Apr 30 2014 - 10:32 am

SK Gaming's remarkable season, by the numbers

The best League of Legends players in the world will converge in Paris next week for Riot Games’ annual all-star tournament
Samuel Lingle
Dot Esports

The best League of Legends players in the world will converge in Paris next week for Riot Games’ annual all-star tournament.

And as with any all-star event, fans are eager to see what happens when players who dominated on opposite sides of the table finally clash. Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, once one of the best mid laners in Europe and now North American MVP, will go toe-to-toe for the first time in months with Henrik "Froggen "Hansen, the current best at the position in Europe. And will any team be able to take down Korean side SK Telecom T1, who won the world championships last year and easily marched to the top of the Korean tables again this year?

But perhaps more interesting than who has been invited to the event is who hasn't.

Not a single player from SK Gaming, the best team in Europe during the regular season, will travel to Paris. SK's highest vote-getter, marksman Adrian “CandyPanda” Wübbelmann, only ranked 13th in Europe. Serious fans of the League Championship Series (LCS)  will tell you why: SK Gaming simply don't have any stars, players who could make their mark on any given game through raw talent.

But then how did SK march so convincingly to the top of the table? The anecdotal answer is "teamwork." But that means very little without some quantifiable evidence to back it up.

So we took a deep dive into the stats to see what narrative the numbers might tell about SK's remarkable season. Here's what we found.

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At the start of the Spring Split, no one expected SK Gaming to challenge Europe’s best.

Just before the season began, the team sacked their long-time captain and fan favorite Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez. The move was a long time coming. Rodriguez’s form was no longer what it had been when he joined the team three years ago. Still, no one expected the re-tooled roster, built with a mix of LCS veterans like Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and newcomers like Jesse “Jesiz” Lee, to be much more than a middling team. They lacked the star power of squads like Gambit Gaming and defending champs Fnatic, with no one to carry in the late game.

When team captain Patrick “Nyph” Funke ended up leaving for Alliance—the super team hand-picked by superstar mid laner Hansen—it seemed SK's season was certain to be doomed.

SK was left without the bottom lane duo considered to be Europe’s best.

After four weeks of regular season play, all the predictions looked accurate. SK were sixth place out of eight, with a 4-6 record. Then something changed. Over the remaining seven weeks, SK dominated, posting a 14-4 record on their way to the top spot in the standings.

What propelled this transformation is key to understanding how a League of Legends team can succeed when all its players are, by appearance, playing average games.

To begin, we looked at generic team stats, such as Kill/Death/Assist (KDA) ratios, Gold Per Minute (GPM) numbers, Creep Score Per Minute (CSPM), and objective related stats.

Those basic numbers confirmed what we already knew—SK was good at securing objectives and in seeing through the late game. But that was about it. Not satisfied, we dug a little deeper, looking at granular statistics over the course of the season.

We recorded gold and creep score for each of SK’s lanes and lane opponents at the 5, 10, 15, and 20 minute marks. We examined the jungler, Johnsen, at a deeper level, analyzing where he spent his time, which lanes he pressured and when, and his success rates in those pressures. We also took a look at SK’s champion selections to find any significant trends.


Graphic by LoLStats.gg

What immediately jumped out was this: Over the course of the season, when SK Gaming had a lead, no matter how small, they won. And they usually gained that lead by securing objectives, even sacrificing kills to do so.

SK's snowball rate—the percentage of games win after securing certain objectives—were off the charts. They won 93.75 percent of games where they took the first dragon, the best in the league. In fact, from week five onward, SK won every single game in which they secured the first dragon. That’s compared to a league rate of 65.18 percent.

SK secured 16 first dragons, tied for the most in the EU LCS, and won 15 of those 16 games. They killed Baron Nashor first a whopping 17 times, two more than the second ranked team, Roccat, and won 16 of those matches.

Each dragon is worth at least 650 gold and Baron clocks in at a whopping 1500 gold. And that’s before mentioning the experience gain for each or the all-important Exalted with Baron Nashor buff, which provides a huge, four minute combat advantage. SK leveraged these objectives better than any team in the league.

When SK Gaming got a lead, they closed out the match, and did it efficiently, with a 38:25 average game time that made them second fastest in the league after Roccat.


Click for a larger image | Graphic by LoLStats.gg 

It makes sense, then, that SK's early season stumbles all centered around getting that lead in the first place.

Overall, the team had difficulty in the laning phase during the first four weeks. Only SK's top laner, Simon “Fredy122” Payne, managed to outfarm opponents. In the jungle, Johnsen’s ganks—pressuring a lane in an attempt to secure a kill—were ineffectual. He attempted 3.4 ganks per game with only a 21 percent success rate.

Then SK made a couple of adjustments that turned their season around.

One key change was shifting Johnsen’s focus in the jungle, using him more on the bottom. Johnsen ganked less often after week four, 2.94 times per game compared to 3.4—but with a much higher success rate, 47 percent. He sacrificed gank attempts in the top lane to improve his efficiency on the rest of the map. The number of ganks in the middle and bottom lane remained the same, and were more successful. Johnsen favored champions with strong counter-gank ability, like Pantheon, Elise, and Evelyn. He was particularly effective with Pantheon, as SK went 6-0 in matches with him playing the spear-toting Spartan.


Graphic by LoLStats.gg 

This paid dividends for bottom lane duo Adrian “CandyPanda” Wübbelmann and Christoph “nRated” Seitz. The pair saw a 5.56 percent increase in gold at five minutes compared to their level through four weeks, with a 12.35 percent drop in gold at five minutes for their lane opponents. And they carried that advantage into the late game.

A stronger bottom lane duo and more bottom lane jungle presence paid off in another way—dragon control. SK claimed 57.14 percent of dragons in weeks five through 11, a 33.32 percent increase over their week four mark.That 57.4 percent mark would have lead the league over a full season..

The shift in jungle focus wouldn’t have worked without Payne’s top lane prowess. SK left him on the top lane island, and he thrived. While his opponents saw a 12.71 percent increase in gold earned at the five minute mark, probably due to less pressure from SK’s jungler, Payne was up 24.7 percent while left to his own devices. SK went 7-4 in matches with him on Renekton and 5-0 in games with him on Trundle.


 Graphic by LoLStats.gg

SK also figured out how to snowball towers in the second half of the season. Through week four, they only won 20 percent of games while taking the first tower, but their mark the rest of the way, 77.78 percent, obliterated the league average of 55.36 percent and would have topped the league for a full season.

Part of that is due to their champion selections. SK struggled with mid laner Lee on assassin champions, going 1-4, but loved the siege ability of Nidalee and Ziggs, combing for a 9-2 mark. By placing Lee, a newcomer to the LCS who probably doesn’t have the experience to compete with the star mid laners in Europe, into a siege role, SK was simply using their talent in the most efficient way.

While the jungle shift was an important part of SK’s success, it was also representative of the team's real strength: the ability to adapt, both in macro strategy and in-game tactics.

SK stayed ahead of metagame-changing patches throughout the season, maintaining their team style and success while adjusting their strategies. They did the same in the server, out-rotating opponents to turn a small lead into a victory, a lane advantage into an objective, an objective into a victory.

While our methodology revealed a portion of what made SK so dominant, it’s hardly the whole tale. A more in-depth analysis of the pick and ban phase may reveal more about how they held an advantage in so many matches. Better ways to analyze the late game, and especially success in team fights, be it team composition, positioning, tactics, or mechanics, may reveal more secrets yet

Statistics may never explain the beauty behind one of Seitz’s well-timed engages, or the artful way Wübbelmann cleans up during a hectic battle, while Payne and Johnsen keep the enemy team’s back line engaged. But they do tell an important part of that story.

Photo via SK Gaming/Facebook

Today - 9:19 pm

Overwatch players honor friend with heartfelt send-off

The tribute was organized by a Philippines-based gaming collective.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Processing the death of a friend is never easy. But it can help to grieve where you spent time together—even if that happens to be the battlegrounds of Overwatch.

When the team at games website Too Much Gaming lost their beloved colleague Willem Den Toom, they took to Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch to express their pain. Using Toom's favorite Overwatch heroes—Pharah, Reinhardt, Symmetra, Zarya, and Lúcio—and Hanzo, the group of friends coordinated rocket launcher and fire strike sendoffs toward Overwatch map Eichenwalde's moon as a gun salute for their friend.

"Wherever you are, may the payload be always moving, the point always contested, no one trickles out, and may there always [be] a healer on your team," Toom's friends posted to YouTube. "We miss you, big guy. This Play of the Game is for you."

Toom suffered a heart attack and died at 35 on Jan. 16, Too Much Gaming editor Carlos Herdandez told Mic. "He was loved by many and his loss pretty much struck waves in various communities in the gaming community here in the Philippines," Hernandez said. "Overwatch was the one game that we play together regularly after a long day. It's one of his favorite games." Honoring Toom in Overwatch was an obvious choice for the group.

The video ends with each player sending off Hanzo's dragonstrike ultimate, unleashing a continuous stream of swirling dragons toward the moon.

H/t Mic

Today - 9:07 pm

After pre-season updates made the Jungle worse, Riot says ‘oops’ and promises to fix it

Riot’s dev team explains why the state of the jungle is so broken and how they plan on dealing with it.
Aaron Mickunas
League of Legends Writer
Image via Riot Games

During the League of Legends pre-season, Riot made big changes to address some glaring issues within the Jungle. But it only made the situation worse.

In somewhat of a “My bad!” moment, Lead Champion Designer Andrei 'Meddler' van Roon explained what backfired with the jungler role. In his post, he comprehensively lists all of the reasons that the jungler might just be the most broken role in the game (sorry ADCs!).

The community has been complaining about the state of the jungler for a while now, but this is the first official answer we’ve seen from Riot on the matter. Riot said it very simply, and very directly in the Nexus post.

“We believe jungler influence over game outcome is too high.”

So what exactly is wrong with the jungler?

Impact

Perhaps the most significant issue with junglers before the pre-season was that farm-obsessed junglers became much too powerful. Monsters were too easy to kill relative to how great the rewards of gold and experience were. The dominant tactic for junglers became out-farming the enemy jungler, and whoever fell behind ended up hindering their team dramatically.

Back then, the rest of the team would attempt to help their jungler get ahead by getting an early kill on the enemy jungler, setting back their progress considerably. The team began to revolve around the jungler. This was a contradiction to how the jungler had been perceived in earlier seasons—as a supporting role designed to gank and help their teammates in lanes do well.

Riot wanted to fix that, so it lengthened spawn times on monster camps and made them harder to kill (but increased the rewards the camps give to compensate). The idea to push junglers to gank more than they farmed worked a little too well.

Not only are junglers ganking too much, but they also survive way too long. With new tools like the Honeyfruit plant and gaining health back with every smite, junglers just won’t die. They are able to farm more camps for more rewards and gank more lanes without losing enough health to warrant going back to base. This led to junglers gaining too much experience—with level advantages on lanes that they’ve never had before.

Game agency

The term “game agency” has been tossed around a lot lately. First, with the current feelings that ADCs are going through, and now, with junglers.

In a basic sense, the term “game agency” in this case is just another term for a role’s identity within the game. What purpose do they serve, and is it unique enough to feel important? The issue with ADCs right now is that they don’t feel important enough to the state of the game to have a unique identity (aside from being Lee Sin’s punching bag).

Junglers, however, have the opposite issue. Junglers and jungle champions have an identity, but it’s such a strong, outstanding identity that it overshadows the unique strengths and weaknesses of the other roles. They have too much raw power. It’s to the point that laners have become afraid of making moves on their lane opponents unless their jungler is preparing to gank, when normally they would only hold back if they knew they were outmatched.

This has something to do with the extreme rate at which junglers gank now, but combining that with the high sustainability, high damage items, and high level scaling makes for a frightening amount of power for one role to have.

Plans to reduce the overall power of the jungle have yet to be announced, but Riot did confirm that the plan is to knock the role down a few pegs.


So what can be done?

Well, Riot is taking responsibility for all the power it’s given the jungle role.

It is administering some short-term solutions, including lowering jungle experience rewards, cutting sustain across the board, and increasing the damage that jungle monsters deal.

Junglers won’t be able to live in the jungle for the first 10 minutes of the game without heading back to base, they won’t hit a huge power spike by leveling harder than laners can on jungle camps alone, and they won’t be able to gank quite as much.

These solutions likely aren’t the long-term solution. There will still be junglers that can clear the jungle faster, and we may just end up where we were before the pre-season—Farming Simulator: Jungle Edition. Farm-frenzy junglers could rise to the top, but luckily, it likely wouldn’t be quite as bad this time.

A long-term plan is in the works, and hopefully Riot maintains its clear and open communication as the situation progresses.