There’s a time-honored LPL tradition of ignoring what makes sense to the rest of the world’s League of Legends teams. The LPL took a break from this tradition last year. For a while, it made them stronger, but then, when their understanding of the strategies they were applying was tested, they buckled. Top teams haven’t recovered, and the LPL has gone back to doing what they do best: standard lanes, team fighting, and going for the outplay.
The top teams in Group A and B of the LPL have achieved their results by finding work-arounds. Breaking down how QG and Royal find their advantages, as obscure and counter-intuitive as they may seem, provide the best way of understanding their chances at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship. LPL send two of their best to compete on the world stage. This is the finest chance they have of redemption, but a Chinese victory is far from a done deal.
Royal Never Give Up and “Baron or Bust”
Given LPL’s team fight-oriented nature, they almost always have a Baron team, or a team with a playstyle that primarily revolves around securing Baron buff as early as possible by setting up vision and team fights around the pit. This year, the most obsessed Baron team is Royal Never Give Up, averaging the earliest first Baron time in the league of 25 minutes and 44 seconds. The league average is nearly three minutes longer at 28 minutes and 43 seconds.
In games where Royal Never Give Up secure the first Baron before their opponents, they have a 100% win rate. This is even higher than in games where they secure the first inhibitor, where they only have a 91.67% win rate. Royal’s preoccupation with Baron has been a huge boon and a weakness for them. They’ve used it to turn games from behind against OMG and Hyper Youth Gaming, but they’ve also lost to Team WE as a result of their Baron fixation when Xiang “Condi” Renjie successfully stole the buff from them multiple times in their series.
One may have expected Royal’s defining characteristic to be their early game control with the recognition jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu has received. Indeed, Mlxg is a central part of Royal’s success, averaging 20.58% of team gold per game, more than 1% above the league average of 19.24% for junglers. Mlxg teeters between high pressure early game and passive farm style almost without explanation. His most successful pick, Graves, has seven wins and zero losses, averaging 4.89 CS per minute, which is high for many LPL junglers. During Graves games, Mlxg rarely ganks.
In fact, in the first three weeks of the LPL, Royal Never Give Up averaged a gold deficit at 10 minutes of -140 gold. This value has steadily improved, reflecting the team’s ability to better play off their 2v2 lane. AD carry Wang “wuxx” Cheng averages a CS lead of 5.5 at ten minutes, putting him at second place in the LPL among AD carries currently starting for teams for CS leads at 10 minutes. Much of this momentum runs off Cho “Mata” Sehyoung’s ability to pressure the opposing 2v2. Royal’s first win against QG Reapers in Week 5 of the LPL resulted from Mata’s ability to push Yu “Peco” Rui and Zhang “Mor” Hongwei out of lane.
Royal Never Give Up have been able to take their first turret on average at 10 minutes and 49 seconds. This puts them at the third earliest time in the LPL, which is impressive for a team with a lane swap rate of only 33% (meaning they have only been in a situation where they have played with a different number of players in the top and bottom lane to the enemy team after the first quadrant clear of the jungle in 33% of their games). Taking this turret allows them to play off the momentum for early skirmishes and rotations to pressure the mid lane.
This playstyle has resulted in mid laner Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao having the second lowest percentage of team gold of any mid in the LPL at 22.73%, as he often begins ceding farm early to wuxx or Mlxg. Both xiaohu and Jang “looper” Hyeongseok have received less emphasis within the team as they become more bottom lane and jungle centric. looper farms side waves to create split pressure and looks to Teleport in when the team sets up for Baron.
Royal focus on setting up to leads to take advantage of Baron. This simple formula has yielded them the highest gold lead at 20 minutes at 2,000 gold on average, a statistic that has persisted throughout their time in the League of Legends Pro League, even when they averaged a deficit at 10 minutes.
Lane swaps are rare in the LPL, but as their frequency has increased with more exposure to Snake, the lane swap enthusiasts of the LPL who have played a swap in an astounding 80% of their games, Royal have begun using scouting wards more often. If they suspect they will be swapped on, they will send their 2v2 top. This resulted in more games where Royal send their duo lane top than games in which they play a lane swap.
Royal Never Give Up have a simple formula. This formula is relatively easy to predict, which is why QG seemingly succeeded in baiting out Looper’s Teleport in the second game they played. When QG showed signs of reversing the lane swap by pretending to back in the bottom lane bush, Looper Teleported in eagerly. QG immediately turret dove for first blood.
Of LPL teams, Royal also have the most interest in Rift Herald, picking up the earliest Rift Herald in 56% of their games. They will take the buff after their first turret and rotate to the mid lane with it, a strategy that other LPL teams haven’t picked up on.
Undeveloped parts of Royal’s strategy include jungle and support synergy. Mlxg and Mata will invade the enemy jungle, but rarely as a duo, leading to more misplays from Mlxg and Royal’s occasional tendency to fall behind.
Royal’s most successful champion has been Graves, but other power picks include Poppy, Alistar, Leblanc, Kalista, and, surprisingly, Tristana. Royal have a 100% win rate on four Tristana games played. They will go for the pick with Kalista denied for her early lane trades and Baron potential. This only occurred on Patch 5.24, however. Following the break, the team has stopped picking Tristana and moved onto Lucian.
I don’t rate Royal very highly overall. A lot of their power is lost in execution or poor drafting. The team will pick “style” drafts full of assassins and AD carries or give up power picks easily. Despite their recent 2-0 result against QG, I favor QG’s chances of success at IEM better, as Royal’s win conditions are fairly one-dimensional and easily abused.
QG Reapers and the slow, but Swift death
Unlike Royal Never Give Up, QG Reapers average a consistent gold deficit at 10 minutes of -470. The only team with a worse average gold deficit at ten minutes is last place Group A team, LGD Gaming at -550 gold. QG have only had a gold lead at ten minutes in five of the 14 games they have won so far this split.
Yet QG have also only lost three games so far. Their 0-2 defeat against Royal Never Give Up is only accompanied by their single loss to Vici Gaming. QG turned around the VG series in Game 3, ending it in 22 minutes, the shortest and most decisive game of the LPL split so far. It was one of the five games they played where they secured a gold lead at 10 minutes. When I asked Peco why he believed his team lost Game 2, he simply said “We knew we could win Game 3.” I can’t argue.
As with Royal Never Give Up, QG’s jungler receives a high percentage of team gold. Baek “Swift” Dahoon is the only jungler in the league to receive more of his team’s gold than Mlxg at 20.8%. His most effective pick is Rek’Sai, as he’s had a 73.1% kill participation in seven Rek’Sai games played, and a 67.4% kill participation on average for 2016 LPL Summer. His playstyle on Rek’Sai differs drastically from Graves, the other jungle champion QG have picked in more than five games this split, in that he is much more proactive in the early game. With Graves, Swift opts to farm through the initial phase of the game, creating QG’s fairly unique approach to lane swaps.
Rather than opt into a typical swap by trading first tier turrets in the side lines well before the first ten minutes are up, QG will agree to trading one turret — the first half of the swap — but then send their AD carry to the lane in which they lost their turret and leave him to freeze the wave and farm. During their games, QG will sometimes juggle a double freeze in both top and bottom lanes. This strategy takes several forms.
For example, in Game 2 against Royal Never Give Up, QG pushed up the bottom lane while Bao “V” Bo froze the top lane. The team forced Royal’s top laner, Looper, to react by rotating him to meet the wave, but then the team simply dove him. V eventually pushed up the wave to the turret, and Jian “Uzi” Zihao had the opportunity to freeze.
Against Snake, QG juggled simultaneous lane freezes after losing the entire first ring of turrets early. This strategy works because of QG’s understanding of minion wave timing and ability secure a lot of vision. Giving up turrets early allows support Mor to roam frequently. He is much more suited to warding and making roaming map plays than laning in the 2v2, where he sometimes chooses questionable trades and drops health.
By executing these minion-based strategies, even with a total gold deficit at 10 minutes, QG have averaged modest CS advantages at 10 minutes on their top laner, jungler, and AD carry (to clarify, Peco averages a CS lead at 10 minutes in 13 games played, but Uzi does not in his 4 games played) with only Kim “Doinb” Taesang lagging behind. This keeps the team competitive in non-global gold so they can be effective in team fights later on. From this perspective, an understanding of wave control features heavily in sources of QG Reapers’ improvement.
QG’s freeze fixation is exhibited by their reluctance to take turrets. The team averages both the latest time at which they take their first turret (13:04) and the latest time at which they take Rift Herald (if at all, as they often ignore the buff and have only taken it in three of their games) at 18 minutes and 26 seconds. Rather, seeming to not understand how to react to the lane swap meta like many of the teams in the league, QG apparently make the conscious decision to trade early turrets for wave control and CS.
Despite this slow early game phenomenon, QG flip the switch eagerly at around 20 minutes. QG average a gold lead at 20 minutes of 380 gold and use their vision to begin picking fights around choke points. Both V and Doinb have made use of Teleport to get flanks. V and Swift engage effectively.
QG favor scaling champions for team fighting like Ezreal, picked in 10 of their games, and Viktor, picked in six games. They also often select Braum as an anti wave clear champion to hold lanes or Alistar for engagements and self-sufficient tanking with low gold distribution. Mor averages the lowest percentage of team gold in the LPL at 9.65%.
At the moment QG decide to come together, they rely on long death timers to plow through objectives. Though QG take the latest first turret on average, they kill their first inhibitor at 30 minutes and 55 seconds, the second earliest average in the LPL behind Invictus Gaming’s 29 minutes and 20 seconds.
Though they also are tied with LGD Gaming for the lowest first blood rate in the LPL, QG invest into dragons to supplement their team fighting. They have the second highest dragon control rate at 60% and also secure the first dragon of the game in 61.11% of their games, but pay poor attention to other early game objectives. QG use vision to prop their own playstyle, and when the execution pays off, they close efficiently. Despite their recent losses, they still have a 100% win rate on securing the first dragon, Baron, or inhibitor of the game, showing an adverse tendency to throw when a lead is secured. Game 2 against Royal stands out as the only counter-example.
Despite how over-looked QG’s minion control strategy is as a viable alternative to the standard lane swap, it’s easily punished. In Game 1, Royal Never Give Up snowballed a strong enough lead that team fight comebacks became a difficult option, and Royal ultimately closed the game out at Baron. This was QG’s only loss this split with Peco.
QG’s other two losses have been with Uzi. Uzi has played four games in total for QG, which puts his win rate at 50%. This isn’t necessarily Uzi’s fault, but QG have failed to integrate Uzi efficiently, as they continue to play the same way with Uzi as they do with Peco. QG have, however, shown more willingness to revert lane swaps to 2v2s with Uzi in both the Snake and Royal Never Give Up sets.
Unlike Peco, Uzi averages a CS deficit at 10 minutes of -5.75 CS in his four games played, the second lowest in the league. Uzi has almost always been the 2v2 king, known for getting leads in lane and using them to dive into team fights and deal damage with peel backup from his teammates.
So far, Peco’s QG doesn’t seem to suit Uzi at all, and in situations where Uzi has been forced to play team fights from behind, he’s mistimed his point of entry and died quickly. In games QG have won with Uzi, he’s seemed more like a footnote either to Doinb’s Viktor or Swift and Doinb’s Nidalee-Kassadin composition.
If QG run Uzi and attempt to execute the same lane swap-freeze strategy that they do with Peco, it should be fairly easy to shut it down and overcome them. Even in situations where QG have opted into 2v2s (47% of their games), they’ve allowed their turret to drop first to initiate a freeze.
QG Reapers’ other point of confusion stems from V. Last year, V didn’t seem to be well-integrated into QG’s dynamic. He received little gank attention from Swift or Mor (then known as TcT), and had to fend for himself on Maokai or Hecarim. With so many top lane power picks, V has been given more priority for champions like Poppy, and his improved synergy with Mor has lead to higher pressure from his side of the map.
Yet when QG get massive leads on their top laner, they sometimes seem confused as to how to utilize them properly. The team will still wait for Swift, Doinb, and their AD carry to scale and reach power spikes before playing off of V’s Teleport. This is a definite missed opportunity.
Swift also sometimes forces things before QG can scale, as in the first game against OMG. This game was full of back-and-forths in a kill game that ended at 28-27. Swift forced an early fight on top side, and three members of QG died. QG still barely ceded map control that game, and Peco remained resilient, making one wonder if QG again just knew they could win the next game and understood the optimal time to engage or they were utterly confused. As a writer, it’s safer to assume the latter. As an opposing team, it’s safer to assume the former.
Then there are the games like Game 3 against Vici Gaming, Game 2 against OMG, and Game 1 against LGD Gaming where QG Reapers pull the trigger immediately and dive, skirmish and execute smoothly until the conclusion. Those games have prompted Leblanc bans. One of my favorite QG compositions to watch features Nidalee and Kassadin. Both Swift and Doinb use Zhonya’s Hourglass well to initiate collapses and juggle focus. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes these games happen, but when Swift picks an aggressive champion or Doinb selects Teleport, it’s usually a good sign.
QG Reapers’ flaws are exploitable enough that they probably won’t win Intel Extreme Masters at Katowice this week, but QG's freeze strategy may be over-looked by those focused on their tendency to lose the lane swap early. If QG can execute well, they should at least escape the group stage.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She still follows Europe and China, even with China continuing to do counter-intuitive things. You can follow her on Twitter.