This week’s European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) brought the importance of engage to the forefront. Bottom teams Mysterious Monkeys and Ninjas in Pyjamas came up with their first single game wins and made top-tier G2 Esports and Unicorns of Love sweat. Even more AD carry picks swelled the mid lane champion pool. Rek’Sai terrorized top side. Team Vitality found its stride.
Fundamentally, all the knife edge games — as the casters like to call them — came down to the power of engage. Most of the series this week forced us to examine the challenge high-engage compositions pose for the execution of 1-3-1 in the mid and late game.
The slow evolution of Fnatic
In previous reviews, I’ve characterized Fnatic as a team that will play the side lane AD carry style in a 1-3-1, pinching opponents in bottom or top. The Fnatic series against Splyce to start the week showcased signs of a slowly evolving Fnatic much more concerned with mid control and Baron setup.
Particularly in Game 1, Rasmus “Caps” Winther held mid on Corki while Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Martin “Rekkles” Larsson pushed outside lanes. Although one doesn’t always think of Gragas as the strongest side lane champion, an earlier iteration of Fnatic might have felt content to side lane push and trade turrets with Tristana while Gragas created pressure on the opposite side.
The Fnatic of this series only pushed waves just past the river line, backed, and waited for answer from the opponent. When members of Splyce went to answer the push, rather than setting up side lane pinches with Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, Fnatic grouped to push out mid and transition into control of Baron area. If an opportunity for a 5-v-4 or 5-v-3 arose, they looked to force and actually take the Baron.
Why might this alteration occur? Standard picks that punish 1-3-1 like Rengar or Tahm Kench weren’t present. Rek’Sai and Kassadin certainly pose some threat, but not enough to radically alter their approach.
Fnatic instead used the tools available on its own composition. Fnatic brought a great deal of engage like Galio, Gragas, and Camille. It had the opportunity to dive deep with picks like Corki, Tristana, and Elise. The culmination of factors made forcing mid easier than carrying out the 1-3-1, despite the efficiency of resource distribution a 1-3-1 composition brings to the table.
Doran’s Shield brings safer laning phases for a wide variety of picks. Playmaking supports, tanks, and high scaling picks can all have easier laning phases. When one brings those picks mid with a numbers advantage against a comp with side laning picks, the enemy team has to have a lot more vision coverage around mid lane and take extra care to avoid the enemy.
Fnatic’s adaptation favored that kind of play, and it might be something we continue to see develop at Rift Rivals.
Tahm Kench and mid pressure
The first rumbling of mid lane AD Kog’Maw that came to my attention appeared in a Tweet by K1ck Esports AD carry João “AlternativeX” Parada. The tweet featured a clip of Team Vitality mid laner Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm outplaying his opposition with AD Kog’Maw in solo queue and the line “nah but Nukeduck is faker.”
— AlternativeX (@AlternativeX10) June 25, 2017
In competitive, Kog’Maw comes primarily to counter Corki in the mid lane. Kog’Maw has zoning and pushing potential and scales more competitively. Both of Team Vitality’s compositions in Game 1 and 2, however, relied upon getting poke off with Jhin and Kog’Maw or Caitlyn and Corki, which should be difficult in a more engage-focused meta.
Indeed, Team ROCCAT brought options like Kennen, Warwick, Renekton, Elise, Syndra, Varus, and Bard that could have made Team Vitality’s composition much more difficult to execute. Nukeduck’s success in laning phase, however, allowed him to apply a lot of pressure in the mid lane on his own.
The rise of Tahm Kench also makes less mobile champions into more stable picks. Kog’Maw and Jhin had more freedom because of Tahm Kench. Tahm Kench opens up a lot more options in lane swaps and facilitates 1-3-1. Teams can take a riskier lane swap when a high priority dragon will spawn because Tahm Kench can answer a push on the opposite side of the map as long as his lane has a tempo advantage after taking the first objective.
Tahm Kench has risen considerably in priority as the ultimate counter to single target engage and pick compositions. In a 1-3-1 setup, he can prevent dives and protect his AD carry as well as answer a collapse on a side laner. Although Tahm Kench might not have won the games for Vitality — and Team ROCCAT certainly made mistakes in giving up mid pressure too easily — he made the going rather simple.
Just bring more engage
Ninjas in Pyjamas not only had their first win of the split this week, but they took a game from one of Europe’s top teams: Unicorns of Love. The first game of the series saw NiP snowball extremely hard, abusing Rek’Sai’s early game. Most Rek’Sais have started building one experience quint and getting a hard leash to get a level and tempo advantage. From there, Rek’Sai can find creative gank paths or invades because of the tunnel mechanic.
In the first two games, Ninjas in Pyjamas used the opportunity to snowball the game in their favor. Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás perhaps didn’t expect Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema’s top side pressure because Rek’Sai has a stronger gank path top from red side. Shook, however, proved that Rek’Sai can still be unpredictable by taking out Rumble and preventing UoL from keeping top side control with Equalizer.
NiP also consistently got leads in bottom lane with Jhin and Thresh. Martin “HeaQ” Kordmaa and Hampus “sprattel” Abrahamsson have struggled this split, but they gravitated toward this bottom duo to great effect.
When it got to mid game, though, flaws in NiP’s compositions came through. Inevitably, Baron becomes the crowning objective of each game after 20 minutes. Especially in the third and final game, NiP had much fewer sources of engage than Unicorns of Love. When UoL grouped, it could split and scatter NiP more easily with Gragas and Hecarim.
The Unicorns often emphasize more engage jungle picks like Warwick, Hecarim, Gragas, or Zac. This gives them really strong mid lane 5-v-5 options and ability to control Baron. As such, even if NiP could get a lead, UoL simply had more options for starting fights and turning the situation around.
1-3-1 has become harder to execute with the popularity of all-in. Very few teams want to push past river in side lanes. Teams like Misfits have begun focusing more on trying to play a 1-3-1 composition when it might not suit the meta.
There are still options, however, as Vitality emphasized. Select picks like Tahm Kench and strategies that focus on converting top and bottom lane leads early into opening mid lane and keeping it pushed will give teams a great deal of control. Vision around mid will make it harder for teams to force as soon as an opponent appears in the side lane.
When North America — a region that often lacks any emphasis on side lane control — enters the mix next week, things may get even more interesting.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games