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Only one king: The quest for the EU LCS' best team

by theScore Staff Feb 10 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Korea has the Tigers. North America has Immortals. The LPL looks to the QG Reapers. Even ahq e-Sports Club, who played a series against eXtreme Gamers eSports Club this week that LMS analyst Clement K. Chu described as the lead-in to the year of the clown, sit undefeated atop the LMS ladder. That leaves Europe as the only region that can’t seem to crown a figurehead.

Fnatic, the once-and-future kings of the European League of Legends Championship Series, have stepped aside. Though they have struggled in the past during the regular season (their losing streak in the 2014 EU LCS Spring Split comes to mind), Fnatic's difficulties this split feels more real. This could be the second ever EU LCS split that ends in victory for a team not called Fnatic. It’s almost as if their sudden abdication has left a void at the top without a clear successor.

As if by design, the two most prominent candidates for the EU LCS’ top team have the number two in their names. G2 Esports and H2K Gaming have risen to the top of the standings with identical records and will play each other for the second time on Friday. The match probably won’t settle the debate, regardless of victor. It’s almost impossible to say that one team is clearly the best Europe has to offer when their strengths and weaknesses are near polar opposites.

If the EU LCS had to choose a representative to attend the Mid-Season Invitational today, the answer, “Well, there are two teams atop the EU LCS” wouldn’t suffice. As Bruce Springstein said of Elvis Presley, “There have been many contenders, but there is only one king.”

It’s my self-appointed task to find Europe’s reigning Elvis.

Of course we blame the jungler

The difference between G2 Esports and H2k-Gaming's playstyles comes down to their junglers. That’s not to say that one jungler plays a certain way, and so the teams have decided to adapt their playstyles off their cues; it could be the other way around, but how each jungler plays out the early game is quite indicative of H2K’s and G2’s respective playstyles.

Both H2K’s Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and G2’s Kim “Trick” Gangyun are very active parts of their team’s warding, and they share the nearly unique distinction (barring the two games played by Unicorns of Love’s Charly "Djoko" Guillard) of outwarding some of the EU LCS supports in sheer numbers. While one might raise the objection that it’s easier to have an influx of gold when teams gather early leads, as H2K and G2 often tend to do, Trick in particular places 1.11 wards per minute — a number that surpasses those of supports on the region's Top 4 teams including his teammate, Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal (1.07).

Trick is very heavy on the side of farming or counter-jungling, as he and Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov lead the CS@10 rankings for junglers by averaging 4.8 CS over their opponents per game. G2 also lead in jungle share cleared per game at 55.8 percent, meaning that, on average, G2 clear 55.8 percent of all jungle creeps in each of their games.

Despite this, Trick also has a relatively high kill participation at 73.5 percent, again only surpassed by Djoko among junglers who have played in the European LCS this spring. He’s been ganking early, which was part of why Udyr seemed like such a strange champion pick for him in G2’s previous encounter with H2K as The Spirit Walker typically looks to farm out the early game rather than take a more proactive approach to lane presence.

I'm willing to go on record and call Trick EU LCS' best jungler

Simply put, Trick looks like a better jungler than Jankos in almost every way. He wards slightly more often (Jankos averages 1.01 wards per minute with a longer average game time). His ganks seem to yield kills or summoner burns more often (Jankos spends a lot of time looking for ganks in lanes over actually ganking). He often finishes with an experience and CS lead over his opponents (Jankos averages a CS deficit at 10 minutes of 6.1, the lowest in the league among junglers; he often also finds himself at a level disadvantage 10 minutes into the game).

Yet Jankos has one thing over Trick: vision denial. Jankos and H2K’s playstyles tend to revolve around denying vision to their opponents. H2k-Gaming clear 1.37 wards per minute, leading over every team except Fnatic. Jankos in particular clears .56 wards per minute, ahead of every other player in the LCS except UOL’s new jungler, Rudy “Rudy” Beltran, who has only played two games.

In diligently observing Jankos’ early game habits, I’ve noticed that though he tends to spend more time than his opponents looking for ganks or conducting inefficient ganks, he also spends a lot of time killing wards (even early on). Some of this is supplemented by early sweeping lens purchases, but most of it comes from savvy pink warding or smiting the raptor camp — his low smite rate is reflective of him often choosing to save smite for raptor camps. On average, Jankos kills 2.375 wards in the first 10 minutes of every game. This is an endeavor that usually requires a good understanding of opponent warding habits.

This emphasis on vision denial seems to come at the cost of experience and gold for Jankos in particular. As a result, it’s easy to see why H2k-Gaming is more skirmish or team fight averse in the early to mid-game. Junglers will often be involved in skirmishes early on. A skirmish between a team with Jankos and a team with Trick might not go favorably for the team with Jankos when small differences in itemization can have a huge impact.

Luckily for H2K, their own warding and vision denial system allows them to avoid many early confrontations. H2K often have superior map knowledge in game. All of Trick’s warding may only succeed in satisfying Jankos’ sweeper lust as he prunes the G2 vegetation with whirring red LAZORs.

H2K focus on creating opportunities with smart lane assignments around their opponents, sending AD carry Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou to lanes where he can access creeps and turrets, which seem to be his favorite things ever — besides winning.

By contrast, G2 love early skirmishes. While H2K use their vision/vision denial formula to skirt fights, G2 welcome them. They seem to be relatively unconcerned with clearing wards because they want you to find them. G2 sometimes appear to over-commit to objectives, staying longer in taking turrets or Rift Heralds to bait the enemy team into coming, where they’ll set up flanks and snowball their leads astronomically off the extra kills in addition to objectives taken.

Trick’s diligent warding gives direction to a mixed language roster, and it lets the team know when the enemy approaches a siege so they can turn easily. G2 became the first team in the EU LCS to play Corki in the mid lane so they could swoop in and burst down targets, even with a poke composition. Step one is to look like you’re over-staying your welcome, step two is to blow them off the map with your bait tactics.

When the situation calls for it

When H2K have to fight, they often don’t do so until the late game, which leads to high kill participation values across the board for the team. Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan’s 80.4 percent kill participation is only topped by Chres "Sencux" Laursen’s staggering 88.3 percent (literally nothing happens on Splyce without him). Outside of Sencux, H2K’s current solo laners lead kill participation numbers in their roles. Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu, surprisingly for a top laner, sits in the top ten of EU LCS kill participation rankings with 75.5 percent. Marcin “SELFIE” Wolski is second for mid laners at 75.9 percent. Even Yoo “Ryu” Sangook sits in the Top 4 for EU LCS mid laner kill participations at 72.7 percent. Jankos sits within the Top 4 for junglers at 72.5 percent, and FORG1VEN has the lowest kill participation on his team at 69.6 percent. Each of H2K's players has at least a 70 percent kill participation (rounded up), which is symptomatic of late game team fighting teams, despite H2K’s tendencies to secure early leads.

H2K find themselves forced into many of their fights. Sometimes FORG1VEN’s low kill participation numbers have been the result of him being targeted early. H2K have insisted on running poke compositions, which underutilizes FORG1VEN’s strengths without enough peel for him against hard engage teams. In the recent kill fest Elements game, H2K exposed themselves with unusually low bottom lane ward coverage or over-confidence, which resulted in several close exchanges in the mid-game.

While Jankos has often been relegated to vision secure duty, Odoamne’s smart Teleports have handled a lot of the map pressure, leading him to be involved in more kills than Jankos. Historically, Ryu has acquired a lot of H2K’s kills by utilizing wards and invading the jungle to assassinate targets, opening up H2K’s map to allow them to move for objectives.

As a result of a mixed identity and fixation on poke compositions, the late game may be H2K’s weakest phase, and they lack the confidence or jungle farm for forcing mid game skirmishes. Part of their late game difficulty comes from drafting compositions to avoid fights, but ultimately having to force them in the enemy team’s base to win, where they struggle slightly despite gold leads.

G2’s pain points are much more strategic. As in their game against Unicorns of Love, G2 have demonstrated difficulty in mastering team fights against teams with multiple Teleports. They’ll go about committing to objectives to force fights without counting on the immediacy of the double Teleport. This has forced G2 into more back-and-forth games than H2K.

When G2 Esports have been slow to take the lead, it’s partly been a result of bottom lane focus. If Kim “Emperor” Jinhyun secures Kalista, the team places more focus on getting him ahead over Luka "PerkZ" Perković. If the team doesn’t play around PerkZ, he doesn’t completely dominate, and the enemy team has a way into the game. Yet G2 come together much more coherently in late game team fights around Kalista, and PerkZ’s ballsy positioning never completely excludes him from the action.

A slowness to adapt to the lane swap meta has also plagued G2. Sometimes Trick’s eagerness to engage in lane has given teams easy knowledge of his whereabouts, allowing opponents to rotate to separate parts of the map. Origen recently took advantage of G2’s poor rotational sense to get picks and create midgame advantages form resulting turret takes before a poor Baron play cost them. G2 seem most at home when they’re fighting grouped, and H2K’s easy spreading across the map and sense for lane assignments provides a sharp contrast.

The mid lane elephant

So far I’ve written 1772 words without mentioning the Ryu vs. SELFIE question. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve yet to close the article in disgust, as this seems most fundamental to the discussion of H2K’s strength. Far from being a bad player, SELFIE is stylistically different from Ryu, almost as much as G2 differs stylistically from H2K.

On the analyst desk following Week 4, Day 1, VandeR told the broadcast team that SELFIE is less self-sufficient than Ryu. A strong mechanism for H2K’s play last year was Ryu’s own initiative to find picks in the enemy jungle. Like Jankos, Ryu averages the most wards cleared per minute among players in his role at .23 so far this split. If one watched Ryu play assassins last year, one would notice his tendency to enter the enemy jungle, use a sweeping lens to ensure he had no eyes on him, and set a trap for his opponent. This allowed H2K to transition to a turret or a dragon for free.

SELFIE is much more the team fighting mid, and his marginally higher kill participation reflects this, but it also reflects Jankos’ attention to mid lane. Even with Ryu, Jankos focused around 60 percent of his ganks in the first 10 minutes upon the mid lane. This seems to be a remnant of his time on Team ROCCAT when Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm was the primary focus of ganks. By VandeR’s description, it will again become a necessity as a result of SELFIE’s presence on the team.

In discussing the Elements game, I mentioned H2K’s uncharacteristic lack of bottom lane vision, but Elements also focused mid lane more often than usual. SELFIE found himself the unexpected target of pressure from Berk “Gilius” Demir, who typically tends to prioritize ganks to side lanes. SELFIE died or was forced back multiple times in the early and mid-game, which made it much harder for H2K to make plays. In bottom lane fights, SELFIE also often arrived later than Elements mid laner Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire.

Jankos and SELFIE have also demonstrated a lack of synergy. When Jankos has attempted to force mid lane ganks, it has seemed more awkward than his gank attempts on other lanes, with special note of the recent gank attempt against Splyce that seemed the result of a miscommunication. SELFIE appeared to have recently lost 30-40 percent of his health in trade. Either he didn’t communicate this before Jankos dove, or Jankos expected he would take the risk and dive anyway.

When I say SELFIE is a huge downgrade for H2K, I don’t mean that SELFIE is a considerably worse player relative to Ryu. While Ryu performed exceptionally in his first two weeks — and I think he’s performed better than SELFIE overall — SELFIE has demonstrated a great deal of skill on other teams in the past. I just don’t think he’s currently the right mid laner for H2K. Given the system they have in place with Jankos sweeper botting and solo lane self-sufficiency being of high value, SELFIE is an under-emphasized downgrade, and you don’t have to insult the player’s talent level to say that.

And then there’s PerkZ. It’s easy to call him the best mid laner in the EU LCS for his commanding control of the lane and ability to press the edges of a team fight. On the very first day, I noted that G2 understand that that’s where most of their carry power lies. Unlike H2K, G2 have playing around their mid down by rote. It’s hard to measure up to that.

G2 do have some weak points in their roster. Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek didn’t express proficiency with Lulu, and PerkZ’s Lulu stalled out G2’s game against ROCCAT. If Lulu is left up, it could fall through the cracks for G2. Kikis also cannot be relied upon to provide the same game impact as Odoamne, and as Odoamne continues to impress, his rise could leave Kikis wanting in Teleport play, split pressure, and team fight positioning.

G2’s bottom lane have made several disconnected plays. Emperor looks like the most disassociated member of the team, and he and Hybrid will sometimes mistime engages. Hybrid has burned flashes to chase a target while Emperor farms, and Emperor has gotten caught out in the river without his support.

There’s just something about G2 that makes the team look like a powerful unit when they’re all in the same place. It washes the laning phase disconnect away. They time cooldowns, they focus the proper target. PerkZ pushes the threat line. That same effect doesn’t happen for H2K.

The verdict

The biggest point to raise when discussing how H2K stack up against G2 is that G2’s only loss is actually to H2K. The counter point is that G2’s drafting has drastically improved since then, and H2K’s single loss was to Fnatic.

The headless, confused, support switching Fnatic that almost lost to Team ROCCAT this past week. Yes, that Fnatic. Europe’s abdicating monarch Fnatic.

With Ryu, H2K Gaming are the best team in the EU LCS. The cogs work together. Every piece knows its function. H2K can avoid confrontation with their system until the late game where, though they might fumble, they won’t fumble enough for most teams in the EU LCS to take enough of an advantage to reverse the situation. H2K may win slower at that point, but they’ll still win. G2 won’t bait H2K into a fight because H2K will just find the better objective to take instead.

Without Ryu, Jankos’ sweeper-obsessed, low farm tendencies become more of an issue if he cannot countergank or properly synergize with his mid laner. If it almost worked for Elements, you can be sure SELFIE will have a giant target on his back in this weekend’s match. Besides, it's hard to imagine G2 won’t gank for PerkZ at this point — barring Emperor securing Kalista. At the moment, the scrappy, mid-lane centric team that uses Google Translate to communicate and knows how to force mid game fights is the best team the EU LCS has to offer.

None of this means either team will attend MSI at the end of the season. Europe’s kings (Fnatic) and their ex-teammates (Origen) have a habit of figuring out their problems at the right moment and topping the league anyway. I may have less faith in them this split, but it’s hard to completely discount Vitality or Unicorns of Love either.

But at the moment Europe is unique in that their league is home to two princes. That level of heightened competition may serve to make their king stronger in the long run.

"Thank you very much."

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She's usually good about answering her Twitter in case you want to complain to her about her article.