In the aftermath of Rift Rivals, we’ve heard a lot of words exchanged to describe what went wrong for the representatives from the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS). 1-3-1. Early game. Disrespect. Engage. It’s easy to get lost in some of those terms and conflate the wrong ingredients for the real problem.
Rather than address specific series or teams this week, I thought it best to bring up a few specific ideas post-Rift Rivals and touch on them with in-game examples. Specifically, “proactivity” and “tempo.” In previous reviews, I discussed the evolution of the European meta to include engages, 5-v-5s mid, and the whittling away of 1-3-1 compositions (even for Fnatic), so I’ll redirect you to Week 5 for more details.
Probably one of the most popular criticisms levied against European teams is a blanket “lack of proactivity.” The term proactive becomes incredibly broad when you try to define it. Most have ignored the nuances and simply settled for junglers not ganking enough or mid laners losing lanes.
Part of the symptom of an increase in engage is a feeling that laning phase matters less. No matter how far ahead you get, the Unicorns of Love will bait you into a 5-v-5 mid with long range engage champions like Jarvan IV, and you’ll die to hyper carries.
Unicorns of Love’s match with Misfits stands out as the probably best example this week in parsing through the “proactive jungler” criticism. Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir received a lot of attention for what commentators called his weak jungle pool. In the series against Misfits, he played two new champions that supposedly rely more on interfering with lanes early. Kindred will kite tankier jungle champions with range early on, but will have a harder time executing team fights later. Elise snowballs lanes (especially top) and makes direct lane counters like Kennen into Gnar less effective because top lane will theoretically over-extend into the Gnar, opening a window for Elise.
Looking most closely at the Elise game, both Xerxe and Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian received an early leash from their bottom lanes. Those leashes allow junglers to clear through camps faster, opening more time between first and second clear and creating a tempo advantage for impacting lanes, earlier backs, duels, or placing wards. Maxlore used his advantage to begin tracking Xerxe early, while Xerxe seemed to farm more.
At first glance, only Maxlore and Misfits’ actions seem to fall under the “proactive” label. Steven “Hans Sama” Liv and Lee “IgNar” Donggeun use their own advantage created through Blitzcrank’s threat to roam mid lane so that Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage can invade with Maxlore and pressure the Elise. Maxlore manages to show top first because Misfits can use the mid pressure to keep Xerxe’s jungle warded and limit Xerxe’s ability to impact the top lane matchup without forewarning.
Right away, one can observe the problem with limiting the idea of “proactive jungling” simply to ganking or looking at the picks players choose. The impact IgNar had on the mid lane, and PowerOfEvil’s early push on Syndra, made it difficult for Xerxe to execute the Elise pick in a way that impacted lanes. It’s really easy to see, then, how the jungle style of Unicorns had evolved.
Despite Maxlore and Misfits investing vision and time into Xerxe’s jungle, Xerxe didn’t simply bumble around. When PowerOfEvil disappeared from mid, Xerxe used his Volatile Spiderling to scout, limiting their ability to actually kill him. Misfits also invested a lot into wards, placing as many as four in the enemy red buff area jungle, but they didn’t translate into camp gold. After Fabian “Exileh” Schubert hit Level 6, and especially when he spiked at Level 11, the mid lane matchup started to turn, and Misfits had to invest more resources to keeping the push in mid (which meant sacrificing pressure bottom and more of Maxlore’s time).
Xerxe ended up securing a level advantage over Maxlore at 9. While Barney “Alphari” Morris managed to put Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás down (UoL’s top died three times), those advantages didn’t extend out of his lane. In the lane swap that followed, Misfits secured kills, but didn’t stack the wave or preserve enough health to take top turret. That opened Unicorns of Love’s Caitlyn to transition from a bottom lane turret take into Misfits’ jungle, where the pressure from Exileh’s matchup and Xerxe’s level advantage made bottom skirmishes impossible to contest. UoL came away with all three first tier turrets in these trades to Misfits getting one.
The condition for Xerxe to be “proactive” is often a strong mid lane push. That gives the jungler a burden to have a larger impact because he has more freedom. He can decide to clear his camps later because they don’t fall under threat of invade. He clears camps faster with leashes or level advantages or successful ganks, so he has more money to spend on wards — more “tempo.”
Misfits had the burden here, but despite kill advantages, Unicorns of Love had the better early game. Exileh correctly predicted where Misfits would transfer the tempo of their bottom lane lead and kept himself safe. With limited options and constantly getting spotted out on wards, Xerxe focused on his own farm and acted on a skirmish as soon as he had a level advantage over Maxlore. Any advantages Unicorns did secure, they spread to other lanes and used to open the map. In earlier matches, when Misfits made top side plays, UoL made mid lane ones because they gave them more control.
Yes, Unicorns of Love’s style is probably better described as “reactive,” but they put limitations on themselves with limited mid lane play. Because of how they transition leads and advantages as well as anticipating some of their opponents’ moves in the early game, they probably could do a lot with a pushing mid lane. In cases where they might emphasize strong mid lane matchup or supports transitioning mid, Unicorns might have a surprisingly “proactive” early game. In the meantime, Xerxe picks champions that scale better because he doesn’t think he’ll get openings to use the likes of Elise to impact lanes. We should be watching Exileh’s pool, not Xerxe’s.
Push the Tempo
Lane swaps are weird. Since H2K Gaming’s obsession with them in 2015 and 2016, the EU LCS has retained a bit of an identity as a “lane swap region.” How lane swaps work and why teams choose to execute them, however, has changed a lot over time.
With top side turrets harder to take in the early game and a premium on first brick, teams can fall drastically behind if they start in a swap configuration. After fortification expires in five minutes, however, swaps are once again fair game.
The most common reason for a swap began as a means of dealing with a weak bottom lane and strong top lane matchup. With top lane pushed out, when enemy bottom lane would get a back advantage, the losing bottom lane could shove wave, back second, but head to top lane with a tempo advantage to take the first turret. Despite their lead, the enemy bottom lane would have to contend with the wave on the bottom side of the map, and with a top side advantage, the losing bottom lane could get the first turret.
Conditions for lane swaps continued to expand, but they all retained this concept of securing a tempo advantage. If your top laner has to use Teleport, but the enemy top laner doesn’t, certain conditions make the lane swap favorable because if your bottom lane goes top, you can force the enemy top laner back, and he has to use Teleport to return to lane. That evens out the issue without risking a bottom side play.
With champions like Tahm Kench, if both bottom and top lane have push advantage, a swap can become favorable because Tham Kench’s ultimate can allow you to head mid and use the tempo advantage to push out a second turret quickly. Mid control in that case can also prevent teams from giving up dragon in a swap.
Rift Herald makes lane swaps sometimes favorable for giving teams control of the objective over dragon, depending on the dragon spawn. If both side lanes lose, you might be put in a position to make a disadvantageous trade for the second turret take of the game or lose both side lane Tier 1s.
The list continues, but the main reason behind swaps has less to do with matchups and more to do with keeping an advantage in game pace. If you make the first play for the first turret, reason stands you can control the flow of minions to bounce or push; you can force Teleports to open plays for yourself. One first play warrants another advantageous trade until an accumulation of advantageous trades creates a lead.
It can go wrong if a team doesn’t stack a wave in a swap and takes a turret late when they should have tempo advantage. If they don’t bounce the wave after a take, they can starve either their AD carry or top laner, as when they revert the swap, one player will have to over-extend for farm. A team going top could result in the enemy team going mid to get unforeseen better trade.
If a team doesn’t have good macro understanding or communication, these swaps can easily give up leads. For example, in Game 2 of Team Vitality vs. Ninjas in Pyjamas, Vitality made the decision to swap with pushing advantages in both top and bottom side. A few things caused that swap to go wrong.
Shen may have had the advantage of having both his ultimate and Teleport, but Rumble retained his Teleport, and Ninjas in Pyjamas also had a Tahm Kench support and mid lane push. NiP answered the swap since there was no stacked wave on the first push. While both duo lanes were top, Vitality also lost some of their bottom side jungle. Because NiP set up bottom lane’s wave to bounce, and Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet went bottom first, however, Vitality reverted the swap to try to use a bottom lane tempo advantage instead.
That’s when the fact that mid lane had a push advantage and NiP had extra Teleports punished Vitality. With Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema already in the bottom jungle and mid lane pushed out, NiP used Shen’s ult to punish the enemy jungler. Shen had to eventually Teleport to help push bottom, and Vitality, after walking back, secured the first turret of the game but lost its 10 CS lead on the AD carry. Vitality also did not take advantage of the window where Rumble had Teleport and Tahm Kench was still Level 5
A few minutes later, NiP answered any top side control Vitality set up with Shen and Tahm Kench plays in part because the first turret taken forced them to push further in the lane. Ultimately, it felt like Vitality failed to fully account for the impact of globals in lane swaps and the fact that these kinds of abilities can equalize tempo advantages.
Lane swaps present an interesting phenomenon in EU, and as they continue to develop, more questions arise. Who should do them? Are the rules defined? What is the full list of factors? Can one blame lane swap fascination for the poor dragon control of Europe’s top teams?
When trying to decide what mistakes teams make, it’s important to disentangle what certain buzz words mean. A better grasp of proactivity and tempo might lend a more critical eye to problems as they unfold in the weeks to come.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games