The League of Legends Masters Series has a new team at the top, and for the first time in the last year and a half, it’s not ahq e-Sports Club or Flash Wolves. It’s the “brand new” J Team.
By all technicalities, J Team is new, but in actuality it was the final iteration of a lineup branded as the Taipei Assassins. It was the very same lineup that failed to crack the top three last split and though it was a markable improvement from the 2015 Taipei Assassins, it was a disappointment once more. But now that very same lineup has slain both dragons of Taiwan, ahq and Flash Wolves, improving upon its identity rather than starting anew.
Last split, the final TPA lineup actually never struggled with finding an identity, but it hindered itself with a problematic one. Considering the lineup featured the likes of Chen “Morning” Kuan-Ting, Chang “Bebe” Bo-Wei, and Li “Jay” Chieh — who had all been involved in the GPL dominant 2014 TPA roster — it was unlikely that the old lineup could learn any new tricks either. Morning was the same lane dominant, team fight averse top laner while Jay struggled to have impact on picks aside from the Alistar or Braum. Bebe had some rust to shake off, being away from meaningful competitive League of Legends since Season 4, but he was surprisingly good in his return to the LMS.
The new players featured in the lineup included veteran jungler Chen “REFRA1N” Kuan-Ting and freshly-17 year old mid laner Chu “FoFo” Chun-Lan. REFRA1N certainly had a bit of a renaissance as a jungler, further revolutionizing his pathing to focus on counter jungling and cycle farming, showing to be as adept as ever on carry junglers. On the other hand, FoFo was a brand new player who seemingly had bundles of talent from the get-go but clearly was rough around the edges when it came to pro play, struggling with his Teleport usage and general team coordination.
The lineup was fairly successful in its first split and was even able to take down Flash Wolves 2-0 in the regular season, but despite that had the fatal flaw of poor mid to late game shot-calling and failed to coordinate effective engages. Morning and Jay couldn’t deliver as primary engage and neither could REFRA1N in the carry jungler meta, nor FoFo without more masterful teleport usage. As such, the team failed to be successful in converting its staggering early leads into actual victories and even fell to fourth place in the playoffs.
Coming into summer, there was warranted skepticism of the potential success of the lineup given the lack of a significant roster change. Despite the huge splash of a sponsorship from Jay Chou, the lineup remained and so, it was assumed, would the problems. Early on in the season, the lineup looked the same, taking large early leads and doing very little with them, as it struggled to coordinate any meaningful engage. It seemed that J Team might very well be a fringe competitor again, but time showed that things were about to change.
Soon enough, J Team continued to have an overpowering early game via the standard lane situation, versus the lane swap. Morning continues to be a dominating force in the top lane, averaging a CS lead of 6 at 10 minutes, leading all LMS top laners. FoFo in the mid lane has maintained a CS lead of 3 a 10 minutes, while REFRA1N leads all junglers with a CS lead of 4 at 10 minutes, sticking to his traditional farming style. As such, J Team has averaged a 1.1K gold lead in the first 10 minutes of the game through strong laning and mere individual play. J Team had nailed the first step of matching ahq and Flash Wolves, finally matching their individual talent.
As far as individual performers go for J Team, FoFo has been the biggest game-changer in the mid lane, rising to challenge Maple as the best mid laner in the LMS. One split of experience has made a world of difference, as the ill-advised teleports and random split-pushing have seemingly become rare occurrences. FoFo is not necessarily an aggressive laner, reminiscent of Kurtis “Toyz” Lau in his more tempered farming style, but drags a fair amount of attention middle as he often plays the strongest scaling mid laners.
However, he proves to be the same force in team fights and the game overall, holding the highest Damage Per Minute (DPM) among mid laners at 665, while also providing 31.4 percent of J Team’s damage. FoFo’s improvement was especially instrumental in J Team’s victories against Flash Wolves, as he matched Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang’s pressure in a general laning situation, instead of merely wilting away due to mechanical skill or champion pool issues. It’s also worth noting that J Team has the highest first mid-tower rate of any team in the league, at 79.2 percent, no doubt partially in thanks to FoFo’s performances.
His ability to play seemingly any meta mid laner has also been key to J Team’s endless draft opportunities, as its opponents have to decide between banning J Team’s bread and butter side lane picks, or champions that FoFo can take over the game with, such as Vladimir or Leblanc. Coupled with J Team’s already solid draft phase and champion priority, this creates yet another layer for teams to peel through, if any team is to have any hope of defeating J Team. Flash Wolves have already shown that J Team’s early miscues can be taken advantage of and snowballed, but procedures must be surgical, as J Team’s compositions often leave room for error and only grow stronger as a game drags out.
J Team’s individual prowess and early game leads are key to its success, but are a result of J Team’s handling of the meta and near-perfect champion prioritization respective to its players’ strengths. Gangplank and Jhin particularly stand out for J Team, as GP has been picked 9 out of the last 14 games, while Jhin has been backed in 7 of the last 14. J Team traditionally struggles with mid-late game decision making and engage coordination, but both champions easily set up sieges and can initiate team fights from a screen away. The long range poke and waveclear kits of the two champions also specifically aid in the stalling game, keeping games at a stand-still while also forcing enemy teams off objectives with their respective kits.
Both champions also cater to the play styles of their respective handlers, as Morning has always favored bruiser focused top laners, while Bebe has always been excellent on carries that require more patience and positioning. Morning’s beloved Gnar has also found its way back into the meta, giving Morning another lane-dominant bruiser option with a fairly straightforward engage option. Bebe further benefits from Morning’s rise, as it leaves him as the final carry in the pecking order, when it comes to the enemy team fight prioritization, giving him all the space he needs on Jhin or Ashe.
J Team has officially finished as the first seed in the LMS, earning itself a spot at the end of the gauntlet. The final worlds patch will include a change to gold values on the first tower killed, making the lane-swap a less attractive option and likely bot lane focus far more important. As J Team was clearly behind Flash Wolves in level 1s and general macro play, this change is a boon to J Team’s side lane advantage over Flash Wolves. J Team isn’t perfect and is not necessarily the same level as ahq e-Sports Club of last year or even last split, but considering the bot lane weaknesses present for both Flash Wolves and ahq, it is looking good for J Team.