The Best in the Wild West – Immortals

Breaking down in a little bit of detail the reason for Immortals looking so incredibly strong in the first half of the NA LCS, and how they might be undone.

The Best in the Wild West – Immortals

(The Wild West, best associated with the United States of America – not the West as a region)

Records are statistics – they don’t tell you much except that one particular piece of information. Immortals are currently 8-0. It tells us that they have won 8 games. And not much more. It doesn’t carry a large amount of weight for me because this statistic (in the form of win loss) doesn’t tell me how they have won those games. A tornado can rip through a junk yard and put a car together (and do it more than once), and while this is a hugely hugely improbable phenomenon, it is not completely impossible. Wins can come together in much the same way. I consider the results records (both winning and losing records across any sport) as just another statistic in that that one value doesn’t tell us much. I want to know how a team has won or lost to really know how they are going at a given point. I want to see if teams have blind luck or are accidentally correct before giving weight to the notion that they are a good team. Immortals are showing trends in their gameplay that may trend towards the notion that they are not going to give up their winning ways in the near future. Unless there is a drastic change to the Meta, team or organisation composition or some other unforeseen circumstance that affects their gameplay, they are an incredibly solid team. 

Team compositions that Immortals create are their first strong point, and is a sign that their coaching and analysis staff do an excellent job at collecting and interpreting information on both the opposition team AND more importantly their own players. Not only do they create strong compositions, but they have created varied compositions each one with different focuses, power spikes, methods of lane pressure and differing team fight abilities. These compositions do not come together during a pick ban phase – they have been studied, defined and practiced before each and every game. While this is to be expected from a professional team, the extent to which IMT can complete a dynamic Pick and Ban phase with a specific team composition and then transfer that to in-game performances says that there is something different about how they do it compared to other NA LCS teams. The cohesive method in which they execute a specific plan as an entire team with team characteristics X Y and Z shows that they either have a superior adaptability characteristics (to account for Picks they don’t like, problems in strategy execution) or they pick strong line ups to account for the enemy team and their strengths that haven’t been countered yet. Continuing to support this notion is the number of seemingly different compositions they have picked. They all have some basic characteristics:

  • Top: Damage Output, relying on outplayability, requiring some form of CC, rotate lanes and provide consistent map pressure.
  • Jungle: Gank pressure kill pressure heavy, ability to tower dive, tanky, CC focused, team fight utility.
  • Mid: Control lane, farm heavy (not kill heavy), defend Turret, lock in enemy laner (through poke damage, CC or allowing them to “push”, scale to mid-late game, itemise for maximum damage output, provide zoning throughout game, threat of pressure when moving out of lane.
  • ADC: Mid-game focus, early game focus on farming and wave manipulation, assist in mid turret defence or attack/siege, maximum damage output onto key targets, consistent threat and pressure.
  • Support: Utility and survivability, ensuring ADC/key champions survival in team fights, peel heavy.

There is no ground-breaking information above. Everyone who knows something about League knows that these are simple necessary characteristics for particular roles required from each laner for a successful game. The interesting thing to note about Immortals is that in every game, it is just these roles are filled, and it is done with different champions in different ways against different teams that make it hugely different in every game. Each champion picked by each lane has a way of combining abilities with other champions to ensure that the objective is achieved. This is not always a kill, and it is definitely not focused on “shit on lane win game”. It is objective focused. Tower diving top with Top Fiora Jg Olaf is a lethal combination if they are against a solo top laner in Poppy. Graves top Poppy jungle provides CC and burst that, when used together, puts a champion out of their lane and gives up pressure. Zed Mid and Rengar Jg has an absolutely huge kill potential when executed well, and when combined with the diving CC and damage of Lissandra locks down multiple members of teams that allows Zed and Lucian to output tremendous amounts of damage onto the opposition and win control of the map (through various ways). Again, this is easy enough to understand and I don’t believe for a second I have blown anyone’s mind. But time and time again, we see teams fail to execute their team composition. They fail to create teams with champions who have abilities that meet specific goals, or we see (more often) teams try to use their champions in ways that don’t suit their characteristics and loose out big time. Immortals have done this really well all split. It is a testament to understanding what their players bring to each role, that they create comps that help to promote the strengths of the abilities of the players, and they know their own limits that not very often do they get caught out in situations that don’t suit the comp at the time, or the abilities of the champions.

Except against TSM.  

I said this while watching the VOD, that I don’t believe that TSM designed their team this way, but they were taking objectives from IMT in a way that they couldn’t respond to it. Hauntzer soloing Huni (Poppy V Fiora) is a prime example of what went wrong for IMT in that game. Huni’s Fiora is an excellent dueller. But Hauntzer took him down without loosing 1Hp. Its not about Hauntzer being better than Huni – its about IMT not being able to make Hauntzer worry about pressure, because TSM were pushing IMT around the map. Pobelter was caught out in much the same way. He went bot to farm, thought he was alone, and TSM were ready with the ambush. Mid towers were down, outer towers were down and IMT at the time were behind in gold, items and CS. TSM were able to capitalise and win out particular fights that took objectives that didn’t allow IMT to be able to consolidate under and build their own pressure. IMT also made some uncharacteristic errors for decisions to team fight in the jungle, and that lead to taking mid towers. Taking mid tower (both actually) is a huge deal, because IMT tried everything they could to defend it. And it cost them deaths because they hung around too long and tried too hard. It’s the first time I have seen weakness in the overall play of IMT and decisions they have made regarding objectives. IMT continued to maintain some minimal conditions needed for victory, wave control and wave clear, farming solo for carries, vision, and when the time came for a team fight at Baron late in the game, TSM lost out. But TSM pushed IMT hard that game. Again, I don’t think they meant it, but this also doesn’t mean that I’m right. Maybe they did mean it. Maybe they saw that they could beat IMT by taking the maximum advantage over advantages they created and maintained tons of pressure across the entire map. But I haven’t seen TSM do that a lot in the past, and not since.

Building on the execution of a great team composition, there is a strong commitment to a team strategy that all the IMT players are supporting all of the time. They have shown a strong understanding of what the opposition team needs to do to beat them, who their strong players are and what they are capable of on the champions and compositions they have picked. In the C9 game, Balls on Ryze was always going to be the most consistent way of setting up damage output and zoning potential for the rest of the team. Ekko can’t do much alone, nor can MF. But in a team fight, they are a strong back line. Ryze Braum and Lee Sin were their front line, and Ryze was the potentially most problematic in terms of damage and CC. So they rotated lanes and pushed towers to get Ryze alone in a lane in top or bot. They kept him alone, and didn’t take fights to him. A Ryze with kills under his belt is tougher than just a farmed one. So their strategy kept him solo and pressured the rest of the map. When the time came to focus him, IMT either killed him or zoned him out and took his towers and did not allow C9 to support him, because C9 were allowed to take a free objective on the other side of the map. Dives usually consisted of 3 players, and the CC focus of their team compositions allowed a pick on the other side of the map to be executed effectively. There are examples of this strategy throughout all of their games, and it is not an isolated event in an isolated game. There are clear, strong patterns throughout all of their games and evidence to support.

Adrian is a middle ranked Warder in the NA LCS, with 1.17wpm (1st is 1.57, worst is .87). His warding habits are as adaptive as the IMT play style requires. When they need to check on lane swaps and assignments, he can ward deep in the lane without pressure and at the most opportune time.  Usually, he is warding defensively for Turtle, to ensure that there is no serious gank kill pressure. Throw a couple in the river north of the dragon or south of the Herald, and there is some general vision of jungle movements when moving to mid lane. As a whole, IMT ward on average with the rest of the LCS, and sit 4th at 3.36. 3.52 from NRG is the best, and the worst is 3.0 from C9. Nothing particularly startling though. What is surprising from this though, is that they are nigh on last with Wards Cleared at 1.20wpm, with NRG leading at 1.54 and C9 last with 1.09. It would be a fair statement to make that the enemy having some extra vision of them does not impact their playstyle, because lane assignments after the early game are strongly support, telegraphed and usually made after backing for items or wards. This minimises the ability for the enemy to make picks in the jungle or in particularly obscure places. IMT moves on the map are either lightning fast (TP, ults etc) or slow, telegraphed and unable to be stopped even if you do see it coming. When Huni is top lane, IMT are dropping a Pink wards in the River brush, and either behind the Red side Red camp or in front of herald/baron. That is a constant theme for Huni top, and while Pinks can be removed, the surprise effect of the gank has been ruined. In the mid game also, 5 autos to remove a pink ward is time consuming, and could allow a quick collapse in the future. Reginover is also a mid range warder at .81 wpm, are the rest of the IMT players. They are prioritising having some key wards to support key lanes (Solo outer laners farming for example) and lighting up the jungles that are adjacent to where they are going to push their advantage from leading into the late game. This warding aligns with their objective control of Baron and Dragon, and supports the notion that they are happy to ignore Dragon if it requires taking resources from potential counter elsewhere on the map.

It should not come as a surprise that the team KD ratio for the team is a whopping 2.80. C9 follow far behind in second at 1.3, and CLG further at 1.2. REN are in last at .52 as a spread. IMT have a score more than double C9’s. Double. Think about how much more IMT are alive to push or defend objectives compared to C9. You can’t defend when you’re dead.

Kill participations are relevant. Adrian and Reignover have a 72.7% and 71.3% score respectively, while the other 3 average about 63%. Which means that the aforementioned 2 play a huge part in contributing to kills. The team average kill participation is 66%. Keep this number in mind. C9 have bigger numbers here. Hai Rush and Jensen have 79.3%, 76.8% and 72.7% respectively. Sneaky isn’t far behind at 69.7% and Balls is at 50.5%. This averages out to 85.66% across the team.  In fact, nearly every team has better numbers than IMT when it comes to average participation. In itself, it sounds like other teams participate together in team kills more than IMT. Why aren’t they winning? Watching how IMT actually play, most games are very much already won by the time team fights break out, and the 66% participation means that as a team, they only need to perhaps win one team fight to win the game. In other words, as a group of 5, they don’t need to fight nearly as much as the other teams. Opposition teams need more team fighting to decide who wins what. IMT focus kills in individual lanes usually with Reignover ganking. He has a 100% First Blood Participation Rate for IMT. This directly correlates to the 100% First Blood rate the Immortals hold over the rest of the LCS. We can see the positive correlation between these statistics that show that more early, focused kills result in more early objectives that lead into more pressure into the mid late game that continually push into breaking a base and winning a game that requires less team fighting.

There is another aspect of Picks and Bans that is working in IMT’s favour, and it will continue to do so for this split. There is such a wide and varied champion selection from IMT that you cannot focus bans onto any player. They have one goal with their team comp that can be made from a wide variety of other champions that if you want Huni off Lissandra for example, their team comp can adjust and compensate for that probem in another lane while Huni picks up something else that helps him fill a role. Reignover is impossible to ban out right now, because any Jungler he picks up seems to fill a strong role in ganking and team fighting that makes it pointless to worry about. In fact, every member of IMT have ban worthy champions, and like ROX in Korea they are able to pick just about whatever they want. Tahm Kench has been permabanned by IMT without respect to the team or players they are against. This is because the TK kit allows champions huge survivability in knife edge situations that they want over with quickly. On top of that, TK can immobilise and remove a IMT player from a team fight, and IMT rely on having all 5 players impacting the teamfight to be able to win it. Poppy seems to be trending right now in their permaban position, and there is no doubt she is powerful right now. The key point about this though, is not just banning a powerful champion. They are banning a champion that provides the opposition with the kit and tools to be able to disrupt the ability of IMT to make the plays they want. Banning Turtle means he can just fall back onto another champion that will help him fill his role, and there is no point banning Adrian because no matter which support he is forced on to, he will find a way to support his team. IMT are happy to take a difficult match up into a lane, because the lane matchup is not going to affect their long term goals of map domination and pressure.

The question then remains – How do you beat Immortals? They don’t care about your team’s picks and bans (they can adjust), they don’t care about your vision (because by then you can’t stop them without huge risk even if you do see it coming), they only need the vision they lay down, they are all individually good players who are “mechanically” (boy I hate that word) skilled enough they won’t be pushed out of lane, they support each other incredibly well, their tactics are strong and so far unanswerable, and they don’t have singular champions they prioritise over others. What does anyone do?

Immortals want to pressure the map. They want to take your towers and force you back on the map. They want to bully you out of lane to keep you from either defending your tower, or not be able to move elsewhere on the map. This is incredibly difficult to do, but they do a great job of it. As a team playing IMT, you need to be where they aren’t and take map pressuring objectives they are. Turrets are key – IMT have a strong focus on taking turrets and taking them quickly, then backing off and rotating back into lanes that suit. You need to understand how to best defend your turrets while supporting the strongest possible in game scaling of your champions, and strongest picks. Be prepared to swap you mid to top and vice versa, or have you bot lane defend mid while top and mid go to the outside lanes and farm. Work out where the safest spots to farm are in lanes where your T1 is down, and who should go there. My article on QG and V outlines how they set this up to allow V to farm and scale safely. Perhaps there is something in here that you can adapt when responding to a T1 that has been pushed in, and you need to stall for a while

Focus on designing a solid, definitive team composition that has a solid identity and stick to it throughout the game. IMT play their own game. Don’t get bogged down in beating them in Picks and Bans or in lanes, because you won’t. It isn’t their style to smash your face in 1v1, Laner v Laner. They will rotate around what your strengths are. Choose key match ups, and ban against champions who think is going to ruin the composition you are going for. Exactly what this is will change between teams. They don’t like Tahm Kench because he absolutely ruins the flow of pressure and damage output onto targets. Choose a similar pick that will disrupt what you want to do and ban them out. Focus practice onto using 2, 3, 4 champions in dives, tower dives and control, and working together. Teams don’t work together as well as IMT do, because all 5 players have committed to taking the said tower, and stay till the end. You need to do the same. Run the same gauntlet they do. If they fail a tower dive, dragon, baron, they are stalled out because they didn’t take the pressure on the other side of taking the objective. Use that, turn it against them in a way that is going to suit your team and your team’s composition.

Don’t be afraid to give up an objective. Learn to adapt to the change in plan, and commit to it. I see most teams in the NA LCS make really bad calls in relation to committing to a team fight, taking an objective and it loses them games. TSM had IMT beat, but the Baron call was poor because death timers were finished, and they probably didn’t realise, and thought they could do it faster. Bad call. My approach to life is if you second guess something, don’t do it. And I haven’t looked back. Teams need to make a definitive decision, and if there isn’t one, don’t do it. The risk far far outweighs the reward. And these death timers will lose you the game.

Play Immortals at their own game – they have designed theirs to beat you at yours, because there are flaws in your team comps and strategies. NA Teams seem to be unable to react to big changes in game strategy, and just continue to try to push the wrong win condition. Maybe it’s the one they practiced all week. Win conditions change every minute. IMT adapt much better than everyone else because they have such a good/great/excellent understanding of where the power in their team comp lies and if a situation arises that requires them to do something they probably cannot pull off, they just walk away. That is why they are now 9-0 at the time of writing this article (the Dignitas game recently finished). Something could change. But if it doesn’t, the only team that will beat Immortals is Immortals (in the NA LCS).