EU LCS semifinals preview: our preconceived notions

by theScore Staff Aug 14 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

We’ve reached the top four teams in the European LCS Playoffs. We’ve followed them all year, so we might think we understand them. We’ve accepted certain realities: Fnatic always win, Unicorns of Love thrive in chaos, Origen overpower their opponents, and H2K do their best when they avoid direct matchups.

I don’t think any of these things are true.

Yes, Fnatic have always won, and I don’t see them tripping long over the Unicorns this weekend. Origen have strong lanes and tend to over-commit to lose them, but that doesn’t mean they lack a semblance of strategy. H2K actually excel in a snowball scenario to pad poor mid game playmaking, which doesn’t make their players weak or their strategy superb. There is no such thing as “chaos strategy.”

But don’t take my word for it.

Brain vs Brawn

The first matchup between H2K and Origen looks like the more impressive semifinal. Second and third seed contend with one another. The brains vs brawn narrative is in full swing. Origen will traditionally snowball their lanes, and they lose when they over-commit to let the enemy team come back.

On the other hand, the argument is often made that H2K’s superior sense of strategy compensates for player weaknesses. They aren’t as strong role-for-role as Origen, but they’re better at finding advantages in the lane swap.

In reality, H2K and Origen aren't fundamentally different in terms of individual player strength or strategy. H2K sometimes struggle in lane swaps, as they aren't as equipped to defend Odoamne from the 2v1.

Despite winning more games and the narrative that Origen thrive off snowballs and needs to crush their lane to win, the team’s gold lead at 15 minutes is actually lower than H2K’s on average. In recent regular season games, they’ve performed much better in regular lanes with Ryu or loulex roaming to snowball Odoamne ahead. Then Odoamne follows up with a Teleport bottom to give bottom lane a lead. They lane swap frequently so that loulex's sometimes intermittent jungle pressure is less obvious.

Origen’s early advantages rely less on laning and more on securing the jungle. Mithy and Amazing’s synergy as a unit allow them to prime the jungle with deeper wards. They can then take advantage of standard lane setups to play more aggressively because they have eyes on the enemy jungler.

While H2K have a strong support player, they can’t rely on this type of strategy as much because of loulex’s tendency toward judgment errors. While kaSing places more wards per minute than Mithy at 1.29 to 1.22 wards per minute, Amazing makes up for it with .84 wards per minute to loulex’s .76. Amazing and Mithy are also much more likely to roam as a duo to get picks than kaSing is to help loulex secure his own jungle.

Both teams try to rely on some semblance of strategy to give them stronger laning phases, but Origen relies less on Teleport play. Origen makes less turret trade based rotations, but they will get picks in the jungle and know when to apply pressure in lanes better than H2K.

Both teams also have a habit of losing some of their control in the mid game. Origen has gravitated toward global compositions with Rek’Sai and Twisted Fate, and sometimes the communication seems lacking. Either Amazing or xPeke will use a global ability to go too deep, or the team will over-commit on a dive and throw their lead.

For H2K, it goes back to the jungle. Even with a massive snowball, loulex seems to remain disconnected from the roster and takes solo engagements that cause his team to lose their advantages.

Position for position, H2K’s players are not overwhelmingly weaker than Origen’s. The position where the clearest advantage lies is in the jungle, but both sOAZ and Odoamne are formidable top laners, xPeke and Ryu are low econ mid laners that rely on finding picks to give their teams advantages in taking an objective or in fights. Both bottom lanes have support players who soak up bans from other teams.

I would say Niels is stronger than Hjarnan, but a lot of the latter's weaknesses are compensated for by his team involving him in most of their kills. Origen has a similar approach with Niels that seems to yield them results and set him up in the carry role.

Late game, Origen’s control on side lanes frays more, while H2K hit their stride. If they can avoid some difficulties with mid game judgment calls, H2K have really strong split sieging. They execute 1-4 with Odoamne and the rest of the team well, while Origen don’t function as cohesively with the team separated across the map. In a team fight, however, they have more finesse than H2K, which makes them better at warding and securing neutral objectives like dragon and Baron.

Rather than referring to H2K vs Origen as brains vs brawn, I prefer to characterize the matchup as Sivir vs Kalista. Both teams have played a fair amount of Sivir and Kalista — that isn’t the point. Sivir’s natural strengths lie in rotating across lanes to take towers to get a lead, and Kalista-based teams are better at challenging for dragons and Barons to win in objectives. Origen secure fog of war and prefer to take their battles in the river or the jungle, while H2K win off lane and turret pressure.

H2K’s players aren’t weak. Origen aren’t mindless. In fact, Origen’s natural playstyle of securing the jungle is what gives them their advantage over H2K. They easily strike H2K where they’re less protected: loulex. With a Lee Sin ban, Origen should still get the better of the matchup.

If anything will protect H2K, it will be the individual strength of Ryu. Ryu’s roaming is the team’s one advantage in fog of war. If he can find holes in Origen’s vision to pick off Amazing, loulex will have a better chance of surviving.

Chaos Theory

Speaking of Sivir vs Kalista, an AD carry trade could work well for Unicorns of Love the quarterfinals. After taking the first two games against ROCCAT, UoL left Kalista up two games in a row and lost fights to even the series. They eventually banned her in Game 5.

Kalista worked so well against the Unicorns of Love because they love their wombo combo 5v5 team compositions. While many have characterized UoL as surprising or anti-standard, they have very obvious preferences in the draft. Hylissang loves Morgana and Annie. PowerofEvil will play a poke mid like Kog’Maw or Varus or he will pick an area of effect team fighting mage, and the Unicorns will bring area knockups to try to chain cc and set him up.

With the right accompaniment and peel, Kalista will scale and do a ridiculous amount of damage in a team fight to multiple targets. The most surprising thing about Unicorns of Love is their apparent lack of coordination outside a grouped fight. They don’t split siege well or look for picks, meaning they have no real answer to Kalista. Unicorns play the compositions they do because they can control a single area and follow up their teammates within vision.

Fnatic team fight well. They like to play Kalista. Rekkles’ most played champion for the regular season is Kalista, which is still at times astounding given the team’s love of Baron. Kalista is very powerful when it comes to taking mid to late game Barons, and letting her get into Fnatic’s hands might be the easiest way to ensure disaster.

One thing the Unicorns have in spades is the ability to chain their cooldowns. After an engagement from Hylissang, Vizicsacsi will follow up easily to lock down more targets, and PowerofEvil can do as much damage as possible. Vardags is there to take turrets if they can eke out a victory here and there.

The one major advantage Unicorns of Love have gained recently comes through H0R0. Needing to adjust to a new roster still makes Unicorns of Love look scattered, but H0R0’s carry power on Nidalee and Rek’Sai against ROCCAT greatly increased the team’s reach across the map in the early game. The team seems no longer doomed to scale for dragon and Baron fights. They can take some early towers and play a more diverse strategies.

That will help them a lot against Fnatic. In some ways, Unicorns were in great need of a secondary carry threat. H0R0 can pin down at least one Fnatic lane and deal a surprising amount of damage.

With or without chaos theory or a wombo combo approach at UoL's disposal, Fnatic are still Fnatic. Their superior coordination and communication will give them stronger advantages in the mid and late game, and if there’s one thing they can easily navigate, it’s a team fight. Huni’s push bottom will confuse the frequently grouped Unicorns to force them into positions where Fnatic can flank them and eradicate their threats.

Fnatic have weaknesses — namely in being able to execute the same style of play without challenge for so long. Unfortunately for Europe's lovable horned ponies, because that style relies a lot on pushing out side waves to secure Baron, and the Unicorns love to group, they don’t seem equipped to take them down.

If anyone in Europe can end Fnatic’s rampage, it won’t be the Unicorns, despite their tendency to take series the full five games. They just aren’t suited to it, and their new jungler will need more time to adjust to have a larger impact on their currently narrow playstyle.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.