The First Strike: A closer look into ahq's recent form
Going into the 2016 World Championship, the two representatives for the LMS region will be, once again, ahq e-Sports Club and Flash Wolves. After a surprising surge in performance at last year’s competition, expectations were high for the Taiwanese region this year; however, the general opinion of experts on the relative strength of these teams appears to be quite lower than one could expect. A really important factor leading up to this conclusion is the top teams’ performance in the summer playoffs and, in ahq’s case, the Regional Qualifier.
Coming into the playoffs, both FW and ahq were part of the clear-cut top-three teams in the region, with J-Team leading the regular season standings. After an impressive showing in the 14 best-of-two matches during the Summer Split, J-Team collapsed into the ground, being defeated by FW with a dominating 3-0 performance in the playoff finals and then losing 3-2 to Machi, the sixth-placed regular season team, with an abysmal best-of-two record of 2-5-7, in the semifinals of the Qualifier. In the end, it was ahq who capitalized on J-Team's implosion, winning the Qualifier finals with a smashing 3-0 against an almost inert Machi.
Making Worlds was, for ahq, an apparently easy task, when one looks at the results. They won three best-of-five series with a 3-0 score, two of which came against Hong Kong Esports and one against Machi. They lost to FW in a close 3-2 series, where late-game teamfighting mistakes and rushed decisions cost them the series. They showed, however, an impressive understanding of the early game, especially in the Regional Qualifier, where they held a 100 percent first turret rate, an 83 percent first dragon control rate (they only conceded one dragon overall in a total of six games) and a whopping 2.6k average gold difference at 15 minutes.
While the stats show that ahq might be the best early game team of the whole region right now, this holds true in large part due to the opposition they recently met. Machi were previously mentioned; Hong Kong Esports was the fourth seed of the regular season and came into playoffs as the clear underdog, with a losing best-of-two record of 0-2-4 against the top-three teams, and specifically a 0-2 record against their direct opposition in the quarterfinals, ahq.
Both HKE and Machi played a reactive playstyle, conceding an almost total freedom of action to their more early game proactive opponents. This enabled Westdoor’s team to basically do whatever they wanted in the part of the game they’re strongest at, and thus gain enough of a lead, both in gold and objectives, to dictate the overall pace of the game. Even then, however, their execution wasn’t always clean enough to guarantee a swift win.
On the other hand, when FW was able to contain ahq’s movements and plays in the early game, effectively negating a huge part of their rival’s gameplan, this highlighted some of the aforementioned mid-game issues about ahq’s play, where they tend to go for risky plays around objectives (mostly Baron) and to overstay and over commit to sieges and teamfights; situations in which they normally tend to come out ahead by virtue of normally having a sizeable gold advantage. What was nothing more than a temporary setback against weaker opponents became a game-changing aspect when they ended up facing a team that could actually punish those mistakes.
The inability to sometimes adapt their calls to the current situation of the game is what might come back to haunt ahq in their Worlds run.
The Taiwanese team will face EDward Gaming, H2k-Gaming and INTZ in Group C of the World Championship. Their mid-game management will most likely define the matchup against the Chinese titans, since it’s one of the greatest points of strength of the EDG squad. Against H2k, on the other hand, they’ll have to deal with the lane pressure of the Forg1ven/Vander duo and face two solid laners in Ryu and Odoamne. In both matchups, Mountain will have to deal with world-class junglers. On one hand, the early game "King of First Blood," Jankos, and on the other, the master of counter-ganks, Clearlove.
Both teams will pose a greater threat to ahq than any other team they met in the LMS final phase. They won’t find early leads nearly as easily, and mistakes will be harshly punished. And while the Taiwanese team has shown domestic dominance against weaker teams and to be able to challenge the Flash Wolves, they have also displayed an overreliance on early leads and faulty mid and late decision-making, at the very least extending the game way more than necessary. They’ll need to fix these issues in this weeks of preparation to realistically try and reach the quarterfinals, definitely an uphill struggle for the veteran team of Taiwan.
How do you think ahq will perform at Worlds? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.