After Splyce nearly defeated G2 Esports in the quarterfinals European League of Legends Championship Series summer playoffs, excitement for the team began to mount. G2 head coach Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool pegged Splyce as the best team in the region outside G2 and Fnatic. When the first round of the EU LCS gauntlet approached, despite Splyce’s precarious season and 0-8 loss record against H2K Gaming for the year, almost everyone predicted a close race. Top laners Martin “Wunder” Hansen and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu traded trash talk to match.
— Martin Hansen (@Wunder_LoL) September 8, 2017
Looking forward to making that great 0-8 match record into 0-11 🙂
— Pascu Andrei (@OdoamneLoL) September 8, 2017
Of course, as H2K’s 3-0 defeat of Splyce ultimately reminded us, it’s dangerous to judge an inconsistent team from a single impressive best-of-five it didn’t even win.
But the excitement around Splyce didn’t just come from taking G2 to five games, but the way in which it did so. Splyce brought creative pick compositions and smart drafts to the table.
Even when G2 went for more of a 5-v-5 approach, YoungBuck said, “I don’t know how we ended up winning those team fights later on because I do think they had a better draft going into the late game.”
Splyce came to the table with some of the same creativity and approach to playing around top side against H2K. The analyst desk and casting team praised Splyce’s drafts and seemed perplexed by the losses.
In Game 1, for example, Splyce responded to H2K’s first pick Sejuani with a powerful Rakan and Gragas support-jungle duo that would allow Splyce to win most pre-Level 6 skirmishes against Sejuani and whatever support H2K would choose. When H2K then picked Cassiopeia, and Splyce chose to deal with having the mid lane pinched in order to snatch up the Gnar, it almost guaranteed a strong side lane set up and then went for Vel’koz. Vel’koz will struggle against Cassiopeia at early levels, but at Level 6, Cassiopeia cannot get in range without getting poked back and may even burn her engage flash avoiding Vel’koz’s ult.
With winning or even lanes and jungle matchup, Splyce had fairly clear win conditions. Snowball side lanes, use a bottom lead to influence mid lane and get Vel’koz back into the game after an early deficit. Then continue to side lane with Gnar while Vel’koz and Jhin keep H2K back from the Baron and mid lane.
Rather, Jonas “Trashy” Andersen missed a small window for a Level 2 or 3 gank in bottom lane to shut down H2K’s one win condition. Then Chres “Sencux” Laursen kept looking for roams bottom as Vel’koz, particularly behind the dragon pit. With Alistar and Sejuani able to pinch an immobile Vel’koz, it’s difficult for him to find safe paths both two and from bottom lane, as evidenced from Choi “Chei” Sun-ho’s Alistar cutting off Sencux at 10 minutes.
It posed a lot less risk to Splyce to get an advantage bottom through Teleports or jungle pressure and then transfer priority to mid lane than the other way around.
Beyond that, Splyce frequently misplayed team fights with poor targeting from Vel’koz even after Wunder and Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup forced H2K into a corner. That didn’t mean Sencux was the sole bearer of blame, though. Other fights went wrong when Wunder tried to flank by walking from side lane and got collapsed upon. With Jhin’s long range and catch and Vel’koz’s poke, Splyce should look to engage with Rakan, disengage with Gragas, and re-engage with Gnar only if necessary.
The worst offense came from misunderstanding that Splyce’s poke could let it stall out mid, especially once H2K had taken the first and second tier turrets. Splyce needed only to put pressure top to keep H2K from gaining Baron control, but with wave clear from Vel’koz, Jhin, and Gragas as well as the threat of Rakan and Gnar, H2K couldn’t push forward without heavy wards (Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten’s positioning relative to H2K’s ward placement was severely punished by a Flash engage from Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle’s Rakan in a mid lane siege, for example).
Instead, Wunder kept looking to leave the side lane where he could keep pressure on Odoamne to find flanks. Considering H2K had a much more straight forward all-in team-fighting composition, the late game was the last leg of three stages of tragic execution from Splyce in Game 1.
It only got worse in Game 2, when Wunder’s Trundle kept grouping. The one time he didn’t, Splyce traded a bottom inhibitor for Baron. That left H2K with only one option of forcing back the wave of super minions. Splyce could then easily trade something on top side, but Wunder got over-eager and dove Odoamne’s Renekton, taking several turret shots and dying in a 1-v-1 that should have favored him.
Additionally, in many engages in Game 2, Splyce left Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon’s Tristana relatively unscathed. They only seemingly began targeting her 27 minutes into the game when H2K had started pressuring Splyce’s base. It hearkened back to Splyce’s Game 1 against G2 in the quarterfinals when, at the brink of losing the match, Splyce’s players discovered the interaction between Camille and Morgana and began finally executing their composition properly.
In Game 3 on Friday, Splyce answered H2K’s somewhat simple team-fighting composition with some of its own. Yet awkward lane assignments (Splyce left Sivir and Thresh on top side far too long when it could have rotated them mid and used Corki’s mobility to set up possible mid flanks) and poor layering of abilities made Splyce look uncoordinated.
Overall, it feels a lot like Splyce don’t properly discuss or understand how to execute the compositions it drafts. The players must theoretically know that they have drafted strong lane matchups. They must theoretically know that they play 1-4 compositions. Yet planning doesn’t seem to venture beyond that. Game 1 in particular featured a misunderstanding of how to execute a composition at all phases of the game, and throughout the split, when Splyce have gone for 1-4 setups, Splyce have often demonstrated a misunderstanding of when it should group and when it should hold mid and push out side lanes.
That made H2K-Gaming, with its mid lane focus, a strong stylistic matchup against Splyce. H2K even demonstrated a better understanding of how to balance map pressure, as they picked up good turret trades with Tristana in Game 3.
Splyce shouldn’t be condemned for going for 1-4 or setting up pick compositions and early game. They had smart drafts and good ideas throughout. One should rather criticize the fact that, once they get these ideas, they don’t seem to fully understand how to carry them out beyond a base concept.
Given those problems existed all summer, analysts who then chose Splyce as the favorite to win the Gauntlet and head to the League of Legends World Championship should reconsider. Luka “Perkz” Perkovic drank two cups of coffee instead of one on a fateful Sunday, and Splyce somehow became the darlings of Europe.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games