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Kelsey Moser’s EU LCS in Review Week 8: Anti-ARAM comps that almost worked (but didn’t)

EU LCS Week 8 featured some anti-ARAM comps that didn't quite work.
EU LCS Week 8 featured some anti-ARAM comps that didn't quite work. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

As an ex-Counter Logic Gaming mid laner once infamously said, “You group up and you win right?”

Of course, he referred specifically to playing Sivir compositions, but as seen in the most recent week of the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS), grouping mid to win doesn’t seem to rely solely upon drafting Sivir. With tank itemization ard receiving even more buffs after enjoying a higher pick priority in the final week of Patch 7.13, teams don’t see the value of side lane control. As soon as a damage threat appears in a side lane, the enemy team will use any excuse to use long range engage in the mid lane and win with a man advantage.

Disengage and strong vision could make it favorable to still play 1-4 or 1-3-1 compositions, but most teams do not seem to find it worth the risk. Almost without exception this week in EU LCS, the better ARAM — so dubbed because they would theoretically perform in ARAM mode — compositions won.

For this week’s EU in Review, I thought it was interesting to look at games where teams veered from the Jarvan IV-Kalista-Maokai blueprint to see how they could have still succeeded and where major mistakes arose. G2 Esports/Team Vitality Game 1 and Splyce/ Misfits Game 1 both seemed like strong candidates.

Combating Tahm Kench with 1-3-1

The first thing one can glean from G2’s composition is that it can easily run a 1-3-1 setup with a Renekton and Taliyah, Varus to clear mid wave, and Gragas and Thresh to reset and get picks. 1-3-1s are difficult to execute in the current meta because of the tendency for teams to group and force mid, but picks like Tahm Kench complicate it further because they make it hard for side laners to feel safe. Tahm Kench can easily collapse on a side lane or in mid lane, making it tough to even defend the center of the map. The long range engage of Maokai and Ashe can compound the punishing effect so that even Taliyah’s ultimate cannot wall off the enemy team and prevent them from catching a member of G2 Esports out completely.

For G2 to succeed, the solo lanes have to get ahead. One of the first problems came when Kim “Expect” Daehan lost his mounting advantage over Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet. He chose to Teleport to the bottom lane, giving up waves in exchange. In general, this match featured a fascination with bottom side, including using Rift Herald to break first tier bottom turret at 13 minutes. The Herald may have been better used mid, as G2 played against an Orianna, who would have a harder time keeping mid pushed than a Taliyah due to lower mobility. It also would restrict some of Tahm Kench’s usefulness in disrupting mid lane push and force him to make a side lane play.

To an extent, one can understand G2’s side lane fixation. With somewhat even mid lane matchups that tilt one way or the other based upon jungle interference, teams rely on having a strong jungle and support 2-v-2 to get control of river vision around mid and around dragon. This also became extremely difficult for G2 to contest because Maokai could engage from a long range, and Tahm Kench could collapse easily on anyone in the lower river.

In one example at about 12 minutes, Kim “Trick” Gangyun had the opportunity to clear a control ward in river, but instead attempted to ult Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm out of position. The riskiness of the play was compounded by the fact that Luka “PerkZ” Perković had already been forced off the wave and that the team could see Vitality’s bottom lane matching around behind the dragon pit to head mid. If G2’s bottom lane had stayed bot to hold Vitality there, Trick may have been able to ult to push out mid and set up a favorable back for Perkz. If Vitality’s bottom lane tried to punish G2 by using Ashe ultimate, Perkz could still ult bottom with less threat of Maokai.

While G2 focused on decaying bottom side control in the early game, neither of those problems posed as large of an issue as the lane assignments in mid game. As already mentioned, 1-3-1 becomes really difficult with Tahm Kench to collapse on side lanes. That meant any poor lane assignment would create ugly situations for G2. Renekton and Taliyah, however, should have more mechanisms for evading or matching Tahm Kench’s collapse than G2’s duo lane.

Theoretically, the default best lane assignment for G2’s composition when Baron is in play would have Taliyah on top side and Renekton bottom. If either side laner had a sufficient lead, Ashe or Orianna would have to go to match (likely Ashe, since Vitality would want to keep Orianna’s clear potential mid) to at least push a wave before attempting a force on mid. Varus could match the push from Orianna best with Thresh hovering off to side, ready to lantern Varus to safety or look for a pick. Gragas stays near mid to provide reset and disengage.

A few problems that may have given G2 pause would be the desire to put Taliyah mid so that Taliyah could match Tahm Kench if he ulted to a side lane. Should Tahm Kench ult to Renekton’s lane, he could use Slice and Dice to try to evade the collapse, but this could prove less reliable than allowing Taliyah to match. In this situation, however, G2 should consider the option of having Taliyah ult mid from the other side of the map and forcing mid with Renekton as a sacrifice. It’s much safer and provides more reliable wave clear typically to have Varus and Thresh mid.

When G2 sent its duo lane mid after 18 minutes, it became harder to come back into the game. G2 made other lane assignment mistakes following the transition. At about 30 minutes, G2 began sending its duo lane mid to clear, but it became much more difficult to hold mid with more tank items completed for Cho’Gath and Maokai, allowing for dives.

Yet at this point, Vitality had only just pushed top, giving time for the slow push to build before G2 had to answer. G2 didn’t have flanking wards around mid to let them know to back off turret, and Taliyah had pushed top. A better configuration would involve having Expect answer the bottom wave, and Perkz primed to cut off the mid flank in a 1-4.

Of course, both lane assignment mistakes featured snap decisions. The fact that mispositioning on the map even briefly can result in a winning fight and objectives for the enemy team lends some insight into why EU LCS games feature so many team fight compositions. Many teams would rather not bother with the small decisions that make 1-3-1 or 1-4 setups fall apart.

This G2 composition was made mostly difficult to execute by the presence of Tahm Kench. Without that, they would have had an easier time. Even with Tahm Kench, focusing more on getting solo lanes ahead and outlining a few key timings (knowing to keep the 1-3-1 with duo lane mid for most of the game and alternating to 1-4 after Cho’Gath picked up a complete Stoneplate, for example) before the match would make execution much less intimidating.

Splyce’s 1-4 commitment

Even with 1-4 or 1-3-1 naysayers, Splyce has shown a fondness for playing with split-pushing or carry top laners. In Game 3, it managed strong execution of their Camille comp, but Game 1 nearly failed.

Like G2 before it, Splyce had some difficulty dealing with Maokai’s catch potential in securing bottom river vision. Add a strong Kalista-Trundle bottom lane against Varus and Braum, and Misfits had somewhat easy bottom side power. Even though Splyce had top push for most of the game, Misfits made a somewhat interesting decision at 18 minutes to take bottom lane, walk across the map, and play for Rift Herald.

Part of this came from Splyce moving for blue buff hand off. Since Misfits had strong bottom side control, Splyce had to move more of the team to control blue buff and prevent it from being stolen. That, coupled with Misfits having pressure in both bottom and mid, allowed enough time for Misfits to move all the way across to Rift Herald.

Of course, this move had counterplay. Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup stayed bottom to push at the Tier 1 turret and ended up securing it. The rest of Splyce split to pressure mid. Because Martin “Wunder” Hansen had already pushed to Tier 2 in the top lane, it became riskier for him to stay in position, and he had to back off. Splyce ended up pressuring two lanes in response to Misfits’ Rift Herald take.

The problem comes out when one considers Misfits’ composition. With Orianna in the mid lane, it becomes easier for her to stay under turret and clear wave or prevent a dive. Splyce didn’t make headway against the mid Tier 1 turret but managed to trade away the bottom Tier 1 turret in exchange for the Rift Herald.

Obviously, given how much map control one gets from mid turrets, Splyce’s better option would be to focus resources toward either getting the mid turret or contesting Rift Herald. Especially with two mages in the mid lane, Splyce would get value from keeping its mid lane Tier 1 turret up over Misfits’.

Eventually, Misfits used the Rift Herald to secure the first mid lane turret, but Splyce continued to execute its 1-4 with Wunder’s Camille far ahead. The setup secured Splyce control of whatever side of the map Wunder played and allowed support Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle to place free vision.

These conditions continued as long as Splyce could keep Misfits from engaging. With Syndra and Varus, Splyce had a strong push as well as disengage tools from the rest of the team. They had to remain wary of the long range engage from Maokai and Jarvan IV, but as long as the mid group played more toward the bottom side where Wunder exerted pressure, both parts of the push remained relatively safe.

Splyce ended up making an error. With Camille’s major lead, Camille chose to walk and force a fight mid at 22 minutes into the game. This seemed like greed to use the top laners’ level advantage to force a Baron play, but Splyce didn’t account for Javan IV’s ability to force multiple members of Splyce into Cataclysm and remain CC’d with several knockups, losing the 5-v-5.

This Splyce example is a good one to highlight because of the strength of the team’s 4v4. With consistent push from Syndra and Varus as well as Braum’s ability to block Orianna’s own waveclear, Splyce can hold mid easily relatively to a lot of 1-4 configurations. As the game progresses, Varus does continuously more damage to Misfits’ tank setup than Kalista does to Splyce’s composition, and Camille continues to scale and pressure the side lane.

The longer Splyce hold their 1-4, the better Splyce’s four-man will do in a 4v4 against Misfits’ four-main. In addition, Camille will matchup increasingly better to Jarvan IV. Splyce’s crucial error in forcing around an early Baron gave Misfits an opportunity to snowball. Perhaps Splyce thought they were pre-empting a Misfits force for early Baron, but they had tools available to resist it, and Misfits cannot take Baron easily if they have to send multiple members to answer Camille’s push.

One overlooked flaw, however, comes from the Rift Herald play mentioned earlier. If Splyce had felled mid lane turret instead of Misfits, Misfits wouldn’t have anywhere near as much pressure. Splyce took the engage partly as a result of asymmetry of information on top side, and they pressed for what they perhaps thought was a pick too deep with only one ward in Misfits’ blue side blue buff area. The combination of Orianna and the standing mid Tier 1 turret made Splyce’s 5-v-5 even more of a fool’s errand.

Hope to defeat ARAM

While the fact that G2 and Splyce lost games to very simple errors might make those wanting see a wider variety of compositions feel dismay, it does the opposite for me. Yes, small mistakes can throw a game very easily in favor of an “ARAM” composition, but correctly and identifying these small mistakes, drafting more disengage, and eyeing side-lanes to know when it’s safe to pressure makes 1-4s or 1-3-1 compositions more attractive.

If one can identify small mistakes, one might fix them. Especially considering advantages Splyce had with their 1-4 composition, I don’t expect teams like them to give up so easily.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games

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