Oct 24 2014 - 9:04 pm

An LCS History of Alternate and Millenium - As Told by the Players

Today Millenium announced their Korean imports and final roster for the expansion tournament. For a while it seemedAlex Ich, Impaler, and Kasing were joining the team, but things didn't pan out. Instead, we have the following.
Dot Esports

Today Millenium announced their Korean imports and final roster for the expansion tournament. For a while it seemed Alex Ich, Impaler, and Kasing were joining the team, but things didn't pan out. Instead, we have the following.

- Kev1n (Top)
- Horo (Jungle)
- Ryu (Mid)
- Creaton (Adc)
- Jree (Support)

With the World Championship over, the scene and community are eagerly preparing for the NA and EU expansion tournaments. Millenium is easily the most storied of their rivals after three seasons in the LCS. But what is this Millenium story?

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The games of the European LCS are broadcast to millions, but even so few really know the players behind keyboard and mouse. What are their strengths? What flaws do they fight in and out of game? Here's a chance to finally read about these things, told in detail through player interviews. Current support Alexander "Jree" Bergström, former jungler Alvar "Araneae" Martin Aleñar, and EU veteran Ram "Brokenshard" Djemal all contributed to this article.

For me the author, Millenium is the heart-breaker of the European LCS. They are the EU equivalent of CLG and embodiment of failed "potential". In what is now two summer seasons, they've made rumblings as one of the best teams in Europe, only to fail when it matters most. Most recently they lost a relegation match to Unicorns of Love, going from 2-0 to 2-3. We now see a team on the brink, fighting for one last chance in the expansion tournament.

This team has twice now fallen from grace. What happened? How did they recover, and can they do it again? This is a story of both the game and the people who play it.

Giant Slayers and Giant Layoffs

ALTERNATE emerged from the Challenger scene in mid-2013 as a team with big hype. They were only seeded second, having lost to the even more highly-regarded MYM, but things looked good nonetheless. While Alternate had tried (and failed) to get into the Spring season, they had just acquired a new ADC in Creaton, and rumor had it he was perhaps the greatest one in all of Europe.

The opposing GIANTS had taken down ALTERNATE during the last LCS qualifier, but had a weak season. Many considered them ripe for the picking.

The match did not initially play out that way. ALTERNATE opened the series 0-2, and the third game appeared to be much of the same. Desperate and down 9k gold, Araneae went for a sloppy engage from the Baron area. It failed, but with victory in their eyes the advancing GIANTS funneled right into a choke.

The play was so dramatic it got its own name: the "3000 Elo Shockwave." Layered on top of a Rumble Equalizer, it set the stage for Creaton to clean up the fight on his signature Ezreal. It is arguably the greatest "wombo combo" seen in competitive play, especially given the circumstances. ALTERNATE would go on to win the game and eventually 3-2 the GIANTS.

In the LCS 2013 Summer Season, ALTERNATE rocketed out to a 5-0 start and 1st place. They would later drop games, especially when WhiteKnight108 substituted for three weeks in two different positions, but never dropped below second place until the final week. All changed when an abrupt 0-5 run in that final week ended things in disaster. ALTERNATE fell into the chaos of the EU tiebreakers, and eventually emerged as only sixth place.

In the playoffs, they fell to EG 1-2, who would fall to Fnatic 0-2 but almost squeeze past Gambit 1-2 for the last Worlds spot. ALTERNATE themselves would beat NiP 2-1 for the 5th place to stay out of relegation. Not quite the worst outcome, but definitely not one worthy of their dominance during the season.

Stories started to come out. Mid laner Forellenlord, for reasons he's never shared publicly, took a vacation for a week in the middle of the season and was never quite the same. Creaton broke his hand and struggled to regain his form. These events are true, and certainly explain a slump, but what happened in game? Are we missing something?

The Men of the Mid Lane and the Spring Slump

Who is Forellenlord anyway? The name is a faint echo today, but he had the highest ELO in the world (3030) at the end of the season 2. There are differing views on what made him great.

altForellenlord and Sjokz in 2013.

“Forellenlord as a laner was never really standout. Even in solo queue his laning was really weak. What actually won him most games and why he got so much ELO – hence the name “ELO-Lord” – was his ability to roam and make plays on the map, using champions like Ahri, Nidalee, and Lissandra.

I think he was one of the first people who did the mid Nidalee with Athene’s [Unholy Grail], and what he did was farm until level 6 and just start making plays on the map, roaming, poking lanes and getting advantages on different sides. That’s kind of the way he played; he played team fighting champions. Regardless of how poor his laning was compared to the other mids, his team fighting was quite good, so that was why the assassins never really favored him or the other way around.”

- Brokenshard

“I think he was really good, actually tremendously godlike on one or two champions. When we first tried to qualify and failed he was playing Twisted Fate, Ahri, and Orianna on a perfect level. He was the best or one of the best on those three champions in Europe. The main problem was he put so much effort and played so many games that after he took his 10-day vacation he was never the same.

He planned that vacation a long time ago with his real-life friends. We tried to change his mind, but he was really stubborn and went anyway.  I think that if he had maintained his level he would have been a super good player.”

- Araneae

To balance these perspectives on Forellenlord’s laning phase, observe that two of his preferred picks were Twisted Fate and Nidalee. Picking either champion by default pushes any mid player towards a passive lane and emphasis on ganking.

Both agree on his preference for team fighting on mages. Regardless of Forellenlord being held back by loyalty to his friends, his ideal champion pool is consistent with ALTERNATE’s trajectory during the season. In the beginning, both the team and Forellenlord got to play their comfort picks and win 5v5.  Later though, the meta evolved towards crazy-snowballing assassins and split-pushing play that didn’t really fit Forellenlord.

This isn’t a straight up criticism of Forellenlord. In fact, his focus on team fighting fit ALTERNATE much better than they realized at the time.

After the season ended the team made two roster changes and eventually moved to Millenium. Kerp moved to replace Forellenlord at mid, and Kevin was recruited for the top lane. The new team scored a victory over CLG at the pre-season Battle of the Atlantic, but the transitioning into the new team and organization was tough on multiple levels.

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Doublelift about to eat a full Syndra combo after jumping in.

“After season 3 we changed the roster, went to BotA, played against CLG and won that pretty easily. The biggest problem was that we didn't have any place to stay, like a gaming house until halfway through the season.  We were just running around in Cologne from hotel to hotel and went to the studio to play every day.

Lemondogs did that [in Season 3], but [the ESL studio] was the middle of the city and much closer. We had to take the tram every day for half an hour. The studio would close at 10 every day so we would arrive at 11 every day, play some solo queue then scrim but there was nothing around it. There was only an IKEA where we could go and eat. Then we had to leave at ten so we could never stay longer to play more solo queue or anything like that.”

- Jree

All teams benefit from regular solo queue practice. Most LCS players get in three hours or so after scrims end for the night. ALTERNATE/Millenium in particular featured players who got their skill grinding their way to the top of the ladder.

Let’s talk about Kerp. Kerp is one of the last high-profile players (along with Voyboy) to attempt a role swap. Like his American counterpart, Kerp was a top laner praised for both aggression and diversity. Kerp’s play style on moving to mid however was not diverse and definitely did not mirror Forellenlord’s. Kerp stood out on in his first season on Fizz, Ziggs, and Leblanc. These are champions meant to win lane and duels. Ziggs has some control to his kit, but on the whole these champions are not as strong for kiting and dictating team fights in the way that Orianna or Lissandra are.

In fact, we’re going to take a moment here and point out that Kerp never played Orianna in either regular season. It’s inconceivable (to me) that Orianna was never a good pick.

“Orianna was considered a top priority pick. Maybe not top priority pick but incredibly high priority pick in both those splits.

Since they transfer to Kerp, their peeling hasn't necessarily been as good which is why you've never really seen Creaton succeed on champions such as Kog’Maw or Jinx while he's very heavily favored on Ezreal or Lucian.”

- Brokenshard

Did Kerp ever try to play Orianna?

“Kerp didn’t like playing Orianna. That was pretty much it.

Even though Kerp was really good, and could play whatever champion he wanted, he tended to pick champions to be strong in lane. He was picking champions like Leblanc, like Gragas, like Fizz, champions that can actually kill 1v1. He was not really playing Orianna or Kassadin, champions to team fight, not because he didn’t trust his teammates but he really tried to outplay the enemy every single game. He tended to not play team fight champions because of that.

It was pretty much the same for top lane. Kevin was trying to get a good matchup instead of a good champion for the team fight. So at some point pretty much every single lane was trying to pick for themselves to not lose lane and be strong in lane, instead of picking a good comp to team fight with. So at the start of Season 4, we’d be winning every single early game, but in every single team fight we’d be losing because their team composition was just overall better than ours. We didn’t really focus on team comps.”

- Araneae

Jree’s play style also changed for Millenium. In Season 3, he played mostly peel-oriented supports such as Nami and Fiddlesticks. This defensive mindset was replaced with Leona and Annie, but Jree says that this change was just part of following the meta and not part of their problems.

altLeona was Jree's most picked champion in both 2014 seasons, but his Summer was far more successful.

“Most of the time I got forced into playing Leona so that we would have a team fight comp. People just picked for strong lanes then we could hopefully snowball. I was on Leona or Thresh or some champion to engage.

We always had that hard engage but we were too afraid to actually dive in certain situations where we could have. We lost so many games [early on] that we were afraid to do plays and it showed. In Season 3 when we won every game we would dive no matter what. It was in our heads that were afraid to do big plays.”

- Jree

Millenium would later adopt a more conscious drafting approach in the Summer Season with Kottenx. Kerp did attempt to swallow his pride and diversify, but how come we never saw his Orianna?

“Kerp has this mentality that he always wants to carry. He never liked those supportive mid lanes like Lulu or Orianna. He could play [Orianna] but he always said he felt so useless.

We tried to do it in scrims but it never really worked for us. We tried to play Orianna mid and stuff like that but it never worked so that's why we always went back to the same play style playing pick comps. It doesn't help to force someone onto a champion they don't want to play. It just goes poorly.”

It’s hard to completely change your style in four or five days that you have between LCS days. I mean you can always try but some things you have to change slowly.”

- Jree

Millenium bears a lot of similarity in Summer 2014 to the old Coast team of the NA LCS. It’s one thing to be aware of a flaw and another to be capable of fixing it. I have no doubt that Coast also worked on some diverse strategies in scrims (aka not Zionspartan split push). The problem is that if these adaptations don’t work for two days or a week, can the team continue to justify the effort?

Low and mid-tier LCS teams that are fighting for a playoffs berth become trapped in focusing on short-term wins and refining one or two strategies. They don’t have the luxury of losing a few while focusing on long-term improvement. There’s not enough time for them to fix fundamental flaws, so they play the compositions that hide them and hope for the best.

We should also remember their early difficulties in getting a new house in the Spring Season. The Millenium of Spring 2014 might not have done much planning, but even so reductions in already limited practice time hit hard. It makes you wonder at what Gambit managed to achieve.

The Jungle and its Monsters (of Solo Queue)

Moving our narrative to the jungle, we see that a big element of ALTERNATE’s initial success was Araneae. The early weeks were marked by consistent first blood for the veteran jungler. How did he get this edge?

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Araneae at the Battle of the Atlantic in early 2014.

“I was ahead of a couple junglers.  A lot of junglers had a really normal jungle path, so yeah I did study how they played and what was their jungle path. It was actually pretty easy. The only one I had more trouble with was always Diamondprox, who had always been a bit different to me. In terms of skill level, I don’t think I was ahead, but I was in terms of deciding what champion to play. People were just stuck on playing the champions Diamondprox was playing. He was playing Volibear, he was playing Nasus and everyone was playing those champions or Jarvan. I tried not to play those kinds of champions because the skill ceiling was so low that people can easily outplay you.

The only thing you had to do on those champions was wait for late game and wait for your team to carry. I tried to pick champions to carry my team and do my own playstyle, like Vi, Elise, and Lee Sin, or even Hecarim. These four champions, before I played them nobody else played them. Lee Sin was only played in Korea. Elise was only played by another Spanish guy called Morden. (Author’s note: NintendudeX baby!) Hecarim was only played in China, and Vi wasn’t played anywhere.

I was just trying to play different champions and I was actually pretty close to the future meta-game.”

- Araneae

When Araneae references “predictable jungle paths”, it’s important to remember that it was around this time that solo queue junglers on blue side began starting at their red buff instead of the blue buff. This created a predictable buff-buff-top 2v2 jungle pathing (at least in solo queue) that lasted for some time. Little wonder then that some junglers developed standardized movement from practicing against this trend.

Araneae’s vision for the jungle ended up making a large impact on some his rivals. Cyanide and Dexter in particular embraced this shift towards early game junglers and would go on to wow many at Worlds.

Araneae himself wasn’t so fortunate. His consistent first bloods started to swing to first deaths.  Araneae and Brokenshard both acknowledge that the other European junglers started to catch up, but the Spaniard explains some other issues as well.

“I think when Araneae started performing really poorly towards the end of the summer becaue people kind of started to understand his aggression and punish him for making these really aggressive plays.

They exploded at first because they had so much motivation to practice that they went completely overboard and found a perfect play style - ridiculous aggression in the very first few minutes of the game. I’m sure Araneae got first blood every single game in 5 minutes the first weeks of LCS. The difference between them and MYM was that their play style was a lot harder to figure out and a lot harder to counter. They only really started falling off when Forellenlord’s random break happened and Creaton got injured.”

- Brokenshard

“At the start of the season people... I'm not going to say they were bad but they weren't that good. At the start of the season people like Snoopeh didn't do well but at the end of the season he was actually fine. Same for junglers like Malunoo, Cyanide, and Dexter, like early in the season they weren't as good as they were by the end.

The problem was like at that time even if I played the most broken champion we wouldn't have been able to win that's how our team was playing really poorly in that time. Creaton and Forellenlord both had their slumps.”

- Araneae

Araneae felt incredibly free during the first weeks. He wouldn’t have that same feeling later in the season or in Spring 2014.

“The good thing in Season 3 was that at the start, every single lane didn't need help. I could pretty much roam alone. I didn't need to talk with my team. I could play like a solo queue game, let them do the laning phase. I was 100% sure that every lane was going to win or go even, so I didn't need to communicate. I could freely jungle and counter-jungle the enemy jungler, which was my strong point, and at some point I'd do one gank get a kill and we'd snowball.

The problem in Season 4 was that every lane was struggling. Kerp was good with some picks, but he was often getting ganked. Kevin would win some match ups, but would usually go even and our bot lane wasn't that good anymore.”

- Araneae

Before we move on, Jree confirms the team’s laning strength in Season 3 and elaborates on himself and Creaton over time.

“I just think that we played safe in lane [in Season 4] and didn't really try to make big plays. That’s reflected by the champion picks we had because I always had these champions like Leona [or Blitzcrank] that weren't the best in lane so we just tried to survive the lane at certain times.

In Season 3 we just played these hyper aggressive lanes with Nami Ezreal and stuff like that which could always win the lane. That's how we played in Season 3 - we just played 3 strong lanes and won the game.”

- Jree

Tidbit: Araneae’s KDA on Lee Sin over 8 games was 7.2. All others? Less than 3. (<3)

We now have a fairly good grasp on Araneae’s successes and failures. What about his replacement Kottenx? How did the two differ?

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Kottenx in the midst of battle.

“Old Alternate won their games through incredibly high aggression for the very first few minutes of the game. Kottenx… I wouldn't say he's not an aggressive player because in some ways he is, he's just a lot more calculated aggression rather than reckless aggression. It did mean that they weren’t going to snowball games immediately from the get go but it also meant that their risk of losing games in the very first few minutes of the game was gone. He was really good at creating picks for his team with Lee Sin and Kha’Zix.

I kind of feel letting Kottenx dictate the pace of the game is where their comfort lay.”

- Brokenshard

What does calculated aggression mean? Jree clarifies.

“Araneae is more of a team player.  He would always give up the extra jungle camp for his solo laners. Kottenx is more like a carry style jungler where he wants everything, to take all the kills and all that. The mindset coming into the games was more like let’s go ham with Kottenx because he plays a more carry style role.”

- Jree

So really, what Millenium needed was another selfish player. Creaton and Jree’s lane phase had become passive over time. Both the nature of top lane and his own tendencies meant that Kevin rarely got a big advantage either. Lastly, Araneae was selfless as well (Jree is a support and selfless by default).

That leaves Kerp as the sole selfish player on the team. That doesn’t work too well because teams have only one major threat to worry about early game. Kottenx wouldn’t use time on uncertain ganks for his side lanes the way Araneae would and instead farm. Teams now had to know Millenium’s jungler would be even or ahead on gold and consider shutting down the “carry” jungler.

A surprisingly good parallel is the Copenhagen Wolves of Spring 2014. CowTard and YoungBuck were often criticized for their passive laning, but it kind of worked because they had a “greedy” marksman and jungler in Forgiven and Amazing respectively. Again, we see that this “two threat” configuration can work. When he moved to TSM Amazing would find himself making sacrifices to accommodate the lane-dominant Dyrus and Bjergsen.

Entering a new Millenium

Get to the point – what conclusions can we draw today from this history? Well, let’s have a look at the Millenium roster for the expansion tournament. Again, it is:

  • Kev1n (Top)
  • Horo (Jungle)
  • Ryu (Mid)
  • Creaton (Adc)
  • Jree (Support)

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Ryu in 2013.

Our most relevant discussion may be our last one on the right number of selfish players for a team. Ryu is a veteran and probably capable of playing as greedy as the team needs him to be. But who's the second? My observation of Horo is as a relatively supportive and passive jungler, but for all we know he was shackled to SKT T1 S's turtling (ahem Easyhoon's Ziggs).

The men we save for last are perhaps the most important in the lineup. Regardless of Horo, I think that for Millenium to truly rise again Creaton and Jree have to play to win lane again. Can it be done? It's hard to say. Creaton has been hailed as the greatest marksman in Europe before, but his fall made him a passive laner. Creaton would eventually have some strong performances in Summer 2014, but few of them were really marked by the 2v2 dominance he and Jree started with.

Can Creaton become an aggressive laner again? For that matter, is Creaton even still good?

“I don't know. I definitely think that Creaton is very motivation-based and I feel that he's lost a lot of motivation considering everything that's happened.

I think that right now like that right now, Creaton isn't a point where anyone could consider him a top tier AD Carry. He was, and he's also fallen off before and come back, so maybe with a fresh start he could show his colors again.

He's come out of nowhere playing on Curse EU then playing on [S2/S3] Millenium he fell off. He came back in Alternate and then fell off a bit and then came back again in Millenium. When he's motivated and happy he plays really well.”

- Brokenshard

We’ll end with a memory of the Creaton that once was. Is the magic still there?

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Creaton's Iceborn Gauntlet IRL. Highlight reel here.

“Creaton in lane, he was applying so much pressure. He could 1v2 every bottom lane in the LCS, and he would win that 1v2.  He was seriously the best ADC I’ve played with or seen ever. He was a god in bottom lane. He could pick Ezreal, he could pick Vayne, and it didn’t matter – he could farm the same or more and then he’d carry every single game.

I have no words for how good Creaton was at that time. He was my best friend, he was the best player or one of the best players I’ve ever seen. When Creaton broke his hand he never came back. I think the angel behind Creaton just left him and he was never the same.”

Araneae

Thanks to Araneae, Jree, and Brokenshard for their time (links are to their Twitter handles). My own Twitter is @Abaxial_LoL. Thanks for reading!

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