An Elementary Analysis – The Passive Problem
The Spring Split has not been kind to the EU LCS former champions. With team morale at a reported all time low and increasingly lacklustre performances, it was only a matter of time before the team made a substantial change. The problem for Elements was that it had a fairly solid roster; no single player in isolation was so subpar that seeking a replacement would be a massive improvement or indeed shore up the teams’ weaknesses. Of the five players, the two most obvious candidates for replacement were Wickd and Nyph, the two most critiqued players of the squad. It was unsurprising to many then that Kevin "kev1n" Rubiszewski was announced as the replacement for Mike "Wickd" Petersen. After all Wickd has been historically criticised on the basis of his small champion pool and at time dubious decision making. Management cited the decision was based on a lack of team cohesion, with too many opinions on the team and Wickd being a major contributor to this problem.
As such for what the team is looking for, kev1n makes a lot of sense. He has a larger champion pool and a mellower more team orientated personality. However can kev1n help patch up the core problems of the team? Since the inception of Alliance the team has had mechanically gifted players and yet very obvious weaknesses. The team’s success was in some ways it’s unmaking this season, failing to make any substantial roster changes the rebranded Elements was if anything an even more polarised version of Alliance. Now one can’t read anything about the team without every other comment featuring the word passive.
The Problem with Passive
First off the word passive has become a community buzzword. It’s thrown around a lot but says very little. For the longest time the word passive has haunted the career of team captain Froggen. His classically farm orientated, mistake punishing play style has always been criticised for being ‘passive’ in nature. However these criticisms are as unfair as they are outdated. Look at any recent success for the squad and you will see Froggen at its core. Not just as a stable, consistent long range force but as a genuine play maker. At the heart of Elements lies its greatest strength, a multi-faceted and extremely talented mid laner. Capable of making key picks, garnering advantages in lane and carrying huge game impact, Froggen brings more than enough to make a good team great.
However when too much stress is placed on the body, the heart will inevitably suffer. When the team was conceptualised it was to be a ‘super team’ built around Froggen. In essence then what was needed was a team that complimented his play-style, facilitating his strengths. Instead however a squad was picked that exaggerated the flaws of his original play style. In place of picking strong, decisive players the team was mechanically strong, but largely reactive and got by merely waiting for the enemy to make a mistake and then capitalising. Alliance’s ability to do this was impressive, the skill ceiling of the team was in theory extremely high but stylistically they never found a true niche, they couldn’t forge a truly effective style that they could then impose on their enemies.
As such against greater international teams, if Alliance opted to play a slower farm game, they opened themselves up to easy counter play. An example of this is the first Alliance vs Cloud 9 game at worlds where by playing passively, that is reactively, they allowed Cloud 9 to dictate the flow of the game and beat them, whilst barely fighting, with objective play.
Inherently this will always be the weakness of a team that fails to make moves, you essentially relinquish control of the game and if your opposition is remotely good strategically, you’re putting yourself in a position where they have to give you the option to win, or you have to make a massive reactionary outplay. As prior discussed Elements failed really to make any substantial moves even in player acquisition in the pre-season. The addition of Rekkles, a more farm-orientated and positional ADC farther exaggerated the weaknesses of the team. Already the new addition has taken a lot of heat from the community for being a passive player, and whilst there is some truth to the criticism, the problems of the team do not fall on him. Whilst Tabzz was in truth more of a play making ADC and did alleviate some weight from Froggen’s shoulders, he did not gel or mesh well with the team outside of the game and this is an important issue. Could Elements have got a better ADC than Rekkles? Maybe if they gambled on Forg1ven but he’s proven to be a controversial figure, whom whilst on paper would cover up some of the stylistic weaknesses of the team may have exasperated the team atmosphere. Rekkles was the smarter option, especially without the benefit of hindsight.
The Missing Elements
Is playing for the late game bad? The short answer to this question is no. Many teams have had success with a more late game orientated style; CLG.EU and Samsung Blue come to mind. However this is a style that needs perfecting. In the modern game you need either phenomenal team fighting, good macro strategy or ideally both. If you cannot play the map properly and make sure you can effectively nullify early moves from your opponents, or at least trade objectives, you are at constant risk of losing before you scale and being snowballed into an early defeat.
Likewise if you can’t consistently outfight your opponents, even when it comes to the late game, then what’s the point at all? So where is Elements lacking? In honesty they have issues in both.
Elements leave the opponents an early window to do whatever they like and we frequently have seen it exploited this split. They play measured lanes and rely entirely on their jungler Shook for any early game moves, Froggen to get ahead in lane and then hope that they just beat out their opponents. As we saw in the Spring Split of 2014, the team was unable to rise to power until the Meta shifted away from lane swaps and towards traditional lanes. The team has always been capable but strategically they are extremely shallow.
Meanwhile whilst there team fighting is fairly solid; they’ve always had a problem forcing the issue. There’s clearly no strong shot calling presence, nor a natural primary engager.
Shook is a more instinctual and risky player and in his own way a great asset to the team. However whilst he is capable of crafting a strong early game for his entire team, exemplified by some truly world class Lee Sin play versus Najin White Shield.
This is the potential upside of Shook at his best. However usually, the Elements jungler is much less impactful and occasionally makes few moves at all. Unlike many of the other players he lacks consistency which makes him a poor candidate for the primary engager but he has a killer instinct that some of his teammates sorely lack.
The responsibility then it seemed trickled down to the support player, Nyph. Having seen his recent Leona performances, I am less sceptical about Nyph than I was. He is capable and landed quite a few good ultimates. However he has always traditionally been a true support player, favouring champions like Janna and assisting his carry and his team with utility. Whether or not he can be forged into a shot-calling initiator remains to be seen but seeing how many of his ultimates were not followed upon, I worry if he has the right character to become a truly great playmaking support. Or indeed if he has the leadership qualities and game sense to shot-call for what should be a top tier European team. I feel like with Nyph; Elements may be trying too hard, like a child forcing a circle through a square hole in those puzzle toys. Yet he seems to have a great personality and a team spirit and perhaps he will in time be able to shot call effectively.
The pick ban of the team has been extremely questionable and why they prioritise Graves so highly boggles the mind. Yes the champion is very strong and can be effective at any point in the game, but he’s a play making champion and excels in early snowball and impacting the mid game. If you want to play a slow measured style, pick something that scales harder and relies more on the strengths of Rekkles, his positioning.
Froggen and Shook have shown an increased synergy and have had success on pairing a hard CC mid laner with an aggressive burst jungler. That is namely, Lissandra and Rengar. Giving both these players the ability to get into a team fight is also a good idea as the more aggressive members of the team. They could also try Shook on Nidalee, a guaranteed spear into execute gives her similar gank strength if she follows CC in the mid lane to Rengar. Shook’s mechanical ability should allow him to take full advantage of Nidalee’s kit and have a large impact early. All the while now being a multi-threat composition, they free up Rekkles to either go nuts on something like Vayne or support from afar (probably a better option) with something like Jinx, or hell if they want an early spike his Corki looked great at IEM.
Is kev1n then a good fit for Elements? I think on balance yes, he should be able to raise morale and work better holistically with the other members. He is as good and consistent a laner as Wickd and whilst his Irelia may be worse, he will be able to perform better on pretty much any other champion. Early in the season we saw Wickd on Gnar, a champion designed to win team fights single handed with a massively impactful ultimate, which Wickd decided not to use until about fifty minutes into their game vs Roccat and low and behold when he finally did get it off, they won. It should not be too difficult for kev1n to function better as an initiator if they decide to take the route, and take some pressure off of Nyph. Moreover if kev1n is able to contribute to shot calling that could also strengthen the team. However, whilst a potential upgrade to Wickd, kev1n is by no means a full solution of himself. He may facilitate Elements need to become a more dominant force in the European LCS but if they want to do well internationally they need more.
Taking the Next Step
They need an analyst. Someone who understands the game on a macro level and can help dictate their pick and ban phase. This person must understand the intricacies of lane swaps and communicate effectively to the team how to respond correctly to early moves made by other teams. They must also help the team forge a style that works for them. Be that the traditional late game style they have favoured, or harnessing their mechanical strengths and becoming a team who values early objectives and team fighting. It is doubtful in my mind that an ex-DOTA coach is capable of all this. As such I think it would be well worth the team expending some money to get in a little extra help in this regard.
Failing this, if domestic performance does not improve I imagine we will see even more in the way of roster moves. If it comes to this, I think that another way Elements could potentially shore up its weaknesses is with an old face. Whatever you think of Krepo, whether or not he’s a mechanical downgrade to Nyph, whether or not he can be as consistent for the team, he brings two key things that the team as it was sorely lacked. Namely, a deeper understanding of the early game facilitating him to be an effective shot caller – he has experience shot calling and is very good at knowing what to do with a lead. His signature champions are tankier, higher impact supports like Leona, Thresh and Braum and he loves to engage, he's not afraid to die if it means his team take an advantage. His skill shots can be game changing and whilst he can look mediocre and underperform, any element of inconsistency he may bring to the Elements bot lane would be somewhat negated by Rekkles’ natural ability to stay farmed and relevant almost regardless of situation. His potential upside would also see Elements win more bot lanes as he is an aggressive player looking to take the advantage, giving the team more threats in the early game.