Low Economy, First Class: Jin Air's TrAce

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13.5.

That is the current highest KDA in Korea’s OGN Champions Spring 2016 after two weeks of play. Fresh off of his 15.8 overall KDA performances, the best of all regular starters at the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, SK Telecom T1 AD carry Bae “Bang” Junsik is an obvious candidate, yet he currently sits in second place to Mister 13.5, with an 11.0 showing across six games.

One would further assume a KDA this high is that of an AD carry or mid laner, as they are typically afforded the lion’s share of team gold, yet it belongs to a top laner. With former SK Telecom T1’s Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan left Korea, natural guesses fall to KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chanho, ROX Tigers’ Song “Smeb” Kyungho, or even MaRin’s replacement, former NaJin e-mFire top Lee “Duke” Hoseong. All of these aforementioned tops had breakout years in 2015, particularly Smeb and Ssumday; however, Mister 13.5 is none of the above.

The owner of the aforementioned statistic, on the precipice of his own breakout year, is none other than the Jin Air Green Wings’ generally apathetic-looking top laner, Yeon “TrAce” Changdong.

Naturally, KDA isn’t everything – in fact, many League statisticians would argue that it means next to nothing beyond a flashy number – and more remarkable are TrAce’s other Spring 2016 statistics. His average creep score differential at 10 minutes is 10.8, third best in Champions Spring to AD carry Bang (14.2) and Longzhu top laner Koo “Expession” Bontaek (15.2). In eight games, he’s only died four times and has an impressive 71.1 percent kill participation, second-best of all top laners outdone only by SBENU Sonicboom’s Lee “SoaR” Gangpyo with 71.4 percent.

What’s more interesting is how TrAce is achieving these numbers, eschewing the monikers of “low economy” and the more derogatory “washed up,” that were ascribed to him throughout the majority of both Champions 2015 seasons.

Last year’s Jin Air Green Wings roster was centered around mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok. A shoo-in for Korea’s most-improved player had Smeb not existed, GBM showed up to 2015 Champions with a more diversified champion pool than in years past. This was coupled with a newfound ability to not only hold his own in lane, but steadily accrue advantages on his opponents until late where he boasted monstrous performances on the likes of Xerath, Ahri, and Viktor. GBM was complemented by the Green Wings’ bot lanes, where the team swapped between their two AD carries, veteran Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyungwoo and up-and-comer Na “Pilot” Woohyung, and two supports, Lee “Sweet” Eunteak and Choi “Chei” Sunho. The entire team was brought together under the constant guidance of jungler Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun, who controlled the map and orchestrated the Green Wings’ early game. While Chaser, and the entire 2015 Jin Air team, often faltered in the mid game, they showed cool heads under pressure, often winning due to their resiliency come late game.

TrAce was a crucial part of this game plan, but an oft-forgotten component of the Jin Air Green Wings. He rarely stood out, living up to his low economy label by receiving the least amount of relative gold of any starting top laner in the regular season at 20.2 percent. For reference, SK Telecom T1’s MaRin received 23.8 percent – the highest of all Korean top laners in Summer – while KT Rolster’s Ssumday was given 23.4 percent of his team’s gold. Jin Air hardly needed another carry, with GBM in mid, the Pilot or Cpt Jack rotation at AD carry, and Chaser receiving more relative gold than any other jungler in Champions Summer 2015. What they needed was someone who would not be a detriment to the team with a minimal amount of resources. TrAce fit himself into this role perfectly.

Of his 42 games in Champions Summer 2015, TrAce spent 17 of them on Rumble and 13 on Maokai for a combined 71 percent of his games on those two champions. While his top lane compatriots MaRin and Smeb also played these two for the majority of their Summer, their performances were supplemented by a larger quantity of resources – be that the previously-noted gold discrepancy or more jungle attention top – and a few more carry performances on the likes of Fizz, Riven, and Hecarim. TrAce stuck to those champions that Jin Air required him to play and still managed respectable numbers, finishing with a fifth-best KDA of Summer 2015 tops, and a strong 68.5 percent kill participation for his team, fourth-best for Korean top laners in Summer.

When it was announced this past offseason that teammates Cpt Jack and Chaser along with TrAce were simultaneously leaving the Jin Air Green Wings, most Jin Air fans mourned the loss of Chaser – one of the best junglers in the region alongside SK Telecom T1’s Bae “bengi” Seongwoong. There was also additional melancholy at Cpt Jack’s departure. Having built a longstanding fanbase since his Maximum Impact Gaming days, it was thought that he would likely retire from competitive gaming and attend university.

TrAce was all but forgotten, and attention quickly turned to the new Jin Air top, Kim “SoHwan” Junyeong. Formerly of Korean Challenger team Pathos, SoHwan was known as an aggressive Riven main, the perceived opposite of the low-economy and boring TrAce. Unfortunately, SoHwan’s recklessness and champion pool issues became immediately apparent during his appearances in both the KeSPA Cup and IEM San Jose. Much of his struggle was attributed to the lack of jungle presence, as Chaser’s prior substitute and now starter, Park “Winged” Taejin, also failed to make much of an impact on the map for SoHwan or the Green Wings.

About two-and-a-half weeks after his departure, TrAce re-signed with the Green Wings on Dec. 18, 2015, and it was thought that he would split top lane duties with SoHwan, presumably mentoring the rookie. In their first series of Champions Spring 2016, Jin Air still appeared undecided as to who they wanted to start top, swapping from SoHwan in Game 1 to TrAce in Game 2, both resulting in losses to Longzhu. However, against SK Telecom T1, the Jin Air Green Wings pulled out a two compositions that revolved around TrAce’s top lane Graves, a pocket pick for the versatile top. In a surprising 2-0 sweep of the reigning world champions

While many may point to the fact that Game 1 saw SK Telecom T1 start mid lane substitute Lee “Scout” Yechan and jungle substitute Kang “Blank” Sungu, this hardly takes away from TrAce’s monstrous 18 KDA across the two games, along with a 69.2 percent kill participation. Teams have subsequently banned or picked Graves away from TrAce in all but one of their following matches. These Graves performances were only the beginning of TrAce’s renaissance as a carry top, as he more recently boasted a 3/0/3 Quinn demolishing of e-mFire top laner Suk “Hipo” Hyunjun. TrAce also returned to top lane Morgana – another pocket pick – for a 1/1/13 showing against the Afreeca Freecs, in which his all-important Dark Bindings precipitated Jin Air teamfight wins and successful turret sieges.

TrAce’s recent carry performances mark a bit of a return to form for TrAce, whose initial 2013 Champions debut was accompanied by a reputation for odd, somewhat off-meta picks on which he could carry his team like Cho’gath or Rengar. On his first Champions team, AHQ Korea, in 2013 Spring, TrAce drew consistent top lane Rengar bans that carried over into Champions Summer 2013 and his ensuing time on the Jin Air Green Wings Stealths.

The 2014 Stealths are where TrAce first began to mold into a more utility top for his team, particularly when the resource-hungry Cpt Jack joined in late Jan. 2014, and Chaser was swapped over from the Falcons that May. In a somewhat shocking turn of events, the Stealths eked into the Champions Summer 2014 playoffs where they were promptly dispatched by Samsung Galaxy Blue in three games.

Even in the waning moments of the Summer 2014 group stages, the more talked-about Jin Air top was the talented Falcons’ Kim “Rock” Huichan, who retired shortly after the season to the disappointment of many. TrAce stuck with Jin Air when the Stealths and Falcons merged, fading into the aforementioned background with the rise of GBM and Chaser.

Now, in 2016, TrAce looks to reinvent his career once more, bursting back onto the scene as the quirky top he was previously for ahq Korea in 2013, before adapting to what his successive Jin Air squads required of him. Now, Jin Air has room for a more of a hard carry top laner, and while most looked him over for the Riven-main in SoHwan, TrAce has thus far proved that he can carry with the best in his region. TrAce may have been low economy for the past few seasons, but he’s always been world class.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Emily Rand's LCK Weekly: the Freecs become their own protagonist

by 1d ago

Following their 2-0 victory over SK Telecom T1, the Afreeca Freecs top laner Jeon “ikssu” Ik-soo joked to Inven that he wasn’t too excited about the victory because it was a match he thought they would win. “I think I’ll feel really good if we win the next match too,” he said.

Whether ikssu’s blithe braggadocio is representative of looking ahead to playoffs or a simple joke — SKT has been on the Freecs’ hit list since LoL Champions Korea Spring 2016 — it’s an attitude that the ROX Tigers should study, possibly taking notes.

The Tigers are the best team in Korea at the moment, but they have a figurative asterisk next to their name larger than a steroid era baseball player’s hall of fame bid: SK Telecom T1. Despite their dominion over both spring splits of LoL Champions Korea and more recent ownership of the number one spot in LCK Summer 2016, the Tigers have an abysmal winrate against SKT, especially when you consider their winrate against all other teams in Korea. This summer alone the Tigers are 0-4 against SKT, but have a 22-5 record against all other Korean teams.

It’s easy to point to the Tigers’ mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng and say that he’s the problem. His individual record against SKT’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is awful, and while KurO holds his own against every other mid in Korea, Faker makes KurO look like he doesn’t belong on a professional team whenever the two meet. Yet the Tigers as a whole adopt a more defensive and reactive attitude as a team while playing SKT that is counterintuitive to the Tigers’ naturally aggressive playstyle.

The Freecs’ fearless blueprint of how to best Korea’s top team is not the only positive thing to come out of the Afreeca and SKT series for the Tigers. Afreeca swept SKT, giving the Tigers a bit of breathing room at the top of the LCK Summer 2016 standings that they didn't expect to have. The coveted first-place spot and guaranteed finals berth is something that the Tigers likely need if they are to eventually beat their nemesis: SKT. A first-place regular season finish would allow more prep time for the Tigers, and the off-chance that another Korean team could dispose of SKT for them, prior to the finals.

Meanwhile, other Korean teams jockeying for playoff positions either welcomed the SKT loss, or watched their own playoff hopes fade further into the distance with the Freecs’ 2-0 victory.

Race to the top five

KT Rolster

Remaining matches: Longzhu Gaming, ESC Ever, CJ Entus, Samsung Galaxy

Believe it or not, KT Rolster haven’t actually clinched their playoff spot yet. With only five series losses thus far and seven points, missing the playoffs isn’t mathematically impossible for KT but it is highly improbable. Their series record is only one win above their closest competition in the Freecs — 9-5 to the Freecs’ 8-6 — but at 21-14, they have a strong five point lead over Afreeca in the standings. KT’s remaining opponents are the current bottom three teams in the league and Samsung Galaxy, the latter of which they face in their final match of the split in Week 10.

Following the Teemo pick in Week 8, which arguably cost them a crucial sweep of the Jin Air Green Wings, KT Rolster took no prisoners in Week 9 with a dominating performance over MVP. Due to the sheer amount of talent on Longzhu Gaming’s roster, they can never be wholly counted out of a match, but KT have continued to show hidden creative depths on top of a remarkably strong early game. Their Aurelion Sol pick solves many of mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun’s control issues, opening up the map for jungler Go “Score” Dong-bin, who has been one of, if not the best jungler in Korea this split.

Afreeca Freecs

Remaining matches: Jin Air Green Wings, Longzhu Gaming, Samsung Galaxy, ROX Tigers

Afreeca’s next match is against the Jin Air Green Wings, a crucial series in their quest to lock up a playoff spot. Their win over SKT ensures that they’re firmly in control of their own destiny and wins over Jin Air and Longzhu this week would clinch a spot and keep their World Championship dreams alive.

The Freecs still suffer from poor mid game decision-making at times — especially from overly-aggressive individual players like mid laner Son “Mickey” Young-min — but have improved enough that they’re a dangerous threat, even to Korea’s top teams. Last split, the Freecs transformed from being a team that could take individual wins from presumably better teams to a team that can win whole series, despite their occasional lapses in judgment. They’re one of Korea’s bloodier teams — tied for third in combined kills per minute with SKT at 0.61 — with a hyper-aggressive mid in Mickey and bot lane duo of AD carry Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun and support No “Snowflower” Hoi-jong. In previous seasons, their recklessness was their downfall, but now they’re able to coordinate as a team, taking opponents by surprise and forcing them to fight.

Sangyoon’s Kog’Maw was the star of their series against SKT, but what was more impressive was how the team played the composition as a whole — baiting out SKT top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong’s Gnar while choosing their fights wisely. The Kog’Maw was a perfect response to SKT support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s Tahm Kench pick, and Sangyoon kept Wolf busy while Mickey dealt massive amounts of damage across the entirety of SKT with Varus. Their preparation for this match and others this season, despite what the team might jokingly say in postmatch interviews, showcases just how much the Freecs have improved. Afreeca is still capable of dropping series to lower-tier teams, so their playoff spot is not guaranteed yet, but unlike last split which required a miraculous end-of-season run and Samsung faltering, the Freecs are in control with their sights set on a playoff spot and possible bid to represent Korea at the 2016 World Championship.

MVP

Remaining matches: Jin Air Green Wings, Samsung Galaxy, ROX Tigers

Going into the split, MVP was on a downward slide. After topping Challengers Korea for the majority of 2016 spring, they were bested by ESC Ever in the Challengers Korea Spring finals and looked worse in their promotional series against Kongdoo Monster than Ever did against the presumably better SBENU Korea.

A good jungler goes a long way, and Kim “Beyond” Kyu-seok has been one of Korea’s best this season, vaulting MVP up the standings after an unfortunate 1-6 start in the first two weeks of LCK Summer 2016. Their first win came against Ever in Week 3, and from that point on, MVP established themselves as the stronger of the two LCK rookie teams, despite much-improved performances from Ever’s jungler Choi “Bless” Hyeong-woong.

For the majority of the split, the meta has also somewhat suited MVP, since their weakest link is AD carry Oh “MaHa” Hyun-sik. MaHa has a habit of getting caught out in teamfights before he is able to deal any amount of damage, a large problem when he’s supposed to be a primary carry. With mid laner An “Ian” Jun-hyeong and top laner Kang “ADD” Geon-mo improving throughout the split, MVP has been able to hide MaHa’s weaknesses surprisingly well while relying on Ian and Beyond to carry them from the mid and jungle.

That being said, making the playoffs is going to be incredibly difficult for this rookie team. MVP only have three series left as opposed to Afreeca and even the Jin Air Green Wings’ four, which gives them a shorter amount of games to make up their win-loss deficit. They’re at -4 points to Afreeca’s 2, which is a significant six-point difference in the standings. However, MVP should be able to secure their spot in the LCK Spring 2017 split by knocking off the Jin Air Green Wings this week.

Jin Air Green Wings

Remaining Matches: Afreeca Freecs, MVP, SK Telecom T1, ESC Ever

At this point, we can all set our watches by the Jin Air Green Wings’ inevitable end-of-season collapse. Beginning in LCK Spring 2015, the Green Wings have made a habit of becoming one of Korea’s top teams in the early parts of the split only to end the season with a miserable string of losses, either barely making playoffs or missing them entirely. Last year, much of the blame was placed on then-jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, who was unable to adjust to the Cinderhulk patch in spring. Then it was the inability of AD carry Na “Pilot” Woo-hyung to play with any sort of proactivity in teamfights.

Across the past three seasons, and this LCK Summer 2016 split, it’s become apparent that Jin Air’s slow and reactive playstyle just isn’t competitive enough anymore. While teams are still adjusting to a new meta, or a new roster, Jin Air can best teams with their methodical approach to the game. They became the first team to beat SKT earlier in the split by punishing Faker’s relentless aggression, freeing up Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok on Lissandra to roam top and keep Duke’s Fiora down while Bae “bengi” Seong-woong inexplicably focused on the bottom lane. Jin Air then played it safe, snowballing their advantage slowly. Any modicum of aggression from another team will put Jin Air at a disadvantage, provided that said aggression has thought and purpose behind it. Jin Air can certainly capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes, but they lack the proactivity that would push them into becoming a top tier team.

Series to Watch

Afreeca Freecs vs. SK Telecom T1

The Freecs became the first-ever team to sweep SKT in a regular LCK season this past week with this 2-0 victory on Saturday, July 23. Of particular note is their use of an on-hit Kog’Maw, who dealt massive amounts of damage and also soaked up a lot of attention from SKT, allowing Mickey to deal similarly large amounts of damage on Varus and Vladimir. It was a risky composition to run, but the Freecs refused to be cowed by SKT’s presence, and SKT had no answer for the Kog’Maw, picking up Sejuani for jungler Kang “Blank” Sun-gu in Game 2 with poor results.

Samsung Galaxy vs. SK Telecom T1

Going into Week 9, this was the headlining matchup, featuring two of Korea’s top teams. Although it was overshadowed by SKT’s loss to Afreeca later on in the week, this is another great series to watch, with some fun compositions of its own.

In particular, Game 2 features an interesting zoning composition from SKT, built around Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s Miss Fortune, Faker’s Azir, and Duke’s Gangplank. Due to three AD carry bans from Samsung — Sivir, Ezreal, and Jhin — along with an Ashe ban from SKT, bang locked in Miss Fortune while Samsung AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk took Tristana to the Rift. Using the Miss Fortune and Gangplank ultimates, SKT was able to set up strong sieges against Samsung, leading to their victory.

Player of the Week

Afreeca Freecs’ Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun

Mickey is the star of the Afreeca Freecs, and has been since they were Anarchy, and Rebels Anarchy, throughout their LCK Summer 2015 performance. However, it’s extraordinarily difficult to rely on one player and one player alone to carry a team, unless that player is SKT’s Faker. Anarchy were quickly figured out in LCK Summer 2015 as teams learned to ban out Mickey’s favored assassins and the rest of the team was unable to pick up the carry slack. This year has been completely different for the Freecs, and LCK Spring 2016 saw the rise of Sangyoon’s carry prowess accompanying their Cinderella 7-2 run through the second round robin.

Sangyoon’s improvements have widely flown under the radar in the LCK, especially with the rise of SKT’s Bang, and the resurgence of the Tigers Kim “PraY” Jong-in — the latter of whose career was thought to be dead prior to the Tigers picking him up. While Sangyoon isn’t on the level of those AD carries, he’s improved immensely over the past year, tempering his laning aggression into a precise weapon, rather than ascribing to his previously reckless solo queue mentality along with his bot lane partner Snowflower.

It’s always important for a team to have as many carry options as possible, offering flexibility in both drafting and resource allocation in game. Afreeca can now rely on Sangyoon to carry as much as, if not more than, Mickey. His Kog’Maw was impressive in both games against SKT and allowed Afreeca to set up coordinated teamfights and turret sieges en route to their 2-0 sweep.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Checking Riot's lane swap assumptions: Part 2

by 1d ago

So far, I’ve mainly dealt with statistics and fairly small, straightforward statements from Riot Games’ original statement discussing the changes coming to turrets and minions on Patch 6.15. Addressing the rest of Riot Games’ claims for why they believe the changes they are implementing are necessary requires more interpretation and subjective reasoning, including a discussion of whether or not lane swaps are dynamic. As a result, I've given it its own separate treatment.

Formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs

We have now entered the territory where statistics can no longer assist us. Other than the statistics-based assumption that teams internationally find it attractive to both lane swap and play standard lanes, there's no hard statistic that can prove or disprove the statement that there are few strategic tradeoffs in lane swaps.

The common assumption is that teams will use lane swaps to avoid very skewed matchups for top and bottom lane. But over time, lane swaps have evolved in such a way as to prioritize fast pushing. When teams go into lane swap scenarios, top laners risk getting dove in 2v1s, so changes to turret resistances and strengths made it increasingly optimal for top laners to double jungle. Then, changes to jungle creep experience sent top laners firmly into 3v0 scenarios with bottom laners to fast push the first turret. If teams chose not to fast push the first turret, they would fall behind in gold and map control, giving the opposing team advantages they could pressure and snowball.

Since matchups in standard lane scenarios might seem like they favor certain champions frequently, it’s easy to see why someone might think that lane swapping is always optimal. The decision to lane swap, however, is rarely this simple.

In many cases, the jungle matchup may influence the decision to swap. Part of the reason first bloods occur later in lane swap scenarios is that having 3v0 scenarios incentivizes the jungler to continue farming rather than ganking. A jungler with high pressure early like Elise can take more advantage of a standard lane scenario than a jungler like Graves who might prefer to farm until Level 6. In this case, a team with a scaling jungler and a strong top lane matchup may have to choose between assuming the top can get ahead on his own with his jungler in the area for a countergank in standard lanes, or allowing the jungler to scale and not using a strong lane matchup. This is when the decision to swap becomes more subjective.

Other examples include the case for Ashe as a champion. Ashe has perhaps the strongest level 1 of any AD carry, but she can also clear waves fast in a lane swap, and her ultimate benefits considerably from opening up the map early. When Ashe is hidden in fog of war with multiple turrets down, and the opponent duo lane doesn’t have eyes on her, she can send deadly ultimates across the map with less notice, potentially resulting in more effective catches. Teams then choose between lane swapping with Ashe to take advantage of this — perhaps if they want to get an advantage in the mid lane, or maybe they're trying to use Ashe to get an advantage in a 2v2.

Assuming a team opts into a lane swap, they still have several dynamic choices to make. For example, the LPL teams found ways to utilize a strong jungler, even in lane swap scenarios, to get leads early by ganking the mid lane at two minutes while the rest of the team were tied up in lane swaps. One well known example was Royal Never Give Up at the Mid-Season Invitational.

In the example above against Counter-Logic Gaming, RNG made the decision to delay the double jungle, setting Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok behind. He secures three small raptors on his own before being chased from his jungle by CLG’s support, Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black. In return, Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu ganked the mid lane at around two minutes and fifteen seconds for first blood. CLG top laner Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya accompanied his own jungler for extra experience.

Another LPL quirk of the lane swap is often to push out a wave and back to match (this happens in many regions when teams want to force a 2v2 after starting in a swap, but quite often in the LPL, and frequently multiple times after an initial back). Darshan initially started Teleport when RNG’s bottom lane started their backs to catch the wave, but canceled it, either because he believed CLG were ahead enough in the push to get the turret or because he had no knowledge of Mlxg’s location.

RNG sent Looper to the bottom lane for one wave of creeps, waited for him to finish farming it, and then used his Teleport to prevent CLG from finishing their push on the top turret with their duo lane having rotated to the top side. In this way, RNG managed to come out ahead. This case included a wide variety of decision-making and tradeoffs that was far from formulaic.

Perhaps one of the most interesting games this split that I’ve watched in any region is the first game of the second round match between Immortals and Cloud9 in the NA LCS. Within the first nine minutes of the game, Immortals took Cloud9’s inhibitor and started on the Nexus turrets. Cloud9 answered with an inhibitor of their own before backing and answering Immortals’ game of chicken.

In this case, I’m not going to break down the lane swap, but rather some considerations that have to go into a situation like this one. Jung "Impact" Eonyeong played Trundle, a champion that doesn’t clear super minions well and doesn’t perform well in lane swaps. As a result, opting into this scenario may better favor Immortals in that respect because Rumble may be better equipped to clear super minions.

Immortals’ pick composition may also benefit much more from a scenario that requires them to focus the mid lane earlier. In a Karma vs. Twisted Fate matchup, both mid laners keep shoving, while Twisted Fate has an advantage in roaming. With top laners pushed into their bases, Immortals can restrict the lanes Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen can influence early and snowball, as Jensen wouldn’t want to port into Immortals’ base. Immortals are also now pressured to push mid with the next priority target being dragon and the mid lane Tier 1 turret, which keeps Jensen in lane.

Over time, however, Immortals have to be aware of the fact that their decision accelerated the pace of the game. The split-pushing threat of Trundle and Twisted Fate with an exposed inhibitor with dragon in play would be massive for Cloud9. To an extent, they could also take advantage of Baron, though the bottom lane turret would have been more optimal. If C9 could stall to force these trades, they would happen earlier than if the inhibitor had not been opened up. Immortals acknowledged the tradeoff they made and did their best to force the game to end earlier. Cloud9 willingly opted into earlier fights, misidentifying their win conditions and losing the match.

Pushing past the inhibitor was also a strategy favored not infrequently in the Spring by Flash Wolves. If one watches a Flash Wolves game in which this occurred, one can notice the team pulling the wave of enemy super minions to the mid lane. This denied minions coming from the team’s own base down the mid lane to the enemy mid laner to allow Huang "Maple" Yitang to gain massive advantages. Flash Wolves have also experimented with proxying waves before they pass the outer turrets this summer. These types of continuing innovations from one of the world’s leading teams suggest lane swaps are far from formulaic.

So far, one may argue that I’ve looked at particularly interesting variations in lane swaps and have avoided talking about the kind that most think of when discussing lane swaps. Specifically, 3v0 trades of all outer turrets in the side lanes prior to 10 minutes, followed by the team in the bottom lane after the second set of turrets fall, taking the first dragon if they’re ahead. These have their own nuances and tradeoffs.

In the first game between Splyce and Fnatic in Round 2, there was a much higher incentive for Fnatic to lane swap. Neither Braum nor Trundle are high impact supports in lane, but Jhin has more early game power than Ezreal. Fiora and Gnar is a complicated 1v1 matchup, but Gnar typically does better in lane swap scenarios due to range and his ability to build lower cost items. Both Hecarim and Gragas have incentive to farm for a Level 6 power spike, but it’s generally agreed upon that Gragas’ capability for pre-six ganks is higher.

Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim went bottom to encounter Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup and Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle. Fnatic’s bottom lane then warded, backed off, and walked to the top side of the map for the lane swap. Splyce’s bottom lane didn’t notice they were swapping until they started to invade Fnatic’s enemy krugs, but then saw Rekkles and YellOwStaR on the top side of the map forcing Martin "Wunder" Hansen and Jonas "Trashy" Andersen off their own krugs. Kobbe immediately reacted to return to bottom lane.

Ultimately, Fnatic got the lane swap advantage with more experience on Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek after Wunder was forced to Teleport to get to the bottom lane initially and more farm on Lee “Spirit” Dayoon when Trashy had to back after encountering Rekkles and YellOwStaR. Fnatic also managed to secure the first dragon off their tempo advantage.

In this particular example, the lane swap naturally favors Fnatic, but it was risky to take the lanes they did. Fnatic’s early encounter in the bottom lane was a red herring because they wanted the lane swap more than Splyce. No matter what, there’s no way to completely guarantee you get the lane start you want. If Splyce had gotten standard lanes, this would likely have gone the other way, especially around jungle and top matchups.

This means that Fnatic took this draft as a risk, the tradeoff being the possible early loss if they were forced to play standard lanes. Splyce similarly accepted the risk of a lane swap, hoping for a standard lane scenario they could more easily pressure. This reflects both strategic tradeoffs and interactivity in several instances where Fnatic players and Splyce players try to force encounters to get advantages, even in non-standard scenarios. Yet it’s unlikely Fnatic would draft like this if they knew they could not get a lane swap, which will limit the types of compositions they might run in the future and make counter-picking more fundamental, actually reducing the number of strategic tradeoffs that can be made.

As a hinted at briefly earlier, it’s rare for a case like Fnatic where lane swaps are heavily favored by one team over another. It’s more common to get a top lane matchup that may benefit from standard lanes, and a bottom lane or jungle matchup that would suffer as a tradeoff. One of Immortals’ analysts, Nick “Lufty” Luft, published a video addressing some of these ideas and how strategic tradeoff decisions can tell you a lot about a team, so I won’t go into it in depth here.

In general, however, I would argue that lane swapping in its current form is far from formulaic. Regions have different approaches to it, teams within regions have different approaches, and there is a great deal of interaction between teams even in lane swap scenarios. And if Riot want to create more strategic tradeoffs, lane swaps are currently one of the richest places to find them.

Making professional games look like ranked games

One valid criticism of Part 1 of this investigation is that, by focusing specifically on the initial statement Riot gave, I have ignored additional statements they’ve made on why they’re implementing these changes. Part of the reason I saved it for later is because this discussion will have far more to do with speculation and opinion on what the future will hold rather than what we can already see in the games, which I wanted to avoid upfront, simply presenting available evidence.

The other reason is that I think these additional comments are the main crux of why Riot want to drastically reduce the occurrence of lane swaps, so I find it slightly strange that they were not included in the original statement. In response to Part 1, North American LCS caster David "Phreak" Turley stated, “48.7% of games starting without any real PVP interaction is obnoxiously high.” To an extent, I have already addressed this concept pointing to instances of PVP impact in my lane swap examples.

Using the Splyce vs. Fnatic example specifically, the first interaction is Rekkles and YellOwStaR encountering Kobbe and Mikyx. The second is Fnatic’s bottom lane forcing Trashy back when they invade the top side at Level 1 and damage Trashy. Then, Wunder risked heading to lane and dealing with a collapse from YellOwStaR in hopes of making up extra experience before Teleporting bottom. Mikyx also went into Fnatic’s jungle to try to chase Spirit and Kikis off their camps. Kikis intentionally saved his Teleport after taking the first turret and waited until Splyce’s bottom lane appeared. He was forced to back off and Teleport from there, but could have gotten caught in this instance. All of these kinds of interactions don’t necessarily result in kills, but are definitely PvP interactions, and being mindful of where the enemy team is on the map is an implied PvP interaction as well.

In this way, the idea that players are just failing to last hit against an AI when they fall behind in lane swaps is also dismissive of the decisions Fnatic’s players had to make to get Kikis ahead, some of which came as the result of actual altercation with Splyce players.

Ultimately, the bottom line is that what is exciting, high tension, etc., is subjective, but lane swap games do feature multiple instances of interaction and complexities not assessed in some of these comments.

Beyond this, it still feels like the main driving motivation by Riot to try to minimize lane swaps is another comment made by Phreak. “We just want the game to look at least something like the game people play at home.”

Most would agree that lane swaps represent the easiest difference to spot between professional play and games that individuals can play on their own when they queue up with others in their homes. Ranked or normal League of Legends games hardly, if ever, feature lane swaps. It’s reasonable to assume that nearly eliminating lane swaps — which does seem to be the objective of these changes, rather than the “not making them the default start” statement originally provided — in professional play will make games look more like games at home.

But pro games won’t ever look exactly like games played at home. Current LCK caster and ex-League of Legends Coach Nick “LS” de Cesare made a video discussing how less risk-taking is an inevitably of competitive games as skill differences in players equalize and more support staff enters to add numbers and weight the value of possible actions to take. As a result, an increase in what others perceive as passive play isn’t something Riot or anyone else can change.

We can see at least some evidence of this in the game’s history which is directly relevant to some of the proposed turret changes. In Season 3, Riot noticed that early game snowballing was incredibly potent. Level 1s in Season 3 were very risky as teams sought to get early first blood bounties in invades and secure creep experience and gold. In the preseason before Season 4, Riot reduced the value of kills before four minutes.

They later removed this restriction, hoping to encourage more early interaction in the game, but Level 1s remained incredibly safe. At the time, members of the community even argued that increasing early game rewards discouraged invades later because teams didn’t want to take the risk that their invade attempt would backfire and give more gold to the enemy team. Of course, this is not the only explanation as many other changes were made to the game in the intervening time, so it should not be considered the strict cause, just a point of consideration.

Among Riot’s proposed changes to turrets, they want to add a “first blood bonus.” With a reduction of resistances to bottom lane turrets and bonus for securing the first one, one might reason that this will create more early game dive and gank setups in the bottom lane. More emphasis placed on Teleport, junglers pathing bottom, and skirmishes to remove opposition and take the turret early to snowball.

If both teams want to go to the bottom lane to take the first turret, however, this could create the opposite effect. Teams could set up to play ultra-defensively, placing vision and choosing anti-dive champions like Braum or Alistar or Trundle that can punish dives more effectively. The end result might be, because teams are too afraid of the opponent team getting the first blood turret gold, they farm passively and avoid confrontation until a point in the game when 400 gold has marginally less impact and the top lane turret defensive reductions are reduced so they can make a trade at that point, slowing action down. In this scenario, pro games will also hardly resemble ranked or normal queues.

Again, this is purely speculation, and I’m attempting to convey that both these results are possible as are results that have not been considered. If Riot want pro games to look more like ranked or normal queue games, it isn’t unreasonable to try to change the game to get to that result. These changes yielding that result is not completely implausible based on data or speculation.

Which means that there are only two questions left — why, and why now?

“We know the timing’s not great and ideally this would have landed sooner to give teams time before playoffs to adjust. With that said, we think it’s important for the state of the game and something worth implementing now versus waiting until the offseason. We also want teams to qualify for Worlds in the same general meta that they’ll be playing in this October, meaning now’s our only chance to make these changes. While we’re be iterating over the patches to come, these are the last major changes coming to the game before Worlds.”

This section in Riot’s original statement implies that these changes have been a somewhat recent decision. Almost all communication from Riot before this indicated that they wanted to avoid implementing major changes to the game right before this year’s World Championship. Riot’s Mid-Season follow-up communication outlined all patches leading up to Worlds, and patches from 6.15 on-wards only included plans for Worlds-focused tweaks, which doesn’t at all hint at a complete change to how laning phase works.

As a result, this decision feels somewhat rushed and reactive. A change like this would make perfect sense to me if it occurred in offseason, but a need to make it happen before Riot’s biggest professional event of the season makes me think that this abrupt change has a lot to do with recent viewership concerns.

If one has traveled to the League of Legends subreddit recently, one knows viewership decline panic has been all the rage. Some blame Overwatch, some blame Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, some blame too many games making die-hard fans feel somewhat bored, but still others blame lane swaps and the fact that casual fans don’t want to watch LoL because games don’t look like they do when they’re played at home.

Riot may want to test this assumption on the biggest stage, where viewership numbers have traditionally been monumental. They’re potentially afraid we’ll see lower numbers than ever before, and more standard laning games can change that.

Implementing changes focused on making the game exciting before Worlds isn’t new. As Worlds drew closer in 2014, though well in advance of qualification, Riot implemented several changes to incentivize 2v2 laning, in particular increasing dragon gold — as dragon gave flat gold bonuses at the time rather than unique buffs.

One can even argue that Riot’s juggernaut changes were intended to make Worlds exciting. In the World Champions press conference, Marc Merrill stated, “We think the changes to 5.18 had a big timing factor and something we want to reflect on for next year. It was an exciting meta change to give top lane champions a chance to carry, and that's healthy and fun for the game. But we want to think about the large patch from a timing standpoint more as we go into next year.”

Merrill’s statement implies that there are both positive and negative aspects to a large patch close to Worlds, and Patch 5.18 made Worlds seem exciting because a focus on top lane carries was a change of pace. Yet there are downsides Riot would want to reflect upon. This feels somewhat similar in that Riot are banking on standard lanes being more exciting and boosting viewers on the international stage, though I want to clarify that I think that introducing this change now as opposed to specifically for Worlds is a vast improvement for which I do credit Riot.

It just still doesn’t feel like this needs to happen now. I would prefer for these kinds of more experimental changes to occur in the offseason to maintain competitive integrity. That way it also doesn’t have to seem like a rushed endeavor, and a lot more testing can be done getting feedback from professional players at Riot Headquarters throughout the process.

Lane swaps may or may not drive down viewership. I haven’t seen data to support or destabilize this claim, but perhaps Riot have. The reality, though, is that viewership for League of Legends will eventually decline. It won’t always be the most popular esport, but it can have massive longevity, and it can do that by appealing to a core fanbase.

League of Legends has always appealed to many because it has a low barrier to entry for watching, but high levels of complexity. Perhaps eliminating lane swaps is in itself a strategic tradeoff, as the game loses some of its complexity to lower the barrier of entry. Maybe this is the fanbase to which Riot wants to appeal.

As Riot Games continue to balance for competitive, I think it’s time for them to start thinking, not about how their game can have the widest appeal, but about how it can have the longest-lasting appeal and truly strike a chord with its audience. If they believe these changes will do exactly that, then I completely support them, but the rushed nature of the statement and the way teams were reportedly consulted doesn't have me convinced that's the case.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Checking Riot's lane swap assumptions: Part 1

by 4d ago

Riot recently released a statement on impending changes to the game, targeting the frequency of lane swaps. As a prolific League of Legends writer, this game and its appeal to both viewers and the teams who play it competitively is important to me. I want to assess claims made in Riot’s original statement as well as community response, not to decide whether lane swaps are valuable, but to understand why Riot have decided this change and the timing of the change is necessary and gauge whether the changes they propose will provide the solution they want.

In Riot’s original statement, they made the following opening assumption:

“Laneswapping, while difficult to do successfully, is starting to feel pretty formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs. As it’s become more prevalent and teams do it more efficiently, it’s led to passive turret trading and less direct early conflict. When laneswapping becomes a default opener, it creates a non-interactive early game with [sic]. We’ll be making some changes in the upcoming patch to address this."

The key assumptions here are:

1) Lane swapping is formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs
2) Lane swapping is the “default opener” of games
3) There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps

Default start

While the first point is more nuanced and will require a deeper discussion to address, Points 2 and 3 are somewhat easy to support or undermine statistically. Eike “Timbolt” Heimpel and Florian “Bridgeburner” Dorner run a website called League of Analytics looking to deepen the metrics available to people who want to analyze League of Legends. They’ve developed a metric for lane swaps that they believe captures 95 percent of all lane swaps in professional play. One can look at this metric to get a very comfortable sense for how frequently lane swaps currently occur in professional League of Legends in four of the five major regions.

According to their metric, lane swap games only account for 48.7 percent of total games played this split so far (up to the second day of the EU LCS Week 8), and only 17 pro teams in the NA LCS, EU LCS, LMS and LCK combined lane swap in 50 percent of more of their games. I counted the lane swaps in the fifth major region, the LPL, by hand. In this case, I count any instance where the number of players on one team differs from the number of players on the other team in top and bottom lanes at three minutes. My definition of lane swaps differs from theirs, so the data is kept separate. It is assumed that using either definition will give relatively comparable results Only one team — LGD Gaming — lane swaps in more than 50 percent of their games as of the end of LPL Week 7 with a total of 61 lane swap games in 156 games played (39 percent).

This suggests that the majority of professional games actually do not have lane swaps as the “default start.” Perhaps, instead, Riot Games intended to say that lane swaps are the “ideal start,” meaning that, at the highest level of play, teams will always choose to lane swap. The less than 50 percent lane swap rates only exist because not all teams are at a high enough level to know that they should be using swaps as their default start.

Team ROCCAT love lane swaps more than any other team in the five major regions

Looking at the list of teams that lane swap in more than 50 percent of their games, however, only three are ranked in the top three of their regions: Fnatic, G2 Esports and J Team. In fact, teams near the bottom of their regional ranking feature prominently in this list. Team ROCCAT has the highest lane swap rate in any of the five major leagues of 73.3 percent, and of the 18 teams in the five major regions that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time, 10 are actually in the bottom four of their respective regions.

While it does seem like, based on this information, lane swapping is not considered the “default” or “ideal start” by most teams in professional league of legends, it does seem that teams that lane swap with a high frequency are much more common in the West. Seven of the 18 teams are European, and five are North American, — 12 of all teams in the five major leagues that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time are western teams with only three Korean, two LMS and one LPL team lane swapping more than half the time.

Looking only at Western teams, the EU LCS has a lane swap in 54.7 percent of games, and NA LCS has a lane swap in 51.9 percent of games. While these numbers are greater than 50 percent, it’s far from an overwhelming majority and not enough to refer to as a “default start.” The only region in which it could be argued that lane swapping is considered ideal is Europe, with more than 50 percent of teams lane swapping more than half the time, but even then G2 and Fnatic, two of the three top teams, only lane swap in 56.7 percent of their games. Still, given the likelihood Riot, as a western gaming company, look more at western regions, this could partly explain their assumption that lane swapping is the “default start” in competitive, though it's a slight stretch.

There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps

If it turns out that lane swaps are not actually the “default start,” then it’s important to understand how they do impact strategic choices. Most have interpreted Riot's wording of "direct conflict" to mean skirmishes or kills. Some of those unhappy with the change in the community have expressed that they don’t believe that standard lanes are necessarily related to higher kill early games, as constantly moving around the map creates more opportunities for skirmishes and players getting caught out. Head Coach of top Brazilian team, INTZ, Alexander “Abaxial” Halibel, made a public statement on the League of Legends subreddit to this effect.

“Swaps create long lanes and greater risk for teams to handle. It's easier to chase people down or set up buff invades when outer turrets are down. Winning skirmishes in these situations is higher reward than standard lanes and* it's easier to avoid risks in standard lanes (as there is less pressure to make macro decisions).”

To try to better quantify the argument, I contacted the owners of the League of Analytics website to ask them for additional data on lane swap scenarios. They provided me with the timing of the first blood in and out of lane swaps for each region as well as the Combined Kills Per Minute (the total of all kills in a region divided by total minutes played in a region, inspired by OraclesElixir.com) in lane swap games versus non-lane swap games for each region.

Region Lane swap (Y/N) Time of first blood (minutes) CKPM (5-15 minutes)
EU LCS N 7.2 .48
EU LCS Y 7.4 .39
NA LCS N 5.9 .55
NA LCS Y 8.3 .37
LCK N 6.1 .40
LCK Y 8.7 .30
LMS N 6.7 .37
LMS Y 9.5 .29
LPL N 5.0 N/A
LPL Y 7.1 N/A

Note: CKPM is not available for LPL games.

In all regions except Europe, there's at least a two minute difference in timing of first blood in lane swap. vs non-lane swap games with first blood occurring earlier in non-lane swap games. This implies that the action tends to start earlier in non-lane swap games.

Yet, this doesn't actually imply that early games have more conflict without lane swaps, just that first blood will happen earlier. This is why CKPM are inlcuded. Even Europe, which doesn't have an appreciably different first blood timing, has roughly .09 higher CKPM between 5 and 15 minutes of the game in standard lanes games. All four regions have about .10 higher CKPM in standard lane games, which does support the idea that there are more kills or conflicts in standard lane games.

This .10 only accounts for about one extra kill (for one team) in the span of ten minutes. So the answer is, yes, lane swaps do seem to be correlated with higher kill early games and earlier first bloods. As a result, this seems to be the more likely explanation for Riot deciding to take action to reduce the frequency of lane swaps than to prevent it from being the "default start" to games. One must now ask whether one extra kill in the span of ten minutes warrants radical changes to the game this close to playoffs and World Championship qualifiers.

The final assumption regarding strategic tradeoffs requires a more detailed examination and is much less clear-cut, so I'll cover it in a second article. Based on the data available, however, we can at least conclude that decision-making that goes into whether to lane swap or not isn't as straightforward as is implied by the initial statement. If no strategic tradeoffs are made, then teams would much more uniformly choose to lane swap or not.

Either way, so far we've learned that lane swaps are not the default or even the ideal start, and they are only the majority start in western regions. Even then, games where lane swaps occur or don't are close to 50 percent. Riot stated, "Our goal is not to eliminate laneswapping but to make it a strategic choice with actual tradeoffs." Considering how split the frequency of lane swapping is, it seems like that already exists.

But if Riot's goal is increasing the action in games, the data supports that there is a positive correlation between standard lane instances and combined kills per minute. The correlation only amounts to about one additional kill from five to fifteen minutes on average per game. Additional study would have to be done to determine causation.

Thank you to League of Analytics' Timbolt for help with Part 1. To be continued in Part 2.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Top 5 Plays from Week 9 of the LCK Summer Split

by 1d ago

It's been a thrilling few days of action in Seoul as teams took to the rift to fight for supremacy in the LCK. We look back on all the action and plays that left us speechless to present to you the best of the best in our weekly Top 5 Plays.

This week, we celebrate PraY's 1000th OGN kill, Ambition gets baited hard by SKT, LokeN proves he's the Korean sniper and ROX win a miracle 4v5.

For more video interviews and highlights, be sure to subscribe to theScore esports on YouTube.

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EnVy someone else: NA LCS Week 8 staff picks

theScore esports Staff 5d ago

theScore esports' League of Legends experts have tapped into their inner oracle for the eighth week of the North American LCS Summer Split and offer up predictions for each of the games.

2016 NA LCS Summer Season Records: Kelsey Moser (51-19), Emily Rand (52-18), Tim Sevenhuysen (49-21).

Friday Rand Moser Sevenhuysn
IMT vs. NRG IMT IMT IMT
EF vs. APX APX APX APX
Saturday Rand Moser Sevenhuysen
CLG vs. TL CLG TL TL
NV vs. C9 C9 C9 C9
TSM vs. P1 TSM TSM TSM
APX vs. IMT IMT IMT IMT
Sunday Rand Moser Sevenhuysen
 NRG vs. TL TL TL TL
TSM vs. NV TSM TSM TSM
C9 vs. P1 C9 C9 C9
EF vs. CLG CLG CLG CLG

Counterlogic Gaming vs. Team Liquid

Rand: CLG are coming together at the right time — immediately before playoffs. Their rise has been coupled with inconsistent performances from Team EnVyUs, Apex Gaming, and even Cloud9. Against Team Liquid, CLG have a chance to prove that they're a top team in North America once more. I can see either team taking it, although I'm siding with CLG, since they seem to have figured out their team dynamic again. More than anything, I'm looking forward to the jungle matchup between Dardoch and Xmithie — both have been key components in their respective teams' successes.

Moser: This is actually somewhat difficult given some slight upticks CLG displayed last week. Still, I'm not convinced that a CLG win is a reliable expectation since some of their successes relied on specific champions like Aurelion Sol, and though Team Liquid have had some growing pains, they still feel like the better team for now.

Sevenhuysen: CLG are finally beating teams above them in the standings, but both EnVyUs and Cloud9 were slumping before CLG beat them, so there’s still plenty of room for doubt. Fenix vs. Huhi is a big mismatch in Team Liquid’s favor in the laning phase — Fenix has been the best 1v1 mid in NA this split — so CLG will need to look to their team play, and maybe try to snowball Stixxay. Darshan vs. Lourlo is another intriguing head to head, and Lourlo may have the edge. Imagine writing that sentence last split! I’m expecting a close series and a 2-1 victory for TL.

Team SoloMid vs. EnVyUs

Rand: We'll likely have to wait for Week 9 to see if Immortals can take down TSM. Team Liquid seemed like a fairly strong bet until TSM swept them last week, and nV have looked disorganized as of late. They started off the season with a strong understanding of the meta and team dynamic, but have failed to improve since.

Moser: EnVy are no longer enviable. A drop to NRG exposed even more issues in keeping the jungle in check as NRG played much more strongly around neutrals. Though Team SoloMid had a few hiccups against EFX in Game 1, their assertiveness should easily set NV on the back foot.

Sevenhuysen: EnVyUs barely outlasted Apex last week. There were some signs that they may be getting back on track, but realistically, it would be surprising if they took a game off TSM. With Biofrost showing off an impressive Alistar against Team Liquid, any lingering questions about his versatility should be put to rest. TSM’s list of potential weaknesses keeps getting shorter.

EnVyUs vs. Cloud 9

Rand: This is the series I had the most trouble picking this week, and am still unsure of who will win. I chose C9 because I think their talent is more prone to individual outplays that can eventually carry a game, but both teams have looked messy in recent series. These will not be clean games unless one or both of these teams have made significant improvements in the past week during practice.

Moser: Cloud9's largest problems are playing outside standard lane scenarios. While I do think C9's shirking of the top lane could be an advantage Seraph can exploit, I don't think NV have enough coordination at the moment to fully take advantage of C9's lane swap weaknesses.

Sevenhuysen: Cloud9 have some big issues lately, making mistakes across the board, from their rotations to their lane assignments to their game planning. Impact gets starved too often, and Sneaky has been faltering. That leaves Jensen to do most of the work, and he’s had inconsistencies of his own. Cloud9 are capable of 2-0ing the series if they’ve practiced efficiently this week, but EnVyUs will win if they maintain the controlled, intentional play they started to bring back against Apex, if they keep their drafts clean and if Procxin flies under the radar. Neither team has been consistent enough lately, so I’m predicting a 2-1, but I’m slightly favoring Cloud9.

theScore esports compiles staff picks for different leagues weekly. Let us know what you think by tagging our Twitter or liking us on Facebook.

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