The Pride of A Nation : FW and AHQ soar to the quarterfinals
Both the Flash Wolves and AHQ found themselves in dire straits after a disappointing first week of the 2015 League of Legends World Championship. Both Taiwanese squads started off the group stage with 1-2 records and were already counted out to get out of the groups even before the tournament started. The truth to most predictions seemed like an eventuality but the Flash Wolves and AHQ silenced the doubters in the second week with formidable performances across the board. Taiwan combined for a 6-1 record to cap off the group stage and, thus, tickets for the quarterfinals in London got booked.
The Eastern Empire Strikes Back
The LCS teams started off Worlds in a big way, to say the least. After Week 1, Origen had a 3-0 record, Cloud 9 shocked AHQ's group B with an also impressive 3-0 start and Counter Logic Gaming led group A alongside KOO Tigers with 2-1 records. At least for the first week, CLG showed that they could indeed move on to the quarterfinals along with the Korean team of their group, while Cloud 9 proved that they aren't pushovers either by burying the struggling Invictus Gaming and Origen actually beat KT Rolster in a thrilling head-to-head. For many viewers, especially with China's disappointing display, the demise of the Eastern Empire was sealed already. However, in Week 2, another member of this hemisphere orchestrated the counterattack : Taiwan. Occupying two slots of eight quarterfinalists, the question remains whether or not these Taiwanese representatives can become the Darth Vader to the Korean Emperors.
Improving Between Weeks
- Flash Wolves
With a scrappy defeat to Counter Logic Gaming in their first match of the tournament, by arbitrary logic, not many thought that Steak and his crew could even take a game off of the Korean KOO Tigers. However, the felines have been known for playing a relatively safe early game which the wolves have no issues at all to play into as they employ a methodical and slow paced early game also. Quite surprisingly, the Flash Wolves established that they had KOO's number by claiming the head-to-head series 2-0 and they did so in playing KOO's own game but even better. After all, out of all the LMS teams, the team under Steak's captaincy have the playstyle that is the most similar to the Koreans, which insinuates an economy first approach. They usually keep the game under control by effectively trading objectives across the map with improved vision control and they eventually spiral the game out of control with a well played team fight :
FW vs CLG (Week 2)
KOO vs FW (Week 2)
The X factors to a fantastic Week 2 have been the step ups of Maple and NL as they lead the Damage/Minute statistic of their respective roles and they lead the whole tournament, ranked first and second for that statistic. Maple fell back to his notorious Leblanc and NL dished out tons of damage with new found proficiency on Jinx, a champion he isn't known for as he played the Loose Cannon only once during the LMS summer playoffs combined with the LMS regional qualifiers. Nonetheless, the overall dynamics of the team have been key to success because the Flash Wolves understand themselves and play accordingly.
Heading into a supposedly top lane centered meta, Steak was heavily criticized as a top laner himself even before Worlds began. Assuming that he was a liability to begin with, he was at the aim of most ganks from opposing junglers. In the wake of this harassment, Steak displayed tremendous composure as he has only died 12 times in 6 games, tied for 10th in that category with the likes of his own teammate Karsa as well as Piccaboo and Nagne. Steak's pick for Week 2 has been Lulu, a typical component to a "Protect the Jinx" composition, which has paid dividends as the team seems to have faith in NL to carry. Also, Maple is known as an assassin player which suggests that when the Flash Wolves draft Lulu, it's for Steak in the top lane. Especially in this patch, the Fae Sorceress is such a powerful pick that most teams ban it. However, since Nidalee is often a viable ban against Karsa and, as mentioned before, Maple has displayed a reluctance to play her, she slips by the bans against FW. Speaking of Karsa, known as the best jungler out of his region, he definitely proved deserving of such a title thus far as he has showcased an important quality to a world class jungler : efficiency. Both in terms of pathing and farming, he remains great but also the timing of his ganks have been better than his counterparts. For example, you would often see Xmithie make his way top three times in a row for a gank without really getting anything out of Steak. While Karsa established his trademark synergy with Maple to burn Pobelter's flash in one timely ambush. Finally, in addition to knowing that most opponents have Steak in their crosshairs, that enables the opposite side of the map to play aggressively. SwordArt has played very well so far. As the support player, he dictates the bot lane and he has done so, with success, against top duos such as CLG's Rush Hour and the Gorilla/PraY combo.
It's also important to note the warding of the Flash Wolves. Those wards are coherent and ensure the possibility of implementing their objective based game plans. The deciding moment in their Week 2 encounter with CLG was an opportunistic Baron call by the Flash Wolves. The sieges that ensued were well planned and the various picks that Maple instigated with his revered Leblanc snowballed the game out of control. Against the KOO Tigers in their Week 2 encounter, the Taiwanese team placed 22 wards shy of their Korean opponents. However, especially in the early game, KOO dominated the vision control. Yet, they failed to pull the trigger and capitalizing on the vision that they had. The best that they could do was to spot recalls or enemies in the top side of the map and nab themselves the early dragons. Instead, FW gladly traded the top tower. Overall, from that perspective and from the graph above, the economy remained stable and with the gold swing that eventually occurred around Dragon. Wards placed have always been a quality over quantity type of statistic. With the results that they've obtained, the Flash Wolves showcased that their wards are indeed quality material.
In the last day of their respective group stage, after triumphing over Pain Gaming and then Counter Logic Gaming, their last win of the day against KOO Tigers stamped their claim as Group A's first seed as well as hitting two birds with one stone by indirectly knocking CLG out of the tournament. Since Steak is quickly becoming somewhat of a meme, it just goes to show that savage memes do in fact melt playoff dreams.
- AHQ e-Sports Club
On their side, in the much more competitive group B, AHQ didn't drop the ball either after a disappointing Week 1. In typical AHQ fashion, they always demonstrate that there is beauty in chaos. Yet what pleasantly surprised me the most out of AHQ was the fact that they were able to explore each player's champion pool. Arguably the most sought out player of his region, Ziv has consistently put up great performances throughout the tournament already, mainly playing Gnar and Darius but not afraid to play mind games by flexing the Kennen pick with Albis. Similarly to North America's jungler Rush with his Lee Sin, Westdoor will play his signature champions wherever the meta is headed. His Twisted Fate, Fizz, Diana and Ahri often draw out bans from enemy teams. However, AHQ has a crucial weakness in Picks & Bans as they can be extremely predictable where they absolutely ALWAYS ban Azir and it may very well be due to Westdoor disliking the champion itself, the matchups in accordance to his champion pool (although Fizz can get to Azir and assassinate him...) or the team as a whole find that Emperor's Divide is too disruptive against their heavy skirmish playstyle. That's something to keep an eye on, whether or not AHQ switch up their Pick & Ban phase. Finally, the shining light to the AHQ lineup has undoubtedly been the bot lane of AN and Albis. AN, especially, has performed in stellar fashion with his Jinx in Week 2 but let's not forget to show some love to his support Albis who greatly contributes to his AD Carry's ability to autospace.
Week 2 performances :
|vs. C9 (tiebreaker)||6-1-6||3-3-11|
However, they might have drawn too much spotlight onto themselves as they will probably have bans coming their way in the form of Tahm Kench and Jinx. That might throw a wrench into AHQ's overall tactics but AN and Albis have proven that they won't necessarily be uncomfortable on other champions if that really comes to it. The final member of the AHQ squad is the one that is the most vulnerable during the draft : Mountain. After a disastrous showing of his Rengar, it is well known that the most viable strategy when drafting against AHQ is to narrow down their jungler's champion pool. Also, even during the game, Mountain makes questionable decisions whether it's not being at the right place at the right time or simply in terms of mechanics, the Taiwanese jungler will have to step it up in their upcoming quarterfinal bout.
A reason to rejoice about AHQ, similarly to their fellow countrymen, has been their vastly improved vision control. Here are the statistics from their Week 2 matches :
AHQ vs. IG C9 vs. AHQ
FNC vs. AHQ AHQ vs. C9
AHQ have usually outwarded their opponents thus far in the tournament. Even looking back at the Mid-Season Invitational, as a preview of the LMS representative, many criticized their negligence of wards as they would blindly team fight, solely relying on their mechanics and, nonetheless, very validated team fighting abilities. Yet, now they've added a much more controlled vision game, a tool that will always come in handy and a tool that often distinguishes the good teams from the greater ones. Since they're a team that loves to fight so much, AHQ definitely uses the wards that they place to force encounters. In doing so, they've added even more beauty to an already beautiful chaos.
Both the Flash Wolves and AHQ have formidable opponents in their quarterfinals matches. On one hand, the Flash Wolves go against Origen, a team that turned heads after beating KT Rolster in their Week 1 tussle. Origen have also showcased a very refined drafting phase. Some might say the European squad has gotten the luck of the draw but not all is lost for Taiwan. What actually goes into FW's favor is that Origen, so far in the tournament, start their games somewhat slowly, averaging a deficit of 971 gold at the 15 minute mark. While the Flash Wolves do also average a deficit at the 15 minute mark, they've shown against the KOO Tigers that they have no problem in playing that kind of game. What can also advantage the Taiwanese team is that they're seeded higher than Origen so they can choose which side they start the best of 5. That might be the deciding factor in a matchup that I foresee going all the way to hearing Silver Scrapes. What does stain the LMS's second seed's accomplishments is the fact that they've struggled against the Wildcard team Pain Gaming in the group stage. While the Brazilian team did show that they're no slouches after all, as a quarterfinalist, it still raises some questions on the level of polish that the Flash Wolves have.
On the other hand, the players of AHQ have the tallest task of their careers as they take on Korean titan : SK Telecom, the favorites of the tournament. Plus MaRin and his crew have the luxury of choosing which side they start, exactly like the Flash Wolves. With the success of the blue side in this tournament, you can expect SK Telecom to start on that very side. Thus, the aforementioned predictability factor of AHQ's draft phase comes back into question. Unless, they're making an important mistake, teams on red side always ban Mordekaiser and Gangplank. For AHQ, they've made it clear that when they're on red side their third ban is Azir, which is somewhat valid if it is indeed Easyhoon that starts for SKT. Nevertheless, the mighty Koreans can easily first pick Elise, a champion that Bengi has absolutely excelled on which consequently takes away one of Mountain's viable champions also. SKT can even choose to punish the Taiwanese jungler even harder by banning out his Rek'Sai and Gragas or typically ban Westdoor's signature picks. Despite all of this, to put it simply, AHQ can still manage to run away with wins in doing something that they're very good at : make the game ugly. Westdoor and his crew have to start a tornado and hope that SKT are drawn into their chaotic approach and establish their dominance in their own realm. They can't beat the Koreans at their game but within their own comfort zone, there might be a glimpse of hope. In the end, rationally speaking, SK Telecom seem to outmatch AHQ. Yet the true deciding factor is that the Korean squad practically control the draft, something that has been crucial in the present World Championship, which probably seals the LMS's first seed's fate. As Westdoor will presumably be unable to grab his infamous Twisted Fate, it is even more unlikely that he twists his team's fate.
Confronted with tall orders in the next stages of Worlds, whether both LMS teams get eliminated in the quarterfinals or they incarnate their inner Taipei Assassins, Taiwan should already be proud of how their representatives valiantly carry its nation's pride. They currently occupy two out of eight quarterfinal slots, when not many predicted that both of them would get out of groups considering the dynamics of their respective groups. They have proven that their proximity with China and Korea has indeed paid dividends and they should no longer be underestimated. Unlike North America, they have taken the time to develop their own talent pool and improve their infrastructures. Moreover, they have made a strong argument that a third seed for their region is indeed reasonable.
Thus, this region can only become stronger in the years to come. Both Maple and SwordArt are under 18 years old after all! Fortunately for us viewers, much remains to be seen in this year's World Championship. Some dreams will be crushed and others will come true but, as all of these world class players have done, what's most important is to set yourself something worth chasing for.
My name is Christopher "Wave" Phakjarung and, as always, I sincerely thank you for reading!