The Road to Worlds: an in-depth look at the Flash Wolves

by theScore Staff Sep 19 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / theScore eSports

If there was ever a team which, throughout its history, exceeded expectations at almost every turn, it would be the Flash Wolves. Often dismissed as a minor team from a weaker region, the Wolves have consistently impressed whenever they've been given the chance to play on the international stage. But, they succeed not through their star power or huge individual outplays, but through a coordinated, calculated style that slowly but surely grinds opponents down into dust.

For many of the Wolves' players, this World Championship is a second shot at becoming the fall's surprise hit, an opportunity to once again prove that they deserve to be taken seriously as a legitimate threat on the world stage.

Whether or not they can do that, though, is the real question.

The Road So Far

The Flash Wolves are a team that have stepped out from the shadow cast by their more internationally famous colleagues, ahq e-Sports Club and the Taipei Assassins, to become one of the LMS’ undeniable powerhouses.

However, the story of the Flash Wolves actually dates back to 2013 with another team, the Gamania Bears. Only forming a few months before the event, the Bears exploded onto the Taiwanese scene by taking first place at the Season 3 Taiwan Regional Finals and punching a ticket to the 2013 World Championship.

Despite being relative unknowns on the international stage, the Bears delighted audiences with their unique personality and solid play, making it all the way to the quarterfinals to finish 5th-8th alongside top teams such as China’s OMG and North America’s Cloud9.

The core four of that squad stuck together, moving on to join the Flash Wolves organization ahead of the 2014 season. Unfortunately, the Flash Wolves were unable to repeat their success, with disappointing finishes in the 2014 Nova League Winter and the 2014 Garena Premier League Summer. Thing started to change after it was announced that the teams from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao would be leaving the GPL to form the League of Legends Master Series (LMS). The Flash Wolves qualified for the newly formed league with flying colours, going undefeated in their group.

With new wind in their sails, the Flash Wolves enjoyed a breakout year in 2015, not only surpassing expectation by taking first at IEM Taipei but putting on a show at the IEM Katowice World Championship, making a surprising run through the loser’s bracket in Group A by topping North American best Cloud9 and the FORG1VEN era SK Gaming. Although they eventually fell in the semifinals 2-1 at the hands of Team SoloMid, their play drew the attention of the international audience, marking them as a contender to watch out for in the future.

The Flash Wolves immediately followed up their strong international play with domestic success, taking first in the inaugural LMS Spring season before falling to the resurgent ahq eSports Club in the playoffs. They earned a similar result in the summer, going from a second place regular season finish to a third place playoff spot.

With their season finishes earning them a chance to play in the 2015 Season Taiwan Regional Finals, the Flash Wolves dispatched Midnight Sun eSports 3-0 before moving on to take down fan favorite Hong Kong eSports in a dramatic 3-2 set.

The next stop for the Flash Wolves is Worlds, but this time one things for sure: they’re not flying under the radar any more.

The Current State of the Team

One of the most interesting parts about the Flash Wolves as a team is that they don’t have a true super star at any role. Rather, the Wolves are a squad which is mostly comprised of veteran players who come out on top thanks to their superior game knowledge and decision making, not their individual skill.

The team's core four have been together since the Gamania Bears, and it shows in their coordinated map movements and trust in their rotations. It starts from the top lane with team captain Chou “Steak” Lu-Hsi, whose beefy name mirrors his fondness for beefy champions such as Maokai and Shen. It’s his crazy hair which first draws the eye, but his rock solid play and years at the top of competitive play make him an invaluable leader for his squad.

Despite only being 18 years old, Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie is a seasoned veteran of the Taiwanese scene, and his partnership with Hsiung “NL” Wen-An is a strong one. They’re not the most dynamic bottom lane, but they offer a consistent result and rarely lose, giving their team a solid foundation of damage and warding on which to build a game plan. SwordArt is the core of the Flash Wolves' vision game, and is a master at planting deep wards and ensuring his teammates' rotations are done in safety.

Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang is a player whose versatility and ability to play both control mages and assassins makes him a threat in every composition. He contributes the lion's share of the Flash Wolves' damage, but isn't necessarily a stylish laner, preferring to shine in carefully crafted team environments which get him snowballing early and free him up to roam from there.

If the Wolves had anything that approaches a true star, it would be jungler Hung “Karsa” Han-Hsuan, who was added to the team in January. Karsa made waves when he appeared in the scene, and he all but single-handedly elevated the Wolves from middle-of-the-pack to a top contender. He’s among the most mechanically skilled players in the region, but he’s not all flash and no substance. Despite being less experienced than his teammates, Karsa is a strategic mind, playing with a suffocating early game style an eye for vision that compliments his high natural talent.

Finally, the addition of Korean up-and-comer Ha “KKramer” Jong-hun gives the team some added versatility in champion select, and adds some much needed carry potential out of the bottom lane. He’s been splitting duties with NL, and the partnership has worked out well to keep opponents guessing and the Flash Wolves on the right track.

In terms of gameplay, the Flash Wolves are a team that are best at correctly identifying where and when to apply pressure thanks to excellent map sense and a liberal use of deeps wards. Early ganks by Karsa and roams by Maple often get the ball rolling, transitioning into a stifling mid game which forces the opponents back. They look strongest when outmaneuvering opponents on the map, playing out their compositions correctly and only fighting when able to draw the enemy into an awkward position around dragons or Baron.

However, whenever the Flash Wolves take skirmishes that are more even, they can get outplayed by their opponents on an individual basis. The duality between strategy and skill on the Flash Wolves was never more apparent than in the LMS Regional Final against Hong Kong eSports: the individual matchups were largely in favor of HKE, and it showed in lane and early fights, but the team coordination and deep vision allowed the Flash Wolves to win out in the end. In the game where the Flash Wolves tried to tackle HKE head-on and fell behind early as a result, they struggled. But when they took a step back, played smart and seized a lead through tower pushes and vision control, the games went much better.

Their laning is also a concern, dating all the way back to their performance at IEM Katowice. Against both Cloud9 and Team SoloMid, they fell behind in lane, and struggled to recover from the early gold deficits when not in possession of a foothold on the map. Although they did pull out the comeback against Cloud9 thanks to their late game shot calling, the weaker laning phase of the Flash Wolves is an exploitable weakness looking towards Worlds.

If the Flash Wolves don’t control the tempo of a game, they can fall behind and struggle to come back due to their reliance on early map control. Compared to some of the other top teams competing at Worlds, their individual skill is also slightly weaker, giving them less explosive play-making potential. But, if given the chance to do what they do best, their macro level play is top notch.

Outlook for Worlds

After showing their stuff at IEM Katowice and in their own Regional Final, the Flash Wolves are no longer slipping by unnoticed.

Not only has the level of competition across the globe increased significantly since these players last competed on the world stage, but the high level of preparation and support staff that has become the norm for all top teams means the Flash Wolves will no longer come into the event an unknown. People aren’t sleeping on their skill any longer like they were for the Gamania Bears.

2013, this is not.

That being said, the Flash Wolves got just about the best group draw the could have possibly hoped for, slotting in alongside the Xmithie-less Counter Logic Gaming, Brazilian wildcard paiN Gaming and slumping Korean squad KOO Tigers. It’s not a gimme in any sense, but given the strength of the Worlds pool this year it could have been a whole lot worse. Furthermore, Karsa is quite possibly the best jungler in the group, and should be able to give his team the start they need to make the games close.

On the other hand, although their shot calling and vision control are good enough to make it this far, that alone does not win you Worlds. Falling behind in lane is a recipe for disaster on an international stage, and without a strong laning phase the Flash Wolves are asking to be crushed by squads who know exactly how to take a lead and run with it.

No matter how you look at it, the Flash Wolves have been given the best chance possible to make a splash at Worlds. The KOO Tigers are, on paper, the best team in the group, which means that Counter Logic Gaming will be the litmus test for the Flash Wolves. If they're unable to top the North Americans, it will be a rough road. But, if all goes according to plan, the Flash Wolves can shine. It’ll all come down to whether or not they can take the momentum offered to them by their strong late-season push onto the world stage.

Nic Doucet is a News Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.