In the 2016 LPL Summer hype video, the production crew strung together an array of poses featuring the league’s most iconic players, including EDward Gaming’s Ming “clearlove” Kai, Invictus Gaming’s Song “RoOk1E” Euijin and Royal Never Give Up’s Jian “Uzi” Zihao. For the 2016 LPL Spring’s third place team, however, perhaps the least established player, Ke “957” Changyu, took center stage. The clip lasted less than two seconds before ripping away to Bae “dade” Eojin’s baleful gaze.
It’s inaccurate to say that Team WE lack popular or star players, but the team’s conservative roster moves preceding the 2016 season didn’t include any superstars. The closest is perhaps support Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup who, after placing second at the 2014 World Championship, faded in obscurity on two relegated rosters in 2015 with his work ethic called into question.
Team WE’s roster changes were smart, addressing obvious flaws on the team and minimizing the loss of carry jungler Lee “Spirit” Dayoon. Yet few predicted that, without a monster carry, the team would place third in the 2016 LPL Spring season, giving eventual champions Royal Never Give Up a much tougher series than second place team EDward Gaming.
With their lowkey success, Team WE were the only team to make no alternations to their starting and substitute roster between the start of the 2016 LPL Spring season and the third week of the 2016 LPL Summer season. This raised a few questions given WE's obvious flaws. Averaging the longest game time in the 2016 LPL Spring season at 38 minutes and 29 seconds, Team WE weren’t the most entertaining team to watch.
In WE's games, no single player seemed to lift weight and rewrite the impossible. The flashiest of plays came through when Xiang “Condi” Renjie, dubbed “Son of Baron” by his fans, pulled off an incredible Baron steal, but that still left at least 25 minutes of waiting. Rather, WE’s advantages come in how the pieces of the roster fit together and the team’s patient understanding of power spikes.
Occasionally mis-characterized as passive, Team WE have a tendency to draft scaling compositions. AD carry Jin “Mystic” Seongjun and jungler Condi favor picks like Ezreal and Graves that rely on holding early game and scaling for late game.
Yet their strategy isn’t so one-dimensional. In the 2016 LPL Spring regular season, Team WE averaged the highest first blood rate at 69.23 percent. The team actually also averaged a 10 minute gold lead, but they had the lowest percentage of games at which they acquired the first tower (41.03). Team WE could lose lane swaps, and top laner 957 usually suffered the worst of it, giving up farm to facilitate Msytic’s scaling.
It’s still hard to say WE have a weak early game. Su “xiye” Hanwei, Lord of Chinese solo queue, has one of the strongest laning phases of mid laners in the LPL. Though he may not push his opponents out of lanes, he consistently holds a farm advantage, which opens up the map, allowing Condi to farm and find opportunities to ward or take first blood.
Team WE then rotate mid lane, jungle or AD carry to a free side lane in a 1-4 to begin building individual gold advantages. In the early laning phase, Team WE find the appropriate individual advantages. The way they do this relies less on Condi finding proactive ganks, as he seemingly always prefers to farm, and instead upon WE’s ability to develop strong anti-dive techniques. This puts a lot of pressures on Zero's shoulders.
One unfamiliar with the LPL will remember Zero as the support who made the 2014 World Championship final alongside Jian “Uzi” Zihao. Zero’s skill with peel kept Uzi dealing damage and running through teamfights. Outside Janna and Thresh proficiency, one of Zero’s best champions is Braum and he’s recently become one of the most interesting Bard players to watch.
Many of WE’s compositions can be characterized as greedy. Viktor, Ezreal and Graves have been drafted together by WE in more than one game, giving them very little early game presence. This makes repelling dives more crucial.
Zero frequently holds his abilities for disengage opportunities. This gives Mystic less presence in lane, but when teams invariably try to dive WE to get kills from their poor laning picks, a Bard or Braum ultimate can completely alter the situation. Few of WE’s first bloods last split were actually instigated by Condi. Rather, Condi would come for the countergank after the dive, and Zero would disengage and turn the situation.
The focus on bottom lane derives from the Double Teleport meta. A lot of fights take place in bottom lane because it’s convenient for junglers to walk bottom and both top and mid lane to Teleport in. This makes it easy for Team WE to transition to a dragon and take advantage of standard lane scenarios with a lead.
In commentary, WE’s ability to execute anti-dive with picks like Ezreal and Bard or Sivir is often left out of the narrative. As the game progresses, this style continues to excel in multiple lanes with hard engage presence from 957 and additional disengage from xiye when he comes out with champions like Viktor, who can use Gravity Field to trap a target, and Azir, whose ultimate has massive re-positioning potential.
While drafting, WE constantly prioritizes compositions with multiple forms of wave clear and disengage whenever possible. They like to bring three threats from xiye, Mystic and Condi, and rely on 957 and Zero to control the area of the fight. Having played so many games together, when the team finally gets to the teamfighting phase, Team WE layer crowd control well and understand how to abuse terrain for advantages.
In this way, WE have been frequently characterized as passive for understanding their power spikes and running greedy compositions. Yet what causes WE to have close matches isn’t that they play passively, but that they occasionally make crucial lane assignment errors in the mid game.
WE averaged a 200 gold lead at 10 minutes in the LPL Spring season, but a 180 gold disadvantage at 20 minutes. Rather than closing seamlessly from the start, WE fumble in the mid game.
WE, like many teams in the LPL, have a poor grasp of 1-3-1 lane assignments. Their failure to secure turrets resulted in the second latest first turret take of any team in the League of Legends Pro League this spring. While WE succeed by keeping turrets up and countering dive attempts, knowing when to take them down and how to transition from a situation where they allow Mystic or xiye to freeze in a side lane causes them to fall behind.
In WE’s worst recent series, LGD Gaming punished WE by using imp to get picks and group in mid game against some of WE’s freezes. Condi also invaded LGD’s jungle too eagerly. LGD’s Game 2 against WE was a rare instance where xiye had fallen behind and didn’t have the lane control to provide reinforcements for Condi’s invade. LGD’s lead spiraled against WE when they failed to adapt to a disadvantaged situation, and their position worsened when players got caught out pushing side lanes too far.
Rather than relying on xiye to hold the enemy mid laner in the center of the map, WE need to consider grouping earlier and sending multiple members to the mid lane to open the map in their favor. To do this, they may need to begin drafting less safe scaling picks. In Game 1 against LGD Gaming, WE demonstrated that they have more dimensions and can play to an earlier power spike to take turrets with Lucian. It’s just that side lane assignments and a failure to secure the vision in mid game dragon fights punished them.
When WE started playing in the LPL this year, they relied on Condi to control the game on Lee Sin or they rectified crucial mid game errors by using his ability to time Smites and abuse the LPL’s lack of vision control around Baron. But WE have made significant gains since then. Their understanding of how to counter dives is invaluable in a meta with stronger turrets, and control mages favor WE’s love of wave clear. As the support meta opens up, Zero has the opportunity to play more and more of his signature disengage picks.
WE’s most successful game this split featured an aggressive, Protobelt-building Vladimir against I May. xiye used Ghost, Flash, Sanguine Pool and Protobelt on Vladimir to play extremely far forward in the lane. WE put pressure on mid lane and took the turret much earlier than they do on average. They abused the open map to take control the of the jungle and ended the game in 26 minutes.
It would be a mistake to call WE a one-dimensional team that plays passively until one decisive team fight. Many times, WE draft for late game, but more and more they’re showing their value is in understanding power spikes and how to utilize their players well. Since the influx of Korean super stars in the LPL, it’s rare to see a team so high in the standings without a high powered name in a carry position.
Outside Zero, WE’s players are “A Tier,” meaning that they’re exceptional and rank well among their peers, but they aren’t S class stars like Kim “deft” Hyukkyu or Cho “Mata” Sehyeong. Many would even strike Zero from the list of S Tier players because he only achieves elite status on disengage picks, but he’s perhaps one of the best disengage supports in the world.
957 seems like the least likely candidate for team mascot with Condi stealing Barons, xiye achieving fame for his solo queue prowess, Mystic’s oft-complimented facial features and Zero’s earlier glory days. WE’s top laner took over the captaincy of the team from Peng “Aluka” Zhenming, and his place in the video is a near-perfect metaphor for the new WE.
WE has long been an org synonymous with star power, even before League of Legends, but it’s well remembered as the most successful Chinese LoL organization internationally for winning the IGN Pro League 5. Gao “WeiXiao” Xuecheng and clearlove are two of the best remembered Chinese players in the world. After a year of failed attempts to facilitate carry jungler Spirit, “Keep your dreams” was salt in the wounds of a relegation-level team. It's ironic that, now, WE doesn’t have any celebrities the LPL production crew deemed crucial enough to include in the season’s hype video for much longer than one second.
Flaws still plague WE, but this summer they’ve retained their most valuable asset: their unity. It’s given them more dimensions, and WE currently defy attempts to define them. Even saying this team has no stars seems disingenuous since playing for an organization like WE automatically makes one a star in the eyes of Chinese fans. WE are slowly evolving while retaining their strengths. Right now, a team that only made conservative roster upgrades and lost their primary carry between 2015 and 2016 looks like a top three team in the LPL, a team bound for the 2016 World Championship.
Since their inception, the organization has re-branded from World Elite to just Team WE. These two letters lacked meaning since the departure of clearlove, Yu “Misaya” Jingxi and Feng “Fzzf” Zhuojun. An empty acronym was the label for a LoL team that chased after legacy players and solo queue climbers to pull them over the line.
It's still early to call this team elite, but the name "WE" doesn’t feel so empty anymore.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports who still retains a soft spot for WE. You can follow her on Twitter.