They Might Be Giants: how Giants Gaming became a playoff contender

by theScore Staff Jun 9 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / LCS SCreengrab

A 3-1 record in the first two weeks has spectators buzzing about Giants Gaming. Yet last Spring, the Giants went 2-0 in Week 1 and ended the split playing a tie-breaker game to avoid auto-relegation. Since the Giants’ victories are against teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the standings, it’s hard to determine whether they've actually improved.

It isn't that the team has moved away from the PePiiNeRo show. PePiiNeRo still does a majority of the team's damage to champions, out-damaging the rest of his team in all games except the match against Elements. His percentage of team damage dealt to champions is at 35.5 percent, which is the second highest in the European LCS so far.

Their team-fight positioning and target prioritizing still needs a lot of work. Werlyb can play Jax well, and Maokai is generally a favorite of weaker mechanical top laners because of his targetable root, spammable ultimate, and absurd tankiness with minimal itemization. His Gnar, however, left much to be desired and Giants’ Gnar games stand out as their least convincing.

Giants are a stronger team this split. They took their greatest assets from last split and developed a rotation-based strategy centered around controlling side minion waves. Last split, Giants had the most success when Werlyb played Jax and could split the enemy team’s attention. When they could not acquire Jax in draft, PePiiNeRo would move around the map, try to catch a player reacting to his initiative, and hope that the rest of his team would take an objective.

It wasn't organized; now it is.

This split, the Giants have formulated strategies that rely on split-pushing and getting picks over team-fighting. The primary key to their wins so far has been in pushing out the side waves after every play.

Effectively, by constantly pushing out side waves, Giants can both move into the enemy team’s jungle more easily and also compensate for poor team fighting. If they misplay a team fight, their opponents are unable to take objectives because they must contend with oppressive minion sieges.

With high damage numbers PePii is still central to Giants' strategy

As a strategy, pushing minion waves between taking each objective seems straightforward, but it hinges on specific requirements. For this strategy to work, Giants have been relying on getting foreknowledge of lane matchups, propping up at least one lane, and felling the first tier turret in mid lane early.

Their game against Elements was the game where the Giants executed this strategy the best. In at least three of their games, Elements have placed wards near the enemy base to scout the lane matchup. Evelynn is a great jungle pick to do this, as Fr3deric was able to pass unseen and place the ward.

The lane scouting ward

The ward allowed the Giants to set up standard 1v1 top and 2v2 lanes. Evelynn could take advantage of Elements selecting a lower pressure jungler to gank top lane repeatedly and control the lane against Hecarim. The benefit of ganking the top lane meant that Giants could acquire the Teleport advantage in skirmishes.

When Dexter counter-ganked, PePiiNeRo reacted well by all-ining on mid lane to get a lead on the team’s main split-pushing threat, Diana. He used his knowledge of the jungler’s location well, reacting immediately without fear of retaliation.

From there, the Giants had the early setup they needed to set vision down in top side. This allowed them to have control in a fight, back, set up the minion waves, and secure the dragon. Then they immediately could pressure the mid lane and take the tower to open up for invasions.

Fr3deric's Evelynn pickup proved instramental to Giants' success against Elements

By challenging blue and red buffs at spawn, Giants could continuously get picks to maintain dragon control. By pushing out waves, Elements' members were forced to split off and try to react to minions, which allowed the Giants to surround them. Giants also managed to do this with a long range Xerath against the Copenhagen Wolves, and by using Jax to split focus against SK Gaming.

PePiiNeRo was set up to properly split push with Lich Bane and Luden's Echo on Diana, continuing to pull Elements’ attention top side. When the rest of the team sieged, Fr3deric remained in the fog of war, increasing the threat to Elements in approaching their own tower. If they didn't have vision of Fr3deric, he could react at any moment with a flank.

This entire setup might seem basic, but there are several moments where it can fall apart, especially against teams with stronger individual players. In the Origen game, most lanes were completely outplayed across the map, making it harder to control waves. As a result, more full-on 5v5s occurred, and Giants’ target-prioritization and ultimate execution left a lot to be desired.

Timing backs to push out waves properly is also difficult. If there is miscommunication and the Giants don’t have vision of their targets, they can mistime these calls and cede free objectives. As a result, getting lane advantages is important. This is tricky since the Giants players are not considered the best in the league, and they will rely on better map pressure and proper matchups more than other teams to win the early game.

So far, the Giants have laid creative vision to keep them safe. The Giants, with a rookie support, don’t have the highest ward placement and clearing statistics, sitting in the bottom half of the standings for both wards placed and wards cleared per minute. Giants members place vision intelligently and set up wards where they want to make their next move on the map. After acquiring buff spawn timers, Giants set up wards prior to an expected buff appearance. This makes their warding efficient, if not as high as Fnatic’s.

All of Giants’ compositions have been designed to have split-pushing or pick threat. Leblanc and Xerath in their Week 1 games let them isolate targets for elimination. In Week 2, they used split-pushers in Diana and Jax. Though Adryh has had high kill games, he still doesn’t deal as much damage as PePiiNeRo, and Fr3deric’s and Werlyb’s strengths are not in zoning for him. The Giants don’t want to fight. Avoiding a fight, especially in the European LCS with teams like the Unicorns of Love looking to dive you frequently, is not easy.

The Giants also place creative wards where they cover more area and are harder to sweep.

Even in the Elements game, there were missteps. Counter-ganks resulted in kill trades. Bindings from GODFRED allowed them to avoid a potentially damaging turn. Since GODFRED has played inconsistently so far, this is a precarious situation.

Giants will continue to have a hard time against teams that will beat them in lane and it would still be considered a massive upset for the Giants to take down Fnatic this week. Even facing some mechanically skilled players on the Gambit roster, despite their position at the bottom of the table, might give Giants pause in Week 4.

The largest pain points for Giants will be in the draft. Werlyb will continue to be a weakness if they can’t select the straightforward Maokai or his power pick, Jax. Even his Hecarim hasn’t been tested against stronger opponents. GODFRED’s champion pool is also in question, as the team has only won games with Morgana so far. His Thresh against Origen often missed the mark.

Even so, Giants have improved considerably in terms of pressuring an advantage and understanding compositional goals. It’s impossible to ignore that their team play has tightened up, and they’ve displayed a rare understanding of sidewave control. Team fight or laning phase execution against stronger teams will make or break the Giants.

Werlyb said in an LCS feature that the team’s goal is to make the playoffs. The next two weeks will give us an idea as to whether their improvements are enough to make it.

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