Earlier this Summer, many spectators asked, "LGD looked so strong in Spring — what happened to them?"
The easy answer is that the Spring Playoffs format encouraged sandbagging before the announced change midseason. Teams found incentive to get a lower seed, but Week 7 all of that change; LGD made a scramble for the top that only barely got them to fifth place.
When one watched LGD's games, evidence of strong rotation-based play and strategic prowess existed. They were willing to experiment with Bard and Varus compositions. LGD took advantage of securing Baron and dragon area by constantly shoving out side waves. When GODV picked Teleport Diana, LGD could often conduct complicated lane swaps to get the perfect matchups.
LGD's problems were much more numerous than those they brought upon themselves, however. Pyl lost the first week of play because he received jaw surgery during offseason. Sources within the organization stated that his return to the lineup was likely a little premature because the team missed his fundamental shotcalling. When imp conducted his Korean AMA, and fans asked him how he felt about playing for LGD without Pyl, he responded "lol I don't want to play."
Following Pyl's return and slow recapturing of his form, GODV suffered a wrist injury that forced him to reduce his practice time. Despite this, his constant playmaking and heavy roam style made him stand out as a rising mid laner. When imp's visa issues hit the team, he assumed the AD carry role for a period of time. LGD, favorites to win Demacia Cup Summer given Edward Gaming's roster inconsistencies, dropped out in the Quarterfinals.
TBQ's problems shone through more than ever. His missed Explosive Casks and 100% win rate on Lee Sin compared to his below 50% win rate on other jungle picks halfway through Summer made his champion favoritism obvious.
The biggest problem LGD had to overcome, however, was an absent coaching staff. Due to personal reasons, coach BSYY spent less and less time with the team, and top laner Acorn assumed a lot of the coaching duties in addition to playing. As a result, his practice time suffered, and fans began to notice a marked difference in his performance relative to LGD's other top laner, Flame.
In Week 9 of 2015 LPL Summer, the team announced the acquisition of a Taiwanese analyst to help lighten the support load. During this time, the team also sought out a head coach to replace BSYY. The team picked up Chris, ex-coach for Royal Club two years in a row, in Week 11.
My understanding of Chris' coaching style is that it's very specific. He's been criticized in the past for his weak game knowledge. In GoDlike's recent video review of his career, he commented that Royal Club Huang Zu didn't understand a lot of basic strategy until they got to the 2013 World Championship. They learned jungle follow during scrims and had to pick up on a lot of things during their time in LA to advance.
In 2014, Star Horn Royal Club acquired a Korean coach, vicaL, and support Zero confirmed that the Korean coach and players made most of the strategic decisions for SHRC. When vicaL left, and SHRC plummeted into relegation in 2015 LPL Spring, Chris bore the responsibility and resigned.
Since I've never personally had a discussion with Chris, I have no concept of how deep his game knowledge or understanding of macro strategy actually runs. I can tell you what I've heard regarding Chris' strengths. As an older individual in esports with more maturity, Chris is a figure who can facilitate discussion well and help already motivated players express their opinions in a team environment. He can facilitate assisting a player in finding the style that works for him within the team and provide encouragement, but he isn't someone necessarily hands-off, and he'll invest himself fully in the team's improvement and set goals.
Uzi has been known in the past as a volatile player with a lot of demands, and Chris worked with him successfully for two years. It's hard to know how effective Chris was in facilitating discussion with Uzi and his team, but despite some accounts of internal arguments and conflict, both Royal Club Huang Zu in 2013 and Star Horn Royal Club in 2014 remained focused enough to pull ahead at the end of the year.
From watching LGD operate with very little coaching this summer and still show smart strategies and innovative compositions, it's clear that the team doesn't necessarily need someone to tell them how to play the game. Acorn and Pyl are both noted as cerebral players with maturity and or a sense of leadership and productivity.
A coach like Chris would struggle to be effective on a team like SHRC earlier this year when motivation stagnated. If players don't want to improve or talk about the game together as a team, a coach like Chris likely won't have the ability to impose a more strict environment with a lot of forced teaching and practice time. In 2015, Chris was not the right coach for SHRC or King, but LGD seems like a nice fit for him.
Since the team acquired their Taiwanese analyst and Coach Chris, LGD have just gotten that little bit tighter. With the analyst to feed data and information and Chris to provide input or guidance, the players can focus more on playing. Coaching doesn't have a massive impact right away, but in LGD's case, a massive impact wasn't necessary; they were already good. It's likely Chris' game knowledge has been under-represented, especially since LGD's drafting seemingly improved significantly, but having someone to make discussion and time spent theory-crafting more efficient can't be understated.
As for TBQ and xiaoxi, it seems the team have officially committed to using TBQ on their road up to and including the World Championship. If they can only bring one substitute player, xiaoxi won't see play time, and Flame will make the cut.
The primary difference between xiaoxi and TBQ comes down to how collected the team looks as a unit when each jungler plays. In the handful of games where xiaoxi started, he seemed to move more as an extension of Pyl than as a jungler with his own initiative. When TBQ plays Lee Sin, he can control a game, but his effectiveness on other champions is questionable. He engages at sometimes awkward moments and often seems disconnected. It's as if xiaoxi listens more often, and TBQ doesn't necessarily follow Pyl's shotcalling all the time.
When discussing the best jungler on LGD Gaming, neither of the candidates are actually junglers. Neither TBQ nor xiaoxi conduct the most solo ganks, place the most deep vision, or roam the most to shut down the enemy jungler. Both Pyl and GODV spend a significant amount of time outside their respective lanes guarding TBQ so he's free to farm or move around the map safely. They often accompany TBQ on his dives, and if be brings engage, either Pyl or GODV or both bring a primary form so that he can easily chain it.
Today, TBQ performed far above his usual standards, but not because his individual play skyrocketed. He still missed the occasional Explosive Cask. He still sometimes went too deep. This time, most of his decisions aligned with the team's, and he looked less disjointed.
By understanding minion flow and transitioning between lanes well, LGD do the opposite of what Edward Gaming have accomplished. Edward Gaming control their lanes through the jungle. LGD control the jungle through the lanes. Mid lane and bottom lane are strong enough that they don't necessarily need jungle interference and can instead supplement pressure around the map.
imp has developed enough to 1v2 his opponents and often come out ahead while Pyl roams. GODV knows when to push out a wave and go for a gank or an invade. TBQ has fallen much more in sync with the queues of his Chinese teammates during the Playoffs than he has before; his individual mechanics might not be on the same level as the rest of LGD's players, but they hit the mark they need to hit.
LGD's strategy and understanding of the game through the flow of the lanes probably wouldn't have developed as well as it has if TBQ were a monster carry jungle like Clearlove; it wouldn't need to. In a weird way, TBQ's unique weaknesses have made LGD a better team. They respect him enough to want to play with him over a rookie jungler who simply appears to listen. I'd still like to see what LGD would look like with a more consistent jungler, but it's impossible to deny how important TBQ has been to their development and how well LGD have learned to work with him.
The most striking improvement LGD saw in their semifinal series against Edward Gaming came not through their control of the jungle, but in drafting. In this case, LGD's Pyl gave complete credit to the coaching staff, saying the team had no say in pick-and-ban.
Last spring, LGD focused on picking Jinx away from Deft rather than going for some of their own power picks. In reponse, Edward Gaming picked more well-rounded compositions that could go for the back line and effectively out team fought LGD. This time, LGD out drafted Edward Gaming in all three of their games.
Instead of going for pick denial or focusing only on power, LGD rounded out holistic compositions that suited the unique identity of their team. GODV's approach to Diana makes her more of an area of effect wombo combo engage mid with a lot of wave clear and pushing power coming from Crescent Strike and Nashor's Tooth rush and properly timed Moonfalls. The pick is incredibly versatile in his hands and helped LGD stall out Game 1 and punish dives while Acorn's Ryze and imp's Kog'maw eventually outscaled. In Game 2, Edward Gaming's sense of composition seemed to entirely disintegrate while LGD built a team fighting setup.
The most interesting draft came in Game 3. Both teams picked solid compositions, but LGD's was a little less standard. Instead of banning out or picking away Edward Gaming's forms of disengage, LGD let them have both Gragas and Janna. They also gave up Viktor, Maokai, and Kog'Maw, giving Edward Gaming a tremendously powerful composition to suit their strengths.
LGD responded with a difficult to execute all-in team. In answer to EDG's disengage, LGD grabbed as many forms of hard engage as they could manage with Lulu's Wild Growth knockup, TBQ's Vi (his second most practiced champion in solo queue this season), Kalista and Braum, and still more Diana. Diana has been GODV's answer of choice to the dominating Viktor.
If TBQ went in onto a target, and Clearlove or meiko used disengage to separate him from his team, LGD could repeatedly re-engage with their other tools to keep him from getting picked off. Though LGD had to play patiently around EDG's disengage, LGD, the masters of Varus and Braum, don't tend to shy away from difficult to execute compositions. LGD demolished EDG with strong objective control and snowballed well off early engagements before Kog'Maw and Viktor scaled up.
When I pegged LGD Gaming to win the World Championship earlier this summer, I didn't think they'd look this cohesive this early. Sure, Edward Gaming made a few mistakes. They probably didn't expect to lose Game 1 after they amassed their lead. But LGD operated as a powerful unit with smarter drafting. It will be extremely surprising for them to lose their first place match next week to Qiao Gu. LGD have already earned a well-deserved spot at the World Championship, an appearance that's long overdue for team Captain Pyl, who has been playing competitively since 2011.
LGD still have flaws centered around their jungler and the performances GODV and their bottom lane have to execute to keep TBQ protected. It's something another powerful team like SK Telecom T1 or Edward Gaming on their next encounter could abuse. Perhaps the most devastating thing about LGD Gaming, however, is that they've competed in a region with Edward Gaming all year.
Edward Gaming's and LGD Gaming's strengths and weaknesses complement each other. As a jungle-centric team, Edward Gaming can best abuse LGD's weaknesses. As a rotation-based team, LGD have challenged Edward Gaming to improve their strategic play. LGD and EDG often know their own short-comings because the other team excels where they falter most. Today, LGD covered their weaknesses better. Today, LGD are the best team in China.
Tomorrow, it could again be EDG.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She enjoys watching both of LPL's top teams and looks forward to seeing them at the World Championship.