Kelsey Moser reviews the EU LCS Top 3: One of these is not like the other

by theScore Staff Jun 12 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

In the first two weeks of the EU LCS, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about which teams will top the standings. Yet teams that sift to the top do so for a reason, whether it's an easy early-season schedule or a head start at understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

G2 Esports, H2k-Gaming and Fnatic have drifted to first, second and third place after the first two weeks, and at least two of them seem to be ones that have gotten a good handle on themselves and their play. I could write separate, lengthy articles about how H2K and G2's unique playstyles have begun to take form.

Fnatic still flounders, and their persistent directionlessness is as confusing as it is unexpected. Looking at this week's games, the task is to ferret out the lynchpins holding G2 and H2K back — and to try and make sense of the catastrophic mistakes that Fnatic made in their second series.

G2 and the Trick to the side lanes

One might describe G2 last split as playing to the mid lane, but in reality mid lane played to the jungle. The synergy between Kim “Trick” Gangyun and Luka "PerkZ" Perković at times seemed so finely tuned that the distinction between the mid lane and the enemy jungle blurred.

Whatever you think of them, that G2 didn't exist this week. While Trick and PerkZ still deserve to be called top players in their roles, their synergy came through less prominently, and G2 played much more to their side lanes. Even Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek, who shared his role for the first time since G2 joined the LCS, received more jungle attention than mid in all three of his Irelia games.

Yet G2 still don’t feel accustomed to incorporating their side lanes. Trick’s pathing to his lanes was mis-timed with when his laners were pushing out. Kikis especially, used to constantly shoving waves to allow for easy jungle invades, doesn’t seem to have a system for optimal ganks nailed down with Trick. Both Kikis and the duo in bot could work on holding the minion wave in the center of the lane at around Trick’s Level 3, or even just keeping the flow of communication open, to smooth out their timings.

PerkZ also pushed out mid less. He found himself being dived on under turret on multiple occasions in both the Splyce and ROCCAT series. This removed the easy pathway for Trick to play his invasive style and set up aggressive vision. As a result, even more pressure drifted to the side lanes, as less deep vision led to fewer early Teleport plays in the enemy jungle.

What's more, PerkZ’s style seemed somewhat less compatible with picks like Zilean. G2’s mid laner gets the most out of a fight by finding openings, darting in to deal damage, and then slipping out quickly. More utility-based picks or fighting from behind don’t work as well with PerkZ’s strengths.

G2’s vision control also had a more defensive element to it this week, which worked well for them in some instances, but poorly in others. One particular weak point was setting up for dragon, something that more than one top European team has struggled with so far this split. Though they do manage to set vision in river or behind the dragon, vision in the red-side blue jungle is regularly overlooked. This has led to swinging fights, as unexpected Teleports come in from the blue buff area, or teams get collapsed on as they move to the dragon. It's exactly what happened to G2 in Game 2 of their ROCCAT series, when they played on blue side and focused primarily on defensive vision.

Yet G2 still appeared far from disastrous. The team looked much more put together than last week. Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez handled their 2v2s well, even without jungle pressure. G2 played creative dive compositions that suited their style and worked well when Irelia came paired with a failsafe like Zilean or Soraka on deep engages.

Ki "Expect" Dae-han, the Korean sub who stood in for Kikis in their Game 2 loss to ROCCAT, had a less than impressive debut in part because Kikis’ Teleports seemed smoother with G2’s new bottom lane. Expect’s first Teleport was almost comically executed when he died nearly instantly. The new top laner can improve, but Kikis appears to work better with the team and excel more on Irelia, though other champion picks may change the story.

Perhaps G2’s most dominant game, with PerkZ playing Vladimir, reminded me of EDward Gaming in 2015 LPL Spring, when the team used Heo “pawN” Wonseok’s in-your-face playstyle to attract the enemy jungler and evade him. PerkZ played a similar role here while Trick did damage on other parts of the map. This style seems much more like G2, even if it may seem counter-intuitive to experiment more with PerkZ acting as a distraction rather than the main carry. G2 already appear to be heading in this direction.

If PerkZ can push out mid without a lot of pressure from roaming support, or Trick can get bottom lane ahead much earlier to allow mithy to roam as Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenball used to, G2 can place aggressive wards more easily and open their map control. Until then, strange starts and stops in side lane ganks may persist.

H2K-Gaming and the pick composition reversion

H2K-Gaming stumbled in the EU LCS in 2015, but eventually found success with roster changes and a new focus on pick compositions. After a season of adamantly shoving side waves and rotating with softer jungle pressure, the pick compositions have returned. I have missed this style, especially given the strengths of Yoo “Ryu” Sangook, and I welcome H2K's reversion, but they aren't yet using their compositions optimally.

The problem is where they are focusing their attention. Partly because H2K’s new favorite bottom lane duo, Ashe and Zyra, don’t have the safest roams or the ability to enter fog of war and place vision, H2K have had considerably more success taking fights and finding picks in lanes or in the river around Baron or dragon. This means that the jungle, where strays most often wander, goes underutilized. Most of their catches come from over-extensions — but on the flip-side, their split-pushers have also over-extended. Both Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek (more often in Week 1) and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu have fallen prey to catches from over-extending. The culprit here again is a lack of attention to the jungle.

RELATED: Dexter and Jankos break down the new patch and the Ashe/Zyra bot lane

When a player dies to an over-extension, it usually means they haven't prepped the nearby jungle with sufficient wards. As a result, the enemy team can slip through and get a free kill. They can then rotate for an objective advantage. H2K want to play to this style, but they’ve left themselves open to being exploited the same way. For example, in their first game against Giants, even though H2K continuously won fights in the river, they lost an important fight around dragon because (like G2) they didn't prepare the red-side blue buff jungle around dragon. Their lack of deep vision also meant their preferred split-pushes got shut down; they only had success split-pushing by trying to bait fights around Baron, because there they had full vision of a team attempting to lure them into a 5v4.

Of course, H2K did ward. In fact, H2K have the highest wards per minute of any team in the EU LCS. But their warding was inefficient — many of their wards went to river, or to over-warding parts of the jungle they didn’t use. Odoamne would get caught out pushing on the bottom side of the map when H2K had wards in red-side red buff jungle and no corresponding pressure. Communicating where to put the vision and setting up the split-push could help with both baiting a potential pickoff and getting free objectives.

Ashe and Zyra don’t just seem attractive because they work in pick compositions. H2K also made use of their long range and pushing ability in lane swaps. In their second series against Fnatic, they opened by taking Draven in a lane swap. Draven can get easy stacks for his passive in a lane swap without contention. More execution of niche bot lane strategies could create a more diverse and well-rounded H2K.

Teamfighting, again, has improved, but part of the reason open fights work better seems to be that H2K's flanks are unguarded. Freeze and Ryu have been easy to pick off if enemies sneak up on them. Better deep control can also eliminate enemy wards and stop Teleport flanks before they start.

Fnatic and the clear and present danger

Fnatic don’t deserve to be in the same category as G2 Esports and H2k-Gaming. I almost didn’t include them, except that they sit just one point below H2K in the standings. The third-place team have a much more worrying split ahead, and they're a lot more likely to succumb to pressure from teams like ROCCAT, Splyce and Schalke.

Fnatic have had a relatively easy schedule so far against Unicorns of Love, Giants and an underwhelming Team Vitality. Their first difficult opponent was H2K this week, and that was where their flaws came though much more clearly.

Fnatic’s confusing snowball composition in Game 1 seemed focused on playing safely while Kha’Zix farmed. While Lee “Spirit” Dayoon has successfully played Kha’Zix in multiple games, it doesn’t have the same early pressure as a pick like Lee Sin or Elise. Meanwhile, their Leblanc was almost entirely neutralized by H2K's Viktor without early pressure.

Following the draft, Fnatic managed to get a strong advantage in the lane swap. Instead of using it to continue to exert side lane pressure or revert to standard lanes and pressure itemization leads, however, they moved to the mid lane where Ryu's Viktor easily stalled any push. Most of the team grouped up and lost opportunities to farm, completely ceding any advantage, while H2K froze both side lanes and continued to farm Draven.

In Game 2, Fnatic overreacted to H2K's scaling power, scrapped their snowball composition and drafted three losing lanes. They picked Kalista into Draven, a well-known counter. Instead of forcing a lane swap, they took standard lanes, and every one of H2K's lanes got ahead in farm. All the while Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski could navigate the jungle as he pleased, and Fnatic completely foundered within the first 15 minutes.

Unlike G2 and H2K, Fnatic don't seem to have made marked improvements between Week 1 and Week 2. Confusing drafts accompany perplexing early game lane assignments. Fnatic can start by accompanying stronger early jungle picks with stronger lanes, or using their obvious lane swap understanding to bypass the laning phase more effectively. Better draft understanding will come with time.

Next week, Fnatic face more middle of the pack teams. Right now it looks like they’ll lose to Splyce — at least — unless the status quo changes.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.