It is fairly common to see a team fall from the top of its respective league and become second best or maybe even third; ahq e-Sports Club’s fall from the top of the League of Legends Masters Series was terribly sudden and drastic. The fall didn’t drop ahq from the top tier of teams in Taiwan, but it did go from being nearly undefeated to losing 3-0 in the LMS Spring Finals to its rival club, Flash Wolves. After over a year of complacent scrimming, lack of emphasis on solo queue and unwillingness to improve from its Spring form — ahq was finally punished for its hubris. And it hasn’t been the same since.
Not committing to a single mid laner in spring
Ahq made a lot of noise domestically and internationally with its signing of Singaporean mid laner Wong “Chawy” Xing-Lei, as many had assumed that the Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei era would come to an end. But it was soon made clear the two would battle for the starting spot in hopes of finding the most competitive mid laner. It sounds ideal, but the two actually just split games during the regular season, with Chawy playing on red side and Westdoor on blue. Ahq was pretty untouchable during the regular season and received praise for its side-based platoon system.
It’s worth noting that ahq seemingly had regressed in some ways during the dual-mid laner experiment, consistently losing the early game and fighting from behind. Ahq’s macro play and general mechanical ceiling carried the team well, but it was still just a best-of-two format. Eventually, the focus on mid laner and jungle synergy toward the end of the split and during spring playoffs exposed ahq’s lack of built-in team synergy around a single mid laner. When it came to the playoffs and best-of-five series, ahq fell back on Westdoor and reverted to its 2015 summer play style, to no avail. Ahq failed to evolve around a specific play style and in the end was merely two halves of two different teams.
In the face of an actual challenge, the only answer was to fall back upon what worked before. The team looked inherently uncomfortable either way, falling apart across the map in a number of individual ways. Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong consistently got caught in the enemy jungle (more than usual), Chou “AN” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei struggled in the 2-v-2 bottom, and it was clear that Westdoor nor Chawy could truly handle Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang. After a meltdown like that, ahq claimed that there would be change, ranging from solo queue requirements to a different scrim mentality.
Not so much change
Across all league, summer is the split that matters. A team’s success in summer decides whether it will have the chance to attend the League of Legends World Championship, and most teams are unwilling to take big risks, no matter how large the reward may be. So far, ahq hasn’t been one to take big risks and seems to be content fighting for second. Despite having brought back jungle prospect Wang “Baybay” You-Chun, from China, ahq has mostly elected to stay with Mountain.
But the team has mostly shown to be following its solo queue rule closely: A player under Diamond III is not going to start, and the higher-rated player will be favored as a starter. So far, the rule has been followed in the case of Liang “RD” Teng-Li starting over AN in Week 1. Chawy is un-utilized while bouncing in between Diamond and Masters, but so far has been exempted when it comes to Baybay being higher rated than Mountain (likely due to lack of scrim time). The initiative itself isn’t so bad for alerting players to their practice regimen, but it is concerning that past results are being ignored in favor of solo queue rating.
So far, ahq has proved that it is absolutely about Westdoor starting mid in favor of Chawy, though it is worth noting Chawy did not arrive in Taiwan till the end of Week 1. While Chawy showed to be a more favorable mid laner last spring, focusing on a safe laning phase and performing well on notable meta picks Azir and Viktor. It’s also worth noting that Chawy averaged a CS differential of 7.7 at 10 minutes last spring, compared to Westdoor’s negative CS differential of 7.4. The two are clearly very different and bring a different flavor to the team, but so far Westdoor is more to ahq’s taste.
Westdoor — the hands-down fan favorite — is clearly at a stage in his career where it would be unlikely for him to expand his champion pool convincingly or bring forward a strong laning phase. Ahq clearly favors Westdoor’s roam-heavy style toward bot lane, but time and time again, it has been punished by stronger teams. Westdoor isn’t exactly a huge problem, but so long as he is the mid lane starter, it is unlikely that we will ever see substantial change from ahq e-Sports club.
This resilience not only carries weight in the mid lane, but jungle as well. With the highly touted Baybay on the roster for the last two weeks, Mountain has continued to start the majority of ahq’s games. Mountain isn’t flat out awful, but he has very defined strengths and weaknesses. These days, the weaknesses outweigh his strengths, as he struggles to remain competitive on carry junglers and often paths too aggressively without proper vision or lane pressure. The best part of Mountain’s game remains his early-game planning and gank pathing, but when that begins to falter even a bit, ahq really is just a shell of its old self. It’s probably about time that ahq gives the new kid a few more games, if not just to see how the team changes on stage.
Ahq recently strung together stronger early game performances and looks to be on the right track for returning to its former glory, with AN and Albis keeping it together in bottom lane. Team progression into the mid game is better, but still not quite where the team wants it to be. Now ahq is out of the negatives in the early game, averaging a 500 gold lead at 10 minutes, but it’s also failing to emulate the style that had the team so strong the split before, only forcing 0.57 Champion Kills per Minute. At this point, ahq is merely running a weaker form of its old style, with Mountain proving to be less effective and the meta being far more mid and top focused.
Assuming that Mountain and Westdoor continue to start, it is unlikely ahq will be able to develop healthily in this meta, as its continues to force its old style. Westdoor continues to be down about 7 CS at 10 minutes and is lagging behind in mid laner DPM at 6th, with 552 DPM, due to his inability to play the long range damage-dealing mid laners. A lack of control in the mid lane with a weak laning phase and lack of waveclear makes it difficult to effectively control the pace of the game and ultimately leaves ahq sitting ducks.
Meanwhile, Mountain still lags behind in staying competitive with the likes of Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan or Chen “REFRA1N” Kuan-Ting in their general pathing efficiency and CS numbers. Both manage a CSD at 10 minutes above 8, while Mountain is often down 7 CS at the same time marker. Carry junglers are out of the question when it comes to Mountain, given his poor performances on Kindred and Nidalee in the past. While tanks like Rek’Sai and Gragas remain good picks, it is difficult to have a one-dimensional jungler in both the pick & ban phase and in-game. Thankfully Baybay has begun to see play and while he hasn’t proven to be an exciting jungler, he is an improvement that brings more flexibility to the draft.
All considered, ahq has the tools to remain strong in the region and will be in a spot competing for the second seed to worlds, but one would hope that ahq has lust for more than that. Similar to Flash Wolves’ retainment of Hsiung “NL” Wen-An at AD Carry, ahq seems unwilling to part with what is comfortable in order to progress into something new. Teams often do not make huge progressions for the better without a roster change, and considering ahq’s initial rise came on the back of a ridiculous roster swap involving Albis and Mountain, it’s surprising ahq has been so conservative.
All photos courtesy of Garena TV.