In our new column, “First Blood,” Ferguson Mitchell dissects the week that was in League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world.
It’s not often in life that a person achieves a perfect record.
I’m reminded of my AB Calculus AP Test as I left high school. 5.0, perfect score. Suck it, U.S. Department of Education.
A perfect record is a statement of mastery, a dominance over the opponent that is unmatched, unparalleled, and undeniable. In sports, they are a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch or be a part of. It’s the dream, really—a perfect season. Sports fans will recall with fondness names like the ‘72 Dolphins. Ricky Carmichael. All Blacks. The 1970 Brazilian World Cup team.
And now, League of Legends team SKT T1 K.
The group formed 11 months ago as a second team for SKT T1, whose “S” team had yielded great early results at the Intel Extreme Masters’ Global Challenge in Cologne, Germany in late 2012. The new team, “K,” was formed out of a mix of rookies and experienced pros. They quickly made a name for themselves with impressive victories over more established teams and finished third in their first season of OnGameNet’s Champions, the prestigious Korean League tournament.
After such a strong start, many wondered if the team could continue such an amazing display of power.
If anything, they’ve only gotten stronger.
Led by perhaps the most skilled League player in the world, Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok, whose nickname is simply “God,” SKT T1 K have won every single premiere tournament since that initial third place finish. In October of 2013, they competed in League developer Riot’s World Championship tournament and took home $1 million by defeating Chinese powerhouse Royal Club Huang Zu. The event, played before a sold-out crowd at the Los Angeles’ Staples Center drew 32 million stream viewers and is the most-watched esports event of all time.
The world champs returned home and have now swept Champions Winter season with a perfect 18-0 record. A perfect season. A perfect team. And a perfect attitude. “Of course, I’m so happy to have won,” Lee said after the match.
“But I’m actually kinda nervous right now. Having won 2 titles in a row here at Champions… Immediately what I’m thinking right now is that there’s more expectation on us for the next season. We have to live up to this record.”
A winner’s work is never over. But for one team member, there may not be a choice.
Support player Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong Hyeon is the heart of SKT T1 K. As I documented earlier, he will be taking an extended break from League in search of a solution to recurring chest pains following a childhood electrocution accident. As the team captain, he has displayed extraordinary poise and leadership. He will be missed.
And with that, let’s move on to the LCS. The third week of the League of Legends premier tournament just finished, and here’s what you need to know. First, the week in stats, courtesy of partners at LoLStats. For a full-size image, click here.
Sometimes, the multi-ethnicity of the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) astounds me.
Last week, a team consisting of two Germans, a Pole, a Swede, and Spaniard traveled to Brazil to represent a French organization. If this was a game of Risk, you could bet that I would just withdraw to Kamchatka and call it a day.
But what I really want to write about today is a brand new team for many fans—ROCCAT. They’ve rocked the European scene with a series of high-skill games that has placed them firmly in the top of the rankings. Their in-game skill is undeniable, and their strategies have caused an evolution within the league. ROCCAT’s big play using the champion named Pantheon, detailed here, has quickly been adopted by the rest of the teams, seeing frequent usage since.
The team’s real strength, however, can be seen during the picks and bans phase of the game. Before each game, teams take turns first removing champions from the game, and then selecting the champions they will be playing on. Here’s what I mean:
Week 1: ROCCAT vs. Supa Hot Crew
Supa Hot Crew Bans: Kassadin, Lee Sin, Annie
ROCCAT Bans: Vi, Dr. Mundo, Shyvana
SHC: Renekton (Top)
ROC: Thresh (Support), Elise (Jungle)
SHC: Caitlyn (Marksman), Gragas (Mid)
ROC: Malphite (Top), Lucian (Marksman)
SHC: Nunu (Jungle), Nami (Support)
ROC: Pantheon (Mid)
You can safely ignore most of that, but take note of the Mid picks. The middle lane is a key position on each League team—think of it as the point guard. Their position in the middle of the map means they have some of the highest access to key areas on the field. Combined with that, the mid is an important damage dealer for the team, and being able to dish out that damage during a fight often means the difference between victory and defeat.
Supa Hot Crew, having banned out the most dangerous mid champion (Kassadin, whose burst damage can sometimes win games all by itself), felt comfortable picking Gragas, who can safely damage enemies from afar. He is a very popular pick, often seen in Korea, and the Crew no doubt felt comfortable.
ROCCAT had something else in mind. They predicted that SHC would go with a safe mid lane champion like Gragas, and set up a counter pick in Pantheon. The end result? A resounding win for ROCCAT.
Week 2: ROCCAT vs. Supa Hot Crew
ROCCAT Bans: Gragas, Vi, Annie
Supa Hot Crew Bans: Kassadin, Elise, Lee Sin
ROC: Thresh (Support)
SHC: Shyvana (Jungle), Lucian (Marksman)
ROC: Renekton (Top), Pantheon (Jungle)
SHC: Dr. Mundo (Top), Nami (Support)
ROC: Caitlyn (Marksman), Mordekaiser (Mid)
SHC: Morgana (Mid)
In ROCCAT’s first rematch, they again prepared some traps. The Gragas ban and Pantheon pick set up a situation where Supa Hot Crew was given the opportunity to cancel out the initial loss. This gift, however, was misleading—ROCCAT wanted them to pick a mid laner to counter Pantheon, only to surprise them by putting Pantheon in another position. To SHC’s credit, they didn’t take the bait, and went with safe picks and waited to select a champion for their mid laner until the very last pick.
However, the mind games weren’t over. Mordekaiser is rare, even more rare a pick than Pantheon. ROCCAT’s goal was to catch Supa Hot Crew with a champion they might not know as well, and maybe force a weak last pick. It worked perfectly—Morgana is not the strongest mid laner, and ended up with five deaths and zero kills.
Week 2: ROCCAT vs. Gambit Gaming
ROCCAT Bans: Le Blanc, Lee Sin, Elise
Gambit Bans: Pantheon, Kassadin, Vi
ROC: Kayle (Mid)
GMB: Jinx (Marksman), Shen (Top)
ROC: Olaf (Top), Thresh (Support)
GMB: Orianna (Mid), Kennen (Support)
ROC: Caitlyn (Marksman), Dr. Mundo (Jungle)
GMB: Shyvana (Jungle)
ROCCAT’s other Week 2 game was against Gambit, a 5-1 team with years of experience and many top three finishes to boot. You can see the effect of ROCCAT’s Pantheon play—it was the first ban against them. However, the ban on Pantheon freed up the champion that ROCCAT really wanted, Kayle. Kayle is a mid laner that, with the proper items, can absolutely wreck opponents. Gambit’s Orianna ended up with one kill and three deaths. ROCCAT’s Kayle? Eight kills and a single death. Game over.
From the looks of things, ROCCAT’s opponents will be facing situations all year where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. A team establishing that kind of pressure before the game even starts is phenomenal.
Power rankings of things I like
1) SKT T1 K—The Korean term “bonjwa” refers to a dominant champion StarCraft player who everyone agrees is the best. It is high time that term start to be applied across games. SKT, at least, deserve that much.
2) ROCCAT—I love the personality on that team, and I love their flexibility and mindgames. Honestly, even if they don’t make it far in playoffs, they’ll be one of my favorite teams, simply because I learn so much just by watching them.
3) Matt Demers—These illustrated GIFs are outstanding, and the work that he does to create them is very much appreciated. I hope he gets a lot more attention and keeps them going. Like them? Want more? Check out his Patreon.
4) Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm—His inspired Caitlyn play against the Copenhagen Wolves has Supa Hot Crew flying up the rankings (8th to 5th in one week). 8 kills, 3 deaths, 7 assists. 83 percent kill participation. The Supa Hot Crew are getting superbly hot with their rookie marksman.
5) Team SoloMid—Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s six kills and no deaths in the title rematch against Cloud 9 played a huge part in their victory and first place ranking as Week 3 closes. Andy “Reginald” Dinh’s job as owner is a tough one—you can’t win the games yourself, you can just give your team opportunities. Picking up Bjerg gave his team a chance, and this week, they delivered in a big way. Great management.
6) The Lolesports Instagram—Nearly instant gifs of all the biggest plays of the week? Yes. Please. And thank you.
7) Travis Gafford and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng—The Counter Logic Gaming house tour, published via onGamers, is a great way to expose the personality of a pro team.
8) Michael “TL_Chexx” Kiefer—Lolesports writer and Team Liquid LoL Chief Editor, gets a special nod from me for being all over the breaking news last week, notably about PoohManDu and some Korean roster changes. You, sir, rock.
9) Jake “Xmithie” Puchero—His team, Ex Duris Gloria, is having some major issues right now. But a 9 kill, 8 assist, 1 death performance against Counter Logic Gaming to claim a second win for the team and keep them afloat? Necessary. Keep it up, Puchero, XDG need it.But props for now.
10) Trish “RiotRedQueen” Tatman—She took to Twitter with details about the new League of Legends merch store, which sounds impressive to say the least. I love merchandising—it’s basically a requirement for sports to succeed—and Riot stepping up their game should provide a great example for the industry.
Community highlight of the week
Aaron “Bischu” Kim, member of Cloud 9 Tempest, reminds us that watching the Grand Finals for a sport you love can be an emotional time for anyone…
— Aaron Kim (@Bischulol) January 25, 2014