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LPL Roundup: On the verge of consistency

by theScore Staff Mar 21 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / LPL Screengrab

Rarely does every League of Legends Pro League prediction come to fruition. Though one can logically anticipate a matchup shifting to one side or another, one factor, be it a strange pick or an ill-conceived initiation, can unravel everything. Even with the best-of-three format, the team one expects to win doesn’t always come through.

Yet it was within my grasp, the perfect week of predictions. EDward Gaming quickly dismantled Energy Pacemaker All, and Snake won an uneasy first game against Vici Caming. Then the Vici 2-1 happened. A 9-0 week of predictions was in my grasp, but it frayed before my eyes.

Nevertheless, as the dust settles on the intergroup portion of the LPL, a semblance of consistency has begun to emerge. A difference stands between the top and the bottom in each group, and an elite is beginning to rise. The final leg of the group stage will tell us a lot more than perhaps we ever expected.

That said, the last time I felt this way, I was made to look extremely foolish.

Top 3 Takeaways

1. Group B has one more mid-tier team

Within the LPL community, there’s been an adamant insistence that Group B is an overall stronger group than Group A. Following the intergroup run, however, the tally of Group A and Group B records comes to 16-20. In 36 best of threes between Group A and Group B teams, Group B teams only won four more matches.

Judging the overall strengths and weaknesses of teams in each group, it does feel a great deal like there are five competent teams in Group B, but only three in Group A. The problem is a lack of consistency in mid-tier teams in Group B, coupled with many weak bottom lanes, has made it possible for these theoretically strong Group B teams to drop series to supposed bottom tier teams in Group A. At any given time, it only feels like Group B has one team that’s better.

As the sands shift, that may begin to change. Snake Esports have dipped as other teams begin to realize the means of countering their lane swap advantage is to counter swap and send a duo lane top. Until Snake effectively adapt to this through scouting wards or — god forbid — learning to play a team fight, they may plummet in the standings.

In contrast, Vici Gaming have risen to third place by virtue of having won more matches in their losses than either OMG or Invictus Gaming. I was ready to dismiss them. By the same token, Invictus Gaming’s bottom lane have made themselves easy targets. Though few teams in Group B have strong bottom lanes to contest them in the last leg, this points to massive problems for them should they make playoffs.

Finally, LGD Gaming gave one last gasp in the past two weeks. LGD are now on a four game win streak, having bested Vici Gaming and Hyper Youth Gaming in 2-0’s. No one would dare say LGD are back at this stage, but this could be the second wind they need to at least make the playoffs and avoid relegation.

2. A failure to adapt doesn’t win games

As observed in the previous point, a lack of dimensions punishes teams in the long run. Invictus Gaming and Snake Esports both crashed hard in the past two weeks, losing their last two series. In response to Snake’s reliance on lane swaps, teams have begun to send their duo lanes top to counter Snake’s strategy. Snake haven’t been able to get the massive leads they rely upon and have struggled to secure wins later on.

Invictus Gaming’s strong solo lanes keep them together, but when some of their biggest map-controlling power picks like Gangplank or Quinn get denied, the bottom lane becomes an easy target. An “Rain” Hyeonguk and Liu “Kitties” Hongjun couldn’t stop the bleeding against Masters3 last week or QG Reapers today. If a team manages to get jungle or mid lane control, the results are even more severe.

EDward Gaming played a much altered style this week against Energy Pacemaker All and Masters3. Ming “clearlove” Kai played a proactive Kindred and Gragas that even managed to bully EPA’s Nidalee. The team appeared much more in sync as they invaded with him, and he prioritized securing the scuttle crab on both sides of the mid lane.

“It depends on what we do in scrims,” clearlove said. “I used Sejuani in scrims and had good results, so I still think we can play a slower style. But we also had good results with Kindred and Gragas playing a more heavy-ganking style.”

This thought process shows EDward Gaming are keeping their options open, and the experience that cautions them to do this could ultimately put them back on track to rule the LPL later this season.

3. QG and Royal still lead the pack

While the LCS season winds down, only one team has secured a spot in the LPL playoffs. QG Reapers have only lost one series to Royal Never Give Up in both the intraregional and interregional legs of the LPL. They have set themselves significantly ahead of their Group A colleagues, and they cannot drop below fourth place even if they lose all five of their remaining sets.

Royal Never Give Up have nearly made the cut with one loss to Invictus Gaming and one loss to Team WE. As a result of the three-way tie for third place in Group B, Royal will have to make more headway before they secure a playoffs seed, but it’s expected that Royal will join QG midway through Week 8.

Unless other promising candidates — in particular, EDward Gaming — show additional signs of life, QG and Royal are looking like the only two teams in the league still worth watching. As favorites to attend the Mid-Season Invitational, they will still need to put in the hours to avoid a second international disappointment.

QG have mostly committed to playing around Jian “Uzi” Zihao, but in the press conference following the match against Invictus Gaming, Yu “Peco” Rui hinted that QG will resume rotating the two players more regularly to add dimension. If QG can create both a late game come back team fighting team and a team that dominates through their early game power of bottom and jungle, they may become a threat.

For now, the LPL’s leading team could use some spring cleaning, notably around Kim “Doinb” Taesang’s champion pool. He may feel confident enough to take his Viktor into Quinn, as he said in the press conference, but it would help QG if he could get to that point on picks that are more in vogue, as he did last year and earlier this spring.

Royal still fixate on Baron. In two games this week, they ran beautiful siege compositions with Trundle — but then proceeded to try to skirmish and team fight with them early. One game went on much longer than necessary against Snake, the other was a full-on loss to Masters3. Royal suffer from one-dimensional Baron fixation, and this could be their ultimate undoing this spring.

Weeklies

Each week, in addition to major themes, I 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

Three series appeared promising this week, but QG Reapers vs Invictus Gaming delivered the most. Game 1 demonstrated Invictus Gaming at the height of their game with their solo laners on their paramount comfort picks as well as excellent drafting. Games 2 and 3 revealed what Baek “Swift” Dahoon can do with Kindred and jungle support from his lanes.

While Doinb and Invictus Gaming’s bottom lane were puzzles over the series, each game exposed sides to both teams that one usually has to watch several games to see. Game 3 even included an interesting lane swap concept with Kayle top. Far from flawless play, but entertaining and informative.

For the pickier connoisseur

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

Hard carry performance: Song "RooKie" Euijin in Game 1 of iG vs QG Reapers (See above)

If iG performed better overall, RooKie would find himself in the MVP category more often, but this is a solid backup. As Leblanc against Zed, a soft counter, RooKie destroyed his lane and then roamed top to get a double kill dive on QG’s duo lane, the one lane QG had that was ahead. RooKie controlled the map in another game while Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao scaled. He was robbed of the match MVP designation at the end.

Map play game: EDward Gaming vs Energy Pacemaker All, Game 1

I originally intended to grant this to OMG for their Game 2 victory against Team WE in successfully executing the Azir-Jhin comp I wanted to see Royal pull off. clearlove’s approach to securing scuttle crabs in this game made me change my mind.

EDward Gaming prioritized pathways into the jungle so they could invade on EPA aggressively. Kindred cleared blue buff, then went to both scuttle crabs to control them before moving to Red Buff. EDward Gaming then capitalized upon this to control the entire jungle. To an extent, they copied this in Game 2, but without the scuttle control. It allowed them to bully a Nidalee with superior team coordination.

Blowout: EDward Gaming vs Energy Pacemaker All, Game 1 (see above)

This strategy worked so efficiently that the game ended in 23 minutes.

Nail-biter: Team WE vs OMG, Game 1

After OMG took control with a strong team fight and three kills onto Yu “cool” Jiajun’s Corki, Team WE made the best of an impossible situation with an insane Baron turn around that came with a steal from Xiang "Condi" Renjie and a triple kill by Jin "Mystic" Seongjun. A great game from the perspective of a comeback, but it takes its time to get there.

Concept Game: Oh My God vs Team WE, Game 2

As much as I wanted Royal’s Azir-Jhin siege composition to work, it didn’t. Luckily, before the week was out, OMG drafted a similar composition, secured a devastating lead on Han "S1mLz" Jin, and used Azir to dive and set up potshots. This isn’t typically how I would expect to see this composition work, but it showed its own form of cleverness and was worth the watch.

Just completely awful: Snake Esports vs Royal Never Give Up, Game 1

This game should have been good. Unfortunately, an inability for Royal to understand their composition coupled with Snake’s inability to punish it by teamfighting resulted in one of the most unnecessarily long games of League of Legends played in the LPL this split.

MVP: DanDy

Choi “DanDy” Inkyu has looked far from enthusiastic in the LPL recently, but with his team in need of a consistent threat, he’s stayed true to Graves and put out spectacular Nidalee performances. When I watch DanDy’s pathing in the jungle, I am always aware of his critical thinking, and his actions per minute are deceptively high. During the week, Vici Gaming won both of their sets. I consider their victory over Snake Esports the only upset. DanDy took center stage, even while Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon had less of an impact on Azir.

I picked DanDy as my best LPL jungler in my MidSeason Review. This was his week to demonstrate it.

“That’s so China” pick: Gragas top

I considered three options for a “that’s so China” pick this week, and all were imperfect. Kindred jungle has taken over the LPL in more instances than may be healthy, but the pick is also in vogue in Korea. Zz1tai played Kayle top once, and Li “Flandre” Xuanjun grabbed the top lane Gragas.

Top lane Gragas was also played in Korea this week by Afreeca’s Jeon “ikssu” Iksoo. The pick served to deny two top tier jungle picks in one draft. The same probably could have been said for Snake’s Gragas if not for the Vici Gaming press interview following the match. Zhu "Loong" Xiaolong told reporters that his coach had told him to start practicing Gragas top before the match, but that he hadn’t managed to work on it enough to play it in the LPL. He also said he expects many LPL teams to try it.

Prepare for a Gragas top lane in your LPL. It team fights, it flexes, it’s a safe way to combat top lane dives for teams like EDward Gaming that rarely gank top. More wine?

9 series in 10 words or less

1. Snake vs RNG

Not every comp is a Baron fight comp.

2. EDG vs M3

EDward Gaming draft to suit their style.

3. VG vs EPA

Vici really want Ryze and Sivir to be a thing.

4. LGD vs HYG

Destroying the worst mid in LPL probably gave We1less confidence.

5. QG vs iG

RooKie shouldn’t get Leblanc, Swift likes Kindred.

6. RNG vs M3

Not every comp is a Baron fight comp Part 2.

7. WE vs OMG

Baron steals, Jhin-Azir, and Ezreal kiting.

8. EPA vs EDG

Always kill the scuttle and wreck the Nidalee.

9. Snake vs VG

VG counter swap, DanDy invades, Lissandra wins.

Standings Summary

Placement Group A Score Group B Score
1. QG Reapers 10-1 Royal Never Give Up 9-2
2. Team WE 7-4 EDward Gaming 7-4
3. Snake Esports 6-5 Vici Gaming 6-5
4. LGD Gaming 3-8 Invictus Gaming 6-5
5. Masters3 3-8 Oh My God 6-5
6. Energy Pacemaker All 2-9 Hyper Youth Gaming 1-10

Now that every team has faced every other team at least once, there's an approximate feeling of how teams stack up that encompasses the entire league. QG Reapers have the most dimensions among top teams, and Hyper Youth Gaming are the most voted to be least likely to succeed.

In the coming weeks, the fight for the fourth spot in the playoffs will be steep in both Group A and Group B. With a slight advantage from winning one more single game than M3, LGD Gaming currently hold fourth place in Group A, something that many may not have expected. They're off from being able to make a miracle run to first or second this split, but they finally play as if they talk to each other during games. I will tentatively say they'll make it.

Things get much more interesting with a threeway tie for third place in Group B. With more match wins Vici Gaming hold third place, and OMG trail behind as many of their winning series have lasted three games, but their losses have been swift. OMG have called this a rebuilding split, so playing Promotion isn't shameful as long as they can return. OMG lack the cohesion to make top four at the moment, and I predict they'll remain where they are.

Invictus Gaming likely won't get punished for their week bottom lane in the intragroup stage. Vici Gaming have improved their team play, but they still lose almost every game where Easyhoon doesn't play a mid laner who can Teleport effectively. Ban Twisted Fate and Lissandra, and they'll lose some of their bite.

EDward Gaming and Team WE are set up to rekindle the 2014 rivalry, as both are set in second place. Their last series went to three games. EDward Gaming showed improvements this week, and if they can execute their new strategies against stronger teams, they'll blow WE out of the water. WE subsist off Condi's Baron steals, but their early game still feels disorganized.

Three more weeks to go before playoffs. There's still time to improve — it almost feels as if a few teams will have a real go at it.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore Esports. You can follow her on Twitter for more content, Sivir memes, and gifs of clearlove drinking coffee.

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