Flawless execution or variety: EDward Gaming's predictable formula

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

EDward Gaming is now the longest running League of Legends Pro League dynasty. For nearly two years, EDG have sat uncomfortably at the top, winning three of five LPL titles, and making the final in four. Behind-the-scenes drama has taken notches from EDG just as persistently as their prominent domestic rivals, but they stay ensconced as the most consistent top team.

As contenders rise, split apart, and wither away EDward Gaming remains — albeit wistfully. EDward Gaming’s 2015 Mid-Season Invitational victory over SK Telecom T1 in the final still marks the team’s peak. Their dominant 2015 LPL Spring season, with only six games losses of 44 total games played, hasn’t repeated itself, and until recently, it looked like it never would again.

With only Ming “clearlove” Kai, the team’s core member and captain, remaining from the original roster formed in the winter of 2013, EDward Gaming have once again ascended. In eight series, EDward Gaming have only lost four games and maintain their grip on the LPL as the only team yet to drop a best of three. They felled their most recent rival, Royal Never Give Up, to gain revenge for their defeat at the conclusion of the 2016 LPL Spring season.

In post-match interviews, clearlove makes jokes about his high KDA stature. Following EDward Gaming’s match against Oh My God, clearlove told press his team begged him not to pick Skarner for a third game, so he simply picked Kha’Zix. EDG’s facade of nonchalance is well-earned, as persistence has assured hardly any team domestically can make them sweat. They haven’t looked this good since 2015 Spring.

They also haven’t ever had so many lingering questions raised. With great heights, new solo laners stand in the shadows of Tong “koro1” Yang and Heo “pawN” Wonseok. In EDward Gaming’s recent undefeated Demacia Cup Round Robin and quarterfinals run, the team even opted to play pawN for two round robin matches before Lee “scout” Yechan returned to the roster for the quarterfinals. scout bears 27.3 percent of the team’s deaths, and Chen “mouse” Yuhao has dealt a paltry 15.5 percent of team damage and maintained an apparently stagnant champion pool consisting of Ekko and Maokai almost entirely.

mouse was originally a mid lane main — he almost subbed for pawN in 2015 Spring Demacia Cup

Yet it’s not EDward Gaming’s solo laners in isolation one should worry about when questioning the team’s new era of power. EDG look significantly less unshakable when one realizes they have only won 50 percent of their games on red side in the League of Legends Pro League, their Demacia Cup winning streak and perfect win rate on blue side aside

Though players have rotated out of EDG’s starting roster, the team has remained remarkably similar in style. clearlove still farms well and prioritizes the AD carry when he ganks. The top laner is tasked with remaining entirely self-sufficient, and EDward Gaming’s greatest fluctuations in playstyle depend on their mid laner.

Individually, Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and Tian “meiko” Ye play better than they ever have. clearlove continues to exert presence as a secondary carry threat. scout and mouse continue to improve upon their weaknesses. EDG’s biggest problem isn’t and never has been individual play; it’s the cutting nature of a commitment to one style. While the best execution and not necessarily the greatest creativity or variety brings teams international success, if EDG haved already exposed holes in their execution domestically, they will have a major decision to make in the coming weeks. It’s a question that has plagued many great teams: stick to what you know, or take a risk and make yourself either stronger or weaker than ever.

The red side or the blue side

It begins and ends with clearlove. EDward Gaming’s cornerstone and team captain is creative in his use of vision to the point where he can often respond well to all opponents’ attempts to gank with counterganks. This doesn’t mean everything about him is flawless and beyond reproach.

In particular, how EDward Gaming choose to play the early game around clearlove is a warning sign with his somewhat predictable starts on blue side this season. In 11 of 12 blue side games in the LPL this regular season, clearlove has started on the blue side blue buff jungle. Typically, he then will clear small camps, secure red buff, and look to gank the bottom lane through the bottom lane bush. clearlove will then vary his pathing depending on the actions of the enemy jungler, but this start is almost painfully common for EDG this season in particular.

On red side, clearlove is slightly less readable. On red side, he's started three times near blue buff, and three times near red. In the other two red side games, clearlove invaded the enemy jungle to start. Much of this comes into EDward Gaming’s tendency to play into lane swap scenarios when they play red side.

EDward Gaming have played in a lane swap scenario (specifically, an instance where a different number of players from each team are in top and bottom lanes at three minutes into the game, usually in a 3v0 configuration to fast push) in four of their eight red side games (with three wins and one loss), but only two of twelve blue side games. EDward Gaming have started their duo lane in the top lane (either anticipating the opponent’s swap and wanting to match or to initiate their own) in five of eight red side games, but only one of twelve blue side games.

It’s easier for clearlove to take similar pathing routes to gank deft’s lane on red side if deft and meiko head to the top lane, but on red side, clearlove also usually ganks later on in the game. In these cases, he’ll invade the opponent’s blue buff jungle, and wrap around behind the top lane's first tier turret (or its remains), to gank the top side of the map for deft.

One might expect that clearlove would be able to exert early pressure and secure first blood more frequently on red side because the formula is less predictable, but of EDward Gaming’s ten total instances in which they’ve secured first blood, eight were on blue side. EDward Gaming’s average first kill occurs at four minutes and 55 seconds on blue side, but not until nine minutes and 30 seconds on red side. Instead, there have been instances where deft and meiko have engaged on their own and lost trades when the enemy jungler comes.

As a result, deft and meiko are actually more likely to fall behind in lane on red side. On blue side, deft averages a three creep lead at ten minutes, but a four creep deficit on red side. This all points to EDward Gaming’s lack of early control on red side because they can't get the same first gank they practice on blue side. Though EDward Gaming’s blue side play might be called predictable, their execution of it is such that, though enemy teams often use Teleports or their own junglers to countergank, expecting clearlove’s blue side pressure, EDG more often than not come out ahead through positioning, layering of crowd control or timing.

Is variety or perfect, yet predictable execution more important in League of Legends? A fine line exists between both. Some great teams have had a single, predictable playstyle, but because they’ve performed the same action so many times, they’ve been able to get away with it for extended periods of time — until ultimately someone else perfects a counter.

SK Telecom T1’s Bae “bengi” Seongwoong had a similar predictable formula for getting Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan ahead in 2015 Champions Korea Summer, but SKT could still get leads because they were practiced in their strategy. The Tigers offered more variety, experimenting with second wave lane swap pushes in the World Championship final using Jinx, but they had less crisp execution than SK Telecom T1 and fell to pieces.

Though clearlove’s predictability on blue side in the first five minutes is certainly target-able and counter-able, many attempts in the LPL have been made to crack him to no avail. Entering a bottom lane 3v3 against Edward Gaming in the first five minutes when they’re on blue side, even if deft plays a weak early game AD carry, is akin to surrendering at 20 minutes. The more worrying reality is that EDG haven’t found a similar strategy they can execute well on red side without their AD carry falling at least slightly behind on average at ten minutes.

It’s possible EDward Gaming are using their red side games right now to figure out how to change the formula, but by trying to move the action to the top side of the map where it’s easier to gank early, it doesn’t necessarily feel like that’s happening.

The solo lane misdirection

Then the solo lane problem comes into play. Rather than specifically call scout and mouse out for how they match up directly with other solo laners in the LPL and abroad, as seems to be the natural tendency, it’s more productive to place blame on EDward Gaming as a whole. The team’s decision to make bottom lane the focus at the expense of other lanes makes it really hard to assess mouse and scout as individual players for a variety of reasons.

Many teams in the LPL have a similar formula of ignoring their top laner to get the bottom lane ahead, but other teams have found pressure points. EDward Gaming dropped a game to Invictus Gaming when Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao got ahead on Vladimir in isolation. LGD’s strategy in Demacia Cup of repeatedly ganking for MaRin likely would have worked had MaRin not abandoned his split-push agenda or have picked something more effective than Renekton with Blade of the Ruined King for late game Teleports.

mouse has taken over koro1’s role of being almost completely ignored in the top lane, often to his own detriment. EDG’s new top laner averages a CS deficit of 6.2 at ten minutes, the second largest deficit in the league for top laners.

When koro1 first joined EDward Gaming, and the team began playing in early 2014, he faced very similar criticisms to mouse: the team constantly early picked a limited selection of top lane champions (despite this being in keeping with the 2014 Spring meta) and he constantly fell behind the enemy top laner. Yet EDward Gaming would almost always rather allow the enemy team to counterpick their top lane and save options for the other roles later in the draft.

EDward Gaming’s most first picked champion in the LPL this split is Maokai. Maokai fell slightly out of favor for most of the world on Patch 6.11, but EDward Gaming first picked it in two matches in the LPL since then and a handful of times in Demacia Cup. EDward Gaming also frequently blind pick Maokai or Ekko as something they appear to consider “safe” top lane picks. Both can be countered by Trundle if the enemy team pressures the matchup, but Maokai and Ekko will always have a stronger Teleport presence.

This practice is again very consistent with EDward Gaming’s approach to draft in 2014 Spring as well. By 2015, koro1 had moved past many of those criticisms and mastered the art of self-sufficiency. Though, it slowly started to deteriorate by the time Worlds approached, especially when health concerns and other problems meant he got less play time.

If one does fault mouse directly, it’s the absence of the ability to split a team fight with clearlove. koro1 would often dive the back line while clearlove peeled the front. In this way, EDG could split a team fight, but mouse hasn’t had quite the same zoning impact. Perhaps he can learn this with time as other aspects of his play have improved. Regardless, it’s unreasonable to expect any top laner to be able to maintain the ability to constantly survive on their own, no matter how skilled, and it’s something that has always been an exploitable problem for EDward Gaming.

As for scout, what he does well for EDward Gaming is create a midlane control point. He doesn’t pull jungle pressure as pawN once did, which makes clearlove’s farm tendencies more suspect and it also makes it easier to target deft’s lane as an enemy jungler. Yet scout has given EDward Gaming a strong mid game.

Baron — again

By often holding mid lane turret longer than most teams with scout's wave clear, EDward Gaming gets a lot more out of the map in terms of objectives between ten and twenty minutes. EDward Gaming, originally a late game teamfighting team, transitioned into an early game snowball team in 2015, but lately have settled into the shape of a team that identifies mid game objectives well, understands turret trades and — another old standby — love to rush Baron early.

pawN recently played for EDward Gaming in Demacia Cup — would his return signal a stylistic change?

I May, Royal Never Give Up, and Snake eSports all average a higher gold lead at 10 minutes than EDward Gaming, but at 20 minutes, EDward Gaming surpass Snake’s and I May’s average gold leads, going from an average lead of 165 to 1,725 gold. Though Royal Never Give Up have a gold lead of almost twice as much at 20 minutes, their 10 minute gold lead is nearly 1,000 gold, meaning that while EDward Gaming snowball their lead more effectively between 10 and 20 minutes, RNG look for extremely early pressure.

A lot of this comes through when the first outer turrets fall. EDward Gaming’s first objective times for turret and dragon are about middle of the pack for the LPL at 11 and half minutes for first turret and 15 minutes for the first dragon. EDward Gaming then use vision from clearlove and meiko to find catches and transition to turrets or dragons quickly. EDward Gaming frequently ran double global compositions with pawN on the roster, using Rek’Sai and Twisted Fate (lately in Demacia Cup, they used Pantheon mid to counter TF), and scout has started to play more Twisted Fate recently.

Using this approach, EDward Gaming maintain a steady increase in turrets taken from 15 to 25 to 35 minutes. Royal and Snake, who outstrip them for turrets taken at 25 minutes, peter off at 35 despite similar W/L records (this average only includes games that extend to 35 minutes). EDward Gaming have only had a gold lead at 10 minutes in 62.5 percent of their wins, but have had a gold lead at 20 minutes in 87.5 percent of their wins. EDward Gaming give themselves early game wiggle room by making smart objective decisions in the mid game.

A big part of that is the Baron. Last year, EDward Gaming had the earliest first Baron rate in the LPL. While this is no longer the case, they have an average first Baron time of 26 minutes and 53 seconds, and EDG’s Baron calls make or break them. Many times, they’ll be willing to give up half of their team in deaths to secure the early Baron and snowball a turret lead. This is a very risky decision, and while it has worked for EDward Gaming in the LPL, it might not be as successful against teams internationally who have better Baron vision control and can snowball the situation in reverse.

Especially since we’ve all seen this before. Not only EDward Gaming, but many teams like Fnatic in the past have gained advantages off early Barons. Top teams understand how to play against this much better now. Again, EDward Gaming can continue to refine their Baron control, or they can evolve and risk it on something else.

Part of the reason this EDward Gaming doesn’t feel as strong as their record suggests, part of the reason spectators constantly look at mouse and scout and find them wanting despite many of their faults being a product of EDward Gaming’s bot-centric dynamic, is because it’s so easy to just compare this roster to the one in 2015 Spring. It’s an echo of its former self; it has hardly evolved to accommodate a changing roster and their individual strengths.

The heights of the past are tantalizing, but not necessarily repeatable without stylistic change

It’s the same EDG, only worse, not necessarily because the players are — in many cases, the players, specifically the bottom lane, feel stronger — but because we know how they work, and so does the rest of the world. EDward Gaming’s coming decision isn’t an enviable one. Either they adapt or they keep trying the same strategy and hope to finally achieve flawless execution.

Despite the impressive results granted on blue side, they probably won’t.

Photo credit 一村's album and lolesports flickr.

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