The Importance of the Macro Game - an evaluation of Picks and Bans in H2K vs FNC
At the highest echelon of professional play, many players have the requisite mechanical skill to perform flashy highlight reel plays and to set fans aflame with both excitement and envy. However, the traits that allow top teams to stay on top exist outside of the realm of micro play; it is a superb macro game that establishes teams as top of the table at home and abroad. This is the first in a series of articles that will break down the recent macro play of the current kings of western League of Legends, Fnatic.
To properly analyze the macro play of Fnatic it seems most approptiate to begin at the beginning, with Picks and Bans. Picks and Bans are a fundamental part of any professional game of League of Legends that serve as the first metric by which to evaluate a team's macro prowess. It is far easier to destroy the oppositions nexus with a well crafted team composition. In Picks and Bans it is key to set yourself up for success while simultaneously setting your opponent up for failure; to maximize your strengths relative to the opposition's weaknesses and to make sure that your road to victory is as easy to traverse as possible. This week's games played by Fnatic contain some of the most interesting Pick and Ban phases in recent EU LCS matches, not necessarily because of any new and exciting picks, but because of the intense strategy at play and the context of the games. This has been the hardest week Fnatic have had to play this week and still they were able to prevail, largely due to their excellence in the Pick and Ban phase.
To start off let's take a look at the phase overall:
Both teams come to this game with clearcut strategies. H2K is clearly trying to pressure Reignover as much as possible in an attempt to set Loulex up to be a bigger factor than Reignover. This strategy likely stems from the inherent difficulty in banning out Huni, as many teams have tried and failed to do, and the inability to really put down Febiven since he will be guaranteed a counter pick as Fnatic plays on purple side. Additionally, as of yet, Reignover is one of the players on Fnatic that has been least pressured via Pick and Bans this split, and when SKT took down Fnatic at MSI they won game 5 off the back of crushing Reignover. Fnatic brings a bot lane focus with their bans designed to push Hjarnan onto a weak pick, especially given H2Ks propensity for playing two threat compositions.
H2K leads off with an Olaf ban. This ban helps to facilitate their Reignover centric strategy by forcing him off a known comfort pick that Fnatic have had great success with. This ban has added value because Loulex does not play Olaf so they achieve the Pick and Ban goal of setting themselves up for success while harming their opponents. Furthermore, this ban is quite effective as a lead off ban because it doesn't reveal much about what H2K plan to play or what their overall plan is for this phase, precisely Loulex doesn't play it. In this manner H2K alleviate a weakness in one player by using it as a tool for obfuscation in this critical phase of gameplay.
Fnatic's initial ban also follows the pattern of not revealing much information. They first ban Thresh. Thresh is a huge playmaking support for KaSing and ought to be a standard ban vs H2K. Thresh also excels at protecting allies from positional errors via his lantern and Fnatic as a team excel at capitalizing on mistakes, thus they want to limit KaSing's ability to protect his team.
H2K follow up with a Ryze ban designed to fulfill two main functions. Firstly it remains a deceptive ban, if H2K were to go for the rek'sai ban their plan would be much more obvious and Fnatic would have more opportunity to switch up their bans accordingly. Secondly, this pick must be banned away from Huni unless they are prepared to play an entire composition around letting Ryze through (as Fnatic do to OG on day 2 of this week) or Huni will become an utter monster that can carry the game with ease.
Fnatic's next ban is hugely important in terms of overall strategy for this Pick and Ban phase. They ban Kalista. This ban has inherent value because of the great strength of Kalista, denying her as a first pick is always a safe option. Moreover, if Fnatic suspect that H2K will continue to focus Reignover then they likely expect that Gragas or Rek'Sai will be firstpicked for Loulex. If that is the case then this ban begins the application of pressure onto Hjarnan. If they expect a jungler to be first picked it means they are guaranteed to be able to grab Rumble, which will more than likely force H2K into a two threat composition. At that point they decide between focusing on the AD threat from botlane or the AP threat from mid. Because there are less tier 1 AD picks and because Ryu is already pressured by Febiven's ability to last pick it is smarter to focus bans at the botlane and force Hjarnan onto an unsafe pick, Jinx, if he wishes to be a reliable threat which he must be for a two threat composition to succeed.
H2K last ban Rek'Sai in order to guarantee themselves Gragas and to push Reignover off of tier one junglers. This is likely just a preference decision for Gragas over Rek'Sai, but it might be predicated on them not wanting to see a Rek'Sai ban in response to a Gragas ban. If H2K decide to go for picking Rek'Sai instead by banning Gragas they have to worry about a potential Rek'Sai ban, since she is slightly above Gragas in the tier. If that permutation were to happen H2K would probably first pick the now available Sivir but would severely hamper Loulex's ability to impact the game.
Fnatic, after seeing their suspicions are correct, finalize their pressure based strategy by banning Sivir and allowing the first pick Gragas.
H2K First pick Gragas as they have been planning to do from the start of Champion Select.
Fnatic respond with a rumble pick to force H2K into a two threat composition, and because of Huni's great strength on that champion. They also take Corki as the end result of their botlane strategy to force Hjarnan onto an unsafe pick or a weak pick.
H2K have a really big problem in champ select now. They are caught between a rock and a hard place with this round of picks. They choose to save their ad carry pick so that they might know if they can go with the unsafe jinx pick that they need to for proper DPS, but in delaying that pick they are forced to pick support and top (they can't pick mid because to do so would grant FNC even more counter pick ability). The problem with picking support and top at the same time is the degree of information it gives to Fnatic. By revealing both Shen and Gnar Fnatic are guaranteed to be playing against a Shen support, which pressures the top/mid sides of the map and leaves bottom much more open, whereas a Shen top pressures the bot/mid. If H2K are going to opt into a Shen support pick then they have to pick something like Lucian because of his safety and ability to contend in a 2v1; thus if they want the Shen support they are denying themselves jinx anyway, as such they can go ahead and pick Lucian and Shen here which would still allow Shen to be flexed top should they want. Fnatic can already deduce the Lucian pick in the next rotation because of the Gnar reveal whereas they wouldn't know if they were going against a Gnar or a Maokai, or even a Hecarim if that pick is saved. H2K fall prey to a sequencing mistake here in their picks.
Fnatic now have to pick their support and their jungler in order to maintain the last pick counterpick for midlane. They choose Alistar because he is a priority pick in this meta and has both strong roaming presence, to potentially match the Shen, and his ultimate and combo allow for potential dives on a stranded AD carry once Shen roams. Furthermore, he is the tankiest support pickable and the Rumble top won't be as durable as other potential options. The Rengar pick comes because of Reignover's success with him last split and his limited options at this point. To be honest I would have really liked a Nidalee pick here, she would fit very well into a poke comp and she is incredibly powerful vs Gragas jungle, so the pick would have turned H2Ks whole strategy on its head, plus she has more frequent ganking power than a Rengar whose ultimate will most likely be blocked by Shen at least every other time. Ultimately they opt for the Rengar, probably to provide a tank threat and because Fnatic like to combo Rengar with long range damage to have him jump out of nowhere and lock a target down for massive damage, which they did to great effective last split with Xerath. Nunu would also have been a good pick here because of the zone control offered via his ultimate and H2K have already shown that they have a two threat composition with one threat, Lucian, being incredibly short ranged. So I think Fnatic potentially missed a step here and didn't pick the 100% optimal pick for this situation, but they might be planning to get some good hunting done on the Shen itself with Rengar so the pick still has viability although they unfortunately aim the Rengar toplane most of the game.
H2K round out their composition with Viktor, a good blind pick option that offers good waveclear and AOE damage. He also has his gravity field that can be dropped should Rengar jump in to either stun Rengar or isolate him from his team. I think Azir might have been better here, still a fairly good blind pick option with an even stronger way to disengage the Rengar via his ultimate, additionally his damage scales higher and thats really important for a two threat compositon. Orianna would also have been really good because of the synergy that exists with her kit and gnar/shen. Viktor is by no means bad in this situation, but I think these other options would have been better. Unfortunately, H2K are pretty much denied the ability to pick Jayce here because they are already running a low threat composition and doubling down on physical damage would severely hinder their late game teamfighting ability.
Fnatic end the Pick and Ban phase by locking in Jayce, a powerful ranged damage threat to combo with Rengar's stealth in for bola lock down, plus they already have a ton of magic damage from Corki and Rumble so a physical damage presence is a good balancing factor. Really the best meta pick available for this situation that strengthens Fnatic's composition on most fronts.
Overall at the end of this Pick and Ban phase I would rate Fnatic's composition as stronger because of the lack of overall damage that H2K locked in. Their avenue of victory should be to achieve standard lanes and get Odoamne really far ahead with early Gragas ganks and then Shen ganks post level six. Fnatic should laneswap and roam with Alistar to provide pressure on the map while Rengar hard farms for his level six so that he will be useful. H2K will have to close out early to win this matchup as Fnatic scales better, unfortunately they do not have a clearcut strong point comparative to Fnatic, which is the main weakness of their composition.