“It’s pretty clear that we’re the best team right now, at least from the practice and stage.” — Fnatic coach Dylan Falco
At least from stage games, the identity of the best team in the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) has seldom been less clear since G2 Esports’ first rise. Each of H2K Gaming, G2 and Fnatic played one series last week, but combing through their split-long evolution, one can encounter key observations for each team. What might set Fnatic, G2, and H2K in good stead for the last two weeks?
Fnatic’s side lane setup
When commentators bemoaned Fnatic’s shirk of the meta with picks like AD Kennen or Corki, the term “side lane AD carry” arose. Fnatic spent a lot of time creating 1-3-1 compositions with an AD carry as top or bottom lane prong.
The problem with those compositions didn’t come from the picks themselves. Many will miss the point in stating Martin “Rekkles” Larsson only wanted self-sufficient picks. He liked a lot of AD carries that built Blade of the Ruined King for their ability to impact lane independent of support and then side lane in a 1-3-1. Those picks got out-scaled and might not do as well later in 5-v-5s.
As a result, Fnatic liked getting catches in side lanes. That creates the real core Fnatic problem. By pulling members of the team from mid to collapse on side lane for a catch in Rekkles’ lane, the few champions left mid become vulnerable to a collapse by the enemy team with a numbers advantage.
The problem, then, with Fnatic’s comps wasn’t simply that they were 1-3-1ing or playing with a side lane AD carry, but the inability to hold mid. Many have extrapolated this problem to 1-3-1 or 1-4 compositions in general, and that has created a new fear of side lanes and sending a member of the team to get control outside mid.
Teams like Misfits or Unicorns of Love result from this kind of fear. In its series against Fnatic, Misfits had a tendency to try to bait Fnatic’s Teleports by rushing Baron rather than venture to the side lane themselves. When they had to run bottom to answer a push, they set up a slow push, which gave Paul “sOAZ” Boyer’s Teleport time to come back up and Fnatic much more time to make a decision or react to the wave. In addition, whoever answered the wave wouldn’t lose nearly as much experience as they might with a standard push because the wave would build the entire time without minions dying.
As such, it’s incredibly easy to play side lane compositions against Misfits. They reacted poorly to the likes of Kayn mid. That approach demonstrated that teams have been too quick to lump in “playing side lane” or “controlling side lane” with side lane pick compositions. Rather than scrap 1-3-1s entirely, EU teams can look to set up better river and jungle vision to get picks closer to mid lane. In this scenario, they have a more options for answering a mid force.
If a top or mid goes through river or jungle to answer a side lane push, or a jungler goes to clear his camps, teams with champions from pushing lanes can get picks in jungle or near mid. To keep those from forcing, one needs more disengage or waveclear like Gragas. Don’t lose first tier mid lane turret with a mage champion. If teams abandon side lanes entirely, one can also get objectives like turrets in side lanes. There was a reason teams slowly abandoned the “group mid” strategy in the first place.
But does Fnatic pass the test? It had a lot more instances where the side laner reacted by rushing back mid for picks or collapses rather than the other way around. That’s a good sign. But in many instances, Rasmus “Caps” Winther got caught in chokes or river for doing exactly that.
That struggle makes me hesitant to definitively call Fnatic the best team in Europe. Both G2 and H2K seem to balance side and mid lane pressure more thoroughly. Alas, they have their own flaws.
Is the team fighting meme dead?
H2K spent a good part of this split building more scaling compositions and setting up for team fights later in the game. It granted them uncharacteristic comebacks against teams like Misfits earlier in the season.
I dare to suggest the only reason analysts still see a “Top 4” rather than a “Top 3” is that they can’t shake the feeling that H2K will never beat Unicorns of Love. Right now, Unicorns of Love look worse than they have all year, so I don’t think it’s fair to count them in the same group. But will H2K lose again anyway?
Many UoL and H2K games have followed a familiar formula: strong lanes from H2K with smarter turret trades that limit Unicorns’ freedom into a rushed 25 minute Baron team fight and a Unicorns comeback.
H2K cannot teamfight.
But few pinpoint why. A lot of it came down to a rushed sense of timing. Either Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu’s flanks came too early, or his team came too late. Sometimes it seems as if, when H2K burns cooldowns, it feels compelled to make something happen.
When confronted in river 12 minutes into the second game against Splyce, H2K opted into a fight in the choke near blue side’s first mid lane turret. With more front lining and lockdown potential and slightly better item spikes on Splyce’s side, H2K couldn’t get to Kog’Maw in the back line, and this fight seemed like a loss before it began.
Often when these fights happen for H2K, it comes from a lack of desire to give up tempo. With tempo comes pushing lanes and vision control, and often when H2K plays with lane-dominant picks, losing tempo might come with a sense of panic or dread. H2K doesn’t want to give up pressure, especially around Baron. Especially in situations where they’ve already burned a major cooldown setting up a failed flank.
Sometimes teams take the Baron call on a chance ace knowing that they may not get that kind of chance again if the enemy team scales. It makes sense to assume the enemy team won’t make the same mistake again and go for something that has a low probability of working out now rather than later.
H2K can focus on when it can relieve pressure balancing the map, when it can go for backs, and what lanes it needs to keep pushing in order to maintain river vision. If they balance, there will be more opportunities without forcing.
Because H2K’s team fight has gotten better. Poor team fighting was born from panic or rushes. Although the core problem remains, H2K works much better around AD carries and setting up area of effect or targeting the enemy AD carry. It’s the need to rush that’s troublesome.
Doing what with the jungler
G2 had a lot of difficulty this split in deciding how to use tempo advantages from early first clears. Perhaps because it didn’t do a lot of leashing in the past and Kim “Trick” Gang-yun has often favored full clears, Trick whiled away advantages the team got that could have been converted into ganks, invades, or vision. Sometimes he simply just half-heartedly ganked mid.
A focus on prioritizing Ocean Drake or winning lanes to keep momentum and pressure has opened up G2’s jungle control considerably. The mid lane ganks have a lot more relevance in timing. G2 is considering key cooldowns when it sets up plays.
Some of G2’s struggles come with laning assignments and balancing the map as the game progresses. Trading dragons for Barons, for example. In looking at Game 1 against Ninjas in Pyjamas at 20 minutes, G2 couldn’t get complete control of mid before taking dragon with Jayce for fear of engage, so it lost control of Baron. G2 then reacted after taking the dragon by pushing hard mid, but NiP’s Cho’Gath and Kalista composition allowed them to rush for the purple monster.
Keeping the flow of waves before objectives has become a focus of G2. That means setting up to time ganks better and generally working more around their jungler as well. We’ve seen marked improvements from G2, but it always feels like the theory is there more strongly than any other team — there are just strands that don’t connect or moments of lapse.
G2’s problems seem much less concerned with the same repeated mistake in macro, and much more to do with handfuls of little one-offs. Their solo lanes don’t pay attention to certain enemies disappearing from vision. Jungle and support aren’t coordinating to get control of the lower river. They struggle to balance dragon with Baron control.
That makes G2’s problems harder to fix, but perhaps also more minor overall. It’s less about not understanding what they should be doing. But that just makes it a lot more difficult to call them definitively the best team.
Fnatic and H2K have somewhat clearer paths to improvement. It feels like G2, however, stand just outside the threshold and, intimidated by the archway, have yet to take the final step inside.
That final step might make the difference in the final weeks.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games