Tracking the Evolution of the Tigers: A Look at GE Tigers vs. Najin E-Mfire
Ever since their crushing surprise defeat at IEM Katowice, the GE Tigers' return to Korea has been highlighted by a series of highs and lows with their 2-0 domination of CJ Entus and subsequent first series loss to KT Rolster, hovering near the bottom of the Champions table. Part of an ongoing evaluation of how the GE Tigers continue to adapt and evolve their growing number of playstyles and strategies, this article will look exclusively at yesterday's Champions series between GE and Najin, using a detailed game analysis approach to highlight how GE dominated this series and what adaptations they brought to the 5.5 meta of competitive LoL.
GE Tigers: Annie, LeBlanc, Twisted Fate
With our initial evaluation, GE's Annie ban removes one of Cain's strongest laning champions from the table when he has traditionally played the role of a hyper aggressive support drawing from the incredible laning threat that he and Ohq present amongst all the bot lanes in Champions. In addition, the LeBlanc and TF bans target Ggoong's relatively small champion pool and remove an element of global control Najin has been using in the last couple weeks of play. The style of using a supportive global midlaner to snowball Najin's incredibly strong side lanes is removed with the TF ban and Ggoong's lack of Karthus in his accessible champ pool.
Najin: Urgot, Lulu, Evelynn
Najin's bans are interesting as they target some of GE's team specific strategies and include the Evelynn ban which seemingly comes out of nowhere. The Lulu ban is an obvious removal of the "Juggermaw" team comp from GE's arsenal and the Urgot ban is based on PraY and SKT's recent use of Urgot as a lane bully and tanky bruiser in scaling tank comps new to the 5.5 meta. What is confusing is the Evelynn ban, which has not been seen anywhere in the most recent competitive meta and is clearly surpassed in utility by other tank junglers such as Sejuani and Zac (GorillA addresses this ban in the post-game interview, stating that this ban is most likely a misread on recent scrims among the Korean teams and was not a champion they intended to play).
GE Tigers: Kalista, Nautilus, Cassiopeia, Gnar, Nidalee
Najin: Thresh, Sejuani, Xerath, Rumble, Twitch
-With first round pick on blue side, GE decides to take Kalista, both as a takeaway from Ohq who has demonstrated his ability to snowball out of control on this champion after a single kill in lane and as a power pick for PraY who also has shown skill as an extreme lane bully on Kalista.
-In response, Najin takes Sejuani and Thresh. With the rise of the 5.5 Cinderhulk meta, Sejuani appears to be the #1 scaling tank jungler pick across multiple regions with her incredible teamfight CC and as a result Najin look to form a teamfight composition with Peanut on this pick. Also, with the removal of Annie, Najin pick an engage support with lane kill pressure in the form of Thresh, looking for some pick elements in their team and a way to help snowball Ohq in the early game.
-GE's round two picks are Nautilus and Cassiopeia, a high damage, ranged, AP mage fitting Kuro's traditional champion pool and showcasing a new support pick for GorillA. Here, the Nautilus corresponds with the growing trend of 5.5 with team comps adopting increasingly tankier champions to create unkillable mid-late game scenarios. More specifically, buffs to Nautilus' Riptide (E) have elevated his position to a priority support pick who is able to consistently dish out reliable CC/picks and is a frontline presence for the team. When evaluated from the perspective of a dual lane however, the strengths of Nautilus are even more magnified when considering Kalista's ability to deal percent based, single target damage with her Oathsworn and the CC potential of Fate's Call throwing Nautilus into a teamfight to cause havoc for the enemy team.
-In contrast, Najin's round two picks are Xerath and Rumble, characterizing Najin's team composition with probably a mid-ranged teamfight focus that will try to kill the opposing team before they get too close. Not too much to say here besides the fact that Ggoong has not traditionally been known as a Xerath player but considering Najin's recent playstyle I believe the idea behind this pick was that Ggoong would be able to ult the side lanes from a central position on the map and help Peanut feed kills to Duke and Ohq. Despite this, I would have preferred to see Ggoong on an assassin, giving him a more comfortable power pick especially with considering his lane matchup against a highly immobile Cassopeia.
-The final two champions GE take to round out their team are Gnar and Nidalee, and here the most obvious aspect of a constantly adapting GE is present. Smeb has shown throughout this season of Champions that his ability to teleport into teamfights at the exact right time is rivaled by few other top laners in Korea and consequently the Gnar pick to not too surprising in this situation. However, GE has never demonstrated the early game aggression and skirmish style that entails Nidalee jungle and this is one of the central picks of game one that characterize GE's gameplay.
-Najin's final pick on red side is a surprise with the Twitch pick for Ohq. Twitch is a champion that peaks in the mid-late game, acting as a hyper carry for the team with his ability to appear out of nowhere and deal tons of damage after reaching itemization thresholds of Blade of the Ruined King and Yomuu's Ghostblade. Addressing this pick, I like the idea of Najin putting Ohq on a hyper carry marksman but when looking at the rest of the team composition, Twitch is super vulnerable to the hard CC on GE's team, especially once Nautilus and Kalista hit level 6 and are able to chain Depth Charge, Fate's Call, and Dredge Line all in one combination.
Looking at both GE's and Najin's comps from a teamplay perspective, both have characteristics of mid-late game powerspikes and teamfight win conditions. Also, going down the line, both teams have ranged mage midlaners, late game hyper carry marksmen, and engage/CC hook supports. However it is also important to note the differences between the two teams, as GE have a vastly superior dual lane with Kalista and Nautilus in comparison to Najin's Twitch and Thresh. Furthermore, Najin's teamfight tank is their jungler (Sejuani) while GE has an early pressure and skirmish jungler (Nidalee), and these two differences create the critical division in playstyle between the two teams.
[2:05] Game 1 begins with both teams setting up their lvl 1 warding and GE is successful in getting three wards deep in Najin's northern jungle while Najin is only able to get their wards along the southern river. When considering the lane matchups, GE definitely want the 2v2 lane in the bottom and yet it seems as though Najin are okay with this matchup as well. This suggests that Najin fail to identify the hidden strengths shared between Nautilus and Kalista or that they simply think Ohq and Cain are skilled enough to still have a successful laning phase.
[3:05] GE's picks allow Lee to abuse Nidalee's early power prior to her jungle counterpart Sejuani hitting level 6 to help snowball Kalista and Cassiopeia in the resulting teamfights both teams need to win in order to take control of the game. In addition, the Nidalee pick is the most powerful when Sejuani is still using the early game to get her first core items to develop some sort of tankiness. We see Lee invade Sejuani's red buff immediately after taking his blue and as a result of his low health, Peanut is unable to contest and immediately falls behind. Furthermore, GE is able to demonstrate that they understand how to play the pressure game extremely well when simultaneously to Lee's invade, all three of GE's lanes are pushing in to prevent Sejuani from receiving any help.
[4:45] This adaptation of a high pressure early game focus is something that GE is not known for, previously being characterized by their excellent ability to play through early game deficits through superior map play and teamfighting. Consequently, Lee seems to have studied Nidalee jungle overnight as he again invades Najin's wolf camp after wards spot Peanut on the top side of the map, putting off Peanut's scaling by even more.
[6:11] GE correctly identify their advantages as soon as they arrive, using their superior presence in the bottom half of the map to gain control over Najin's jungle and thus are able to cleanly take the first dragon of the game at 6 minutes in. By this point Najin has already fallen several hundred gold behind and look to make a play to even up the game.
[7:30] Najin correctly identify that bot lane will be the central focus of the game as both teams look to give their ADCs an early advantage and Sejuani walks bot lane to execute a three man dive under the tower. While they are successful in giving Ohq first blood with a kill on Nautilus, GE's consequent collapse instead gets a kill each for Kuro and PraY and forces Ohq to die to a tower. Not only does this give Kalista and Cassopeia an early lead in terms of kills but it also allows Kalista to gain an exp advantage on Twitch when he is forced to return to lane missing a wave of minions.
[8:18] GE continue to snowball their lead even harder with their new, super aggressive style when GorillA and Lee roam top to gank Duke on Rumble, giving Nidalee a kill.
[10:00] Lee looks to get a gank on botlane again but draws the attention of Peanut with a good ward that Najin places just outside of the botlane tribush. Najin again looks to countergank after Lee leaves but a poorly placed lantern by Cain alerts GE and causes their lane gank to fail pretty miserably.
[12:30] By the time of the second dragon spawn of the game, GE has managed to gain a 2k gold lead and the resulting fight really highlights the teamfighting superiority of Nautilus and the adaptation of an aggressive GE playstyle. GorillA is able to chain Depth Charge and Dredge Line, singling out Ohq and bringing him down to 60% health in the opening seconds of the fight, after which he is caught by an excellent flanking ult by Kuro's Cassiopeia. By this point, the main threats on Najin are already in retreat and GE is able to steamroll the rest of the fight and take their second dragon, using Nautilus' CC effectively to get three kills while Najin only manage to get one.
[15:25] A great example of GE's strategical skill, GE identify Twitch's midgame powerspike after itemizing Blade of the Ruined King by removing their pressure mid and waiting for Ohq to return to botlane to farm. Here, Kalista and Nautilus again show their power as a dual lane by CC'ing Twitch and killing him before Peanut has a chance to countergank despite his proximity to the bot lane.
[17:50] The most effective way to snowball an early lead in the laning phase is to start the process of destroying the enemy team's outer ring of towers and GE begins this process by destroying Najin's botlane tower at 17 minutes into the game. However, what is special about this game is that GE have timed their lane pressure and turret damage so that all three of Najin's outer towers are low enough to be taken at the same time. Within the span of a minute, all three towers and destroyed and this maximizes the gold GE receives at a single point in the game (as opposed to receiving the tower gold in three separate timings), allowing them to exploit huge item advantages for the next fights that are soon to be initiated (7k gold lead at 19min).
[19:30] Dragon three of the game is uncontested by Najin, who are unable to fight GE after falling so far behind and not being able to take a single outer tower. In addition, GE wisely do not give up their gold lead by avoiding a fight when Najin have initiation advantage in the top lane at 20 minutes, allowing them to set up control in the northern jungle and outmaneuver Najin to take the top two inner towers.
[22:20] Due to their huge gold advantage and the high damage of their carries, GE forces Baron at 22 minutes and after taking it, Nautilus targets Xerath and Twitch with his CC to initiate the last teamfight of the game. Here, Xerath is zoned out of the fight by the overwhelming threat of GE's frontline and Twitch is isolated to the front of the team due to some poor positioning by Ohq. GE evaporates three members of Najin with all of their AoE damage and with the help of a Baron, are able to push into Najin's base taking the first inhibitor.
[24:51] After returning with a second baron minion wave, GE is able to muscle their way into taking a second inhibitor and Nautilus is able to get an insane three man Fate's Call knock-up, sealing Najin's fate at 25 minutes.
Najin: Urgot, Nidalee, Cassiopeia
Najin's set of bans for the second game of this series are primarily reactionary bans to the first game of the series. Here, the Lulu and Evelynn bans are replaced by bans against Nidalee and Cassiopeia, removing an element of GE's previous demonstration of early game pressure and the flank/damage threat from Cassiopeia. While Nidalee is a strong ban in this circumstance, banning GorillA's Nautilus should have been a higher priority than a ban on Kuro's Cassiopeia as GorillA's excellent teamfight CC was one of the main critical reasons as to why Najin was thoroughly destroyed in the first game and Najin fail to recognize this.
GE Tigers: Kalista, Twisted Fate, Annie
Again, GE's second set of bans are fairly consistent with their first, the only different being a ban against Kalista replacing their ban against LeBlanc. Obviously now on the red side of pick/ban, GE respect the strength of Ohq's Kalista and remove the risk of Najin first picking it, deciding that it is a greater threat than Ggoong on LeBlanc.
Najin: LeBlanc, Sejuani, Alistar, Twitch, Gnar
GE Tigers: Lissandra, Sivir, Reksai, Nautilus, Hecarim
-Najin use their first round pick to take LeBlanc for Ggoong, a pick I feel that is somewhat questionable. Their first priority seems to put Ggoong on a snowball/comfort pick however GE have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to play against LeBlanc in mid (to their detriment when allowing Faker to take his most powerful champion) and I feel that first round power picks like Reksai were overlooked.
-GE respond on their first round by taking Lissandra and Sivir. These picks are fairly standard within the Korean meta and don’t reveal too much of GE's overall strategy, both champions have been shown to be extremely strong in teamfight scenarios and Lissandra is used as a flex pick for either Kuro or Smeb.
-The second round of picks for Najin are Sejuani and Alistar and it is interesting to note that Sejuani has fallen through the first round picks when she has consistently been either first pick/ban in all regions on 5.5. In this instance, Sejuani is even stronger as a pick due to the Nidalee ban meaning she will have an easier time reaching tank status and getting through her weak early game without having to constantly worry about getting 1v1 killed in the jungle. Again, with the continuation of 5.5 in the competitive scene, one of the champions that has returned to the "World of Tanks" meta is Alistar. Alistar provides some CC and acts as a main frontline tank for the team however does have some individual strengths comparatively to Nautilus, as he is able to provide a stronger element of peel with his Headbutt for a vulnerable ADC.
-Reksai and Nautilus are GE's second round picks and you can notice a trend of Lee continuing to take early game pressure focus junglers with the Reksai pick now replacing Nidalee. Reksai does not have as much of the extreme jungle kill threat as Nidalee does but still has extremely powerful early game ganking potential and can counterjungle effectively with her Tremor Sense. In addition, GE continues to place priority on the Nautilus support pick, which will again provide further teamfight and pick CC in synergy with Reksai.
-Najin's final picks are Twitch and Gnar, providing the team with another teamfight tank and again a confusing return to putting Ohq on Twitch. After seeing the Nautilus pick previously and its devastating effect on singling out Twitch in teamfights, I cant understand why Najin deciding that his champion was a good idea. In this instance, I feel that putting Ohq in a champion with a strong early game, scaling, and an escape like Lucian would have been a much better choice but perhaps Najin tunneled on the idea that they again needed Ohq on a hyper carry to win the game.
-GE's last pick to round out their team is Hecarim, forgoing some late game tankiness in favor of an extremely strong midgame damage spike. Here, there is a strong synergistic relationship with Sivir and the speed buff her ult applies and makes GE's team incredibly hard to escape from once they get onto the opponent's backline. Hecarim is a champion that reaches his max efficiency with homeguard teleport plays and works well when timing these plays with Reksai's built in teleport with her ult so both can appear anywhere on the map as a large damage threat.
Looking at both team compositions, again we can see strong elements of teamfight focus and mid-late game powerspikes. However, this time Najin has a greater ability to snowball the game based on picks, now with the threat of LeBlanc in addition to the midgame threat of Twitch. In addition, GE has a much more powerful midgame when all five of their champions have access to their ults and require these ults to win teamfights accordingly. Despite this, both GE and Najin will have to look for early leads and good engages to take advantages over the other team before falling too far behind.
[1:49] The second game begins with a good early choice by Najin to laneswap Ohq and Cain into the toplane however things quickly go south for Najin when Gorilla invades while Peanut is doing his red buff and Hecarim teleports in to steal it. This is highly uncharacteristic play by GE who seems to have stepped up their early game aggression by even more since the last game.
[3:04] GE's hyper aggression continues with Hecarim moving to the bot lane and conducting a four man gank on Gnar and LeBlanc with Nautilus, Sivir, Hecarim, and Reksai. This results in a 1-2 trade for GE and both PraY and Smeb are able to return to their laning with red buffs to apply even more pressure (already 1k gold lead for GE at this point).
[4:56] The downside to GE's aggressive play is Hecarim falling 20 cs and a level behind Gnar as a result of arriving late to lane, however GE continues to try to snowball their lead with a dual lane tower dive on Ohq in the top lane and jungle gank on Gnar simultaneously in the bot lane netting another 2-1 trade overall. The characteristics of this style of gameplay by GE is consistently engaging and initiating fights on their terms and always leaving their opponent on their back foot with reactionary plays.
[7:17] The tower dives continue with a four man gank again on the botlane resulting in another 2-1 trade in kills, the bot lane tower, and the following dragon they take immediately afterwards. While it can be considered that GE is playing overly reckless at this point, the important thing to note is that they are always the team coming out with advantages as a result of these hyper aggressive plays, meaning that they will continue to gain gold advantages while Najin falls further and further behind.
[11:10] Both teams trade one tower each as they look to pressure different parts of the map however GE returns to the bottom lane again with all five of their members in order to provoke another fight and shut down Ohq even harder. The resulting fight begins with Nautilus hooking in Twitch and the rest of both teams converge, trading kills on supports. At this point, Najin has a positional advantage with GE's members being split in either halves of the bottom lane rock formation however Duke makes a critical mistake and re-engages without the rest of his team. This removes all of Najin's frontline and GE is allowed to chase the rest of them down resulting in four kills for GE to only two for Najin.
[13:38] By this point in the game, GE has managed to snowball their kills into a 5k gold advantage allowing Kuro to get a solo kill on Ggoong, and allowing for a great escape due to some flashy mechanics after getting Headbutted into the tower. (5-11 kills to GE) Although showcasing a new, aggressive playstyle, GE use the kill advantages they have gained to correctly take control of the objectives on the map and apply appropriate lane pressure, forcing their second dragon of the game at 15 minutes to be uncontested by Najin.
[17:20] Map objectives continue to be traded in favour of GE as both teams exchange single kills in the top lane while GE are able to take the inner tower while Najin can only respond with the GE bottom outer tower. By this point, you can see elements of GE's signature forethought and planning as they already have control over the top side of the map in preparation of Baron, still 2 minutes away from spawning.
[20:02] GE slow the pace of the game at an important point in the game, right before the Baron spawn, to prevent any chance of them giving up their lead. Instead, they continue to deny vision within Najin's own jungle and apply lane pressure without putting themselves into dangerous positions.
[22:05] Due to the large degree of control they have over Najin's jungle, GE is able to sneak a Baron at 22 minutes and Najin rush in to a poorly timed fight in response. Cain, Duke, and Peanut all engage onto GE before Ohq and Ggoong even have a chance to get in position and as a result Duke, and Peanut are already dead by the time Ohq starts doing damage. This critical mistake allows GE to simply isolate their targets, chasing them down and securing their third dragon the game for free.
[24:00] Using their baron pressure, GE converge on Najin's base, easily taking the top inhibitor after both Duke and Ohq are killed for simply being out of position. Clearly at this point Najin are on tilt and GE is able to close out another 25 minute game.
What does this incredibly one-sided stompfest really tell us about the GE Tigers? To be honest, actually quite a bit. As elaborated on during the cast, the GE Tigers have never been known throughout their dominant time in Korea to have demonstrated aggressive, early game focus tactics. The fact that Lee was able to add Nidalee to his champion pool and change his playstyle to suit her strengths is a testament to how this team continues to grow and adopt new strategies even after suffering a huge setback at IEM Katowice.
In particular, I thought this series really put Nautilus on the map as one of the best supports in the 5.5 competitive meta outside of Lemonnation's great play on it with C9 in the NA Region. The teamfight CC and pick potential of Nautilus, especially with his synergy with Kalista, make for top tier dual lane that I think very few other duos can fight with toe-to-toe. It will be interesting to see which supports pick up this champion when going into the LCS playoffs in about a week's time.
Furthermore, we see the deprioritization of Sejuani as a first pick for GE and their subsequent early game abuse really highlight some of Sejuani's weaknesses. Peanut had zero to no impact in both games and after falling behind in his jungle clearing, allowed Lee to dictate the pace of the game and where to apply pressure. Perhaps this series will reveal to other teams of the risks associated with first picking Sejuani without banning out strong counterjungling, especially after her nerfs in 5.6.
Finally, looking into the more distance future, I cant help but wonder about the implications of the GE Tigers unveiling ANOTHER style of play when we have the MSI tournament looming closer and closer. How will teams like TSM with a emphasis on international play prepare for a team now like GE? After demonstrating that they can dominate with both early and late game pressure playstyles and specialty team compositions like the Juggermaw, it seems almost impossible to put GE off of a team composition that they are comfortable on. Regardless, these rapid shifts and evolutions in playstyle currently make the GE Tigers one of the most fascinating teams to watch in League of Legends and it is really up to them now to show if they can live up to the hype in their next major international appearance.