Jan 22 2014 - 7:57 pm

The bold play that turned a young 'League of Legends' team into instant stars

High school football players stay up hours studying play books
Ferguson Mitchell
Dot Esports

High school football players stay up hours studying play books. They memorize strange words like Slants Out or Wildcat—running plays, passing plays, running plays that you can pass on, passing plays that you can run on—and that’s just for the offense. Tactical, coordinated movements are a key part of winning complex games like football, where 300-pound men are moved around like gargantuan chess pieces.

That same layer of complexity that makes football a joy for fans translates to competitive video game playing, or esports. With one major, and hugely entertaining difference.

Football and basketball and other traditional sports have been played in one form or another for more than a hundred years. New tactics are rare. And when new plays do come around, they tend to burn brightly before fizzling into just another play—the aforementioned Wildcat is a good example.

Wildcat features a snap directly to the runner, typically an athletic quarterback who can take a hit. This twist frees up one additional blocker by eliminating the hand-off, and in a numbers game like the NFL, one extra body to block can mean the difference between a two-yard gain and a touchdown. The play became all the rage after seeing some success in college games in 2009. But as defenses became more aware, and quarterbacks started getting injured, it's since been relegated back to it’s former place as a risky investment.

Esports have predefined plays, too. The big difference is that instead of new strategies coming out of a few hundred games every year, esports are played on a much larger scale—try thousands of games per day. Strategies are fed through the blender, and turnover happens on a weekly basis, rather than yearly. The best professional teams are able to incorporate new strategies one week, only to drop them for something new the next.

And sometimes, as with the Wildcat (which originally came to power in the late ‘90s), teams can bring ancient plays back to life with a shocking twist. This is the story of how one young and untested League of Legends team, ROCCAT, came out of nowhere to topple one of the best teams in the world—using a new take on an old favorite.

The Play

Team ROCCAT

In League of Legends, each player on a team of five chooses its own champion that they'll play during the match. There are a total of 117 to choose from, and choosing the right group of five champions is a major part of a game's strategy.

Among these 117 champions, one named Pantheon is unique. His signature ability (“ultimate”) is called Grand Skyfall, which allows him to leap within a very large range - roughly a third of the map. When used, he crashes down and deals a ton of damage to all enemies within striking distance. The ability has earned itself a lighthearted nickname, the Mandrop, for obvious reasons.

This greek-themed, spear-toting, armor-plated warrior is often considered more of a novelty champion than anything else. According to a well-known League stats database, Pantheon is only played in 6-8 percent of games.

Why? Pantheon is very easy to counter. His descent during these Mandrops is marked with a visible circle that opponents can easily avoid if they prepare and react quickly. Many in the League community consider him sub-par because of this glaring weakness. So Pantheon sees very little play in the top tournaments.

But it’s this exact kind of oversight that ROCCAT abused last week to dominate in their professional debut against rival team Supa Hot Crew XD. The setting? The first week of the biggest league tournament in all of esports, the League Championship Series, or LCS.

The Set Up

The end of the selction phase. ROCCAT has just chosen Pantheon (bottom right).

Before each League match, players on both teams take turns choosing which champions they will be playing. This turns into a mini-game of sorts, in which the first team to pick gets the broadest selection, while the other team gets the benefit of the last pick  the only pick that allows you to pick a champion without any rebuttal or counterpick.

Often, this pick will be used to select the mid-laner’s champion, often a very contentious pick that is heavily affected by counterpicks. The mid-laner plays in the center of the map and is one of the primary damage dealers for his team. His ability to stay alive during large fights can swing the fight heavily in his team’s favor—so champions that can isolate him and remove him from battle are highly sought.

As the team with the last pick, ROCCAT began planning for the best plan of attack. Their top-laner, Marcin "Xaxus" Mączka, lays out their thinking: “We predicted that [Supa Hot Crew] would pick a utility-based AP Mid, which is counterable with Pantheon.” AP Mid is League-speak for a spellcaster that can both deal a lot of damage and control the movement of enemies, either through stuns that prevent them from moving or spells that move them into places they don’t want to be.

As the picks rolled in, one thing was clear  ROCCAT didn’t want to tip their hand. Supa Hot Crew shortly proved Roccat's assumption was right, selecting barrel-tossing champion Gragas, a very popular utility-based AP Mid. ROCCAT waited until the very last minute to lock in Pantheon, and the crowd immediately responded with cheers. Pantheon hasn’t been seen in the LCS since August.

One other factor went into the team’s decision to use the long-forgotten strategy. Mączka ended up having the perfect champion to complement Pantheon, the monolithic Malphite. Malphite’s ability is a charge that knocks enemies into the air when it strikes, preventing them from moving. Combined with Pantheon's ability to teleport in and deal huge amounts of damage, ROCCAT had all the tools they needed to swing the game in one crucial play.

The Execution

 

A stylized image of Pantheon. Via Riot/League of Legends

Early on in the game, ROCCAT was put on its heels. In his debut match, the young Supa Hot Crew marksman, Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinneholm dominated. A marksman’s main goal is to get as much money and experience as possible in the early game so they can be deadly wrecking balls in the late game. He got an early double kill, and along with it, a substantial gold and experience lead. If left unchecked, he would have no problems carrying his team to victory. As the game wore on, the two teams evened out, but even 20 minutes in—about halfway through your average League match—neither had a definite lead.

Mączka details the state of the game: “It all started with a Pantheon rotation to the bottom lane. We decided that he could split push and Lucian/Thresh will defend tower at mid.”

Translation: Pantheon would go assault a far-off enemy position while most of the rest of the team would play defense in the middle of the map.

Mączka: “SHC’s answer for that was sending all 5 men at mid to push the very low HP turret since they had good champions to siege.”

Translation: “Supa Hot Crew decided to do an all-out combined assault on the middle of the map, a weak point for ROCCAT.”

Mączka: “We reacted in time and didn’t give them opportunity to execute their plan. I moved after Renekton to mid and, at same time, Overpow took position to cast his ult."

Translation: “Our team defended well at the middle, which gave me and teammate Remigiusz "Overpow" Pusch (on Pantheon) time to set up the play. I moved in, ready to use my Malphite ultimate ability to set up for Pusch’s Grand Skyfall. Combined with my stun, the move has a much higher chance of striking the enemy team - and with the whole team grouped up, it was sure to do tons of damage.”

Mączka: “It ended up being slaughter.”

Translation unnecessary.

Take a look at the play for yourself. Mączka, on the red team’s rocky Malphite, wanders in from just above the blue team, and a combined assault with Pusch and the rest of ROCCAT send Supa Hot Crew’s health bars plummeting. Jump to 4:11:25 to watch, or check out the GIFs below.

At the end of the brutal skirmish, four members of Supa Hot Crew lay dead at the feet of ROCCAT. With a definite power play opportunity (it takes about half a minute for dead players to come back to life), ROCCAT went on to take out multiple objectives across the map, and played out the rest of the game in dominant fashion.

Aftermath

The win quickly shot ROCCAT into the spotlight - not only was it decisive, but the use of such a rare strategy instantly set a new standard for the 2014 season of LCS. The rest of the week went well for ROCCAT, as they ended up with two more victories and a single loss. The team currently sits in third place in Europe, a fantastic effort for a team little had heard about just a month ago.

As for the Mandrop, Mączka expresses a hesitance to use it again.

“It may be not that effective for a second time, since there won’t be that surprise effect - OMG THEY PICKED PANTHEON! But if we decide that will be best, then why not?”

Image via Riot/League of Legends

Jan 21 2017 - 10:20 pm

G2 Esports and H2k-Gaming on top after EU LCS opening weekend

Last year's top teams haven't missed a beat.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Riot Games

G2 Esports and H2k-Gaming picked up exactly where they left off as the 2017 European LCS season got underway.

Both G2 and H2k, who had the most championship points in Europe in 2016, won both of their first two matches of the 2017 Spring Split as they look to win out in their respective groups.

In the biggest match of the weekend on paper, G2 beat Fnatic 2-1 in a thrilling series to the delight of the crowd in the LCS studio. The first game was a cagey affair, with G2 securing all of the objectives and getting a relatively comfortable win, but the second game was far closer.

The game was level for most of the first thirty minutes, until Fnatic managed to take Baron. From there the team's advantage slowly developed despite G2's best efforts. Fnatic broke down G2's defences and left the Nexus exposed, before this daring flash play let Fnatic in the backdoor to win the game.

Fired up by the audacious play, G2 Esports fired back in game three. Though Fnatic were able to secure more kills than G2, 20-14, G2 once again took almost all of the objectives. They wore down Fnatic with repeated attacks on the Nexus until Fnatic could no longer withstand the pressure.

G2 also defeated Roccat 2-0, finishing the week top of Group A.

H2k-Gaming went just one better than G2 in Group B—not only did they win both of their initial matches, they also did without dropping a game. The 2016 World Championship semifinalists defeated Origen in the first game of the season, before knocking off fellow World Championship competitors Splyce.

Misfits and Unicorns of Love were the only other victorious sides on the opening weekend, over Giants Gaming and Vitality respectively.

Today - 8:57 am

Cloud9 and FlyQuest soar in NA LCS openers

After a weekend of exciting games, two teams remain undefeated.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Riot Games

Cloud9 and FlyQuest found themselves on top of the NA LCS heap after the first weekend of play of 2017.

Cloud9, who dispatched TSM on the opening day in convincing fashion, secured a second win over Team Dignitas on day three.

The match was a close affair, impressing many fans who were unsure what to make of the new Dignitas lineup. Cloud were able to record a 2-1 victory with Dignitas winning game two in just 33 minutes, showing that this may well be a match we see down the road in the post-season.

Dignitas did manage to pick up a win on their return to the LCS, knocking off Pheonix1 2-1.

Cloud9's former sister team, now known as FlyQuest, turned heads on their debut with a pair of strong wins. After beating EnVyUs on day two, they faced a team who have made four playoffs in a row—Team Liquid.

It looked like experience would count for Liquid after they took FlyQuest apart in game one, but the rookie side rallied hard. After levelling the series, FlyQuest took the third game in a lightning fast 25 minutes. In the final two games they kept Liquid to just six kills in each.

TSM rebounded from their loss to Cloud9 with a thrilling victory over Immortals. After two gruelling 50+ minute games, in which both teams topped 90,000 gold, the teams were locked at 1-1. Game three saw a much more assured TSM performance, cleaning up the objectives and taking a decisive win inside 40 minutes.

Counter Logic Gaming also opened their account for 2017, winning against EnVyUs 2-0. That loss and the loss to FlyQuest leaves EnVyUs struggling at the bottom of the table alongside Echo Fox, who were unsuccessful against both Pheonix1 and Immortals.