In 1994, a film called Speed hit box offices in the United States. It had a simple, if dubious, premise: a bomb on board a bus would explode if the bus ever slowed below 50 miles per hour. Despite its simplicity, the film was well-received for its sound-mixing and promising cast, and it remains a minor suspense favorite.
Most of this is irrelevant — except for how much the highlight matchups in the European League of Legends Championship Series this week reminded me of Speed. Creative compositions started games at a fast pace, but various twists slowed them down. If teams stopped securing turrets fast enough, the bomb intervened.
The bomb’s name is Baron Nashor.
After several slow weeks spent trying to decipher an indecisive midgame, teams have grown bold. They've learned to use the jungle and keep chipping at turrets. The problem is that making a wrong move can nullify almost all their hard work if Baron comes into play. You can’t slow down. The purple buff looms at 20 minutes, with a 1,500 gold bonus and the promise of more collapsing turrets. But if you slow down, the game explodes.
Unicorns and H2K’s Baron bonanza
H2K began the first game of the week with an intelligent approach. Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski told theScore eSports that Kindred were taken in part to deny Rudy “Rudy” Beltran a comfort pick, but also to create early pressure against UOL. Kindred haven’t been used optimally in many games because they come with a very specific niche — put down the enemy jungler, and hit hard, but don’t try to fight later.
While Jankos has earned a reputation as an extremely aggressive jungler, we haven’t see a lot of that so far this split until this weekend. Jankos invaded Rudy ruthlessly and camped the impact lane between Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu and Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás. The problem is that by Jankos's second visit, Rek’Sai could easily shred Kindred’s papery exterior in a 2v2, making H2K’s players easy targets for assassination.
Unicorns seemed to grip the game, but a quick 1-2 elimination of jungle and top gave H2K a surprise Baron — and Unicorns’ hold derailed, especially when they went for the subsequent Baron. Then it swung again on an Odoamne dive…
You get the idea. Regardless, the takeaway is that Baron has an unwieldy amount of swinging power — it can completely reverse control of the game. It should probably be balanced against another objective in some way, and perhaps this is the motivation behind the upcoming dragon tweaks.
Unicorns and the Baron redemption story
Fnatic collided with UoL on the second day. Early on, the game seemed to swing in Fnatic’s favor when they demonstrated they could pressure multiple lanes at once. Unicorns, who have excelled more at grouping and invading to get picks around a corner, seem constantly overwhelmed by the concept of a 1-3-1, and Fnatic used that to their advantage to get the early turrets, despite their initial (and by now characteristic) early lag in the lane swap game.
That’s when the picks began. With an average gold lead at 15 minutes of just 45, Unicorns have more often made a comeback after the first 10 minutes than they've managed to secure an early lead. Again, they were able to pick off split-pushers in the jungle and get more of a footing.
UoL’s composition seemed designed for Baron buff sieging: Poppy and Alistar to guard the Baron pit, Elise to look for picks, and Corki and Viktor, perhaps the most oppressive sieging and burst champions in the current meta. The Unicorns should have had an easier time closing out, but they did manage to do so effectively, while avoiding the backfiring of the Baron bomb.
Gangplank and the actual bomb
Gangplank appeared in two matches this week as a mid laner, and in both cases the team with Gangplank fell behind. Before Friday’s games, Gangplank mid averaged a 13.8 CS deficit at 10 minutes, but you don’t play Gangplank to win lane (even in the top lane he averages a deficit of 2.6 CS at 10 minutes). Gangplank barrels and area of effect scale extremely well and make late game team fights difficult to navigate. Adding Gangplank to a game decreases the time available to the enemy team.
Let’s say the bus has to go at 70 miles per hour now.
In both cases, G2 Esports and H2K Gaming failed to close out before Gangplank came online. Part of this was the threat of the Baron. Gangplank in conjunction with Baron’s power makes for a difficult midgame trough to overcome. Gangplank’s global makes it possible for him to peel the enemy off the Baron from a different part of the map, and his barrel setup makes it so that cleared vision can easily catch out a team looking to contest.
This was especially significant in Friday’s game between H2K and G2. The Gangplank showed up to Baron fights, and though he ultimately didn’t secure the steal (that was Ezreal), he made securing Baron more untenable for H2K’s teamfight-shy composition.
Vitality: “Baron who?”
Team Vitality should get some attention for best overcoming the Baron bomb. As the only Top 6 team to 2-0 this week, Vitality showed the best acceleration and counter-acceleration form. Their first game against G2 started with a deficit, but scaling split-push/teamfight champions Gangplank and Fiora made for G2’s misery.
The true victory came on the second day against Origen, when the team concocted a strategy that allowed them to maintain momentum throughout the game. Despite a flash-blowing setback early, Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet joined his duo lane top in order to push the turret quickly. This gave Vitality their initial lead, and constant pressure in the bottom lane forced Origen's Paul “sOAZ” Boyer to blow an early Teleport. Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema snatched a fast Herald and rushed bottom lane, where a successful skirmish showed how to use Zilean in a team composition of aggressive squishy champions.
Only one Baron was taken this game, and Vitality used it to compound their gold lead and end the game in a final push.
At the moment, Origen appear to be the most vulnerable of the Top 6, but the key components of Vitality’s strategy come down to constant pushing. Using Graves to force waves down the lane opened up more opportunities for Vitality, and getting the lead in lane swaps gave them enough vision for Shook to open the jungle without falling into Shook-shaped traps of his own design.
To me, this is the way Vitality should always play. Go for the lane swap, get the outer turrets, free up Raymond “kaSing” Tsang to ward and choose skirmishes and turret dives. It suits the players involved and the compositions they want to draft. Vitality was able to apply this method (to an extent) in both their games this week, maintaining enough momentum to avoid the Baron bomb with side wave control and pink ward supremacy.
This is the Vitality I want to see again next week. This Vitality has all the charms of a cult classic.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.