If it had been evident from champion select that Gigabyte Marines had something special in mind, it was obvious from the first 90 seconds of their debut League of Legends World Championship match against Fnatic that its particularities lay early rather than late.
Transitioning from a five man defense of the top side of the map to a four man stack on the bottom, the Marines showed they had a start in mind they didn’t want Fnatic to see. In the next 40 seconds, the world watched the first Level 1 swap situation because, ironically, Fnatic itself had pulled it out in the semifinals of the European League Championship Series spring split.
Many terms were attributed to it, mostly variants of cheese. That it caught Fnatic off guard is certainly true — Fnatic was evidently unprepared for the scenario. This is not an entirely new one, though. The use of Lulu’s heal/ignite is entirely mitigated by simply playing the swap out properly and even with the initial follies, there were many options GAM left open to come back.
All of these issues are brought by one critical flaw in GAM’s plan: Duy Khanh “Levi” Du’s Nocturne was forced to path bot side for the plan to succeed, giving Fnatic a critical numbers and tempo advantage in the swap on a side favourable in these scenarios since the changes to Fortification last yearin Patch 6.15.
I will break Fnatic’s decisions down into three phases of the swap scenario, laying out what in my opinion the appropriate response to the issues should have been. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this was not an unorthodox swap. It was a poor swap in an unorthodox time.
Had Fnatic played out the swap like a standard correct swap, GAM’s inability to respond with its jungler on the other side of the map would have lead to a devastating disadvantage. It’s just been a while since any team has had to face this.
Phase 1: The initial swap
There are two basic responses Fnatic could give at this point.
For the first response, understand that Fnatic is choosing between a 4-v-2 or a 5-v-3 situation. Both are winning dive situations, but the former leaves Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s Ryze to solo pressure mid. GAM’s Van Cuong “Optimus” Trans’ Kassadin would be unable to make a favourable teleport in response to the dive. If he does he doesn’t level the situation — he simply makes it 4-v-3 at the cost of waves and mid tower HP, risking a substantial deficit if Ryze intelligently chooses not to match TP.
This situation presents a lot of positives to the 5-v-3 situation Fnatic opted into. It’s a far more rewarding setup for Ryze and punishing for Kassadin’s eventual decision whether or not to TP, utilizing the mismatch in pressure accordingly. GAM overall is placed in a riskier situation than before, having invested everything onto Nocturne and now losing pressure in two lanes and tempo on the swap.
The second is slightly unorthodox, moving Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen (playing Elise) to mid lane after Elise’s initial clear, but retaining Maokai’s pathing to the bottom side of the map to dive.
This forces a decision on Nocturne: Does he match and defend mid, or cede mid to attempt to save bot? Bearing in mind Fnatic would still hold a 3-v-2 setup bot side even with Nocturne’s aid, it’s lower risk for him to simply match 2-v-2 mid, in which case bot lane is 100 percent ceded in Fnatic’s favour. The alternative could conceivably result in the loss of both Tier 1s, or at best case just mid, giving Fnatic more comfortable options in the event of a tempo deficit and a more guaranteed game plan come mid game.
Phase 2: After the defense
While Fnatic chose to 5-v-3, this should still have given the team a tempo advantage bot side had they not over-chased following the dive. Opting to use their 5 man to zone — the mid wave bouncing favourably towards Ryze — and securing first tower should have been priority. Fnatic then would have continued the swap with tempo advantage.
Having failed the dive, there is a fundamental principle Fnatic failed to utilize. Had the dive gone favorably and the tower fallen properly, Fnatic would have set Paul “sOAZ” Boyer’s Maokai up with a bouncing wave, affording him a chance to catch up in XP/Gold in a long lane. If GAM had matched the swap, he’d temporarily be 1-v-0 and able to stack waves prior to the entry of GAM’s duo lane.
The option to bounce the wave still stands. Instead of outright pulling away, Fnatic could still pressure the bot wave with Maokai and their duo lane (potentially with Elise, if Jesse “Jesiz” Le’s Karma on relatively low health gives Fnatic cause), crashing the wave into the tower. Fnatic then could have matched all lanes, leaving Maokai 1-v-1 with lane control over Minh Nhut “Archie” Tran’s Galio and defending their tier 1 top.
Doing that, Fnatic would have avoided a situation where Elise would have to split to help a threatened Maokai top side, and Nocturne becomes free to match 2-v-2 bot with his Level 6 advantage. Although Ryze is able to respond having continued mid pressure, this places Fnatic in a terrible situation where it will ultimately lose that advantage too.
Phase 3: Tempo
At this point, both side lanes of Fnatic have died. Vu Long “Noway” Nguyen’s Tristana and Thien Nhan “Nevan” Phung’s Lulu will take top tower 2-v-1 against Elise. The threat level to mid will reach peak and Fnatic will be severely behind in tempo.
In the first phase, Fnatic chose a less efficient version of what could have been done and failed the final execution with poor priority. In the second phase, Fnatic missed a critical opportunity to do better. Here Fnatic makes the wrong moves entirely.
After taking the Tier 1 tower top, Tristana/Lulu are able to bounce their wave off the Tier 2. That gives control of top lane entirely over to GAM in a long lane. The only options for whoever Fnatic sends to this lane are to push faster or slower. Freezing is no longer one, and eventually they will be exposed in a long lane on a side where GAM has just taken full control.
So Fnatic sends Maokai alone on respawn and opts to continue the swap while placing sOAZ in an inherently dangerous situation, giving GAM a perfect opportunity to utilize its control of the wave and the top side of the map to give Kassadin free farm — Maokai has to assume the Nocturne threat. GAM utilizes this after using their initial pressure advantage to make a play mid, pausing Ryze’s snowball. They then transfer their duo lane to mid, recognizing the lack of necessity in defending bot Tier 1 and placing Ryze on a progressively worse footing relative to his former lead on Kassadin.
Fnatic’s decision to continue the swap opened a setup for GAM that allowed Kassadin to farm for 02:23 unimpeded, going from 8 CS down to 10 CS up in a situation where he otherwise would have had his deficit accelerated.
Avoiding this problem is simple. In a situation where a team is on a tempo deficit, forcing your opponent to react to your pressure becomes priority. On respawn, Fnatic’s duo lane should have gone mid with Maokai. After bouncing off of tier 2 topside, GAM would be forced to match Fnatic mid lane lest they lose mid for it. The initial play that killed Ryze off of sidelane pressure would be unavailable to GAM, and the option to favourably continue the swap would also be removed. Furthermore, Kassadin would not have the options he otherwise would have for safe farm and his further decline would be assured.
Transitioning this into a play on the top wave as it crashes towards GAM’s tier 1 tower would be the most efficient use of Fnatic’s situation, allowing them to trade comfortably without affording GAM the chance to capitalise on their map control advantages.
An unorthodox time
Ultimately, these are the types of things a team like Fnatic would spot straight away on review. Had any one of the strategies been applied in a subsequent game against a subsequent swap, GAM would have been severely far behind. This, unfortunately, is not available in a best-of-one format.
Make no mistake, this could have happened to any team. Europe’s Day 1 at worlds has gone according to the standard European schedule of a poor start. Fnatic simply drew the short straw and had to face GAM’s re-introduction of a nigh-on ancient concept. It’s not a strategy I imagine GAM intends to repeat. If it does, the next opponent will not be caught off guard, and the strategy will have dire consequences.
I did not rate Fnatic to get out of groups, but this game is a poor example of why. Judging Fnatic and Europe’s hopes off of scenarios like this won’t give any fair degree of accuracy.