On Monday, Isaac “PePiiNeRo” Flores uttered one of those statements that sounds like an off-hand joke. Asked who his biggest rival in the League Championship Series (LCS) is in an “Ask the Pros” segment, the mid laner for Giants Gaming—the man most responsible for their hot 4-1 start—replied with Fnatic AD Carry Martin “Rekkles” Larsson.
“That reminds me!” Flores added. “When we qualified for the EU LCS in December, I wanted to add a clause in the contract with Giants that they let me play as the AD carry when we played against him. But they called me insane.”
It’s easy to laugh that off, but after Giants Gaming and Flores actually faced Fnatic, no one is laughing now.
Flores brought that insanity to the LCS. The team chose Lulu and Lucian in their second rotation during the pick and ban phase against Fnatic. That looks like setup to pick two solid laning champions against Fnatic’s talented Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Larsson, but it was really a setup for Flores’ maniacal role swap.
The usual mid laner took Lucian into the two-on-two bottom lane matchup against Larsson, fulfilling his desire to face his rival man-to-man. That left AD carry Adrián “Adryh” Pérez to fend for himself in the mid lane against Diepstraten and his Leblanc, a withering prospect for a player with no mid lane competitive experience.
Naturally the lane swap didn’t work—Giants Gaming suffered their second loss in a match that wasn’t particularly close. While Pérez and Flores picked solid laning champions to mitigate the effects of their inexperience in their swapped roles, they both failed to push an advantage against Fantic’s talented players. That left Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, picking Ekko for the third time in the LCS in his third role, the top lane, and jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin to punish their counterparts in the top of the map, building a fast lead and quickly ending Giants’ hopes.
Flores, though, managed to do what he came to: kill Larsson in lane. Shortly after Fnatic scored two kills near the top part of the map, he saw his chance to take advantage of Lucian’s strength and attacked.
Of course, a moral victory won’t help Giants Gaming continue their run to the playoffs. The team now sits at 4-2, and while they were heavy underdogs against the now 6-0 Fnatic, throwing away a chance to gain even more ground in the standings is certainly not a prudent move.
It’s also, perhaps, an illegal one. It’s hard to argue that this was a legitimate strategy that gave Giants the best chance to win the match, which means it’s essentially throwing a game. In November 2013, Team Dark was disqualified from the OGN and NLB seasons in Korea due to picking a lineup of five champions favored by retiring legend Lee “CloudTemplar” Hyun-woo as a tribute. But the lineup wasn’t a viable competitive lineup, featuring champions in roles for which they were unsuited. Essentially they were throwing the game.
This case doesn’t come close to the same level, but it’s part of the same problem. Can Giants Gaming honestly say that this swap was the best way for them to win the game? And don’t they owe their fans, and the other teams in the LCS competing against Fnatic, to give their best?
Granted, there’s been plenty of “troll” games in the LCS before. But most of those have come at season’s end, like the match between Millenium and Alliance in the final week of Summer Split last year, when the standings were already decided. This one comes in the thick of the playoff race.
Ultimately, it probably matters little. Giants Gaming didn’t exactly throw the game—they just used a suboptimal strategy. And at least it was one that played into an interesting storyline, even if it wasn’t the story the fans of underdog Giants Gaming were hoping to celebrate.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr