Team Gravity (12-6, 4th seed)
For most of the NA LCS season, GV looked like the best team in the NA LCS. Gravity’s trio of NA talents in Hauntzer, Bunny, and Altec all looked like some of the best players in their respective positions, and they were joined by Korean jungler Move and Oceanic anti-carry Keane. For the first 7 weeks of the LCS, teams in NA just didn’t’ know how to deal with GV’s all-in playstyle.
Then suddenly, it looked like teams had GV figured out. In Weeks 8 and 9, GV went from holding sole possession of first place to losing a tie-breaker and dropping to fourth place. While some of GV’s weaknesses were exposed, it also seemed like GV themselves had forgotten how to execute their all-in approach. In their first round match-up against TSM, Team Gravity is meeting up against another team mired in a run of incredibly poor form. GV has not only shown a higher level of individual talent in the summer split, but their all-in approach is perfect against single carry teams like the Bjergsen-centric TSM. As a result, this week’s battle of youth versus experience will come down to who is able to return to form. Will Gravity topple the regions titans and signal their arrival as the next generation of North American talent?
All stats quoted from OraclesElixir.com
Strengths: Strong laning, above average TP usage, usually a stellar teamfighter (particularly engaging)
Weaknesses: Baffling mistakes
Best champions: Maokai, Hecarim, Rumble, Nautilus
Hauntzer is one of the most underrated players in the NA LCS. Although he is probably the least popular member of Team Gravity, a closer look reveals that he is almost certainly their most important player after superstar AD Carry Altec. Not only is Hauntzer one of the best players on Gravity, he also shoulders one of the highest burdens in the NA LCS as a top laner. Hauntzer’s strong laning is the center of Gravity’s early game. Because the team struggles mightily in lane swaps and needs to make sure farm gets on Altec because he is their main damage dealer, Gravity constantly swaps Hauntzer into losing lane matchups when he’s down creeps and experience. In spite of this, there’s been little noise about Gravity “starving” Hauntzer this season. That’s because his laning fundamentals are very strong – he has a wide understanding of lane matchups and is particularly good at pushing small advantages. Gravity is equally dependent on Hauntzer in teamfights. Move, Bunny, and Keane all excel at scoring picks, but of the trio only Keane is comfortable playing the role of primary engager. Because Keane’s engage ability depends heavily on the champion that he’s playing, GV almost always relies on a Hauntzer flank (often off of a Teleport) to find engages. After engaging, Hauntzer will kite back to try and peel for Altec, and his role as both Gravity’s best engager and peeler is another key reason why I think Hauntzer has to do more work than most other NA LCS top laners.
Although Hauntzer usually performs extremely well, his play is plagued by repeated moments of extremely poor mechanics or decision making. It might not be entirely accurate to describe Hauntzer is an inconsistent player, because that implies that he has streaks of good and poor play. Instead, Hauntzer is almost always a very strong player, but he will have rare moments of truly awful play. In GV’s recent game against TDK, Hauntzer Teleported into the dragon pit and landed a 3-man Rumble ultimate across TDK’s backline, which should have won his team the teamfight. But instead of following up on Keane’s Cataclysm, Hauntzer instead tried to solo the 1.5k HP dragon and only re-entered the fight after Keane had died and the dragon had removed half of his hit points. Hauntzer will also occasionally make very poor mechanical plays, such as fat-fingering his Ekko ultimate against Team8 or completely missing his Rumble ultimate after finding a potentially game-winning flank against TSM (Prototype Black and CaliTrlolz later suggested that may have been the result of a bug on social media.) It’s hard to tell why Hauntzer makes these mistakes, but they are undeniably costly. Gravity relies heavily on Hauntzer to perform, and if Hauntzer wants to led his team past TSM, he will have to keep these errors to a minimum.
Strengths: Vision control, skirmishing, snowballing games
Weaknesses: Teamfighting, playing from even/behind, inconsistency
Best champions: Nidalee, Rek’Sai, Gragas
It’s hard to make a definitive statement on GV’s jungler Move. When he played on EDG’s B team, he was a vision-centric jungler with an affinity for Lee Sin. During his time in the LCS, he has always retained his tendency to play a vision-centric game (most wards placed and killed out of all NA LCS junglers, per OraclesElixir.com) but his in-game performance has varied wildly. In GV’s first few weeks, Move looked like a fairly mediocre player outside of his knack for controlling information, but near the middle of the season, Move’s skirmish abilities on Nidalee and Gragas were key in propelling Gravity to the top of the standings. At this time, Gravity looked like the best team in the league, and Move looked like the best jungler in the region. Unfortunately for GV, Move’s Weeks 8 and 9 were a far cry from his former strong form. Outside of his clutch smiting, his Vi play in Week 8 was awful, to the point that it seemed like he was just trying out champions before the playoffs. Unfortunately, his Week 9 was even worse.
Simply put, there haven’t been enough LCS games to guess how Move will do in the play-offs. It seems like Move excels at snowballing games through skirmishes, but he has a hard time playing from behind or even just on even ground. If teams can avoid fighting Move and Bunny in the early game, Move will be much less useful in the mid-late game. Move’s vision control has been very strong throughout his time in the LCS, but other than that, it seems like he is a very inconsistent player. When Move is on-point, he looks like the best jungler in NA. A big part of Gravity’s performance will simply come down to which Move shows up for the play-offs.
Strengths: Anti-carry playstyle, hard to gameplan for in picks/bans, strong laner
Weaknesses: Low carry potential outside of Azir, champion pool means he can’t peel for Altec
Best champions: Urgot, Jarvan IV, Azir, Orianna
Keane is frequently considered a cheese player and Gravity critics frequently point to his unusual playstyle as why Gravity will fall in a Best of 5. These critics are right in that Keane’s play has some fatal weaknesses, but his weird champion pool is a symptom of this problem rather than the cause of it. Like Move, Keane excels at certain parts of the game to the detriment of his overall game play. Keane is a very strong laner, even on his meta champions like Orianna or Azir, and has a very good eye for engages/re-engages in teamfights. However, Keane has positioning issues and his constant devotion to engages means that he never looks to peel for Altec, the team’s main carry. Keane’s disregard for peel wouldn’t be a problem if he was able to win teamfights on his own, but he has one of the lowest damage per minute counts in the LCS, ahead of only Shipthur and substitutes Gate and Bischu.
At the beginning of the season, Keane’s use of all-in to counter poke was a very smart anti-meta strategy. Because poke champs have such long range, it’s impossible to peel it off your AD Carry. By using engage instead of peel, Keane was able to stop around 6500 damage to champions over the course of the average game. However, teams have begun ignoring Keane and running past him to directly kill Altec, and Keane has been unable to punish this by dealing more damage. As a result, Keane will have to adjust and find new strategies of he wants to help GV win North American regions.
Strengths: One of the few ADs to succeed with a hyper-carry playstyle, superb teamfighting, positioning
Weaknesses: Mediocre laning (possibly due to his champion pool)
Best champions: Sivir, Tristana, Jinx
Altec has been a revelation this season. As the only AD Carry in the league to lead his team in damage, it’s extremely obvious how much Gravity relies on Altec. Even in Gravity’s losses this season, the North American prodigy has delivered with his superb positioning. Altec is easily one of the top 3 players in North America and someone absolutely capable of delivering a team the Regional championship.
Gravity has also played very well around Altec’s one notable weakness – his mediocre laning. Altec isn’t a bad laner by any means, but his nearly exclusive use of hypercarry champions and Sivir (who has quite a few weak lane matchups too) means that his laning phase is comparatively fragile. Gravity has done a good job of swapping Altec into good lane match-ups to make sure that he’s strong enough to carry teamfights. The biggest issue GV has is that they are not doing a good job of peeling for Altec in those fights. On Summoning Insight, Monte mentioned that GV will be weak to flanks because they never peel back for their star AD Carry. Gravity’s poor Week 9 showing, especially against Ninja’s Irelia, showed that teams can simply run past GV’s front line to punish Altec. With the play-offs around the corner, there isn’t much Altec himself needs to work on, especially because it’s hard to tell if his laning issues are due to his own play or his weak early game champions. Gravity have done a great job of getting Altec to the teamfights, now they need to go back to making sure he gets through them.
Strengths: Setting up teamfights, scoring picks, great mechanics, roaming
Weaknesses: Peeling, inconsistent engager, inconsistent vision game
Best champions: Thresh, Alistar, Shen
Bunny has been one of the best supports in NA this season. One of the strangest things about Bunny’s improvement is that although most players improve by upgrading the all-around aspects of their game, Bunny has only made small strides in defensive aspects of support play like peeling. Instead, he took yet another step forwards in his aggressive playmaking. Bunny is head and shoulders above every other NA support when it comes to making picks. When this is combined with Move’s aggressive skirmishing abilities, Gravity look undefeatable. As mentioned earlier, Gravity struggles in lane swaps and so have a poor early game. Move and Bunny’s early game action is usually their solution.
However, Bunny has similar weaknesses to Move. Although he is more well-rounded and better at playing from behind, Bunny still seems to struggle when he isn’t just making picks or following up on engages. His peel game has never been strong and sometimes he will outright ignore Altec in his attempts to jump in himself even in situations when it’s obvious that peeling for Altec is optimal. Bunny has fantastic mechanics, and clearly is capable of protecting Altec. If Bunny can work on identifying situations to peel back, then GV will still be able to make their all-in style work while becoming a much more varied and stable team.
Underexplored question: Why does Gravity always win on red but do poorly on blue?
One of the common storylines this season was Gravity’s undefeated record on red side (they actually lost the tie-breaker against TiP while on red, going 9-1 for the season.) On the other hand, Gravity went 3-6 on blue side. Part of this stark contrast is simply due to chance. Although Gravity’s poor run of form in the last two weeks mostly came on blue side, their awful play on red side against Team8 and TiP suggests that their dip in form would have occurred regardless of which side they were on.
However, there is something to Gravity’s strong play on red and weak play on Blue. Two possible theories come from GV’s love for flex picks in the draft and the shape of the map, particularly the dragon pit. GV’s draft strategy frequently involves picking champions like Nautilus, Shen, Jarvan IV, etc. that they can flex. On the red side, the team will get last pick so they can send these champions into favorable lanes. Most fans would assume that this is so Keane can get a cheese pick, but Gravity actually will usually first pick Keane’s champion, even if it’s something like Urgot, so that they can make sure Bunny or Hauntzer get strong champions. This is particularly critical for Hauntzer because they team always swaps him back after he’s down creeps and e xperience. The other major reason has to do with the dragon pit’s shape. Gravity isn’t dependent on getting the first dragon, but they are dependent on forcing a teamfight around it. Because the pit is facing the red side, it is much easier to set up for a fight and make sure that all the team’s troops are on the right side of the pit if the team is on red side. In addition, it is easier to pick off opponents walking towards the dragon pit on red side, giving Move and Bunny time to feast on their opponents.
Biggest Strengths: Strong mechanics, natural teamfight sense, setting up teamfights
Gravity’s players have strong individual talents and can likely roll over most teams in straight-up 1v1/2v2 lane matchups or in skirmishes. All of Gravity’s players are among the most talented mechanical players in the league, and this translates into their teamfighting. Gravity’s players have an innate sense of when to go in and score kills in a teamfight. Even back in the Saintvicious days, GV’s ability to flank and begin perfect fights was superb. In Gravity’s recent run of poor form, the biggest issue wasn’t even teams raising their teams level to match Gravity’s it was Gravity’s own teamfighting ability falling apart. To beat Gravity at their best, teams need to avoid fighting them at all costs.
Biggest Weaknesses: One-dimensional, lane swaps and rotations
Gravity is very one-dimensional. Outside of going in repeatedly in teamfights, there isn’t anything else that Gravity does at a top-tier level. Their lane swaps are very poor and teams with strong top laners (or tops who get favorable countermatchups) can exploit Gravity’s tendency to swap Hauntzer into losing lane matchups. Gravity will also frequently poorly rotate for tower kills, committing multiple players for a single kill and forfeiting towers in the process. If teams can force GV into a lane swap and avoid fighting, GV’s game plan isn’t sophisticated enough to trade towers. Even when GV was at their peak form, they won games because they were far better at both setting up for teamfights and actually fighting than anyone else. GV’s strong vision game means that they have the information advantages to also outrotate people, but they haven’t come close to developing that yet.
If I was predicting a TSM vs. GV boX before Gravity’s recent run of poor form, I would have given a much more favorable rating to Gravity. A lot of analysts have suggested that Gravity’s weakness is that they will be banned out in a BoX. Gravity’s problem doesn’t come when teams try to target them with bans (although trying to ban Altec’s hyper carries might be a creative strategy to try to pull out to test in a BoX) but rather when teams play a certain way. Gravity is really good at countering poke teams or teams with a single carry. If those teams can switch up their strategy to avoid GV’s front line and kill Altec, then they will be in a good position to win. TSM has struggled mightily to find a carry other than Bjergsen this split, and TSM can’t afford to place him on a bruiser or assassin because they just won’t do enough damage. If WildTurtle was playing at a passable level (think of his Spring Split) Bjergsen might be able to muscle past Gravity, but as it stands TSM’s supporting cast is not in very good shape right now.
Conclusion and Final Prediction
What makes this match-up hard to predict is that Gravity’s form heading into the play-offs is even worse. The team is unsure of themselves and without their great teamfighting, there isn’t much that sets them apart. As a whole, Gravity have better players than TSM, but considering their recent run of poor teamfighting and shotcalling, they probably won’t be able to take advantage of it. TSM also has better experience in a BoX and in adapting, meaning that in a longer series they could probably expose GV’s one-dimensional playstyle. But even though I think GV has a better chance in a short series, I think it’s more likely that TSM will take GV’s best hit in the first game before adjusting to win the series. My final prediction is 3-0 or 3-1 in favor of TSM. Although I’d love to see the new talents on GV overthrow the historic tyrants of America, the combination of poor form means that TSM will probably win the series off of experience.