Ants vs. Giants: How pr0lly planned for the biggest series of his career [Part One]
Going into this match, every analyst had a clear idea of who was going to win. H2k-Gaming, having a reinvigorated midlaner in Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook, were looking like the team people had hoped them to become when the roster was first announced. With ADC superstar Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou, laning virtuoso, in their bottom lane and the king of first blood, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski dictating early game pace from their jungle, this H2k squad looked like they could match any team in the world during the first fifteen minutes on the Summoner's Rift.
Still, no one thought this was enough to face Samsung Galaxy. Not only did the Korean squad have Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, a four year veteran who more than successfully roleswaped from mid to jungle, facing Jankos, but Ryu was matched in the middle lane against none other than Lee "Crown" Min-ho, mechanical monster, and quite possibly the best player between the two teams. Up to this point, the favorite is not clear between both teams. But where H2K had looked at best shaky during the whole tournament, Samsung Galaxy reigned supreme: Late game shotcalling. If the game ever reached thirty-five minutes without H2K sporting a colossal lead, they were expected to get sliced through as if they were made of butter. And the heat from the studio lights didn't help to stop this knife.
With all the odds against them, coach Neil "pr0lly" Hammad had a clear idea on how the match should be handled. They needed a really good plan if they were to take down the late game Goliath and, in one of the biggest upsets of League of Legends history, become the first western team ever to reach the finals of Worlds since Season 1. For starters, they needed to snowball, and they needed to snowball a lot. Luckily for H2K, if there is a western jungler that can run away with a game by securing early game snowball, that's Jankos. But this was not enough.
Even when a pick composition would probably have them achieving substantial gold advantages over Samsung Galaxy, they needed to turn those advantages into objectives, and turn those objectives into Nexus takedowns. They were faced with a conundrum. A pick comp has the highest potential for snowball, but a teamfight composition is much easier to pilot once the clock reaches 30:00. If you can reach your opponent and fight them, not as much of a gold difference is needed, since the lack of splitpushing prowess, poke and pick potential this teamfight composition usually carries is more than made up for in strong AOE crowd control and damage. Reaching your opponent, while not an easy task, requires less late game cohesion and knowledge than setting up picks around objectives. Coach PR0LLY chose, for the first game, a teamfight composition.
The purpose of this piece is only to breakdown the plan coming into the first game. We will find every core idea defining the whole series in the first draft, and covering all of the games would make for a monumentally long series.
In order for us to break this draft down, we first need to look at what the meta picks are that will most heavily influence it. There is no point in diving into the draft without a clear idea of what we are looking for. Here they are:
This might seem like a weird one, because one of Olaf's weaknesses is precisely how hard of a time he has engaging fights once the game reaches the later stages. This exact reason is why it is so important for H2K to draft Olaf for themselves. If you let the opposing team pick and build around the Olaf, and you are trying to play a teamfight composition, this problem just vanishes for them. Nothing makes Olaf happier than the entire enemy team closing the gap for him. When you consider H2K were looking to take the Kennen and the Zyra, Olaf's Ragnarok becomes too much to handle from an enemy perspective, and makes him a very valuable pick.
H2K needed to pick Zyra for reasons very similar to why they needed to pick Olaf. The dominant laning phase would not be that big of an issue for H2K's duo-lane, but her ultimate and roots are a very powerful counter engaging tool. For this reason, she becomes a very important pick that by no means can get into SSG hands.
Two reasons exist for controlling Poppy. Obviously, her ultimate is an incredible disruption against a Sivir composition, looking to run straight towards you. Even more, Olaf having high priority means that if H2K is to draft him, they need gankable sidelanes to work with (for more information on this, check out this in-depth Olaf breakdown), and Poppy taking an early recall and playing super safe can very quickly turn top into an ungankable lane, especially after the Poppy reaches level six, precisely when the Kennen gank potential is unleashed.
The Kennen pick is the last pick I'm choosing to define this match. His high AOE damage and crowd control not only make him ideal for such a composition, but no other meta top lanerfits into H2K's system as well as he does. High crowd control, flanking capability, heavy AOE damage and wave control to secure Olaf's ganks. The only pick coming close would be the Gnar, but AOE damage is way more important to get your mid game teamfights going. More than enough reason for Kennen to make it into the match-defining picks.
The Bench Riders
Match-defining picks don't need to be always picked or faced. You get to ban up to three, but how you chhose to pick and ban is what separates the good from the great. For this part of the article, we will get to see which champions are completely denied play, as well as why. Let's dive right into it:
- SSG start by banning Caitlyn, FORG1VEN's strongest pick. Banning the star player's best champion is a good and safe first call by Samsung, coming blindly into the match. It's the ban they are most sure about, so they start with it.
- H2K now chooses the Poppy ban. Sicne Poppy does not fit into their composition and is everything they are looking to avoid, the smartest thing to do is ban her. Personally, I think there is a deeper level to this decision. I think H2K purposefully ran a Jayce whenever possible in their quarterfinal matchup, and made sure to have him succeed in two out of the three games, not only because it worked well, but to have SSG ban him in semifinals.
- Samsung Galaxy completely takes the bait, and bans Jayce, who plays absolutely no role in the game PR0LLY is projecting. If you are SSG, and H2K wants to go into poke and objective control, you are more than happy to take that offer, no matter what they showed in their quarterfinal. Assuming H2K would show their real strategy there gives PR0LLY no credit as coach, and ends up totally forfeiting a key ban.
- PR0LLY now chooses to ban Jhin, achieving two different objectives with this. For starters, you take out a strong ADC option who can just lay down invisible slows and has an ultimate that makes it hard for you to run at the opposing team. But maybe the most important, definitely the most beautiful, reason for this ban is to shape Samsung's second and third picks into what H2K planned. This will be explained further in the second installment of this article.
- Syndra, as a last ban for the Koreans, is nothing special. Knowing you are either facing a pick comp or a teamfight one, the open Syndra can become detrimental very quickly. If you first pick it, you will most likely secure Ryze for Ryu and will possibly be facing a Nidalee/Ryze combo, losing in the process one of Ambition's best picks (the Nidalee) while simultaneously giving your opponent plenty of tools to make the desired snowball happen. If you first pick the Nidalee, H2K can still take Elise/Syndra, which has even more pick potential on your midlane. While it can be argued that if you are Samsung you want to make the early-game gravitate around mid lane as much as possible, this is still a solid ban.
6. Lastly, Ryze is banned. Ryze is a teamfight monster, yet, for the purpose of the composition (rushing in with Sivir and fighting as much as possible), Viktor is a much scarier pick to face. His long-range laser combined with the Rylai's slow, the zone control provided by his W and ultimate and the fact that he is one of Crown's most comfortable picks, makes me think of him as more dangerous. Even more so, Olaf has almost no mid presence, and since you will often find the Viktor being pushed in when facing the Cassiopeia, Ambition's Nidalee becomes even scarier. This is by no means an easy ban to take, and deep consideration must be put into it.
It is not reasonable to ban the Nidalee. You want SSG to take Nidalee so you can have Olaf. I don't like banning Viktor either. Samsung would simply just pick the Ryze. Leaving both Viktor and Ryze open gives you a chance to get Ryze, which works much more in the benefit of your comp than the Cassiopeia pick, giving you another Olaf and Kennen delivery system and a fair amount of teamfight strength. While Ryze is still a very reasonable ban, I would argue that Rumble or Ekko have to be considered.
Trundle would be the most reasonable pick for SSG facing this composition, since by the time they pick their top lane, they know H2K is running only one tank and a Sivir composition. Fortunately for H2K, Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin has only one competitive Trundle game under his belt, and it's very unlikely that he will be playing it at Worlds Semifinals. However, Rumble and Ekko sit tied as CuVee's sixth most played champions in competitive going into this match. Both have strong AOE crowd control that works very well when counter engaging, but since CuVee has only won one game in his career as Rumble and this champion is easily gankable, the Rumble loses its ban priority.
There is, however, a good case to be made that Ekko should be banned. His AOE crowd control and ability to run from ganks might end up twisting the game against you. While some indications were present that the Ekko could end up being played, judging this after knowing the fact takes almost all the value from the idea. As Ekko appeared, so might have Rumble, or even Trundle, and if played at a good level, either of those champions would have both been more disruptive to H2K's comp. It cannot be ignored that, if Samsung Galaxy get both Ryze and Nidalee, against an Olaf in the jungle, they could very easily snowball the game from there and send H2K out of the game before it even starts. Even when Viktor is scarier than Ryze in the mid to late game, the opposite happens in the laning phase.
It must also be considered that, if Ryze is open and picked by Samsung, then the Ezreal becomes available for them as well, using the Nidalee/Ryze combo to get early game pressure that gives the Ezreal enough time to scale into the game. H2K does not want to see that happening. They would much rather face a low mobility SSG, where Kennen can exert more control over teamfights. All things considered, I think that the Ryze ban is the best possible one. While Ekko will make for worse top lane ganks, H2K's game plan doesn't place that much priority on top lane, so its not that big of a deal.
Who Got The Upper Hand?
Samsung addressed the ban phase in a very standard manner, with almost no previous planning showing through (banning Jayce is the perfect example of how little thought was put into the match). While both the Syndra ban and the Caitlyn ban were solid, they were both pretty much no-brainers. You definitely don't want FORG1VEN running away with a snowball on bot lane, and Syndra is perhaps the most standard of bans at this stage of the tournament.
Where they had their chance to shine was with the second ban, and they completely threw it out of the window. Of course, it is not reasonable for us to demand from Samsung a perfect read on the game plan and execute a ban as crazy as the Kennen, for example, but no effort was taken into addressing the incredible midlane mismatch. Had they chosen to, for example, ban the Vladimir, and seeing as the Aurelion Sol was not in Ryu's champion pool, H2K would most likely have to renounce the Jhin ban and instead ban the Syndra, or risk the whole of the earlygame gravitating around a Syndra versus Ryze midlane match, exactly the lane they want to desperately avoid. While this might look like a bad idea for SSG at first glance, as previously exposed, if H2K's strengths are taken into consideration, focusing your game around the mid lane might actually be the best game plan for the Koreans.
Taking all the previous points into consideration, it is clear that the H2K squad win the ban phase by a landslide, baiting SSG into a silly ban and correctly identifying the threats against their comp. Samsung got their asses kicked by H2K in the ban phase, even though, as we will explore in the second part of this piece, it was subtle enough that SSG didn't even notice this happening. Nothing short of beautiful by coach PR0LLY.
The second chapter be found here.
@Cabramaravilla is a freelance journalist and analyst.
Image credit goes to Yahoo esports, lolesports and redbull.com