How does one prepare for that which does not exist?
Or something like that.
Mid lane Kog'Maw, jungle Gnar and jungle Twisted Fate, Shaco, the introduction of the Udyr "flash bear slap" level two gank to the European League of Legends Championship Series... It always seems that the Unicorns of Love have something unique up their sleeves. Their strengths are allegedly in being unafraid to prepare cheese for a playoff match.
According to the narrative, they've managed to upset both Gambit Gaming and SK Gaming by putting their opposition into unfamiliar situations against unfamiliar champions. It's almost like if you can't predict their moves, they cannot be stopped.
In defense of cheese, it can be well-executed. If you come to the table with five different, well-executed "cheese" strategies, you can win a Bo5 by surprising opponents with picks or strategies you might not see every day in the LCS. Arguably, Dignitas' classic 2012 season lineup had elements of this style with their top Lulu-mid Soraka or Heimerdinger-Trundle compositions. If that were the approach of the Unicorns of Love, it wouldn't be bad at all.
Except, it isn't the crux of their approach or what makes the Unicorns the Unicorns. Regardless of surprising picks, the Unicorns of Love maintain the same style of play, game-to-game. If these surprise picks are a factor, it's in that they create a mental block for their opponents. What do you do against a jungle Gnar? The same thing you do against a Sejuani, only you watch the rage bar in team fights. Sometimes that's hard to rationalize if you're nervous and under pressure, but it isn't the biggest reason the Unicorns win.
Regardless of their jungle champion, the Unicorns rely on frequent skirmishing led by their support and chaining of crowd control. Mid laner PowerofEvil utilizes the lockdowns to move effortlessly through fights on hyper carries for kills. One of Vardags' most picked champion in the regular season was Sivir. During the playoffs he's relied upon Jinx.
These AD carry picks can take advantage of any skirmish wins to bring down structures. Even if UoL doesn't always take fights in the optimal location for grabbing the next objective, they can get to turrets faster and smash them immediately with these ADC picks. Because PowerofEvil demands a certain amount of bans, it's easy for Vardags to get these comfortable champions.
Kikis is more of a distraction than a carry. He follows up Hylissang's engagements well with the appropriate crowd control and has come up with unexpected early ganks. Ultimately, he's not the strength or the core of what makes Unicorns of Love the Unicorns of Love. Their strengths will be in Hylissang's ability to pick advantageous fights and the nearly oppressive power of their solo laners. If their top and mid lane get ahead, the Unicorns can win early skirmishes and follow up with objectives.
It's hard to emphasize enough how fundamental Hylissang himself is to his team's success. Even against the likes of SK Gaming, arguably the strongest bottom lane in the European League Championship Series, Vardags and Hylissang were able to keep even in farm and take advantages. While Vardags operates much more as a tower smashing weapon than a true carry, Hylissang guides him through a respectable laning phase.
Unicorns of Love's preference for standard lanes puts Hylissang in a position to instigate dragon fights early on. Unlike some of his teammates who like to pull out a different champion every other match, Hylissang's champion pool has been relatively predictable. Throughout the regular season, Hylissang only picked four different champions: Annie, Leona, Thresh, and Morgana. These champions give his team strong engage potential.
Vizicsacsi, the team's top laner, is possibly one of their least talked about players, but he's likely their third strongest performer. Vizicsaci brings something to the lineup that no other player does: a measure of consistency. In the top lane, he's been something of a rock. Even when he does poorly in lane, he chooses picks for impact in team fights.
Yes, he has made the rare Fizz, Azir, and must-ban Hecarim pick, but overall his zoning on tanks have been a bright spot of the Unicorns that they can rely upon. If any comeback performances occur for UoL, they do so in large part as a result of Vizicsacsi's efforts. I'd potentially rather allow a wild pick like Hecarim into his hands than his 10-3 Maokai, a record he's accumulated in Promotion, Intel Extreme Masters, and LCS combined.
These two players set up PowerofEvil for success. While the meta often sees teams going all-in on a strong AD carry, UoL goes all-in on PowerofEvil's performances. Early in the season, his Syndra spam in solo queue called into question the overall depth of UoL's mid laner's champion pool. In the LCS, he frequently draws multiple bans. He's shown that he can carry games more effectively on his undefeated Cassiopeia than Syndra, or more recently on Orianna. Orianna's late damage scaling and crowd control add to what the Unicorns naturally like to do, making her a strong choice for the team.
The Unicorns of Love seem unpredictable, but it's almost always clear what they want to do. By going for fights when they feel they have advantage — and sometimes even when they don't — they've managed to set unsuspecting teams behind. If you aren't prepared for a level two gank, it doesn't matter what champion the enemy jungler is playing. This high risk, high reward style of play sets them at about a 55.56% win rate through the regular season and playoffs. If this number were a probability, the Unicorns are bold enough to take those odds every time.
So the Unicorns are predictable, but in defense of predictability, you don't break what works. If you have a mid laner like PowerofEvil, it isn't all together unwise to bank on his success and hope for the early snowball around dragon. Time and again, these loveable pink rampagers have made it impossible to ignore their strengths.
Ignore the flashy picks coming out of the Unicorns. The key to breaking them is in strong early vision, and either disengage like Janna or Gragas, or lockdown — onto Hylissang. Without Hylissang starting fights, the Unicorns become truly unpredictable because it isn't clear if they have a work-around planned for that eventuality.
Since Fnatic has similar win conditions and a similar makeup of their team, only with crisper execution and a larger quantity of wards on their side, Unicorns of Love don't match up well against them.
But this wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. You can follow her on Twitter