In an alternate universe, Team Dignitas won both of their matches last week against Echo Fox and Immortals. They closed out both games without crashing themselves into enemy bases like a ship onto a rocky shoal and kept their playoff dreams alive.
Had this actually happened, it would have thrown an interesting wrench into the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring playoff standings, as Dignitas would have moved up the standings into Echo Fox’s current position of seventh, with an identical record of 6-10. If all outcomes had remained the same in this parallel NA LCS Week 8 universe, the Dignitas and Team Liquid Week 9 meeting would have larger implications for Dignitas, as it could have meant an unlikely playoff spot for the latter team. Instead, Echo Fox is now the team currently on the outside, looking up at both NRG eSports and Team Liquid immediately above them.
With the standings as they are, Dignitas still presents a significant danger to Team Liquid, and will aid Echo Fox’s playoff chances with a win. They’re not a team to be underestimated, in spite of two heartbreaking losses last week. Dignitas has visibly improved their coordination and early-to-mid game, and their issues lie in actually closing a game. Upon approaching the enemy nexus — even with every advantage like Aspect of the Dragon, Baron and double Zz’Rot Portals — Dignitas alternates between over-aggression and indecision. They engage on opponents when they should allow their poke and minion damage to do the work for them, or they back off when they could easily take a fight. In Week 8, this allowed both Echo Fox and Immortals to come back and win games, while Dignitas watched their playoff hopes slowly circle the drain.
Now, as the lone bubble team, Echo Fox remains in the playoff hunt thanks to Dignitas’ good graces. The Dignitas team of Week 8 also presents an interesting contrast to Echo Fox, and how the latter team wins games. Both teams are tied for the longest average game time in the NA LCS at 37.9 minutes. While Dignitas squanders early and mid game advantages, Echo Fox often plays for the long game from the moment they load up onto the Rift, waiting for opponents like Dignitas to make a game-changing mistake.
Much of Echo Fox’s playstyle stems from mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. A veteran who is most well-known for his Season 2 performances with Counter Logic Gaming Europe, Froggen’s approach to the game has always been more controlled and patient than his mid lane counterparts. Europe as a League of Legends region is known for their excellent laning mids — partially a byproduct of Froggen’s success found in restraint rather than the aggressive outplay. On Echo Fox, Froggen brings a stable and steady presence in mid that’s near-impossible for opponents to overcome.
With a whopping 89.7 percent kill participation — best of not only all NA mid laners, but all NA starting players in 2016 Spring — everything on Echo Fox goes through Froggen. His Gangplank was one of the key components of Echo Fox’s comeback against Dignitas, setting a worldwide cs record of 764, with Cannon Barrages that softened up Dignitas as they attempted to fight their way into Echo Fox’s base. This eventually turned fights into Echo Fox’s favor, enabling their late push up the mid lane and eventual backdoor victory with support Terry “BIG” Chuong and AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew.
In turn, Froggen also aids jungler Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev. The safe positioning of Froggen holds the mid lane for Echo Fox as long as possible, which allows Hard more freedom of movement around the map. Hard averages -2.3 CS behind his NA jungle opponents at 10 minutes, yet has the second highest CS per minute of any NA jungler at 4.3. Like Froggen, Hard is able to slowly accrue advantages throughout the mid game, joining up in time for skirmishes or fights with a lead.
Echo Fox wins games through their mid and late-game teamfighting. Froggen accrues CS and gold leads in lane. Come the time for teamfighting, he often joins with significant item advantages over his mid lane opponent along with Echo Fox jungler Hard. In contrast, KEITH and BIG are wholly underwhelming in lane, but their teamfight positioning has been surprisingly strong throughout the split — Echo Fox’s most recent match against Counter Logic Gaming aside.
While his mid laner has the second-highest average cs per minute of all NA mids at 9.7, KEITH has the lowest CS per minute of all starting NA AD carries at 8.1. However, when KEITH and BIG join up with their Echo Fox teammates, they accumulate eventual gold advantages through skirmishing, and play key roles in teamfight cleanup. BIG has the second-highest kill participation (84.2 percent) of any starting NA player, with only teammate Froggen ahead of him. KEITH is also in the top ten players for kill participation at 77.5 percent, and is second only to Team Liquid’s Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin (77.7 percent) for NA AD carries. The Echo Fox teamfight begins with engages from top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun, who has shown a surprisingly intuitive initiation sense that has won Echo Fox multiple teamfights since his return to the Rift in Week 5.
"For me, Fiora, Riven, Quinn, I love these aggressive champions that can kill the enemy and can fly around. However, my team keeps saying, 'Kfo, tanky, tanky.' So I have to pick tank champions."
Kfo is more than capable of playing carry champions; however, Echo Fox’s skirmishes suffer a bit without his strong initiation sense. His crowd control and general positioning have been crucial in orchestrating Echo Fox teamfight victories, especially when re-engaging while his team kites backwards to turn a losing battle into a favorable Echo Fox fight. He also provides additional peel and protection for KEITH, allowing the AD carry to clean up.
When Echo Fox falters, it’s often due to their reactive approach combined with proactive moves from adversaries. Since their playstyle is often dependent on opponents’ mistakes, Echo Fox struggles when faced with boundless aggression and quick, decisive maneuvers as they often force Echo Fox into immediate calls that can go wrong due to a lack of communication. These players fit well together as a unit, but they’ve had less time than other teams to gel onstage, due to visa issues for three of the first four weeks of the 2016 Spring Split.
Cloud9 is the exact type of team that will likely give Echo Fox problems, as they continuously force fights and are decisive early. As for their other game in the final week, Renegades appears to be a fairly strong matchup for Echo Fox. Even with their new starting top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong and mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo, Renegades are still prone to making mid and late-game errors. This is perfect for Echo Fox's overly-patient approach, but just one Week 9 loss will eliminate Echo Fox from playoff contention. If Echo Fox does manage to win out against both Cloud9 and Renegades, they will finish the season with a 8-12 record.
In order to make the playoffs, Echo Fox are in the unfortunate position of relying on opponents’ mistakes outside of what they can control in their own games. Team Liquid or NRG eSports would have to go 0-2 in the coming week, forcing a tiebreaker for the magical sixth-place spot that ensures a playoff berth. In context, this would be a remarkably impressive finish. Going into Week 5 — their first week since Week 1 with their starting lineup — Echo Fox was in ninth place with a 1-7 record. Their only win came against the then-struggling Renegades, who were in last place — the only team below Echo Fox in the standings.
The greatest enemy of Echo Fox this season has been their lack of time together as a starting lineup, with losses in the interim hurting their overall record. They're most likely to finish in seventh place, securing a spot for the Summer Split where they hopefully could develop into a tighter team over time.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.