Discussing Summoning Insight's Analysis of Team Gravity
On the last episode of Summoning Insight, Monte Cristo, Thorin, and Sneaky discussed Team Gravity, who currently sit at the top of the North American LCS. What followed was a good discussion of Gravity's strengths and weaknesses. The overall consensus seemed to suggest that while Gravity was on the top of the NA LCS, they would struggle in Best of 5 series due to their weaknesses.
I wanted to go over the points covered in the Summoning Insight discussion and provide further context into Gravity's strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully this article can shed some more light on GV's strengths and weaknesses. I don't necessarily disagree with Thorin/Monte/Sneaky's assessment of GV on Summoning Insight, in fact I agree with a lot of it. I agree that Gravity has several critical weaknesses, but I think that others have been misunderstood or misstated by the overall community. Overall, I predict that GV will win the NA LCS Regional Championship this year.
1. Gravity is a cheese team which will fall apart in a Bo5 series
One of the most common characterizations of Team Gravity is that they are a cheese team. The natural follow-up to this idea is that Gravity will be banned out in a Best of 5 and will be unable to win without their unexpected strategies.
Gravity's characterization of a cheese team is somewhat self-inflicted. In his interview with Travis, Bunny half joked that in a Bo5, Cop will have prepared 5 different cheeses. However, an inspection of Gravity's main champions suggest a different story. (Only including champions they have played twice so far.)
Hauntzer - Maokai, Hecarim, Rumble
Move - Nidalee, Rek'Sai, Vi, Gragas
Keane - Urgot, Jarvan IV, Orianna, Rumble
Altec - Sivir, Tristana, Jinx
Bunny - Thresh, Shen, Alistar, Braum
Even when including champions they've only played once, every single player on GV plays meta champions, save for Keane. Indeed, fans have always pointed to Keane as the source of Gravity's cheese. Similarly, he is the player that people often point to as the weak link on Gravity in a Best of 5, because he can be banned out. The issue with this characterization is that Keane's champions all effectively do the same thing. Urgot, Jarvan, Rumble, Hecarim, Malphite, Hecarim, and Fizz are all champions which allow Keane to engage onto the other team's backline. (His other picks, Orianna, Azir, Kog'Maw, and TF, are all meta picks.)
When Azubu Blaze stood atop of Korea's standings, their star top laner Flame mostly played Ryze, Kennen, and Vladimir. These champions weren't in the top lane meta at the time, but they fit in perfectly with Blaze's strategy of freezing waves to let Flame carry in the late game. His champions all did the same basic thing - they were hyperscaling teamfight picks. Blaze wasn't a cheese team, they were as Monte called them, a "one-trick warhorse" that had one central off-meta strategy and executed it very well. This year's Gravity is nowhere near as dominant as Blaze was. However, they are similar to Blaze in that they use off-meta picks from one of their players (Keane) to repeatedly use the same strategy - hard engage from mid to counter the poke mid meta. This has worked well to the tune of Keane preventing over 6500 damage per game from enemy mid laners.
It's not a cheese strategy just because the champion is changing. When Keane picks and off-meta champion, Gravity basically does the same thing every game. Because Keane has so many picks he can engage with, opponents will have a hard time banning him out. Even if they do ban him out, he has shown proficiency this season on standard champions like Ori, Azir, and TF. Overall, I wouldn't characterize Keane as a cheese player, but as an anti-meta player. In addition, his ability to play anti-meta on so many champions (while showing off some strong standard play as a back-up) means that Gravity will have a hard time being banned out.
However, this is not to say that Gravity can't be exploited in champion select. Gravity is undefeated on red side, but has a losing record on the blue side. Fans have assumed that this is because Keane needs counter matchups, but Gravity's mid laner frequently will blind pick champions like Urgot. Instead, this is seemingly because Gravity is very reliant on picking certain champions with their first pick, and using flex strategies to get their laners winning matchups. On red side Gravity will frequently pick champions like Shen or Nautilus with their first pick to try and confuse their opponents. The strange thing is that Gravity's players have solid laning phases and usually don't need these counter-matchups. What happens is that without the ability to quickly grab two flex champions, Gravity will end up just picking poor compositions with no wave clear. One of their weaknesses has been a reluctance to first pick Sivir this split even though it's been Altec's best champion. Because they don't take advantage of the first pick, Gravity doesn't have great drafting on the Blue Side. The team has the tools needed for a diverse draft (flex picks, wide champion pools, strong play on meta champions) but haven't shown consistent drafing on Blue Side. If Gravity falters in a Best of 5, it will be because teams identify their key picks and stop Gravity from getting them. Banning out Keane is simply a fool's errand. Gravity should look to better identify priority first picks (Altec's Sivir, Hauntzer's Maokai, perhaps Shen) and use them. Otherwise, they should pick to go red side on their games because they are much more comfortable drafting from that position.
The other reason analysts aren't confident in Gravity is that they are unproven players without playoff success. It's important to note that the two most notable Best of 5s that Gravity has lost (promotions vs. CLG, Spring Split play-offs vs. TiP) they entered the series as overwhelming underdogs. (They also lost twice in a BoX series to Team8 in the Challenger Scene. At the time, they were also regarded as the underdogs.) Since then, they've made significant roster changes and have their remaining players have also matured and improved. However, the fact remains that Gravity is untested in a Best of 5. None of their players have shown in their careers before joining Gravity that they have the mental fortitude to succeed in the playoffs. This isn't to say that these players don't have what it takes - many rookie/2nd split players have gone on to do well in the playoffs. It's simply to say that their inexperience will remain a question mark until they prove themselves.
2. Gravity is too dependent on Altec
3. Gravity lacks individual talent
4. Gravity can't win games unless Keane goes off
This trio of discussion about Gravity all cover a similar topic - Gravity's lack of threats outside of Altec. Indeed, Altec is Gravity's primary damage dealer. In fact, Altec and Piglet are the only non-mid laners in the top 10 for damage dealt per minute, per OraclesElixir.com. (And FeniX, Piglet's mid laner, is in the top 10 as well. For Gravity, Altec stands alone in the top 10.) Gravity relying on their AD Carry to be their primary damage dealer is indeed a weakness in this meta, and they will suffer against opponents with better flanking capabilities. In addition, Altec has only played four champions this split - Sivir, Jinx, Vayne, and Tristana. Altec's time on Winterfox showed that he can play a wide variety of champions, but it'll be interesting to see if teams try and challenge Gravity by forcing Altec onto a lower damage pick. In addition, Altec has not played a single game of Kalista this split after going 0-2 on her in the Spring Split. Because Altec has shown proficiency on four strong carry threats, it'll be very difficult for teams to try and force him onto other champions. However, over a Best of 5, teams should explore forcing Altec off of his carry champions to challenge Gravity's other members to step up as the primary damage dealer.
But it's important to note that although Gravity does primarily rely on Altec to deal damage, they aren't lacking in other damage sources. Much like how FeniX on Team Liquid boasts a strong co-carry in Piglet, Altec has his own co-carry - top laner Hauntzer. For some reason, Hauntzer is rarely mentioned in discussions of Team Gravity's success, but he is quite possibly the team's second best player. Hauntzer has shown a strong ability to carry both through dealing damage and through utility. As of late, Gravity has practiced compositions with Hauntzer on tanks like Shen or Maokai in an attempt to make Keane the primary carry on Ori or Azir. These strategies have worked out well, but have had the effect of dragging down Hauntzer's damage statistics. In the middle of the season, when Gravity was still battling for a mid-tier playoff spot, Hauntzer led the entire top lane position in %damage dealt to champions, with a whopping 26% of his team's damage. Right now, Hauntzer is still top 3 in damage dealt to champions, behind only notable carry top laner Zionspartan and TDK's Seraph, who specializes in off-meta damage dealers like Vladimir or Irelia. In addition to his damage dealing abilities, Hauntzer has been one of the most underrated LCS players this split. His ability to alternate between playing safely and pushing advantages has been a huge help for a team which struggles in the lane swap and often sends him into 1v1 matchups with a disadvantage. His ability to switch between a carry top style and a supportive style have also added an important to Gravitys's play, which accounts for their unpredictable pick+ban phase. In Hauntzer, Altec has a powerful co-carry who is a top 2-3 player in his position.
At the same time, while Keane has stepped it up in the damage department in the last few weeks by showing off champions like Azir, Kog'Maw, and Orianna, the characterization of Keane as one of Gravity's primary damage-dealing carries is oftentimes outdated. In the Challenger Series, when Gravity didn't have Hauntzer or Altec, the team was indeed very dependent on Keane's performance. Cris was an inconsistent top laner and Impactful had a poor laning phase - Gravity would live or die by Keane's Orianna. The addition of Hauntzer and Cop helped alleviate the carry burden, but for most of the Spring Split Keane remained Gravity's main carry threat. It was only near the end of the Spring Split when the team began to focus on a top-lane carry from Hauntzer. This coincided with Keane's move towards an anti-carry playstyle, centered around his infamous Urgot, which he first brought out against Bjergsen to a shocking success. This season, Keane's role as an anti-carry for GV has continued. Keane's job is usually to bully his lane opponents while providing zone and engage tools in the teamfight. He has one of the lowest damage dealt to champions mark for his position in the LCS, but that's alright because also he takes the least farm out of all mid laners. Keane is an important team member because his low farm high threat style allows his teammates to receive the farm and resources they need to carry, but he is usually not one of Gravity's central damage dealers. Instead, he sacrifices his farm/resources to make sure his team gets going and instead focuses on bringing the opposing team's carries down to his level.
One other characterization of Gravity has been that they lack individual talent. This might be a remnant of their relatively lower standing last split or their origins from the Challenger scene, but Gravity actually boasts several of the region's best players. Last split, both Hauntzer and Bunny were already top 4 players in their positions in the league, and they have only further improved their gameplay. The additions of Altec and Move gave Gravity some more top players. It's difficult to rank Keane do to his strange style, and he definitely doesn't rank near the top of the league if we are measuring raw carry potential. However, Keane's style also means that he is never a liabity, and he almost always emerges from lane with signiifcant advantages over his opponents. Monte mentioned Team Liquid as a team which could overwhelm Gravity on the basis of individual talent. While Liquid is one of the most individually skilled teams in the league, a head-to-head comparison of both team's players doesn't leave Gravity lagging behind. One match-up fans might highlight is FeniX vs. Keane, but Keane's low econ anti-carry style should match up well against FeniX's lane bullying.
5. Gravity has strong macro gameplay
In a strange way, Gravity's macro strengths and weaknesses are the same as Saintvicious's best and worst traits. Gravity excels at vision control, objective teamfights, and taking advantage of mistakes. However, they struggle in lane swap situations and will frequently over-commit to fights or picks at the expense of towers.
Monte and Sneaky emphasized Gravity's ability to get vision and fight for objectives. These strengths date back to their days playing under the tutelage of Saintvicious. This central strategy of setting up vision to fight around objectives has been a central part of Team Gravity's identify ever since they were Curse Academy, as I detailed in this preview. Saintvicious would go out of his way to purchase Sightstone, even doing so on champions like Kha'Zix or Warwick. Keane, Saint, and Bunny would all buy the red sweeping trinket as soon as possible. With their information asymmetry, Gravity would pick off opponents around objectives and then immediately begin an uneven teamfight.
In Move, Gravity has found the perfect jungler to continue this strategy. Fans may joke about Move's ability to out-smite Saintvicious but his vision control is much more important. Not only does Move leads the NA LCS in wards placed for the jungle position, he is also the most prolific ward killing in the league, killing one ward every two minutes. In terms of vision, objective control, and setting up for teamfights, Gravity is far ahead of any other NA LCS on the macro portion of the game.
The team is very poor in lane swaps, and often enters the 10 minute mark with disadvantages on both of their main carries. As Hauntzer and Altec are unfortunately both side-lane players, Gravity's poor play in the lane swap have a particularly negative effect on the team. In addition, Gravity is also very lacking in tower rotations. Part of this comes from the team's tendency to over-commit to picks. For instance, against Team8 on Week 9, Gravity sent three players to dive the top tower and gave up a whopping four towers just for a single kill. Finally, Gravity will oftentimes commit to fights after one of their members was already picked off. Hauntzer, Keane, and Bunny all have a strong understanding of how to reach and immobilize the other team's backline, so these risky fights often work in Gravity's favor, but there is often no need to take these risks, and a more experienced team will be able to punish GV for their overeagerness.
6. Gravity's wins are based on the NA LCS's weakness
After covering Gravity's weaknesses, it seems like it's definitely possible for teams to defeat them. One of Monte's best points about Altec was that teams in NA are bad at flanking, so they are never able to get on him. NA has had some good flanking players, but three of them (Bunny, Keane, and Hauntzer) play on Team Gravity while the fourth (Saintvicious) retired from Team Gravity to coach a Challenger team. Outside of Gravity's trio, only Dignitas's Gamsu really excels at flanking. Against teams with a better understanding of using Teleport to flank, Gravity will have a hard time. The team usually will dive forward with all four of their other players, leaving Altec to fend for himself. Although Altec's positioning has been stellar in many of his fights, it'll be hard for him to play with no peel.
In addition, teams able to beat Gravity at vision will have an easy time. A lot of Gravity's strength comes from their ability to amass large information advantages over their opponents. Teams that are not playing from an information deficit will be able to avoid Gravity's devastating flanks. These same teams may be able to defeat Gravity by forcing a rotation based game and simply avoiding Gravity's attempts to teamfight. Finally, teams that are able to exploit Gravity's poor lane swapping to keep Hauntzer and Altec down permanently will shut off Gravity's main win condition - snowballing those two star players in teamfights. There's a clear recipe to defeating Gravity and these issues will cause problems internationally. In the NA playoffs however, it may be a different story.
The only team that really excels in the lane swap in NA is CLG, and they have struggled with their engages all season. If CLG steps up their teamfighting for the play-offs, they will be a tough match-up for Gravity because they already have the lane swap/rotational acumen to defeat them. CLG also has strong laners in the positions Gravity relies most heavily on. If CLG doesn't tilt in the play-offs, they have the tools to be one of Gravity's toughest opponents. If Cloud9 qualifies for the gauntlet and keeps improving, Gravity may have similar struggles against them because C9 have played a strong rotational game as of late. However, Hauntzer has run circles around Balls in the top lane so far this season, and Cloud9 has been a poor warding team all season.
Although Dignitas beat Gravity on Week 9 and has one of the best flanking players in Gamsu, it seemed like Gravity was trying out strategies. Keane's mid Rumble into the ranged Ahri caused him to fall behind by over 30 creeps, and Move's Vi was consistently unimpressive throughout the weekend, save for his Smite steals. Normally, Gravity should be able to overrun Dignitas with raw talent. I would consider Dig a somewhat dangerous matchup for Gravity but I don't think there is much of a chance for an upset because although Dignitas has the kind of players needed to counter Gravity, they seemingly lack the raw mechanical firepower needed to outgun them.
The remaining NA LCS play-off teams will probably have a very hard time against Gravity. Like Gravity, Team Impulse heavily relies on a brawling strategy, but they're poor warding means that Gravity will hold all the cards - especially if Adrian doesn't return to the team. I covered Team Liquid earlier in this article - both teams have similar talent levels and I'm not sure if Liquid has the discipline or rotational ability to avoid picking fights with GV. Finally, TSM is a one-threat team in the mid lane, and GV has excelled at shutting down mid laners this season. Overall, I think that with only one weak matchup (which is also dependent on the other team stepping up one weak aspect of their own gameplay) Gravity should be favorites to win the NA LCS barring major improvements from other teams or significant underperformance from themselves.
Gravity is a team with definite strengths and weaknesses, but I feel like some of their characteristics have been mischaracterized or misunderstood by the community. I agree with several of the points made on Summoning Insight. I do think that some of Gravity's perceived strength comes from their play in a weaker region. I also think that Gravity will face serious obstacles internationally. However, I think that the team is much more individually talented than most fans give them credit for, and that they should be favorites to win the NA LCS. I disagree with the characterization of Gravity as either a macro team or a cheese team, I think that they are better described as a teamfight-centric anti-meta team. Hopefully this article has shed a helpful light on GV and their strengths and weaknesses.