The Offscreen Play: Sencux and Splyce's slow build

by theScore Staff Sep 16 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

When the skirmish started, jungler Jonas "Trashy" Andersen was already dead. Caught over-extending on top side of the map, Fnatic’s jungler Lee "Spirit" Dayoon had lost his engage ultimate by using Hecarim's Onslaught of Shadows to pursue the kill.

But Fnatic were 3,000 gold ahead at the 25 minute mark. They had Splyce’s blue buff area pink warded and had a man advantage. After Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek pursued Splyce’s bottom lane into the choke point between the blue buff and the wolves camp, Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten Teleport flanked from the blue buff bush on Karma. His combo and Rekkles’ ultimate almost completely eliminated Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup’s health bar. Rekkles used Arcane Shift, his one remaining escape after the burn of his flash, to secure the kill over the blue buff wall.

That’s when it became obvious that — somehow — Rekkles had also lost most of his health bar. While the rest of Fnatic collapsed onto Kobbe and Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle, Splyce’s mid laner Chres "Sencux" Laursen had stayed off camera. All the audience witnessed was the particles of a Force Pulse from the corner of the screen while Rekkles lost 80 percent of his health.

Perhaps, after that, Rekkles already knew he was dead, but his Arcane Shift trapped him in the blue buff area with Splyce's top laner, Martin "Wunder" Hansen. When Sencux’s Kassadin joined him via Riftwalk, the entire game upended. Febiven’s too-close-to-the-wall positioning made Wunder’s Fiora Lunge a technicality, and Splyce’s solo laners duo tore through Fnatic’s final carry threat while Mikyx performed feats of distraction against Spirit’s Hecarim.

Just like this teamfight, Splyce’s climb up the European LCS rankings was a late surprise. Some of their greatest feats take place on the mini map or just off the screen in a teamfight, making it easy to underrate their individual skills. The patience of Sencux’s Kassadin, spotting the opening in Fnatic’s drawn out chase, won Splyce only one of countless games from behind.

Yet people have referred to Splyce as a team of only moderate talents that win games through macro play.

"I think if you don't have good individual players then you're not going to win that many games," Sencux said. "Macro play is a big thing, but now it's [that] you need both macro and individual skill."

There are players who tunnel on the laning phase and find the concept of winning the game with a deficit daunting, and then there's Splyce, a team that's averaged a gold deficit of around 1.5k in the playoffs and 49 in the regional qualifier at 15 minutes despite placing second in the former and winning the latter. Splyce have become a patient team who use their knowledge of the map to look for openings and flex their skill later in the game.

From Sencux, a mid lane prodigy who was heralded for his explosive Ahri play coming from the EU CS, it wasn’t what we expected — especially not what he demonstrated at the start of the year.

In Sencux’s first EU LCS game, he locked in Varus, who at the time was a relatively immobile pick that safely cleared waves under the comfort of his own turret. He faced off against Unicorns of Love’s Hampus "Fox" Myrhe's Zed, hardly daring to contest creeps in the unfavorable matchup. Even when Fox disappeared to gank bottom, Sencux remained fearfully hugging his turret.

Simply put, Sencux struggled to find the confidence to make plays when he first entered the EU LCS.

"It can be not wanting to [make] mistakes, it can be — I see some player playing a bit aggro, I sometimes think they definitely have support behind them, even though I know they shouldn't, so I would play further back than I normally would have. I think that was the main problem," he said.

Even in better matchups, though Sencux would push out further in lane, his impact wouldn’t feel as strong. It wasn't until Splyce’s fourth EU LCS game against Team ROCCAT that the audience caught a glimpse of the Sencux that has become more commonplace in the EU LCS.

ROCCAT had already lost both of their outer turrets in the side lanes. After picking up his blue buff, Sencux saw an opportunity to use his Ahri Charm against Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia and Felix "Betsy" Edling. The two of them had pushed far up on Splyce’s mid-tier outer turret, and Sencux capitalized on their greed for a kill in what turned into Splyce’s first LCS win.

Top laner Wunder credits a lot of Splyce’s improvements to the spring split, despite their poor placement, as their rookie season paved the way to their second place summer split finish and helped them better understand macro play.

"You need to know what will happen next," he said. "You need to know what the team you're playing will do next and how to force something on that play. ... We would fall behind and then just slowly lose."

While Sencux’s reflection on the spring split included Wunder’s point about their weaker macro understanding, he had an addendum.

"Personally in the spring, after we qualified for LCS, I could have played a lot more and sometimes in lane I could have done a lot more than I did in spring," he said. "I didn't work as hard in the offseason as I could have because I had like a five months’ break, and I didn't know what to do."

Compared to Luka "Perkz" Perković's explosion onto the pro scene, Sencux’s showings were disappointing. While the spring regular season ended with analysts hotly debating whether Perkz or his teammate, jungler Kim "Trick" Gangyun, deserved the MVP award, Sencux’s hot-and-cold performances were a distant memory as Splyce dropped into the Promotion Tournament.

In part because of Perkz’s successes as another rookie from the EU CS, Sencux constantly felt that he could do better.

"I just wanted to work harder," he said. "[After the start of spring], I played so much every single day. When we got to scrims in the summer, I felt I was a lot better of a player."

As a pro player, taking a five-month break and missing out on game updates can be trying. Sencux felt it was nearly fatal, and his struggles were a lesson in humility. "I think just playing a lot more and knowing matchups in and out and knowing that, just because you're on stage and people are watching, you can't play differently," he said.

Repeated play on stage helped Sencux accept that mistakes will happen. If he felt confident in a matchup from solo queue or scrims, he just had to overcome the stage fright that went hand-in-hand with the need to get ahead early.

It’s surprising, in light of the way Splyce played in the EU LCS this summer, that Sencux used to struggle with keeping a clear head when the laning phase didn't go his way. Playing with the jungler giving attention to different lanes is a relatively new development for Sencux.

"I can play with a lot of jungle pressure," Sencux said. “In the past, it was what I usually played. Now I don't mind just playing to maybe not win the lane, but go even.”

For Sencux, there’s a clear turning point when he realized that being stubborn and unwilling to work from a lane disadvantage wouldn’t cut it.

"I remember specifically one game in a scrim a long time ago where I just kept going forward [after dying to a gank], and that kind of backfired because I kept dying and dying and dying. It doesn't work like that. I would say I could tilt in the past, but that doesn't happen anymore," he said.

Sencux projects a relatively calm demeanor as he talks about some of the changes in his attitude. Despite being exhausted from travel when he talks to me, he answers patiently. The image of the meandering Splyce from earlier this year that either closed games with a fed Sencux boasting more than five kills or not at all is an image many of Splyce's critics still hold onto.

A difference between the Challenger Series and spring split Splyce and summer Splyce may seem like a revolution, but it isn’t. Much as how the team wins many of their games from behind, they have doggedly built their success, looking for small advantages and openings. Sencux’s perspective has slowly altered along with it.

"The main thing I tried to work on throughout the challenger series was trying not to be that emotional and try not to be effected by a lot of random shit," Sencux says. He also had advice for other players with similar hang-ups. "Accept that you make a mistake was the first thing, and if you get mad and say something bad to a teammate, then apologize for it and move on."

This more patient Sencux defines the success that Splyce have been able to achieve this split. The sweeping comeback against Fnatic in the first game of their second summer split encounter is only one example of the team finding openings from a deficit.

Watching Sencux, he looks for openings in flanks or ways to apply pressure in a side lane. These plays are harder to highlight than a 1v1 outplay in the laning phase, but certainly require a high amount of intelligence and technique. A lot of pro players, including his teammate Wunder, have said it’s easiest to judge another player by how they play in lane. Sencux, who averaged a CS deficit of 7.9 in the playoffs, 3.8 in regular season, and 4.6 in his regional qualifying series, might be harder to point out as an intimidating opponent in a direct matchup.

When the sore subject of the laning phase comes up, Sencux admits it’s still one of the team's flaws. "I just think sometimes the way we pressure [doesn’t have] the best timings," he said. "Obviously it's something that we have to work on." According to Sencux and jungler Trashy, this will be a major focus of their Korean boot camp.

But one of Splyce's strengths is their ability to admit this flaw, at least temporarily. Splyce had a successful Game 1 against Unicorns of Love by relying on Taliyah, but in Game 2, they failed to exert any early pressure, and Sencux’s Taliyah ended with a 0/0/0 score line.

"This series, I kind of realized there's no point in playing to their strength," Sencux said, praising Unicorns of Love's early game, "so I wanted to stall out the early game and get to mid game by playing Malzahar."

Keeping a clear head and admitting when something isn’t working has made Splyce’s series play impressive. In the second game against G2 in the EU LCS final, they answered Perkz’s pesky Ekko pick with Vladimir to counter the matchup and they were rewarded with their only win of the series.

In general, Sencux still sees Perkz as a strong rival despite meta changes making Perkz’s play appear more unstable. But if there’s something that might give him an edge, Sencux thinks "maybe it's been playing new champions that seem to rise up in priority first, realizing when they're actually good or not. We were one of the first to play Taliyah … and Kassadin."

If there’s a takeaway for me from Splyce’s summer, it’s their adaptability and resourcefulness. Their toolkit, from champion picks to the way they see the game is vast. Though still a very young team, Splyce excel more when backed into a corner. If there’s an opponent out of position or a free objective for the taking, Splyce will react almost immediately.

But critics will dwell on Splyce’s laning phase or their struggles playing around the bottom side of the map. Trashy, like Sencux, acknowledged that these are both things they’re trying to work on while in Korea.

"A lot of teams," Trashy said, "They are really good at playing around bot, while we are not as good. I think it really showed in our final against G2 where we couldn’t play around bot as we wanted to in some cases. We have really good synergy around top, mid, jungle where we understand each other really well. We just need to put it on another level."

Sencux admits that they only adapted in the Unicorns of Love series to play more in their comfort zone because they couldn’t fix major problems between games. But with some teams at Worlds (specifically Royal Never Give Up, a team in Splyce's group) looking to snowball the laning phase despite an inability to closeout games, they might find Splyce's knack for identifying openings and capitalizing with their solo laners surprising.

Several analysts and pros have referred to the increased importance of the laning phase as something that will be Worlds' deciding point. But even after admitting it’s a problem for Splyce, Sencux rated laning phase overall much lower in importance than expected.

"I don't think [laning phase] is everything in the game. I think that's like 30 percent," he said.

Splyce are a team that have taken the concept of reactive play very seriously. They study their opponents and can anticipate the mistakes they are prone to making. I’m personally skeptical that they’ll be able to fix their laning phase woes in time for Worlds, but with the importance of supports and mid laners coordinating with their junglers, direct 1v1s have been overvalued.

Relative to expectations, Splyce are late bloomers, but they didn’t let their spring failures loom over them this summer, and they don’t let gold deficits discourage them. Splyce will make their Group D opponents fight for every win, just as they’ve fought for recognition this Summer.

Attention-grabbing, laning phase bulldozers can be terrifying, but Splyce’s deadliest work won’t be at the center of the spectator. Key moments for Splyce will happen on the fringe of a team fight or in movements on the mini map. They’ll pray on your over-confidence, because they what it’s like to have been knocked down.

For Sencux and Splyce, this year has been a slow build. For every player on the team, 2016 will mark their first World Championship. Sencux’s expectations are modest.

"The biggest thing for me is going to Korea and scrim teams and play Korean solo queue. I just want to take as much from it as possible and try to get out of groups. So it's fine for me just using it as a learning experience," he said.

But if Splyce do surprise, it won’t be quick and decisive. It will be almost 30 minutes in from at least a 3,000 gold deficit. An internationally experienced AD carry like Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng or Jian "Uzi" Zihao who beat down the Splyce bottom lane in the early game, for a split second, won’t check his flank...

And in a moment, he’ll be eliminated, gutted by a Force Pulse from just off screen.

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Kelsey Moser is a feature writer for theScore esports. you can follow her on Twitter.