Jan 21 2016 - 3:27 am
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Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read: Immortals and Renegades Demonstrating Proper Wave Control

A look at how NALCS teams correctly (and incorrectly) address minion wave pressure and freezes.
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One week after the opening day of the Season 6 professional circuits, League of Legends strategy is as convoluted as ever, with teams trying crazy, out of the box compositions and tactics.  With the dust having settled, we’ve been seeing numerous games with 3v0 lane swaps, which have caused a back-and-forth effect of minion lane pressure.  In taking a deeper look at minion wave control across regions, there’s a very distinct difference in teams that know what to do depending on a lane’s pressure, and teams that have no clue what to do.  Namely, the differences are about “knowing what to do," the end result being a win or loss.

Nevertheless, making a lane work in one’s favor doesn’t always mean having pressure in a lane or knowing what to do.  In the NALCS, many teams are not demonstrating a proper understanding of lane pressure, particularly in regard to frozen lanes.  Freezing a lane of course is the act of corralling the minions in one’s lane just outside one’s own turret range, offering their opponent the opportunity to freely roam about the map for the tradeoff of missing out on minion gold, experience, and lane pressure. The counter for those facing a freeze has been creating pressure elsewhere on the map, forcing the freezing team to react and break their freeze.

With all the Dr. Mundo compositions that have been run of late, often freezing a lane and simply farming up has brought teams massive advantages.  However, despite the opportunity to counter and apply this pressure elsewhere, teams are not doing so.  In the Immortals versus Team Impulse and Renegades versus Team Liquid games, there are clear examples of both what teams should do during freezes, and what teams should be avoiding at all costs.

Immortals versus Team Impulse

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In this game, a lot of our focus is going to be placed on the top lane.  Beginning the game with standard lanes, Feng’s Dr. Mundo is forced into a 1v1 versus Huni’s Fiora.  This matchup is very hard on Dr. Mundo.  Lifesteal and similar effects are powerful in matchups against Dr. Mundo, so as long as Huni is able to consistently hit his vitals on Dr. Mundo, the Fiora should never be in a position where the Dr. Mundo has any real kill or lane pressure on her.  However, Huni doesn’t win the lane merely due to his favorable champion matchup, but more so because of his excellent wave manipulation and pressure.

At 6:10 into the game, we see that Feng’s Dr. Mundo has begun to push the wave in towards Huni’s turret after Huni quickly backs to pick up his Tiamat.  With one minion left, Huni teleports back onto his minion, and essentially wins lane right there and then because of the chain reaction that the play sets off.

 

Upon re-entering lane, Huni masterfully weaves his way in and out of the minions, last hitting and controlling the wave with precision.  One of Impulse’s win conditions is to safety transition Feng’s Dr. Mundo to late game, so they need to break the freeze somehow.  Now there are a number of ways to break a freeze, but the main two ways are to either dive the opposing player, or to apply pressure elsewhere on the map to either draw the player away from their lane or to force them to begin fast pushing.  Impulse does neither of these things, despite having a teleport advantage from Feng not using his to return to lane.  That’s the correct decision from Feng anyways, as there’d be nothing that he could do with Huni freezing the lane anyways.

So, considering that Dr. Mundo won’t be effective at all diving the Fiora this early on and that Team Impulse has a teleport advantage, the solution to ending this freeze seems to be a teleport play to another lane and to put pressure on another part of the map so that Huni has to fast push his lane.  Impulse does not do this.  Instead, Feng will walk back to lane and be ineffective while Huni builds up a gold lead over him.

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Reignover and Adrian dive Feng

We’ve also seen over time how effective diving a Dr. Mundo early is, and sure enough as soon as Huni sends his wave crashing into Impulse’s turret Reignover and Adrian show up and pick up a kill on Feng.  Not only is Feng now not gaining gold or experience due to being dead, but the huge wave that Huni built up is shown on his gray death screen crashing into his turret.  Upon respawning, Feng is once again faced with the option of either walking to lane or teleporting, and because he’s falling so far behind and must catch this wave to stay relevant, he teleports to his turret.  Immortals is aware of the situation that the Dr. Mundo is in, and so they simply stay and wait for Feng to return, and immediately kill him again when he returns.

At this point in time, Dr. Mundo is now a kill and nearly 40 minions behind Fiora.  Nevertheless, Team Impulse will once more err in correctly breaking a freeze from Huni.  The wave bounces back from Impulse’s turret, and Dr. Mundo and Fiora farm slowly as the wave pushes in the direction of Immortals’ turret.  This once more sets up Huni to create a long freeze.  Despite Huni’s Fiora being miles ahead in terms of gold and experience, Impulse decides to try and break the freeze by diving Huni instead of rotating and applying pressure elsewhere.  Once the minion wave collides with the turret, Impulse pulls up Nidalee, Twisted Fate, and Alistar to dive Huni. However, the dive is poorly coordinated, and because the Fiora is so far ahead already, Huni manages to knock out all four Impulse members with the help of Pobelter.  Impulse comes out of this 2v4 fight with four kills and zero deaths.

altHuni capitalizes on Impulse's horrid decision making

What we see here is a prime example of how simple wave control can win lanes, but additionally how a number of teams don’t understand how to break a freeze.  Considering that one of Impulse’s win conditions is transitioning the Dr. Mundo safely from early game to late game, one would think that they would be more aggressive in trying to break the initial freeze that Huni sets up after his teleport.  Nevertheless, Huni and Immortals are not pressured anywhere on the map, and the lack of wave control and utilization of a teleport advantage meant that the Dr. Mundo lost lane upon a mere Fiora teleport. This of course also comes from a thorough understanding of one’s enemy on the part of Immortals, showcased by their decision to stick around and kill Feng after his teleport.

Renegades versus Team Liquid

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In the Saturday matchup, Renegades managed to defeat Team Liquid in one marathon of a game involving sloppy play on both sides.  However, Renegades was certainly not to blame for their wave control early on in the game.  In a matchup once more involving a Dr. Mundo, Renegades was the team tasked with assuring that the Madman of Zaun reached hypertank status safely as a win condition.  Played by RF Legendary, his use of Dr. Mundo and Renegades’ wave control demonstrates a much better understanding of how to achieve their objective and successfully transitioning Dr. Mundo from one stage of the game to the next.

The game begins with a trade of outer turrets, and then identical swaps back and another turret trade, leaving the map fairly open with long side lanes.  As Piglet on Lucian takes the Renegades bottom turret much later than Freeze and Remi take the Liquid top turret, RF Legendary hangs around the bottom lane to collect farm while Lourlo, Liquid’s new top laner, corrals up the small minion freeze top side.  Freeze on Kalista rotates down, and Dr. Mundo rotates top at 9:07 once Kalista arrives.

By this point in time, the wave top lane has bounced and is slowly coming back to Renegades’ tier two top turret.  RF Legendary begins his freeze at 9:52, and considering the long lane, Lourlo has all the time in the world to do whatever he wants.  Apparently, that’s nothing – he merely wanders around the river and Renegades blue buff jungle aimlessly and eventually backs at 11:19.

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RF Legendary begins his deep freeze

The huge issue for Team Liquid here is that one of their major win conditions is the converse of Renegades’, namely keeping the Dr. Mundo down and delaying his power spike as much as possible.  If Team Liquid was able to create a play elsewhere on the map during this time, they would force some sort of reaction from RF Legendary.  Nevertheless, just like Team Impulse in the game prior, they do nothing to break the freeze.  No teleport play is made, and furthermore Lourlo’s Gnar contributes absolutely nothing of value to Team Liquid during this time in terms of pressure to potentially stop RF Legendary’s freeze.

Now, after the wave bounces back, we finally see Renegades demonstrate how to break a freeze.  At 12:19, the top wave finally returns to the halfway river mark of the lane.  Lourlo is sitting a full 30 minions behind RF Legendary’s Dr. Mundo at this point in time, so Team Liquid clearly did not properly attack their win conditions and set Dr. Mundo up for failure.  In the meantime, Piglet had begun to freeze the bottom lane, leaving Freeze out in the cold.  While Piglet is able to take advantage of the minion waves for a bit, Freeze and Remi counter by moving to the mid lane and applying pressure onto the turret, constantly shoving the wave with Alex Ich into the turret.

At 12:52, Freeze and Remi force a fight in the mid lane.  By this point in time, the wave bottom had already begun to bounce back, but the wave that Piglet is on nearly evaporates during the fight, knowing that he may have to run over quickly to mid lane and join the fray.  Nothing comes of the engagement as Renegades are unable to pick up the kill, but the slow end to the freeze bottom lane was thoroughly broken by applying pressure to the engagement.  As Piglet leaves the lane, Renegades are in position to do whatever they want with the bottom lane, and Piglet was still unable to catch Freeze in minion score, sitting nearly twenty minions behind.

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Mid lane engage by Renegades forces Piglet to accelerate push

The failure to aggressively break the top lane freeze by RF Legendary and Team Liquid’s passive play show a generally passive play style that simply does not work.  When a team has win conditions, they must be aggressively pursued.  That is why they are called “win,” not “hey guys, this might help” conditions.  On the other hand, Renegades demonstrated a much clearer understanding than Team Liquid and Team Impulse about how to counter a frozen minion wave.

Conclusion

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Yes, picks and bans are crucial to a team’s success, but the manipulation of minion waves can either funnel gold into a team or create a vacuum of a lane where nothing can be done.  The best teams know how to control waves to gain massive advantages, and a large part of gaining control over waves comes from knowing how to freeze a lane, and what to do when a lane is frozen.  While Immortals and Renegades demonstrated an excellent understanding of what moves are necessary depending on the pressure of a lane, Team Liquid and Team Impulse have been found wanting and need to make more conscious decisions regarding lane pressure.  With the prominence of the 3v0 lane swaps and ensuing freezes in the current meta, properly understanding pressure, freezes, and how to stop a freeze are critical skills for achieving success.

If you enjoy this content, you can find all former articles here or follow Xmeik on Twitter (@lolXmeik) or on Facebook for updates on future articles. For more of "Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read" series, be sure to check out articles from previous weeks:

January 6th, 2016: Hai's Pathing at IEM and a Discussion on Macro Strategy
December 30th, 2015: Looking Back on 2015 and End of Year Awards
December 23rd, 2015: Fnatic's Counter to the Fast Push
December 9th, 2015: A Look at Power Picks and Bold Predictions
November 18th, 2015: IEM San Jose Power Rankings
November 11th, 2015: Kindred in Competitive Play
November 4th, 2015: SKT vs. KOO and the Anatomy of a Lane Swap
October 29th, 2015: Comparing Marin, Smeb, and Ssumday

 

Photo credit to: lolesports.com, gamenetwork.eu, immortals.gg
Video credit to: r/loleventvods
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