Three minutes and 18 seconds into Phoenix1’s second game against Team SoloMid, P1 mid laner Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik kills Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen for First Blood.
It was an overly-ambitious invade from Svenskeren, who had hoped to steal away P1 jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh’s blue buff despite knowing that Inori had spotted him with the wolf camp spirit.
The First Blood goes to Pirean. The assist goes to Inori. It’s a good start for P1, yet they’re hardly expected to win. General team disorganization has plagued the squad the entire 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Split. Inori missed the first three weeks with his team due to visa hangups.
Twenty-four minutes and 32 seconds later, Inori is on TSM’s nexus, a 12/2/7 Rengar handing TSM their first game loss in 17 games. One game later, Inori and P1 hand TSM their first, and only, series loss of the split.
In the waning weeks of the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split, Phoenix1 were not a good team, but they had a scrappy, underdog quality that endeared them to fans of the region.
They finished with a 3-3 series record across the three final weeks of the split, and a 7-9 game record, still bound for relegation. After a quick 3-0 sweep of Echo Fox in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Promotion Tournament, Phoenix1 are ready to reboot for the upcoming year.
“I just want to be with the P1 organization,” Inori said after P1’s re-qualification. “I'm happy I was able to to keep them in the LCS.”
Inori ended up being the only player from the 2016 P1 roster that the organization kept.
With the passing of each League of Legends season more information slowly seeps out from behind the closed doors of team houses, and the difficulty and nuances involved in assembling and training a winning roster becomes further apparent.
Even if all five members of the team speak the same language fluently — hardly guaranteed in this world of imports and hybrid rosters — there are cultural variations on top of general personality differences. Adding further complication to the mix is the ever-shifting landscape of the LoL meta itself, which may require different champion pools and roles in-game. A team that works well one year can easily falter the next.
P1 used their off season wisely this past year.
They picked up mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook of KT Rolster Bullets and H2K Gaming fame along with former KT Rolster AD carry Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, who was coming off of a career year in 2016.
Arrow fit nicely into a secondary or tertiary carry role if necessary, and Ryu became the solid mid laner to aid Inori in his more aggressive, sometimes reckless, jungle endeavors.
Derek “zig” Shao and Adrian “Adrian” Ma rounded out the roster as two talents that would never be a liability. Although it wasn’t necessarily said out loud, the roster was designed for Inori to succeed as a carry, provided the meta will let him. Ryu and Arrow, both experienced veteran players, easily flex into the primary carry role, game or meta permitting.
This flexibility, along with what now looks to be a somewhat easier starting schedule, has catapulted P1 towards the top of the standings. They currently sit in fourth place at 4-2, behind the usual suspects of Cloud9 and TSM along with surprise upstart FlyQuest.
In North America, Ryu won’t ever draw the same amount of attention as popular fan favorites like Team SoloMid’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, or FlyQuest’s Hai “Hai” Du Lam — despite his competitors routinely asserting his strength.
While in the European League of Legends Championship Series on H2k-Gaming, Ryu’s stability as a mid laner was similarly a given. Other mid laners in the region like Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten and Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez won fans' hearts over the past few years. Ryu blended a bit more into the background, still receiving a fair amount of praise for his efforts on H2K, but generally remaining overshadowed by his flashier EU counterparts.
Jungle and mid lane synergy is one of the most important partnerships on a League of Legends team in the current meta. The mid laner must control the minion push — especially in the land of standard lanes only, which appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future of the game.
Having a mid laner with impressive control over the minion wave unlocks a multitude of additional options for a team’s jungler. In the case of Phoenix1, Ryu helps further unlock Inori, who is already a proactive early game jungler.
|2017 NA LCS Spring||KDA||KP%||FB%||XPD10||DPM||DMG%|
*first in his position
**second-highest in his position
Inori focuses on ganking his lanes and snowballing his teammates, and himself, rather than power farming early. He almost always attempts a gank at about three minutes (approximately Level 3) and typically ganks at least once, usually twice, by five minutes. These often end up in a blown Summoner Spell for P1’s opponents if not a kill in favor of P1.
Ryu is quietly among the best in his position in NA, and is able to not only control the mid lane to help Inori, but is also able to follow up on Inori’s actions.
Prior to the solo kill shown above, Inori had ganked the mid lane just after three minutes into the game, blowing TL mid laner Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer's Flash and Ghost. Here, he burns Ghost again to try to get away from Ryu, but his Flash is still unavailable, ultimately netting Ryu the kill.
This is a simple and straightforward play, but one of the many ways that Ryu rarely allows Inori's actions to go to waste, all while controlling the mid lane minion push to the best of his ability. Inori's early machinations may not have immediate results in the form of kills — his First Blood rate is surprisingly low, eighth of all junglers in NA — but his movements add up over time.
Despite Arrow dealing the majority of his team's damage (28.2 percent) followed by Ryu (25.5 percent), Inori is no slouch, with the highest damage per minute and the second-highest percentage of his team's total damage of any NA jungler. This roster was built for Inori to succeed, and for the team to have strong, reliable carries alongside him.
It also helps that Ryu has two years of experience speaking English in the EU LCS, and Arrow arrived in NA having already put forward an effort and eager to learn more.
Both of P1's imports have seemingly adjusted to NA quickly and are able to communicate well with their teammates. Although, as previously mentioned, there are many other factors that need to be considered when evaluating team chemistry, knocking a few obstacles off the list doesn't hurt. This has helped P1 succeed where other hybrid rosters — most notably Dignitas and Immortals — have struggled.
This week, P1 will face second-place FlyQuest in their first series — the team that has built their success on strong communication and coordination. Even if they lose, there's little doubt that P1 will give FlyQuest a strong fight.
With the tools they've assembled, P1 should at least make playoffs this split, if not rise even higher.
Statistics taken from Oracles Elixir.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.