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.

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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.