As those who analyze League of Legends often do, I convinced myself that I understood the EU LCS after Week 4. I had certain expectations, and sure upsets would occur, but as teams would evolve, they had foreseeable trajectories.
I am also a follower of the League of Legends Pro League, so I'm used to being completely wrong. Though while I stand staunchly by a lot of conclusions I made in last week's examination of differences between NA and EU LCS, a few massive questions stuck out. Fnatic proved far further from a new rise than anticipated, G2's effective stomp of Fnatic became a mere memory with Origen claiming yet another extended victory over them on Day 2, and something is happening with Giants.
Even with the exceedingly delayed Origen game, matches ended much more decisively after an important play and stayed in the control of the hands of the early game winner. Fewer back-and-forths and more momentum-based games characterized Week 5.
Fnatic's flummoxing 0-4
When Fnatic found their place as the first place team in the EU LCS, they appeared to have started to refine a lot of their initial inklings of strategy. This week, Fnatic didn't win a single game. Both G2 Esports and Giants identified problems with Fnatic's playstyle and exploited them, affirming the once-grandiose Fnatic is far from "there," wherever their final destination may take them.
Fnatic's losses to Giants and G2 make a lot of sense since these teams seem to do what Fnatic wants to do with their new team — only better. Playing around Lee "Spirit" Dayoon has presented a split-long struggle for EU's favorite orange-and-black, and every time they seem to have figured it out, they stumble tragically.
Spirit plays the role of carry and central figure for Fnatic. The team has settled on a style that facilitates his ability to farm effectively, sometimes at the expense of ganks and early vision. G2, Fnatic and Giants sit in the top four for percentage of jungle creeps secured on average per game with G2 at 54.8 percent, Fnatic at 53 percent and Giants at 51.3 percent.
Yet something Fnatic struggled with this week is coordinating Spirit's map movement with the rest of the team. Casters heavily emphasized Noh "Gamsu" Yeongjin's greed in extending too far in the long lane for creeps in Game 1 of Fnatic vs. G2. Yet in this game, the first time he extended, Spirit was in the enemy blue jungle, primed to react at a moment's notice. When Spirit left the jungle, Gamsu initially backed off, but when he saw Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen pass over the wolf spirit towards the top side, he canceled his recall and continued farming, assuming he wasn't under threat. By the time he was ganked, Spirit was in his own blue buff jungle, on the opposite side of the map.
G2 utilized Spirit's lack of coordination with Gamsu — as they both looked to farm in the early game — to destabilize Fnatic's composition in the late game. Fnatic gave up lane advantages across the board to allow Spirit to farm while G2 got the matchups they wanted to pressure. Gamsu, as Shen, presented the only real protection for Spirit's Graves against Kim "Trick" Gangyun's Olaf, as the Olaf could easily pass through crowd control and get to Spirit. With Gamsu punished in the early game and set behind, G2 completely unraveled Fnatic's strategy without them putting up much resistance.
In the Giants games, Fnatic had even more of their issues exposed. Recently, Fnatic have played well around supporting Spirit's jungle invade attempts, but in the Giants series, Na "NighT" Gunwoo and Morgan "Hustlin" Granberg constantly reacted before Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten and Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim to assist Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian, at times even when Fnatic's laners had a push advantage, so Giants had to give up farm to come to their jungler's aid.
I found this particularly strange given that Fnatic's bottom lane seemed to constantly preempt invades in Week 4, at one point to the extent that Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and YellOwStaR would begin farming camps to allow Spirit to last hit them. But this strategy also requires a great deal of lane control from favorable matchups as well as vision.
Compared to previous seasons, Fnatic have lacked somewhat in vision control, and a lot of this comes down to team coordination in laying wards. Gamsu places the lowest wards per minute of any top laner in Europe, and both Febiven and Rekkles are in the middle of the pack. A great deal of vision, statistically for Fnatic, comes from YellOwStaR and Spirit with both sitting near the top in their roles for wards placed per minute. That doesn't mean that Spirit prioritizes early vision.
In the first ten minutes of all four games Fnatic played, Trick and Maxlore prioritized vision items. Trick bought a Sightstone before completing his Stalker's Blade in Game 1 and purchased a Tracker's Knife early in Game 2. Maxlore bought a Tracker's Knife early in Game 1 and purchased a Sightstone at the same time as his Stalker's Blade in Game 2. Spirit bought neither a Sightstone nor a Tracker's Knife within the first ten minutes of either game, making it easier for enemy junglers to repeat invades by laying vision on the first visit. On average, enemy junglers placed 2.75 more wards in the first ten minutes of Fnatic's games in Week 5. This allowed Giants and G2 to have information that allowed them to react before Fnatic's laners.
With games getting decided earlier this week in the LCS, early vision will matter more, especially for teams trying to play around their jungler. These missteps are things Fnatic will need to revisit for Week 6. Unless Spirit takes earlier initiative for wards or gets more help with early warding, Fnatic may find themselves falling further behind in crucial early game moments.
Origen's minions vs. G2 Esports
Origen either play 80 minute games where they've controlled the pace for most of the match and strangle out their opponents with three waves of super minions, or they play games that are half as long, ending in their defeat. Or at least that's how it seems lately with Origen's 1-1 series against G2 Esports and Fnatic.
Let's start with what Origen have done well. In their wins, they identify the strong side the map and pressure advantages more effectively than their opponents by taking objectives. Against G2, when Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider ganked the top side 2v2 after Paul "sOAZ" Boyer's team sent him to the bottom lane, G2 likely assumed Amazing had pathed away on sOAZ's back. Since sOAZ had just pushed out the wave, and Origen had much better control on top side, however, he had stayed around for the gank, getting Origen their initial lead. The team then pressured well for a turret.
When G2 made a similar play, ganking sOAZ at around 20 minutes, they didn't make sure to secure vision on the top side around Baron pit, had trouble converting their kill into map control, and Origen snuck the Baron easily. This shows more objective-oriented play from Origen when they're able to get early leads. The reason for this is also the reason for their maddeningly long games: an emphasis on side waves.
Side wave control has become old hat. Most spectators with a taste for analysis have a grasp on it — rotate lane assignments so that top and bottom minion waves constantly push against the enemy. That way, when your team wins a fight, your minions waves will already be threatening enemy turrets, making them easy to take or allowing you to back and transition immediately to a large neutral monster objective like Baron or dragon without worrying about defending turrets from creeps.
Usually a region has a team that prioritizes that or does it better than other teams. Origen has begun to look like Europe's side wave control team (albeit inconsistently) of 2016 Summer. Reasons for this are multi-faceted. Shoving waves allows Origen to avoid confrontation until Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage, their current primary carry, scales on one of his preferred late game picks. Yet when they get to late game, Origen also may prefer to avoid full-on 5v5s because Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez is still a new AD carry with imperfect AD carry positioning, meaning major late game threats like Sivir players named Zven could cause team fights to go decidedly out of Origen's favor.
As a result, Origen really would prefer to have their minions win the game for them. This doesn't always work. In Origen's victory over G2, they drafted a nice dive composition, but G2 brought Zilean and Karma to offer anti-dive options, making Origen's attempts to end even more risky. Eventually, with enough of a lead, one really wishes Origen would just dive the Nexus, but for now we can at least appreciate that they aren't doing this for no reason at all.
Are Giants Gaming — actually good?
Of the three puzzles I've chosen to address this week, this is definitely the most challenging. First, because what makes a good team is decidedly subjective. No one can deny that Giants played well this week, winning all four of their games, including two against the once-first-place Fnatic.
Much credit has gone to Giants' top, jungle, and mid laner with casters sometimes making wistful and regretful expressions when the bottom lane enters the conversation. With Jhin, AD carry Son "S0NSTAR" Seungik has become a highlight, even picking up a "Player of the Game." Part of this comes from the fact that S0NSTAR's Jhin, after repeated use, has finally leveled up in precision.
Jhin hasn't been nearly as popular in Europe as in Asia until this weekend when it suddenly went from having been picked in five games to 17. Jhin's catch potential took a lot of teams off guard when S0NSTAR played him in three of Giants' four wins. His persistence has paid off.
Most of my praise still goes to the top, jungle, and mid with Hustlin getting more involved in jungle plays around Maxlore. Giants' tactic seems to revolve around taking vision control in a specific quadrant of the enemy jungle and repeatedly pressuring it for farm and ganks in the closest side lane. If that jungle quadrant exists on the bottom side of the map, this helps S0NSTAR's laning phase and gives the team more dragon control.
The real key to Giants' up-tick seems to be in taking more early and mid game-focused compositions. This encourages them to group earlier, especially around Maxlore's invades. By taking picks like Rumble or Nidalee, Giants can be much more aggressive early around dragon. By running Thunderlord's on Jhin, a Keystone that synergizes better with an armor penetration build, Jhin's mid game is also less punishing, but he's not as terrifying late as he would be with a crit build. Giants have more reason to put their foot on the gas and force objectives.
Some of these forces could go wrong. With more emphasis on early vision, Fnatic could have prevented some of Giants' predictable repeated invasion attempts on their blue buff. Instead of forcing Spirit out, Giants could have found themselves trapped and lost control.
NighT and Maxlore as a duo have begun to look (at least this week) a bit like G2's Luka "PerkZ" Perković and Trick. NighT almost always seems willing to back up Maxlore on his invades or help him with vision control. He keeps his own lane well secured. If Giants can continue to build on this core, they can work out a lot of their problems and refine their playstyle enough to actually become a good team.
Yet if the meta shifts away from utility AD carries (like it hasn't in at least a year) or Europe begin to run more compositions that punish Jhin like we've seen in Korea or China, then Giants will have far more problems. S0NSTAR's integration in particular has been slow. Giants may need to continue to put pressure on his lane and find ways for him to play carefully in the back line before one can truly solve this puzzle.
All statistics come from OraclesElixir.com.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.