2015 was a good year for both Lee “Spirit” Dayoon and Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider.
Though WE didn’t achieve anything beyond placing second at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Katowice, it became increasingly difficult to deny Spirit's transformation into a carry jungler. Spirit developed a different style than the more supportive and vision-oriented one he displayed on Samsung Blue. He could navigate fights on his own and used highly mobile picks to efficiently travel across the map.
After spending a World Championship shouldering most of the blame for Team SoloMid’s limited flexibility, Amazing began to excel on Origen as the synergy he developed with Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez paved the way for the team to create dragon fight-centric plays. Origen’s stops and starts reflected the strengthening of what I like to refer to as Amazing and mithy’s ability to hold hands through the river when they set out to ward. On Origen, Amazing found an environment in which he could flourish and his team made it all the way to the 2015 World Championship semifinals.
A positive team environment is important for a jungler to succeed. Over time on WE, Spirit began to express his discontent with the team's overall approach, and as a result, he lacked the same impact he had in the spring. Paul “sOAZ” Boyer mentioned that, even if someone were to criticize Amazing for his performance in Origen's series against SK Telecom T1, a lot of it came down to team communication.
Throughout most of the 2016 EU LCS Spring Split, Fnatic and Origen have struggled and community criticism has gravitated towards their respective junglers. Moments where Amazing and Spirit get caught out have increased. When Amazing made the decision to go after Raptors in a crucial IEM game against Team SoloMid, it seemed as if he had no sense of his surroundings. Similarly, Spirit got caught by the QG Reapers to start off Fnatic’s matches.
If nothing else, this year has taught us that even if all of their components are strong, a good jungler doesn’t always suit his team. LGD Gaming, LongZhu, Team SoloMid, Origen, and Fnatic have all performed below expectations set by the average talent level of their rosters. Most of these teams have powerful junglers who have impressed earlier in their careers.
When a team has gaps in communication, it reflects on the jungler more than most other roles. A jungler needs information from his team to make proper decisions. If a top laner has control of his lane, then the jungler needs that information to decide whether or not to gank.
Weaknesses in Origen’s system around Amazing become clear when mithy spends more time in lane, and Amazing invades solo before getting clamped down on by the enemy team. If the team scatters around Baron and Amazing fails to pull off, it reflects poorly upon him, but the problems lie much deeper.
If communication shuts down, junglers often suffer from indecision; Team SoloMid is a perfect example of this. Very public problems with shotcalling and flowing communication have plagued SoloMid ever since Andy "Reginald" Dinh stepped down. Over the past three years, Team SoloMid have recruited aggressive junglers in Amazing, Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen, and now Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, all of whom have played more passively since joining TSM. This results from increased indecision without clear calls, but it’s not limited to TSM.
Amazing’s case is more baffling than Spirit’s in that Origen’s in-game communication system hasn’t changed. The departure of Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez shouldn’t have had a massive impact given the fact that few have attributed components of Origen’s communication to xPeke. mithy and Amazing serve as the team’s main shotcallers.
Established communication systems falter. LGD Gaming’s communication system has mainly been retained with main shotcaller Chen “pyl” Bo, yet sources tell theScore eSports that LGD Gaming have become nearly silent in their comms. On stage, they appear tight-lipped. In-game, enemies will catch pyl warding in the jungle only units from Gu “imp” Seungbin, but imp won’t budge and will die to a collapse shortly after. Origen has exhibited similar traits.
Many dismissed Amazing on TSM, but he demonstrated skill on Copenhagen Wolves and on Origen last year. In Origen’s case, trying anything to open communication lines seems like a desperate, but possibly necessary, ploy. If the same problems persist, it might be best to bring in a new perspective and alter the dynamic. This change doesn’t necessarily have to come through jungle though, as a new voice could liberate Amazing and help him find success again.
The comparison with Amazing makes it easy to understand why Spirit and Fnatic advanced out of their group at the IEM World Championship today. Players on other teams have praised Fnatic’s recent improvements in scrims. The first matches didn’t demonstrate any changes, but the final two decisive closeouts against QG Reapers reflected hints at improvements that spectators saw in Week 7 of the European League of Legends Championship Series.
In recent interviews with theScore eSports, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Johan "Klaj" Olsson expressed that Klaj has taken over more responsibilities for taking care of vision control. Klaj clarified that this relationship has been more of a give-and-take relationship with Spirit in which both parties suggest ward placement and they roam to help each other to prevent getting picked off.
Klaj averages 1.46 wards placed per minute in the few European LCS games he has played, putting him over even Vitality’s Raymond “kaSing” Tsang. Lewis "NoXiAK" Felix also averaged a high ward count, though not as high as Klaj’s. This isn’t necessarily an endorsement of Klaj’s vision control so much as a reflection on how much responsibility Fnatic have put on their support to ward relative to other roles on the team.
Fnatic’s Korean players average a lower ward placement than many other players in their positions for most of the split. Noh “Gamsu” Yeongjin averages the least wards placed per minute among top laners. Spirit was middle of the pack in warding until recently and below the junglers on Top 3 teams. As of recent weeks in the LCS, Spirit has improved his warding and now only lags behind Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia, and Kim "Trick" Gangyun. At the Intel Extereme Masters Katowice, Spirit has averaged the highest wards placed per minutes among junglers at 1.06.
Though I have no way of knowing if this is the case, Spirit's increased involvement in Fnatic's vision control may be responsible for him fitting into team play more efficiently in recent weeks. Klaj is able to devote more attention to hold Spirit accountable for vision placement and coordinate it with him.
Fnatic’s vision proved fundamental against the QG Reapers. QG’s Zhang “Mor” Hongwei also placed a high volume of wards (1.50 per minute) at IEM Katowice. Yet Fnatic were able to crowd out QG Reapers to use strong flanks and surround the Chinese team. Spirit's Lee Sin facilitated these collapses and consistently sought out Jian “Uzi” Zihao in a fight for elimination. In this way, Fnatic dismantled QG Reapers in Game 2 and Game 3 to advance to the semifinals.
Going into IEM Katowice, it seemed Fnatic had a much stronger chance of improving their situation than Origen. One could pinpoint their problems around Spirit, and though it seems they struggle with communication, Fnatic are able to at least clarify what they think these problems are. Spirit didn’t magically become a better jungler between games today, but something in the team’s dynamic clicked that allowed them to use him. Spirit warded more at Katowice than usual, so he was more involved.
When Klaj joined Fnatic, some guessed the change was something Rekkles had pushed for as both players are Swedish and Rekkles had played with Klaj in solo queue. Yet, even with the impressive Jhin pick that scrambled QG’s drafts when they decided to avoid selecting Kalista, the greatest factor that lead to Fnatic’s win came from the unexpected synergy between Spirit and Klaj.
Despite their many fumbles today, Spirit and Klaj appeared to connect in ways that Spirit and Noxiak never did. The two of them invaded QG’s jungle together to clear and place vision. Klaj went for picks as Thresh that Spirit easily followed up on as Lee Sin.
If players suddenly seem to perform better between games, very rarely is this down to an isolated personal change. As League of Legends is a team-oriented game, and jungle is perhaps the most team-oriented role, something had to finally sync between Spirit and the rest of Fnatic to bring out this side of him.
By no means can one say that this will become a consistent change — that Fnatic have finally found themselves again after losing three of their members. QG made many mistakes upon which Fnatic could capitalize. Yet it seems that playing this series brought Fnatic closer to both becoming the right team for Spirit and helping Spirit become the right jungler for Fnatic.
Tomorrow against Royal Never Give Up, we’ll get a better idea of just how well that sticks.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.