In the regular season of the NA and EU LCS, teams have to prepare for multiple opponents every week, while at the same time working on longer-term growth and strategies. The playoffs demand more dedicated planning. After nine weeks of games, there’s plenty of data to work with, both for identifying your own team’s strengths and spotting vulnerabilities among your opponents.
Here are two key points of preparation each LCS 2016 Spring Semifinalist team should be planning around as they get ready for the weekend.
Immortals vs. Team SoloMid
1. Play around Huni
Both Huni and WildTurtle had epic carry performances this split, but Immortals will be better served by building up Huni in this series. In a tank meta, Huni’s carry-only champion pool means he’ll be vulnerable if he falls behind, so Reignover needs to cover Huni in the early game. Later on, the Immortals should feed Huni a steady stream of minions, like they’ve done all split: in the regular season, Huni received by far the largest share of post-15-minute farm of any NA LCS Top laner, at 28.0 percent. Meanwhile, as long as WildTurtle stays relatively conservative, he shouldn’t have too much difficulty keeping his damage output relevant.
2. Reign in Reignover
Immortals showed some weakness towards the end of the split, when they started looking too hard to make plays and exposed themselves to unnecessary risk. Reignover occasionally finds himself in trouble with his constant counter-jungling, and 41 percent of TSM’s pre-15-minute kills in the regular season came against the opposing jungler, so he may need to tone it down a little. Of course, it wouldn't be wise to lay back too much — Immortals have built their success on pressure, aggression, and proactivity all split — but they will need to find the right balance.
1. Get Svenskeren on a carry
In the regular season and quarterfinals, as well as at IEM Katowice, Svenskeren looked far more comfortable on damage-oriented champions, especially Graves, Kindred, and Nidalee. Svenskeren's record on those three champions is 8-0, while he is a combined 8-14 on other champions. If the Immortals target Svenskeren's champion pool, TSM can answer by taking multiple high-priority picks in other positions, like Poppy or Corki — but they’ll need a more reliable fallback option for Sven than the Elise that produced mixed results against Cloud9.
2. Weather the storm
Immortals love to fight. Their regular season games averaged 0.81 kills per minute, among the fastest pacing in the world, and they had 2.09 times as many kills as deaths. Compare that to TSM’s 0.89 kill-to-death ratio, and it’s clear that TSM will need to play safe, using good ward coverage and patient map movements to find advantageous fights. If TSM look to skirmish and brawl, that will play into Immortals' hands; TSM are more likely to find success with a slower pace that lets their carries farm up to their power spikes.
Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team Liquid
1. Lane swap, lane swap, lane swap
Lane swapping fits perfectly into CLG’s controlled, rehearsed play style. In the eight games this split where CLG traded turrets with their opponents before the 5-minute mark, CLG had a 7-1 record. In standard lane setups, CLG were 6-4. If CLG can play their Level 1 deployments correctly and get the lane assignments they want, it will neutralize some of Dardoch’s early effectiveness and give Darshan, Huhi, and Stixxay a smoother ride into the mid game, which is where CLG really come alive.
2. Strike the first blow
This split, CLG have gone 11-1 when they secured First Blood, and 12-2 when they took the first dragon. When giving up First Blood, they are 3-4, and when losing the first dragon, they are 1-3. Because of CLG’s slow-and-steady early pace, they gain a ton of value from early momentum, but it can be harder for them to overcome an early deficit. Conservative openings will help CLG find the time to land the first punch, and kick themselves into gear.
1. Push the pace
Team Liquid should be calling on Dardoch and Matt to be aggressive playmakers and set a fast early pace, with lots of ganks and skirmishing. If CLG can settle in to their preferred methodical pace, where they can all operate with full coordination, it allows them to minimize the skill gap between their players and their opponents. A high-pace game provides opportunities for Dardoch, Piglet and FeniX, the team’s most individually skilled players, to mechanically out-execute Xmithie, Stixxay and Huhi. In the regular season, 50% of Team Liquid’s pre-15-minute kills came against the enemy duo lane, so expect plenty of early action in that part of the map.
2. Control mid, feed FeniX
In the quarterfinal against NRG, FeniX was a pillar of strength in the mid lane, racking up huge farm numbers with a +17 CS difference at 10 minutes and 9.9 CS per minute — even higher than his world-leading (among mid laners) 9.7 CSPM from the regular season. Against Huhi, he should do the exact same thing. Unlike FeniX’s lane-dominant style, Huhi’s impact comes from getting out of the lane and joining in plays elsewhere. Team Liquid can find an edge if FeniX can either hold Huhi in place, preventing him from leaving the lane, or punish Huhi’s roams by taking farm advantages and laying down tower damage.
G2 Esports vs. Fnatic
1. Keep moving and abuse the fog of war
G2 averaged the third-highest wards per minute (WPM) in the EU LCS at 3.63, and while Fnatic’s average wards cleared per minute (WCPM) was tied for first in EU, they only cleared 23.7 percent of their opponents’ invisible wards, on average, which was middle of the pack. G2 should look to create a vision gap so they can stay on the move around the map. Trick and Perkz form a fearsome roaming duo, especially if they pick up high-mobility champions like Nidalee and Corki. By moving into fog of war as often as possible, G2 can keep Fnatic off balance and find openings to start the skirmishes they want. Some additional focus on ward clearing would make this even more effective: G2 were just eighth in WCPM.
2. Don’t throw
In two of G2’s three losses this split, they were controlling the game, but threw it away with lapses in decision-making. Against Vitality in week 5, G2 were playing well, but misplayed a series of teamfights with poorly coordinated engages and scattered retreats, allowing Vitality to scale up and eventually make a comeback. Then when they played Fnatic in Week 6, G2 stomped the early game, to the point that they were 94.3 percent favored to win at the 15-minute mark. But thanks to an unproductive Baron fixation, they failed to find opportunities to close the game, then finally walked into a Rekkles Quadra Kill on Kog’Maw and a Fnatic victory. Those kinds of lapses can’t happen in the playoffs; G2 need to play their leads cleanly every time.
1. Don’t fall behind
Fnatic’s first 15 minutes have almost always dictated the results of their games. Looking at win probabilities at the 15-minute mark in the regular season, Fnatic only made one comeback from a 15-minute deficit, when they hung in against G2 Esports in Week 5 and rode a Rekkles Quadra Kill to a surprise victory. But when they were ahead at 15 minutes, Fnatic only gave it away once, when they were 59 percent favorites against Unicorns of Love in Week 5 but later allowed UoL to sneak a 4-man Baron. It will be crucial for Fnatic to go at least even through the early game.
2. Own the Jungle
Fnatic can’t afford to let G2 take over the Fnatic jungle. G2 loves to control the entire map: on average, G2 took 55.0 percent of all jungle farm in their games in the regular season, best in Europe, while Fnatic’s jungle control was just 49.0 percent. Fnatic need to use defensive vision and good tracking of Trick to defend their jungle early and allow them to respond effectively to G2’s map movements, while Spirit and Febiven set up Fnatic’s own proactive plays.
H2k-Gaming vs. Origen
1. Seize the day
While H2K have excelled all split at controlling the game, playing the map, and staying disciplined, they have struggled to pull the trigger on big plays that can turn their advantages into wins. Their strong early game execution — equally effective in standard lanes and lane swaps — has staked them to an average 15-minute gold lead of +1,371. That was just shy of G2's +1,391, but while G2 have aggressively and effectively converted their leads (usually), H2K have found themselves dragging things out into the second-longest average game-time in Europe. Someone on H2K needs to step up as the closer who breaks the game open and secures the wins, because strong opponents can and will find comeback opportunities if you give them enough time.
2. Win the vision war
In the regular season, H2K led the EU LCS in wards per minute (3.72) and wards cleared per minute (1.47), while Origen were just eighth in WPM and seventh in WCPM. Origen’s vision numbers improved fairly noticeably in their Quarterfinal against the Unicorns of Love, so H2K need to stay on top of their own warding to ensure that they can execute cleanly on their control-oriented play style. Superior vision allows H2K to have the flow of information they need so they can make good decisions about where to go and which fights to take.
1. Control the dragons
Origen has been one of the best Dragon-control teams in Europe this split, killing 60 percent of the Dragons taken in their games in the regular season and 67 percent in their Quarterfinal. It isn’t so much about getting the first Dragon for them — they are 7-5 when taking first Dragon, and 4-2 otherwise — but more about stacking up the Dragons in the mid game to provide an extra late-game win condition. H2K only controlled 54 percent of Dragons overall, so this may be an advantage Origen can exploit.
2. Stay away from 1v2s
In the regular season, Origen only lane swapped (traded outer towers before the five-minute mark) four times, with a 1-3 record in those games. In standard lanes, they were 10-4. A 2v2 lane matchup allows Zven, Origen’s primary carry, to dominate the early game: Zven averaged a +11.6 CS and +263 gold lead at 10 minutes in 2v2 lanes, but a -1.8 CS lag at 10 minutes in lane swaps. For the record, those are better standard lane numbers than Forg1ven (+9.7 CS, +144 gold at 10 minutes in standard lanes). Landing 2v2 lane matchups is almost essential to Origen’s hopes.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.