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.

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Appendix II: My data

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

Three Games that Caught My Attention: MSI Day 1

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

Game 1: FNC vs TSM: A draft gone wrong

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

fnc bans


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

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

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

ganktopfnc

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

BJK vs SKT: A New God Awakens

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EDG vs ahq: Closer Than You Think

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

Teamfight 1: Ahq Ganks Bot

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

ahqgank1

ahqgank2

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

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

ahqgank3

ahqgank4

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

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

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

Teamfight 2: Karthus Has Rylais!

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


ahqteamfight

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

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

Void_Staff_item

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

ahqteamfight2

Seems plausible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This communicates literally no information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 6. TSM

 jacketstock_1024x1024

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

 5. AHQ

Ahq_prydz

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

4. EDG

ClearLove_0

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

 3. Fnatic

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

 2. Beşiktaş

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I’m a sucker for the classic looks.

 1. SKT

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

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

 

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

MSI Preview – SK Telecom T1

The Team

Faker Faker. Faker Faker Faker Faker FakerFaker FakerFakerFakerFaker Faker Faker Faker. Faker Faker FakerFaker Faker Faker Faker! Faker Faker Faker Faker Faker Faker Faker FakerFaker FakerFakerFaker Faker. Faker Faker Faker? Faker.

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.