It's Mag1c: Three Reasons Gravity Look Like the Real Deal—and Three Reasons They Actually Aren’t
You'd be forgiven if you had to do a double-take when looking at the NA LCS standings. You aren't mistaken: that's Gravity sitting atop the pile, tied with Team SoloMid. Yes, Gravity. The team with a rookie shot caller, two new players, and the Mid laner who plays Malphite, Jarvan IV, and Runeglaive Nasus.
Any time a team unexpectedly surges in the standings like this (here's your chance to flex your prediction skills if you called it ahead of time!), the question on everyone's mind is: Are they for real?
Here are three reasons Gravity look like the real deal right now, and three reasons they're less than they appear.
Why Gravity Looks Like a Legitimate First-Place Team
1. Their record against top teams
Gravity's record against the other four members of the top five—Team SoloMid, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, and Dignitas—is 5-2 so far this split, with single losses to TSM and CLG. They're beating their strongest opponents, not just feeding on bottom dwellers: their current four-game win streak has come against Team Impulse, Team Liquid, CLG, and TSM. This is what sets Gravity apart from a team like CLG, who consistently rise in the standings but can never seem to beat the teams at the top, like TSM or Liquid.
Earning a good playoff seed means nothing if you can't beat the best, but Gravity is showing that they're ready to face off against the top dogs of the NA LCS.
2. Their uniquely flexible champion pools
Keane may have the most eclectic champion pool in all of competitive LoL, and his madness is starting to prove contagious among his teammates. Bunny FuFuu's support Shen in Week 6 was a new look, showing that he's finally willing to broaden his horizons from Thresh and Morgana. Move is comfortable with the Gragas/Rek'Sai meta, but has also played Nidalee, Evelynn, and even Xin Zhao. Hauntzer and Altec have played more standard champions, but have showed good variety even within the meta, with Hauntzer playing both carries and tanks, and Altec showing up big with both utility champions like Sivir and hyper-carries like Vayne and Jinx.
Beyond individual flexibility, though, as a team Gravity has the unique luxury of flex picking champions who have no business being flex picks. Shen is the most recent example, but Keane's use of Hecarim, Jarvan IV, and Malphite makes it difficult to guess where those champions will be going when Gravity locks them in. This flex pick mischief could pay off in a best-of-five series if Gravity looks to mind-game their opponents in picks and bans.
3. Their Altec
It's hard to argue against Altec as the best AD Carry in North America right now, based on his team fight positioning and his ability to safely deal out tons of damage to any available target. Other than Keith, who has only played one game this split, Altec has the highest average damage per minute (DPM) of any NA LCS ADC. He does nearly 32% of his team's damage, on average—an astounding number for an ADC in this meta—and has the second-best KDA behind Piglet. Altec's team fighting is insanely good, even if his laning is middle-of-the-pack, judging by CS Differential numbers.
With Altec on the roster, Gravity has the option to put all of their eggs in his basket, freeing up Hauntzer and Keane to play facilitator roles. That doesn't mean Hauntzer and Keane can't carry—they both can and do, at times—but it gives Gravity has an Ace up their sleeves, something they didn't have last split despite Cop's impressive overall play.
Why Gravity is a Team of Fakers
(And I don't mean the Korean superstar.)
1. Their Mid laner's inability to play the meta
Yes, Keane deserves credit for playing whatever the heck he wants and usually winning with it, but the closest he's come to playing meta champions this split is one game on Twisted Fate and two games on Orianna. At some point, when an opponent has prepared well enough against you, they'll have the perfect counter prepared and your off-meta pick will be up the creek. There's a reason off-meta picks are off-meta: they usually have distinct weaknesses that are keeping them out of common rotation. When an off-meta pick comes out, its value is often based on the opponent not knowing or remembering how to exploit the champion's weaknesses. That's why, according to Xpecial, "Weird picks do a lot better in best-out-of-one situations than in best-of-three [or] best-of-five."
It rarely takes a good team long to come up with a solution to an off-meta champion. In other words, to run the playoff gauntlet, Keane and company either need to protect their pocket picks in the early rounds and rely on winning with more traditional play, or they need to have half a dozen unique picks prepared so they can keep the surprises flowing successfully. That's a lot to ask, even of Keane.
2. Their one-dimensional style
Gravity only moves forward: diving the back line continues to be their most identifiable trait, both under Saintvicious's leadership in Spring and with Bunny FuFuu holding the reins in Summer. Regardless of the prevailing meta, Gravity likes nothing more than to isolate enemy carries and dogpile them. Look at Keane's distinctive picks: Hecarim, Jarvan IV, Malphite, and Urgot all fit this backline-killing mold. Meanwhile, Bunny FuFuu is best known for using Thresh and Morgana to aggressively find pick-offs across the map, securing kills that lead to follow-up objectives. Granted, Bunny has played one game of Janna this split (in Week 5 against Team Liquid), but he played it in a composition that included Hecarim, Sivir, and Gragas. Gravity's victory in that game was won through forward-moving plays, not disengage.
The more Gravity relies on a single tactical mentality, the more exploitable they become; just look at what happened to TSM at the Mid-Season Invitational. In a playoff series, opponents will have counters prepared. Whether Gravity's opponents come in with counter-engage champions like Sejuani and Cassiopeia, or something more subtle in their positioning or map movements, they will certainly be aware of, and ready for, Gravity's lack of tactical flexibility.
3. Their lack of experience
The Spring split's top four teams—TSM, C9, TL, and TiP—are all packed with experienced leadership. Their rosters include multiple players who have seen success and been through the playoff wringer before, including World Championships experience. Gravity downgraded their experience levels coming into the Summer Split, and while that may have improved their skill ceiling, it could also cost them when it comes to keeping an even keel and adapting well over a long best-of-five series. Cop brings experience from the coaching role, but he won't be in their comms during the games to help with their in-game adaptations. He also hasn't proven yet whether he knows how to keep the team's mentality in check after a tough playoff loss, with only minutes to prepare for the next game. The value of experience should not be underrated when it comes to best-of-five play.
I confess I'm a frequent skeptic when teams seem to be overachieving. I didn't buy into the GIANTS hype earlier this split, and I'm still on the fence about Dignitas. I want to break out of my skepticism. I want to believe in Gravity, if for no other reason than that Bunny FuFuu is my three-year-old's favorite player. (If Bunny ever played a game on Nunu, my son's favorite champion, I think he might pass out from excitement.)
But despite the positive signs, despite the great record against top teams, the flexible champion pools, and Altec's MVP performances, I can't look past Gravity's weaknesses and vulnerabilities and see a North American champion at their core. Gravity is a team that can be effectively game-planned against, if their opponents are given enough time to do so. They have strong champion diversity but weak in-game tactical diversity, and in the playoffs the importance of tactical change-ups increases while the effectiveness of off-meta champions decreases. Gravity also hasn't yet learned from experience how to make crucial mid-series adaptations, let alone shifting their approach mid-game.
Gravity's strengths are regular season strengths; their weaknesses are playoff weaknesses. When best-of-five season rolls around, those weaknesses are likely to be exposed and amplified. It pains me to say it (and not just because of the incoming pun), but when the dust settles on the Summer split, I expect to see that the Gravity hype-rocket has fallen down to earth.
Tim "Mag1c" Sevenhuysen is a Willump main. His toddlers play Nunu.
All statistics used in this article are available at OraclesElixir.com.