There’s nothing more exciting for a fan than to welcome a superstar to your favorite team’s roster, but sometimes the best moves a team can make are less dramatic, by filling the right need in the right way.
Fnatic’s acquisition of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek as a top lane replacement for Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin has the potential to be one of those moves. If Kikis adapts well to his new environment, his more stable play should prove to be an upgrade in a role that has been a weak point for Fnatic all year.
Battle of the Role Players
Gamsu and Kikis have spent plenty of time directly butting heads in Europe this year, even trading a handful of solo kills. Neither player has stood out among the very best top laners in their region, both claiming spots somewhere in the middle of the pack, but they have each contributed to strong results for their own teams, with Kikis helping G2 Esports win the 2016 spring split, and Gamsu playing a role in Fnatic’s third-place finish last split and current second-place spot in the summer standings.
Those strong results are part of what makes the conversation around Gamsu and Kikis so interesting. Both players now share the honor of departing from a team while it is sitting at or near the top of the standings. It’s worth remembering that when Kikis left G2 earlier this summer, his record with the team was 7-0. Kikis wasn’t removed from G2 because of his performance; he left because of dissatisfaction with having to share the top lane with Ki “Expect” Dae-han, with whom G2’s record has been a less impressive 11-6. Though, it would be disingenuous to connect those win/loss records too directly to the individual performances of Kikis and Expect, Kikis’s separation from G2 should definitely not be seen as a knock against him.
With Gamsu and Kikis both serving as supporting players within strong teams, it’s easy to gloss over Fnatic’s roster change as a “sidegrade,” but that label oversimplifies the comparison and fails to identify some important factors that suggest good things for Fnatic’s future, factors that are revealed by a more detailed analysis.
Making the Comparison
A direct comparison of Gamsu’s and Kikis’s stats over the past split and a half reveals some similarities, but also some differences in each player’s performance and usual role on their team.
|Gamsu - Spring||3.2||70.5%||22.0%||18.6%||23.2%|
|Gamsu - Summer||4.5||61.1%||18.8%||17.8%||23.4%|
|Kikis - Spring||4.6||65.1%||22.3%||19.1%||21.2%|
|Kikis - Summer||4.6||69.9%||29.8%||19.0%||25.3%|
Reflects 2016 spring regular season and 2016 summer regular season week 1 to 6.
Both Gamsu and Kikis have maintained above-average KDAs, symptoms of their teams’ success. Gamsu had higher kill participation in spring, which reflects the differences in how Fnatic and G2 Esports played, with Fnatic doing more grouped team fighting and G2 doing relatively more skirmishing. But Gamsu’s kill participation dropped this split, as did his death share, suggesting that Fnatic spent more time playing to other parts of the map.
Kikis has generally done more damage than Gamsu. In summer, that has been related to the two players’ champion pools, with Gamsu sticking mostly to tanks and Kikis more frequently picking up bruisers like Irelia and Fizz.
Kikis’s summer death share of nearly 30 percent is a scary number, but should be taken in context with his 4.6 KDA, and his team’s 7-0 record in those games. Many of Kikis’ deaths were used by G2 to secure cross-map plays.
For top laners, CS share post-15-minutes (CS%P15) is generally a proxy for split pushing, and neither Gamsu nor Kikis has averaged very high split push numbers. In the spring split, Gamsu and Kikis had the two lowest CS%P15s among EU top laners, and in summer, while Kikis climbed into the middle of the pack, Gamsu again ranks second-to-last.
Though there are small differences, performance stats don’t clearly separate the two players; the distinctions between them come from how they generate those numbers. Differentiating Gamsu and Kikis requires a closer look at their strengths and weaknesses.
Gamsu’s Tantalizing Inconsistency
Throughout Gamsu’s career, he has thrilled fans with occasional bursts of brilliance, only to follow his strong games with periods of mediocrity sprinkled with inexplicable mistakes. He’s been inconsistent both from game to game, and from moment to moment.
Gamsu’s main strength is those bursts of brilliance. When he breaks out, he really takes off, hard carrying on champions like Olaf or Jarvan IV. His brilliant games are rare, but they are beautiful. Gamsu can also be creative with his champion pool, most notably bringing out Zac earlier this summer. (He lost with it, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)
Gamsu’s list of weaknesses is a bit longer. His inconsistency touches several different parts of his play, from his map positioning to his teamfighting to his Teleport usage. Gamsu often finds himself in No Man’s Land in the side lanes, both early in lane swaps and later while he’s trying to split push, and gives away free deaths that Fnatic has only sometimes been able to capitalize on with cross-map plays. In teamfights, he seems to follow up many of his good plays with poor ones, and his synchronization with Spirit and YellOwStaR on initiations has been hit or miss. Too many times, Gamsu and his teammates have had different game plans going into fights, leading to mistimed skill use or poor positioning. Gamsu’s TPs are another area of instability: now and then he nails a TP, but he flubs them just as often, arriving late to fights, or placing his TP poorly or executing badly once he arrives.
On top of these issues, Gamsu is also a poor laner, tallying a -4.6 CSD at 10 in the spring regular season and -4.8 CSD at 10 this summer. Enemy junglers seem to enjoy good success when ganking Gamsu, and he doesn’t make it as difficult as he should.
With that laundry list of problems, it’s easy to draw very negative conclusions about Gamsu. The reality is that the less Gamsu stood out in any given game, the better, because his mistakes were usually more eye-catching than his successes. With a high-variance teammate like Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon in the jungle, Gamsu’s unpredictability wasn’t a good fit for Fnatic. When a player has high highs and low lows, the best approach is usually to set that player up to carry, investing jungler attention and farm into them so that you can reap the rewards and limit the chances for enemies to punish the player’s weaknesses. An example of that approach is the Immortals’ Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, whose aggressive play style is enabled very effectively by the way his team plays around him. But when Fnatic attempted to play around Gamsu, they rarely saw good returns on the resources they invested into him, making him more of a liability than an asset.
Kikis’s Steady Improvement
Fnatic will hope that Kikis can be a more stable, consistent, low-variance performer than Gamsu, and while Kikis fits that description in some areas, it doesn’t entirely capture his play style.
Kikis took some time to adjust to being a top laner. For example, he struggled earlier this year with his Teleports and team fight initiations, two key functions for top laners. Over time, though, Kikis has grown in both areas, especially in his TP usage. With G2 earlier this summer, Kikis consistently delivered strong TPs for flanks, setting up many successful team fights. Within those team fights, Kikis has been solid, if unexceptional, doing well on utility tanks like Ekko and Maokai or bruisers like Fizz and Irelia.
Laning, unfortunately, is an area where Kikis shares Gamsu’s weakness: his -6.3 CSD at 10 in the 2016 spring regular season was worst among all EU LCS top laners, and his -11.3 CSD at 10 with G2 this summer holds the same distinction. Kikis, like Gamsu, has sometimes been an easy gank target: he has averaged 1.1 deaths in the first 15 minutes this summer, worst among EU top laners.
But Kikis’s laning numbers and high early death count are partly a symptom of his laning style, which features a lot of all-in plays that can pay off big, but can also backfire. In his seven summer split games, Kikis has led EU top laners in both solo kills per game, at 0.7, and deaths to solo kill per game, at 0.4. These numbers show how loosely Kikis plays in lane, but they also show improvement relative to the spring split, where he earned far fewer solo kills while still giving up more deaths to solo kill than any other top laner except Peter “Atom” Thomsen of the Giants.
Despite his uniquely aggressive laning, Kikis nearly always took on a secondary role with G2, deferring the primary responsibilities to his teammates, and with teammates like Kim “Trick” Gang-yun, Luka “Perkz” Perković, and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, who can blame him? G2 rarely set up Kikis’s individual strength as one of their win conditions, instead using him as a distraction in some games, or a tanky initiator or disruptor in others. Even when Kikis was playing strong dueling and split push champions like Fizz, Irelia, or Trundle, he was more often called on to shove waves to open up teamfight opportunities, rather than setting up true split push situations with multiple pressure points on the map, where Kikis’s ability to 1v1 and kill towers would be relied upon. Kikis’s CS shares post-15-minutes, as seen previously, show how little split pushing he actually did, with both his spring and summer numbers falling near the bottom among EU top laners.
Drawing out the comparison with Gamsu, Kikis suffers from some of the same early laning challenges, but his mistake count is usually lower, and he delivers more consistent TP usage and team fighting.
Chasing the Upside
Whether or not Fnatic replaced Gamsu because of his performance on the Rift, the team will be hoping that this change brings improvements, and that Kikis’s play style and personality will mesh well, and quickly, with the rest of the roster.
The main attribute Fnatic is counting on from Kikis is his reliability. Fnatic doesn’t need Kikis to carry games — Spirit, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and Febiven can do that. What Fnatic needs is a solid, steady player who can be counted on to fill his role.
That’s generally what Kikis has been, aside from some erratic laning, and it’s what Kikis was doing better and better with G2 as time went on. With Kikis, Fnatic have upgraded their TP usage and team fighting — on paper, at least — and they have reduced their risk levels by hopefully getting rid of Gamsu’s frequent mistakes.
Fnatic may even be able to make more consistent use of Kikis’s kill-hungry laning than G2 did, if they’re willing to assign Spirit to playing around Kikis with early resources. Rekkles has shown in the past that he can excel in a secondary role, so having a more reliable carry top laner might be appealing.
It’s not clear whether Kikis can be a legitimate carry threat, since he usually hasn’t filled that role, but his champion pool early in the season did include the kinds of split pushing bruisers that Fnatic may want to experiment more with playing around, if they feel they have the time to diversify their style. The truth is that it shouldn’t be difficult for Kikis to do a better job than Gamsu of rewarding his team if they invest resources into him, whether that manifests as split pushing or as the teamfighting role Kikis played for G2.
Gamsu was not the worst top laner in the EU LCS, but he was the weakest link on Fnatic. Kikis is not the best top laner in Europe, but he should strengthen a point of weakness for his new team, and sometimes that’s worth more than anything else.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.