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All-Engage: an in-depth look at the Rox Tigers

by theScore Staff Feb 18 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Twitch / LCK Spring 2016 / Riot Games

Six seconds was all it took for ROX Tigers top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho to lock in Alistar for his star support as their first pick against e-mFire. This choice was no surprise to anyone who had watched the Tigers this split. Of his 15 games going into the e-mFire series, GorillA had spent 11 of them on Alistar and only lost two for an 82 percent win rate. After two more games on Alistar that day, this win rate rose to nearly 85 percent.

e-mFire picked up Corki and Nidalee in their first rotation, leading the Tigers to immediately seize Lissandra and Nocturne. These two champions, along with the rest of the Tigers’ composition, were picked with no hesitation. It took ROX Tigers less than one second of deliberation to decide on their remaining picks, opting for an all-engage composition as soon as Corki and Nidalee appeared. Every champion chosen had some form of hard crowd control or initiation with Kennen top, Nocturne jungle, Lissandra mid, Ashe AD carry and Alistar support.

“We picked it as a counter because the poke meta has been popular recently,” mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng said following the match. “We came to play it because it was decent in our scrim results. It was a composition where we survive the early game and engage after the mid game to win. We’re on our own to deal with the early difficulties.”

Early difficulties are not something that the Tigers have had to deal with much this season through their undefeated series streak, although they plagued the team throughout last year. The Tigers’ former jungler Lee “Hojin” Ho-jin failed to create early pressure. Due to their exceptional team fighting prowess and overwhelming synergy, the Tigers overcame opponents in the mid-to-late game. However, eventually teams began to exploit this weakness, and the added complication of patch 5.5 and Cinderhulk did not agree with Hojin as it did with other Korean junglers — namely SK Telecom T1’s Bae “bengi” Seong-woong.

In Champions Spring 2015, the then-GE Tigers initially stormed through Korea with an 11-win unbeaten streak in best-of-three series before falling to KT Rolster in Week 10. This came on the heels of a humiliating loss to Team WE at the IEM Season IX World Championship in Katowice. Adding insult to injury, the Tigers were later crushed by SK Telecom T1 in the most lopsided Champions final to date, only to be outdone by SKT’s blanking of KT Rolster in the summer last year.

At the 2015 World Championship, the now-KOO Tigers looked in rare form with Smeb, GorillA, and AD carry Kim “PraY” Jong-in all making the highlight reels. Unfortunately, early jungle pressure continued to be a sore spot for the Tigers. At the World Championship, Hojin had a -5.2 CS difference at 10 minutes, third worst of all junglers in the tournament, and was an average of -48.6 gold behind his opponents at 10 minutes. This is in spite of the KOO Tigers having the fifth best overall gold difference at 10 minutes with 884. The Tigers made it all the way to the finals where they faced off against returning adversary SK Telecom T1. While they used Hojin in other ways — team fighting, initiation thanks to a Zac pocket pick — rather than applying early pressure, their inability to have any sort of early pressure in lanes or the jungle was an easily exploited weakness. Even in games where SK Telecom T1 gave the Tigers an early advantage — including a career Lee Sin performance from Hojin — they came back using the Tigers’ usual modus operandi: late-game skirmishing and objective control.

Resigned to fix their lack of jungle presence, the Tigers acquired the Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho, previously of NaJin e-mFire. Peanut’s time on NaJin was highly contentious as the organization showed inexplicable loyalty to veteran Cho “watch” Jae-geol over the talented rookie, citing attitude issues on Peanut’s part. Upon joining ROX, many wondered how he would fit on a team that was already so close-knit, especially with his brash, oft-reckless nature.

Surprisingly, Peanut has fit in exceptionally well on the Tigers, showcasing instant synergy with his new team. He has added a much needed punch to their early game, and the Tigers’ late-game team fighting coordination has yet to suffer. Similar to their hot start in Spring 2015, the now-ROX Tigers are riding another undefeated streak which currently sits at seven undefeated series. Peanut has been unstoppable, consistently in his opponents’ jungles. He is tied for the second-best KDA (5.3), and the highest first blood participation rate (65 percent) of any Korean jungler in 2016. The Tigers’ early game is significantly improved with Peanut in the jungle and sit atop Korea with the highest average gold difference at 15 minutes (1900), and highest first blood rate (88 percent). On the back of Peanut’s aggression, the Tigers additionally have the strongest dragon control rate of any team at 72 percent, additionally taking the first dragon and baron more than any other team in Korea. With this style of stifling pressure, it’s difficult to imagine any team besting the Tigers anytime soon.

Their aforementioned all-engage attempt against e-mFire offers a well-worn blueprint of how to beat ROX Tigers while simultaneously demonstrating the overwhelming strength of Korea’s best team. Placed onto Nocturne, a champion that requires farm to be effective, Peanut’s presence in the Tigers’ early game was notably diminished, making the 2016 Tigers look more like their wait-until-late-game 2015 counterparts.

One of the Tigers’ notable weaknesses is their vision control. Much of this is exacerbated by the fact that their games are naturally shorter, which admittedly could affect their overall wards per minute. However, even with their decreased game times, the Tigers are overwhelmingly the worst warding team in Korea with a mere 3.27 wards placed per minute. This starts in the jungle with Peanut, who only places 0.46 wards per minute, the worst of any Korean jungler by a relatively large margin — e-mFire’s Kim “Crush” Jun-seo is the second-worst at 0.61.

The running joke is that Peanut doesn’t have to ward as he is a “living ward” who terrorizes the Tigers’ opponents in their own jungles. This works when Peanut is on the likes of Elise, Kindred, Nidalee and even Graves, the latter of which also requires farm, but whose burst allows for early aggression. Provided that Peanut is killing opponents or applying pressure to his lanes, pushing them ahead of their adversaries, the Tigers don’t suffer from meager contribution to their vision game. However, placing Peanut on a farming champion like Nocturne drastically reduces his effectiveness in becoming a “living ward.”

Instead, his required ramp-up time allowed for e-mFire to invade Peanut’s jungle in attempts to stop him from farming. The lack of available vision kept the Tigers from knowing where e-mFire was on the map, and e-mFire took advantage of this, trying to kill Peanut while farming. Immediately prior to this skirmish, Peanut hit the all-important level six, acquiring his ultimate, Paranoia. Unfortunately for e-mFire, initial skillshots onto Peanut missed, and he additionally shielded Lee “Edge” Ho-seong’s Lux damage with Shroud of Darkness. This leaves a window open for the Tigers to coordinate their first team fight with their all-engage composition.

GorillA engaged onto Crush and e-mFire support Kim “GuGer” Do-yeop, and the rest of the Tigers aside from Smeb descended on e-mFire in unison. It took less than a second for GorillA to engage, PraY to fire Enchanted Crystal Arrow and Peanut to pop the Nocturne ultimate, casting the map into darkness. Only one more second was required for KurO to enter the fray from the mid lane, later following up with a flash-ultimate onto GuGer. Their target selection was a bit questionable — as Braum, GuGer was a less than ideal target on which to blow their cooldowns — but their coordination was terrifying. The Tigers exited this skirmish trading two kills to e-mFire’s three, a lost battle that was still demonstrative of their team fighting prowess. Their fights became significantly scarier for e-mFire throughout the game, especially with Smeb’s Kennen joining in on the fun and ulting the squishy e-mFire backline.

Ultimately, this composition showcased the Tigers’ audacity and synchronicity, while simultaneously pointing out just how important an aggressive Peanut is for their early game. When another team finally does beat the Tigers, it will most likely come from taking Peanut out of the game completely, and capitalizing on the resulting lack of early pressure along with the Tigers’ vision holes.

Against the inferior competition of e-mFire, the Tigers took this all-engage arrangement of champions out for a spin and were not punished for it. It’s doubtful that they would run this against a better team, but that doesn’t take away from the few points to be gleaned from this performance, which could aid other teams in taking the Tigers down later on this season.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She really doesn't want Peanut to change his playstyle, but she still wishes that he'd ward. You can follow her on Twitter.