This summer's Demacia Cup should have been LGD Gaming’s LAN to lose. LGD blew past Qiao Gu in their Round of 16 matches after AD carry imp reclaimed his spot on the team two games in.
Though Edward Gaming had a resurgent performance this weekend with Korean top laner Ray and Chinese AD carry Jinjiao, they got advantages through lane swapping with Draven; there’s no top team worse in lane swaps than Snake, and no top team that can use them to their advantage better than LGD. Given Edward Gaming’s existing struggles with synergy, this was LGD’s title for the taking.
imp’s visa issues persist. Though he is still stationed in Shanghai, unresolved concerns regarding his renewal grace period prevent him from traveling with LGD to Beijing this weekend.
As Qiao Gu have already been eliminated and Edward Gaming struggle to find synergy with their substitutes, I wish I could say this has become anyone’s tournament to win, but at bottom, the trophy is still favored to go to EDG.
That doesn’t mean it will. Demacia Cup Summer is the best chance any Chinese team other than Edward Gaming has had all year to win a title. The joy in watching LPL has come from how close teams seem to be across the board. Even last place team, King, plays the map well in their early game. It isn’t out of the question for the lowest ranked LPL team attending, Team WE, to drop Edward Gaming from the event if their star jungler, Spirit, gets the right champion.
But with the top teams not even showing their full strength, it’s hard to see what weight or ramifications Demacia Cup’s results can have on the Chinese League of Legends landscape. With the ongoing storylines weaving in and out of LPL, there are still several reasons to watch (and not just because there’s no LPL). As I did last spring, I present five reasons to watch Demacia Cup this weekend.
1. The jungle Ekkos
Ekko has overtaken every champion in win rate except Kalista in LPL. In 32 games played, Ekko has won 23 for a 70% win rate. Kalista has been played in 18 games with a 72% win rate. In the jungle role, however, Ekko has dominated. In 20 games played, Ekko junglers have won 15 in LPL, giving him a 75% win rate.
Ekko has boosted teams with aggressive junglers who sometimes engage first, ask questions later. Royal Never Give Up, Unlimited Potential, and Qiao Gu in particular have favored the pick, and Eimy’s use of the champion has catapulted Unlimited Potential into contention for a playoffs seed.
Teams from top to bottom are using Ekko in both the jungle and mid lane to great success. Given his relatively low win rates in those positions in other regions (40% jungle win rate and 30.8% mid lane win rate in LCK, NA and EU LCS, and LMS combined), Chinese teams may be the best mid and jungle Ekko users. The champion may well decide the entire tournament.
2. LPL Spring Playoffs rematch
Demacia Cup tournament designers created the bracket such that, should the 2015 LPL Spring playoffs teams best their opponents through Round of 16, the bracket that qualified Edward Gaming for the MidSeason Invitational would be recreated in the quarterfinals. With the exception of Unlimited Potential beating out King — who aren’t this spring’s King regardless — every Spring Playoffs team advanced to the quarterfinals.
LGD and Edward Gaming aren’t bringing their full strength lineups, but that only makes things more interesting. EDG stumbled against WE in quarterfinals with a lineup different from their MSI squad, but pulled through. Since then, both Clearlove’s and Spirit’s jungle play have grown increasingly selfish as Clearlove tries to take it upon himself to carry his oscillating roster.
Clearlove has pulled out Spirit’s signature Nidalee and used traps well against Vici Gaming. Spirit has lately flexed his muscles on Gragas, a champion that continues to go unbanned in most games against him. As with every time these teams face off, the jungle matchup dictates the flow. If Clearlove wants to prove he’s the best jungler in the world, this is the place to do it.
Vici Gaming is in a worse place than they were last spring when they let Invictus Gaming walk over them. It’s nearly impossible to argue this. While World6 has shown promise, he’s not DanDy, and teams have started to sort through DanDy’s top lane style.
DanDy’s "win lane, pressure the jungle" style is reminiscent of Gogoing's in 2013 and early 2014, so LPL players are more accustomed to it than expected. This is especially true for the case of Invictus Gaming, a team harboring two of the most established veterans of the scene. DanDy also doesn't do it very well at this point in his top lane career.
At bottom, Vici Gaming still needs to out-rotate and avoid fights. That’s becoming increasingly difficult as other teams level up. They’re expected to fall to Invictus, but this is their opportunity to beat them in a best-of series for the first time.
Both OMG and LGD Gaming are adjusting their roster, LGD by necessity, and OMG to find their place in the meta. In quarterfinals of Playoffs, LGD completely blew out OMG in three games, but LGD has been known to not take any games other than Playoffs too seriously. They may be afraid to show too much against a team ranked as highly as OMG. With LGD’s role swaps, OMG is in position to pressure advantages either in mid or bottom lane, but their confined playstyle might pale next to LGD’s flexibility.
3. The new guys
Both LGD Gaming and OMG have recently introduced new players. OMG’s North played in their Round of 16 games against Hyper Youth Gaming and in one game during the LPL. It seems he’s been introduced to open up a more Cool and Loveling-centric playstyle.
Loveling has gone back to some of his more old school aggressive picks like Nocturne and even Rengar with North in the mix. Cool’s been freed up to play his assassins, and the duo have reverted to their preferred dive-and-roam style.
Up until the introduction of North, OMG played around Uzi. OMG, more often than not, ganked Uzi’s lane early and relied on early gold injections from eliminating a first ring of towers. This worked with Sivir, but not so much other AD carries with less of a utility skillset.
In the past, Cool has been a flexible player for OMG. He roamed, he propped up other lanes, he can play Orianna for an AD carry centric composition or split-push while Gogoing rules the day. No questioned that Cool was the central carry lane, and his synergy with Loveling defined the team’s playstyle. With Uzi on the squad, Cool has, for the first year since joining OMG, received less kills than someone else on the team.
If his recent venting has any weight to it, he minds. If the fairly transparent facial expressions of OMG, even after wins, are to be interpreted, the entire team minds. There may be a conflict brewing in OMG, and if North sees more play despite Uzi having one of the best splits of his career, it might be better for the overall health of the team. If OMG plays North and defeats LGD, that could set the tone for the rest of the season.
The player to watch for the entire tournament, or as far as LGD Gaming advances, is xiaoxi. Despite LGD being forced into a situation where GODV has to play AD carry with a sub, Yeluo, in the mid lane, Demacia Cup provides an opportunity for spectators to learn about their new rookie jungler.
LGD has enough rotational prowess and talent in other roles that a mediocre jungler could catapult them into contention for the title of best team in the world. An elite jungler would force LGD to overhaul their approach in a short amount of time to accommodate him, but an average jungler with a basic understanding of pathing that doesn't gives up deaths would do wonders.
That’s all they need. I do not exaggerate. The team plays well enough around their jungle weakness that the early game lane swap strategy they’ve developed is pristine when they want it to be. A jungler that doesn’t actively throw those advantages could allow the team to overtake not just Edward Gaming, but SK Telecom T1 in Korea.
Don’t miss the LGD set. Even if GODV, as an AD carry, builds Caitlyn like Zed again or Yeluo falls prey to excessive dives, xiaoxi (LGD's new potentially just-mediocre jungler) is the player to watch this week.
2. The odd men in
Unlimited Potential beat out King to find their way into the quarterfinals. The circumstances that led to their victory were not ideal. corn’s solo invade and misplay on Ekko — a champion he’s otherwise played well — was followed by Zero opting out of the last two games of the series and scattered team fighting.
That doesn’t mean Unlimited Potential didn’t deserve the win. With more aggressive junglers like Lee Sin, Nidalee, and Ekko seeing play again, Unlimited Potential has caught their second wind. The team sits only two points below Vici Gaming in LPL — and they’ve played one less series. As unlikely as it seemed at the start of the split, Heart’s Unlimited Potential is on the cusp of a Playoffs seed in LPL.
Heart’s strong shotcalling has allowed the team to execute smart counterplay, and their drafting keeps the strengths and weaknesses of their opposition in mind. A best-of-five against Snake, currently ranked top five in LPL, will give a strong sense of what kind of momentum Unlimited Potential has.
Given Snake’s weaker draft phases lately, Eimy may be able to pick up his preferred Ekko freely and put up enough pressure to shut down Snake’s devastating comeback power.
5. Put up or shut up
Edward Gaming and LGD Gaming are not coming to Beijing with their full strength. Qiao Gu is out of the tournament. If either Snake, Invictus Gaming, or OMG have what it takes to bid for a spot at the 2015 World Championship, this is the time to show it. If they can’t win Demacia Cup, they won’t make the cut in the end.
Snake has struggled playing around Flandre who lately has built inefficiently and effectively thrown away gold. They’ve failed almost hilariously in lane swap situations, losing the Edward Gaming’s free-farming Draven.
Snake’s late game comeback potential makes them unique, but they’ve done more than their fair share of making wins difficult. The team has gone from fixating on a one-dimensional style last split to modulating to an opposite extreme of experimentation. It’s time to show their true speed if they have one.
Invictus Gaming’s Zzitai has said he’ll invite his fans to his house should his team win. He insists repeatedly that he’s serious now. He wants to take down Edward Gaming.
When mentioning internal struggles and a lack of seriousness, one cannot leave out Invictus Gaming. Despite the highest first blood rate and dragon control rate in LPL this summer, Invictus Gaming hasn’t found a lot of luck with decisive play outside the dragon pit.
Some of their coordination has suffered, and while they sometimes take over team fights in the mid game, they’ll often throw later on. The biggest hit to their success has been in their draft, and if a moody Mafa can’t take Demacia Cup seriously, there isn’t much expectation that the rest of this team of young players will.
OMG's problems seem almost too innumerable to cover. Loveling’s struggles with newer champions, Xiyang’s inability to play anything but Maokai, and the fact that the team seems lost in the mid game all tumbles together to form a murky mess of strengths and weaknesses. That doesn’t even cover the drama.
The chances are low that this won’t just be the 24th tournament that Clearlove wins, but for the first time this year, they might be in the double digits. A recent Chinese preview of Demacia Cup referred to this event as Edward Gaming’s first milestone in accomplishing the “triple crown” of Demacia Cup, LPL Summer, and the World Championship.
They accomplished the spring equivalent, referred to as the “triathalon,” by winning Demacia Cup Spring, LPL Spring, and the MidSeason Invitational, but that wouldn’t stand out nearly as much as landing the World Championship. LGD with significant roster meddling and LPL’s second tier teams stand in EDG’s way of their first milestone. Let’s see what kind of fight they have in them.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her Demacia Cup tweets starting this Friday at 1:00 EDT.