Recent drama surrounding SK Gaming only underlines something we all already knew; the departure of Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou destroyed the spring split's first place team.
Or, at the very least, that seems to be the line.
SK Gaming’s 2015 EU LCS Spring 15-3 run during the regular season is only rendered less impressive now by Fnatic’s unprecedented 14-0 undefeated summer split. SK plowed through their best-of-ones by eliminating the outer ring of turrets and carrying the game through.
The easy snowball from winning bottom lane and transitioning across the map made them unbeatable. Removing FORG1VEN and his affinity for Lucian and Graves has seemingly made that strategy impossible for SK Gaming, and they can’t find the same success with Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann.
That has some truth to it, but it completely misses the larger problem affecting both SK Gaming and FORG1VEN on his new team, Gambit Gaming, this summer.
But SK Gaming started to lose in the European LCS Playoffs before FORG1VEN’s departure. Despite securing the first seed in the playoffs, SK Gaming lost both their series in five game sets to the Unicorns of Love and H2K respectively, placing fourth in the spring split.
Part of this came as a result of teams finally seeing through SK’s one-dimensional style, and banning FORG1VEN’s lane-smashing champions. Part of it came from AD carries overall losing effectiveness from the introduction of Cinderhulk.
The strong gold injection from winning lane became difficult to acquire without the availability of FORG1VEN’s lane dominant champions, and SK were unable to snowball the rest of their lanes. Since the influx of more tanky champions in the meta and the arrival of Cinderhulk, it’s harder to build teams around star AD carries, and with scattered team play, his impact diminished against the monuments trudging forth from the jungle.
AD carries on top teams had begun picking more utility-based champions, like Kalista and Sivir, or champions that rewrite turret deficits after a quick fight, like Jinx. Both Unicorns of Love and H2K went for that approach in the spring playoffs, as their team dynamic with a cleanup, turret-shoving AD carry already suited the evolving meta game.
Sk's 2015 Spring squad weren't the only iteration to follow an AD carry-centric approach. When SK Gaming went to the World Championship as the third seeded European squad, they built their compositions around their jungle and bottom lane. CandyPanda’s penchant for hyper carry picks like Vayne, and Simon “fredy122” Payne’s champion diet of tanks and more tanks allowed him to excel in the zoning role.
SK didn’t play to avoid fighting; they played around getting the right fight. Despite CandyPanda’s generally considered lower mechanical aptitude, last year’s SK Gaming was an AD carry-centric team. They set up their vision and let him tumble free when they knew they had an advantage.
Theoretically, that same approach should work. The same pieces are still in place. It’s easy to see why SK’s management would consider signing CandyPanda again after FORG1VEN’s departure.
Unfortunately for SK, an increase in tanky jungle champions makes pitting both Svenskeren and CandyPanda as the main damage dealers an uphill battle. To make matters worse, other teams like Fnatic have learned the magic of setting up minion waves to prepare for objectives, and it's harder to catch out teams on map play.
Across the board, SK Gaming’s playstyle seems slightly off-meta. While the top laners of the top three teams in European LCS have gravitated toward more carry style picks like Rumble and Ekko, fredy122’s most-played champions are Gnar, Shen, and Maokai. Hampus "Fox" Myhre’s most successful Cassoipeia suffered nerfs on 5.10 and has had a harder time against long range poke champions.
The statistic about Christoph “nRated” Seitz’s Lulu being the only champion with which he’s won games this split is meme-worthy enough to see why he'd be the target of the organization's kick stick. Svenskeren’s early game impact has been ramping up since the introduction of Ekko and the slow easing in of older duelist junglers like Lee Sin.
SK Gaming are still trying to play like they did in the 2014 Summer split. Having a tank top laner can work, as can having an aggressive jungle pick. If fredy122 insists on playing the picks he does, however, Fox needs to pick up more slack.
Fox is the eighth ranked mid laner in the European LCS for percentage of team damage dealt to champions and damage per minute at 19.6% and 577. When the likes of Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten and Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez are outputting high numbers, and their top laners are as well, that isn't cutting it.
One of Fox’s largest offenses came in SK’s long war of attrition with ROCCAT, where his Cassiopeia was out-damaged by fredy122’s Shen.
It doesn’t help that Svenskeren focuses a lot of his ganks on the mid lane. The team is attempting to make the relevant adjustments to snowball Fox over CandyPanda, but Fox hasn’t been making the most of his leads.
Svenskeren remains a shining light of the team. As the meta opens up to more aggressive picks, SK has been winning more early games. It’s just difficult for them to close when those advantages don’t transition into the late game, and SK has had episodes of serial throws of gold deficits ranging from 7,000 to 13,000.
With FORG1VEN on the team, it’s arguable SK would have the same problem. AD carries don’t receive a large benefit for lane leads when they can be isolated and trapped by tanks with cheaply stacked armor items before they can get off a lot of auto attacks.
Gambit Gaming have made a smart decision to move away from FORG1VEN as the team’s primary carry and slot him onto a more self-sufficient Corki. Corki both suits his up front burst style and allows the team to distribute more resources top side.
FORG1VEN’s Corki statistic this split is nearly on par with nRated’s Lulu. He’s won four of five Corki games, and only one Sivir and one Ezreal game otherwise.
That is not to say FORG1VEN hasn’t had a large impact. He’s the only AD carry within the Top 10 of percentage of team damage dealt in Europe at 28.8%. Though the team plays around top laner Lucas "Cabochard " Simon-Meslet as the carry more often, FORG1VEN is dealing the damage. FORG1VEN also receives 28.3% of his team’s gold, the third highest in the league.
Though one might believe that Gambit Gaming has shifted away from FORG1VEN as their center piece, he is the kind of player who demands resources and attention. Not all gold is consciously distributed. FORG1VEN’s farm counts are accumulated as a result of his own play, and he averages a 5.9 CS lead at 10 minutes. He’s also only received 26 kills to Cabochard’s 50 this summer, meaning he's effectively just a minion magnet. He finds a free lane to farm and takes it.
Gambit suffers from a lack of focus. They’ve designed their team around Cabochard in theory, but the execution isn’t quite there. The team seems splintered into three parts: Cabochard and jungler Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov, Felix "Betsy" Edling, and FORG1VEN and Edward "Gosu Pepper" Abgaryan.
Betsy has never seemed completely integrated into the team and is often left to split push or stall mid lane. Diamondprox camps the top lane, but his fixation on warding rather than ganking has resulted in a very low kill participation of 58.4%: the second lowest kill participation of any player in the league — shocking for a jungler. When he can get the ganks to snowball Cabochard, the team wins, but his inconsistency has been a pain point.
Otherwise, it’s down to Gosu Pepper and FORG1VEN to command their lane. Yet given the uphill battle in building around an AD carry and the general disjointed nature of Gambit preventing them from running a peel composition anyway means Gambit lose a lot of games.
“in a not so ad-carry meta i can not be the player that the people used to see for the 2 previous splits i competed”
FORG1VEN isn’t alone in his struggles to find an impact this summer. Other AD carries like him in the LPL who have excelled as centers of attention, receive the highest percentage of team resources in the league, and thrive in compositions built around peeling for them, are potentially facing time on the bench.
In the recent Demacia Cup tournament, Snake’s Yang “kRYST4L” Fan only played two games for his team in the third place match. The team won the first two without him, lost the two where he joined them, and ended up returning their substitute AD carry, Tan “Martin” Qi, to the roster to win the final game of the best-of-five against Invictus Gaming for third place.
Almost all of Snake's LPL Spring games revolved around building peel compositions for kRYST4L's hyper carry picks. He received the largest percentage of team gold of any player in the league for the split.
Jian “Uzi” Zihao, in my estimation the closest analogue to FORG1VEN internationally for his lane-dominant playstyle, ability to command resources and jungle attention, and shine with teams built around him, has also come to a breaking point with OMG. The team has struggled all year to function as a squad with him in the lineup.
With AD carries losing a spot in the sun more recently, rookie AD carry, Yan “North” Hong has made a handful of appearances replacing Uzi in the lineup. With less of a commanding presence in the bottom lane — Uzi soaked up the highest percentage of team gold in the league this summer — OMG distributes resources elsewhere, and they made the final of a Chinese tournament for the first time since 2014 Summer.
Both Uzi and kRYST4L are better individual players than Martin and North with higher mechanical upsides. Yet the way they play has made it difficult to move their teams’ focus in a different direction to excel now that marksmen champions have weakened.
Like Uzi and kRYST4L, FORG1VEN is an individually dominant AD carry. In any other meta, he may have taken both SK Gaming and Gambit to top two or three in their leagues.
The only thing one can really fault FORG1VEN with is an inability to give up the limelight when other members of his team could shine. Diamondprox needs to take a more proactive role to make Gambit work, and perhaps in sacrificing some his own farm or choosing to roam with Diamond, FORG1VEN can find a way a different way to carry.
Twitch is looking like a threat in upcoming patches. His Ambush has long been a tool for AD carries with the initiative to have a surprising amount of map pressure.
SK doesn’t really have that luxury. They should move toward a jungle-centric focus going forward, and if their rumored internal issues don’t eat them from the inside, they aren’t so far gone that they cannot make Playoffs. They just shouldn’t hope for it.
Outside Svenskeren and CandyPanda on a good day, no one on the SK roster has real carry potential. Fredy122 is the next closest option, but he hasn’t taken the lead for quite some time.
SK won’t find themselves auto-relegated, given the state of Copenhagen Wolves, so they have the ability to stay in LCS and overhaul their roster for next year. FORG1VEN’s departure didn’t destroy SK Gaming; they may have been higher in the standings with him on the team, but not high enough to make the World Championships. As long as they stayed with the same formula, they probably wouldn't have made Playoffs again.
If FORG1VEN wants to make it in competitive League of Legends and attend the World Championship in the future, he has to accept this isn’t his meta and adapt like Uzi and kRYST4L haven’t. It’s still possible to impact the game the same way he has before — in winning lane and transitioning to take other turrets.
FORG1VEN just might consider conceding free side waves of farm to other forces on his team. He can develop the skill to impact the game with fewer resourced. After all, if he can't, the recent addition of safe cleanup AD carry Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi to the sub roster could pose a threat to his position the same way Martin and North have for kRYST4L and Uzi in China.
If FORG1VEN holds out long enough, next year might be the year of the lane-dominant AD carries. If he doesn’t give up before he’s begun, next year may well be FORG1VEN’s year.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.