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.

Advertisements

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.