Kelsey Moser's LPL Review: Snaking up the standings

by theScore Staff Jun 13 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / LPL screengrab

The final week of the first round of intergroup matches has passed. Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming remain on top, poised to clash in next week's opening match, but EDward Gaming have exposed more holes, leading to a single game loss to Invictus Gaming. Newbee’s and Oh My God’s play appears increasingly uninspiring, yet LGD Gaming, despite appearing to have given up, still squeaked out a win against OMG.

The most interesting story comes from Snake eSports’ continued rise. The addition of Lê "SofM" Quang Duy and Tan “Martin” Qi gave Snake four consecutive wins and while their opponents, Saint Gaming and Invictus Gaming, hardly inspire deference, the cohesiveness with which they played deserves an article of its own.

Top story: SofM’s Snake eSports

I intend to undertake the task of unpacking SofM and Martin’s impact more thoroughly later in the week, but a brief overview and look at Snake’s games reveal both great things and warning signs for the future. Snake’s first game against Saint Gaming showed their ability to utterly dominate Group A’s last place team, but though many looked at SofM’s performance as a solo endeavor, he played a predictable jungle path, invading the same side of the jungle, going for the raptor camp on spawn and ganking mid lane exclusively.

Yet what I call predictable should also be called incredibly effective. Saint Gaming’s poor draft not only ensured that every lane would naturally lose their matchup, but it made mid lane an obvious gank target with a stationary Xerath. Snake immediately reacted by pushing out the lanes so SofM could invade easily, and whenever Saint tried to contest his invades, Snake’s laners got there faster.

Whatever the change, whether it’s Martin (Yang “kRYST4L” Fan stated he had a large role in comms before, and the AD carry swap could have improved Snake’s focus) or SofM, Snake operated much more as a unit. The trust in their new style became obvious. Snake now goes in, asks questions later, and seeks to obliterate their opponents at the start of a match.

Snake’s bottom lane played a huge part in the team’s success. SofM ganked top on red side, mid on blue side, but never went to the bottom lane. Yet as Martin and support Xia "JieZou" Heng commanded their own lane, Jiezou could roam to the top lane as early as 10 minutes in, and vision always covered the map to support SofM. Surprisingly, even when Invictus Gaming teased out SofM’s patterns and punished them, Snake could make a comeback with smart flanking wards, something we’ve never seen from this team before.

While SofM’s patterns need obvious fine-tuning, perhaps force of habit from playing a solo carry style for so long on Full Louis and in solo queue, Snake already trust him. They’ll follow him anywhere. That’s impossible to breed easily, and while one might immediately assume adding a third language should break down team play, the opposite happened. For the first time since the departure of Ceng “U” Long from the main lineup, Snake feel like they could become an actual team.

Tabe of iG, one of Snake's opponents this week

Teams like Invictus Gaming have already begun to see through SofM’s strategy, which means next week may be rough for Snake when they play against Team WE, the squad that feels the most unified in all of the LPL at the moment. But I'm optimistic. A team makes a jungler as much as a jungler makes a team, and Snake suddenly have the makings of both.

Recommended Watching

Team WE vs Vici Gaming

Team WE played two incredible games against the third place team of Group B, the first of which demonstrated how to play Leblanc, even against Braum and a tank line in the late game, as a threat in sieges. The second demonstrated nearly immaculate Twisted Fate play to snowball early.

That doesn’t mean WE didn’t have flaws. Xiang “Condi” Renjie fell prey to a Baron steal yet again as WE made risky plays out of desperation in Game 1. When they slowed down and looked for openings, however, they kept control and closed out. As WE continue to develop more dimensions, they need to keep themselves in check and learn how to exhale.

Single games to watch

EDward Gaming vs Invictus Gaming Game 2

EDward Gaming fumbled the draft. Hard. After giving Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao a first pick Vladimir, EDward Gaming also succeeded in last picking Swain into Viktor, Gragas, and Nami. The first part of the game, EDG played creatively to their bottom lane, but the second part of the game, Invictus Gaming’s solo laners came out and demonstrated how to counter Swain effectively.

Snake eSports vs Invictus Gaming Game 2

Invictus Gaming pin-pointed Snake’s early game predictability and struck back aggressively. That’s when the seas parted and Snake demonstrated their real strengths with their new lineup: vision control. Wards peppering the map allowing Snake to consistently get pincering flanks to cut off Invictus Gaming and turn the game. This game showed that Snake have more to them than they’ve demonstrated already.

Most Valuable player: JieZou

The gut reaction may be to flame me for not putting SofM here, but the team itself improved significantly with roster changes in two positions. Martin ended the week with a 63 KDA, played to a level spectators had yet to see from him, and Park “TANK” Danwon’s flanking in team fights sky-rocketed. SofM and his laners worked well together, and if Snake continue to triumph over tougher opponents, he’s a serious contender for MVP for the split.

But from my perspective, this week was about Snake’s bottom lane. Partly because of the nature of their opponents, Snake accomplished a great deal through the self-sufficiency of Martin and JieZou. They could push in their opponents on their own, and when they accomplished that, the map opened for JieZou. He roamed as far as the top lane to help Li “Flandre” Xuanjun get ahead when he and SofM were stumped by Choi “acorn” Cheonju’s Hecarim. Vision control shone through as Snake’s greatest strength in TANK’s flanks.

JieZou’s play-making on Nami, Karma and Braum also allowed Snake to control fights to a surprising level. Jiezou did a remarkable job for Snake and seemed to be everywhere. Though a lot of credit goes to SofM, JieZou ensured that Snake didn’t get derailed by Invictus Gaming in the early game. I had reservations as to whether JieZou could fill Kwak “Ella” Nahoon’s enormous shoes, but he has seemingly done so to a remarkably high level — at least this week.

That’s so China pick of the week: Leblanc

It’s back, and almost entirely because of Sunday in which Leblanc was picked in five of seven games and won four of them. Part of this comes as a result of the mid laners. Su “xiye” Hanwei, Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao, and Xie “icon” Tianyu all seem willing to pick Leblanc and other assassins frequently. Chinese mid laners think of Leblanc as more of a safe and highly mobile pick than a risky all-in, leading to instances where they even pick her into Viktor.

Against tanks, the Leblanc players don’t use Leblanc with the expectation of one-shotting someone, but of taking a significant enough amount of health to force a team off a turret in a siege. Leblanc’s high mobility makes her suited to this task. Though five of seven games may seem excessive, especially into Viktor, who can trap and punish Leblanc, they made it work.

Did I mention that LPL favors the Teleport Leblanc? By forgoing the all-in one-shot potential of Leblanc, she becomes even more mobile and turns into a split-pushing force. This has aided the approach to 1-3-1s, as this strategy has become increasingly common.

Many other regions may see Leblanc as a risk that has to snowball, but the LPL uses her as much more of a patient pick to look for openings and force off fights lately. This is an interesting departure in the champion's typical usage from a western perspective. Teams like WE and Royal Never Give Up are beginning to alter the status quo.

Standings summary

Placement Group A Score Group B Score
1. EDward Gaming 5-0 Royal Never Give Up 5-0
2. Snake eSports 3-2 Team WE 4-1
3. Game Talents 3-2 Vici Gaming 3-2
4. Invictus Gaming 2-3 I May 2-3
5. Newbee Gaming 2-3 LGD Gaming 1-4
6. Saint Gaming 0-5 Oh My God 0-5

EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up start the second round with a head-to-head battle that, right now, seems very RNG-favored. While Chen "mouse" Yuhao and Lee "scout" Yechan improved more in the last three weeks than expected, they’re still far from the solo lane pillars that used to support EDward Gaming. While Royal Never Give Up have yet to convincingly incorporate Jian “Uzi” Zihao, the rest of the team still works well together, and Uzi is a clear upgrade in the AD carry position. This should go well in RNG’s favor unless Ming “clearlove” Kai just overwhelms the bottom lane matchup with pressure, and EDG snowball from there.

Snake eSports and Team WE are once again on similar level, and their series closes the week. Team WE are more comfortable in their skin and have played together for longer. They may isolate Snake’s weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean Snake don’t have the ability to drown them early, especially with Condi’s own less-than-creative jungle pathing. Both teams look convincingly like second place teams in their group at the moment.

Game Talents’ creativity makes them look more impressive than I May, and Invictus Gaming can still pull off a 1-3-1, though their series against Snake exposed obvious weaknesses in vision control. Group A may have slightly more depth, but they have weaker top teams.

Vici Gaming looks like the only mid-tier team in group B, but their bottom lane is far from consistent, and Graves picks on Choi “DanDy” Inkyu can shut the team down without giving them early presence. Yet VG favor Graves for his late game carry potential.

I May treads auspiciously above LGD Gaming and Oh My God, but with the return of Chen “pyl” Bo, life may return to LGD — it just doesn’t seem likely any time soon. Oh My God and Saint Gaming, however, are completely lost. Neither seem confident, neither team has an identity, and both scramble and flop pathetically in draft phase.

I avoided mentioning Newbee Gaming. They appear to look worse and worse. Their close series against Saint Gaming disappointed many. Though pieces of Newbee seem to perform well individually, they don’t fit together. The magic of the mid game glue has faded, and disjointed players try to fashion themselves into a weapon in the late game, often too late. Newbee may turn out just as disappointing as LGD.

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