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2016 LMS Spring Split Awards and Clement Chu's playoff preview

by Clement Chu Apr 14 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / Riot Games / theScore eSports

The LMS region has always been a bit of a mystery: perennial underdogs, uncertain opponents, chasers of glory past. Yet, last year, the region managed to exceed expectations just when you'd have least expected it.

Everyone knows that ahq e-Sports club and the Flash Wolves were top eight teams at the 2015 World Championship, but a breakdown of Garena's 2016 LMS Spring Split awards will give you a taste of what has been happening in Taipei over the course of the season before diving into a playoff preview complete with my predictions. Above all else, my goal is to provide testimony, statistics, and historical perspectives into what might be the least understood of the five major regions.

So without further ado, here are the 2016 LMS Spring Split awards.

Note: voting was done by teams and casters, with two-thirds of the vote coming from the former and the rest from the later. Teams cannot vote for their own players or organizations.

Most Valuable Player - Ziv, AHQ, Top Lane

Key Stats: 424 DPM, 1.19 Damage/Gold, 6.45 KDA

Runner-ups: Maple, Dreamer

Ziv was unanimously voted in as the spring MVP receiving all possible first place votes. This is the second consecutive split that Ziv has not both earned MVP honors, and led ahq to a first seed finish. Ziv has lead top laners in most categories, including DPM (424), GPM (386) and KDA (6.56).

The best way to describe Ziv is efficiency. Primarily a tank player, he plays the lane with a defensive stance, but has the raw mechanics to outplay his opponent when he sees an opening and can come out of laning phase ahead in CS without much jungle attention. Teamfighting is where Ziv sets himself apart , with spot on teleports cutting enemy retreats and the ability to draw aggro by being a CC threat while also zoning for his own team.

Ziv is known as the “supernova” considering he suddenly burst onto the scene and quickly became an internationally sought after talent . Though he eventually became a star, he wasn’t born in the sky. Ziv’s transformation is a story of perseverance. He had a rocky start to his professional career, starting as a jungler on the bottom dweller team PK during the LNL. He would eventually move to one of the HKA teams, and when they disbanded he wound up as top laner for ahq after Prydz left to coach in the LJL. Ziv was a player with lanning strength and a wide champion pool, but had poor teleports and left much to be desired. That is, until the 2015 LMS Spring playoffs rewrote his fate. Coming as the last possible seed in the gauntlet, ahq would shock the world with its members following one-after-another brilliant engage form Ziv that punched the team’s ticket to MSI To this day, Ziv often cites the hardships at the start of his career as a motivator to continuing his current form.

The moniker “supernova” also captures another stunning aspect of Ziv’s rise: he was essentially birthed in a vacuum. Taiwan has always endured a shortage of top laners after Stanley began to decline. Considering his contemporary top laners at the time, you would either have to crown either Steak or Morning as the LMS’ best, but Both had flaws —either in individual play or team play. This situation more or less continues to this day, and is an often voiced reason for his MVP nod. As long as ahq holds on to Ziv’s contract, they’re likely to win LMS.

Ziv’s legacy will likely be as one of the best tank-initiator top laners in the professional scene, and the overall best top laner Taiwan has ever produced. His story has implications for scouting as well, as a late bloomer whose greatness was realized through understanding of teamplay.

Rookie of the Split - FoFo, Taipei Assassins, Mid Lane

Key-Stat: 7.6 CSD@10, 6.31 KDA

Runner-up: Taizan

The mantle of the Taipei Assassins has been a difficult one to bare. Former world champions, the phantasms of glory weighed heavily among its predecessors, making every failure even more bitter than the last. This TPA squad has missed two chances at competing abroad last season: once being reversed swept at IEM Taipei by an emerging Flash Wolves and the second time with the loss of Chawy due to an elo-boosting ban. To add to the battered psychology, four members of the current roster came from their Season 4 iteration that had a disappointing Worlds finish in front of a Taiwanese crowd. The assassins coming into this season needed a new core to the team to drive out of the shadows of its own past.

That’s where FoFo comes in. A prodigy mid laner that was 16 years old when he was picked up as a trainee, FoFo had overtaken Westdoor for the top ladder spot. What sets him apart from his younger competition is that FoFo can act as a selfless facilitator as well as an assassin. For most of the season, FoFo has taken up champions that enhance BeBe’s output at the marksmen position under Coach Sim’s orders. His Zilean and Lulu had TPA sprinting out of the second round with six consecutive wins, all the while granting BeBe the largest damage share of any player in the LMS at 30.7 percent. What has truly made him terrifying however, is his willingness to go back to his roots.

“I think I’m still better on champions that deal damage,” he said.

Many of TPA’s past criticisms were directed towards their late game shotcalling, which often veered between hesitation and forced engages. With FoFo, TPA has found a player that is aggressive by nature and has a carry mentality. His trajectory is similar to Maple, as he has a large champion pool while excelling at assassins. FoFo has already dethroned Maple in the CSD categories and nearly overtook him in the LMS’ first-team voting this season,

“In my eyes, FoFo is even stronger than Maple,” said Chawy, TPA’s former mid laner. “Part of reason I left TPA was to give FoFo a chance in the starting line-up. He deserves it.”

Best Coaching Staff: Flash Wolves

Runner-up: ahq

The Flash Wolves have the cleanest play out of any team in the LMS. Led by the previous top laner Steak and long time analyst Fluidwind, they’ve had the shortest average winning game time at 30:42, while also holding the best KD ratio (1.85). In essence, the Wolves have been a well-honed blade, cutting through enemies swiftly and effortlessly.

The Flash Wolves play well off of Maple and Karsa’s mid lane-jungle synergy. Once a kill is secured either from a gank, a Maple solo-kill or a SwordArT roam, they quickly collapse on the side lanes to create turret dive situations. This catch-and-pivot motion has been their bread and butter, and even when they don’t get kills they usually get large tempo leads by rotating to the other side of the map while their opponents are forced to deal with incoming minions.

The Flash Wolves are also great at accelerating their player’s gold. Though Steak no longer takes to the rift, the Wolves had kept a similar system of gold distribution, where Maple siphons off farm from the top laner in mid-game, and NL does the same in the late game. By doing so, the Flash Wolves have gotten more power out of their carry positions by accelerating power spikes, with a combined 58.9 percent damage coming from the two carries. To MMD’s credit, he has been an effective playmaker despite taking the least of the team’s gold out of any top laner.

If one did have criticism of Flash Wolves coaching this split, it would be that they haven’t been able to add on a new core to the team. The team’s engine has remained the same with Maple and Karsa, while newcomers Rins and Breeze have failed to change their dynamic.

2016 LMS Spring Split Playoff Preview

Note: The LMS playoffs are played in a Top 4 gauntlet format, similar to the LCK.

Machi

Roster: Top: BoBo // Jungle: Taizan // Mid: Apex // ADC: Dee // Sup: Dreamer

Machi made a miracle run to make it this far: they upset ahq and TPA, got a lucky boost from MSE minions (which was fan voted Funny Moment this split), and bested HKE in a tiebreaker to make the playoffs for the first time in the organization’s history. Lead by MVP runner-up and team captain Dreamer), Machi are a team that thrives on lane matchups and kills coming from within the lane. At 20 First Bloods (the most in the league) this season, they’ll happily take most lane fights and come out ahead.

Machi has experienced a lot of growth this season, especially with jungler Taizan and top laner BoBo. Machi was essentially a “Dreamer and Friends” type of team, where his Alistar was expected to crush lane and do most of the initiation to win fights. He got more help down the line with Taizan finally being confident enough to initiate, and BoBo emerging as a strong carry role on split-pushers. This freed up Dreamer from pure initiation champions and they’ve seen success on peel and counter-initiate compositions such as Azir and Jhin.

Despite how strong they can be in lane, the parade generally ends after the laning phase. M17 are the team most likely to throw a 20 minute gold lead, and have clear shot calling difficulties after the mid-game. Owner Jeffery “Big Brother” Huang, a former LA based rapper, has had a knack for finding foreign analyst to lead the team (including former Origen and current NRG eSports head coach Hermit) and former C9 analyst jordan is no exception. Overall though, his impact has been minimal, as language barriers plague the team’s communication. M17 have a 2-10 record against playoff teams this season, with their only wins coming in the final week against teams that had already locked in their playoff positions.

Prediction: TPA defeats M17 3-1

Taipei Assassins

Roster: Top: Morning // Jungle: REFRA1N // Mid: FoFo // AD: BeBe // Sup: Jay

The Taipei Assassins have been known as the LMS’ Korean team, in large part due to the guidance of Coach Sim, a former Najin coach. They have a number of LCK traits, such as playing a slow-and-steady style with the highest wards placed per minute (WPPM) at 3.75, and the slowest champions kills per minute (CKPM) at 0.6. TPA had a sluggish start this season, with out-of-sync team coordination and comps that felt unfamiliar to their players. They did manage to find success after following Morning’s stint on the bench — he played more tanks afterwards and was much better at joining teamfights — and FoFo being unleashed on assassins — which gave them a second carry option to build their comps around.

TPA’s strengths this season have been strong laners and stellar tempo control in the lane-swap. Both Morning (8.77) and FoFo (7.64) are at the top of their positions in CSD@10, and BeBe is the best farmer in the league at 9.12 CSPM. They’re the fastest team to take towers, a relevant stat for cascading tempo advantage. Combined, these two facets have made them the early game kings, surpassing Flash Wolves, to a 3350 GD@20. This is a veteran team with strong fundamentals, and a variety of set plays in the early game — they are also very difficult to punish early due to heavy warding. As Fluidwind describes “TPA has made the early game a science.” So much so, that they’ve held positive GD@20s in 24 games out of the 28 they’ve played.

The Taipei Assassins are the playoffs’ most likely dark horse as they could play a similar style to FW and take them head on with a stronger top and bottom lane. Against ahq, FoFo has the champion pool to blow up Chawy on assassins, or push Westdoor in on mages. The reason why they haven’t cracked the top two has mainly been their teamfights. When these elite teams collide, it’s generally been a single-stroke battle. TPA can slow the pace down and even build up sizable leads before the showdown, but they’ve been the one to collapse after the blades are drawn. FoFo still needs more experience, and the rest of the squad outside of BeBe has been pretty mediocre career wise in the 5v5 department. If they can contain enemy aggression and build sensible teamfight comps however, don’t be surprised to see these guys at MSI.

Prediction: TPA defeats M17 3-1, TPA defeats Flash Wolves 2-3

Flash Wolves

Roster: Top: MMD, Rins // Jungle: Karsa // Mid: Maple // AD: NL // Sup: SwordArT

The Flash Wolves started the season in seventh place for two weeks. In reaction to their losses, Breeze was sent towards ECS (the LMS’ Challenger scene) and Rins made fewer appearances in the second round. From there, they began to steady the ship, starting a mini renaissance with SwordArT going back to Thresh, and Maple re-learning Gangplank. They finished the season having won 13 of their last 16 games, while finally breaking a 10-game losing streak against ahq.

The Flash Wolves’ core strengths have remained the same from previous splits. In terms of talent, they’re one of the highest ranked teams as four of their five starting players have cracked the Top 30 on the KR challenger ladder at various points throughout the season. Their mid-jungle combo of Karsa and Maple has been FW’s engine, with the two having received a combined 70 percent of enemy bans. This has also been NL’s best split, as he leads the league in kills per game at 4.38 and KDA at 7.65. He has been able to play a PvE game for extended periods of time, pushing waves and towers and then coming into teamfights with large item leads compared to opposing marksmen.

The Flash Wolves are also considered the best lane swap team in the LMS. They have a record of early invades, are early adopters of taking Rift Herald, and have tailored global ultimate comps to win tower trades early. There’s a lot of variance in their openings which makes them dangerous, and they will often commit to tower racing to the point of inhibitor trading pre-15 minutes.

I give the Wolves a marginal edge over TPA, because I think Karsa is a more dominant jungler than REFRA1N, in addition to the teamfight edge mentioned. What will be crucial is what champions Maple puts the time into practice. The champion pool he settles on will decide the comps, and likely FW’s chances.

Prediction: FW defeats TPA 3-2, AHQ defeats FW 3-

ahq e-Sports Club

Roster: Top: Ziv // Jungle: Mountain // Mid: Chawy, Westdoor // AD: AN, RD // Sup: Albis

AHQ’s season was all about increasing variety in their gameplay. The 2015 World Championships had been a bit of a disappointment for the squad, as they believed that they could have achieved more with their talent, but were dealt a poor hand by the patch. This is where Chawy’s rotation mid came in, to round out the champion pools to include more traditional mages. So far there has been mixed results. They’ve had improvements in macro game, learning to be more patient and actually opting out of fights at times and have played more comps, including poke compositions. But ahq’s stats have also plummeted across the board (no longer are they the team with the most 20 minute leads, or buff control, or Dragon control among others).

Though their record doesn’t show it, ahq have played a large number of lousy games this season: they started 0-5 against MSE, winning games while behind in kills against XGamers, and trading-tit-for-tat with a near winless Cougar team. While some of it can be explained by the change in team structure, the more likely scenario is that they’ve been complacent at times. The reason why they’ve been able to hang on to their wins, despite falling behind often, is quite simple: there is no team in the LMS that can teamfight them 5v5.

Ziv is still a rock in teamfights, AN still is the best teamfight marksmen at 607 DPM, and even Albis has been given a first-team nod. The Flash Wolves have only managed a single win against them this season, and the Taipei Assassins are still seeking for their first one.

Perhaps, the most interesting question on ahq, is who the team will field. Hulk, ahq’s manager, has openly said that the team will not use the rotating mid-lane of Westdoor and Chawy during the playoffs. While ahq might be intentionally misleading, there is also some reasoning in that swaps between team systems have made their play messier. Plus, the reason they signed Chawy in the first place was to have him play internationally, so playing him now in a best-of-five series makes sense. There is also the possibility of sitting out AN to play RD or even sitting out Mountain to play AN at the jungle(AN was previously known as the jungler “Ohreal” on Taipei Snipers) and RD as a marksmen. The last scenario is actually somewhat expected for this summer since Mountain’s wrist injuries could resurface leading up to Worlds.

With 20 days between regular season and when they actually enter the booths, lineups and the potential make it difficult to analyze ahq’s playoff strength. After all, roster shake-ups are exactly what started the ahq legend last Spring.

Prediction: ahq defeat FW 3-1

Clement Chu is a Garena LMS caster. You can follow him on Twitter.

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