EDward Gaming have seemingly done it again.
Though only a week’s worth of data are available to judge the League of Legends Pro League giants, EDG smashed 2-0 through both of their first week matches before the Chinese New Year break. A roster that replaced its star AD carry with the 2016 ROX Tigers’ mid lane substitute and decided to run Zho “Fireloli” Zhiming over Team Captain Ming “clearlove” Kai in the jungle effectively humiliated Team WE, slated to top their group.
Following the final match of the week, a swarm of journalists hovered around EDward Gaming’s players and newly hired Coach Jeong “NoFe” Nochul demanding to know how they had pulled it off, particularly how Hae “Zet” Sungmin might be propelled to greatness from his unassuming bench status in 2016.
NoFe’s answer was predictably press-appropriate.
“When I saw the players on the list, I already thought they could get good results together,” he said. “The first week also supports this. Now the team is heading in the direction I want to develop them in: a direction that gives priority to communication.”
Naturally, NoFe’s implication is simply that the core synergy among EDG’s players, even with substitutions and a perceived heavy downgrade to a primary role, remains intact. Peeling back the layers of his testament, EDward Gaming still lead the LPL in communication and macro play. They stunned Vici Gaming and Team WE because they’re ahead in simple fundamentals of the game.
I don’t mean fundamentals in every aspect of League of Legends. EDward Gaming are a mid game team. Though many have praised them for Ming “clearlove” Kai’s early game pathing or Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and Tian “meiko” Ye’s command of bottom lane, EDward Gaming only led the league in gold lead data at 10 or 15 minutes in 2015. Since then, they haven’t averaged the highest leads in the early game, and the true strength of EDward Gaming shines with a roster that has fewer stars.
Team WE illustrate that EDward Gaming aren’t ahead of every team in controlling the early game. Xiang “Condi” Renjie showed surprising resourcefulness and understanding of pressure in the early game in both games against WE, something that spectators didn’t expect from him after 2016.
Though EDG had strong matchups in every lane, at least after the first few levels, Condi and Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup met early in the blue side red buff area jungle, ran the area ensuring they didn’t encounter Fireloli, then ganked mid, demonstrating the team’s understanding that, in the current meta, using advantages to pressure and play through mid lane is most advantageous.
Due to mechanical errors, the gank wasn’t successful. Condi then identified he could pressure top lane from two different angles. Though Fireloli and meiko responded by securing wards on the bottom side, they didn’t make use of them, and Condi and Zero were able to sweep around after a back and secure vision of bottom river as soon as they expired. They used this control to acquire first brick gold several minutes later.
Through these map movements, WE demonstrated they actually had a better understanding of the early game. This continued in Game 2, when they identified they could invade the top side jungle at Level 1 with mid and top lane advantages and a vulnerable Vi jungle pick for EDG.
Compared to WE, EDward Gaming appeared clueless for the first 10-15 minutes of their games. They didn’t follow up on wards, Fireloli’s pathing was occasionally indecisive, and the advantages they got were either through WE forcing or making similar fumbles.
It’s after the very first turret falls that EDG’s LPL opponents have typically unraveled. No matter how strong the early game, they begin making errors in calls. One of the most typical (especially in the current meta, where immobile bottom laners like Varus, Jhin, and Zyra are normal) is poor transition to the top lane. By being the first to take the initial ring of turrets, EDward Gaming were able to catch their opponents and come out ahead in all four games their first week of the LPL.
In the first EDward Gaming vs WE game, for example, with a commanding lead at 13 minutes, WE transitioned their jungler and duo lane to the top side. Condi started out doing everything right by making sure EDG couldn’t flank WE’s siege when he cleared out vision in the blue side blue buff area.
Unfortunately, WE did nothing to defend this vision. As soon as EDG’s bottom lane came top to match WE, meiko cleared the jungle again uncontested, and with mid laner Lee “Scout” Yechan pushing out mid and having enough push priority to roam top, EDG were still able to flank WE and take the top turret after netting three kills.
From there, WE’s mistakes continued. EDG and WE both sent their duo lanes mid for the next clear objectives: the mid first tier turrets. WE made the decision to remove this pressure by sending Zero and Condi to catch Koro1 split-pushing in the bottom lane. EDG could get free damage on mid first tier and burned Ke “957” Changyu’s Teleport, which allowed Koro1 to continue pushing bottom for free when he respawned.
By also maintaining top river vision control, EDG acquired both the bottom first tier and mid first tier turrets shortly thereafter. WE attempted to flank their siege, but EDG’s vision and WE’s poor timing prevented the reversal of fortune.
Contesting first tier turrets after the first bottom tier turret fell on either side was the point that broke open the game for EDG in all four of their games. Against Vici in Game 1, they used the mid lane push to get Tier 1 mid. In Game 2, they took advantage of Vici’s back timings for Tier 1 on top side. EDG also swapped effectively in Game 3 to take the first tier turret in top lane.
Though EDward Gaming don’t always get the first brick gold in their games, they are frequently the team that gets the first tier turrets in all three lanes. In this manner, they are able to maintain top side river and jungle control, which contributes to their ability to pull off frequent Baron rushes, as they did in the first game against WE.
Following that game, meiko explained that because their team had Cassiopeia and vision control, “the main content of our communication was just to look for opportunities to ‘Rush.’” For any long time fan of EDG, the fact that, following Baron’s spawn at 20 minutes, the team would look for opportunities to rush shouldn’t surprise. They’ve historically averaged the earliest first Baron time in the league.
But the games EDward Gaming have played so far demonstrate that they have these rush opportunities because of the frankly abysmal mid game decision-making of their opponents. The fact that EDG were consistently able to out-rotate the teams they faced both in the first week of this split and throughout last summer to obtain map control is more damning of domestic LPL teams as a whole, especially considering EDG’s inability to pull these unchallenged rotations off against international teams like H2K-Gaming and ROX Tigers.
It also means that, even without a stacked talent lineup, EDward Gaming may meet very little resistance in topping the LPL for yet another split. The LPL English broadcast rated both of EDG’s carries, Scout and Hae “Zet” Sungmin, best in their role for the first week of the split. Aside from Scout consistently maintaining mid lane control in EDG’s games, neither have demonstrated particularly strong individual talent in the league.
EDG made several positioning errors in teamfights, suggesting that one of their calling cards — superior teamfighting — probably won’t be something they can rely on this split either. In a dragon contest against Vici Gaming, for example, meiko and Scout made themselves easy targets by front-lining, losing the teamfight.
“Why are EDG still winning?” Is the same question as “Why haven’t they done well at Worlds?” Very little opposition in map movement following the early game, demonstrated in Week 1, allows EDward Gaming to get a strong mid game gold injection, open the map, and make Baron rushes incredibly simple.
If other teams want to win LPL, EDG’s Week 1 performance has demonstrated that it isn’t about strong-arming their bottom lane or signing the high dollar talent. It very likely never has been. It’s about improving the way teams move around the map in the mid game. Even for EDward Gaming fans, this isn’t something to celebrate; it’s a condemnation of post-ten minute decision-making in the entire region.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.