A few months ago, Unicorns of Love were a little-known challenger team, trying their hand at LCS qualification. The team’s attempt started miserably, going 0-2 in the 5 match series against Millenium.
Enter a surprise pick that would soon become legendary. After Millenium top laner Kevin blind picked Dr Mundo in game 3, his UOL counterpart, Vizicsacsi, replied with rarely-played champion Poppy.
He would go on to play incredibly well in that game, ending with a score of 8/0/7. UOL would go on to stage a terrific comeback, winning the series 3-2. Many touted Vizicsacsi’s performance as key to UOL’s mental turnaround in that series.
Largely due to both Vizicsacsi’s Poppy pick and their creative name, they received a plethora of fans. This fanbase voted them into IEM San Jose. UOL Jungler Kikis, who had replaced the team’s former jungler Gilius, pulled out another surprising pick at this event. He took Twisted Fate into the jungle, and ruined solo-queue for the weeks that followed. UOL surprised many by reaching the finals of the tournament, where they were beaten by NA giants Cloud 9.
In the EU LCS Summer Split that followed, UOL have again exceeded expectations by reaching the finals of the end-of-season playoffs. They notably eliminated SK Gaming in the semi-finals, winning games with uncommon picks such as AP Kog Maw, Udyr and Jungle Gnar.
UOL has become synonymous with two things: cheese picks and surprisingly good performances. The most significant moments in its history have happened with a combination of these two things present. It is more than chance that has brought the two signature traits of UOL together in these instances.
The UOL members are not known as particularly incredible players individually. They are by no means bad players, but it would be difficult to find a spot for any of them in a team of EU’s best. Despite this, they have made the EU LCS playoff finals over star-studded outfits such as Elements and SK Gaming. Instead of relying upon star power, UOL rely on other factors to stand out from the other teams.
One of these factors is their tendency to cheese. Their cheese has resulted in success for them regularly enough that it can be accepted as a genuinely effective tactic. Cheese has precedent: it has been a known tactic of teams from weaker regions to attempt to use cheese to overwhelm stronger teams.
There is no reason that cheese should not be used by teams against opposition of a comparable level, either. UOL is proof of this. If cheese can serve to close the gap between unequal teams, why should it not give an edge to teams of a similar level?
Cheese is beneficial in that it puts your opponent in a position for which they are not prepared. Presuming that the cheesing team has practised their cheese tactics or champions, they are placed in a significantly more comfortable position than their opponents, who are likely to be confused about how to deal with these tactics or champions. Millenium were not prepared to deal with a Poppy lane. Nobody at IEM had practised against Twisted Fate jungle enough to understand its power spikes, gank pressure and weaknesses. In these two situations, UOL could drive home the strengths of these champions, and avoid having their weaknesses exploited.
Of course, the meta exists for a reason. There are lots of complicated factors that contribute to the formation of a meta, and to imply that the meta is not a true reflection of the state of the game would be naïve. But if one takes into account what the meta is, one can find uncommon picks that can either fit into the meta, or counter it. Cheese must still be calculated, or at least undertaken knowing that the risk has the potential to provide a significant reward.
Let this not take away from the other reasons for UOL’s extended period of impressive performance. They did not cheese every game of the EU LCS – in fact, they properly cheesed only a select few. They are a strong outfit regardless of whether they pull out surprise picks or not. But cheese is undoubtedly one of the more impressive bows in their proverbial quiver of strengths, and long may it continue.