“Our playstyles differ as well, he tends to focus more on farming and playing safely where I'll play more aggressive and try to get an early advantage in lane. That doesn't make me a better player though as in the end, the only thing that matters is performance on stage in the LCS or other tournaments.”
Since Bjergsen’s success story, competitive League of Legends has sought new players to build hype. Some cases, such as Forg1ven, succeed, but two of the most notable failures in the eyes of the European public have come in the mid lane, specifically with ROCCAT's Nukeduck and Cloud9's Incarnati0n. These two names carry weight, one from a short-lived legacy at the top of the 2013 Summer Split and the other from his solo queue prowess. Both are still revered by their peers and remain top the leaderboards of their region. The term ‘potential’, oft overused in LoL these days, could be attributed to each of them tenfold.
But this potential was, for one reason or another, never met.
In a region renowned for its mid laners, how could two of it’s most feared inhabitants fall so far from their predicted mark? How has their potential not been met?
This is a story of misuse. The story of Nukeduck and Incarnati0n.
There are a number of key critical misconceptions when it comes to Nukeduck and Incarnati0n. The first is in their skills. All that most people know is the following.
They boast strong assassin play
They are strong laners
They like to 1v1 their opponents
The time Nukeduck spent with Lemondogs at rank one of the regular split was the meta where assassins ruled mid. Traditionally, Riot tends to buff the game’s assassins about a month prior to the World Championships, so for Nukeduck to debut in summer instead of spring greatly contributed to his mythos.
At this time, Nukeduck was engaged in regular 1v1s with his friend, Incarnati0n. Both held a friendship outside of the game and fierce respect within it. They would duel in the trifecta - Fizz, Ahri and Zed. Despite being the professional of the two, Nukeduck would tend to lose the Fizz and Ahri matchups but could remain even and steady on Zed.
It is tempting to say that this trifecta of Fizz-Ahri-Zed was where it ended for them in terms of pool and relationship, but that was certainly not the case. Though the trifecta was Season 3 priority, both mids were storming solo queue with their Cassiopeia counter to Kayle, a strong power pick almost exclusively in their repertoires. Twisted Fate was another incredibly common pick for the two laners. Changes to LeBlanc would throw her back into the mix just before the Season 3 World Championships and Season 4 would see Incarnati0n bring Apdo’s Lulu to Europe, which would in turn lead to her seeing professional play in the EU LCS courtesy of Alex Ich. Lulu eventually grew to be Nukeduck’s most comfortable champion.
The final shared champion pools of both of these mid laners are Fizz, Ahri, Zed, LeBlanc, Cassiopeia, Twisted Fate and Lulu (they were also both perfectly capable Orianna players). Nukeduck made a foray into the Season 4 meta, trying to master every meta champion (such as Kayle), but ultimately decided to specialise on his core pool. Far from just assassin based, but perhaps a little lane focused.
So where else are we wrong?
For starters, it is in their use of these champions as laners. Strong laning is their most often granted attribute, but the only expansion we have to this is generally ‘aggression.’ Closer to the mark are those who say their style is to ‘1v1.' Incarnati0n and Nukeduck will end up ahead of their opponent in farm and gold but not through their CS prowess or subtle advantages taken in lane - instead, they would seek to 1v1 outplay their opponent and either force him back or outright kill him. Their victim would find himself further and further behind every time he returned, a true snowball. This was the essence of their play style.
This is one that benefits greatly from the chaos of solo queue, particularly in a European meta where many solo queue junglers are borne out of dueling potential. European solo queue has great emphasis on lanes as islands, with much of the significant laning prowess of many EU players being borne out of this.
“After playing some games with Diamond, he's definitely the jungler I enjoy playing with the most. The pressure he creates around midlane and the vision control he grants is a midlaner's dream, fits perfectly with my playstyle.”
In fact the very essence of Incarnati0n and Nukeduck’s playstyle relies on keeping their lane in as much isolation as possible. Sure, they will take the 1v2 if need be, but they would ideally prefer to have an advantage before it gets to that point. After all, we are speaking about players whose mindsets bore strategies such as Red Pot start, Barrier/Ignite Fizz. This is a playstyle that fits solo queue well but does not translate into the traditional team environment of the LCS. If not warding, counter-ganks would be a must.
In his time in Lemondogs, Nukeduck’s aggressiveness was facilitated. One of Lemondogs’ primary characteristics was in just how mid-centric they were. Coming from a region that was traditionally mid lane focused, Lemondogs were still arguably the first and only team to have figured out the true way to win Season 3: mid/jungle synergy. Dexter would camp Nukeduck’s lane and this would transition into a 1-3-1 in the mid-late. It’s style echoed that of SK Telecom T1 K, who would go on to win the World Championships that year.
Lemondogs still went one step further. If on a priority assassin one of the trifecta — Nukeduck would have all the waves prioritised to him. He’d roam bot, tell Tabzz to go jungle or mid and take accumulated waves. Then he’d return mid and force him elsewhere if need be. All resources were piled onto Nukeduck until he became an unstoppable force. This was a carry mid in a true carry role.
Now when teams see what they perceive as a strong laner, a fallacy that befalls many is to treat it as a ‘safe lane’ as opposed to a ‘carry.’ This is the second mistake. In spite of Nukeduck as a player having every resource possible allocated to him on Lemondogs — the team that made him feared — on ROCCAT they were still tending towards prioritisation of former mid laner Overpow, now in top. The role swap, though hyped from scrim results, had failed to translate into the LCS. Overpow was given first rotation, his first pick changed six different times in the first eight games and extended that to nine by the splits end. He was a player that had, as others noted, struggled to find himself and demanded ganks not out of priority but necessity. As a result ROCCAT had found themselves a carry mid laner, but taken none of the steps to facilitate that carry.
Nukeduck wasn’t left on an island, he was left alone.
What is a real shame is that in spite of this, Nukeduck was getting prioritisation of his better champions. Six-out-of-18 games during his debut split were on LeBlanc, two were on Lulu, and two were on Twisted Fate. Despite receiving the champions he was so pronounced on, Nukeduck was not set up to carry. Even Thoorin could identify that Jankos, as the First Blood Machine, would be an ideal partner for Nukeduck but the mid/jungle synergy he had become so reliant on in Lemondogs just wasn’t there.
Cloud9 had similar difficulties, but more exaggerated problems in every aspect. With the absence of Hai, Meteos had taken over the shotcalling and the team that managed to switch to the high impact, high aggression playstyle of Season 4 appears to be channeling back into Season 3 form, with the lanes left to fend for themselves while Meteos looks for only guaranteed kills and favour farming. This is the opposite of what Incarnati0n needs. At least a frequent contest of vision around his lane and counter ganks would help - but the mid has frequently been denied his champion pool.
Incarnati0n has been focused onto Kog’Maw, Azir, Viktor and Varus. Few things have been more painful for me in the NA LCS than seeing Twisted Fate vs. Viktor or LeBlanc vs. Azir and having to see Incarnati0n on the side of Viktor or Azir. In the first game, Incarnati0n’s Viktor had to contend with frequent jungle ganks and support roams that set him behind. In the latter, it boggled the mind to see Fenix (an Azir main) play LeBlanc against Incarnati0n’s (a LeBlanc main) Azir, and yet the man was still making plays where he could, being more proactive, trying to keep his team in the game with risky yet critical Azir ultimates. He should be given the resources to do so effectively.
Every time I hear a sigh from the crowd at a missed minion on AP Kog’Maw, I keep shouting in my head “that’s not what he’s here to do.” Here is not a player set up to play the carry style he and Nukeduck used so prominently, and championed throughout Europe. This is not the player that started Red Pot Barrier/Ignite Fizz. These teams brought in these two mid laners but seemed to have no interest in the characteristics that made them Incarnati0n and Nukeduck.
It can be said that Incarnati0n is perhaps a victim of the meta, and Nukeduck a victim of the circumstances of his top laner. However, three things run counter to this. For Nukeduck, it is the existence of his top laner, Steve. For Cloud9, it’s the success of Cloud9 vs. Team 8, where Incarnati0n was finally given priority. For both, it is the existence of H2K.
Before we get into H2K, it’s worth noting the two primary examples, one from either region, of how one could facilitate this aggression properly. Namely Team SoloMid with Bjergsen and Fnatic, with Febiven. Bjergsen’s move to North America was greeted with much hype. I personally never saw it as Bjergsen was outside of the Top 3 in Europe and though he could match the Gods at his peak, he rarely surpassed them. Potential, for sure, but I underestimated the impact that a mid laner from the most mid-centric region in the world would have on North America who, at that time, was still typically focused on AD Carries. Suffice to say he was a storm. With seven games on LeBlanc, four on Zed and two on his beloved Syndra, Bjergsen only accrued two losses on the bulk of his carry champion pool in his debut split. TSM took priority of the mid lane. They always had and are arguably suffering for it now with the meta shift. Bjergsen was dumped onto a team that already worked towards his optimal style and none of his lane opponents were ready for a true carry mid.
Febiven was thrust into a different situation. The new Fnatic team had no identity yet, only salvaging Yellowstar from its former ranks. However, with the supportive duo of Reign0ver/Yellowstar, Febiven had all the tools he needed. Defaulting to Xerath for his opening games, Febiven found his teammates making frequent roams to the mid lane. Even Huni would do his part, making an effort to place wards along with the rest of the team and facilitating Febiven’s solo queue style. Xerath ended 3-0 with a 44 KDA, but the next two highest KDAs were an impressive 28 on Kassadin and and 11 on LeBlanc (discounting his one game on Lissandra, ending in 12). His next highest win rate was on Zed, at 75% across four games (with a 100% win rate on Kassadin across two). Febiven was eased into the competitive scene by his team, who made a grouped effort to contest vision and create a secure island for Febiven to play his game. Febiven was home.
These players were facilitated in different metas though. If we look now, Bjergsen is 4-0 on Azir, and Azir/Varus/Viktor are hotly contested picks for the mid lane. How are we to ease in Incarnati0n, and start bringing Nukeduck back on track?
Meet H2K’s Ryu.
In his 10 games in the EU LCS Summer Season, Ryu has played eight champions. Two of those were Varus and Jayce. Across Ryu’s seven wins he has played five champions. Varus and Jayce were not played in any of them - they were losses. The rest?
Fizz, Ahri, Zed, LeBlanc, Twisted Fate, Lulu and a perfectly capable Orianna.
H2K are playing with the very mid laner ROCCAT and Cloud9 should both be facilitating. Boasting a staggering 22 KDA on mid lane Fizz this split, Ryu went from struggling in a mid centric region last split to being in conversations of top EU LCS mids. He has become the carry threat many hoped he would be again. The story of Ryu’s return deserves an article all in and of itself, but the focus of the matter is this - Ryu has been eased into his champion pool, eased into his playstyle, and continues it today.
As the meta isn’t allowing for true 1v5 potential, Ryu is being used for pick potential. Playing with arguably the strongest top laner and bot lane in the EU LCS, Ryu makes life easy for his team by popping someone at the start of the fight so that the rest of his team can follow through and carry. Perhaps with MrRallez and Steve, ROCCAT may be able to look towards similar standing, Cloud9 are certainly in this position - Sneaky and Balls have been heavily praised in their own roles. Or perhaps more resources need to be levied for Nukeduck and Incarnati0n. Who knows, but priority and pool are definite steps.
It could be said that this article serves as a defense of Nukeduck and Incarnati0n. They sorely need defending if so. Criticism has been levied on both for failing to live up to the hype. Unduly. Many do not realise what it is that makes them so special, that makes them still worthy of praise from their peers - praise they still command. Much has been made of them not mentally transitioning into a LAN environment. Simply put, they are strong laners being treated as safe lanes. These players are being left alone. Not on the island they were looking for, not in the solitude required to play out their own game, but alone. That’s wrong. That’s consistent discomfort that plays on their mind, that stops them being who they were brought into this scene to be. Maybe they are expected to carry, but their pools, their lanes and ultimately these players aren’t given priority.
That’s misuse. In the end, he won’t be remembered for his solo queue innovations or the fear he inspired. The only thing that will matter is his performance on stage, and it’s being wasted.
Michael "Veteran" Archer is an EU expert, former Origen analyst and professional writer who just spent 2,500 words saying 'ward mid,' You can follow him on Twitter.