To start the season, teams in leagues around the world have struggled to fit together puzzles of already good-looking pieces. The much-anticipated LongZhu Gaming dropped 1-2 to a now undefeated Samsung Galaxy squad that came in with lower expectations, and a shaky Team SoloMid barely scraped a 1-1 record in their first week of the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Based on the players joining these new five-mans, many anticipated they might top the league. At the moment, getting them to work together is like bending the tabs on a jigsaw puzzle.
That is far from QG Reapers’ problem. Despite a lack of lucrative sponsorship in 2015, QG compiled a roster of players whose greatest strength seemed to be the way in which they worked together. QG’s solo laners had not competed in a high level league, and support Zhang “Mor” Hongwei had more of a reputation for dying frequently than for shining as a support on LMQ. The team fashioned a simple method of following the lead of Baek “Swift” Dahoon and layering cooldowns in team fights, even from a deficit, that dragged them from the League of Legends Secondary Pro League to a string of second place finishes in the League of Legends Pro League regular season and playoffs, as well as Intel Extreme Masters Cologne.
During the offseason, QG made several high level acquisitions, most notably, the signing of Jian “Uzi” Zihao and Bae “dade” Eojin. Manager Li “LinkO” Linke made it clear these players would not start for the roster initially. Spectators expected more of the same QG Reapers against LGD Gaming with drawn-out stretches of losing lanes, Swift farming his jungle heavily, and an eventual team fight from behind that would lead to success or defeat.
A very different QG, much more akin to the QG fans saw in the LSPL and the first three weeks of the LPL, emerged. The team’s debut game ended with 20 kills and 2 deaths acquired from diving LGD’s Nexus fountain. Champion picks and the composition complemented the team, playing to their strengths with a high mobility mid and jungle pairing and emphasis on Yu “Peco” Rui’s ability to kite.
QG’s success continued through the rest of the week, branding them and Invictus Gaming as the only undefeated teams (though iG have only played one game). The smiles and handshakes are almost enough to make one forget about the elephant in the room. Well, there are two of them.
What about dade and Uzi?
QG’s recent improvements may have come in part from the bench. Names like dade and Uzi threatening your place on the main roster serve as better tonics than a shot of ginseng. Jungler Swift received a considerable amount of credit for QG’s successes, but in the first game, after his gank on Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan burned a flash, the only lane not up by a substantial farm advantage was mid. Swift then spent the remaining first eight and a half minutes looking for a mid lane gank opportunity as LGD’s jungler Xie “Eimy” Dan doubled his creep score.
Once Swift and Kim “Doinb” Taesang secured a kill against Wei “We1less” Zhen, the map opened. Swift shared gank responsibilities with top laner Bao “V” Bo and support Mor, only participating in three of the total first five kills as the entire map shuddered and folded, as if to give QG direct paths to the objectives they wanted to take. Far from forcing the game, Swift bled his own resources and hardly breathed on the map; the entire team had their way. Vision was well-coordinated with multiple pink wards making their appearance before ten minutes, and the reduction in turret armor made a very real impression.
Unlike QG, dade had a terrible 2015. Though he had strong team fighting as Viktor, he made a positive impact in perhaps one-in-ten LPL games (and that’s being generous). Jungler Xiang “condi” Renjie held Masters3’s limp early game intact, pinging between solo laners to get them ahead when they seldom could actually carry. Unless dade shows something in scrims, in which he has historically failed to to perform, the chances of him appearing soon hardly register.
By accounts, though dade did play, Uzi did not participate in the recent unbroadcasted reserve league matches between QG Reapers and OMG. Uzi also had a considerably better individual performance for OMG in 2015 than dade did for Masters3, so the threat of him appearing on the team feels much more real.
Even the most hardened Uzi fans have to concede that if a team looks this powerful, having shored up weaknesses in laning phase at least for now, it’s undesirable to meddle with QG’s current roster. Adding Uzi could put QG in a similar state to OMG, TSM, or LZ with a flagging sense of chemistry, when QG’s current form makes them look like the best team in the LPL.
That doesn’t mean that QG are perfect. They would likely lose to the best Korean teams, and if QG want to perform well internationally, improvements will become necessary. Swift falling behind in farm from camping lanes and failing to find a kill until eight and a half minutes into the game may be punished by other proactive teams in the LPL.
QG’s series against Team WE could have gone much worse if WE had stronger laners. Jungler condi started the game 4-0, and QG made several poor decisions to take engagements from a numbers disadvantage or without proper vision. They may have simply decided to style on WE, but until further evidence presents itself, one must say QG simply exposed exploitable weaknesses. Despite its creativity, QG’s Game 1 lane swap innovation against WE also had quite a few openings and fumbles.
A roster change probably still isn't answer. Uzi, though a shotcaller, has never been known for the sophistication of his teams' map play. Peco’s CS numbers and lane pressure, even while Mor roamed, topped Gu “imp” Seungbin’s and Jin “Mystic” Seongjun’s without the bonus of the jungle ganks QG's solo laners received. Uzi’s teams have historically started and ended with bottom lane ganks. Uzi could flatten lanes even harder, but as long as Peco stays even or ahead and continues to have self-sufficient team fight presence, one of the largest arguments for replacing him with Uzi and disrupting the dynamic fades.
Rotating rosters have yet to convince me. Even with the best example to date between Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon and Lee “Faker” Sanghyeon, Easyhoon only saw play, allegedly, when the coaches felt Faker wasn’t performing, and he was often trotted out as an afterthought in an easier series during summer when Faker played most games.
Instead, in the case of EDward Gaming, rotating solo laners put more strain on Ming “Clearlove” Kai and the team’s bottom lane and left their dynamic stagnating at the World Championship. So far, I’ve seen nothing to convince me that these aren’t the best and worst case scenarios.
QG may be able to make improvements and cover their flaws with more time and training, rather than a roster change, but that doesn't mean Uzi should be forgotten on the bench.
A ten man roster poses a new possibility. Since the end of 2014, legal sister teams participating within the same league have not been permitted in the five major regions. Teams like Samsung White, Samsung Blue, Azubu Frost, and Azubu Blaze could lead the Korean scene as pairs because they received the best possible practice against one another. While scrimming teams within their own organizations, they didn’t need to hide strategy and could improve each other significantly.
QG, as they are now, have the opportunity to create something similar to the sister team formula — as does the team topping Group B, Royal Never Give Up. Both teams have very talented and experienced players on the bench, and RNG has strong potential talent doubled up in every role.
The reserve league doesn’t offer the same glory as the LPL, but the ability to create two full rosters and have them practice together, tweaking strengths and weaknesses, could allow QG and Royal to play one roster in the main league one week and give the full reserve roster a chance to play the next. In this manner, they can create defined dynamics in two separate teams and allow the best performing roster — not player — to play the most challenging matches in the LPL.
Reporter Pijie has already hinted at something similar with the acquisition of Im “T0M” Jaehyeon when he suggested that dade and T0M would serve “in cooperation.” One of the main strengths in QG is in how well Doinb and Swift work together. Swift’s foolhardy tendencies are masked by Doinb’s willingness to constantly follow him up. A player like dade would probably not serve the same function well, but he and somewhat promising rookie jungler T0M could create a dynamic of their own. Replacing Doinb with dade, even if dade could play as well as he did in 2014, might make the team worse, but building him and T0M as a unit could create a duo with separate strengths and weaknesses.
A roster with dade and Uzi has a fair amount of promise. Uzi’s aggressive nature complements dade’s more sedated laning phase and ability to control team fights: something Uzi has trouble doing on his own when he seemingly decides he can navigate five enemies with crowd control by diving in. If T0M could develop to path well around them, and QG acquired a very low resource top laner and support, a second QG roster just as potent and the first could emerge — maybe.
If dade will continue to coast through mediocrity as he did in 2015, QG should take some time to scout players to build around Uzi. In the past, Uzi’s most successful teams have revolved around peeling for him and channeling resources toward him. A roster like this has occurred at least twice; QG should just avoid conflicting personalities and big egos on their second team.
The downside comes when one realizes that creating a roster with the kind of chemistry QG has is rare. Even in the sister team system in Korea, it barely came to pass that two teams would emerge from the same organization so close in skill level. That’s part of why the Samsung teams could become so powerful. Even with the same resources, other organizations failed to build two strong teams to play off one another.
In this situation, someone with Uzi’s talent will stagnate on the bench, perhaps becoming a full time streamer and meet the same fate as dade. But until QG start to founder and show Peco needs replacing, creating a sister team system with one LPL spot in play is an under-explored possibility. The tantalizing dream of controlling the two best teams in the league remains attractive.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.