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Kelsey Moser's LPL Roundup: Optimism comes when all you can see is up

by theScore Staff Feb 1 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Bryan Helm / theScore eSports

The first round of the LPL has ended; every team in Group A or B has played every other team in their group. At the finish line, Royal Never Give Up took an abrupt nosedive into Invictus Gaming, EDward Gaming failed to express even the bare minimum of lane swap understanding, and people still aren't banning Lee Sin against Zhu "Quan" Yongquan after the World Championship.

Yet I'm more optimistic about the LPL than I was last week. If you recall, at the time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Now there are teams showing signs of improvement from week to week, young Chinese junglers bring up teams before their last gasps, and a whole new round of mathups after the break. There's a lot to be pessimistic about in the LPL, but there are ways to get some air every once in a while.

Top 3 takeaways

Snake eSports has the best lane swap game in the LPL

I've spoken positively about Snake's ability to eke out leads through lane swaps before while also lamenting their inability to close. That's still very true, but Snake have yet to fail to secure a lead in lane swapping so far, and as a result, they've begun to at least attempt to execute a lane swap every game in which they play. QG Reapers intentionally let them run circles around them as Snake secured three turrets in the first 15 minutes to QG's single structure, amassing a three thousand gold lead in the first twenty minutes.

If only they could actually bring it together and finish a game. While proficient lane swap and fast push technique hasn't given Snake more than a 3-2 record in their group, it may turn out to have a positive impact upon the teams they face. Teams like EDward Gaming really don't seem to have any idea about how to execute an optimal 3v0, and they benefit from colliding with Snake in Round 2 (as well as having a strong scrim relationship with the organization). Snake are suffering from serious cohesion issues in team fights that they may fix with time, but even if they don't, other teams will hopefully benefit from the knowledge they've mysteriously managed to stockpile.

High skill and head-on collisions aren't going to cut it

What do OMG and Invictus Gaming have in common? Most of their players are actually really bad — and they've both managed to give top Group B teams, EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, uncomfortable games.

Even if they don't have the talent to top their groups, iG and OMG work together well. Both teams focus resources and vision around a talented mid laner (whether it be Song "RooKie" Eujin, the now undisputed king of the LPL mid lane, or Xie "icon" Tianyu, recently discovered prodigy dredged up from a team that failed to make it out of groups in the LSPL qualification tournament) and do what they can to get him ahead while their role-swapped top laner split-pushes. I actually couldn't hold in my laughter last week when Liu "Zzitai" Zhihao and Hu "xiyang" Bin adamantly refused to use their Teleports to do anything other than return to lane while they took turns shoving one another out.

Royal's cockiness from demolishing iG after Ge "Kid" Yan's terrible invasion went awry and a bottom lane skirmish exploded backfired horribly when they gave iG both Corki and Gangplank in Game 2. After that, they couldn't scrape together enough coordination to stop iG from ramming them through the mid lane and taking the series. OMG exposed EDward Gaming's lane swap deficiencies and enjoyed heavily punishing Heo "pawN" Wonseok, showing him OMG still have the knack for finding the best green Chinese mid laners — even if they have recent questionable taste in bottom laners and junglers.

OMG and iG won't be the kings of the LPL with the rosters they have, but they're screaming a lesson that EDG and RNG need to hear: "you can't just beat us with better players anymore; you need to actually put it together convincingly."

QG Reapers are actually good

I've avoided heavily complimenting an LPL team so far, so as soon as I show QG my approval, they're sure to implode hilariously. In their set against Snake, QG Reapers demonstrated they had enough knowledge of the lane swap meta to predict Snake's actions; they just didn't care. QG allowed Snake to lap up early game turrets while they left Yu "Peco" Rui farming the frozen top lane on his own. They warded defensively and didn't push out too far to tempt ganks while their high scaling team composition farmed.

Then they did QG things, and Peco received his first MVP for the split.

Following their slow dismantling of Snake, the team played with Jian "Uzi" Zihao for their final game of the first round. The increased pace had a lot more to do with Baek "Swift" Dahoon's choice of aggressive jungle champion than Uzi's inclusion, but QG showed they don't need a lead or to take it slow to destroy Snake.

Their wanton disregard for lane swaps and insistence on freezing likely won't work against a team with an AD carry that doesn't think he's also a tank (I mean Yang "kRYST4L" Fan, not their new Korean mid laner who has actually decided to call himself "TANK"), but QG's play suggests that they don't really do things in their games that they didn't intend. Of course, they don't intend to give up kills, but they manage to do that as little as possible, and they aren't like Royal and EDward Gaming, who rely on their high skill players like crutches.

QG aren't the best team in the world, but they're pretty good right now. It's time to acknowledge that.

Weeklies

Each week, in addition to major themes, it's time to chronicle the best games, the best series, and the things that make the LPL the LPL. Not everyone has time or inclination to watch every game, so it's best to unveil the cheat sheet.

Series to watch

This was a really hard choice, seeing as I liked a lot of single games this week, but not any series in its entirety. So far, one team seems to lose momentum in a dragging way over the course of three games, and it's disappointing. Maybe that's something playing best of threes every week can fix.

I ultimately decided upon the final series of the week between QG Reapers and Snake eSports. The first game of the series was my favorite game played this week for Snake's lane swap prowess and QG being QG. Game 2 was exceptional domination from Kim "Doinb" Taesang's Viktor and a cute "Welcome Back" play from Snake jungler Liu "Zzr" Yuan's Elise to Uzi's Ezreal.

This series should satisfy both the more refined palate and the excitement craving.

For the pickier connoisseur:

Not everyone enjoys everything, so for the more selective individual:

Hard carry performance: Tong "Koro1" Yang in EDward Gaming vs Oh My God, Game 2

This game shouldn't have been so hard. There's no reason this game should have been so hard. pawN's Zed seemed to heal enemies in fights rather than deal damage. clearlove's Elise probably makes Zzr cry, given how much Zzr has claimed to look up to the pig-raiser, and I think Tian "Meiko" Ye mentally checked out at some point.

Kim "Deft" Hyukkyu still performed solidly on Miss Fortune, but against OMG's team composition, he wouldn't have gotten an ultimate off if not for Koro1's play on Tahm. Koro1 has shown why his team fighting is so effective; he can slip in and out of fights and use Teleport to maximize his tanking, a style also used by Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu in Europe. Koro1 snatches up this title after RooKie held it two weeks running.

As an honorable mention, Jin "Mystic" Seongjun had fantastic Ezreal kiting and team fighting for Team WE in their first game against Snake, but he had more help from Yoon "Zero" Kyungsup, who still plays the flashiest Braum, and Xiang "Condi" Renjie, whose jungling improves every week. WE looked good across the board in the latter stages of that game; Mystic just looked the best.

Map play game: QG Reapers vs. Snake eSports Game 1 (see above)

I've already discussed how I don't think QG Reapers' intentional ceding of turrets will work long term, but it's still a strategy they intended and executed. Snake also showed very powerful understanding of objective priority. Even if they couldn't close, their early game looks strong, and this is a nice game to watch for that reason.

Blowout: Royal Never Give Up vs Invictus Gaming, Game 1

This game had LPL caster Indiana "Froskurinn" Black espousing Royal Never Give Up's virtues on Twitter before the laughable collapse in Games 2 and 3. While Royal still have definite flaws, one thing they don't have a problem with is holding momentum after a lead. Sometimes Royal don't have the best early cross-lane coordination, but when they do, they wipe the floor.

Nail-biter: Team WE vs Snake eSports, Game 1

I enjoyed this game far more than I probably should have. From Snake's strong early game to Condi's Baron steal to Mystic and Zero's near-immaculate font door defense to the gorgeous team fights from WE, this game just makes me wish both these teams were actually good. Alas.

Mindless fun: Royal Never Give Up vs Invictus Gaming, Game 2

Have you ever wondered what a first rotation red side Corki-and-Gangplank pickup looks like? What about a Last Whisper Lee Sin? A complete 20 minutes of dominant 1v1 outplay styling followed by an extremely fed Zzitai comeback? Pretty much this.

Just completely awful: Vici Gaming vs Hyper Youth Gaming, Game 1

I'm so sorry, Vici. You aren't doing well. Luckily for you, neither is Hyper Youth Gaming.

MVP: RooKie

Two teams won two series this week. One was EDward Gaming, who faced two of the easier opponents in their group and probably should have done better. The other was Invictus Gaming, who managed to go from a week both of our LPL-following staff writers expected would end in an 0-2 to a "how did they even do that" finish in two series.

The answer is always RooKie. Just don't let him have champions in general. If possible, make him play scuttle crab. Or river bush. Invictus Gaming sit, miraculously, in second place for Group B after the first round. Someone give this man a raise.

But, Kelsey, he already makes more than

Give it to him anyway.

"That's so China" Pick: Nautilus

Who still plays Nautilus? The LPL. And LMS, of course, but definitely the LPL.

Unfortunately, I wish LPL teams wouldn't play Nautilus. Koro1 started the Spring trend in the EDward Gaming loss to Invictus Gaming. He used it to push out top lane and roam to compensate for the lack of jungle pressure generated by Zhao "Fireloli" Zhiming. Bao "V" Bo gave Nautilus his first win in an interesting lane swap concept that allowed Peco to free farm a solo lane as Miss Fortune.

Other teams just seem to be playing it because they need a tank and think wave clear is appealing. I can't fault them, but Nautilus is outclassed by other tanks populating the rift that deal more damage, and he can't duel well with the likes of Fiora. LPL top laners love tanks, zoning, and hard engage and always seem strapped for a source of wave clear with the mid lane love of assassins, but unless you have a very good reason for Nautilus, look elsewhere.

10 series in 10 words or less

For the TL;DW enthusiasts:

1. iG vs VG

DanDy loves Rengar. Rengar doesn't love DanDy anymore.

2. EDG vs HYG

The return of the KDA king. pawN's daring darts.

3. LGD vs M3

LGD lost to ex-Winterfox Imagine playing top lane.

4. Snake vs WE

Scaling Ezreals smash. Ban Gangplank. Counterpick top.

5. iG vs RNG

Want to hear a joke? Royal's draft phase.

6. EDG vs OMG

EDward Gaming can't lane swap. Koro1-Deft team fighting A+.

7. VG vs HYG

Tower dives are funny when they feed supports.

8. M3 vs WE

Flagship team still better than logo flipped team.

9. LGD vs EPA

LGD capitalize on EPA not being able to close.

10. QG vs Snake

QG, you know you won't get away with this forever.

Standings Summary

Placement Group A Score Group B Score
1. QG Reapers 5-0 Royal Never Give Up 4-1
2. Snake eSports 3-2 Invictus Gaming 3-1*
3. Team WE 3-2 EDward Gaming 3-1*
4. Masters3 2-3 Vici Gaming 2-3
5. LGD Gaming 1-4 Oh My God 2-3
6. Energy Pavemaker All 1-4 Hyper Youth Gaming 0-5

*EDward Gaming and Invictus Gaming finish their series Feb. 21, iG are one game up.

It's always disheartening to see newly promoted teams sitting at the bottom of the standings. The LPL hasn't had this problem in quite some time, but with EPA's loss to LGD and their sharing of the same score, they bottom Group A. Hyper Youth Gaming hold the unique designation of "free win," having not won a single best of three. Both these teams have a somewhat intelligent concept of how to play the early game, but neither can close, and neither have the skill and coordination needed for late game team fights. Both these teams have new and promising talents, but lack the experience to hold strong.

I remember that this time last year Oh My God vs LGD Gaming was an anticipated match. While OMG have revamped their roster, I'm not sure what LGD's excuse is. Working Wei "xiaoxi" Lisheng and Choi "Acorn" Cheonju has given LGD the familiarity of the old roster enough to close later team fights, but that's not going to suffice when they collide with EDward Gaming after the break ends. Oh My God has done remarkably well for their lack of talent since adding icon and may yet rise through the standings.

Previously, I mentioned I didn't understand why OMG would bring in Quan when Yan "Scenery" Hong existed on their roster. Despite the hilarity of swapping Jang "yolo" Hyeonsu to top lane, where he seems content to play top laners who once served as junglers who once served as AD carries, Scenery has improved M3's cohesion more broadly. Bottom lane still leads the charge, and M3 still suck, but they suck less, and they're currently in contention for the playoffs.

Vici Gaming is really disappointing. Despite a strong top-jungle-mid core, their AD carry still lets them down, and Lee "Easyhoon" Jihoon made more than his fair share of misplays against Invictus Gaming. The Rengar fixation also perplexes, as if Choi "DanDy" Inkyu felt challenged by clearlove's performance the previous week. Maybe VG will get somewhere, but for now they seem to be in the right place.

Team WE has been an increasingly pleasant surprise, especially with Mystic and Zero performing as if they could vie for the title of "best bottom lane in the LPL." Condi keeps wowing on Rek'Sai. Solo laners have shown signs of stunted champion pools, but they've had their own impressive moments, including Ke "957" Changyu's near 1v3 solo of Li "Flandre" Xuanjun from two kills down. I keep saying, "This team isn't good, and they won't be good," but WE could be.

By now, EDward Gaming have to know that not adapting to the lane swap meta won't cut it anymore. I give them until Round 2 to pick it up before losing hope. They still have exceptional team fighting, and clearlove is still a fantastic jungler, but if EDG want to be the best team in China again, they need more than that.

Snake eSports have gone from a team with no early game plan and exceptional AD carry-centric team fighting back in early 2015 to a team with the best understanding of how to amass an early lead through lane swapping that can't team fight at all. It's both exciting and depressing. I still think Ceng "U" Long should rotate back onto the team, but perhaps time will improve Park "TANK" Danwon's synergy and skill. Unfortunately, it seems Flandre and kRYST4L's individual decision-making has remained troublesomely risky.

Ask me after Week 4 what's going on with Invictus Gaming. By then I might be able to say something other than "RooKie" or "better drafting." Even so, both those things weigh heavily in their favor and have made up for considerable disadvantages.

Royal Never Give Up have both three cocky young Chinese players and the shotcaller of a team notorious for throwing from over-confidence or drafting to style on the enemy. This is probably a bad combination, and that showed in RNG's final series against Invictus Gaming this week. Outside these troubles, RNG still need to improve cross-map coordination in the early game. Their current setup with side lane control from Cho "Mata" Sehyoung and Jang "looper" Hyeongsook to create opportunities to make plays from the Chinese players in the middle of the map has a lot of positives. I'm not ready to give up on Royal.

QG Reapers are the strongest team in China. They play against their current competitors, Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming in Weeks 5 and 6. These will be the matches to watch of Round 2. Before then, I'll be incredibly interested in Team WE vs Royal Never Give Up and Snake eSports vs Invictus Gaming in Week 3 after the break ends on Feb. 18.

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

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