A (V)ery Big Problem
I was having a conversation with Kelsey Moser on Twitter (@karonmoser) during the LPL Series Match 2 between the currently undefeated QG and second place Snake eSports that acted as a catalyst to an observation I have made on some very weird decisions that QG have been making. I consider Ms Moser the foremost expert on the LPL, and I have only started to pay serious attention to the analysis of this league myself, and it was her observation that led me to this observation of this phenomenon.
V, the top laner for QG has only recently become a solid, reliable member of his team. Previous to this split, it could be argued that he has been a liability for the team, and susceptible to ganks and obtrusive pressure from enemy teams. I did not watch a whole lot of LPL in Summer 2015, so lets take a look at his statistics. During the season he had a 5.24KDA overall, with an average of 2.4 /2.2 /9.2. He has a 70% KPAR (Kill Participation) and a 14.7% KS (kill share). His 244 average CS (creep score) was achieved over 7 individual champions, with 31 games on Hecarim 16 and Maokai 15 combined (Gnar 5, Shen 4, Nautilus 2, Lulu 1, Irelia 1). QG finished with a 7-14-1 summer record with 28-16 overall win loss, loosing 2:3 to LGD in the Playoffs for Second place. They lost their Regional Worlds Qualifier to Invictus 0:3, and lost IEM to ESC EVER 2:3. Strong domestic results at a minimum, QG were a solid team that you couldn’t let your guard down against.
The meta during Summer 2015 season was very conducive to Tank/Utility tops who built tank/engage or zoning potential as a front line for their team, and provided engage or peel in the mid to late game. Top was in many cases an island that was allowed to farm and scale up. V's statistics support this, as a tank he rarely did enough damage to have many individual/gank kills, and CS was solo until rotations, team fights and roams. This would include lane swaps and double jungles – tops were usually left in the solo lane to farm. The following statistics will be in the following format (Banned:Games:Win:Loss). Picks for top were not as diverse and different as they are on the present patch: (feel free to skip this part if you don’t like statistics – I have included them for those who would like to see the numbers. Inferences are below)
- Ryze (also a mid pick) (168:28:15:13)
- Hecarim (76:93:51:42)
- Maokai (34:105:53:52)
- Gnar(13:87:47:40) (V played 5 games on Gnar, 4 wins)
- Nautilus (flex pick support or jungle, played by V twice, 1/1) (11:101:47:54).
The predominant Pick Ban process for V and QG was to default to either Maokai or Hecarim if one was not available as one was mostly being banned away. Both weren’t available for 13 games His win rate on Maokai Hecarim was 71%, while his win rate on the other champions combined was only 46%.
For comparison in Summer 2015 –
- Zzitai (IG) played 12 different champions, including Maokai (10) Fizz (6) and Shen (6) for an avg. KDA of 3/3/7 (rounded).
- Flandre (SS) played 10 champions in Gnar (10) Fizz (8) Hecarim (8) and Maokai (6) for 2.8/3/6.4 avg. KDA.
- Koro1 (EDG) played 9 champions including Maokai (7) Rumble (6) Shen (5) for 2.7/2.6/8.43 avg. KDA.
Cutting through the statistics (because sometimes they hurt my head too) we can surmise the following statements about V and QG in Summer 2015 –
- Hecarim Maokai were high priorities (70% of QG games) with high win rates (71% on QG), more so than any other team and top laner in the LPL.
- V played significantly less champions than other top laners in Summer 2015
- Picks and bans were focused on freeing up one of the 2 top picks for V.
- Other top lane picks were less effectual (46% win rate) and used much less (29% of QG games)
Most importantly, V had less Kills (2.4), less Deaths (2.2) and more Assists (9.2) on average across top laners in the LPL. This means that either ganks from Swift resulted in a kill during the laning phase, and that team fights were V’s strength for the team (this is not a comment on Swift’s ganking habits, but it seemed that Top was not a focus). If he wasn’t preparing/executing a gank or roaming with the team, he was playing reserved and passively in the lane, often not being able to go even in lane despite the sometimes limited jungle pressure Swift provided. The kits of the champions he frequented could keep him alive, but not necessarily build lane pressure, clear waves or kill pressure the top laner. He kept his deaths down, but kills weren’t up and pressure wasn’t being built in a positive way from the top lane to effect the rest of the map. Opposition teams seemed to have to slowly chip away at weakening top lane in whatever respect suited their own team composition. With the QG focus on allowing TnT (Peco) to influence the map from the bottom lane, and maybe find wins in the Mid lane with DoinB, perhaps V seemed the easiest path to push for enemy teams. When it comes to winning a game though, QG seemed to have usually built/scaled enough that when it was post laning phase they could push a victory, V continued to be a strength. This is evidenced by his still controlled KD, and his relatively high top lane Assists. QG seemed to work well around their front line, and have enough power to be able to use the Hecarim Maokai kits to push the map well. It worked to good effect based on team results, and while V didn’t seem to pick carry oriented champions like he did in the LPSL, he played to the boring base core of the meta, and played to its strengths.
Moving into this year, and Spring 2016 has QG utilizing a weird strategy that, while leaving them undefeated, has a concerning trend to it and seems to be ingrained into the entire Summer 2015 way of thinking. This is why I spent so much time researching and explaining the Summer 2015 trends and statistics. It has spawned a horrible love child that mixed with the current Top carry/pressure heavy meta, puts the entire game into a 15 minute stalemate. This season, V is still left in the solo lane to farm, and the jungle next to him has vision dispersed throughout to not only ensure that he is safe, but to assist Swift in assessing where the enemy jungler isn’t, so he can support the other two lanes (this hasn’t changed much). As laning comes to an end, the River is lit up, and wards tend not to move too far past this point at this stage of the game. At the 25-30 minute mark, QG seem to be able to build on the small advantages they have already taken, push their vision forward into the enemy jungle and extend that to a victory. It has left them undefeated. But it poses a huge problem for not only the future, but to their overall power plays.
Strategically, QG just want to be safe for a long while. Against Snake (who have been their best placed opponents to date), the current trend of double jungling to 4 man push the outside lane T1 tower seemed to take effect again, but QG allowed Snake to take their top T1, and they purposely did not take the bottom T1. This is despite the fact that they had 4 members in the bottom lane. Purposely, they were a tower behind. They weren’t being pressured off it; they decided to just stop. What does this do to the map? Why do this?
This is actually the smartest way to play to this stalemate/out-scale mid-late game by minimizing your own risks why maximizing your own opportunities to break the game open somewhere. Top lane has lost its T1. While this may seem inopportune, it is actually a boon that QG seem to quite enjoy. Top lane becomes the long lane if you choose to farm at the enemy top turret ready to push it in. V chooses to farm between his T2 and T1 and ignores pushing top lane in. His jungle is lit up like day, with at least 2 wards covering the key points between Gromp/Blue camp and the jungle entrance behind blue leading to mid Wolves and the brush adjacent to mid. Anyone who moves through the jungle to make a move on him is going to be caught out. The jungle exit nearest T2 is deeply visible, while there is minimal risk with the T1 exit because he has the whole lane to run away from a gank, and he isn’t going to be near his T1 without having support or knowledge close. If an enemy roam is caught, collapse is easier with that much vision, but other teams have most likely noticed this and stayed well away from the area because of the threat. Thus, the ability for enemy teams to create map pressure is severely diminished, as both Red and Blue jungles are considerably risky. This leaves V in a really relaxed place to farm, itemize and scale. He did this during Summer ’15 to great effect, and they have built on that for Spring ’16.
His champion selection this split is also very focused on support/utility/tank/engage. While only 10 games in, he has played Poppy (3) Nautilus (3) Tahm Kench (2). These are tanky utility supportive top laners that create large zones of CC and support protecting squishy backlines. Note, I am using these terms relative to the current trend of the meta on this patch, rather than the Summer ’15 term tank. His builds have been tanky in nature on these champions (not full tank) due to their CC abilities, and his use of them in being able to catch out, shut down and engage onto enemies. His CS is also considerably increased on Summer ’15 by nearly 40 CS a game on average, which further supports this notion of V wanting to be able to itemize and farm in relative ease. This makes ganking easier for Swift, as his champion selections have been either CC heavy (Rek’sai) or Bursty (Graves). The enemy in the top lane needs to push further into the lane to be effectual, and because they may as well be in the top lane (remember they need farm and time to scale) they are either being starved out or run huge risks being so far up in the lane.
The process of QG leaving a turret up in the duo lane also does them some huge favors. Having a short distance to turret, Peco and Mor (TnT TcT) are able to farm on even ground, allowing Peco to potentially push around the other duo, and forcing attention from the enemy jungler onto his lane. He is already a focus for QG, and has clearly been able to make this work as in Summer ’15, junglers had a tough time ganking tanky top laners who wont die. That leaves mid and bot susceptible. But this has not stopped him falling behind and taking control of the game. The addition of this scrub sub Uzi is a poetic fit for QG, who seem to appreciate their ADC to be self sufficient and self caring. Out plays are always welcome.
DoinB is also just doin his thing in midlane (if ever this is an opportunity to dad joke and play on words, I’m going to take it) playing Laners who either bully lane (LeBlanc, Kassadin to a degree) or control waves (Viktor Varus Lulu) through manipulation or zone control. They are safe, self sufficient, mostly farm heavy or farm capable, with plenty of burst or potential for a kill through a gank or solo. Playing safely on them is also not too much of an issue. As has been the trend, QG rotate mid toward the end of laning phase or they make a few good kills and put at much pressure on mid as they can. The importance of mid tower in League of Legends is incredibly important, and worthy of an article on its own (note to self).
This is a great strategy for the current QG mentality and focus, and they execute it really really well. It almost seems suicidal to purposely be a tower down, but they use it to its full advantage, and stagnate the enemy team from making and notable inroads towards pressuring the map and QG of objectives they want to keep. Its not a broken strategy, so there is no immediate need to fix it, despite a couple of shaky moments/periods during this season.
However. They have a large problem - and it comes down to an individual. It comes down to V. The proficiency and ability of the other players across the Rift are proven and consistent. They have done their job mostly very well for last and this split (the post worlds off season provides us with outliers that I don’t really want to consider when discussing the split) and provide the pushing power/map pressure that creates and extends win conditions. But V provides the team with the stability of a stale, stagnant lane that will consistently provide them a rock to scaffold their wins around. If you can weaken this rock, and take its strengths away, the scaffold begins to weaken and its ability to support what it is used to becomes diminished. Against QG, the 4 man tower push is the wrong strategy to employ, because they utilize it. Standard lanes may allow V to fall back to his strengths of just surviving and stagnating the lane, but perhaps not if it was targeted by the enemy team. Conversely, if DoinB or bot were somehow starved of what they are able to farm off the late game impact QG seem to have would be severely diminished. QG take little 1% victories across the map, and bide their time until they believe that these 1% victories have added up into a 20% victory for example and gives them the edge in a particular team fight or control of a particular objective.
Gaining objectives in the QG “safe” jungle could also be a counter to the stagnating, time biding ways that QG are currently employing. Making it paramount to cut vision in the jungle next to V could be a great way to plant your own and make plays around having that control. Snake did not manage this very well at all, as most wards in this jungle used their full expiry. QG continue to have vision their own way into the areas of the map they require control over. Planting your own aggressive vision and making strong, objective focused ganks on the QG mid lane and tower will severely diminish the ability for DoinB to allow his team to control the rest of the map. It may even be effectual to push in bottom tower, and make that the long lane. That way if QG rotate to put V bottom, you can rotate your duo lane to push in top or mid in an early game push that doesn’t allow QG to continue to do their work. But you cant over extend and push it too far, because QG will be able to hugely capitalize on mistakes teams make.
I dont even want to think about this strategy against a Korean team, let alone some of the LPL teams once they work out exactly what is going on...and what they are going to do to counter it. I feel it will be torn to pieces. Unless they can show something else - something different that they haven't shown yet.
V seems to be a catalyst that supports the continued strengths of QG to be able to win games. Stagnation seems to be the most effective way for them to win games based on their current strengths (i.e. there may be something that we are not aware that V or someone else can do I could be totally wrong for the future). They take a stranglehold on objectives important to them, and control their side of the map strongly. Breaking that grip and not allowing them build on slight advantages will be their undoing. This success is not long term strategical success and while it may be working in the short term, I hope they have a plan for when this bubble pops. V is a (V)ery big problem in this meta – whose problem he is still remains to be seen.
Many many thanks to http://lol.esportspedia.com/ for their continued support. Not only do they provide an excellent site with an excellent UI, but they attend to their Twitter account @lolesportspedia with efficiency and accuracy. I had an issue with a runtime error while researching this piece, and it was fixed extremely promptly and with courtesy. I will support the great work they do, and urge you to do so as well.
Also thanks to Kelsey Moser @karonmoser for having a conversation with a scrub about a topic she is very knowledgeable about.