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Kelsey Moser's LPL Roundup: Don't count out Group A

by theScore Staff Mar 15 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / LPL Screengrab

It’s been an international event and a Mid-Season Review since an LPL Roundup has appeared, and things have gotten no less confusing for Chinese LoL esports enthusiasts. Week 6's matchup between QG Reapers and EDward Gaming gave us a glimpse of the lane swap play that's become dominant in other regions, but Royal Never Give Up won with their reserve roster playing Master Yi jungle, and Invictus Gaming dropped two series after continuous pressure on their bottom lane. Yu “Cool” Jiajun, Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen and Choi “inSec” Inseok all made appearances for the unofficial 2013 "legacy legend player" week.

Just in case you were curious, the LPL is still the LPL.

Top 3 Takeaways

The question of an icon

When Cool took a step back from competitive gaming and OMG, I assumed this was subtle code for “unofficially retiring.” I didn’t expect to see him play again.

His return this week was less than immaculate. Both of OMG’s series, though victories, took three games to win. And Cool, as he has in the more recent past, needed games to find form — he danced around the map in Game 3 but was borderline awful in the first two games of both series. In a post-game interview about his return performance, Cool said he hasn’t played on stage in a while, so his form wasn’t strong.

Though Cool has often been described as a player who's quiet in-game, he was very vocal on stage this week. His voice and experience might be of use in a less vocally scattered iteration of OMG. On the other hand, he lacks the pizzazz of new rookie mid laner Xie "icon" Tianyu. icon has played at a more consistently high level, and he’s a new player with a great deal of promise. When he does play for OMG, he looks like their star.

The best Cool is the active Cool who roams the map and knows which lanes to pressure alongside his jungler. This map awareness is something icon hasn’t demonstrated; he plays mostly to win his own lane. Zhu "Quan" Yongquan, when he played for LGD Gaming, played much better with roaming players in other positions.

Cool in rotation puts more pressure on AD carry Han "SmLz" Jin, whose form has been rapidly improving. OMG have been in this position with mid laners before, and Hu “xiyang” Bin has finally found himself a place in the top lane since then. At the moment, I would advise OMG to focus more on developing icon — Cool, while legendary at his peak, may have little time left as a pro player, even if 2013 LPL watchers still crave a taste of the old OMG.

Heralding a new dawn

When Chinese teams went to the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Katowice, some of the English commentators predicted they would pick up on how to lane swap. If a Chinese team wanted to learn how to lane swap, they would need look no further than Snake Esports. It seems most of them are either stubborn or would simply prefer not to.

While lane swaps didn't take hold in China between Weeks 5 and 6, teams did develop a new fixation with Rift Herald. Before this week, LPL teams saw Rift Herald as more of a bad thing than a good thing. The Herald helps drop towers faster, but why would they want that when they could leave them up and spend more time killing each other in lane?

This week, however, the buff was taken as often as three times per game. While taking Herald doesn't always result in a turret going down, LPL teams are using it to create side wave pressure more consistently or wage that all-important siege against the mid-lane turret.

When games can go 30 minutes with a side lane inhibitor dropping and mid lane Tier 1 still erect, Rift Herald may begin to shake things up. So far, it’s still something they take just because they can.

Don’t count out Group A

In Week 5, Royal Never Give Up swiftly toppled QG Reapers, Vici Gaming demolished Team WE, EDward Gaming grabbed a win from WE, and even Hyper Youth Gaming knocked aside Masters3. Following those games, analysts proclaimed Group B the superior group — but this week’s matches told an entirely different story.

Team WE surged in Week 6, with 2-0 wins over both iG and Hyper Youth. The Reapers knocked down EDG, and iG lost yet another set to M3. LGD all but rose from the dead to kick the legs out from under VG.

iG's bottom lane was an easy target for WE and M3, which both combine commanding duo lanes and heavy jungle ganks. iG's strategy is run through their solo lanes, and they have yet to deal with heavy bottom lane targeting. Both WE and M3 used their junglers to control the bottom lane and make Ge “Kid” Yan’s one-dimensional pathing more obvious.

As good as Choi “DanDy” Inkyu has been playing, VG still don’t follow him up well enough. The team’s reaction to LGD’s collapse decisions allowed alarm bells to blare free. LGD probably won’t consistently play like a cohesive unit going forward, but when they could agree on targeting VG’s jungler, they pulled out two wins.

I’d really rather not discuss what happened with EDward Gaming. For a team that has been dominant for nearly two years, it’s too depressing to acknowledge how little sense their drafts make or the awkward decisions from Heo “pawN” Wonseok.

Weeklies

Each week, in addition to major themes, it's time to chronicle the best games, the best series, and the things that make the LPL the LPL. Not everyone has time or inclination to watch every game, so it's best to unveil the cheat sheet.

Series to watch: Oh My God vs. Snake

It’s awkward to recommend this series. I might rather not and say I did instead.

The early games showed off Snake’s better understanding of pressure management. Game 1, they secured their customary lead in the lane swap, but in Game 2, OMG showed a willingness to blind counter-swap.

Game 3 had nothing particularly interesting to demonstrate in early game macro play, except for the interesting answer OMG provided to Nautilus mid. According to Snake's jungler, Zeng "ZZR" Zhanran, Cool’s Lissandra was a strong answer to Snake’s Nautilus mid pick, since Cool could move around the map much more quickly and efficiently, while Nautilus needed to stay put.

For the pickier connoisseur:

Not everyone enjoys everything, so for the more selective individual:

Hard carry performance: Choi “inSec” Inseok in Royal Never Give Up vs Energy Pacemaker All, Game 1

It’s hard to really say a person hard carried against EPA when they usually accumulate a monstrous lead and throw it themselves, but inSec’s Master Yi was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. This game was far from high quality, but you'll rarely see anything like it.

Map play game: QG Reapers vs EDward Gaming, Game 2

If you ignore the fact that QG left mid lane first tier turret up for thirty minutes, despite holding a convincing lead for most of the game, this may be the best string of turret trades the LPL has offered this year. After QG take the inihibitor, their play becomes sloppier, but EDG’s composition makes it nearly impossible for QG to lose their lead.

Blowout: Team WE vs Hyper Youth Gaming, Game 2

I was surprised HYG got a kill. I was close to declaring it a perfect game.

Nail-biter: All of the EDG vs QG series (See above)

While I don’t recommend this series in its entirety for someone seeking good-quality play, it is far from lacking edge-of-your seat suspense. EDG make desperate attempts to stay in it every step of the way.

Mindless Fun: All of Energy Pacemaker All vs Royal Never Give Up (See above)

Only watch this if you enjoy seeing 2013 legacies run around in circles and do ridiculous things while unconvincingly beating up on a bottom tier LPL team. Sometimes you just miss watching inSec and NaMei play. Here’s to hoping the main Royal lineup returns next week.

Just completely awful: Masters3 vs Invictus Gaming, Game 2

I stopped counting the number of times Liu "Kitties" Hongjun died for no reason after number three.

MVP: SIVIR S1mlz

I’m not a believer. Han "S1mlz" Jin has spent too many games in his career simply outfarming his opponent. His positioning has obvious holes. But this week, OMG took out LGD Gaming and Snake Esports in two long series. S1mlz looked convincing in every single game.

Given performances by OMG and WE, my choice came down to him or Xiang "Condi" Renjie, both ex-Masters3 players slighted for “holding back Bae 'dade' Eojin” and both performing well on new teams. S1mlz himself commented on the success he and Condi have had recently, saying he believes Masters3 didn’t have a very positive environment last year.

In the end, S1mlz seemed more fundamental to OMG’s success this week, as they focused on driving through their bottom lane. Condi remains a contender only worthy of an honorable mention.

“That’s so China” Pick: Jinx

Outside Wildcard regions like Oceania and Brazil, Jinx has only been played in the LPL and LMS since Patch 6.3. LMS have only played her once, while she’s been picked in the LPL four times.

Normally, this isn’t enough to warrant a “That’s so China” pick, but LPL is home to strong Jinx players, and Jinx works well in the LPL’s style of play. When players bunch frequently, picks like Sejuani and Jinx become much higher priority. Jinx isn’t very safe, but she can work well into Kog’Maw, and if she gets the proper positioning, she can abuse grouped teams with splash damage.

Don’t get too excited. Jinx probably won’t take off without additional changes, but I expect more Jinx picks in the LPL in the coming weeks.

9 series in 10 words or less

For the TL;DW enthusiasts:

1. QG vs. HYG

Freestyle lane swapping is a competitive sport.

2. OMG vs. LGD

Cool learned Lulu. Sivir is the answer to everything.

3. RNG vs. EPA

Even sub league teams beat EPA late game.

4. WE vs. iG

Kid gets targeted. Condi knows where to gank.

5. OMG vs. Snake

Counter swap, heavy roam, and the teamfight question mark.

6. LGD vs. VG

VG throw early. LGD draft well Game 2.

7. EDG vs. QG

I don’t understand EDG’s draft. QG Swift early pressure.

8. WE vs. HYG

Game 1 throw. Game 2 clean.

9. M3 vs. iG

Always gank Kitties.

Standings Summary

Placement Group A Score Group B Score
1. QG Reapers 9-1 Royal Never Give Up 7-2
2. Snake Esports 6-3 Invictus Gaming 6-4
3. Team WE 6-4 Oh My God 6-4
4. Masters3 3-6 EDward Gaming 5-4
5. Energy Pacemaker All 2-7 Vici Gaming 4-5
6. LGD Gaming 2-8 Hyper Youth Gaming 1-9

LGD Gaming snatched a win this week in two games, demonstrating intelligent composition design in Game 2. But post-game interviews got off to an ominous start when the team split into two distinct groups who put so much distance between one another that they nearly fell off opposite ends of the interview couch. This wasn't the most positive indication of how LGD is dealing with their synergy issues. They're not on the rise, but they have at least improved enough to dismantle a scattered Vici Gaming.

Energy Pacemaker All rotated a new trainee AD carry into their lineup. While Guye "Moon" Zeyu played well relative to Zhang "romant1C" Cheng, it wasn't enough to beat Royal Never Give Up's reserve team even with a 10,000-gold lead and inSec playing Master Yi in jungle. Masters3 may abuse more bottom lanes in Group B now that Xu "PentaQ" Mingshu finally seems comfortable on Jinx.

EDward Gaming are the true disappointment. Their drafting has deteriorated to new lows, and fourth place in Group B puts them on the cusp of the playoffs, with one loss separating them from Vici Gaming. This is the worst EDG have been relative to other LPL teams since the team's inception in late 2013. Even if it means my Mid-Season Review prediction that the team would continue to deteriorate is coming true, it's a blow to the Chinese LoL scene.

No, it's not 2014. Oh My God and WE had strong weeks, but they still seem to be missing a few edges compared to top teams in Group A and B. OMG facilitate their mid laner and AD carry, and WE open the map for their jungler. Simple one-dimensional strategies provide these teams with their success. They may easily drop out in extended playoffs series.

Invictus Gaming's two-series fall may perplex the masses, but as with OMG and WE, it's all about unraveling their simple formula. iG are not a good team, and there's always another shoe. Snake seem more confident they can fix problems and are experimenting more with improving strategic play, setting them slightly apart from the rest of the LPL. If they can repair their teamfighting, they could contest QG or RNG for the top, despite this week's setback against OMG.

QG have played two more full series with Jian "Uzi" Zihao. This team still needs to work on feeling like a unit, as they lost many late-game teamfights to EDG. But as he did last year, Uzi is playing well.

There's little to report on Royal, but I appreciate that when they changed one player, they substituted out the entire team. This method retains individual team synergy and allows squads to develop their own defined style.

LPL still feels like QG and Royal lead the pack, with other teams straggling behind. Even at the top, QG and Royal lack defined and consistent execution. This is shaping up to be a long year for the LPL.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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