They better not (give up): Several obstacles keep RNG from elite status

by theScore Staff Feb 7 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / LPL Screengrab

When Royal Club allegedly purchased the King and Gamtee spots into the LPL before the 2015 Summer season, they named their new team “Royal Never Give Up.” One cannot properly elucidate the number of ways in which “Royal Never Give Up” (RNG) would prove an appropriate moniker in the coming months as both King and RNG again fell to the Promotion Tournament, and only RNG managed to return for 2016.

After losing star player Jian “Uzi” Zihao and finding themselves unable to field his replacement, Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen, until Week 9 of 2015 LPL Spring, Royal found themselves with a team of players who had apparently lost motivation. After Star Horn Royal Club’s relegation, Royal made a bid and shuffled three rosters around until they appeared happy with flagship team Royal Never Give Up and the new Team King.

Prior to the end of the summer season, previously last place Royal Never Give Up made a strong surge for Playoffs contention, taking games off more impressive teams like the QG Reapers and Snake eSports. Royal returned to the LPL and won two offseason events before announcing major roster changes.

With a ten man roster containing players who have all shown varying degrees of talent at one point in their careers or another, Royal’s eponymous perseverance will again face trials. Royal Never Give Up have secured first place in Group B — they again have a team worth buying an LPL spot over. Yet Royal also faced their first loss. Flaws have built up since Royal’s debut, and addressing them properly will transform Royal Never Give Up into an elite team, while allowing them to stagnate will drive them into mediocrity.

That’s so Mlxg

Followers of my LPL content love to mock me for over-valuing Team King going into the 2015 LPL Spring. I choose to place most of the blame on Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu for King’s ultimate flop, just as I choose to blame him now for one of Royal’s most glaring flaws.

For those unfamiliar with Team King, the original Team King qualified for the LPL in 2015 Spring by placing first in 2014 LSPL Summer. Their roster included Fan “Skye” Qifang, Mlxg (known then as Lonely), Zhou “JS” Yixiang (referred to in the LPL as “Assassin,” now known as “Sask,” a member of Royal Never Give Up’s reserve team), Wang “noheart” Cheng (AKA wuxx or wuxxin), and Le “LeY” Yi (support for Royal Never Give Up’s reserve team).

During the offseason between the 2014 Summer and 2015 Spring splits, King practically demolished events they attended. They placed top three in nearly every offseason tournament (seven in total), barely losing to anyone outside EDward Gaming. Mlxg’s proactive jungling earned him an award as the player with most potential during the 2014 End of Year LPL Demacia Cup ceremony.

Mlxg playing on the Team King that first qualified for the LPL

Mlxg defined Team King in many ways. In strings of finals and semifinals between late game team fighting powerhouse EDward Gaming and Team King, individual matches went something like this:

Proactive warding from LeY lit pathways for Mlxg to gank bottom lane repeatedly. 30 minutes into the game, Team King would get baited by EDward Gaming’s Baron tactics with upwards of a 10K gold lead. Mlxg would dive headlong into EDG, EDG would win the fight, take several of King’s structures, and pressure forward slowly to win.

Watching the same games repeatedly with little development from King should have been the first sign that something terrible plagued the team, hindering their chances for success. Strangely enough, Mlxg’s throwing tendencies didn’t hold Team King back in the LPL. King allegedly traded out their coaching staff for Samsung coaches, and Team King very suddenly became a tepid glass of water. They didn’t do much of anything in game. Mlxg and LeY’s proactive play and smart warding vanished, and Team King games were an exercise in waiting to lose.

Mlxg’s aggressive nature made King powerful in the offseason, and it suddenly vanished as if he had had a crisis of confidence. Every once in a while, he would reappear as if doused with icewater, have an impressive game, and then fall asleep again for the next series.

The jungler didn’t bear the only blame for King’s apparent stylistic disconnect. Skye showed champion limitations. The Irelia wonder attempted Jarvan IV and other carry picks without finding considerable success on anything outside Rumble. Assassin’s ceiling only appeared under precise conditions, and his own passive farming nature seemed more of a burden without Mlxg and LeY to carry the early game.

Royal’s acquisition of King came with roster changes in an attempt to revitalize the lagging all-Chinese team. Royal retained the jungler and bottom lane of King for Royal Never Give Up’s Summer split, but changed out the solo laners for Gamtee’s Yan “letme” Junze and Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao. letme had demonstrated a high rate of improvement from the LSPL through the LPL, and xiaohu had big expectations as a young prodigy who only joined Gamtee after several weeks in the split, having turned sixteen, LPL’s minimum legal age for participation.

Mlxg’s defining Mlxg qualities remained dormant. Royal seemed to slide lower and lower in the standings until Week 10 of the LPL. Relegation appeared all-but certain.

In Week 10 of the LPL, Kim “vicaL” Sunmook, Korean coach of Star Horn Royal Club during their 2014 World Championship run, returned to the Royal Club organization. Whether by coincidence or having achieved proper motivation with a staff change, Mlxg reappeared. His invasive tendencies and early ganking once again turned heads. Though some of it was as risky as ever, he seemed to pull it off enough to drag Royal into ninth place, where they sought to defeat Vici Gaming in Week 11 to vie for eighth.

It didn’t happen, but Royal appeared to have regained the spring in their step for good. Mlxg’s diligent practicing of Nidalee paid dividends when he learned to land Javelin Tosses. Top laner letme also came into his own with new picks hitting the meta during offseason. The duo dragged Royal to wins in the National Electronic Sports Open and World Cyber Arena.

Since I’d seen this before, I remained skeptical of Mlxg’s newfound resourcefulness. Even with his aggression turned back on, he still had his same old flaws. His eagerness to fight, regardless of the situation, remained intact, but letme accompanied him as a buffer to Mlxg’s questionable sense for violence.

Royal’s unveiling of their new ten man roster left questions. While Jang “Looper” Hyeongseok paired with Cho “Mata” Sehyoung could unlock Looper’s old sense for Teleports, the letme-Mlxg duo appeared important for Mlxg’s continued success. On Vici Gaming, the combination of Mata and young Chinese players didn’t work as well as peanut butter and jelly, as signs of Mata’s frustration came out his champion picks and apparently tilted behavior.

Mlxg seemed like a talent Mata could reign in if he had the patience for it — but that was the question, wasn’t it?

The early lead conundrum and the map sandwich

So far, Mlxg has demonstrated every single one of his old problems to varying degrees on the 2016 iteration of Royal Never Give Up. High farming picks like Graves have given way to his old passive tendencies. He has looked for engagements at awkward moments and, most importantly, Mlxg doesn’t ward — at least not as often as other top tier junglers within the first 10 minutes of a game.

Royal Never Give Up have started to fall behind in their early games, starting in Week 2 in the series against OMG and Hyper Youth Gaming. Despite Looper’s current reputation as a top laner who has rediscovered his lane dominance, he averages a slight creep score disadvantage to his opponent (-1) at ten minutes, as does mid laner xiaohu (-1.58). Part of this comes from a struggle to adapt to awkward lane swap decisions (when HYG met Royal’s lane swap rotation after their duo lane took the first side lane turret with their own duo lane, Royal stalled out). Part of this comes from Mlxg’s low ward coverage in the jungle.

Whatever can be said about Ge “Kid” Yan as a jungler — and there are a lot of negatives — he wards. His careful coverage of the river between mid and top lane in the third game between Invictus Gaming and Royal Never Give Up meant Kid had a higher rate of kills per gank than Mlxg did.

Royal Never Give Up have demonstrated a strong ability to convert early leads into victories. When they win early, Looper and wuxx create a relentless 1-3-1 push that frees up Mata and allows him to place deep wards with Boots of Mobility. Looper and Mata’s communication means Looper’s Teleports become more exact when Royal need to contest objectives in the mid and late game. Mid game has become their strongest phase in a match, which is a rarity in the current meta, as most teams seem completely confused regarding what they need to do after first tier turrets fall.

In the first game between Invictus Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, Kid made a foolish attempt at an invade. Mlxg secured a quick first blood at two minutes and 45 seconds. Then Invictus Gaming’s bottom lane engaged without vision of the jungler. Mlxg, confident and nearby, fetched the team two more kills.

When a team has a gold lead, vision becomes less of an issue. The enemy team has to put themselves further behind to secure wards in hopes of getting a pick, and the winning team invests more in damage to combat surprise duels; they can ward with extra pocket change. If Royal have a lead, Mata has more freedom to roam, and he handles the lion's share of responsibility for keeping the map lit. Royal create a smart map sandwich with Looper and wuxx (sometimes xiaohu) pushing out waves so Mata can secure deeper vision.

Zz1tai is as committed to split-pushing as Looper, which exposed weaknesses in some of Looper’s 1v1 capabilities if the enemy top laner remains even in farm. Mata’s jungler doesn’t ward. This hasn’t been a problem for him for most of his career, as he’s been paired with Choi “DanDy” Inkyu, but for now that’s one of the most troubling things about Royal.

Even if Mlxg keeps all of his other flaws, he can fix this one. So long as Mlxg chooses to farm passively on Graves, he can buy a vision ward. Or a Tracker’s Knife. I won’t entertain an explanation for Mlxg building a Stalker’s Blade on Elise when he doesn’t even have the appropriate vision coverage to use Chilling Smite in a mid lane gank.

Royal No Good at drafting

The amount of revisionism that goes into recollections of Samsung White boggles the mind. I've heard people refer to them as "calculated," or "controlled," when that often flew in the face of the very spirit that propelled the 2014 World Championship team to their victories. When Samsung White would demolish their opposition, they slipped into drafts that made little compositional sense for the purpose of “styling” on the enemy. Game 3 of Team SoloMid vs Samsung White at the 2014 World Championship comes to mind.

Mlxg and wuxx especially seem to be blatant offenders when it comes to a need to style, but Mata and looper haven’t shown the greatest restraint in picks and bans either. Let’s just agree to call it a bad combination.

In Game 2 of Royal Never Give Up vs Invictus Gaming, after forcing the team to surrender in Game 1, Royal gifted both Gangplank and Corki to iG on red side in their first draft rotation. While Mlxg’s Lee Sin pick ensured that the team kept strong pressure around the map, Royal played as if they had decided to use the game to blow off steam. They went for risky dives and seemed happy with a death or two as long as they made the kill trade under circumstances that were fun for the audience to watch —

Did I mention Last Whisper Lee Sin?

Kill trades ended up working against Royal. Though Invictus Gaming fell behind in farm initially, they stayed in the game with kill trades and a well-lit river. The power of Corki and Gangplank in conjunction forced Royal into a Game 3 where drafting disasters continued. wuxx selected Vayne against Dr. Mundo, but found himself unable to get into a fight with Poppy, Kalista-Braum and Viktor obstructing his path. Looper’s Nautilus top could only stand to get shredded when Poppy and Kalista acquired sufficient items.

Though the primary offense in these games was a lack of ward coverage in the early game, not drafting, drafting definitely didn’t help. This isn’t the first time Royal ran a questionable composition this year. Against Hyper Youth Gaming, Royal went for a composition I like to call “the pimple popper,” given that the only reasonable use for Quinn-Graves-Leblanc-Tristana-Alistar is jumping repeatedly at someone’s face. Mata bore the brunt of damage as the sole tank while Royal looked for picks against a Hyper Youth Gaming team that seemed intent on remaining grouped.

Whether it’s a compulsion to pick all damage compositions or “bm” the opposition by letting them have two of the strongest solo lane picks on red side, Royal need to work out the kinks in their draft. They just aren’t good enough win by “styling” — yet.

Where there’s a wuxx, there’s a…

To close the week, the QG Reapers debuted their elite AD carry, Uzi. The team trotted him out for one game after they defeated Snake eSports in Game 1 in a controlled, high farm match. Those paying attention to Royal’s recent performances might start to look more closely at the AD carry they have on the bench.

While it may still be too early to invoke the name of the AD carry who played with Royal in two relegation tournaments in a row, wuxx, like Mlxg, has a glaring flaw or two that has brought down Royal’s success in a specific phase of the game. Mlxg needs to ward more to bolster late game, but wuxx needs to tone down the eagerness in team fights.

To open the second game against Hyper Youth Gaming, Royal Never Give Up traded one death for two kills, setting them in good stead. wuxx appeared to do everything he could to try to change that as he dove to secure kills he had no chance to finish in lane and looked for ways to use Rocket Jump to open fights.

While playing Miss Fortune against Invictus Gaming, wuxx had several of his ultimates canceled. This either resulted from a lack of communication as to when wuxx should ult or his own poor judgment, but he seemed to try to ult to start every team fight rather than holding it for when key enemy cooldowns had been used, and he couldn’t be interrupted.

As I've already mentioned, wuxx’s Vayne game probably resulted in one of the lowest post-game damage screens for a single player in the LPL this year. He couldn’t get into position or tumbled too eagerly into 5v5s.

wuxx isn't a bad player, as he's demonstrated a high ceiling in the past. In Week 1 in particular, wuxx navigated team fights against Vici Gaming exceptionally. He had strong highs throughout 2015, but his Vayne obsession and over-confidence have also gotten him caught and cost his team. Despite his form in Week 1, wuxx has since looked like the weakest individual performer on Royal Never Give Up. With the team’s tendency to play around side waves, he doesn’t have to commit as hard as he does to fights. More reserved play will win Royal more games.

This task is both easier and more difficult to accomplish than Mlxg’s warding requirement. One has to wonder whether wuxx has it in him to just be.

They better not (give up)

The addition of Mata has brought more cohesion to a team that had already registered on the talent scale. Royal Never Give Up is home to some of the most talented young players from Team King and Gamtee, and they now have a sense of direction if Mata has the patience to direct them.

Mata’s frustrations with Vici Gaming made themselves very apparent. Royal Never Give Up has more talented and experienced Chinese players, but they’re still young players with some of the same tendencies for "creative" individual demonstration of skill. Looper and Mata are no strangers to the “need to style” as of their time on Samsung White.

Mata and Mlxg are both alleged to have dominating personalities. This could be a great combination — or an explosively disastrous one. Royal Never Give Up have real but very fixable problems. Royal play against rising Team WE immediately following the break. The form they put forward will say a lot about just how much perserverence the new Royal possesses.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter, where she'll continue her love-hate relationship with Mlxg's playstyle.