After an entire year of domination, never losing a tournament in which they participated, Edward Gaming finally fell. The proud head atop the LPL was unceremoniously lopped off as its first seed team placed not second, not third, but fourth: losing six of seven total games played in the entirety of LPL Playoffs. Their loss to LGD Gaming is excusable. LGD have looked powerful with a few caveats all year, and many speculated they were winning the “Oscar Night” and intentionally sandbagging games to not give too much away or to try for lower seeding in the old Playoff format.
Invictus Gaming’s win over Edward Gaming is either a true underdog story, or a sign of trouble for Edward Gaming. Of all teams in LPL, Invictus Gaming have clashed with Edward Gaming the most. In addition to four regular season best of 2 series, iG faced EDG in four best of 5 series this year: both Demacia Cups and both Playoff tournaments. Going into tonight’s third place match, their head-to-head record for 2015 was 17-1 in favor of Edward Gaming.
Every time Invictus Gaming encountered Edward Gaming, it appeared as if they lost part of their motivation. Near constant loss to the best team in the region bottomed out iG. Despite making third place in the regular season this split, their inconsistencies meant they dropped games to WE in the same week they beat Snake. Their drafts went from the best in the league in Spring to laughable in Summer when Mafa reportedly refused to draft for them, as he felt he wasn’t earning respect.
In 2015 LPL Spring, Invictus Gaming found map wins by perfecting counter strategies. A few bans and a couple picks could completely debilitate an enemy team’s preferred playstyle. Since iG’s players have relatively large champion pools, it opened up a wide variety of compositions they could use to play against their foes; problems lied in failed execution of mid-to-late game split-pushing or loss of cohesion.
Today, a little of iG’s Spring magic returned. With Mafa at the helm, iG identified Clearlove as Edward Gaming’s core playmaker and focused on banning his signature picks. With Evelynn, Rek’Sai, and Nunu off the board, iG first picked Gragas or Elise on blue side. In Game 4, Invictus Gaming first picked Gragas, waited for Edward Gaming to pick their mid and support, and then snagged Ekko, removing five jungle champions from Clearlove’s hands before he went back to Lee Sin. EDG’s Nidalee ban meant seven jungle champions entered the draft phase.
That’s where Edward Gaming’s own drafting fell apart. With Clearlove’s power champions unavailable, EDG hurt themselves more by picking weak lane matchups. Unable to exert as much pressure as usual, EDG’s players fell behind in lane. It was clear that Aaron and the team were stumped by iG’s approach, just like they were with LGD the day before. Edward Gaming perhaps came into the Playoffs too cocky and unprepared, since their drafts haven’t lacked this much finesse all year.
pawN, Meiko, and Deft struggled the most in lane. Meiko has said that he and Deft don’t have the best bottom lane, but Clearlove wins it for them. Today, Clearlove, despite keeping a fair amount of pressure in the last two games, wasn’t in a position to gank EDG's bottom lane as often. iG identified that, in the past, EDG tended to place more pressure mid against Rookie than they do against other mid laners. With the combination of jungle bans and mid focus, Deft and meiko struggled more.
Kid and Kitties performed much above their usual laning standards, finding comfort champions like Vayne, Sivir, Janna, and even a Bard to get cs leads and a few kills. In an interview after the series, Kid said that his break allowed him to achieve a better mentality, and it showed in his performance. Deft’s sometimes overzealous dives didn’t make things easier for him.
Edward Gaming’s drafts also lacked a lot of turret pressure. By picking Sivir or Gnar, iG had a lot more siege power than EDG’s Maokai or Twitch picks granted, which allowed iG to shove lanes more easily. It’s no coincidence EDG performed the best when they picked a powerful ADC in Lucian and an Azir counter in Fizz to win their most vulnerable lanes.
Koro1 also isn’t without his failures. He performed much better in the last two games with Rumble and got the lane advantages EDG craved, but he was unable to shut down Zzitai’s split-pushing as iG's top laner made himself a nuisance on Trundle and Gnar.
Finally, iG showed a strategic advancement that didn’t rely too much on them following the same formula. Zzitai’s increased dedication this year has translated into his ability to apply a lot more pressure in 1v1s in the top lane, which means he has favored split-pushing duelists with less team fight impact like Trundle or Irelia. His failings came most often when he would perform well in lane and continue to split through mid game only to join the team ineffectually in team fights later.
In yesterday’s matches, Zzitai committed to split-pushing, giving iG a lot more map pressure than they’ve had in the past. Zzitai’s rise is their one massive takeaway this summer, as the rest of the team’s approach has remained more or less the same.
More or less the same isn’t bad. It’s no coincidence that Edward Gaming lost to mid lane carry teams. GODV and Rookie both are high up in rankings in terms of percentage of team gold earned, and they drove map pressure through mid lane control. With strong synergy between the jungle and mid lane, iG can upset pawN’s solo distraction style and force Clearlove to come mid, leaving meiko and Deft without his usual pressure. After losing today, meiko told Rookie that pawN immediately hit the Korean solo queue ladder.
After the disastrous near loss to Vici Gaming, Invictus’ focus tightened. They slowly ramped up and looked much more controlled and again operated as a team with a plan for execution in today’s set against Edward Gaming. Their 2015 record has gone from 1-17 to 4-18 in a single day, which is the difference between a 6% win rate and an 18% win rate.
iG still come with a lot of questions. How dependent is Kitties on kiting and disengage champions? How consistent is Kid? What happens when teams focus Zzitai in bans the way iG focused Clearlove so he’s forced to play more team fight oriented champions instead of split-pushing? How high will they ride the momentum, and should they reach a stumbling block in the first round of Regionals, will they crash completely?
It’s hard to say. iG’s track record this split is too inconsistent, but they’ve never looked so elated after a victory. KaKAO has looked generally bored, while Rookie and Zzitai have been on the verge of tears, sometimes even in wins. Taking games off Edward Gaming was a goal that at least Zzitai set for himself, so now that they’ve finally managed it, they might find a new stride.
With two weeks to prepare before Regionals begin on September 4, it’s impossible to know what kind of Invictus Gaming we’ll get. History has shown that hope has been futile for both KT and iG to make Worlds, but perhaps this cursed union will gift them a berth.
The more important questions follow Edward Gaming. As perhaps the most consistently dominant team in any region this year—SKT and Fnatic had ramp up time in the Spring, TSM has faltered this Summer, and it’s hard to hold EDG’s earlier failings against them when they didn’t play with their main roster—missing the World Championship would be an international shock.
LGD and Invictus Gaming drafting so well seems to have destabilized Edward Gaming’s strategies. Some of their compositions seemed scattered, and they made up their plans as they went along. With pawN, meiko, and Koro1 often garnering so many bans, it’s possible EDG didn’t know how to react to Clearlove getting focused in the draft. Targeting Clearlove in game and warding out his jungle has been the key to defeating EDG in the past, so it makes sense for a team to carry it out in draft phase, though perhaps the ruthlessness of five champion denials is especially surprising.
When I look at EDG’s drafts and focus compared to their usual play, I feel disappointed. It seems they didn’t come to the Playoffs at all prepared. They found themselves unseated by LGD coach Chris’ drafting as well as the return of Mafa, whom I regarded as the best drafting coach in Spring.
The Regional Qualifier format is double elimination bracket with the team with the second most points in LPL facing the team with the fifth, and the team with the third facing the team with the fourth. The first round is a best of 3, but all subsequent rounds are best of 5. The winners of the upper bracket and the winners of the lower bracket will qualify for the World Championship.
|Team||Current points||Minimum points possible||Maximum points possible|
Depending on whether Qiao Gu can defeat the powerhouse that is LGD Gaming, EDG will earn first or second seed into the Regional Qualifier based on their 400 points from first place last Spring and fourth this Summer. It doesn’t matter that much; both Snake and iG, their prospective opponents, look strong enough to challenge them.
This doesn’t have to be bad for them. Jungler Clearlove stated prior to the Playoffs that “if we stumble in the playoffs, we have a good chance to win S5, but if we win easily, S5 will be harder.” Time and again, teams have noted that running into problems earlier when the pressure to perform isn’t as steep can help them improve. It’s better to run into problems now rather than at Worlds.
Edward Gaming in particular this year have adapted well after unexpected losses. They’ve taken steps to shore up some of their in-game vulnerabilities around Clearlove. meiko’s vision control has improved to make him more difficult to invade in response to the team’s 0-2 loss to Unlimited Potential, when Heart and Punished spent the game targeting his Evelynn. Clearlove has increased his own early pressure to allow his lanes to push out to keep the creeps flowing against the opposition to discourage invades.
The easiest way to fix this problem is to simply experiment with drafts that rely more on stronger lanes. A major problem against iG was poor lane matchups. EDG can take a page from LGD Gaming and look to pick more turret-taking compositions. In particular, Kog’Maw suits Deft and allows easy sieging, which would give them a better chance of snatching earlier turrets and prevent them from falling behind. The Lucian game gave EDG a much stronger bottom lane and their only win during the Playoffs.
Even with less-than-favored picks, Edward Gaming made many attempts to come back from behind. In most games, despite extensive leads, Edward Gaming had one or two aces from massive gold deficits. Some criticisms of their individual form are overblown, and most of their individual misplays are reflective of a lack of game plan or cohesion in compositions.
When your composition doesn’t work well, it’s hard to know which champions to target with your buff abilities or how follow up will work. If you flash for a dive, how can you expect your teammates to react if they’re in an unfamiliar scenario or if the composition doesn’t sync well?
EDG’s approach to Playoffs was extremely disappointing compared to their usual standard of execution and drafting. EDG’s players aren’t bad, and their compositions usually make sense. The question becomes whether these massive losses will be much larger than the team expected or if smashing this hard into a wall is exactly what EDG needs to get them to their best possible form.
It’s unlikely that, even if Clearlove openly welcomed "stumbles," anyone expected EDG to collapse this hard, for LPL to lose its head. EDG have two and a half weeks; patches will roll out, and everything can change. EDG are backed into a corner, but I’m betting they’re strong enough to get themselves out of it. I’ll still bet on them at least 18 out of 22 times before I bet on Invictus Gaming.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.