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Kelsey Moser's EU LCS Review: Champion select and the Top 3

by theScore Staff Jul 18 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

The EU LCS Coach’s Week has come and gone once again. For the week's matches, coaches lent their insight on the desk during the draft, and their interviews provided a glimpse into the coaching philosophies of some of Europe’s most celebrated League of Legends leaders.

To start the week, I investigated regional differences in pick priority, but to close the week, I want to examine how Europe’s Top 3 — Fnatic, G2 Esports and Splyce — create their compositions. EU's top teams seem to value aggressive jungle picks and a strict circle of top lane champions, along with their counters.

Yet even with these similarities, each team approaches their games with a unique style. Splyce generally gravitates towards more 1-3-1 style play, with their top laner choosing somewhat unconventional picks. G2 favor early skirmishes and teamfighting, with emphasis on their bottom lane and jungler. Fnatic tend to play much longer games. We can learn a lot about what makes each team's approach work by looking at the champions they value most and how they construct their drafts to make sure they can win games.

Overview

To establish a team's pick priorities, we combine the champions they ban, the champions banned against them, and the champions they pick. The assumption is that whether a team is picking or banning a champion, they place a high priority on it for some reason.

Opponents' bans similarly indicate the champion is important to a team, but opponents' picks aren’t necessarily high-priority for the team, so they are excluded. This is an imperfect measure, since opponents' first picks could be denial picks, but they could also be strong champion picks or neutral picks intended not to reveal a strategy, so there's no way to draw a simple distinction.

Only data from Patches 6.12 and 6.13 are used to avoid having to account for drastic shifts in the meta. As a result, only four weeks worth of data, 16 games per team, can be considered. These sample sizes aren’t robust and are only intended to provide a snapshot for further examination.

The top five picks for Fnatic, G2 Esports, and Splyce are listed below. Each champion's prioritization is expressed in a percentage of games played where the champion was picked by the team, banned against the team, or banned by the team.

Highest priority champions among the Top 3 EU teams

Champion FNC G2 SPY
Azir 88 75 56
Bard 38 44 69
Irelia 50 44 63
Karma 75 69 81
Nidalee 88 88 75
Olaf 81 88 44
Sivir 44 75 19
Vladimir 81 56 63

It appears G2 and Fnatic put much higher priority on aggressive jungle picks Nidalee and Olaf (with Olaf having the ability to flex to the top lane), and Splyce is happy to take Rek'Sai or other jungle champs instead. Fnatic highly values the Azir pick, much more than Splyce in particular. Splyce has a much lower value on Sivir, and a strong preference for Bard and Irelia. Fnatic have also kept a very high Vladimir priority, while G2 and Splyce value Vladimir much less, especially in the most recent week of the LCS.

Fnatic have a much stronger preference for wave clear mid lane champions, which is what we've seen in their games. This also means they'll favor Karma or Braum (who can counter enemy wave clear) more than Bard. Splyce favors Bard the most of the three, and G2 favors Bard more than Fnatic. We can see Splyce and G2 working much more off of picks and plays made earlier on in the game by their support players. Fnatic also have a slightly longer average game time than G2 or Splyce, though not considerably, which likely corresponds with their preference for wave clear mids.

An Irelia priority for Splyce reflects a lower tendency to pick tank top laners. Martin "Wunder" Hansen's duelist style is much more suited to the 1-3-1 approach, which means one might expect them to favor a wave clear AD carry like Sivir. Splyce instead have a higher priority on Caitlyn and use her traps to stall pushes mid lane. Top and mid lane usually carry the team through mid game while Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup scales, making them more willing to pick Caitlyn's weak mid game than G2 or Fnatic.

G2's high Sivir and Olaf priority reflects their tendency toward collapse compositions. As a team, G2 like to hit hard-and-fast. They also use Sivir to push out waves aggressively to create passive side lane vision, invade the jungle, and look for opportunities through jungle control.

Comparison of champion priorities among the Top 3 EU teams

Red (1): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in more than 75 percent of games they played.
Yellow (2): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in 50-75 percent of games they played.
Green (3): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in 40-50 percent of games they played.

Expanding the scope to examine all champions Fnatic, G2, or Splyce prioritized in at least 40 percent of their games on Patches 6.12 and 6.13, we can see which champions have unique priority among the Top 3 teams. Those champions are Braum, Elise, and Gnar for Fnatic, Ryze for G2, and Caitlyn and Taliyah for Splyce.

Gnar can duel and teamfight, allowing Fnatic to both stall lanes and win battles. Ryze benefits a lot from Sivir, so though he has largely fallen out of favor in the EU LCS, he still works well with other picks G2 like to play, and the style of collapse they like to use. Splyce's preference for Caitlyn over Sivir comes through more clearly (though they will also play the likes of Lucian for a similar reason), and they enjoy using Taliyah as a flex pick given Wunder's unique champion pool. Taliyah can provide pressure globally and works in their 1-3-1 style.

Highest priority champions by draft rotation

Team Last ban First pick First rotation red side Last pick
FNC Elise; Shen; Braum Nidalee; Vladimir Azir; Gnar; Jhin; Nami Braum
G2 Azir Karma Karma; Olaf; Rek'Sai; Sivir N/A
SPY Shen; Azir; Irelia; Ryze Karma Rek'Sai Gnar

Given the small sample size, the pick frequency of each champion in the blue-side first pick, red-side first rotation or last-pick phases won't be very high. Picks are included if they are the most frequently picked, or picked one less time than the most frequently picked. In the eight games played by G2 on red side, the team picked a unique champion each time, so they were not included.

G2 and Splyce seem to prefer to last-ban Azir, rather than play the champion. While Azir gives Fnatic the high-wave clear they prefer, the champ requires setup and doesn't synergize very well with the collapse style of G2, or the double-Teleport and split-push style of Splyce.

Fnatic's tendency to first-pick Nidalee again shows the emphasis they put on their jungler. Lee "Spirit" Dayoon's somewhat selfish carry style and heavy farming synergize well with Nidalee. Fnatic are also willing to pick Gnar or Azir early in red-side first rotation, in addition to the typical bottom lane or jungle picks. G2 favors high-mobility choices early, which often gives away their game plan, but also reflects the general strength of those champions.

Splyce's fondness for Rek'Sai in early rotation just shows the jungle champion is safe. Though Jonas "Trashy" Andersen has gained recognition, he doesn't get pick priority for either first or last pick, and Rek'Sai is a well-rounded jungle pick that won't necessarily do as much damage as Nidalee or Olaf, but will provide a lot of utility and still clear well.

There isn't a lot of data to make the last pick datapoint robust, but last-picking the Braum reflects Fnatic's willingness to give up Karma and try to counter fast-push or simply play a safe laning phase generally. Braum can also bait enemies into choosing assassins or other champions with combos that can be countered by Stand Behind Me.

Splyce's last pick Gnar only shows their preference for last-picking top lane.

The above graph reflects the percentage of blue-side games in which each team will first-pick their top, jungle, mid, AD carry or support champion. Again keeping the small size of the sample in mind, one can see Fnatic's willingness to take jungle first. This is either when Olaf is available and can be flexed, or when the enemy team leaves Nidalee open, a champion Fnatic highly prioritize.

G2's frequent first-picking of support both reflects how highly they value Karma and their trust in Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez to make the pick worthwhile. In all four instances in which Karma was first picked for G2, it was used as support. In this case, it has less value as a flex pick. As the patch changes and melee supports become popular again, G2 may still favor a first-pick support.

Splyce also first-picked Karma as a support every time, but were also willing to first-pick both Sivir and Caitlyn. Kobbe's willingness to first-pick an ADC means Splyce can deny opponent ADCs their preferred picks. Splyce may prioritize Sivir even more highly in coming weeks, given that she also serves the mid lane wave clear function well, and Caitlyn has fallen in popularity due to her mid-game weaknesses and vulnerability to flanks.

The most noticeable variation between teams in the distribution of red-side first rotations is that Fnatic have a fairly even distribution among all roles of top, jungle, mid, AD carry and support, while G2 and Splyce heavily favor picking their jungle in red-side first rotation. Since a lot of emphasis is placed on making Spirit comfortable, Fnatic will pick his jungle champion early in the draft if it's Nidalee, but will otherwise wait for a counter-pick later and even be willing to choose a solo lane in first rotation instead. This opens them up to counter-picks or the enemy team reading their strategy.

All three teams tend to save their top lane for last-pick more often than mid lane, diverging from the general trend in the EU LCS. Since the sample size for the league as a whole is much larger than that of individual teams, the apparently negligible difference between last-picked top lane versus mid lane in EU LCS as a whole could potentially account for roughly the same number of total games as the difference for the individual teams. Yet Fnatic, especially with Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek, look for top lane counter-pick frequently to be able to pressure a 1-4 split-push advantage. G2 will last-pick top lane when they can secure Irelia for Ki "Expect" Daehan, which has had mixed results. Because of Wunder's unique champion pool, Splyce will also try to put him into an advantageous position, and if they do choose Taliyah early, they can flex it into the mid lane and still counter-pick the top lane last.

The mid laners of Fnatic, G2, and Splyce are incredibly versatile. They are willing to choose a wave clear mid and hold the lane (like Fnatic's Azir) or a more niche mid lane pick and pressure the appropriate advantage when it arises. Meanwhile, the EU LCS top lane meta has evolved in such a way that strict counters exist to some of the favorite picks like Irelia, Gnar and Trundle. Choosing one of these champions first with their counter up can sink a team's win conditions, so picking a top lane champion last may have, at least in part, contributed to the success of EU's top teams.

Patch 6.14 will hit the EU LCS next week. Support champions like Leona and Sona have been heavily altered, and Ryze received a complete rework. From this data, one can guess that G2 — with the value they place on mobility and support flexibility — will react well. Ban priority might shift a lot to include the new Ryze, meaning that some of the last-banned champions may get through more often.

G2 and Fnatic will likely continue to prioritize their desired jungle picks. Top lane counters will remain powerful. A lot of these identities will be retained. As the split develops, revisiting and building upon conclusions on the champion selects for G2, Fnatic, and Splyce will be worthwhile, since it will let us assess whether or not G2, Fnatic, and Splyce have remained true to their identities from Patches 6.12 and 6.13, and understand better why pick priorities are shifting. This will give a more complete picture of how the teams operate within their dynamic and what they'll look for when they draft against teams internationally.

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

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