EDward Gaming Head Coach Ji "Aaron" Xing will take a break from directly coaching EDG's League of Legends team, Aaron told Chinese E-sports Athletes magazine in an interview. The interview followed the EDward Gaming press conference in which Aaron re-signed with the organization and received a promotion to Managing Director and Head Coach of all titles.
The press conference occurred at 1:00 a.m. EST. EDward Gaming revealed their full starting team and reserve roster on stage and announced new additions to their coaching staff, including Jung "RapidStar" Minsung, previous mid laner for MiG/Azubu/CJ Entus Frost, and ex-LGD Gaming coach and analyst, Huang "FireFox" Tinghsiang. RapidStar confirmed his addition on Twitter.
Bok "Reapered" Hangyu was not included on EDG's list of coaching staff, corroborating the earlier statement by Ham "Lustboy" Jangsik that he is now a free agent. EDward Gaming went on to reveal they will collaborate with Qiang Shi media to produce an eSports Television drama.
Ming "Clearlove" Kai and Aaron took center stage for the main event, re-signing contracts with EDward Gaming. Manager Huang "San Shao" Cheng informed press conference attendees and those watching on the streamed broadcast that Aaron would be promoted to Managing Director and Head Coach of all EDward Gaming titles.
Following the press conference, the team dedicated time to 1-on-1 interviews with media. During the interview with Esports Athletes editor, Pijie, Aaron stated, "I just temporarily quit the coach position" for EDward Gaming's League of Legends team. Pijie clarified that Aaron will not serve as the onstage coach for EDG and that someone else will be taking over the position temporarily. Pijie and Aaron did not state whether or not this person would be RapidStar.
Aaron is one of the most accomplished and experienced coaches in League of Legends. He joined Team WE from in 2011 and guided the team through their six month period of dominance in 2012 and 2013. Aaron joined EDward Gaming when the organization formed at the end of 2013 and has served as EDG's Head Coach since, leading them to multiple domestic titles and victory at the Mid Season Invitational this year.
The new season of the League of Legends Pro League begins next week on Jan. 14. It is unclear if or when Aaron's temporary leave from his position will end.
It just needed a funeral dirge. EDward Gaming shuffled into the press room, refusing to look at anything but the floor. They reluctantly fell into their chairs. Ming “clearlove” Kai, the team’s captain and jungler, fixated on the edge of the table. Today was the day everyone expected jokes about his new haircut, how he didn’t just run away from teamfights to protect his KDA, but to bait enemies into traps. “Their mid and jungler are stronger than ours,” clearlove intoned three times throughout the interview. His grimace betrayed the pain that should have been in his hollow response — they were supposed to be the best.
This was the first post-match press conference EDward Gaming gave after winning the 2016 LPL Summer semifinal and qualifying for the World Championship in October.
"After we go back home," clearlove said, "we will train harder."
Although the results of 2016 LPL playoff brackets had few surprises in terms of advancement, both semifinals against group powerhouses EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up lasted the full five games. I May and Team WE dragged out their semifinal series to force EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up to dig deep. Dramatic comebacks from as much as 10,000 gold down, bizarre drafting, and heroics filled the semifinal. The sense that the strongest team won followed each match, but so did dread and disappointment.
With the exception of one game in the third place match, the Top 4 finishers of the 2016 League of Legends Pro League Summer never won a single red side game. Poor Baron setup vision and red side draft responses plagued playoffs from semifinals to the third place match, tilting games in the favor of blue side. All of this was a dramatic wakeup call for both EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, as well as a celebration of Team WE and I May, teams that don’t have the talent to take games off EDG and RNG but did anyway. If not for a difference in side selection, this could have been a WE vs. I May final.
By now, everyone has heard the "lose to improve" narrative, and given EDward Gaming's scant amount of losses within the LPL, it's often applied to them. It’s obvious dominating a regular season can make teams blind to inherent flaws. I spent the season bemoaning EDward Gaming’s fascination with drafting weak lane matchups and clearlove’s fixation on ganking bottom lane, leaving solo laners exposed.
Finally, Team WE’s solo laners, Ke “957” Changyu, and Su “xiye” Hanwei had a banner year for personal growth. They developed to the point where WE has become increasingly solo-lane focused (despite Jin “Mystic” Seongjun’s 33.1 percent of team’s deamage dealt, hello Sivir and Ezreal). Xiye overcame mouse on both sides of the Syndra-Taliyah matchup, and once he picked up a free kill after Lee “scout” Yechan all-inned, assuming top laner Chen “mouse” Yuhao wouldn’t fail his wall leap to gank mid, exposing flaws in the play of both frequently-criticized solo laners.
WE dragging EDward Gaming to five games is a slap in the face without causing EDG to lose an advantage in World Championship seeding. In line with the "lose to improve" narrative, it should create more for fans to be optimistic about China’s chances. If WE can challenge EDG domestically and force them to adapt, they will have a better form when it counts.
But this has been EDG’s story both years before. After a less-than-ideal 2014 Summer season, EDG clean-swept their playoffs. When they played Star Horn Royal Club in the 2014 Regional final, they dropped a game when Royal played more aggressively against them, highlighting a difference between when they play proactively or more reserved. In 2015, EDward Gaming lurched to a halt after a 21 single game win streak, losing 0-3 to LGD Gaming in the semifinals and falling again in the third place match before a Regionals comeback, reflecting an adaptation to play more around top laner Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho.
Both seasons, before last minute developments that had fans hopeful EDward Gaming would evolve to cover their flaws, they still finished in the quarterfinal of the World Championship, below expectations. Both times, flaws fans thought EDG could fix in time went unaltered.
Drafting weak lane matchups and ignoring solo lanes are both factors that have persisted for EDward Gaming since their formation. Like SK Telecom T1, quirks of the squad will be retained as the core player remains the same. Both appear to value playing to a specific style, which is hard to fault them for when both teams have remained dominant in their respective regions for years and come away with important international titles. It just means there will be metas, there will be times, when things they try to do won’t work.
For SKT Telecom T1, this is a year about jungling, and they're on the backfoot, the same as they were in 2014. EDward Gaming struggle more in top-centric metas, and 2015's World Championship made that incredibly clear.
While this meta is a thorn in SKT's side, it shouldn’t be a time of struggle for EDG. They have a skilled jungler who can play a variety of metas as long as you don't demand he gank top — but they have that pesky habit of drafting scaling picks, which hurts their laning phase in a low lane swap landscape.
EDward Gaming don’t always draft weak lane matchups, they just do so more often than one expects from a top team. Theoretically, one can make an argument that they prefer being able to snowball scaling champions, believing surprise aggression from weak early game picks can roll a game into their favor so an opposing team can’t make a comeback.
Then, if early aggression doesn't work, they have an insurance policy for the late game in teamfights. At the Mid-Season Invitational, EDward Gaming at least gave some indication that the latter was part of their thought process when Coach Ji "Aaron" Xing told broadcast interviewers that the Koreans on the team, Kim "deft" Hyukkyu and Heo "pawN" Wonseok, had wanted to play a safe, scaling late game composition as insurance the first time they played SKT. To EDG's credit, it works a surprisingly high frequency, but from a Western perspective (which isn't necessarily always right), this is too risky — even if your core players are near the top, if not the best, in their positions.
Historically, EDward Gaming have been most successful when clearlove is most proactive on the map, and that came out in their series against WE. EDward Gaming’s most decisive games featured Rek’Sai and Gragas, while farming Hecarim — a champion with only a 33.3 percent win rate in the LPL playoffs (thank you, Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu, for deciding that any jungler most of the rest of the world thinks can’t gank at level 2 actually can) — picks resulted in EDG’s most desperate matches.
Any theory that EDward Gaming like to choose weaker lane matchups and still play aggressive would be supported by EDG performing better with strong jungle picks. If EDG pick a weaker bottom lane matchup like Kog’Maw paired with Braum at level three, they can rely on still forcing fights early with help from a strong jungle matchup. In 2015 Summer playoffs, Invictus Gaming targeted clearlove’s more aggressive jungle picks in ban phase, which allowed them to then take advantage of weaker laning matchups and run over EDG without his interference.
Within this spectrum, one can at least expect EDG to react enough to realize that, if they’re going to choose a weak bottom, mid, or top lane matchup, a strong jungle pick is necessary. In their final game against WE, they had already abandoned the Hecarim for a first pick Gragas. EDG also abused the fact that WE first rotated their solo lane picks, which allowed EDG to meet WE where they were winning. They can’t expect most teams to first rotation draft their solo lane picks going forward, however.
The rest of EDG’s quirks may as well be here to stay. They won’t suddenly decide that, some games, they need to support mouse more. They won’t move toward ganking mid lane more proactively to prevent all-ins. They won’t move away from scaling bottom lane picks. While EDG are not the same team they were in 2014, they’re still EDG, and whatever narrative you build about them learning from their mistakes this time around — if they were going to change, they already would have.
What EDG said in the press conference wasn’t, “Our way of looking at this patch was wrong,” it was, “Their mid and jungle are stronger.” This, in and of itself, speaks volumes about EDG’s approach. They think that, no matter what, no matter how they choose to play, the best players can control the game.
For the most part, what you see is what you get. Fans should hope that the risks they take snowball the way they want because EDG don't appear to be budging. It might punish them again, they may not advance past quarterfinals.
Or commitment to one approach may finally pay off for EDG like it has for SK Telecom T1 so many times, and this will be the year they prove us all wrong.
In its infancy, Chinese League of Legends esports seethed with four top teams seeking power, but the short struggle didn't last. Catastrophic Cruel Memory's July 2011 victory over Team WE in Tencent Games Arena — the first important League of Legends LAN that thrust the game into the spotlight in the region — set the tone for the storylines that would unfold for years to come.
Wang Sicong's purchase of CCM weeks later marks TGA 2011 as perhaps the single most important event in the history of Chinese LoL. He made it fashionable for the second-generation rich to invest in not just LoL teams, but esports more broadly, and he created the second half of China's first great rivalry. In the years since, China has become a region defined by two-team rivalries — a new one each year, in almost every year since 2011.
WE and Invictus Gaming (the rebranded CCM) was the first of these. Though WE were the clear kings, iG was the only team to contest them. Their rivalry spanned late 2011, 2012, and the beginning of 2013, before both teams fumbled against fresh LPL blood, Oh My God and Positive Energy, who each took one LPL final that year.
WE crumbled dramatically in 2013, and from the remains rose the most dominant team in Chinese LoL. From 2014 onward, EDward Gaming would be one of the top two teams in China, with OMG, LGD and now Royal Never Give Up taking turns as their nemesis. EDG have been a near-permanent fixture in the LPL final since spring 2014, only missing out once.
2014 was EDward Gaming’s year of landslide victories. They swept both LPL finals against Invictus Gaming and Oh My God. 2015’s challenger, LGD Gaming, gave EDG their closest domestic series while they were at their zenith. They went on from there to take down SK Telecom T1 at the MidSeason Invitational, their proudest moment, and from that to their most humiliating defeat: a 3-0 in the summer 2015 semifinal against LGD, the first and only time they would miss an LPL final in their three-year history.
But EDG persisted, dragging themselves through their ugliest offseason between 2015 and 2016. They managed to pull underperforming solo laners to their fourth LPL final, only to lose horrifically. Royal Never Give Up outplayed them on almost every front, defeating EDG 3-1 and taking their seat at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational.
Following that loss, EDG captain Ming “clearlove” Kai said, “As my form becomes better, our team will perform better in the next season.” True to his word, the 2016 summer season was EDG's statistically most successful regular season. They went undefeated in 16 best-of-three series, triumphing over Team WE in the semifinal to make it to their fifth LPL final in Guangzhou — where Royal Never Give Up are waiting for them again. Though EDG have been Top 2 in the LPL since their inception, they haven’t won a final for two splits running. They’re hungry to change that.
Though nowhere near as dominant as EDG, Royal have a longer history as an organization. This is their first year they have factored into the LPL's defining rivalry, as well as their first year making an LPL final, but they were a caveat in both the 2013 and the 2014 rivalries.
Since WE’s 2012 triumphs, Royal have also had the most consistency of any Chinese team once they make the international stage. They haven’t yet taken down Korean powerhouses the way WE did at the 2015 IEM World Championship or EDward Gaming at 2015’s MSI, but Royal have beaten out all of their Chinese rivals on the world stage, making it as far as possible before being stopped by Korea.
clearlove, as a key player in both Team WE and EDG, has been a prominent figure in LPL rivalries dating back to 2012. Meanwhile, Royal's Jin "Uzi" Zihao has been the recurring constant in their dramatic World Championship runs. However, Uzi didn't play with Royal in their domestic championship run this spring, and until this split was the best Chinese player in the LPL who had never made it to a domestic final. Now he’s the best who hasn't won one.
There’s a reason clearlove and Uzi are the league’s most beloved players. Every other domestic talent of their caliber, experience and international success has retired to a lucrative streaming contract or disappeared into the obscurity of the bench. The hunger for success is evident with these two; their careers have had striking parallels and moments where they’ve almost been good enough.
We’re used to witnessing their rises and falls. Uzi was named LPL MVP in 2014, while clearlove received the honor in 2015. By now, we know the types of teams they need to succeed. EDG want their rematch. RNG have finally shown they have the consistency in their home region to step out of the footnotes and headline this year’s rivalry.
But because of the histories of these players, this year's rivalry won't really be played out in Guangzhou. Since 2013, the first year of the LPL, the Chinese team that has placed highest in LPL regular season (as in 2013, playoffs took place after Worlds) or won LPL Summer playoffs has been outperformed by another Chinese team. Royal overcame Oh My God and EDward Gaming in 2013 and 2014. Then in 2015, EDward Gaming, the team that lost to first place LGD in playoffs semifinals, was the only Chinese team to escape the group stage at Worlds that year.
Two members of EDward Gaming, clearlove and Kim "deft" Hyukkyu, both know what it's like to secure the first seed for their region by besting members of Royal and lose at the World Championship to the same team they defeated to earn it.
Worlds 2014 marked the first tournament clearlove, Uzi, Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu and Cho "Mata" Sehyeong all attended, but they were all highlight players on different teams. The only other attendees that year who later played for EDG or RNG were Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok and Heo "pawN" Wonseok on Samsung White. Uzi and Mata both made the final, but clearlove's EDG lost steam in the quarterfinals and deft's Samsung Blue fell out in the semis. It was Uzi and Star Horn Royal Club who eliminated clearlove and Mata, pawN and Looper on Samsung White who ran over deft, before going on to knock Uzi and Royal out of the finals.
Royal and White may have finished Top 2 at Worlds, but EDG and Blue were the domestic standouts in their respective regions. EDG last faced Star Horn in China's regional final, putting them down 2-1 to cement their first seed status, while Samsung Blue bested Samsung White with well-executed comebacks in a four-game Champions Summer semifinal in Korea.
History has given clearlove domestic success, but Uzi has two appearances in what clearlove strives for above everything else: the World Championship Grand Finals. The scales of inequity could easily tip in Uzi's favor this weekend in Guangzhou.
“I’d like to win [the LPL] this time, because I haven’t won yet,” Uzi said in a press conference while he played with QG Reapers in Spring 2016. A Grand Finals appearance is the closest he’s ever come.
Three of the five players on Royal Never Give Up have gotten to Worlds Grand Finals through wild aggression and unpredictability, and RNG have that in spades. EDG are everything that has ensured domestic longevity: reliable, predictable, improved through repetition.
It's the junglers on these teams that create their identities. Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu, Royal’s jungler, has everything clearlove’s more patient and practiced style doesn’t. While clearlove’s pathing has drilled an Evelynn-shaped channel across Summoner’s Rift from blue-side blue buff camp to the bottom lane over the years, Mlxg has an almost even spread of blue-side starts, having started in the blue buff area in 10 games, in the red buff area in nine, and invaded in one.
Unpredictability will be key. In the only set between EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up in the regular season, EDG took the 2v2 advantage in the weaker lane matchup. Anyone who remembers Tian "meiko" Ye as EDward Gaming’s weakest link from last year may be surprised to learn I consider him the superior support in this faceoff now.
meiko has the most assists of any player in the LPL, as well as the highest kill participation on the team, and functions as the main initiator for EDG. Ultimately, his vision control and strength on engage champions make him the primary playmaker, while clearlove’s flanking and counter-ganks give him good followup. Though Mata may have saved his reserves for the final (and this isn’t out of scope, as Mata has historically had higher highs than meiko) this season can’t give us the expectation that he will. meiko and deft’s synergy is a massive reason this bottom lane matchup will go in EDG’s favor on average. If Royal want to break the trend, they have to look elsewhere for leads.
It’s no coincidence the teams EDG lost to were bottom tier, because these are the teams that played around their top lane the most (with the exception of OMG). LGD Gaming’s Jang "MaRin" Gyeonghwan often accepts the counter-pick on red side and the lion’s share of the ganks. Bao "V" Bo has the highest CS lead at 10 minutes in the league in his position. Liu "Zz1tai" Zhihao receives the highest percentage of team gold of any top laner in the LPL. As WE demonstrated in semifinals with focus on the mid lane, the key to unsettling EDG is driving through solo lanes.
EDward Gaming, after nearly three years of bottom lane focus, are almost guaranteed to play the same game. If Royal Never Give Up want to change the script to prevent EDG from snowballing and cementing the 3v3 advantage, they have to look to their solo lanes. But, given the starved nature of Looper and Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao, who have the lowest share of team gold in their roles for the region, it seems unlikely that RNG will suddenly play around them.
Royal’s players have had an interesting two years while EDG enjoyed their domestic glory. xiaohu and Mlxg were summer season additions to the organization in 2015, and they ended the split playing Promotion Tournament before tackling the offseason with a collection of bloodthirsty wins. Slowly, xiaohu developed into Royal’s most reliable carry force, but Uzi’s addition has turned xiaohu into a less consistent second support with roams to the bottom lane. Keeping him mid will hamper some of Royal’s strength, but neither team is likely to look mid.
This is a growing pain Royal haven’t quite recovered from. At the moment, they seem like a team that are either carried by Uzi and Mlxg’s Level 2 ganks or not at all. This severely cuts down on the advantages they could reap from having powerful solo laners. And that’s exactly what happened in their last encounter with EDG when, in the first game, RNG insisted on standard lanes at the expense of Looper’s lead, and then over-invested into their bottom lane in subsequent standard-lane games. They’ve given minimal evidence this approach will change.
Meanwhile, EDward Gaming have their fists clenched with the bitterness of two splits without a championship. It was clear from their faces after the unexpected five-game series against WE that EDG don’t want to lose again. They didn’t think it would be close. They don’t think they’ll lose to Royal.
At the start of the 2016 LPL Spring final, clearlove and deft both made liberal use of the pre-game trash-talk segment. "I’ve heard wuxx is my fan," deft said, referring to Royal’s then-AD carry Wang "wuxx" Cheng. "I’ll remind him he’s just a fan."
They didn’t think they’d lose then either. Compare that to Mata's pessimistic comments leading up to RNG's victory, and his exuberance at its conclusion — when he squeezed Mlxg in a life-threateningly intense hug. Royal clearly didn’t expect to win, at least not so easily.
Once again, Royal aren’t expected to win, at least not by me. Yes, they get greater leads in standard lanes than EDward Gaming. Yes, they have stronger solo laners. They’re more likely to get early leads in general, with the highest regular-season gold lead at 15 minutes of any team in the five major leagues (1,710). But Royal Never Give Up constantly play with one hand tied behind their back. They don’t realize how strong they are when they use Mlxg’s unpredictability as a weapon, so they don’t bother. They don’t realize they can pressure a lead and close, so they throw at Baron.
The last two splits I picked EDG to win the LPL, they lost. Last split, I railed against RNG for failing to develop in the regular season, and they surprised me at the playoffs and MSI.
clearlove may be tired of losing at the finish line in China, but Uzi hasn’t even been to an LPL finish line before. clearlove looks best when he has a bottom lane that can carry with a lead, and Uzi looks best when he has a mature support to stabilize him. This time around, both conditions are met. Uzi has everything he needs to win his first LPL, and clearlove has more than enough to secure his fourth win. This won't be an easy best of five for either of them.
When the victor is crowned, all players will look forward to a stage that has traditionally been Royal’s: the World Championship. This final matters because both teams would rather make it there than anywhere. They want to prove themselves against their strongest domestic contenders before arriving in the US.
At the same time, a victory here would be bittersweet, because historically the LPL final winner doesn’t perform best at Worlds. That’s something this year’s rivals know better than anyone.
In a lengthy video posted Tuesday morning, OGN LoL caster and Renegades co-owner Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles weighed in on the debate that has broken out between LCS team owners and Riot Games about how teams and players earn revenue in LoL esports.
MonteCristo, whose LCS team was forced to disband earlier this year after Riot ruled it had inappropriate connections with Chris Badawi and Team Dragon Knights, was not shy about his frustration with how Riot's current policies have affected organizations' ability to generate revenue and pay their players.
"There has been no sponsorship revenue sharing for the league," he said. "The sponsors are tapped out. The endemic sponsors, they're not going to give any more money for League of Legends. Most teams are losing money, maybe one or two teams are making a razor-thin profit from LCS."
He claimed that Riot's policies about how and where an organization's sponsors can be featured has not only limited investments made by current sponsors, but has also made the LCS an unattractive option for potential new entrants.
The debate over how Riot's esports policies have affected team owners and outside investors broke into the public spotlight yesterday when Riot co-owner Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill replied to an interview with Team SoloMid co-owner Andy "Reginald" Dinh.
Reginald argued in the interview that Riot's decision to release a major patch after the LCS regular season, but ahead of playoffs and the World Championship, has hurt the high-level competitive environment. He said the constant reinvention of the game makes it hard for players to find consistent, healthy employment with a competitive organization.
Tryndamere countered in a written response on Reddit that Reginald had the power to decide how his players were reimbursed, and accused him of shifting profits to investments in other esports rather than paying more for LoL players.
MonteCristo rebuked Tryndamere in his video, saying that the money team owners use to pay players is ultimately controlled by Riot and that, in situations where Riot already provides money to players, they've chosen not to increase that amount.
"Maybe if you're concerned with the financial health of the players, Tryndamere, you should pay them more money," he said. "Maybe you should raise a stipend. You haven't raised a stipend for the players since 2013."
The Renegades owner argued that the rules surrounding sponsorships need to change to enable more outside investment, and that Riot should consider a revenue-sharing proposal that would see teams and players benefit from Riot's sponsorships. His video doesn't go into detail about what a solution might look like.
MonteCristo also claimed that the threat of relegation already forces teams to offer as much as they can to acquire the best players, so that they do not lose their LCS spot and forfeit their investment. "In a system where relegations exist, teams will always be trying to pay the players the maximum amount that makes sense, because otherwise you lose everything," he said.
He called Riot and Tryndamere hypocrites, claiming that they were telling teams to spend more on players while underpaying their own broadcast talent. MonteCristo and his fellow OGN casters have raised the issue of unfair treatment by Riot in the past, for example when they boycotted the Mid-Season Invitational for allegedly offering substandard wages. In a Tweet Monday morning, he said the current debate gave him more reason to believe a caster's union is needed.
In Tryndamere's original Reddit post, which he later edited, he suggested that Reginald and TSM were "losing money" by investing in other esports. MonteCristo attacked this statement in his video, saying there was no way for Riot to know whether teams were turning a profit from titles like Counter-Strike or Overwatch. (Renegades has an active roster in CS:GO.)
"I don't know how Riot got this idea," he said. "They never asked me, as a team owner, how I was doing, where my sponsorship money was coming from. And I would have told them that — for me personally and I think this is true for a lot of teams — that sponsorship in CS:GO and the potential of Overwatch was much more exciting for sponsors. And it was getting increasingly difficult to field good sponsorships and make good money off of an LCS team."
MonteCristo took special issue with a section of Tryndamere's response in which he separated teams into those with "good guy" owners like Reginald, and others at the "bottom end of the ecosystem."
"I hate this about Riot," he said. "They’re like some sort of f***ed-up, tyrant Santa Claus, where you get put on the naughty or nice list for all-time, and they decide ‘he is good, he is bad. I guess Regi’s one of the good guys. I don’t really know what that means in this context."
Far too often, Chinese team comparisons have been overused in the West. “They like to team fight a lot! They are like the Chinese!” That doesn’t mean that, occasionally, a western team doesn’t earn the comparison in other ways.
While not renowned for something that a team normally wants in their reputation, G2 Esports have been dubbed “LG2D" by some Chinese fans and struck up a small following for their disastrous Mid-Season Invitational performance in Shanghai. Mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković has been compared humorously to Wei “We1less” Zhen (previously known as GODV) for perceived hubris prior to an international event and failing to deliver. I read a comment by one fan that went so far as to say, “If LGD can’t make Worlds, I’ll just cheer for EU LGD.”
Beyond memes, G2 have also been noted as a more experimental team in the regular season (yes, that word), bringing out confusing compositions like the one that featured Nunu against Giants Gaming. Last split, their coach Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool lamented that G2 perhaps didn’t play as seriously in scrims as he thought they should, a sentiment also shared by many Chinese team staff members. Even the black and red color scheme calls to mind quite a few LPL teams.
But none of those factors are actually relevant. The most striking thing for spectators is how the dynamic of G2 is set up to depend on a strong, invading jungler and an aggressive bottom lane. This heavily resembles the dynamics of the two top Chinese teams in the League of Legends Pro League, Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming.
Reddit is flooded with speculation on how Team SoloMid will fare against Korean giants, but G2’s Take 2 against Chinese heavyweights after a disastrous MSI in Shanghai is something I’m personally excited about. Because all three teams have striking stylistic similarities, matchups between G2 and their Chinese competitors may turn into games of inches. In celebration of all three qualifying for the World Championship, it’s time to prematurely sift through their dynamics in regular season and find what will matter should these teams collide in October. Of course, this is neglecting any possible patch changes that throw everything away between now and then, which is why I won't belabor meta details.
A first look at G2, EDward Gaming, and Royal games gives one an impression that these teams are defined primarily by their junglers and bottom lanes, cutting off resources to solo lanes relative to other teams within their regions. Action is generated in the bottom lane with jungle involvement, with or without Teleports.
Comparing the gold distributions of all three teams relative to their perspective regional averages reinforces this idea (though Royal Never Give Up is definitely the most extreme case and EDward Gaming the most well-rounded of the three).
It’s clear that the key matchups are between jungle and bottom lane. It’s not without reason that Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, Kim “deft” Hyukkyu, and Jian “Uzi” Zihao are among the most anticipated AD carry names heading for Worlds, though all of them can be outshone at times by their laning partners, Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, Tian “meiko” Ye and Cho “Mata” Sehyeong. While Kim “Trick” Gangyun and Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu don’t have the experience and gravitas of Ming “clearlove” Kai, they’re arguably the breakout junglers of the year in their respective regions.
All three teams do function with an invasive jungler who farms a lot of the game’s jungle camps. clearlove, Mlxg and Trick all average positive CS leads at 10 minutes. Azir is the most played champion of all three mid laners. Aside from just being an incredibly strong champion for most of the split, his wave clear and setup potential meshed well stylistically, even with slightly less of team resources than other mids have. All three top laners are near the bottom of regional percentage of team gold values with extensive emphasis on late game team fighting and Teleports.
But the interesting aspects of G2, EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up aren’t in their similarities, but in their differences. Already, a glance at these gold distributions suggests that the relationships aren’t strict one-to-one.
Aiming for some of the low-hanging fruit, G2 actually don’t fight as much as their LPL brethren in this example. With a .64 combined kills per minute, they don’t hit Royal Never Give Up’s .81 and EDward Gaming’s .82. Arguably, since every single LPL team has a higher combined kills per minute than G2, and G2 sit in the top 4 in EU for combined kills per minute, this statistical discrepancy could come from opposing teams not buying into G2’s desire to fight across the map, but other numbers point to less aggression from G2.
G2 have the lowest first blood rate in the EU LCS (tied with Team ROCCAT) at 39 percent. This is considerably lower than RNG’s 65 percent and EDG’s 62.16 percent. Typically, when one watches a G2 game, one can notice that they want to set up control through vision and gold leads first. Usually, that means other teams can catch them out for first blood, but this risk gives them better control of the map to set up for their lanes to build momentum.
Top lane pressure
For this reason, G2 deceptively benefited from lane swaps. Though they didn’t have the best lane swap execution in the EU LCS, they lane swapped in over 58 percent of their games. Some of the explanation for this sits in their top lane, according to the data. Ki “Expect” Daehan averages a 10.2 CS deficit at 10 minutes in standard lanes, as opposed to only a 1.2 CS difference in lane swaps. Overall, this reinforces a subtle average gold difference at ten minutes between standard lane and lane swap games for G2 Esports.
Though all three of these teams, on paper, because of the talent on their roster should theoretically benefit from enforced standard lanes, only Royal Never Give Up show a much larger gold lead at 10 minutes in a standard setup, while G2 and EDG actually had slightly higher gold leads at 10 minutes in lane swap games. As evidenced by EDward Gaming’s series against LGD, lane swaps also helped them to play around their top laner, though in a slightly different way.
clearlove has a history and reputation of not pathing toward the top lane, while Expect’s addition to the roster has made Trick play slightly more around his side of the map. I speculate that he does this because Expect is more likely to lose lane on his own without pressure, but G2 also had a smart ability to use Expect as bait. Often following a lane swap, they could leave Expect to freeze by a Tier 2 turret and bait the enemy top laner into over-extending to get farm, leading to ganks by Trick.
Meanwhile, for EDG, lane swaps opened up roams for meiko much more often, supplementing EDG’s jungle pressure, and, in general, not all LPL teams perfected lane swap execution. EDG were able to get tempo advantages they could channel into more farm for Chen "mouse" Yuhao. clearlove rarely plays to mouse’s side of the map, but in lane swaps, he didn’t have to, and mouse could still build an advantage without the threat of a gank.
Without lane swaps, G2 and EDward Gaming both lose this mechanism for compensating for their top laner and must rely more on their mid lane and duo lane. As evidenced by the regular season set between Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming this split, however, that actually doesn’t matter. Since Royal Never Give Up tunnel so hard onto their bottom lane and getting their bottom lane ahead, they’re rarely able to use the skill advantage they have in the top lane to the fullest extent.
Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok averages a 6.1 CS lead at 10 minutes, setting him ahead of both mouse and Expect significantly in laning, but he also has the lowest kill participation among the three top laners at 57.3 percent. Looper has a low chance of getting involved in Royal’s action or influencing the game in a meaningful way with any lead he accumulates. His late game split-pushing also isn't incredibly consistent.
Looper’s low gold distribution reflects more low involvement than poor ability to accumulate a lead, and then Royal allocates almost every free farm lane to Uzi. Creating more strategies around Looper, especially given his tendency to overperform at international events, could create a distinct advantage for Royal that the other teams don’t appear to have the resources to prevent.
As for where the action is driven, highest kill participations among jungle and bottom lane players are also consistent with the emphasis on bottom lane fights in the meta and expectations for G2, RNG, and EDG. Yet slight differences in theses three roles reflect observations obtained from watching the games. G2 shares more similarities to Royal Never Give Up in that their jungler is the main driver of action with 74.6 percent kill participation for Mlxg and 75.6 percent kill participation for Trick. Most action is driven by Trick’s ganks or skirmishes in the jungle, just as Mlxg dictates much of the pace for Royal.
Royal’s calling card is Mlxg’s frequent level two ganks, even on champions like Hecarim and Graves, which are expected to play more of a farming style in the early game. This is reflected in Royal’s high first blood rate. While Trick may not act as early as Mlxg, he has a lot more variation in where he’ll apply pressure.
Except that Royal can compensate for this with their fanatic obsession with vision. With 3.77 wards per minute, Royal Never Give Up use advantages early, accumulated from Mlxg’s daring, to place vision. They snowball the early game so efficiently, averaging a gold lead of 1,710 at 15 minutes relative to EDG’s 1,495 and G2’s 1,181, because they channel leads into wards from Mata and, surprisingly, mid laner Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao (though the rest of the squad isn't far behind him in WPM) as the primary warders for the team. This interaction of RNG trying to track Trick with vision will be an interesting one to watch.
For both EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, the second highest kill participation player is their AD carry, while Zven has a kill participation slightly below 70 percent. Expect also has a much higher kill participation than either of the Chinese team top laners at 67.8 percent. As such, the side of the map where G2 create pressure is less predictable. Trick works well in conjunction with mithy’s roams, and sometimes this means they get caught out more often, but it makes them hard to counter.
EDward Gaming are the most predictable when it comes to where they look to create skirmishes. deft has the second highest kill participation of any EDG player at 72.8 percent, but EDG are incredibly likely to start action in the duo lane, even without their jungler. With meiko’s 75.6 percent kill participation and the most assists of any player in the LPL, it’s clear that EDG’s main action driver is actually their support, and not clearlove. While Trick and Mlxg will drive action for their teams, EDG have set clearlove in a counter-gank based role. If meiko acts, then clearlove may be in the area, but his assistance isn’t always needed. There’s a reason meiko receives the highest gold distribution of any of these three supports.
Yet this also can make EDG’s early game incredibly risky. They’re likely to start fights with their duo lane using a weak matchup like Braum and Kog’Maw into Bard and Lucian. This is something either RNG or G2 can take advantage of before clearlove’s countergank arrives, but tunneling too hard on this weakness has already backfired for Royal. It’s much more advisable to tackle EDward Gaming from other angles.
In addition, because EDG focus more on allowing clearlove to control jungle and farm while meiko makes early plays, they become more formidable as a team fighting unit as late game approaches. G2's chances against RNG actually increase as the game lengthens considering their warding falls of, and Mlxg has a tendency to over-extend in teamfights.
Getting to how G2 can actually win
I know that this is the primary question on the minds of an English-speaking audience. G2 align with both RNG and EDG in different facets. All three teams have powerful teamfighting and strong junglers and AD carries.
If Royal ever shake off their aversion to playing around anyone but Uzi, Looper is a tool they can abuse to unsettle both EDward Gaming and G2 in standard lanes. RNG's coordination with Looper also make his Teleports incredibly reliable.
EDward Gaming will likely do whatever is within their power to bait bot lane 2v2s. This high risk works for them way more than it should because of the sheer skill of deft and meiko as a unit. Zven and mithy are capable enough to try to contest it — but they shouldn’t if there’s a better option.
There is, and whether it’s by fate orchestrating a redemption story for G2’s most ridiculed superstar, G2’s way ahead is through Perkz. Or, more specifically, how G2 play around him.
One might pause at this point. After Perkz made the statement that he didn’t believe Asian mid laners were that strong, he sufficiently humiliated himself against the mid lane representatives from LPL, LCK and LMS. xiaohu, Royal Never Give Up’s mid laner, was one of them.
While xiaohu is certainly one of the best mid laners in the LPL, his function on Royal has changed drastically. Mid lane first bloods happen much more scarcely, he receives the lowest percentage of team gold of any mid laner in the league (21.9 percent — there are top laners who receive more of their team’s gold than that), and with engage AD carries becoming more popular, he plays fewer engage mid lane picks, leaving him on near permanent wave clear and warding duty.
This leaves him more vulnerable to ganks and roams because Trick is less predictable. xiaohu’s job is more to have an impact on the map, but teams like Snake and Oh My God have had success by keeping him confined to the mid lane and ganking him. Both G2 and Royal share a similar stylistic trajectory following Worlds — they upgraded their bottom lane, and teams became much less about mid lane, but the fact that Trick is less predictable means that he can counter any bottom lane pressure by keeping one of Royal’s biggest map pressure aids in lane at all times.
As for EDward Gaming, they were recently put severely on the backfoot by a similar strategy from Team WE. WE, like the other three teams mentioned here, have a distribution of gold that favors jungle and bottom lane and an AD carry that does upwards of 30 percent of team damage to champions like Uzi, Zven and deft. Yet they dragged EDward Gaming to five games in the semifinals by using their mid laner, Su “xiye” Hanwei, as a pivot point against Lee “scout” Yechan with jungler Xiang "Condi" Renjie heavily camping the mid lane. EDG didn’t react well, and scout got run over in three of five games, with EDG only barely coming back in one of them.
G2 have demonstrated an ability to flex their main carry back to mid lane in games where Perkz plays Vladimir with a devastating 10.19 KDA and 27 percent kill share in five games played. While Zven is G2’s new laning carry focus, he’s not the center of attention to anywhere near the extent of Uzi, which makes the team with the biggest mid lane threat to Perkz more restricted.
At IEM San Jose, GODV capitulated on his chance at redemption. Everything has aligned, and G2 fans dearly hope EU GODV doesn’t make the same mistake.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports who still naively believes in the possibility of a tournament where both EU and China show up. You can follow her on Twitter.
Assessing the effects of Patch 6.15
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen
When Riot announced its plans for the 6.15 patch, designed to neuter the tower-trading lane swaps that had become so commonplace in professional play, there were a range of reactions. The lane swap appreciation club, consisting mostly of analysts, writers and other professionals, expressed their discontent, but it was clear to most that something needed to change. The move to lock in standard lane matchups was always intended for the less-hardcore parts of the esports audience, anyways, so Riot pressed on and put the changes into place, after toning them down with some compromises.
Riot’s main goal was to make the early game more exciting to watch, with more champion interaction. Underlying that goal was the desire for professional play to look more similar to the 1v1/2v2 lanes that the average player finds when they queue up to play at home.
There have now been 101 games played on patch 6.15 across the five major pro leagues, and while there have been some negative consequences to the loss of lane swaps, Riot has overall seen its goals come to fruition.
LPL data is not available.
While professional viewers and the most hardcore fans may miss the strategic depth of lane swaps, patch 6.15 is paying dividends when it comes to early-game combat. Patch 6.15 has seen noticeable increases in kills during the first 10 to 15 minutes of games, especially in the LCK.
Overall, there has been a six percent increase in the number of kills before the 10-minute mark, and a nine percent increase at 15 minutes. The trends have been consistently upwards across the major regions, but with the number of games played per region still being relatively low, each league has seen some variation in the time periods in which its kills are coming in.
Increase in kills at 10 mins
Increase in kills at 15 mins
For what it’s worth, the action is kicking off at similar times pre- and post-6.15, when it comes to First Blood. First Blood has been arriving only a few seconds later, overall, at 7:14 on 6.15 compared to 7:07 previously. That’s tied to much earlier FBs in the LCK (6:27 compared to 7:09), but later FBs in the NA LCS (7:10 compared to 6:43).
Beyond the numbers, there has been a different feel to many early games, a greater sense of impending action. Some of that is perception rather than measureable reality, but the perception itself is what Riot was looking for. The feeling of higher-paced action is probably tied to the fact that the viewer spends more time watching the top and duo lanes interact in lane, trading damage with one another. Head-to-head laning at least allows for the possibility of fights and kills, so the viewer can experience some element of anticipation that lane swaps don’t allow. In standard lanes, there is also more opportunity for the junglers to attempt ganks, which adds to the viewer’s suspense as we wait to see which jungler will pull the trigger first.
A firm increase in early-game kills is good for the average viewer, but the suspense and anticipation that come from more direct player interaction in lane has been even more important in helping patch 6.15 reach its entertainment-value goals.
The Value of the First Tower
Among some parts of the fan base, the perceptionseemsto be that 6.15’s addition of bonus gold for killing the first tower has created an overwhelming advantage that produces imbalanced snowballs, deciding games too early on.
That perception doesn’t match reality. First tower has always been a valuable objective, even during the days of lane swaps when the “first tower” was often traded immediately back by the opposing team. Prior to patch 6.15, the team that took the first tower won the game more than 60 percent of the time. On 6.15, that win rate has increased by four percentage points, a noteworthy number but not an astounding one.
The huge surge in first tower win rate in the EU LCS playoffs is offset by a drop in the NA LCS, where, for example, TSM recently took down CLG 3-0 while only taking the first tower in one of three games.
In fact, across the major regions so far on patch 6.15, the first tower has only been slightly more valuable than first blood. Taking down the first dragon is by far the best predictor of success.
It’s worth noting that the first dragon is a bit harder to come by on patch 6.15, since there are no lane swaps that used to sometimes allow one team to get a tempo advantage and use that to grab a free dragon at six or seven minutes into the game. In standard lanes, the team that takes the first dragon often has an advantage already, whether they’ve just won a teamfight, or have mid and bot lane shoved, or have maybe even just taken a tower to gain map control.
Overall, the first tower is a very important objective, but its importance hasn’t grown that much compared to previous patches. The gold bonus was added as an anti-incentive to prevent lane swapping, and the stats seem to show that it is achieving that goal without creating too much early-game snowballing.
Increased champion diversity in pro play is a value Riot has strived towards in the past, and unfortunately their push to encourage standard lanes has taken its toll in this area. When laning-phase counterpicks can’t be avoided by lane swapping, some champions become very difficult to draft safely. This was one of the feared consequences of the 6.15 patch, and the fears are being realized.
There have been 64 different champions played across the 101 patch 6.15 games so far, with 52 of those champions played more than once. That feels like a big decrease from the 107 champions played at least once throughout the regular season, 94 of which saw two or more games.
It’s more accurate, of course, to draw comparisons across patches, when the number of games played is more similar.
Champs Played 2+ Times
Reflects 2016 summer regular season, spring promotion tournaments, and playoffs, in the NA and EU LCS, LCK, LPL and LMS.
Patch 6.15 hasn’t yet reached the game count of the previous summer patches, but even so, it’s clear that the unique champion count is lagging behind. To reach similar diversity levels to what we saw in the regular season, the remaining LCS and LPL playoff matches will need to feature 10 or more new champions that haven’t featured in the playoffs so far. That’s very unlikely to happen.
With a few small patches still to come between now and the World Championships, there will be opportunities for Riot to hopefully nudge some additional champions into the meta. We aren’t going to see the kind of diversity we might have wanted, but let’s be honest — as long as Mordekaiser isn’t around, we won’t have that much to complain about.
The Blues: Map Side Imbalance
The move towards standard lanes had some analysts declaring that the red side of the map would be heavily favored, since the last pick of the draft could be used to secure preferred lane matchups. The opposite has proven to be true, with blue side seeing its win rate in the five major leagues skyrocket from 53.1 percent pre-6.15 up to 60.4 percent on 6.15.
The biggest part of that increase has come from the LPL, where the team on the blue side has won 81.5 percent of the time on this patch. That’s a shocking number, compared to the LPL’s 56.5 percent blue side win rate on previous patches this split.
The reasons behind this imbalance, both overall and for the LPL outlier, are complex, and don’t just come down to simple draft order. I’ll leave it to others to dig in to the topic in greater depth, but it’s something Riot will need to keep an eye on in the lead up to Worlds.
It’s unfortunate that champion diversity has been somewhat reduced, and that the blue side of the map is seeing greater advantages — for now, at least — but there have been plenty of reasons to appreciate the new balance Riot has struck. Overall the audience seems to be enjoying what they’re seeing.
Early returns suggest that patch 6.15 is achieving its goal of making the early game more exciting for the average fan to watch, with more interaction within the lanes. Meanwhile, the added first tower bonus gold has given the teams some incentive to be proactive in the early game, without resulting in the unstoppable snowballs that some people feared.
The outcome of changes like this aren’t as simple as “success” or “failure,” but the hope is that every time Riot shifts the game’s foundations, it results in progress rather than regression. That can never be fully known until we have the benefit of hindsight. The LCS and LPL finals, the regional tournaments and the World Championships will all have bearing on whether Riot stays its course with the enforcement of standard lanes, or whether they loosen their grip on the meta game heading into the offseason and the next year of competitive play.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.