Epilogue: Giants Gaming

by Michael "Veteran" Archer Aug 11 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

“I feel like when I talk to a lot of the other teams they always count out Giants in a way. Personally I feel that a lot of their wins in the early weeks were from a champion like Jax and cheesy...wacky play. I feel like as we progress in a best of five people are going to figure them out a bit.”

Down in kills, up in turrets. Giants Gaming were exactly where they should have been - fighting an uphill battle in relegation territory. Their opponents: Meet Your Makers. The Prize: Ninth place and the chance to hold on to their LCS spot for one more split. Last place is exactly what was expected of them and were it not for MYM’s in-house troubles then tenth may have been assured. But it wasn’t over yet. Here they are. PePiiNeRo’s Ahri lays down poke. He catches the support and jungler with his charm and Rylais-proc’d Q. Werlyb’s Hecarim sees an opportunity for a Teleport flank. He goes in and Giants follow. Zoning off the tanks, diving the carries, Giants pull through. Giants survive. Much had to change if they wanted to stay off the brink next time.

I have often maintained that adaptability, though the clear next step in League of Legends, is not necessarily key to becoming a top team. SKT T1 did it. They won Worlds and went on to a perfect season in OGN with their patented 1-3-1. SSW did it. Their duo-ward strategy was perfected to an art form, almost a complete metagame in and of itself. In Europe SK Gaming pushed the outer turrets and maintained dragon control to take Spring 2015. Fnatic lane swap to create safe pockets for Huni’s hyper carry champions to this day. And Giants? Giants 4-1’d throughout their debut Spring Split. If they could not secure Werlyb his favoured Jax, then all was on PePiiNeRo to bring them through with roams and picks. Giants did not necessarily change this strategy going into summer, they just got better at what they did.

Addition, Not Augmentation

For Giants, the Summer Split was characterized by the addition of the Swedish support player G0DFRED. A complete rookie to the professional scene with not even a Challenger Series game under his belt, G0DFRED became the unexpected shotcalling addition Giants needed to bring consistency to their play. His unique placement of wards that had characterized his solo queue play was adopted by his team as a whole. Giants’ early game began to have an efficiency about it. They didn’t ward a lot but they warded efficiently, generally around buff timers and neutral objectives. Their core strategy remained the same and their core power never left the centre of the map. PePiiNeRo holds the highest DPM in European League of Legends at 831, 90 more than the next highest, Froggen. He is second only to Froggen in his average share of team damage, separated by .6% from the top spot and 2.5% from the third. Werlyb may be the solo star of the show but PePiiNeRo never changed from being the carry.

One of their most memorable games aptly exhibited the strengths of their roster and the failings of their strategic understanding. Against Fnatic the Giants were sieging the base to close out a victory. PePiiNeRo dealt one of the highest damage statistics in the LCS to date, 70.2K and 60.8% of his team’s overall damage to champions on Ezreal (an astonishing rate of 1.5k DPM). With one inhibitor down the Giants went 1-3-1 with PePiiNeRo blasting Trueshot Barrage at Fnatic intermittently. They failed to close before Fnatic found an advantage. Had they 4-1’d as their signature playstyle dictates, with Ezreal’s Trueshot Barrage clearing waves on the final lane, Giants may well have delivered Fnatic’s only loss. Instead Fnatic got an extended fight with their Kalista/Azir around Baron and made the comeback.

Giants showed they had the tools within their roster to take on a top team but also that they themselves did not understand the proper strategic uses of their own playstyle. Giants’ playstyle did not come out of strategic understanding but out of necessity due to the strengths and failings of their roster. Though Adryh has lately been able to move out of a purely supportive ADC role, his frequent mechanical misplays and tendency to overcommit have prevented him from being a true carry option for Giants. Werlyb’s champion pool, though recently expanded to include situational picks such as Galio, was already suited to a splitpush with Irelia, Fizz, his beloved Jax. When not on one of these champions Werlyb was defaulted to Maokai in spring, hardly a mechanically intensive champion.

Individual Faults, Team Failings

A way to get around a situation where your players lack mechanical strength individually is through superior team co-ordination. Co-ordination was distinctly not in the Giants’ repertoire. While teams like season four’s SK Gaming and this season’s Unicorns of Love ensured they fought on their own terms and won with well communicated and coordinated team fighting, the Giants were shown to be completely out of their element in a five on five situation. The 4-1 was a great strategic response to this. In lane, Giants would (particularly throughout Spring) secure counter matchups in lane to give their often outclassed players a shot at coming out of lane ahead.

Given these two failings it is no wonder that H2K Gaming would prove to be their hardest counter. An immense tendency to lane swap and make Teleport plays with Odoamne, the co-ordination to dive extensively to snowball leads, and a playstyle based around splitting the team for picks for a quick 4v5 meant that the Giants’ preferred modus operandi would play right into the hands of H2K at every meeting. Take teleport for example. To make a successful teleport play, a vast amount of information must be communicated between side lanes. It is not worth to make a teleport play just for a kill if you do not get an objective out of it. When Odoamne teleports his duo lane is often set up perfectly to dive and capitalise on any advantage gained on the jungler-strong side of the map. When Werlyb teleported in response to Odoamne’s roam during their first meeting in the summer split it was a miscommunicated disaster with nobody properly positioned in the ensuing fight. Cooldowns, positioning, nothing was synchronized or coordinated about the Giants’ response. Giants lost the fight hard and the game was almost irreversibly cast in favour of H2K.

In game two of the best of 5 quarter finals, Giants built a composition that emphasised both their mid lane carry with Viktor and placed an emphasis on their bottom lane as a threat. Adryh has been far from the star of the show, eating hooks and generally making himself an easy pick for H2K. This game he played Vayne and though the Giants had secured counter matchups for themselves Werlyb was on a tank and Adryh was on a hypercarry. A beautiful composition in conception was doomed to be a failure in execution. The Giants’ inability to co-ordinate plays around the bottom lane resulted in Adryh needlessly tanking the tower in a dive attempt that focused kaSing’s Alistar. This was following a drastic misplay in which they they failed to defend the top tower from H2K’s swap in the early game and didn’t even freeze bottom side to give Adryh’s any sort of advantage. A Fizz ending up with an advantage over a Shen should never happen. Vayne/Braum lost to Sivir/Alistar. PePiiNeRo’s Viktor didn’t show up as his team collapsed around him and the Giants’ lost.

Unmet and Exceeded Expectations

They weren’t supposed to escape relegations in spring, but they did. They weren’t supposed to make even a dent in Fnatic’s armor, but they did. They weren’t supposed to make playoffs, but they did. Fan reaction to the Giants’ loss has been harsh. Their EU LCS run is over, domestically they finish sixth. More was apparently expected from the often passionate Spanish fanbase. The Giants have exceeded all expectations elsewhere and they should hold their head up high. That night the Giants were supposed to lose. They finally did. That they were ever in a position to make it that far should be lauded and praised. That a team with this many individual limitations and failings were able to come together to be more than a hang-on team at the bottom of the EU LCS should be a source of pride for the Spanish community.

These limitations are not impossible to overcome. A well disciplined splitpush has often been the bane of better teams and has been a free ticket through tournaments for many. Communication can help the Giants make dents on big teams again like they have before. More faith in their shotcaller, a greater emphasis on the communication in swaps in practices and more willingness to adapt from players can bring improvement in great strides. They can adapt their picks but they don’t have to adapt their style. If one can perfect his own technique, he can counter all he faces. Their playstyle can work. They just need to patch out their faults.

It’s not over yet. The Gauntlet is still there and a chance, however slim, still remains for Giants Gaming to make the World Championships. Standard lanes will be more prevalent. If they pick intelligently and communicate efficiently they can at least go out with a bang instead of a whimper. I and many others do not expect them to go further than that, but then again I've not expected most of what happened with Giants. I’ve learned my lesson this split. Let’s see if the Giants can learn theirs.

Michael “Veteran” Archer is an EU writer, analyst and one time coach who needs a new dark horse to believe in. He didn’t mention Fr3deric once. Oops. You can follow him on Twitter.