The first week of the League of Legends Pro League presented only modest surprises. Contextually speaking, I May topping Group B is only unexpected because Royal Never Give Up isn’t, but considering the opponents both teams faced,I May appear fleeting . Dragon took over the League of Legends Pro League, and only Oh My God managed to lose games with a dragon count advantage.
Distilling the LPL to its finer points is an ongoing challenge. It’s another split, another week, and we’ve started yet again.
Top Story: I May the undefeated
In my preseason ranking, I had I May slated at fifth in Group B. At the end of Week 1, they’re the only team that has yet to drop a game, including leading powerhouses Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming. Half fluke, half defying expectations, the key to I May’s success has been part easy opponents, part efficient map movement.
One of I May’s sets nearly dragged to Game 3 with Oh My God’s Yu “Cool” Jiajun securing his signature Twisted Fate pick and OMG stock-piling dragons. I May’s coordination and ability to make crucial objective trades kept them in the game as they split OMG’s focus while chipping at their base and pulled out a 40 minute victory.
I May’s expected victory over LGD Gaming had much shorter games. LGD failed to contest almost any objective and limply ceded objectives. I May’s clean victory is less impressive in the context of LGD having done absolutely nothing to stop it.
I May's strengths come from understanding which objectives to prioritize. They have control of the map from game start with 100 percent first objective rate in all categories except first kill and Rift Herald (i.e., first dragon, first tower, first Baron, first inhibitor). I May’s scouting seems strong in that they’ve isolated priority lanes in both sets, ganking mid lane early against Oh My God and top lane against LGD.
The team’s flaws aren’t immediately apparent, but from the League of Legends Secondary Pro League, Shek “AmazingJ” Wai Ho is top lane camp dependent against more formidable foes, which showed itself to an extent even against LGD Gaming’s Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan. Jungler Zhao “Mitty” Zhiming so far hasn’t remotely resembled the much maligned Fireloli who used to sub for EDward Gaming, but it’s hard to imagine his weaknesses have been completely corrected. Kang “Athena” Hawoon and Kang “BaeMe” Yanghyun rarely exert mid lane pressure. The team’s support, Yun “Road” Hangil is by far their strongest asset.
I May just barely sneaked into the LPL, and their players are not unfamiliar. The team’s greatest test is against Team WE this coming weekend. Team WE, projected to place second in the group, have so far only lost to the formidable Royal Never Give Up, and only after taking a game from them. Both teams have been together most of the year, but Team WE’s LPL experience should expose more of I May’s flaws.
Comparatively, Game Talents in Group A have flown under the radar. Though in second place, they have yet to drop a set. They’re nearly a direct parable to I May, with smart map movements and a hold on the dragon meta, leading the league with 87 percent dragon control. Their opponents, Saint Gaming and Snake eSports, like I May’s foes, also sit at the bottom of the table. The more impressive underdog will show itself after Game Talents tussles with NewBee Gaming.
Team WE vs Royal Never Give Up
It’s somewhat rare in the League of Legends Pro League for the series recommended at the start of the week to also end up being the best by week’s end. Team WE’s slow build allowed them to claim the first game against Royal Never Give Up, but RNG exhibited the same ability to quickly adapt and learn game-to-game that’s made them terrifying in the LPL before in snowballing Games 2 and 3 relentlessly.
Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu showed off the trick he admitted he had picked up from Counter-Logic Gaming’s Jake "Xmithie" Puchero in using Kindred ult to halt LPL’s “Son of Baron,” Xiang “Condi” Renjie. His Kindred ultimate kept back what would have been a successful steal.
Jian “Uzi” Zihao has yet to fully integrate into Royal Never Give Up, by the team’s admission, and he’s occasionally cost RNG objectives, but his skill is, as always, obvious. Given Wang “wuxx” Chen’s own predisposition toward awkward positioning and map awareness, Uzi is a clear upgrade, but one will need to watch this team closely to see if the average 1.5k gold lead at 10 minutes translates into more than brute force success stories.
Single games to watch
NewBee Gaming’s surprising loss to Invictus Gaming showed the latter team’s obvious strengths when Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao brought out an unexpected Fiora. iG executed a continuous 1-3-1 that ultimately allowed them to secure the game and made a case for Fiora’s return on a more permanent basis.
More Royal means more bottom lane smashes, but Vici Gaming took more initiative in Game 2. Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon’s Azir finally returned in impressive form as if previously sedated, forcing RNG to drag out the game longer than they likely intended. With a stronger showing from AD carry Pi “XuanXuanPi” Xiaoxuan, VG may yet contend with I May for third seed in Group B.
Most Valuable Player: Mata
Though Royal Never Give Up lost a game to Team WE, their opponents were more challenging than I May’s, and some of RNG’s jaw-dropping stats make them stand out more impressively. 100 percent average first blood rate at around five minutes of game time, 70 percent dragon control, and a relentless pursuit of victory yield an average 1.5k gold lead at 10 minutes.
Cho “Mata” Sehyeong has been involved in almost every play, with a 100 percent kill participation in their most trying game against Vici Gaming, heavy warding, and minding a new lane partner. Even on a team of high performers, Mata still looks like a star. He didn’t win an MVP from me last split, so he’s well overdue.
As most leagues have yet to commence, it’s difficult to determine what is and what is not a that’s-so-China-pick, so a more productive discussion follows champions that have been appearing, how they’ve been used, and expected trends.
The most picked in each role are Maokai and Ekko in the top lane, Rek’Sai in the jungle, Viktor in the mid lane, Lucian as AD carry, and Bard and Karma as support. Viktor had by far the most picks of any champion at 19, and he was featured in 22 of 24 games total with three bans.
Ryze was the most banned with 23 total bans, but only one pick, resulting in a loss for Oh My God’s Cool against I May. The only champions with 10 or more bans were Ryze, Nidalee, Kindred, Azir, and Lucian.
The safety and tankiness of Maokai and Ekko make them obvious choices, but with changes to mage itemization, these tanks allow Swain to slip in and Trundle to make an appearance. Despite heavy pick rates, Maokai and Ekko have both averaged a win rate of less than 50 percent, 31.2 percent and 46.2 percent respectively while Trundle enjoys an 87.5 percent win rate in eight games picked. The change to Quicksilver Sash seems to have had and impact in putting Trundle back on the map; he’s already been banned eight times.
In the jungle, Nidalee and Kindred still rarely see play, and when they do, they tend to destroy with fast clear times and damage, but changes to Cinderhulk and bans open up Rek’Sai. Rek’Sai also gets bonuses from dragon fight priority with his tankiness and the inclusion of more immobile mages to knock up. This is excellent news for EDward Gaming, as Rek’Sai remains one of Ming “clearlove” Kai’s best champions. The Rek’Sai bans have been a bit confusing with Kindred and Nidalee available, however.
Everyone loves control mages! Sort of. With item changes, Azir vs Viktor is back with enough wave clear to free Braum from his cage and team fighting damage that makes dragon fights a less trivial proposition. With Viktor’s greater freedom to deal damage in fights without setup, I question whether he’ll slowly begin to see more bans than Azir, but for now the duel takes center stage with Ryze on the permaban list (unless your name is Cool).
Lucian can clear a full wave easily. He does an absurd amount of damage in the early game. He scales respectably and is incredibly self-sufficient. Lucian is boring because he’s always the best. Newer picks include Caitlyn, who has increased threat from her utility in sieges with more armor-heavy turrets. One has to wonder if picks like Jinx will also come into play since she can siege better than almost anyone, but her lack of escape is still a point of contention without Tahm Kench.
Bard does almost everything one could want with dives, resets, engages, picks, and an escapes. With more emphasis on dragon and fewer lane swaps, Bard’s early dueling potential also makes him hard to lane against. Braum and Karma are other power support picks. Karma has a lot of high mobility utility and damage like Bard, but also can synergize well with Sivir for absurd movement speed. Braum seems to work quite well when individuals walk into his range for stunning, and until teams learn their lesson, his laning phase threat is deceptively high. As already mentioned, whenever there’s a control mage, Braum can counter-siege well with his ability blocking technique.
|Placement||Group A||Score||Group B||Score|
|1.||EDward Gaming||2-0||I May||2-0|
|2.||Game Talents||2-0||Royal Never Give Up||2-0|
|3.||Newbee Gaming||1-1||Team WE||1-1|
|4.||Invictus Gaming||0-1||LGD Gaming||0-1|
|5.||Saint Gaming||0-1||Vici Gaming||0-1|
|6.||Snake eSports||0-2||Oh My God||0-2|
Despite dropping a game each, EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up still have yet to lose a series. Bottom lane and jungle remain the core of EDG, and Lee “scout” Yechan is still integrating into the team. More troubling is Chen “mouse” Yuhao in the absence of Tong “Koro1” Yang who, admittedly, didn’t play well in the LPL final. Mouse may be a necessary substitution to either motivate Koro1 or stall before a new addition arrives.
Royal Never Give Up still have obvious problems, but they’ve demonstrated an understanding of early game control and objective priority. They’re far from clean, but team fighting and closing capability make them easy LPL favorites.
Newbee Gaming and Team WE, despite taking a back seat, will contend for second place in their groups. Both favor a stall early style and stronger team fights later. Team WE has a head start in team coordination, but Newbee could get there if they better integrate Bao “V” Bo and utilize his leads. This has been my complaint since the team’s entry into the LPL, but when he’s continuously garnering 40 cs leads without Newbee taking advantage of it, something has to change.
Outside the rise of Game Talents and I May, the rest of the groups are expectedly disappointing. Even predicting LGD Gaming would finish last in their group, their complete inactivity is uncomfortable to watch, all that may be left is to harvest the still heathy organs from the corpse of what was once a great team.
The first week was the hardest on Oh My God. Despite three close games and an average gold lead at ten minutes, OMG still ended the week winless. Though Cool brings experience to the team, his performances have been disappointing, and OMG’s fixation on using Jhin handicaps their ability to engage without poking early.
Vici Gaming have a better ceiling with XuanXuanPi, but still lack early control. This team has enough smart deep vision control to be a threat with time, but time is something they might not have. Saint Gaming are Group A’s LGD with almost no life in them and no sense of direction. Perhaps an improved understanding of the meta will inject some hope, if they can ever pick it up.
Snake eSports still have the same problems. They can lane swap, but their coordination and ability to do almost anything else is lacking. Though Xia “JieZou” Heng is obviously talented, and Snake need to make him work to field Lê “SofM” Quang Duy, a Snake roster will never win purely on individual skill, and sacrifices made to team play by benching players like Kwak “Ella” Nahoon inhibit a team-oriented direction that could make Snake avoid bottom two in their group.
Finally, Invictus Gaming have yet to truly transform. As more carry tops enter the meta, they will find themselves in a better position, but for now Wong “Tabe” Pak Kan has made the team appear worse with a mechanical downgrade and minimal improvements in shotcalling. Liu “Kitties” Hongjun might be the better choice as mage supports return to the meta, as his Janna is still his best pick — but only of iG really, really can’t find anyone else. An “Rain” Hyeonguk remains their biggest problem with poor positioning and team fight presence.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter for observations regarding LPL team uniform fashion trends.