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IEM San Jose Preview: The New Unicorns of Love

by Michael "Veteran" Archer Nov 19 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Unicorns of Love

Vizicsacsi, H0R0, PowerOfEvil, Vardags, Hylissang.

The last time we saw the Unicorns Love was in this form and the manner in which they won games signalled significant improvement. Gone was the old Unicorns of Love that struggled to get anything done in the early game. H0R0 gave them the one thing they consistently lacked — an early game, and it was scary.

That Unicorns of Love team is now gone.

The Unicorns’ last international campaign was one year ago at the same event. They took on Team SoloMid and came out with an unexpected 2-0 win before falling 0-3 to Cloud9 in the finals. They barely missed out on the Mid-Season Invitational and were one series away from the World Championships on two separate occasions. But here, one year later, the Unicorns are finally back on the international stage.

This is the new Unicorns of Love.

Vizicsacsi

EU LCS 2015 Summer Regular Season Statistics

Games Played: 18

Most Played Champions: Maokai (6), Shen (5), Ryze (3)

Most Successful Champions: Ryze (66.7%), Shen (60%), Maokai (50%)

DMG%/GOLD%: 20.8%, 21.0% (6th in role, 5th in role)

In the challenger series, the flashiest and most renowned players are generally the carries. It’s difficult to distil strong support players or strong macro junglers within the confines of the scene until they reach a higher level compared to the players that are consistently stamping their mark around the map. In lieu of this, Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamás was a standout player for the Unicorns of Love’s campaign into the LCS.

One thing that will never be forgotten is his use of Poppy in the final best-of-five against Millennium. The series was turned by Vizicsacsi focusing priority bans on himself through this pocket pick to free up Berk "Gilius" Demir’s Jarvan. Such innovation would be overtaken by incoming LCS jungler Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek on a semi-regular basis. Vizicsacsi was stuck in the middle of the pack — not quite strong enough for the Top 4 of his role but nowhere near weak enough for the bottom.

Whether it was beefy frontline tanks, split pushing threats or late-game hyper carries, Vizicsacsi was able to play proficiently but that standout-performance always eluded him. In the final moments of UoL’s five game struggle against ROCCAT, Vizicsacsi made the game winning plays by taking down two inhibitors himself, propelling his team to victory. For a few minutes we saw a return of the great top laner that was always there in the Unicorns’ hour of need. Given their full restructuring, they may need to call on him again.

Gilius

EU LCS 2015 Summer Regular Season Statistics

Games Played: 4

Most Played Champions: Rengar/Gragas/Lee Sin/Jarvan IV (1)

Most Successful Champions: Gragas/Jarvan IV (100%)

Kill Participation/GD@10: 88.4%, -374.0 (1st in role, 11th in role)

Gilius’ short tenure in the 2015 LCS was marked by contrast. Through aggressive early game pathing and a very involved participation in the Unicorns of Loves’ infamous skirmishing strategy, Gilius found himself with the highest kill participation in the game’s most mobile role at 88.4%. It’s the second number, a gold differential of -374.0, which shows that his early game pressure still lacked results when it came to objectives secured and taken.

For all his efforts, Gilius hadn’t made the impact on the early game that the Unicorns of Love desperately needed and he found himself replaced by Cho "H0R0" Jae-hwan (who succeeded in giving the Unicorns some of their first early positive gold differentials ever) for the playoffs and subsequent regional clash for the World Championships. Still, Gilius had come a long way from the Jarvan main of the Spring 2015 Promotion Tournament that held back the Unicorns’ draft. This isn’t even Gilius’ first international showing — the ambitious young German had attended SK Gaming’s 2014 World Championship campaign as a substitute for Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, filling the role for three games following the Danish prodigy's infamous incident.

It’s difficult to say how Gilius will perform. Though his early game showed better signs of aggression in the summer, he was still incredibly predictable in his pathing. Gilius spent much of Gamers2’s Spring Challenger Series campaign with a standard Levels 1-4 clear into top lane priority and he didn’t show much in terms of strategic maturity. One thing going for Gilius is that this is far from his first rodeo. We may not have seen him on many stages but they have all been big, some even the biggest. It’s the mark of a man for whom expectations may be low, but his own personal ambitions are high.

Fox

EU LCS 2015 Summer Regular Season Statistics

Games Played: 18

Most Played Champions: Viktor/Cassiopeia/Azir/Jayce (3)

Most Successful Champion: Irelia (100%), Cassiopeia (66.7%), Azir/Jayce (33.3%)

DPM/DMG%: 588, 30.3% (8th in role, 9th in role)

CSD/GD@10: -1.0, -39.4 (6th in role, 6th in role)

The Hampus "Fox" Myhre of the summer season was an echo of the Fox from the spring split. Along with the rest of SK, Fox never quite regained the immense prowess of that fateful spring split that had them as a Top 2 contender, all struggling and eventually capitulating in their attempts to stay in the LCS. Yet for his debut split for SK Gaming, posing as a rookie replacement to Jesse "Jesiz" Le, Fox was the third most important player on a roster with arguably best-in-role Konstantinos "FORG1VENGRE" Tzortziou and Svenskeren. He did this with one of the lowest incomes of any mid laner in the EU LCS (a typically mid-orientated league) and didn’t sacrifice his high-pressure assassin0centric champion pool to do so.

Fox held many records that split. He carried the most individual solo kills of any mid laner for (including one on Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten) and competed with Febiven for the highest gold differential at 10 minutes. This dropped to the lowest differential once 20 minutes hit as at this point Fox had already transferred his power on high-mobility champions to other lanes, choosing to sacrifice his own income for the sake of his triple threat team. In lane Fox was always competing for Top 2. Outside of lane, there was no equal.

But that was an old Fox. FORG1VEN was not the only member of SK’s spring roster to fall with the rise of the Cinderhulk meta. The death of the assassin meta led Fox down a dark path. For a time his most successful adaptation in Cassiopeia was enough to keep him relevant in the consistent DPS mage mid meta, but patch 5.10’s nerfs to the champions put an end to his festered dreams of returning to greatness, including one game where he failed to out-damage Simon "fredy122" Payne’s Shen. This came at a time when Svenskeren re-adjusted to prioritize the mid lane over ADC replacement Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann and no good came of it.

The question here is which Fox is going to show up to IEM San Jose. Patch 5.21 saw assassins return with increased viability. His Kassadin, Zed, and even Jayce all have the potential to make an appearance. A good thing is that Fox, when on these lane-focused champions, has never required priority, which allows Gilius to continue taking top priority for Vizicsacsi. There were many (including me) who thought of Fox as the only true rival to Febiven at a time. He has solo carried better teams before when the chips were down. Let’s see if he can do it again.

Steeelback

2015 Mid-Season Invitational Statistics

Games Played: 10

Most Played Champions: Sivir (4), Urgot (3), Lucian (2)

Most Successful Champions: Kalista (100%), Urgot (66.7%), Lucian (50%)

DPM/DMG%: 410, 19.7% (4th in role, 6th in role)

Gold Share: 23.4% (6th in role)

Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi is one of the most misunderstood players in League of Legends. A large amount of this is due to how unpopular Challenger Series games were outside of the Ninjas in Pyjamas. Steeelback’s tenure on SK Gaming Prime had him as far from the positional AD Carry that was brought out in Fnatic and much more akin to a player trying to emulate the perceived greats of Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao rather than the intelligent control of Zhu "NaMei" Jia-Wen or Erik "Tabzz" van Helvert. The end result brought him far closer to Kristoffer "P1noy" Albao Lund Pedersen than anything.

Yet the Steeelback of Fnatic was noticeably different. Gone were the ways of incessant aggression. Replacing it was a far more calculated and controlled laning phase into safe positional teamfighting. Likely this was the work of support legend Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim, who had done similar work with Johannes "puszu" Uibos and Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, the latter of whom struggled with their own playstyle outside of the confines of a Yellowstar-led team. Steeelback has been able to successfully continue, but it was in a return to the Challenger Series (this time in North America). On a big stage, he hasn’t been tested since.

Steeelback’s last big test was MSI. The individual decision-making that Steeelback lacked contrary to Fnatic’s playstyle showed in his performance. Across every game of his most played champion, Sivir, he was unable to pick up a single victory, the utility style of play defeating him somewhat. His most successful champion outside of a single Kalista game was the lane bully of the moment, Urgot, his second being Lucian. All three of these champions are about individual dominance and reward aggression.

On UoL’s new roster Steeelback needn’t hold back. Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov’s champion pool is full of lane-dominant picks such as Thresh, Morgana, Annie and the like. Hylissang is a player that will reward Steeelback for falling back into his preferred mode of aggression and Steeelback may feel the most comfortable he has ever felt for it. Coming in to replace Pontus "Vardags" Dahlblom at a time where they lose Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage may be even better — Steeelback was allegedly Team Imagine’s shotcaller and UoL desperately needs a voice. Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it’s the Steeelback that made the rushed decisions that fell his team that enters IEM. If ever he wanted redemption, now is the time.

Hylissang

EU LCS 2015 Summer Regular Season Statistics

Games Played: 18

Most Played Champions: Alistar (7), Annie (5), Braum/Thresh/Morgana (2)

Most Successful Champions: Annie (60%), Alistar (57.1%), Braum/Morgana (50%)

Wards/Cleared Per Minute: 1.01, 0.15 (11th in role, 11th in role)

The bot lane of Hylissang/Vardags was an enigma. Unlike Yellowstar/Rekkles, kaSing/Hjarnan, Lustboy/Wildturtle and many other bots in the west, Hylissang was not defined by being the bright spark of the two. No, Hylissang was a bind-bot, a hook-bot, a flash-pulverise machine that brought about critical engagements and solid picks whenever requested. The requester, contrary to popular belief, was actually Vardags who set many of the roams from the bottom lane himself. In most teams control and mechanics (the latter of which vardags sorely lacked) would be shifted the other way around.

Not so here. That Hylissang was able to be eleventh in both warding stats in a league where only 10 supports can concurrently play is a testament to that. Hylissang was not the map control dedicated wardbot of the likes of NA star Adrian "Adrian" Ma, he was far from the man that painted the outline in Hong "MadLife" Min-gi’s eloquent philosophy. He was a tool but a darn good one. Throughout UoL’s Challenger Series tour, so much of their success was heavily reliant on Hylissang’s priority Thresh.

Hylissang displayed this again in the Unicorns’ last IEM campaign. At San Jose one year ago, Hylissang was the man opening fights favourably, utilizing Thresh at his best to create picks for PowerOfEvil’s assassins and peel effectively for Vardags. In the end it was Hylissang that Cloud 9 looked to shut down in the finals rather than the Jungle/Mid duo that had stolen the show. It worked. Though he may do it on a pure mechanical basis the Unicorns of Love have retained their central cog. They will look to him to make the plays that propel the team to an eventual victory.

Stats compiled from lol.esportspedia.com and oracleselixir.com.

Michael “Veteran” Archer is an EU writer, analyst/coach and totally didn’t write this well in advance with inside information. You can follow him on Twitter.

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