Free reign: Immortals' success and Fnatic's jungle struggles

by theScore Staff Jul 7 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of NA LCS / lolesports flickr

As if overnight, Immortals Kim “Reignover” Yeujin radically improved, the narrative reads. During Fnatic’s undefeated 2015 EU LCS Summer rise, if spectators were forced to choose a weak link in the lineup, many would gravitate toward Reignover. “Low pressure,” “ward bot,” “small champion pool” and “predictable top lane ganks” were repeated phrases.

Even before the 2016 Spring season, the tone changed. Those with access to scrims began to whisper reverently about Reignover. Immortals, expected to play around Heo "Huni" Seunghoon, had started crushing the competition, not because of their top laner, but because North American teams and junglers struggled to pin down and keep track of Reignover.

That still didn’t prepare those unused to this kind of Reignover for his first split of the North American League of Legends Championship Series. His willingness to treat the map like an open playing field, as if the river didn’t divide it in half by sides, made Reignover appear daring. Often dwarfing his opponents in creep kills and securing more early objectives for his team by grouping with them in the mid lane, it became clear that Reignover’s aggression, not Huni’s defined Immortals.

“Reignover is, like, my dream jungler, actually,” teammate Eugene “Pobelter” Park said in an interview with the Daily Dot early last Spring. “He’s great at putting down vision, he has good mechanics, he definitely has no fear.”

The near instantaneous quality of this transformation astounded. Many preferred to believe that Reignover was just always good, and no one had noticed. Reignover himself blamed his own motivation for his comparatively lukewarm performance on Fnatic. “…during the summer split we were dominating the opponent and I was losing so much desire to improve when I should always look to improve,” Reignover said. “People don't understand how hard it was for me, but I can say that I kinda had small (depressive disorder) during those days.”

Reignover’s explosive transition from “Fnatic’s weak link” to “NA LCS Spring Split MVP” isn’t just about motivation or a change in environment. It showcases Immortals’ ability to do what Europe’s Fnatic hasn’t been able to and is still trying to do: play around their jungler.

Though characterized as a supportive player, Reignover has a lot of tendencies many might associate with a carry jungler. His focus on farming has granted him Top 2 in CS leads at 10 minutes among junglers in the leagues in which he competed for the last three splits (including the current one), and he was among the Top 10 junglers in the world for percentage of team gold in 2015. Reignover’s favorite pocket picks, Rengar and Olaf, also fall into the carry jungler category.

A high percentage of team gold only underlined Reignover’s inconsistent early game impact on Fnatic. In 2015 Summer, Reignover only dealt 13.6 percent of his team’s damage, and at times he seemed relatively invisible. He invaded opponent jungles to put down vision unpunished, teams found early games success focusing his champion pool or camping bottom lane when he showed an unwillingness to respond. When Origen took two games from Fnatic in the 2015 EU LCS Final, Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Maurice “Amazing” Stuckenschneider displayed better coordination in dives than Huni and Reignover.

It’s easy to blame Reignover for a lack of motivation after his statement, but Fnatic have eerily similar disconnects around their jungler now. While Fabien “Febiven” Diepstraten made a comment at the start of the season that he believes Lee “Spirit” Dayoon’s ganks are better than Reignover’s, there will be games where Spirit will only farm the jungle, and his presence will hardly be felt, just as Reignover had in 2015.

At times, Fnatic plays well around Spirit, and he has looked like the team’s MVP in their wins this split, farming well and counterganking as Fnatic take over the map, yet Spirit sits at eighth of all junglers for kill participation this summer in the EU LCS, suggesting that in many instances, he has trouble getting involved. This is very similar to Reignover’s bottom three ranking of kill participation among junglers in 2015 EU LCS Summer and the sense that he had a relatively low early game impact outside ganking for Huni.

In 2015, Fnatic’s goal wasn’t to play around their jungler like it is now in 2016, which means that a lot of these flaws come through more obviously. When one compares differences in how laners behave on Immortals and on Fnatic, some of what may have unlocked Reignover as a jungler becomes clearer.

Like Spirit, Reignover didn’t always have low pressure early games on Fnatic. One of Reignover’s most impressive games for the team occurred in their first match against Invictus Gaming at the 2015 World Championship. Reignover laid out his thought process after the match.

"I was scared to do risky plays with blind vision,” he said, “so I wanted to put vision first, and then see where Skarner is, and then make plays. So I tried to put deep wards... Because our laners were kind of good at pushing lanes, so we had an advantage on laners that come faster than me, so I could just freely enter the enemy jungle."

This sentiment echoes the commonly accepted thought process that pushing out and winning lane is important to allow your jungler to invade. When teams have strong laners seeking to force the enemy under turrets, these laners can react more quickly to assist their junglers in invades, while players farming under turret have to choose between sacrificing waves or opting into a skirmish in the jungle, most likely from behind.

Huni has been lauded for strong laning, which also made it easier for Reignover to play towards his side of the map on Fnatic. On Immortals, however, both top laner Huni and AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran have been characterized as reckless or over-aggressive. This plays well into the style of a jungler who likes to invade and lay deep vision as well as follow up on vision to create opportunities later.

Comparatively, Fnatic have much safer laners that naturally exert less pressure. Febiven’s largest point of criticism has been his lower-pressure laning phase, where he sometimes seems to fall just behind his opponent. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim are more often seen under their own turret than pushing out their waves. These scenarios led to either risky jungle invades, wards Reignover never followed up on, or a tendency to play much more to Huni’s side of the map.

While some may see Immortals’ playstyle as reckless or foolish, sometimes even lacking in foresight when they push resolutely to the turret in long lanes following lane swaps, it also makes Immortals much better at reacting well or making proactive plays with Reignover. If Huni and WildTurtle (along with Adrian “Adrian” Ma, who often plays ranged mage supports that can assist with wave clear) constantly keep their lanes pushed, they can group mid to create early pressure and take the first turret faster.

According to League Analytics, Immortals have the highest rate for securing the first mid lane turret in the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Only three teams in the LMS, LCK, or EU LCS have higher rates, with Flash Wolves and Jay Team having high rates because of the decline in competition after the top two or three teams in the LMS.

Immortals take the first mid lane turret in nearly 70 percent of their games, far above Fnatic’s 50 percent in the EU LCS. The outer mid lane turret is perhaps the most important objective for controlling the jungle, and a team that desires to play around their jungler should make it a priority. Immortals’ ability to react well to Reignover by pushing out waves and keeping aggressive side lanes is a form of risk that completely opens up the map for Reignover, giving him more freedom and responsibility to succeed.

When Reignover and Immortals as a team decide where they want to apply pressure and appear to constantly act together, Reignover’s creativity as a jungler really makes him stand out. Immortals’ playstyle invests in Reignover’s ability to maximize the efficiency of his time. Picks like Rek’Sai that can move quickly across the map make this much easier, and compared to junglers on struggling teams like CLG, the amount of decisions Reignover makes and the actions taken per game are dizzying.

At the start of the 2016 season, Fnatic fans saw the team’s acquisition of Spirit as an upgrade, but now when Spirit plays, there are a lot of eerie echoes to last year. It’s exacerbated by the fact that, in the absence of Huni, Fnatic now have almost no lanes that draw pressure early and can give their jungler an easy path across the river. Spirit’s greedier playstyle with more focus on building damage early rather than vision makes Fnatic even worse at reacting as a unit. Frequently, if the enemy jungler catches one of Fnatic’s laners out, and Spirit is on the same side of the map, he won’t move to countergank.

But though the symptoms may vary, the same problems remain. Fnatic don’t have a playstyle that suits them to playing around a jungler. Since Febiven and Rekkles became the constants of the team, they’re much more likely to play a slower game and look for team fights. Their insistence now on playing around Spirit creates continuous hiccups when they can’t get the lane control they need or don’t have the right early vision to push out minions in extended lanes after a lane swap.

That’s a big reason why, on Immortals, a team that plays really efficiently around their jungler with laners often invading the opponent’s side of the map even before Reignover meets them, Reignover looks a lot more like the jungler Fnatic fans expected Spirit to be.

Contrary to earlier explanations, this transformation wasn’t one that happened overnight. One could see hints of the jungler Reignover has become during major events like the World Championship or the Mid-Season Invitational when Reignover’s proactive and aggressive Warrior Enchantment Rek’Sai complemented Febiven’s all-inning Zed well.

Fnatic could never create this scenario consistently for Reignover last year, however, and even though they’ve gotten better at it with concerted effort and Spirit this year, it’s possible the style that constantly pushes out lanes and creates pressure for an invasive jungler is just too out of line with their natural instincts. Either way, a lot of making a jungler work, no matter his strengths, is in finding a team that matches him. As the 2016 season winds down, it’s become increasingly apparent that, for Reignover, Immortals is exactly that.

Kelsey Moser writes about Fnatic struggling with Spirit — and occasionally other things. You can follow her on Twitter.