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New formats and the fool's errand of predicting LPL: Kelsey Moser's LPL primer

by theScore Staff Jan 13 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / CGA.CN

The LPL is a strange land where actually trying to predict anything more often than not results in the resurfacing of three month old Reddit threads and 20 minute videos about meme decryption — so of course I’m the kind of person who would make an attempt.

At worlds, the LPL teams performed dismally, but I've spent the offseason carrying on about it, so let's not dither on the details.

Implications of the new format

Over the break, the LPL unveiled a new format that may actually make teams give a more serious attempt to earn seeding. The number of individual series played has dropped, and the likelihood of a reduction in total games played is high.

Last year’s double round robin best-of-two format resulted in each team playing a total of 44 games in 22 separate series. This year’s conference style best-of-three format with teams playing their own group twice and the other group once will result in a minimum of 32 games played and a maximum of 48 individual games played by a single team in 16 separate series. A team only has to end four series in a 2-0 to get the equivalent number of games played.

That’s all to say there’s a small upgrade in incentive to play more regular season matches like they count. More teams may improve their practice habits and begin to aim for very distinct rungs of their group. As a result, it’s valuable to look at each group in isolation, but also keep in mind relative group strength. During the three different sections of the Spring Season, teams will either only play teams from their own group or only play teams from the opposing group.

Part 1: intra group competition

Part 2: inter group competition

Part 3: intra group competition

During Parts 1 and 3, teams will only play other teams in their own group. During Part 2, teams will only play other teams in the opposing group. It’s reasonable to assume that, during Parts 1 and 3, though teams will be playing teams in their own group competitively, they’ll be scrimming teams from the opposing group for practice. How teams use their scrim practice becomes more valuable if there are stronger teams in the opposing group. Placement in a weaker group can matter in ways other than relative competition for seeding.

Group A

Initial assessments made Group B seem more competitive, but roster announcements and a deeper look at shakeouts make Group A look attractive to major clash junkies. The group separates into a clear Top 3 and a clear Bottom 3.

Bottom 3

Masters3's new AD carry

Masters3

Someone took this team through the grinder — at least that’s the initial impression. The roster also seems less lopsided in talent level, losing primary stars, but also upgrading the bottom lane with acquisitions of ex-WE Future Xu "qPqTq" Mingshu and Jin "Savoki" Hao. While the official line is that Han "S1mLz" Jin transferred to OMG, I prefer to imagine him left on his new team’s doorstep in a bassinet with attached instructions on daily care and feeding.

Masters3 also acquired Hyper Youth Gaming's Korean jungle and mid lane duo, who may be more familiar to fans of North American LCS (Jang "Yolo" Hyeonsu previously went by the name Imagine as Winterfox’s support — the fact that he’s actually a jungle main may explain a lot) and Xenics or 2015 LPL Spring’s Energy Pacemaker. Ko “Raphael” Jaehyun is known to most as a supportive mid laner, specializing in Lulu in particular, and while he definitely won't be carrying games, his style of play complements an AD carry upgrade well.

The greenest player on Masters3’s new roster is Feng “XY” Yuxin, whose only previous experience is playing for TGA team Tides Of Time 1. This team of very new players should function mainly around the bottom lane, where their best talent lies. Raphael and Yolo are also accustomed to playing around a bottom lane, having done so most recently in HYG around Li "XQ" Yingjie.

Though this team seems to have a prescribed identity, they’ll struggle with experience and probably not have a defined enough sense of strategy to escape playing Promotion.

Energy Pacemaker All

Of all the new rookies entering the LPL this year, I’m most excited for Xia "JieZou" Heng. Unfortunately, he’s only a support player, so even if he’s more of a talent than anticipated, he will lack the ability to easily carry his team, especially with a bottom lane partner like Zhang "Romantic" Cheng, who I expect to duke it out with S1mlz for the title of “worst AD carry in the LPL.”

JieZou’s aggressive roam style worked well with jungler Huang “crisis” Zhen, but I have less faith in new starter He “Rabbit97” Zhihong (known better as ex-Masters3 DreamS and Soist, or “the guy who broke the air conditioner”), as he’s shown severe limitations on all champions not named Lee Sin. Bong “Republic” Geuntae is the best roster move EPA made in the offseason, but he may not work well with the team outside the game, and he won’t compete with the top mids in the LPL inside the game. I did, however, enjoy his Viktor in National Electronic Sports Open.

More than likely, Kim “GimGoon” Hansaem will be forced into the carry role as he was in the LSPL, though it is not his natural style. GimGoon’s experience and JieZou’s playmaking will form the core of a team that probably won’t make top four in their group. Someone else please pick up JieZou for this summer's LPL split.

Team WE

Through a series of underrated moves I’ve covered in more detail in another feature, Team WE have become the biggest candidate for upset potential in the LPL this year. Team WE’s most glaring weaknesses came through in their top lane and support, and both have been upgraded. Ke “957” Changyu’s strange penchant for Morgana top allowed him to gain a small following in the LSPL for Team WE Future. Yoon "Zero" Kyungsup is more talented than Ke “Conan” Yi and quite vocal in team communication, so it only remains to be seen whether he will gather his old motivation.

Retained carries Su “xiye” Hanwei and Jin "Mystic" Seongjun have obvious flaws, but their ability to succeed in solo queue might improve their competitive play in the looming early game focused meta. Xiang “Condi” Renjie’s obscene 86% first seven week kill participation on Masters3 made it clear he bolstered his old team’s otherwise non-existent early game and should complement his new solo laners well.

Substitute jungler Wang “wushuang” Haili has a near complete lack of competitive experience, but has already shown strong synergy and communication with WE in National Electronic Sports Tournament. Neither he or Condi will fill Lee “Spirit” Dayoon’s shoes, but they could provide a radical style change that makes the squad operate more as a team.

WE cannot continue to fritter away practice opportunities, however, or their new players won’t develop quickly enough for the team to become more than just “potential.”

Top 3

The top 3 in Group A make it the fiercer group. Snake’s and QG Reapers’ status as new organizations means they have focused more on using the regular season efficiently and practiced hard. Though their rosters didn’t have the highest degree of overall talent, they still placed near the top of the LPL standings last year because of defined styles and stronger team play.

Then there’s LGD.

Snake

It’s hard to anticipate the roster Snake will start this season. Korean jungler Kim "Beast" Joohyun left the team after feeling discouraged over failing to escape Diamond 1 on the Korean solo queue ladder. Given the importance of team-jungle synergy and the very different style of Liu "ZZR" Yuan, committing to one jungler should allow Snake to cut down on some of their problems with erratic or unclear early game behavior. Unfortunately, ZZR is far away from eliminating his glaring invasion errors.

Li “Flandre” Xuanjun remains one of the team's main draws in his leadership and top lane carry style. It’s hard to imagine him fading from the roster any time soon. The unfortunate thing is that there seems to be some kind of power struggle between Flandre the coach, as he more often than not ends up picking something terrible in the meta — or the team in general commits an unfathomable drafting transgression. Until they get a better pick-and-ban coach, this will always be Snake's greatest flaw.

The pseudo-rivalry between Tan “Martin” Qi and Yang “kRYST4L” Fan remains. I would never say that either player is particularly good at laning, but kRYST4L’s preference for longer range sieging champions and his AD carry-centric mentality is probably the better choice in the new year. Martin frees up the team to let Flandre and Ceng “U” Long perform, but doesn’t have the same power as kRYST4L who, despite his reckless positioning and his style forcing Flandre into the background, can really focus a team’s strategy.

Park “TANK” Danwon poses the largest confusion on Snake’s roster. TANK boasts a similar champion pool and style to previous Snake mid laner Lu “BAKA” Fan, who is taking time off to rest. U proved to be an upgrade to BAKA in every way, and TANK’s games in Champions last year suggest he would serve as a downgrade to U’s increasingly well-rounded play.

Adding TANK to the roster for the sake of keeping the “Korean buddy system” in place would seem like a mistake given how well U’s team fighting focus currently complements Flandre. Perhaps TANK will develop into a monster, but for now adding him to the lineup could break Snake’s position as a top three Group A team.

QG Reapers

Though the acquisition of Jian “Uzi” Zihao was the biggest move in a Chinese offseason that honestly seemed to revolve entirely around him, manager Li “LinkO” Linke has told reporters that Uzi won’t start for the QG Reapers immediately. Uzi will continue to only play in scrims until they find a way to either adapt the team to him or get Uzi to adapt to the team.

While the prevailing narrative seems to indicate that QG’s existing roster plays to the level of the opposing team, it seems more likely their style of comebacks and the inconsistent nature of Baek “Swift” Dahoon forces most games to be close, regardless of opponent skill level. Uzi could provide a stronger early game or unravel the team entirely if Swift, Bao “V” Bo, and Uzi make for too many aggressive “all-in” players.

QG have also signed Bae "dade" Eojin as a substitute, according to fomos. It's unclear whether he'll work his way into the starting lineup the same way the QG Reapers have suggested Uzi will. King of Spring dade could work well with QG's team fighting system, but it's hard to imagine Swift getting himself out of trouble without Doinb. King of Spring dade has also long since retreated into the shell of Retirement Home dade.

Recent hints from Chinese reporter Pijie also indicate QG may add ex-SK Telecom T1 jungler Im "T0M" Jaehyeon to the growing roster. T0M could create some of the diversity that the team will need to properly field Uzi.

For more details on my thoughts on how QG will develop, check out my holiday roster change article. In general, I think QG’s level-headed approach contrasted with LGD Gaming’s tendency to use regular season inefficiently might allow them to take first in Group A before the Playoffs. I'm still not completely sure what to make of StarCraft Master Coach Park joining League of Legends, but I expect him to at least keep a level environment for the team to practice.

LGD Gaming

Despite a general consensus that paints Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan as a top lane upgrade and his status as the 2015 World Championship MVP, skepticism persists. LGD Gaming have a very different team dynamic from SK Telecom T1, and MaRin may not slot in easily. Both Choi “Acorn” Cheonju and Lee “Flame” Hojong had excellent performances in the LPL prior to Worlds.

Aside from MaRin, the team did upgrade their jungler in Xie “Eimy” Dan. Though Eimy has similar inclinations to over-aggression, he has many voices on LGD Gaming to guide his decision-making and may improve with time. He and Lee “Heart” Gwanhyung address very serious needs of the team in a stronger jungler and more consistent coaching presence.

Public issues with LGD not using scrims efficiently have arisen from statements from other LPL teams and GODV’s own pseudo-bragging around intentionally feeding in scrims. LGD’s mentality may be the biggest obstacle they need to face in order to succeed in Group A and transition that success into both the Playoffs and international results.

Group B

Prior to accepting his new position as Managing Director of EDward Gaming, Coach Ji “Aaron” Xing described Group A as more teamfight-oriented, while Group B may have teams with a more strategic approach. When I look at Group B, all I see is EDward Gaming, possibly Royal Never Give Up — and everyone else.

Everyone Else

OMG

In a recent interview, OMG’s management discussed their desire to raise new talent. This will likely prove the best approach available to them, given the conflict of star players and big personalities in the previous season. S1mlz seems like a shadow over AD carry Yan “bei” Hong (previously “North”) who showed possibilities of a large upside in the Demacia Cup last year, and keeping S1mlz on the bench will inspire some confidence. At the moment, however, the team that first drew me to habitual LPL viewing looks like relegation material.

Zhu “TBQ” Yongquan has joined OMG, but the LPL Week 1 roster list suggests he cannot play until Week 2 at the earliest. Despite Wang “Fishball” Yu having no competitive experience outside Energy Pacemaker F, a team that did not even compete in TGA, I have more confidence in rookies developing than TBQ.

Yang “Dark” Jubao played on OMG’s LSPL team, Oh My Dream, to mixed success. Oh My Dream had a difficult group in the LSPL this past summer, and the team mostly relied on mid laner Son “HARK” Yejun to do the heavy lifting, but that means Dark is somewhat used to the dynamic of an assassin-oriented mid laner.

If you look closely, you can see the dead soul through his eyes.

Yu “cool” Jiajun had a particularly rough 2015 with both his own play and conflicts on OMG, but his decision to stay on the roster and the recent return of some of his specialties like Leblanc and Twisted Fate mean that he’s in a position to make a comeback. OMG will need him to drastically return to form if they want to remain in the LPL this year, but optimism is low.

Support Liu “5” Shiyu will seek to improve his champion pool, but his preference for engage supports means that he might serve as a pillar as the rest of OMG’s rookies come into form.

It’s probably not worth noting that OMG have acquired Luo “BSYY” Sheng, a Chinese coach, after dropping their Korean coaching staff following problems with communication and expectations. BSYY doesn’t have the most impressive reputation for efficiency, so this means almost nothing to me.

Hyper Youth Gaming

At the end of the group draw, HYG manager Niu “54” Guohua told Duowan that his first reaction was to cry. Since other teams in Group B have undergone changes, he may feel a sense of relief, as it isn’t out of the question for HYG to even place as high as third in Group B.

Following the addition of Ye “march” Jiabin (previously Milky of Kx.Happy), HYG’s biggest pain points are their solo laners. Both AD carry XQ and Xu “ss17” Zhao played for LGD Gaming in 2014 summer, but ss17 still has persistent problems adapting to his top lane role. As top lane Fizz in the LSPL, ss17 could dominate games, but his impact fizzled on other champions, and he is likely to flounder completely in a more competitive top lane LPL environment.

Shin “gosu” Hyuk is a complete unknown, signed as a free agent Korean mid laner. During offseason events, Hyper Youth Gaming ran ex-Positive Energy mid laner Kan “JoJo” Yiutou, who, despite previously winning the LPL, has definitely lost his shine. Until more information on gosu’s competitive playstyle becomes available, one should expect HYG to continue to perform as a bottom lane-centric team. With the additions of two of the most promising LSPL AD carries to the league, the Chinese AD carry role could see a small renaissance by the end of the year.

54 also told Duowan that they wanted to sign two Korean solo laners. In future weeks, a Korean top laner may join the team, ideally giving them more dimension on the top side of the map. Until then, HYG will continue on as the XQ show. Luckily, this is a good meta for aggressive bottom lanes.

Invictus Gaming

It's actually nearly impossible to find a picture of RooKie in which he isn't smiling

Most League of Legends Pro League followers understand that the source of their headaches has a 70% likelihood of being Invictus Gaming-related. Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon is all-but-confirmed to not be rejoining the roster, and until iG find a suitable free agent replacement, Ge “Kid” Yan will take over as the starting jungler.

Yes, that throbbing behind your temporal lobe is precisely the feeling.

Kid may have previously rotated with Liu “Zzitai” Zhihao as a mid laner and AD carry, but has no previous competitive experience jungling. iG fans can only hope the new role somehow clicks for Kid the way AD carry hasn’t for him recently.

Tang “Time” Jintai will replace Kid full time as the AD carry. Despite his single impressive game on Kalista, Time has failed to excel before or since. If he can tap into that form on other champions and have a repeat performance, maybe iG have a chance to break Top 3. I don’t see him and Liu “Kitties” Hongjun as up to the task.

Song “RooKie” Euijin will have to put more pressure on himself for iG to stay in Playoffs contention with this roster. Zzitai has continued to develop as a top laner, but both he and RooKie will have to play more calculated to boost the rest of the team. It’s a good thing RooKie likes being a well-loved streamer, because that may be all he has this year.

Vici Gaming

Despite the addition of Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon and Choi “DanDy” Inkyu returning to the jungle, Vici Gaming has received an overall downgrade. With three developing rookies and the guidance of DanDy and Cho “Mata” Sehyoung, Vici Gaming sat in a good position for this year.

With the unexpected shuffle of Pi "Xuan" Xiaoxuan to Unlimited Potential, Vici Gaming have lost their best AD carry prospect and stuck with Xu “Endless” Hao, who has been responsible for the worst Miss Fortune ultimates I’ve ever seen.

While Peng “Peng” Yibo is no Easyhoon, he showed an impressive ability to target well in team fights, and he finally represented a solid talent prospect for VG. Duan “Duan” Deliang may have a future, but he’s been promoted straight form Vici’s Academy team and won’t provide the control and synergy with DanDy that Mata represented even at his most tilted.

DanDy has looked lost after his return to the jungle during the offseason. He will need to hover around Zhu “Loong” Xiaolong, who will serve as the team’s best shot at a carry player. Easyhoon’s stability will allow him to create a control point in the center of the map, which could give DanDy better options for moving in the jungle.

At least Vici Gaming’s new uniforms remind me of XGames and microbrews.

Top 2

Royal Never Give Up

To get the obvious joke out of the way, they really don’t. With the final additions of Choi “inSec” Inseok and Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen, this will mark the pair’s third iteration of a Royal Club team in three splits. For their sake, let’s hope it’s the first to not find itself relegated, or there’s really nothing to be said for the former League legends and their current form.

Neither NaMei nor inSec are guaranteed to play in the starting RNG roster. Given the presence of Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok and Mata on the team, inSec may not start until Summer when he earns his Chinese status — if he starts at all. Jungler Liu “mlxg” Shiyu’s recent gains have helped lead the all-Chinese squad to offseason heights, though this still may not amount to much in the LPL.

More interestingly, RNG are one of the few teams to make a fuss about their coaching staff changes. The signing of Kim “Fly” Sangchul may not seem impressive to those who followed Team Impulse last season, but when very few LPL teams have even publicly announced their new coaches, it shows that at least RNG are making an effort to acknowledge that the LPL has lacked in infrastructure. The return and retention of Kim “vicaL” Sunmook, who helped coach Royal through their 2014 Worlds run, leaves me more optimistic.

To read the full lowdown on my conservative expectations for RNG, find my holiday season musings, and remember, this team is RNG; LA Renegades were told they had to use REN.

EDward Gaming

On this day, we gather together to mourn the death of EDG’s dominance.

Not really, I’m just less confident they’ll be unshakeable with Coach Aaron stepping into more of a management position. Jung “RapidStar” Minsung has received a lot of recognition for his analysis videos, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us how strong of a coach he will become, especially with so many teams reporting problems with Korean coaches and drastically different expectations. Aaron gave every indication he will return, stressing his break is “temporary,” and that his main reason for taking time off is to search for why China has failed in international competition.

Shek “AmazingJ” Waiho has moved to the LSPL so EDward Gaming can focus more on building strong synergy with core members. In a recent interview, Ming “Clearlove” Kai discussed EDG’s increased emphasis on healthy lifestyle and taking some breaks to prevent Koro1’s and Heo “pawN” Wonseok’s back problems from resurfacing.

Clearlove also mentioned that notorious “mascot” substitute, Zhao “Fireloli” Zhiming will train more seriously this year as a jungler. According to Clearlove, he asked the team and Fireloli to prepare him so that he can rotate in the roster to increase Clearlove's own pressure to perform. While Clearlove expects he can play at least two more years in strong condition, he doesn’t want to hold the team back, and he expects EDG to think about the future. As a result, in less high pressure matches, fans should expect to get a taste of what Fireloli can bring to the table.

Aside from wishing Koro1 and pawN stronger health, Clearlove also mentioned Kim “Deft” Hyukkyu’s struggles with his mentality and hopes the bottom lane can stabilize. With changes to Essence Reaver, Deft should be in a good position to play his favorite cooldown-based AD carries like Lucian and Ezreal.

Despite EDG’s poor showing in Summer Playoffs and the World Championship, they have been far and away the most consistent LPL team for the past two years. With the meta swinging more into their favor with a bottom lane focus and faster games, there’s really no sign that that’s about to end.

The Shakeout (Power Ranking)

1: EDward Gaming

2: LGD Gaming

3: QG Reapers

4: Snake

5: Royal Never Give Up

6: Team WE or Vici Gaming

8: No one cares.

Comparing Groups, Group A has more top contenders. I think EDward Gaming is still the tournament favorite, and with more access to better scrim partners in Group A, they shouldn’t have a problem maintaining their form, despite Group B’s lower tier teams.

LGD Gaming, QG Reapers, and Snake should follow EDward Gaming in the final standings, with Royal Never Give Up as my choice for fifth. Team WE and Vici Gaming may duke it out for sixth, and the rest are irrelevant. Despite Snake and QG Reapers setting a trend for over-achieving LSPL teams, Energy Pacemaker All and Hyper Youth Gaming don’t have the juice to repeat their success.

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

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