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Star-Lords: Gravity's ascent to the top of North America

by theScore Staff Jul 5 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Damian Estrada / theScore

Gravity's match against Team SoloMid was expected to tell us a lot about the up-and-coming former Challenger team. Last season, after graduating into the NA LCS as Curse's academy squad, they were picked up by a new owner and rebranded as Gravity, sporting a new rocket ship as their emblem.

They sported leather biker jackets as their uniforms, going through the first season under the radar for the most part, eventually sneaking into the playoffs with a 3-1 final record.

That's where their rookie run ended, getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs against the aggressive, offensively-powered Team Impulse. It was a good season for any newcomer to their premiere domestic league, grabbing valuable postseason experience and not having to worry about getting relegated.

In the off-season, as with many teams, there were changes to the now-sophomore roster. The two Gravity veterans, SaintVicious and Cop, decided to step down from the starting lineup, the latter moving into a head coaching role for the team full-time.

With Winterfox's surprise elimination in the relegation rounds by Team Dragon Knights, Gravity acquired Altec, a young prospect that did well at times but wasn't the main focus his previous team. With Saint leaving the jungle role, Gravity looked to overseas for a replacement, signing Move from Edward Gaming's secondary team, ADG, in the LPSL.

On top of those two roster changes, they also needed a new main shot-caller; that position was handed down to their support Bunny Fufuu. Although Gravity finished top five the season before in the regular season and took a map in the playoffs, they entered the current split with an exceedingly different dynamic.

Things didn't start out easy for Gravity. The first weekend of the season was a disorganized one, facing the two newest teams to the LCS, Enemy and TDK. They lost to Enemy to kick off the summer, with Move looking out of place on the team and not syncing well.

The second game was a bit better, this time grabbing a win over TDK; it wasn't a smooth one, needing to go to the late-game to take the victory over a team that wouldn't beat anyone in the first half of the season.

Altec played well in his Gravity debut, stepping up as the team's main damage carry, meshing well with his new partner Bunny in the bottom lane. The problems came with Move being too restless at times when it came to making plays. You could see that he was mechanically proficient and had the right idea in mind, but the execution and communication led to sloppy fights and decisions around objectives that hurt Gravity in the first week.

Since their rocky first round, it's been a learning experience each weekend for Gravity. Each week, the team has been getting better, tightening their weaknesses from the game before and starting to feel comfortable.

Move, the biggest detriment to the team in the first few games of the season has found his role. Last season we saw the introduction of Rush, Impulse's fiery Korean shot-caller who would do anything for a kill. He ended up beating Gravity in the quarter-finals of last split, with his offensive-style of playing and carrying the team working out for TiP. Move's similarities to Rush stop at them both being Korean and in the US for the first time.

Move is the anti-Rush; their way of playing the game is exactly the opposite. Rush loves to fight, fight, and then fight some more, grabbing kills and dealing out as much damage as possible. He shows little issue being the main carry in a game, grabbing the first kill when ganking for his top or mid lane teammate. His play style reflects his statistics, atop of the leaderboard at the jungler position when it comes to DMG% per team and the gold percentage he occupies for Impulse.

Move doesn't contribute much damage to his team's overall total, sitting in the lower half of the standings when it comes to the league's starting junglers. As his ID suggests, though, Move moves a lot.

He gets an early Sightstone and peppers the map with wards, gaining vision for his team whilst also clearing wards for his team. Move sits in second place when it comes to placing down wards per minute (sitting only behind TDK's Kez) and he's in a clear first place when it comes to clearing wards and helping his lanes get rolling through vision control.

There are times when Move will jump in and get kills, but he's more of the janitor of the team, coming in to clean up the last breaths of players instead of being the focal point. His first few games were littered with him trying too hard to fit in through big time plays and engages, and he's now relaxed as he's gotten more practice with his time.

Twelve games through the season, Bunny Fufuu's growth as a leader has been apparent; Gravity sit tied in first place with TSM at 9-3. Gravity faced TSM's Runeglaive Ezreal composition in their second game of Week Six, centering around Bjergsen in the mid lane on the Smite-equipped champion.

With massive poke, wave clear, and a late-game spike of power that is able to delete health bars in a split second, it was the key to TSM's victory the day before against Team Dragon Knights in a back and forth brawl. Gravity fought the Runeglaive Ezreal by picking a direct counter-composition to face it.

With Runeglaive Ezreal's ability to poke and chunk down squishy champions with one ultimate or a few seconds of burst, Gravity drafted tanky, putting Maokai in the top lane along with Jarvan in middle and Shen at support.

Along with being meat shields, all three champions are able to jump on and lock down the slippery Ezreal, hoping to get atop of the damage machine quickly enough to wipe him from the map. Move rounded off the "Kill the Runglaive Ezreal" strategy with Nidalee in the jungle, giving Gravity the ability to sustain through Ezreal's ultimates and quick bursts of damage. This helped around objectives, as a healthy teammate could stay and pressure longer.

The pick/ban phase was perfect for Gravity to take down TSM's strategy, but those were merely tools given to the team through good coaching from Cop. It was up to Bunny Fufuu and the rest of the team to actually use the tools and execute the composition, and they did that as well as any team could have hoped for. Bunny led his team to an expected quick lead and didn't take his foot of the pedal.

Instead of letting the Ezreal ramp up to his final form that could have caused Gravity trouble even with their optimal itemization, they never let TSM get into the game. If they took one objective, they moved down to take another. Move's vision control allowed Gravity to know where Ezreal was at all times, enabling Hauntzer's Maokai to get the go-ahead to pop Righteous Glory and speed straight into Bjergsen with his team following.

Gravity, at all positions, play a flexible style. Keane's adeptness at a number of different champions allow Gravity to throw out different compositions that fit around his eccentric style. Malphite? Rumble? Hecarim? Who cares. Keane will try it and Gravity will do their best to put the puzzle pieces in place, not sticking to one winning strategy for too long.

Keane doesn't do the same amount of damage or get the flashy stats like some of the other top mids in the region, yet his influence through just being himself — free-flowing and fearless — is an attribute that allows Gravity to not be afraid of attempting anything and everything.

The focal point of the squad, Altec, is also learning as the weeks go by. He was seen as somewhat of a sidekick to Pobelter on Winterfox, and he's evolved this split into an ace. He does the brunt of Gravity's damage, racking up the kills along with Bunny in the bottom lane, and can either play a safe, relaxed style in the laning phase if need be or can be forward and shooting for kills from the first minute of the game.

That type of maturity is coinciding with the rest of his team. As he grows an ace, his teammates grow as well in their roles: Bunny as a shot-caller and leader, Move as the eyes and ears of the team, Hauntzer as a secondary carry and engage, Keane as whatever Keane wants to be that game, and Cop, watching them all from in the background, learning the ropes as a coach on the fly and doing everything in his power to help his team to their ultimate goal: the World Championships.

Special thanks to OraclesElixir.com for the stats compiled in this article.

Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.

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