Introduction and classification
Outplays form a significant part of why we watch League of Legends. More than just a tick in the number of wins or kills, they more interestingly express excellent athleticism and skill. During a wonderful moment, they can erode our preconceived notions of possibility and establish new orders and rankings. It is important to clarify, that one player supremely killing another by pure force, is no more an outplay than a world-class boxer stomping a common bug. Instead, give the boxer a worthy opponent. One that wishes to hurt the boxer as much as the boxer wishes to hurt him. The context of the outplay is to be understood thusly. A high-pitched fight between equals, both with ill intent for the other.
Made evanescent by the advance of tomorrow’s games, outplays are not always stored in our collective memory. Some, however, become immortal. Singular in perfection even among outplays. They become the stock all other plays are compared to.
I have taken the liberty to broaden our conception of what level an outplay can occur on. Outplays, or really the concept of a ‘play’ in general, can be found in all layers of play. Outplays in this sense are not always purely mechanical. Even though some of the most famous outplays are mechanical, i.e. Faker beating Ryu, I have tried to balance the entries to correspond with different layers of play.
- Strategic outplay – an outplay by execution of a game-plan or composition
- Tactical outplay – a rotational or otherwise map-based outplay
- Positional outplay – an outplay by understanding relative champion placements
- Mechanical outplay – an outplay by display of superior accuracy, precision and reaction
That should help create a mutual baseline understanding of the various levels an outplay can happen on.
Deft pentakill vs LDG
– 2015 LPL Spring Final, Game 5
Type of outplay: positional
Deft is one of the most clearheaded and observant AD carries to ever play the game. His prophylactic positioning is the trademark of his play-style, whether it comes to avoiding skill-shots or returning them. Traditionally the bane of even strong mechanical AD carries, has been the inability to get rid of tunnel vision.
Not an issue for Deft, however. His uncanny sense for positioning himself advantageously, makes him able to rarely, if ever, drop in DPS. One always has to remember, that attack speed is gated by time spent moving. If one is constantly either too close to the fight, or too deep in it, the outgoing number of auto-attacks will usually suffer. This is true even if someone is very skilled at moving between attacks.
Deft’s pentakill on Sivir against LDG is one of the best examples of his excellence. In this play, he displays great usage of Spell Shield and Quicksilver, but more importantly, he never stops being in a position from which he can do damage. Subtle details, like the way he chucks imp’s Jinx twice with the Boomerang Blade, is what allows him to pull off the aggressive flash to kill him off. Aggressively flashing into an entire team as an AD carry sounds like the start of a Wildturtle meme. In reality, it ends beautifully with Deft cleaning up the entire teamfight, as LGD’s main damage threat is eliminated.
WE Weixiao vs CJ Entus
– Enter the Dragon 2012, quarterfinals, Game 2
Type of outplay: mechanical-positional
Weixiao was one of the original contenders for being the greatest player in the world, before the arrival of Faker made such judgements rudimentary. In the AD carry role, he was the first truly transcendental player, just like Madlife was it for the support role or Froggen was it for the mid-lane. This play is probably his most famous, for there is nothing quite like it.
In a perfect combination of mechanical-positional skill and map awareness, he outplays CJ Entus Space, dade and InSec. The main point of attention is the way he combines Ezreal’s ultimate ‘Trueshot Barrage’ to snipe dade’s Orianna and also finish off the duel with Space’s Vayne. Today, I’m sure caster Pastrytime regrets not noticing the subtle kill on Orianna.
KT Rolster B’s backdoor against Gambit Gaming
– IEM Katowice 2014, Game 2
Type of outplay: tactical
Imagine being focused enough to recognise the only correct play, amongst an ocean of incorrect plays. And then to execute it. Understanding this will require more buildup compared to the rest of the entries on this list.
Moscow 5 / Gambit Gaming was one of the greatest teamfighting squads in history. Hardened by multiple encounters against contemporary rival CLG.eu, they would develop a teamfighting efficiency and style, that would be its inevitable shield, its last line of defence against tough opponents. Finding a way to circumvent the Russian teamfight would turn out to be the main task of not only the 2012 champions Taipei Assassins, but also the Russian squad’s Korean rivals, including KT Rolster Bullet.
KTB and Gambit would meet twice in history. The first encounter was an exhibition tournament at MLG Dallas 2013, with KTB ending up winning a close series 2-1. The second encounter would happen at IEM World Championships 2014 in Katowice. There had been much latent anticipation for this match, as people fondly remembered the KTB-Gambit series of 2013.
Gambit drafted typical signature picks. Diamondprox picked Lee Sin, Darien got Shyvana and Alex Ich managed to get his famed Kha’zix. In response, KTB grabbed a couple of power picks for themselves, most noticably the Kassadin for Ryu. Despite securing an early lead by plays from Diamondprox, and by Darien making KTB waste their time chasing him down, Gambit would eventually lose a big dragon skirmish at the 17 minute mark.
KTB started to snowball their Kassadin, and began eyeing Baron Nashor at the 30 minute mark. Other teams might have conceded baron to KTB, but with iron will Gambit decided to sacrifice everything to make sure KTB wouldn’t secure a Baron. With inward callousness, they continuously whipped themselves into combat, only to drop fifteen kills to the the Koreans. But Gambit got want they wanted, and KTB never managed to secure baron. And for Gambit, giving up fifteen kills to delay Baron ten minutes, was a cheap price to pay.
For at that moment, the slumbering teamfighting spirit of Gambit started to awaken, concurrent with the hard scaling of Alex’s Kha’zix and Dariens Shyvana. With every lost fight, Gambit looked stronger and stronger. They were on the verge of turning the perpertual teamfights around. Positional mistakes from the Koreans gave Diamondprox the opportunity he needed to create solid picks for Gambit. 36 minutes into the game, after a single won teamfight, Gambit secured the Baron. KTB would not win another teamfight that game.
Instead, an idea materialised in Mafa’s mind (KTB’s support and shotcaller). He realised that the window of opportunity for winning through teamfighting had passed. He, and the rest of KTB, deviced a new plan. Instead of fighting Gambit head on, they would assign their toplaner Leopard (Duke) to defensive duties, while they would sneak into the Gambit base for a backdoor win. To do this, they would have to destroy an inhibitor, the remaining Nexus turret, and only then the Nexus itself.
Take a moment to reflect on this decision by Mafa. Almost every player would have defaulted to passively defending the base against the baroned Gambit. Or perhaps try a flanking initiation. Or even tried creating an unexpected pick in the jungle. But the risk of these plays far outweighted their respective rewards. Mafa picked the risky but infinitely rewardful play, a true outplay.
Continued on next page
SKT Faker vs KTB Ryu
– 2013 Champions Summer Final, Game 5
Type of outplay: mechanical
”Faker, what was that?!” The famous words uttered by caster DoA when Faker outplayed Ryu at the OGN Summer 2013 Grand Finals. Being one of the most famous and celebrated play in LoL history, much has been said about this play. It stands as a magnificent signature play for the most mechanically gifted player in history.
Ryu, thinking for just a moment that he would be the one to commit deicide, issued the challenge to Faker. Faker hesitated for a moment, then accepted the challenge.
‘What was that,’ was a proper reaction to the play, for not many would be able to immediately comprehend what the play actually consisted of. The posthumous cleverness of slow motion-analysis, only does so much to satisfy our understanding of the play. Was Faker really fully aware of what he was about to do? Did he know?
It might appear a strange question, but if a random player had executed that play, we might have looked at it with hidden skepticism. We might have said “surely, that was a mix of luck and skill”. But the name ‘Faker’ changes all of that.
For consistency is the death of skepticism, and Faker’s innumerable exploits, both before and after, kills any talk of ‘luck’. He knew, like he has always known. He outplayed, like he has always outplayed.
Fnatic clairvoyance bait
– FNC vs SK, Season 1
Type of outplay: tactical
Being one of the earliest mindgame plays in remembrance, this trick stems from a time where it was normal to pick the Clairvoyance (CV) summoner spell. CV is a spell (still pickable today) that reveals an area of the map for a few seconds. In addition places a beacon at the spot, informing the other team where the CV was used.
In a match against SK, Fnatic ingeniously managed to use the beacon to bait SK’s Candypanda. First they walked into a bottom side brush. Then Fnatics support player Mellisan used the CV on that same brush. Candypanda, seeing Fnatics CV beacon and thinking that it was safe, walked confidently into the brush.
SSO’s game plan against Gambit Gaming – S3 World Championship, group stage game 2
Type of outplay: strategic
At this point, some of you must think I have a thing for Korean teams beating Gambit. In reality I think of it as a compliment. Indeed it was a sign of respect that several Korean squads realised that they would never be able to win against Gambit by conventional means – teamfighting to victory. Samsung Ozone possibly made this realization as well. At the S3 World Championship, they entered into a match against Gambit with one plan in mind. Never fight.
It takes great restraint to play out a composition designed to never accept, nor start, a fight. From a squad featuring all time greats such as Imp, Mata, Dandy and Dade, that by all measures have had an abysmal World Championship, it was refreshing. What Ozone did, was to draft strong fast-pushing and sieging composition. In reverse, Gambit did the mistake of not picking enough initiation power.
I still consider this one of the cleanest games ever played. Certainly in that era by a team that wasn’t SK Telekom or KT Rolster B. The game underlines the importance of not only drafting a composition with a clear plan in mind, but having the effective discipline to carry out the plan in-game.
Madlife’s man-to-man marking of Froggen
– CLG.EU vs Azubu Frost, 2012 Champions Summer Final, Game 5
Type of outplay: positional
This is perhaps one of the least known outplay of the list. Despite that I’ve treated this particular play (or series of plays, rather), I think it deserves a mention here, as it is of a fundamentally different nature. As you know, underlining the great typological variance in outplays, is one of the goals with this list.
To reiterate what was mentioned in Deft’s outplay, positional mastery is the ability to remain clear-headed in hectic situations. Keeping track of ten champions simultaneously in fast-paced teamfights, is a significant challenge. When Azubu Frost’s Madlife played against CLG.eu in the final game of the Champions Summer Final of 2012, he knew he had one, all-important task. Shutting down Froggen no matter what.
Madlife correctly identified that shutting down Froggen, the greatest mid laner of that age, was the ultimate condition to winning a game against CLG.eu. Froggen’s laning phase is known to be one of the most resilient of all times, however. Stopping him in that phase of the game was not an option. Instead he had shut him down during the decisive teamfights.
Using a technique that can be compared to man-to-man marking in soccer and other sports, Madlife would keep his full attention on Froggen. On Alistar, he used all of his spells, including exhaust, to delay Froggen from joining critical teamfights. By the time Froggen joined the fray, it was already too late for him to make an impact.
LINK TO VIDEO (Dailymotion)
GMB Diamondprox vs KTB Insec
– MLG Anaheim 2013 Final, Game 3
Type of outplay: strategic
Most duels in the history of League of Legends are remembered as contests of mechanics. There is one particular duel, however, which I’d like to suggest is reducible to purely strategical elements. The lessons learned from this duel, accepting this reduction, are tremendous.
This duel once also took place in a match between Gambit Gaming and KT Rolster B, which at this point likely makes the GMB-KTB matchup seem like one of the most important in history. Against InSec’s infamous Lee Sin, Diamondprox would play Udyr – a definite off-meta pick (and one of Diamondprox’s surprise champions that was never really adopted by other junglers).
It is important to stress the fact that Diamondprox was quite likely the second most famous Lee Sin player at the time. Though he had stopped using Lee Sin, he was fully aware of all the capabilities of this champion. But the reverse wasn’t true. InSec had no idea what Udyr, as a champion, was capable of doing. This resulted in a duel between one player with near-perfect information and a player with limited information.
Diamondprox only had around 30% health left, while InSec was at 100% health. Clearly InSec must have thought that the duel would be an easy win for him. But perhaps he failed to realise that Diamondprox had both his buffs running. After using his ultimate and Q, which Diamondprox nonchalantly tanked, InSec realised could not stand up to Diamondprox constant damage output. He initiated a retreat to his turret, but Diamondprox promptly responded by activating Ghost, chasing and then killing InSec.
The entire scene was mechanically unimpressive, yet it left people in awe. Diamondprox had somehow managed to beat InSec by virtue of his superior knowledge alone. The duel thus stands as one of the prime examples of brains trumping brawn.
I hope I’ve added to your excitement for the upcoming World Championship. Remembering some of these old plays really make me wish for a outplay-filled tournament. More than anything else, they manage to lift us all from our seats in giddy elation.
Remember that this is not a ‘top list’. I have omitted some plays for various reasons, even though they are great and would deserve a spot was this a true ‘top list’. Plays like xPeke’s backdoor against SK and SKT’s inhibitor push against OMG, belong in this category.
In addition, I hope people find use and sense in the distinctions I’ve made between the different types of outplays of LoL. Showcasing what can be achieved with more precise terminology and systematisation, has been one of the goals of this piece.
Enjoy the World Championship!