organizations, having participated in the World Championship tournament every year since its inception. This newest iteration of TSM might be the strongest yet, as they won their first regular season LCS split since rivals Cloud 9 burst onto the scene 2 years ago, and then TSM followed up with their second straight playoff championship over that C9 team. Superstar midlaner Bjergsen has dominated in his role of team leader and shotcaller, and there is probably no team in western League of Legends with better pre-game preparation. If Bjergsen can step up against the world’s best and TSM can continue to show their elite technique, they have a chance to challenge for the MSI championship.

The Players

Top – Marcus “Dyrus” Hill
Key Champions – Lulu Maokai Sion

Dyrus is the stalwart elder statesman of TSM, having played on the team consecutively since the middle of season 2. At any given time his champion pool is moderately-sized, but he picks up champions so quickly that it is very difficult to determine which champions are his priorities at any given time. Lately he has been very successful on tanks such as Maokai and Sion, and TSM loves to send him top with Lulu, in contrast to most Eastern teams that prioritize Lulu mid. Dyrus does the dirty jobs on this team, playing supportive tanks, countering split push, and drawing significant enemy focus-fire all game. Even though Dyrus is very effective when grouped with his teammates, it sometimes feels like Dyrus is on his own all game while the other four members of the team are working together. This can be problematic, as there can be a disconnect between Dyrus’ play and that of his teammates, especially in the early game; his teammates make an objective play somewhere and Dyrus allows himself to get caught even though there is no help coming to his lane. Presumably for this reason, teams can have success focusing Dyrus early on, hoping to discombobulate TSM’s odd man out. On the flip side, if Dyrus is left alone, he almost invariably emerges from the laning phase as a beast with incredibly high impact in teamfights, no matter the champion.

Jungle – Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen
Key Champions – Rek’Sai Sejuani Gragas Nidalee

Santorin is TSM’s phenom rookie jungler, acquired from Team Coast at the beginning of the Spring Split and going on to win “Rookie of the Split” for the NA LCS. His safe, disruptive play is a perfect fit for TSM’s style. He has a wide champion pool, lately adding mega tanks Gragas and Sejuani to his already competent Rek’Sai, Nidalee, Vi and Jarvan IV. Though Santorin does not stand out for his individual strength or outplays, he is great roaming together with his team, especially Lustboy, and his decision-making is outstanding. He almost never gets caught and he plays his role perfectly in team fights, which is usually to tank and disrupt. Even after Jarvan’s nerf hurt that champion’s relevancy, Santorin was still having a huge impact lategame with just his knockup and ult placement, freeing Bjergsen to flank and WildTurtle to autoattack safely. Santorin can occasionally fall behind his enemy counterpart in farm, but usually that is because his team leaves him alone in the jungle and has confidence that he can remain relevant even if focused by their opponents.

Mid – Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg
Key Champions – Urgot Leblanc Zed Ahri

Trying to pick key champions for TSM’s star midlaner difficult, since his champion pool is so vast, so the champions listed above are the ones he is comfortable playing on blue side and potentially getting countered. On purple side, Bjergsen almost always gets the last pick to choose a his mid, giving his team poke with AP Kog’Maw, a lane counter like Cho’Gath, or lockdown like Lissandra. However, he has yet to show great play on hyper scaling carries like Azir or Cassiopeia, limiting TSM’s options against super tanky compositions. Apart from his individual skill and commitment to improvement, Bjergsen’s most amazing attribute is his uncanny patience and decisiveness; he is willing to wait for the perfect opportunity to annihilate his target, on his own or with the help of his team. The difference between this year’s Bjergsen and the Bjergsen of years past is that he is now the unquestioned leader of the team. He plays the mid- and lategame with total confidence that his team will do their job, either protecting him and WildTurtle or giving him opportunities to split push and flank with his deadly assassins.

AD Carry – Jason “WildTurtle” Tran
Key Champions – Jinx Corki Sivir

For the most part, WildTurtle plays the public role of secondary carry to Bjergsen, dealing damage and cleaning up kills from behind, while TSM’s more celebrated midlaner makes the flashy plays. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that WildTurtle actually led TSM in kills during the spring split. A huge part of TSM’s team strategy is to have the other four members distract and disrupt while WildTurtle safely cleans up the enemy team from behind. For that reason, TSM loves to put WildTurtle on hard carries like Kalista or Jinx and protect him, or they grab his excellent Corki and let him combine with Bjergsen to push enemies off turrets with safe poke. WildTurtle can at times be too aggressive with his positioning, flashing forward or getting needlessly caught, but when he is playing within TSM’s gameplan, he is perhaps the most lethal player on the team.

Support – Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik
Key Champions – Janna Annie Nami

If Bjergsen is the king of the North American scene, in some ways Lustboy is the power behind the throne. Though he is not known for his great technical plays in the same way as fellow Korean Madlife or North American rival aphromoo, his contributions to his team are arguably greater than either. He is the master of using his time well; if he does not need to be in lane he is off warding or roaming, and he pairs extremely well with Santorin to camp for Bjergsen or get vision control. Lustboy’s roaming is good, but his contribution to vision control is superlative; he almost never gets caught and he has an amazing sense for when he can go ward solo and when he needs his team to back him up. If he has one weakness, it is that he and WildTurtle are not the most outstanding duo lane. They are solid with the occasional spectacular play, but TSM generally works hard to get WildTurtle a safe solo lane to farm to avoid overexposing them.

Picks and Bans

TSM’s bans have lately been fairly formulaic; on blue side they ban a carry toplaner like Rumble, a dangerous support like Morgana or Nautilus, and sometimes a mid laner they do not want to give up as a last pick. On purple side they ban dangerous first pick toplaners like Hecarim and save the last ban to counterban a high priority first pick, such as one of Sejuani or Gragas if the opponent bans the other. In the actual picking phase, TSM can be very difficult to pin down, as they like to give their opponents many different looks to keep them guessing. A consistently popular pick for TSM is Lulu top, with which they often run synergistic champions like Urgot mid or Kog’Maw bottom. TSM’s compositions always have a thematic point. Rather than settle for comfort picks or trying to just outplay their opponents, TSM tries to find the weakness of their opponent’s composition and exploit it, whether it be through tank busting, midgame power, or engage. Sometimes this works beautifully, but other times it seems as if TSM has outthought themselves, making weaker picks just to try to exploit a barely existent flaw in their opponent’s strategy.

Playstyle

Everything about TSM’s game smacks of preparedness. They always have a both a gameplan and the disciplined patience to execute that plan. While individual players, especially WildTurtle and Dyrus, can make technical mistakes or miscalculate, the team as a whole is always moving inexorably toward their specific goals. They do not underestimate their opponents and they are capable of quick adaptation. However all of these factors can work to TSM’s disadvantage as well. TSM chooses thematic, execution-based team compositions, so if their enemy manages to surprise them or outplay them in early skirmishes, TSM can lose their carefully cultivated initiative, dooming them to an uncomfortable midgame. Additionally, their patience in closing out the game or stalling it sometimes feels like a lack of killer instinct, and their opponents can sometimes use that as a window to get back into the game or to push a lead.

TSM uses a creative and varied early game to keep their opponents off-balance, utilizing deep wards and late invades to get the matchups they want. They love to lane swap, freeing Dyrus to farm the jungle and Lustboy to roam, and their final goal is often to have WildTurtle alone farming a sidelane with their jungler, support and top laner roaming around, waiting for an opportunity to push an objective. Once they take a tower, they generally rotate around the map with mid as their fulcrum; Bjergsen holds the lane and makes plays opportunistically while the other four members take towers and vision control. The idea is to constantly be pressuring objectives, offering a trade to their opponent, but also forcing that opponent to be prepared for the trade or risk losing out.

Though TSM plays a number of different compositions, their style of closing the game with most compositions is generally very similar. Most of their compositions can control space and dictate their opponents’ positioning, factors which they use to slow constrict their enemy through vision control and poking or flanking. They have the teamfighting ability to back up their threats, but they prefer to win without fighting, giving their opponent no opportunity to ace them and claw back into the game. To this end, they use a number of tactical late game tools, such as brush camping and sneaky barons to catch their opponents off guard. They can be weak to heavy engage, but it is difficult to beat TSM with tower pushing or objective focus because of their canny map movements.

Player to Watch
Bjergsen

Since joining TSM, Bjergsen has consistently performed at a high level both domestically and internationally, but he has stepped above even that level so far this year. His champion pool is deep and his teamplay is better than ever. Keep an eye on the his lane control, an underrated aspect of mid lane. Bjergsen is unbelievably good at pushing his lane when his team needs the space and other times letting his lane push to put pressure on the enemy laner.

Key Number(s) 5-1

That is TSM’s record over the last year in best of five series after losing game one. In that time, the only series they lost after being down 1-0 came to eventual world champion Samsung White in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2014. This speaks to TSM’s ability to adjust in long series, but also to TSM’s historical tendency of struggling with new matchups. TSM’s track record suggests they will be dangerous if they make the MSI playoffs, but that they might have surprising difficulty even getting there.

Outlook

Team SoloMid looks stronger now than they ever have, and they seem like the best Western hope for keeping up with the Eastern behemoths at the MSI. Their patient, disciplined, objective-driven approach would seem to match up well with some of the more aggressive teams at MSI who will find few mistakes upon which to capitalize. However, TSM’s greatest asset, their outstanding midlaner, will be somewhat negated by the incredible talent at that position, and their slower style of play risks falling behind to teams that ruthlessly finish off passive teams. Compounding this potential issue is that TSM is very accustomed to dealing with brilliant rotational play from their Cloud 9 rivals, but they have yet to face any teams with the raw talent of their MSI competitors. On the whole, TSM’s fortune will rise and fall based on their ability to dictate the pace of the game, as there are few teams at the tournament prepared to beat TSM’s slow constrictive play; even if TSM falls behind early, they are capable of coming back against nearly anyone as long as they slow down their enemy. Thus, TSM is a real threat to any team at the tournament, and even the Eastern favorites should be happy to avoid them in the playoffs.

MSI Preview – Edward Gaming

The Team

Chinese powerhouse Edward Gaming burst onto the scene in Spring 2014, winning two LoL Pro League splits and qualifying for the 2014 World Championship as the top Chinese seed. They made a splash following their slightly disappointing quarterfinals exit at Worlds by signing Korean stars Deft and PawN to play their AD Carry and mid lane role, respectively. With their ringers in place, they once again dominated the LPL this spring, losing only six maps all season compared to 38 wins. They won the playoffs as well, but this time in somewhat less than dominating fashion, losing four maps against 9 wins, including two losses in a 5 game series against IEM darling WE, the eighth seed. At their best, EDG was the clear best team in arguably the best league in the world, making them slam-dunk MSI contenders. It remains to be seen if their slightly diminished recent form and questions about their mid lane situation will put a damper on their MSI hopes.

The Players

Top – Tong “Koro1” Yang
Key Champions – Gnar Maokai Hecarim

Koro1 was famously undefeated on Gnar until the spring finals against LGD, as that champion and Maokai are his signature picks. Both of these champions fit EDG’s heavy early and midgame roaming style, providing lane presence, tankiness, crowd control and initiation. Koro1 also added a frightening Hecarim to his repertoire late in the season, although more frequently EDG simply banned that champion so Koro1 could play one of his main tanks. Koro1, like the rest of EDG, is an outstanding roamer, often spending more time in the early game out of lane than in it. His laning on his main champions is unimpeachable, although he has shown some shakiness on more carry-oriented champions such as the Rumble he played in the LPL finals. Where koro1 shines most is in teamfights, as he always finds way to initiate victories and disrupt the enemy. As a result, he is always looking to group with his team or teleport into winning situations.

Jungle – Ming “ClearLove” Kai
Key Champions – Nunu Sejuani Rek’Sai

Legendary Chinese jungler ClearLove is one of the two remaining starters, along with Koro1, of the 2014 Worlds EDG team. Ironically, the jungler is perhaps the player on EDG who likes roaming the least, as ClearLove was known for his farming style for much of his earlier career. However, he has reinvented himself on this EDG team as a strong supportive tank player, especially his signature Nunu, which he played frequently even before 5.5. ClearLove has unbelievable synergy with every single member of his team; he is the clockmaker who fits all the EDG cogs and gears together. Opposing teams will likely try to throw everything they have at him, hoping to make his game unravel, but with the elite teamplay of EDG surrounding him, it is a difficult proposition. ClearLove does have one potential weakness, in that he was very slow to pick up jungle Gragas, preferring Sejuani and Nunu. Unless he remedies this by MSI, EDG will have to account for this in their pick/ban phase.

Mid – ??????? “???????” ?????????
Key Champions – ????????

Author’s note: I’ve been told by a source I trust that the team’s weibo has EDG’s substitute jungler coming to MSI instead of U. This means PawN is the definite starter. That being said, the questions about PawN’s attendance have turned into questions about his health.

Superstar Korean mid player Heo “PawN” Won-seok has been gaining helium for nearly a year as perhaps the best midlaner in the world, with a convincing résumé to his name. Known for his Jayce play in Season 4, PawN now has a vast array of bannable champions, especially Kassadin, Leblanc, and Twisted Fate. No matter the champion he plays incredibly aggressively in lane, even in very silly situations, such as against the lane swap with multiple enemies off the map. He tempts his enemies; If they fail to allocate resources to stopping him, his individual strength will win almost every matchup. Though perhaps it would behoove him to be a bit more cautious, his team almost invariably recoups some of the cost of his occasional deaths with objectives and farm. In the late game, PawN shines at getting in and out of fights with excellent use of mobility skills, pairing with his AD Carry to surgically remove priority champions.

Stalwart Chinese midlaner Ceng “U” Long was the starting midlaner for EDG’s 2014 Worlds squad, and unlike PawN, his play tends toward the passive. He was outstanding on Orianna in the World Championship tournament and had mixed results on everything else. PawN’s mysterious spat of recent injuries led EDG to start U at midlane this April for his first playing time in 2015. U responded with a mixed performance on supportive midlaners during EDG’s flirtation with disaster in the first round of the playoffs against WE, including a disastrous 0-2-0 Galio pick. Even accounting for the skill disparity between PawN and U, EDG was clearly missing some of their classic flavor without PawN’s aggressive playmaking. Although it seems likely that PawN will play at the MSI, his health is the biggest question mark in the tournament.

AD Carry – Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu
Key Champions – Jinx Urgot Sivir

Before a disappointing 2014 Worlds performance with Samsung Blue, Deft was popularly considered to be the best AD Carry in the world. He is doing his best to retake that mantle with an unbelievable 2015 performance on his new Chinese squad. Deft is a good, not great, lane player, but like the rest of his team, he is totally dominant in team fights. Deft plays like there is some sort of gentlemen’s agreement with his opponent not to target the AD Carry, positioning forward and flashing aggressively. No matter the champion, Deft always wants to be in the fray fighting. Incredibly, it almost always works, as his team repays Deft’s trust in their ability to keep him safe by immediately engaging on anyone who tries to kill him. Deft’s Jinx is particularly alarming when EDG goes for a turret pushing strategy, but his shorter range engage-focused champions are scary as well, since he can quarterback the fights from close-up. Deft can be overcome with solid laning play, or punished by limiting his in-fight mobility with great space control, but in straight-up teamfights there is almost no way to defeat him; his teammates play linemen and all Deft needs to do is split the gaps.

Support – Tian “Meiko” Ye
Key Champions – Annie

Though he is an LPL rookie, Meiko’s Annie is so feared that even on a team that includes PawN and Deft, Meiko’s Annie is among the most banned champions against EDG. He has added a very solid Janna and Nautilus to his champion pool for when Annie is not available, but if Annie is left open, Meiko will almost invariably play her to great effect. When not on Annie, Meiko is solid but not very flashy; he participates in many roams and peels for Deft in teamfights. However, one of the most important parts of being a good support is rarely getting caught while maintaining good vision of the enemy jungle, a skill at which Meiko excels.

Picks and Bans

EDG’s pick/ban phase reflects their overall team style; it is impossible to deal with every player on their team, and they focus on punishing their opponents’ weaknesses. Every player on the team has at least one signature champion, meaning that they automatically get at least one priority pick every game. Additionally, they are usually comfortable banning out their opponents’ strong champions, rather than trying to eliminate top overall picks, since EDG is still able to get multiple champions they want, even if their enemy bans some of them. As a result, the EDG pick/ban phase has a very free-form feel, with both teams in the game frequently getting multiple high value champions — EDG prefer to maintain their own flexibility over limiting their enemies’. However, EDG’s pick/ban phase in the playoffs has shown an surprising issue. PawN, for all his skill, does not play a single strong blue-side champion. He prefers high-mobility assassins and midgame carries rather than the few available all-around picks, but this leaves him vulnerable to getting counterpicked. Coupled with PawN’s naturally aggressive play, this makes him somewhat vulnerable to getting shut down by a concerted effort from his opponent, as occurred in game 5 of the LPL finals against LGD.

Playstyle

EDG’s entire game is predicated on pressuring their opponent into errors and then punishing those errors as a team. They are always moving together, and they are so decisive when they decide to push an objective or roam as a team that they can take towers or dragons sometimes before their opponent has any time to react. Frequently, EDG will be down in kills or seem behind in lane, yet still be up in gold or objectives because of their decisiveness; their time is spent extremely efficiently at all points in the game.

Like most teams at this tournament, EDG rarely tries all-out invasions in the early game, instead going for river vision and counterinvades. However, unlike most teams at this tournament, EDG’s early laning play can look very shaky. Besides PawN, no one on this team is an extraordinary laner, so teams can try to capitalize on PawN’s aggression to get kills mid lane while giving up little elsewhere. Worryingly, EDG also looked somewhat vulnerable in the laneswap against LGD in the LPL finals. LGD’s solid rotations and EDG’s surprising sluggishness in pressuring objectives left EDG behind at the beginning of nearly every game. This is especially a problem because EDG is reliant on lane swaps at times to free up their support and toplaner for their characteristic roams.

EDG’s style in closing out games is exciting but double-edged. They are almost never alone, and their team works together for roaming and vision, meaning it is nearly impossible to pick off anyone on their team. Being together all the time in the late game also means that they can punish positioning errors and initiate fights almost instantly, and when they get a grip on the game, they close it out like a vice, leaving no opening for comebacks. However, playing offensively at all points in the game has its drawbacks; their defense is substandard, especially their defensive warding. I suspect that EDG’s sightstones stop working in their own jungle, because they never seem to ward it, and furthermore they play in the enemy’s jungle as if that’s not warded either. In fairness, defensively warding is not as necessary when their team is usually together, and against multiple sweepers the wards disappear quickly anyway. Still, when they fall behind they do not have much of a plan to get back into the game except turtle and wait for their opponent to falter, especially if PawN is playing an assassin over a waveclearing laner. Compounding this issue is their lack of objective focus; they much prefer to force fights in the jungle and around neutral objectives than to actually get those objectives in the first place. Even when they were ahead by almost every measure, they allowed themselves to fall behind in dragons during the playoffs too frequently, and frequently they got caught in sloppy dragon fights. Overall, their teamwide discipline in working together is borderline superhuman, but at times it feels like they do not have much of a plan to actually win the game except to roam together and hope their opponent does not defend accurately.

Player to Watch
Deft

PawN might be the player to not watch at the tournament if his health keeps him away, but even if PawN plays, Deft’s story is very compelling. Not only will Deft have to improve upon his disappointing 2014 World Championship to show he is a world-class AD Carry, EDG will have to show that their playstyle will actually work. Deft, for all his early game passiveness, plays incredibly far forward in teamfights and counts on his team to keep him safe. Will it work as well against the best in the world as it does in China?

Key Number – 15

That’s the points differential between EDG and second place Snake in the LPL regular season standings, the same as the difference between second and seventh place. EDG was so far in front of the rest of the league that no other teams had any chance of catching them, and thus had no real incentive to show EDG their most powerful picks and strategies. Similarly, EDG had the option of saving their best picks for the playoffs, but also did not get the opportunity to test them at the highest level. This team is incredibly strong, but as their playoff performance shows, they are not totally infallible, and their domestic dominance could conceivably work against them.

Outlook

Even with the strong competition at the MSI, anything less than a finals appearance for EDward Gaming will be considered a disappointment, and even that may leave a bad taste in their mouth if they do not win it all. After Chinese bottom-feeder WE made it to the IEM World Championship finals in March, the entire LPL took a step forward in the world’s estimation, perhaps even placing above the mighty Koreans. EDG dominated the LPL almost to the same degree that Beşiktaş dominated the third-rate Turkish League, meaning that EDG has a legitimate claim to the title of best team in the world. Once they get rolling, they are almost impossible to stop, but there are legitimate concerns arising about the holes in their game. If EDG can force their opponents to play the chaotic style they prefer, EDG will beat any team in the world, but it remains to be seen whether EDG’s aggressive style of map-wide roaming will consistently succeed against a disciplined, objective-focused team.

MSI Preview – ahq e-Sports Club

The Team

2014 World Championship participant ahq had by far the strangest road to the MSI. For most of the season, they were the definition of mediocre; they won a total of one game against the top 3 Taiwanese League Master Series teams, and they won all but one game against the bottom 4. They then ran the gauntlet of those same top 3 teams in the playoffs, sweeping the second and third seeds and winning 3-1 in the final against yoe Flash Wolves, who had lost exactly one game all season to that point. Maybe it was the Cinderhulk changes; maybe it was adding Mountain to their jungle spot, moving Albis to support; or maybe they were just capable of turning it on at the right time. Whatever the case, there is no bigger wildcard in the MSI than ahq. The Wolves could easily have been considered a MSI contender if they had made it, and ahq dismantled them; could ahq take the whole thing?

The Players

Top – Chen “Ziv” Yi
Key Champions – Maokai Gnar

Ziv is capable of playing carry-oriented champions, showing strong play on Hecarim and Kennen in the LMS finals and even a respectable Vladimir in their lone loss to yoe FW. However ahq seems to function best when Ziv is on disruptive tanks, split pushing constantly and teleporting into fights to be a major nuisance. His solid, ego-free play has been an important part of ahq’s playoff resurgence, as it allows Westdoor and An to move freely and maximize their damage. Keep an eye especially on how Ziv navigates the early game, as he often remains relevant despite giving up significant farm to his teammates, but when he gets farm priority, he can dominate games.

Jungle – Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong
Key Champions – Sejuani Gragas Jarvan IV

Rek’Sai was by far the most contested jungler in the LMS this season through the playoffs, and Mountain showed some proficiency on that champion. However ahq looked best when they used the Rek’Sai priority against their opponents, forcing a high pick from their enemies and grabbing for themselves the less ostentatious Jarvan IV when Gragas or Sejuani was not available. Though Mountain showed some technical weaknesses in his game — missing smites, falling behind in farm and occasionally misusing his skills — he was incredibly disruptive in teamfights and his contributions to vision control were substantial. Although it took a little time for synergy to develop between Mountain and Westdoor, the mid lane ganks and double bot ganks between them were a powerful weapon in ahq’s arsenal. Mountain’s ability to be in the right place at the right time were a stark contrast to Albis’ strange jungle meanderings in the regular season, and though Mountain arguably has a lower individual skill level, his teamplay is much better.

Mid – Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei
Key Champions – Cho’Gath Karthus Twisted Fate Fizz Zed

Perhaps it seems a little strange to put five key champions for one player, but Westdoor warrants the aberration. Every game in the playoffs, Westdoor played one of those champions, and every single champion on the list drew at least one ban. Westdoor is the king of the Taiwanese midlane, known for his outstanding solo queue play, especially on TF and Fizz. Until last year’s World Championship appearance however, Westdoor languished in the professional scene on second tier teams, a situation which threatened to recur this regular season on ahq. Once his team started to play around him though, consistently putting him in position to carry, both he and ahq significantly stepped up their game. Westdoor is a superstar, a player that will take over the game if unchecked, and he is patient enough to wait for an opportunity if his enemies try to focus him. With the exception of a certain Korean midlaner, there may not be a more dangerous individual player at the MSI, even considering all the talent at the tournament.

AD Carry – Chou “An” Chun-An
Key Champions – Urgot Kalista Sivir

Does An have a twin brother who played for this team during the regular season? Where is the AD Carry who was constantly getting caught against the top teams or flashing offensively into ridiculous situations? The dubious flashes made a worrisome return in the LMS finals, but everything else about his game was spectacular in the playoffs. His laning was outstanding, his positioning superb, and mastery of his role was clearly evident in all aspects of the game. Gone was the disjointed and inconsistent play that characterized the regular season of both An and ahq, replaced with beautiful coordination that made An look like a potential Piglet to Westdoor’s Faker.

Support – Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei
Key Champions – Nautilus

Nautilus. The end. Whatever the thought process that led ahq to move Albis from jungle to support right before the playoffs, it clearly was not because they wanted him to stop playing jungle champions, since Albis happily picks Nautilus every time it is left open. He prioritizes Janna when he cannot get Nautilus, with fairly impressive results, and he played Kennen once in the LMS playoffs, but Nautilus is his bread and butter. The transition from jungle to support was a bit rocky in the beginning, but he has settled into the role very well, shining brightly in the vision game and in teamfights. Albis is an obvious candidate for MSI opponents to try to pressure into mistakes, either with bans or in-game focus fire, but so far his support play has shown few weaknesses.

Picks and Bans

For a high level team, ahq are surprisingly predictable in their pick and ban phase. Besides Westdoor and An, each player has a fairly small champion pool from which he chooses the best available champion to fit what the team needs. On blue side, like clockwork, ahq ban one of Gragas or Sejuani and first pick the other, and on purple side they almost invariably last pick Westdoor’s midlaner. What must be so maddening about playing this team though, is that there is just enough redundancy in their champion pool that they can always get a composition they want. Looming large over the whole process is that if their opponent does not account for Westdoor’s champions or An’s Urgot, it sometimes does not matter what the rest of the team picks. So far, the top LMS teams have looked extremely uncomfortable trying to counter ahq’s new style, especially with Westdoor’s safer mid lane play, but international teams will have more time to practice using ahq’s inflexible pick/ban phase against them.

Playstyle

This team morphed, seemingly overnight, into a team that plays League of Legends the “right” way. They have well-crafted team compositions, an extreme objective focus, solid vision control, and everyone on the team knows his role.

In the early game, ahq plays a flexible, reactive style. They ward the river but rarely go deeper unless their enemy invades them first. Part of the reason for this is that, as of the playoffs, their 2v2 lane always goes bot. They do not complicate their game, as they are confident either 2v2 or in the lane swap. Many teams will freeze the lane in a lane swap, since the theory goes that trading a stronger top laner for a tower will eventually result in losing objectives in a weaker midgame. Not ahq. They push push push and run to dragon at any chance they get. If their enemies give up dragons in exchange for tower pressure, ahq will gladly take the dragon and stall until they get five. If their enemies try to beat ahq to the dragon, ahq will ace them, then take the dragon anyway and a tower to boot. Even when ahq is behind in gold, they are extraordinarily good at manipulating their enemies into bad positioning and then winning the ensuing teamfights.

Ahq’s preferred team compositions are tanky and short-range, which makes sense considering their extreme focus on dragons. They push outer towers early and trade losing teamfights for inner turrets if they have to. Against damage-centric team compositions, most of the team acts as a beefy front line for An while Westdoor flanks, but against tankier compositions, ahq will often split push heavily and fight as a big group when they are together. Their vision control is a major focus, and their jungler works with their support to dominate this aspect of the game.

Player to Watch

Westdoor

This team has quite a few players to keep an eye on. Can Albis and Mountain continue to succeed in a new role and off the bench, respectively? Is An really as good as he looked in the playoffs? But the star of the team is Westdoor, and the MSI could be his coming-out party. In the LMS playoffs, not only did ahq look as good or better than they did at last year’s Worlds, but Westdoor himself looked unstoppable on all of his eclectic array of champions. If Westdoor plays to potential, this could be the time that western audiences finally add him to the pantheon of great midlaners. It seems likely that Westdoor is not quite ready to climb that Olympus, but it is also hard to put a limit on how good this ahq team could really be until we see it.

Key Number – 6

That’s the number of times ahq picked Sejuani or Gragas jungle in the LMS playoffs, compared to just once for ahq’s opponents. Both Sejuani and Gragas were banned in every single game that Mountain did not play one of them. Ahq figured out the tanky post-5.5 landscape faster than any of their domestic opponents; it remains to be seen whether they can keep it up against international competition that has been contesting these picks for weeks.

Outlook

Even if we could be sure that playoff-version ahq is the one that shows up to the MSI, there are still significant question marks surrounding this team. Though ahq made Worlds last season, Westdoor is the only remaining player from that squad, leaving them worryingly short of international experience. Another celebrated player from that Worlds team, support GreenTea, was unceremoniously benched immediately prior to the LMS playoffs, and the new jungler and support have significant questions about their versatility. That being said, ahq figured out how to play tanks and how to beat tanks faster than any of their domestic opponents, and their uncompromising focus on objectives presumably translates very well across international borders. Also, having one of the world’s best players at mid lane is a great place to start in any competition. It is easy to envision ahq turning back into a pumpkin against the best in the world, but especially if An keeps up his elite play, the glass slipper fits this team better than anyone else at the tournament.

MSI Preview – Beşiktaş e-Sports Club

The Team

Storied multisport Turkish athletic club Beşiktaş J.K. made minor waves in January when they acquired the Aces High League of Legends team to become the inaugural members of the new Beşiktaş e-Sports Club. The newly sponsored professionals then proceeded to totally dominate their domestic Turkish Champions League with a sterling 12-2 record, their only losses coming with two substitutes in the final week. They then swept their way to a playoff championship over former World Championship participant Dark Passage, earning a trip to the International Wild Card Invitational. At the Invitational, Beşiktaş squeaked into the playoffs with a 3-3 group stage record, then dominated the playoffs, losing only one game and grabbing the available MSI spot in front of the Turkish home crowd.

The Players

Top Lane – Berke “Thaldrin” Demir
Key Champions – Rumble Hecarim Maokai

Early in the Wild Card Invitational, Thaldrin played a very uninspiring Maokai in a Beşiktaş loss. He did not return to that Maokai until the playoffs, choosing instead Rumble and Gnar, champions on which he could do damage and control the midgame. Thaldrin is the shotcaller and star of Beşiktaş, and the team is most successful when Thaldrin plays carry-style champions and makes plays all over the map. He clearly knows how to pressure his lane, and can succeed in 1v1 lanes or lane swaps, ruthlessly punishing his opponents’ errors with kills or burned summoners. That being said, he occasionally has an iffy laning phase, falling behind in farm or kills, and although he can dominate teamfights he seems prone to questionable decision-making about when and how to fight.

Jungle –  Muhammed “Theokoles” Işik
Key Champions – Gragas Rek’Sai Nunu

Theokoles was a clear step ahead of his domestic counterparts in the jungle, and it is easy to see why. His map movements are impeccable and he has an impressive instinct for his enemies’ movements and plans. Yet far too often he makes a great play and follows it up with a bizarre decision, like farming the enemy jungle with no wards or clearing an enemy ward without vision. Theokoles has a great feel for how to move through the jungle, which he far too frequently relies on instead of actually using wards. His team pays for this lack of vision in the mid and late game, making it incredibly difficult to close out games unless their opponent makes an egregious error. These mistakes were frequent at the Wild Card Invitational, but the best teams in the Big 5 leagues will limit these kinds of mistakes. When Theokoles is playing well, his team is hard to beat, but the MSI competition will be much more prepared to punish his deficiencies than anything he has seen so far.

Mid – Isak “Energy” Pettersen Fjell
Key Champions – Lulu Ahri Nidalee

For much of the domestic season, Energy was a nice counterpoint to Thaldrin, providing safe utility-based carries and a solid laning phase with his Lulu and Nidalee picks. However, he shines when he plays assassins, especially his Ahri, with which he dominated the Wild Card Invitational. Alone among his team, Energy seems to be able to turn on and off the pure aggression that defines Beşiktaş, making him scarier in some ways than the more celebrated carries surrounding him.

AD Carry -Tomáš “Nardeus” Maršálek
Key Champions – Sivir Lucian

Nardeus is just a lane winning machine. He is always up in pressure, up in farm, up in kills, and he delights in skirmishing. In the Turkish League, Nardeus was able to simply bully his way to victory with extreme aggression through all points in the game. At the Wild Card Invitational against higher quality teams, he still won the laning phase almost every game, but his teamfighting was exposed, as he was consistently punished for poor positioning. If Nardeus can play a more circumspect midgame in addition to his powerful laning, he will surprise some of the more well-known bot laners at the MSI, but if he cannot reign in some of his aggression and positioning, the other teams at the tournament will feast on him.

Support – Mustafa “Dumbledoge” Kemal Gökseloğlu
Key Champions – Janna Thresh Morgana

Dumbledoge deserves some of the credit for Beşiktaş’ excellent 2v2 laning, and he took over games at the Wild Card Invitational with his outstanding skill shots on Thresh and Morgana. However, Dumbledoge also deservedly gets a large portion of the blame for Beşiktaş’ consistently poor vision control. It is not his fault that his teammates would far too rarely help him ward, but he was also responsible for questionable warding decisions, like when he would frequently ward one side of the jungle before his team fought on the other.

Picks and Bans

Most of the Turkish Season was played before the advent of Cinderhulk, so Beşiktaş can be somewhat forgiven for picking a very damage-focused style over tankiness, with midgame junglers like Rek’Sai and high damage toplaners like Rumble. Other priority picks were Ahri, Janna, and Gragas. In parts of the Wild Card Invitational, Beşiktaş showed an advanced approach to pick/ban phase, banning some of their opponent’s strong champions and picking others away. However they eventually abandoned this sophistication, instead banning the same few champions every game in the finals, and counting on outplaying their opponent rather than outpicking them.

Playstyle

Beşiktaş is content to usually play defensively level 1, warding the river or feinting an invade, and then letting their opponent dictate the early game. They are usually happy with lane swaps, although they can be fooled pretty easily due to their lack of deep wards early on. Their 2v2 laning is also fine, although they stagnate a bit in even lanes, without much objective focus or movement until they get a tower. They have excellent early game coordination, led by Theokoles’ outstanding early jungle pathing, and they have very good Scuttlecrab control at all points of the game. This means that even absent wards, they are extremely good at collapsing on enemies in the jungle and they can easily punish mistakes as a team. However they paradoxically couple this teamwide discipline with an unbelievable willingness to overpursue enemies into terrible situations. During the Wild Card Invitational, most teams were flustered by Beşiktaş’ aggression, but some were able to use that aggression against them, forcing chaotic fights that Beşiktaş could not resist engaging but that they could not hope to win.

Besides this, Beşiktaş’ biggest problem by far is their vision control. It improved throughout the Wild Card Invitational, even culminating in a Sightstone from their jungler in the finals, but they were still constantly trying to make plays in an unwarded jungle or overpursuing without vision. Against the best teams, they will not be able to count on closing out games by simply getting ahead and waiting for their opponent to make a mistake; instead they will have to aggressively use vision to force those mistakes, an aspect of their game that was consistently missing.

Player to Watch

Thaldrin

Beşiktaş’ captain and leader is going to be in an awkward place this tournament. It is easy to imagine that his Rumble and Hecarim will be banned or picked away, and his Maokai was decent but uninspiring. Beşiktaş needs Thaldrin to perform to succeed, and Thaldrin will be eager to show his skills against the world’s best, but he may not have the champion pool to make the impact his team needs.

Key Number – 4

That’s the number of games, out of 15, Beşiktaş’ full roster played through the Turkish League semifinals that lasted until 33 minutes. Even in the finals, they had longer games but only in one game did the outcome ever feel in the slightest bit of doubt. Beşiktaş’ rocky start to the Wild Card Invitational could likely be partly attributed to their lack of domestic competition, and though they improved through the tournament, they are still a mostly untested team. Beşiktaş does not have many games to adjust to international competition at the MSI, and if they take too long to figure it out they could be out of the tournament almost before it starts.

Outlook

Beşiktaş no doubt plans to make a splash at the MSI, but it probably should be considered a victory just to make it in. There are the pieces of a really strong international team hidden in Beşiktaş, but they will have trouble winning even one game as long as their play looks as sloppy as it did in the Wild Card Invitational.

Mid Season Invitational – The Preview Edition

The Mid Season Invitational is almost upon us, and by way of preview, I’ve been watching VODs of all the participating teams so you don’t have to! Check out an in-depth look at the players, picks, and strategies of each participating team.

The teams

Beşiktaş e-Sports
ahq e-Sports
Edward Gaming
Team Solo Mid
Fnatic
SK Telecom T1

Also check out my Viewer’s Guide to the tournament to make sure you come prepared.