First off, let me apologize for my absence. I’ve been busy with other things as of late, primarily getting re-positioned at my job. So life has been a bit hectic. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with things! So, let’s get started with today’s post.
Secondly, I would like to say congratulations to SK Telecom for their shutout victory over Royal Club. Both teams were very good during the playoffs, but SKT just really drove it home for that finals match. The reason why? Well, it primarily goes down to picks and bans. If we see over here at each of the three games, we can solidify a few things about the picks and bans:
- The consistent Jax pick by SKT. Jax is a beast in the Asian theatre of LoL play. He’s a great counter-pick to such champions as Aatrox and Vi, but he also has kill potential against most of the champs that RC brought to the table–Elise, Orianna, etc. Granted, Impact’s KDA for all 3 games wasn’t terribly high (Piglet gets that award), but his threat potential and zoning potential were just massive in all three games.
- Piglet was never out of his comfort zone. One of the secrets of Asian LoL play is that players typically have a larger champion pool that they’re comfortable with (avg. NA champion pool for a player is 3-4 champs, where as countries such as Korea have 5-7). However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a player out of his comfort zone, which RC never did to Piglet. Piglet, if you notice the stats on the Esports page, had the highest KDA and highest GPM out of the entire world cup player pool. Not just the Asians, or just versus RC, but overall. A player like that has to be your biggest concern (though Faker would be almost as important). Can you completely ban him out? Once again, probably not, but you can definitely force his picks into something that you’d have a normal advantage over. He picked Corki twice (another big sleeper pick out of Korea) and Ezreal once. He never died more than twice in any of those final games. His Ezreal play had 12 kills. RC has more experience with players who have Piglet’s style, and yet they just let him walk around unhindered. That’s a no-no.
- Faker was never counterpicked. Now, while you could focus on trying to shutout one player in terms of champion selection, that means that other players have to be dealt with in different ways. Faker is one of the best mids (if not the best mid) in all of the world. His aggression and total map awareness make him a ruthless and nearly flawless player. If you look at his stats over on his Leaguepedia page, during the OCN 2013 Summer he had over a 50% win rating with every champion he played except Karthus (who isn’t quite as popular in Asian play as he is in NA). In particular, you’ll notice his Gragas and Zed win percentage at 100, or at least you should. Why? Because those are the two champions he played in the final match against RC, picking Gragas twice and Zed once. Wh1t3zZ, his RC counterpat in those games, picked Orianna, Kassadin, and Fizz. Gragas can easily shutdown Orianna, zoning her out with his Q and his early game sustain. Zed is easily one of the best hard counters to Kassadin while still maintaining team synergy (even though Wh1t3zZ’s Kass did have an 8/5/8 KDA the second game, out doing Faker’s Zed). Gragas doesn’t necessarily counter Fizz, becoming more of a skill matchup, but Faker still won that one. So at best, out of one game, Faker was “countered,” but never truly outclassed.
And a few other factors play into it, but these were the biggest three from my own observations. Simply put, SKT had their shit together while RC did not. That’s not to say RC isn’t a great team (they are), but I’m fairly confident that the Korean hype train even got to them, this time. Oh well. It was a great World Cup overall, and I loved every minute of it! Good job to all of the teams involved.
Now, we move on to the second part of my post, and the elephant in the room: the NA LoL scene. Already, we’re seeing team changes in the NA scene post-WC; Saintvicious of Curse has stepped down to coach, and Curse itself has now become three distinct teams: Team Curse, Curse Academy, and Team LolPro. Other teams are making big changes as well (Team Coast’s AD has stepped down to substitute, for instance). Though, you could say “Well that’s just the teams who did badly, of course they’re making changes!” Well, to some end, you’d be right, but let’s take a look for a moment at the team that held the hype train here in NA this year, and our only team to make even a slight impact in Worlds, Cloud9.
After winning the NA regionals, C9 landed the comfy position of not having to go through the bracket gauntlet and started in Semi-Finals. Their opponent in the first (and last) match was Fnatic of the EU scene. Fnatic trashed C9 in two of their games, making clear and decisive victories by the end. Why was it a clear Fnatic victory though? Well, other than the fact that they were the S1 champions with tons of experience (which could be dismissed because of the state of the game that early on), their team play was just out-and-out better. Fnatic utilizes many tools, but the main one is mobility: the mobility of each champion, of their team, of their formations. How do we know that mobility is what won them the match? Well, if we look at the one game in which their team wasn’t as mobile (no Kass, no teleports, no Shen, just a meager Twisted Fate), they lost quite clearly.
For Cloud9, their mobility has always depended upon their star jungler, Meteos. During the NA scene Meteos broke more than one record, being a passive but mobile jungler, prioritizing champions such as Nasus and Zac, who farm passively but can mobilize for team fights in a heartbeat. In their match, Meteos was never able to pick his best junglers against Fnatic, instead relying upon Nocturne and Elise. While Nocturne definitely brings something to the table, it’s not a jungle pick that Cloud9 has put much effort into in the past outside of scrimmaging. He was shutout by Cyanide in both the games they lost, which clearly points to it as being one of the issues. The other big issue? LemonNation. Lemon is considered one of the best supports in the NA scene and one of the top strategists in the world (his infamous notebook). However, in each game versus Fnatic he was shutout consistently. The primary cause of this is that he wasn’t really doing much of a job warding (in fact, Lemon has been criticized before for his warding abilities). This is risky in general, but especially risky against a team that utilizes teleports to get into a teamfight. This allowed his ADC, Sneaky, to be more-or-less shutout of the game as well. Combine this all with the fact that they never got their dreaded Ashe-Zyra combo, and we have another glaring reason as to why C9 just was plainly inferior as a team to Fnatic. Once again, that’s not to say C9 is a bad team–by all means, they’re arguably the strongest team in NA for the time being. Which is what brings me to the big point here.
The NA League of Legends scene has to change if it wants to be relevant in an ever-expanding hyper-meta for competition. The reason that C9 beat out the other teams so badly in the Summer Split this year was because of their willingness to adapt and to learn from other metas. Other teams don’t really do this (though Vulcan and Velocity could be argued to have a more outside-the-box approach than C9), and that’s what’s killing us as a region. Fnatic utilizes mobility to win. SKT utilizes focused aggression to win. C9 utilizes hyper-carrying to win. What are the other teams really bringing to the table? At the end of the day, nothing. In fact, I’ve compiled a list here as to why I believe the NA scene is doing so badly, and what they need to change:
- The NA feeling of pride. Let’s go ahead and get this ugly one out of the way. I believe that the NA scene has trouble dealing outside of their meta because of pride. Riot is an American company, and in Season 1 we were nearly unstoppable. It’s because of these facts there’s a feeling of entitlement for us–we were here first, and we should be the ones to set the standards. This is all well and good… if you’re capable of doing that. However, for the time being, we need to admit that we’re the worst in the world post Season 3, and we need to humble ourselves and learn from others, so that we can become (once again) a superior region. So you’re the best team in NA–who cares? Especially when the Asian players at multiple points have said that their average skilled players are on par with most of our best (and I believe that, too). Let it go and learn for a minute.
- The crippling NA champion pool. Most of the pro players in the NA scene have a small champion pool-let’s just be honest with ourselves. Case in point, TSM’s Dyrus was considered one of the best top-laners around for a while, but what happens when you ban out Renekton, Rumble, and Shen? His KDA and ability drops. That’s only 3 champions (admittedly he had 4 when Jayce hadn’t been nerfed, but everyone played Jayce) out of at least a potential 15 top lane champs who are competition worthy. Yes, I realize that he became the mid for TSM, but his champion pool remained practically the same. It’s not just him either–other NA players focus on 3, maybe four champs at best, and this is what kills us. Other teams from other regions can look at our teams, realize the most valuable player in that game, and just ban them out. We must be willing to play other champs, build other team comps, focus on more soft tactics (focused aggression, lane v. objective pushing, etc.) rather than hard tactics (champion compositions, champion pools, mechanics, etc.).
- Our stale NA team building. No, not talking about champions here, I’m talking about players. Individually, our NA scene has some of the highest skilled players out there, no matter what the Asians or whoever else says. However, a single player does not a team make. We’ve had some legendary teams in the past (who didn’t like Chicks Dig Elo?), but as we move forward, it appears that most of our players are retaining their team positions due to legacy more than skill. I think the best example of this is Team SoloMid. TSM has been around for quite some time in the NA scene (one of the longest running teams, in fact), but their composition hasn’t changed much since their inception (in fact, they’re one of the teams with the fewest former players, pointing to realization that they don’t think their team needs much change). Why do this? Why not try out other players? Reginald used to be amazing, but his Season 3 was very, very loose and TSM could have potentially tried out another player in his position. Part of this for most teams has to do with ego (TSM), and some with the management (Curse). The NA teams need to learn that once in a while, maybe you need to substitute a player, or just change your roster outright–especially if you haven’t done any major changes in a year or two. These up-and-coming LoL players are becoming better by the day, and are hard to deal with if you’re stuck in an old mindset. In fact, some of the Asian teams bring multiple members so that they can switch out between games. This isn’t because they’re unsure of their ability, it’s a legit strategy to have players who excel in areas where others do not so that you can have an ideal team composition. Now there’s a lot of people who argue that it’s because those teams are already so good as they are. Really? Prove it. Go to Worlds, and make it past the Day 1-6 bracket, please. People have to learn that there may be a better person there for their position, and have the grace to step down. It’s time for a team change, guys, and you know who you are.
Anyway, with all of that negativity being said, I don’t think the NA scene is a failed one. In fact, I believe that Season 4 will be our big moment. It’ll be our time to make or break the LoL scene. I think that, the teams that are really willing to make sacrifices and make changes and come up with new ideas will be the ones to shine this season–not the old guard, sadly. This pains me because old teams such as Curse and TSM have really valuable experience to bring to the table, but an inability to be flexible. Curse is finally realizing this, and I hope other old teams do the same, soon.
In the meantime, let’s all enjoy ourselves and work towards bettering our region, and preparing for the next LCS and Worlds. Who knows? One of you reading might be the next player to make it big. Remember to learn, to adapt, and to have fun.
Until next time, see you on the Rift.