Throughout the 2016 season, the ROX Tigers have tested their limits with off-hand jungle picks and an insatiable appetite for fighting. On Saturday, that limit was finally reached.
Samsung ended ROX’s 11 best-of-three winning streak in unsettling fashion. Game 1 was the usual ROX show: destruction across the map as the Tigers relentlessly pursued picks. Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho’s Elise attacked every opening, while Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng’s Leblanc took over the game with a solo kill on Lee “Crown” Min-ho only three minutes in. It looked like the series would be a short affair.
But hubris infected the Tigers. In Game 2, it drafted a composition that Kim “PraY” Jong-in played Varus in. The pick is typically seen as a mid laner because his best itemization enhances his poke and not his DPS. Varus has not been seen as an ADC since last November, and not in Korea since June. It was baffling: if ROX wanted PraY to have an engage tool, why not play Ashe or Sivir, on which he has recently demonstrated his proficiency? If ROX wanted him to poke, then pick Jhin (he would do so next game).
For Peanut’s impressive playmaking, there’s been some criticism of his sub-par warding and reliance on dueling the enemy jungler. In Game 2, that was fully exposed. Playing Gragas, Peanut’s pressure was dismantled as Samsung collectively moved to shut him down. Playing off the duo lane’s pressure, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong invaded to contest Peanut’s blue. Rather than submit, Peanut stubbornly refused to submit and attempted to secure it and get away with a flash over the wall. When his flash failed, he was promptly killed, and ROX was placed in a predicament it hasn’t seen since its days with Lee “Hojin” Ho-jin: there wasn’t going to be any jungle pressure.
ROX suffered a breakdown: split calls and miscommunication contaminated what normally is the finest communication in League of Legends. Skill shots went wide and team fights became disjointed affairs. It wasn’t a good showing from ROX.
In Game 3, the issues grew worse. Kur0 used his last pick to play Azir, a champion he had a 5-11 record on prior to the defeat he would soon suffer. Why ROX would choose a pick he rarely performed well on when the series and win streak was at risk is questionable, and remains so after his dismal performance. The same can be said for Peanut, who returned to Gragas instead of picking a jungler enabling him to duel.
Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho’s personal performance was also a liability. He’s been sloppy in dives and mishandled teleports, which became another breakdown in the Samsung series. He did not respect Ambition’s pressure in Game 3 and fell twice to ganks. When Samsung prepared a dive on the top outer tower where his duo was defending, Samsung gave him the run around by backing off, prompting him to recall to answer Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin, only to then dive with CuVee teleporting in.
ROX’s atypical drafting and underperformance caused its downfall. No discredit to Samsung: it tactically defeated ROX and Ambition had his star performance of the season. But ROX certainly had an off day.
The loss might weigh on ROX as it prepares to face SK Telecom, which has looked improved since its run at IEM Katowice. It will be on ROX to keep its head and stick to what has worked instead of experimenting with questionable tactics.