Kelsey Moser's 2016 LPL Summer Mid-Season Review

by theScore Staff Aug 4 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of 一村 / LPL / 一村‘s album

It’s that time again. That time where I make seemingly-arbitrary decisions about the best and worst things that the League of Legends Pro League has to offer. When teams make seemingly-arbitrary roster decisions or draft all losing lanes for seemingly arbitrary reasons, it feels in line with expectations. Naturally, there are absolutely explanations on both sides.

Yet not everything is the same as last split. It’s only fair to highlight that the LPL has made conservative gains in macro play comparatively. Lane swap strategies have improved, and intelligent trades have allowed certain teams like I May to rise through the standings when they otherwise would not.

Even with rosters less holistic and clipped in places, the LPL feels like teams are finding more well-rounded solutions to problems. Newbee and LGD Gaming, despite poor starts, have secured wins, and Snake eSports finally have a team identity. EDward Gaming, with apparent solo lane downgrades, have regained the spring in their step.

Teams must continue to climb to recover their glory, and a constantly shifting landscape will eventually coalesce. In the meantime, the summer has reached its halfway point. While LPL squads travel to Suzhou for the Demacia Cup, it’s time to reflect.

Top story: The strike of the coiled Snake

Snake eSports felt like there was something missing in their day-to-day life — then they acquired a new jungler and suddenly everything has been trending upwards. Though a great deal of shuffling has occurred in the LPL, including the addition of Jian “Uzi” Zihao, the rise of I May, and EDward Gaming's continued dominance, Snake’s story has still garnered the most attention.

Having played in the Garena Pro League as a jack of all trades for Full Louis, Lê "SofM" Quang Duy temporarily found himself on the bench due to his age. After returning to play, he received bids from teams in the Southeast, he finally found a home on Snake eSports. His high elo solo queue play has earned him epithets like “Vietnamese Faker” or “Lee Sin jungle god,” and Snake’s bid to acquire him would either stand out as the greatest stroke of genius or an embarrassing transgression.

Since SofM joined Snake, they’ve only lost three games (an unfortunate 0-2 at the hands of LGD Gaming and a single stumble against WE). They contend for second in their group, and possibly third place in the League of Legends Pro League. SofM’s extremely aggressive play has put him at the top of percentage of team gold in his role, with Nidalee kills breaking the double digits in a single game.

Yet analysts have begun to scrutinize SofM’s play and find it predictable. Against Invictus Gaming, Oh My God, and LGD, teams have managed to keep him from snowballing. In these instances, he’s continued to charge forward disastrously and had to rely on his teammates to pull him back into the game.

So far, the magic that SofM brings to Snake is less solo carry performances and more the ability to unite the team. All last split, Snake scrambled for a unifying identity, and SofM so far, for better or worse, seems to be it.

Whether or not SofM adapts will determine how far this team climbs. SofM, short for “Style of Me,” clearly reflects SofM’s desire to play his style. He’s said in interviews that he focuses getting himself ahead before helping his teammates. Top squads will either find ways to exploit this — or they won’t. LPL’s first non-Korean import could prove to be their most valuable.

That’s worth tuning into the LPL every week.

Main Rivalry: EDward Gaming vs Royal Never Give Up

Prior to the highlight match that opened the intergroup stage, the League of Legends Pro League aired clips of Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming players in game, flitting through rapidly before “Revenge” appeared on screen, hovering between the faces of Ming “clearlove” Kai and Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu. Production framed the 2016 LPL Spring final as a confrontation of two Chinese junglers leading each other on a collision course. This regular season confrontation was meant to be about revenge.

If clearlove wanted revenge, he got it. EDward Gaming abused blue side to get advantages in the 2v2 with help from their jungler, and clearlove’s counter-ganking sense seemed to set Mlxg continuously on the backfoot in Game 1. Yet the real surprise came from the bottom lane. The 2v2 prowess of Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and Tian “meiko” Ye unseated Uzi and Cho “Mata” Sehyeong. They looked untouchable.

Yet Royal had one dominant game. They floored EDG with strong lane matchups in match two and got the 2v2 advantage. The series left both teams feeling somewhat one-dimensional, but RNG adapted by setting more jungle pressure across the map in their match against Invictus Gaming.

All told, despite EDward Gaming’s struggles in their solo lane positions, it feels like a true rivalry between two strong teams exists in the LPL for the first time in a long time. They both have exploitable weaknesses, but their strengths align. Jungle and bottom lane will take a victory in LPL this split. As the playoffs loom, the question only becomes which one.

Biggest Disappointment: Newbee Gaming

LGD Gaming have taken a break from occupying this category, as there are only so many splits a team can disappoint before it becomes expected. To an extent, Newbee’s flop was also expected, but they’ve finished Week 5 in fourth in Group A just above Invictus Gaming and below Game Talents. For a team topping their group this time last split, that’s a long fall.

Newbee habitually draft losing lanes, and with a jungler who constantly seems confused as to where he should farm and which side of the map matches his team’s strengths, it’s nearly impossible for Newbee to bootstrap back in for a late game comeback. Though Kim “Doinb” Taesang doesn’t command the same body of work as Bae “dade” Eojin his presence as an aggressive mid game bridge did a lot of work for Newbee as a team, and they’ve suffered since.

An impressive single game victory over Royal Never Give Up to close the week came as the result of the team drafting strong lane matchups and a powerful early game jungle pick in Elise. Unfortunately, Newbee reverted to their old ruts in Game 3, but the signs are there. This team should be good.

They just aren’t.

Best Surprise: I May’s macro play

I May’s underwhelming showing in both the League of Legends Secondary Pro League and its playoff run didn’t give them high expectations going into the new split. After only beating two teams in their group, they found a second wind in the intergroup and have squashed fellow rising stars, Game Talents, to sit in second place in Group B for the time being.

None of I May’s players feel particularly strong relative to their peers in the LPL, and they’ve had cocky draft blunders that leave them without wave clear. Yet they have a better understanding of when and how to trade turrets. Their identity has a simple formula of Hong Kong top lane and jungle duo getting ahead to spread the lead to the rest of the map, then rotating for turrets faster. So far, it has gotten them more wins than expected.

I May won’t win the LPL, but they’re demonstrating the value of prioritizing objectives and understanding when to make a Teleport call. That’s something even the top teams could use a little more of internationally.

Moment of the first half: SofM takes over for Snake eSports

After a desolate first week, I had already written Snake off as a disappointment on par with LGD and Newbee. The team lacked focus and split apart as if dropped from a great height at a mere dragon contest. This looked to be Snake’s worst split so far.

Yet the arrival of jungle talent SofM set the team to rights. I can’t stress enough that SofM’s skill in and of itself hasn’t pulled Snake from the brink, but the confidence his presence seems to inspire. SofM still is far from the best jungler in the LPL. He needs more refinement and creativity in decision making, but he obviously has contagious confidence. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make champions.

Players of the first half

With teams rising despite cobbled rosters, ascribing value to a single player has become more challenging. Much of my criteria remains consistent. Teams that play well around a role make a player look stronger, players best integrated into their teams will have an inherent bias for skill.

Yet some roles, especially top lane, haven’t been used the most effectively. When judging top laners, one has to look at what they do correctly and some of the wasted potential before coming to the most optimal conclusion.

Top lane: Newbee’s V

Bao “V” Bo returns as my mid-season top laner for the second split in a row. This time around, it may be more difficult to make a case for him, but he continues to lane powerfully, engage well, and Teleport optimally, even while Newbee play scattered.

Averaging 14 cs over his opponent at ten minutes, V demonstrates a skill that makes him extremely valuable in the LPL: an ability to play on an island and still command a lead. Newbee rarely draft winning lane matchups, yet V still leads in cs per minute and still is able to create effective flanks in team fights.

dade and Yu “Peco” Rui, by contrast, almost always seem to fall behind in lane. When Newbee do succeed, either Baek “Swift” Dahoon has decided to play toward V’s side of the map, or V has created a zoning opportunity in a team fight for his carries to take advantage and play from behind. Newbee would be in a far worse state without V’s attempts to bridge the gap between early and late game.

LPL is full of players like V that rarely receive jungle attention, but V has demonstrated the best ability to deal with these situations and come out ahead while playing a wide variety of playstyles and champions. Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok makes a solid case for runner up, but his laning phases are more temperamental as a tradeoff for Teleports bottom lane. Ultimately, V has excelled in surviving self-sufficiently, and could be a cornerstone if Newbee climb back to relevance.

Jungle: EDward Gaming’s clearlove

Aside from having a fascination with Skarner (or perhaps in part because of his fascination with Skarner), clearlove remains the most creative jungler in the LPL. His pathing usually allows him to find the appropriate countergank, and his ability to exert pressure on the bottom lane on blue side means that, despite picking losing matchups, EDG have yet to lose a blue side game.

As jungle talent continues to evolve in the LPL, this is becoming an increasingly stacked role. Mlxg has made a larger case for himself with increases warding habits and more variety in his pathing as he farms early. SofM, though he is not the most creative jungler, has boldly unsettled other players through consistency, and his impact on Snake in and of itself makes him worth mentioning.

clearlove’s play has some inconsistencies to it. If he doesn’t continue to hone his skills and vary his approach, he’ll lose his perch. Skarner’s low pressure may not be the answer, especially if his own team is asking him not to pick it after two games, but he can pull out Kha'Zix when things look dire.

Mid: Invictus Gaming’s RooKie

Song “RooKie” Euijin returns to the list yet again as the best mid laner in the LPL. Despite Invictus Gaming occupying an even lower rung on the ladder than Newbee, the case for RooKie is overwhelming. His high damage numbers, ingenuity on high skill champions like Taliyah, and ability to nearly solo carry games make him the best mid laner in the league at a time when most mid laners simply sit and wave clear.

Though RooKie gets a great deal of attention from his jungler and Invictus Gaming as a team does make slight improvements, his impact is obvious. RooKie leads the league's mids.

This split, more than last, however, some other mid laners have had greater growth. Li “xiaohu” Yuanho demonstrated his star power at MSI and continues to perform reliably for Royal Never Give Up. Bong "Republic" Geuntae’s powerful laning makes him an unexpected contender. WE’s Su “xiye” Hanwei has finally begun to emerge from his solo queue star chrysalis and improve his team play.

Yet RooKie still makes the gap between him and the rest of the pack obvious.

ADC: EDward Gaming’s deft

I’ve gone into greater detail to make a case for deft being the best AD carry in the world, but within the League of Legends Pro League, deft has never felt like a more complete package. His laning and synergy with meiko has exceeded any previous level, and he continues to position well, especially in a meta that favors his champion pool where he can play Ezreal frequently.

Uzi is still less adaptable than deft, committed to a laning-oriented style, and WE’s Jin "Mystic" Seongjun has fewer picks where he can provide a high level game impact. Perhaps deft’s ever-present rival, Gu “imp” Seungbin might, provide more competition, but he’s spent too many games lately farming single-mindedly with less team coordination.

Support: Royal Never Give Up’s Mata

It may no longer be reasonable to say that Mata has more mechanical prowess and versatility than meiko. meiko has demonstrated fantastic gains and deserves to enter the conversation of LPL’s best support. His warding from behind remains a major asset, and he seems capable of performing impossible feats on a wide variety of high skill champion picks.

This is when intangibles start to matter. When your entire team sings your praises and insists that you’ve taught them the game, there’s no way meiko can compete for the title of LPL’s best support with Mata on the table.

Photo credit 一村's album.

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