Longzhu still struggling with roster rotation

Managing 10-man rosters is a complex undertaking. Swapping out single players for advantageous strategies or giving substitutes practice against weaker opponents is the traditional use of roster swaps in League of Legends, but changing an entire lineup is new.

Synergy between players, enemy matchups, and champion pools are nuanced factors to weigh when trying every possible combination. Most organizations have shied away from this approach to groom a single five-person roster, but Longzhu is attempting to pioneer 10-person squads.

So far, the trail has been bumpy.

Longzhu sits in seventh place in League Champions Korea with a 6-6 record, despite possessing elite level talent like Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeon, Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun and prospective rookie Lee “Crash” Dong-woo. Early in the season, Longzhu rotated players in its top lane, mid lane and jungle while keeping a static bottom lane. Now with Lee “Fury” Jin-yong’s ban lifted, Longzhu has added the bottom lane to its roster mixing shenanigans by interchanging Jang “Zzus” Joon-soo with Kim “Pure” Jin-sun and Fury with Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo.

Unlike SK Telecom’s use of Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok in 2015, Longzhu doesn’t base its roster swaps in strategy. Koo “Expession” Bon-taek has split pushed with duelists, something his comrade Lee “Flame” Ho-jong created a legacy with. CoCo and Kim “Frozen” Tae-il played champions that the other is known for.

Longzhu’s use of its enormous roster revolves around a reward and punish system. In Week 9, Longzhu played with Flame, Crash, Frozen, Cpt Jack and Zzus against Kongdoo Monsters on Wednesday. Sweeping the set, the same lineup started Saturday against KT Rolster. Flame controlled  Kim “ssumday” Chan-ho in lane, but Go “Score” Dong-bin’s and Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan’s combination ganks dismantled Frozen and Crash, then reset ssumday’s deficit. KT closed easily with those leads.

Longzhu’s response was different than previous weeks. Rather than change the entire top half of the roster, it kept Flame in Game 2 and swapped the rest out, as if they lost the privilege to play again being demolished. Flame was the only Longzhu player to create an early lead in Game 1, and he was rewarded with a second performance.

This system is interesting because it attempts to create internal competition and capitalize on strong play. Practice in Korea is already competitive with the region’s ideology, but adding the element or losing the chance to play adds extra pressure to maintain and improve one’s skills.

It seems to work for at least a little bit. Despite its record, Longzhu has the second highest gold lead at 15 minutes. It’s attributed largely to Crash and Chaser’s efforts setting the enemy jungle behind or snowballing a lane. In Game 2 with KT, Chaser gutted ssumday in the early game, killing him four times in twelve minutes with Flame.

Once the mid game arrives, however, Longzhu drops off. Lane assignments become increasingly bizarre, and setbacks cause a case of cold feet. At 26 minutes of Saturday’s Game 2, CoCo tried to solo the beaten down ssumday for taking Longzhu’s top outer tower, and it backfired. As Longzhu scrambled to respond, No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon pushed the bottom outer down. The kill and the gold pulled KT back into the game, and Longzhu stopped engaging. Ssumday was given ample time to farm, even achieving the Flame Horizon after being extensively camped.

Longzhu’s use of its large roster has forged a strong early-game force, but with its practice time divided among various iterations, the communication beyond 15 minutes falls apart. The players aren’t comfortable with one another unless they have a lead. When a complication appears, focus is lost, perhaps by distracting thoughts of the bench.

The early game is a charted path for Longzhu, but now it must scour the mountains of the mid-game.

(All statistics courtesy of Oracle’s Elixir, taken Sunday)