To Be Continued: Team Gravity
Newly promoted side, Team Gravity, enjoyed a satisfactory NALCS spring split – achieving a 5th/6th place finish after qualifying for playoffs. However, the team underwent roster changes following the announcement that veterans Saintvicious and Cop would be retiring from professional play. Gravity managed to fill the vacant roles with the additions of Korean solo queue jungler Move and promising Winterfox ADC Altec. Furthermore, the team appointed their former ADC Cop as the team's head coach.
These changes raised many doubts within the community. On one hand, Gravity removed experience and shot calling from the lineup, but, on the other, managed to reinvigorate an already talented lineup by adding two players with high skill ceilings. With proper coaching this group of young and relatively inexperienced players could potentially fight for the top spots. However, there were concerns that Cop did not possess the necessary experience or skill set to lead and coach a team. Cop has always been perceived as having a timid personality and has never publicly displayed a detailed level of game knowledge. With this in mind, expectations for the team were low heading into the summer split.
To everyone’s surprise, the team collected 11 wins in their first 14 games, which included a 6 game win streak against the likes of TSM, CLG, Team Liquid, and Team Impulse. The hot streak placed them firmly in first place and the team legitimately appeared to be a contender for the best team in North America. This streak can be attributed to three things: early game map pressure, Altec as a hard carry, and team fighting.
The biggest critique of North American teams this past split is passivity in the early game. It appeared as if most teams agreed on a rule to play out the early game without too much interaction. Gravity was the exception to this rule. Teams struggled to adjust to Gravity’s early aggressions, which was in large part due to Move. The rookie jungler possesses a gank-heavy mindset and sacrifices jungle farm in order to get lanes ahead. Unlike Rush, however, Move would also light up the map with wards – something his Korean counterpart isn’t particularly fond of. Overall, Move’s selflessness paid off because enemy teams were unable to anticipate his awkward pathing and patience to gank.
Additionally, Altec became the team’s primary hard carry – something Gravity lacked during the spring split. While Cop was an admirable ADC who made few mistakes, he was rarely able to carry his teams singlehandedly. Altec, however, has displayed his ability as a top ADC in NA, dealing 31.1% of his team’s damage and 570 damage per minute (third highest in the league for ADCs, only 18 damage behind Doublelift). What makes Altec standout is his incredible ability to team fight, positioning himself outside of enemy’s reach, and still managing to make a meaningful impact. Furthermore, Altec has been required to do more damage because his midlaner, Keane, has favored picking off-meta champions like Malphite, Urgot, Rumble, and other low damage midlane champions in a control mage/poke meta. Fortunately for Gravity, Altec has more than compensated for his midlaner.
Furthermore, Gravity displayed a strong sense for team fighting compared to other North American teams. Their top laner, Hauntzer, is one of the better tops in NA when it comes to teleporting for a skirmish or teleporting for a flank. Alongside BunnyFuFu and Move, the team possesses three primary engagers that do extremely well at creating successful skirmishes and targeting the right enemy champions in order to allow Altec to deal sufficient damage.
Gravity’s early game aggression, team fighting prowess, and their addition of a hard carry gave them an edge over teams like TSM and Team Liquid who were still attempting to figure out their own identity. Gravity quickly found what worked for them, and stuck to it – even if it was one dimensional, it placed them ahead of the pack.
After maintaining first place for several weeks, Gravity were finally cracked open in the last two weeks of LCS, dropping down to 4th place after going 1-3 and losing the 3rd place tiebreaker to Team Impulse. The Gravity that was once pummeling top teams no longer existed, and this became apparent in the post-split.
First, Gravity was swiftly defeated 3-1 by Team SoloMid in the first round of playoffs. During the set, Gravity never offered any indication that they could have won the tie on any other day. Following their failed playoff run, Gravity still booked a spot for the gauntlet that would decide North America’s third seed for Worlds. Unfortunately, the team was reverse-swept by eventual gauntlet winners Cloud9 in the first round. The team was broken.
Currently, Gravity is 4-10 in their last 14 games – a poor record compared to their impressive 11-3 start. So, how did a team that looked so dominant for most of the split, fall off so hard at the end?
This goes back to Gravity’s one-dimensional style explained above. The issue with possessing only one method of play and winning with it is that you tend to disregard other areas of your play that could be improved upon. For example, SK Gaming of the spring split was very potent at winning lanes and pressuring the map with a 1-3-1 push. Once teams learned to play around the 1-3-1 push, SK’s form suffered. Thus, enemy teams are able to eventually figure out the strengths and weaknesses of said method, and begin to develop a plan to attack and defeat it.
In Gravity’s case, teams began to predict Move’s movements on the map. Unable to receive significant jungle pressure that can create leads for lanes, Gravity suffered strategically because they were never able to grasp the importance of lane swaps. The failure to develop this facet of their game created larger implications for the team.
The above table is a breakdown of Team Gravity’s early game strength during standard lanes versus lane swaps (only regular split games included in this table). You will notice that there is a remarkable difference in strength between standard Gravity and lane swap Gravity. Not only is Gravity’s win percentage significantly higher when they play standard, but there is more than a 1000 gold difference at 15 minutes between standard (783 gold) and lane swap (-339 gold). It is not completely surprising that Gravity play better in standard lanes. The team is filled with highly mechanical players in every role, including Keane, who, despite his flaws, is one of LCS’ best laners.
Additionally, if you include post-split games, Gravity has obtained a gold lead at 15 minutes in 70% of their games (out of 10 games total) playing standard lanes. When lane swapping, Gravity has obtained a gold lead at 15 minutes in only 35% of their games (out of 17 games total). This suggests that Gravity never meaningfully improved this area of their game throughout the split, which, in turn, heavily affected Hauntzer’s influence as the team’s secondary carry.
Hauntzer is, by default, Gravity’s secondary carry due to Keane’s low impact in the mid- and late-game (partly due to non-carry picks). In standard lanes, Hauntzer managed to accumulate a 530 gold lead at 15 minutes on average, which was able to facilitate Gravity’s high win percentage. But when Gravity lane swaps, they usually sacrifice Hauntzer in the early game. This is mainly a result of their poor understanding of how to allocate meaningful resources for their top laner in lane swap situations. It is important to note that Hauntzer still manages to get an even lead versus his top lane opponent in these instances (almost 0 gold at 10 and 15 minutes). However, without a lead Hauntzer cannot impact the game as much as Altec. Since Keane has not consistently shown his ability to carry games either, Gravity is reduced to a one-threat team in lane swap games, which is flawed because it signals the enemy team to only focus their engages on one champion (e.g. TSM's Olaf-Lulu composition to create an unstoppable backline engage onto Altec).
Essentially, Gravity’s one-dimensional style was very effective during a short period because teams took time figuring out how to counteract Move’s pathing and Gravity’s dominant laning. Once teams began to anticipate Move’s movements and took notice of Gravity’s weaknesses in lane swaps, Gravity significantly suffered to reproduce the success they obtained earlier in the split.
To Be Continued
In perspective, Gravity’s first season as a rookie team can be deemed a successful one. Many challenger teams come into LCS only to be relegated in one or two splits. However, the overall talent of Gravity’s roster makes it difficult not to criticize what could have been a stronger split. Many predicted the team to make Worlds during their 11-3 run, but the team was not able to develop their early game or their shot calling after veterans Saintvicious and Cop left the lineup. Moreover, the team failed to properly utilize Hauntzer as a secondary carry. Ultimately, this is a fault in Gravity’s infrastructure.
While Cop may offer a friendly calm atmosphere, the team failed to develop strategically over 3 months under his leadership. This is disheartening to see because young North American players like Altec, Hauntzer, and BunnyFuFu go through one year of LCS without being provided with the proper infrastructure that can develop them individually as players.
To be fair to Gravity’s management, most North American teams do not have adequate infrastructure to develop players individually and strategically. However, that does not relieve them from criticism, especially when considering their highly talented roster.
Moving forward, Gravity must first retain their star players for the following season. Every Gravity player’s contract runs out this November. Top teams like TSM and Cloud9 will be looking to rebuild after Worlds, so Gravity’s trio of NA players are attractive options for them. Thus, retaining these players will be Gravity’s utmost priority to successfully build off of this season’s progress.
Once Altec, BunnyFuFu, and Hauntzer are secured, Gravity has the choice to keep their Korean players. Move has shown flashes of brilliance, but the player has been heavily plagued by inconsistency and inexperience. Gravity could choose to develop Move into a better LCS jungler, or try their chance to grab other talent, such as Hard from Cloud9 Tempest. As for Keane, I believe we have seen the limits of what the midlaner can provide for a team. While he is certainly not terrible by North American standars, he is not necessarily able to be a threat for a top team in the LCS. Thus, Gravity could choose to import another Korean midlaner that can offer that carry potential in the midlane, such as Incredible Miracle’s Frozen or Anarchy’s Mickey.
Additionally, Gravity must implement a structured coaching environment similar to the one that exists in CLG. This does not necessarily mean Cop has to go, but adding extra coaches and analysts to compliment Cop’s strengths would significantly reinforce Gravity’s learning environment. The key here is to create a system that can properly develop the team that already possesses the talent, but not the knowledge required to defeat top teams.
If Gravity is able to retain their star players and execute infrastructure improvements, the team will be primed to become a top contender in the LCS in season 6.