It's almost a science. One or two smart veteran professional players combined with three to four green rookies who have hardly seen a competitive game before — it's a formula employed by SK Telecom T1 in 2013 with PoohManDu and Impact. It's been attempted more frequently in China as well with teams like Unlimited Potential end Edward Gaming. Each team needs a fair amount of new and promising talent to prepare for the future, but the guidance and experience of a veteran is also important.
Vici Gaming takes it to an extreme. VG has a long history of cycling through rising stars and discarding them quickly if they don't seem to fit. Qiao Gu's TnT, LGD Gaming's GODV, and Master3's Smlz have all played on Vici Gaming for a period of time before the organization decided to let them go. VG's quest for undiscovered talent they can raise has caused them to constantly reinvent their roster.
This year, Vici Gaming finally grabbed a much needed core. Choi "DanDy" Inkyu and Cho "Mata" Sehyong, main contenders for the MVP award at the 2014 World Championship, form a core unit for VG and inject much-needed experience into the lineup. From there, the team builds around them.
Rifling through the solo queue and amateur talent in China is a monumental task. The top server in China, Ionia, features a slew of potentials, and 16 LSPL teams and layers of amateur teams follow them up. Outside DanDy and Mata, Vici Gaming have signed two top laners, one jungler, two mid laners, and three AD carries this season, all of them, Vasilii excepted, with minimal competitive experience.
After rotating out many of these players and a controversial role swap that moved DanDy, regarded by many as the best jungler in the world last year, to the top lane, Vici Gaming have finally found a lineup that makes them look like a legitimate threat in the gambit for spots at the World Championship. The team has retained the vision control and objective-based play that made them strong in Spring, but they've upgraded the talent lineup in their mid and AD carry positions.
Chen "World6" Yutian appeared in Week 3 of 2015 LPL Summer as the team's starting jungler. Wang "Carry" Zujing left the team, officially as a result of health reasons. DanDy wanted to move to the top lane position as a challenge, and VG picked up a rising talent from solo queue to take his place in the jungle.
On Gragas, World6 has developed into a possible jungle giant of the LPL. On other champions, his performances have been less impressive. When he doesn't select his preferred Gragas, Vici doesn't fall apart.
Jungler World6's increased time on the team has allowed him to develop more synergy and adopt some of the warding habits of DanDy and Mata. In Spring, I referred to Vici Gaming as "DanDy's Ducklings." It seemed as if Carry and mid laner Wang "Hetong" Bin followed DanDy around the map as he looked for picks. Mata often appeared as if he wanted almost nothing to do with either of the solo laners and preferred to save his peel abilities for DanDy and, on occasion, Li "Vasilii" Weijun.
World6 is Mata's duckling — in a reluctant way. Mata roams and helps World6 secure vision as a stand-in for DanDy. The two work together in two man ganks that don't always go well. But it seems that World6 is a new player that Mata doesn't begrudge. As a result, Mata's own performances, while inconsistent and often seemingly tilted, have improved.
Pi "Xuan" Xiaoxuan is the third in a line of AD carries this season. He spent time in Spring as a substitute mid laner for ex-sister team Unlimited Potential. It's unclear whether he's the best AD carry the team has seen or if Mata's increased motivation makes him look better. Either way, he seems to maximize his damage more often than his predecessors and gets caught less frequently.
Peng "Peng" Yibo should have started for this team earlier. The only feasible excuse for Peng to have not started this summer is that he struggled to improve himself and only very suddenly found both a personal and technical breakthrough. Peng executes well, aims skillshots, and improves Vici Gaming's team fighting significantly more than Hetong.
DanDy isn't a better top laner than Carry yet, but he plays within the confines of his own accepted pool, and his communication with Mata allows his Teleport plays to go off well. He fits the position of roleplayer with enough of a mechanical upside to engage well and coordinate a team fight. He's not a top-tier top laner in LPL, but he understands his limitations well.
Though the team has made small individual upgrades, the biggest change is in cohesion. With increases in mechanics, ability stacking and objective rotation from fights and picks have improved. When World6 moved to invade OMG's jungle, DanDy and Peng or Peng and Mata would collapse pre-emptively. They would arrive before their laning opponents, giving Vici Gaming their advantage to take the set.
Mata's growth has occurred in the realm of patience. He plays much more for the team, taking the initiative to peel indiscriminately. He spams laugh less. He picks fewer troll champions. At the LPL venue, Mata can be heard screaming calls over the crowd. It's almost as if he actually wants this team to succeed.
Perhaps because of the relative newness of the roster, Vici Gaming's team fighting still lacks finesse. LGD, even with poor engage against several forms of peel from Vici Gaming, won team fights from 8,000 gold behind in Game 2 and only lost out because of Vici's over-whelming early lead.
Vici excels best in finding an advantage, through first blood or a turret, and pressuring it. When they have an advantage, they won't let it go unless the enemy team can lock them down. LGD vs Vici Gaming is the meeting of support masterminds, but LGD are full of proven veterans who play much better from behind. LGD have the upper hand, and they should win, even if the series is close.
Falling to LGD isn't the end of the line for Vici Gaming. In some ways, losing is better than winning. The winners of tonight's games go on to face fourth seed Snake, and the lower will contend with third seed Invictus Gaming. Snake effectively coin print their opposition when they're on form. Invictus Gaming's more straightforward top lane early focus should be easy for Vici Gaming to pick apart this time around.
As it stands, regardless of how Vici Gaming does in the Playoffs or Regionals should they advance, their approach to roster building has given them something almost no other team has: a long-standing foundation. By exposing so many young players to perhaps the strongest map control duo in League of Legends history, their developments have been tuned. Even if DanDy and Mata are bought out or break a lengthy contract after the World Championship, Vici Gaming has a future they can build from. That's something I can't say for every team in LPL featuring ex-Samsung stars.
Vici Gaming might not be the best team in LPL now, but they have the best head start in the seasons to come.
Kelsey Moser likes hyping LPL teams before their systematic dismantling. You can follow her on Twitter.