Visible direction: Team Vitality's quest for a vision-driven identity

by theScore Staff Jan 27 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

Of the vaunted "Top 4" EU LCS teams, I reserved the most trepidation for Team Vitality. The "hard carry" identity of most the players on the top side of the map could clash. Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema's inconsistencies could drag the team down in important matches. Who will play the Lulu?

So far, Vitality seem undecided as to whether they wish to adopt the "super team" moniker, and they've had games ranging from 27 to 41 minutes with high and low kill counts. It's hard to exactly pin down where they're heading, but one detail everyone keeps raising is support Raymond "kaSing" Tsang's hoarding and dropping of vision wards.

Raymond “kaSing” Tsang places more vision wards per game than any other support in the European League of Legends Championship Series. The shoutcasters have said it. The lolesports Twitter account posted a graphic about it. Yet delving into the UK support’s obsession with Summoner’s Rift pink eye requires more than strict numbers.

But first, some numbers. Vision changes in the new season have eliminated purchasing early green wards to delay sightstone. Ambient gold has also increased, making it possible to ward more with frequent backs to recharge, and so far kaSing has. In his first four games with Vitality, kaSing has placed 1.38 wards per minute to last summer split’s 1.29 on H2K Gaming. H2K’s new support, Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan, sits second in wards per minute at 1.32 through their first four games, but overall H2K has the highest total wards placed per minute in the EU LCS at 3.78 to Vitality’s 3.50. This just means that kaSing takes a greater responsibility in ward share for his team.

WPM breakdowns of all teams tied for first

Top .45 .53 .51 .57 .45
Jungle 1.06 .92 .63 .85 1.18
Mid .47 .42 .60 .40 .44
ADC .48 .39 .35 .40 .43
Support 1.32 1.38 1.26 1.01 1.07
Team 3.78 3.50 3.35 3.23 3.56

The fast lane swap method of taking down all Tier 1 side turrets opens the map early, but many have found Rift Herald and dragons not worth tussling over. This means that, following a lane swap, there’s a lot of meandering and transitioning of player lane assignments without a large quantity of bloodshed until soon after Baron spawns for the first time. Teams will gather in the mid lane to vie for mid Teir 1 turrets, but the popularity of champions like Corki and other AD carries means that this amounts to a poke war rather than a brawl more often than not.

With this information, one can see why warding becomes paramount. Less durable champions make lane transitions through jungle riskier. Covering the map with wards prevents pick offs. H2K Gaming in particular enjoys using their vision to avoid most confrontation, leaving many who drafted Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon in Fantasy League more than slightly disappointed.

Vitality’s most recent 32 minute, 25 kill game against Origen in Week 2 suggests that H2K’s game is not the kind they always want to play. Though Vitality have the same average combined kills per minute as H2K at .49 (the lowest in the league), the way they played their most recent game as well as their first two games in Week 1 show attempts at invasions and engagements. The game against Splyce seemed more the anomaly, as if Vitality knew they didn’t have to force anything, so they didn’t.

Top laner Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet has an established reputation as a carry style top laner over a tank player. He has brought Graves top to the European League of Legends Championship Series. Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm failed to perform consistently in a control mage meta and only truly seems to excel on assassin champions. Shook’s fondness for Lee Sin is almost as famous as his occasionally questionable decision-making on the champion. This team does not want to run tanks, and they don’t want to farm out for late game team fights against tanks either with the scrappy lane-focused compositions they’ve been drafting either.

Vision has become the new objective over which Vitality vies. They have used warding in the early and mid game to create opportunities to force skirmishes. In their first game against ROCCAT, Vitality grouped and tried to four-man turrets before they comprehended the efficiency of only sending three players in a fast push and having the fourth farm jungle. In some instances, they attempted 4v3 dives which didn’t provide positive results, but it showed an early inclination to make things happen before 20 minutes.

Vitality’s game against Fnatic followed a significantly different trend. In this game, they did play a more late game focused Fiora. One might assume they intended to create the lane swap to allow Fiora to farm patiently without the threat of Olaf, but kaSing told the European LCS analyst desk that Vitality wanted the 2v2 lane for bottom lane head-on advantage. Fnatic reversed the swap to their own detriment, giving Vitality their first relatively smooth victory with 10 kills and 3 deaths in a 27 minute game.

Going into Week 2, Vitality had a much more distinct identity in draft, taking Graves, Lee Sin, and Ahri in both games. A perplexing 41 minute game against Splyce seems to buck the trend suggesting Vitality look to win early in confrontations or by getting picks, but it isn’t that Vitality didn’t try to make catches happen; Splyce were always woefully behind and simply didn’t contest them.

kaSing’s warding patterns against Splyce were aggressive. He kept the red buffs and mid lane well covered and backed four times in the first 10 minutes just to pick up wards, building a Sightstone at around the eight minute mark. Shook took advantage of kaSing’s enemy side red buff wards by frequently denying the objective. Yet if one invests that much gold into wards, one probably expects more of a payout than a red buff.

Splyce didn’t take the bait or weren’t completely aware of their spawn timers and just rolled over until mid lane teamfights. At this point, kaSing’s vision created a clear point of control as he kept the lane swept and covered.

Warding habits differed considerably in the early part of Vitality’s game against Origen. Again, Vitality played for strict 2v2s, but unlike against Fnatic, Origen didn’t try to avoid them. Despite a strong invade play that secured Vitality first blood, Origen wanted to win bottom lane and ended up taking an early kill on kaSing and on Shook when he came for a gank (albeit a kill earned from a Kindred bug). kaSing didn’t purchase a sighstone until after ten minutes into the game.

As a result, when Shook went for additional jungle skirmishing against Origen, the area wasn’t as well controlled. kaSing mostly kept vision in the bottom lane to try to claw back into the 2v2, and the rest of the map struggled more. Eventually, however, kaSing and AD carry Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss pushed down the bottom Tier 1 turret and joined the team to take advantage of Kalista’s power in team fights and skirmishes.

This also meant that the wards returned to the mid lane, following kaSing’s patterns from the Splyce game. Wards entered the red buff jungle, and Vitality were able to use the area closest to Origen’s red side jungle near mid lane to great success, winning fights there with picks by Shook when the team could see far down the lane.

It’s hard to draw complete conclusions about Vitality’s playstyle after only four games, but kaSing’s warding seems to be a strong vehicle by which the team seeks to create opportunities. As the game progresses, teams are struggling to find fights to force with more early game focused compositions, as the objectives often aren’t worth it. Even jungle buffs have lost some value with changes to camp gold and experience, but slight advantages snowball hard, and Vitality seem to have the right idea.

The high level of invasive vision and denial can also compensate for some of Shook’s awkward decision-making if it becomes more widespread and consistent across the team. Scenarios where he got caught out taking his own camps as in Vitality’s first game against ROCCAT should dissipate.

Vitality’s execution isn’t perfect.They have expressed gaps in their play both in and out of lane swap scenarios. But the power of transitioning pink wards actively can not only set up vision for invades, but deny enemy vision, making them contest blind. At the moment, deep vision is the most powerful early game objective, and Vitality have a head start in using it to their advantage.

There’s still a long way to go, but so far I’m intrigued by Vitality’s first go at scrapping for an identity.

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