Moser's EU in Review Week 2: War on High

Vizicsacsi is the top laner for Unicorns of Love (lolesports)
Vizicsacsi is the top laner for Unicorns of Love (lolesports)

The second week of the European League of Legends Championship Series brought best-of-threes between the projected top two in each group. Fnatic stood victorious above a fresh-from-vacaton G2 Esports, and Unicorns of Love clawed their way over H2K-Gaming.

Aside from the teams in the highlight series of the week, Splyce made the most surprising gains with wins over Team Vitality and Mysterious Monkeys. There’s a lot to pour over, including the evolution of picks and the impact of Doran’s Shield.

What is Animal Style: Fnatic’s win over G2 Esports

Despite accepting their “animal style” only reluctantly and promising to adopt a more methodical “macro style” in the coming split, Fnatic have remained consistent in the first two weeks of Summer. They still favor Kennen and Shen, and still seek to pile on the bottom lane. Side lane AD carry picks remain the dominant choice.

But defining Fnatic’s animal style becomes tricky. What makes it run so contrary to macro play?

In a typical Fnatic game, Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen will look to either create a Teleport advantage with a top lane gank or look for an earlier play bottom. The goal of each, of course, is to ensure that the bottom 2v2 can get ahead. With that lead secure, Rasmus “Caps” Winther will use mid lane advantages to roam bottom and continue the snowball. Then, Fnatic will opt to trade turrets to get these advantages or simply keep bot up to pressure the lead.

When turrets do fall, however, Fnatic tend to default to 1-3-1 compositions with a side laning AD carry pick, striving to keep pressure in all three lanes. If they can get a flank with their jungler on a side lane, they get picks and transition to objectives.

Generally speaking, macro strategy in League of Legends refers to map movement, or the ability to control the most resources across the map. This means distributing farm, not wasting minion waves, defending turrets, and securing objectives.

At its core, Fnatic’s preference for 1-3-1 play is an efficient macro strategy because it emphasizes distributing gold to every carry. It also has the basic framework for transitioning to objectives. Fnatic’s early game vision and wave control is also strong, able to stack the bottom minion wave to create dive opportunities. Following those advantages, they play lane swaps well in the event the enemy has a Teleport advantage.

Issues working against them include the occasional over-grouping on the bottom side early, though they rarely do that without mid lane roam priority. They will, however, sacrifice Broxah’s jungle camp experience and gold.

Sometimes Fnatic tunnel too hard on getting picks. In their playoff series against G2, they gave up control of top side to pinch the bottom lane, and sometimes this cost them a Baron. During Game 2 of the series this week, their side lane AD carry cost them when looking to secure vision at their jungle entrance without river control against Thresh and Twitch. G2 picked off Broxah and Caps to take a 20 minute Baron.

Rekkles is the AD carry for Fnatic (lolesports)
Rekkles is the AD carry for Fnatic (lolesports)

Just because Fnatic all-in doesn’t necessarily make their approach to map control fundamentally bad. They just make mistakes, perhaps in part because they don’t diligently prep waves or secure vision before plays. But in looking to force enemy mistakes, the tradeoff is often opening yourself up to make more of your own.

That said, Fnatic’s approach actually became more effective after the midseason patches. While many have sung the praises of Doran’s Shield in allowing a free laning phase for scaling champions, it does have a flip side. The sustain from Doran’s Shield makes taking minion aggro less punishing during all-ins and heals back damage dealt from poke lanes. This means melee and heavy engage picks can have just as easy a laning phase as a Kog’Maw or a Twitch.

When G2’s Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen chose Kog’Maw to play against Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s Kennen, he opened himself up to all-in and engages from Kennen, as well as the painful laning phase trades.

It’s also why Renekton can still do well. The early all-in is the only answer to picks that benefit from Doran’s Shield’s easy laning phase, and poke picks that whittle down engage champions have fallen out of favor, making turret dives easier.

Incidentally, this also makes Twitch incredibly punishing. Not only is Twitch strong as a hyper carry that benefits from Doran’s Shield in laning phase, his potential to complement high engage and deal massive damage instantly in fights make him Europe’s equivalent to the likes of Kassadin in LPL and LMS.

So while some may turn up their noses at Fnatic’s animal style, it has positioned them extremely well in the new split. We’ll have the opportunity to see just how well if the patch remains favorable the next time G2 and Fnatic face in Round 2.

The more they stay the same: H2K and Unicorns of Love

While G2 and Fnatic had a clash that emphasized a change in the status quo, H2K and Unicorns’ battle told a familiar story. Even if H2K set up a strong early game and powerful lane assignments, they’re doomed to fall for Unicorns’ grouped Baron pressure and lose in the end.

How the games played out, however, had a few nuances worth digging up. The EU LCS analyst desk highlighted the importance of H2K’s Zac pick in punishing top and mid lane matchups. Shen should win the laning phase matchup against Gangplank, but Gangplank players hope to scale their damage enough to pop Shen’s shield later on with smart barrels.

Lucian is about creating a massive amount of mid pressure to open up the jungle. If he gets an early kill or item advantage, Zac has the ability to effectively enter either side of the map. Lucian had even more safety in mid against any attempts to influence the matchup by Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov’s Rakan because of top lane advantage. Though Unicorns’ bottom lane won, the fact that Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu had push priority meant he could almost always ult for free to turn a mid engage. This allowed Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten to play even further forward.

Though UoL got a strong bottom lane, H2K’s draft had several points in place to ensure it wouldn’t influence other lanes. Despite this, UoL still had opportunities to teamfight well against H2K. The stacking of Gangplank and Viktor ults make it hard to contest Baron. Rakan can root members of H2K in place for Gravity Field, creating an easy zone for Gangplank and Xayah’s explosive output. Lulu and Shen shields could only absorb so much, though Twitch’s ult range makes setup very important.

Odoamne and Jankos of H2K-Gaming (lolesports)
Odoamne and Jankos of H2K-Gaming (lolesports)

To avoid these situations, H2K made the interesting decision to opt into extremely fast turret trades. Though H2K came out ahead in these turret trades, they still made H2K lose more ground than they otherwise would have by ceding all their first tier turrets to Unicorns before Baron spawned.

In exchange, however, H2K made it more difficult for Unicorns to set up Baron control. Gangplank, Viktor, and Xayah all have less mobility and ability to side lane as safely as a Lucian or a Shen. If Unicorns wanted to secure vision for Baron or set up an area for a teamfight, they would have to venture outside their base without turrets to protect them. H2K’s Twitch submarine composition then came into full effect. Ultimately, this decision secured Game 1 for H2K.

It also defined the difference between Game 1 and Game 3. Picks like Syndra and Varus didn’t make this option as viable for H2K. They couldn’t completely shut Unicorns out of Baron. Compounded with a lot of poor decisions made by H2K like baiting Baron with Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort’s Twitch ult still up, and H2K fell back into old habits of falling for top side flanks.

A final word for Splyce

Of all the teams outside top four, Splyce had the best week. Splyce looked noticeably better this week than last, and much of that came from a more laning phase focus in draft. I’ve long complained about Splyce’s poor laning phase and wondered how the team might fare simply by having better lane matchups.

At least the series against Mysterious Monkeys answered some of that question. In both games, Splyce found the advantage in the majority of their laning matchups. Each player could pressure his early levels and transition that into map gains.

Chres “Sencux” Laursen at the very least made more gains on champions that could easily push the wave with one ability. A strong laning phase seemed to give the team more confidence, and they found more opportunities with leads.

That doesn’t mean old mistakes vanished. Jonas “Trashy” Andersen found himself pinched off at jungle entrances trying to force ganks. They still haven’t completely found the rhythm between lane interference and using push advantages to invade. Splyce’s approach to winning laning phase should suit Trashy’s more natural counterjungling approach so he doesn’t need to force.

Monkeys and Vitality don’t pose the largest tests for Splyce. These kinds of gaps in their play will prove more difficult to close against top four teams. Their set against Unicorns next week will give spectators a better understanding of whether Splyce are closer to the top or the bottom.

You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.