Draft two of three pushing lanes. Ensure you secure the strong jungle matchup. These common mantras have dotted commentary since the enforcement of standard lanes at the start of the EU LCS playoffs in 2016 Summer, but on many occasions, Splyce defied them.
“This series, I kind of realized there’s no point in playing to their strength,” Splyce mid laner Chres “Sencux” Larssen said after the five game series against Unicorns of Love that qualified Splyce for the World Championship. “So I wanted to stall out the early game and get to mid game by playing Malzahar. And that’s also why I kind of wanted to stall out the third game from a huge deficit. I don’t think their late game is that good. Our mid-late game was better than theirs, so that’s why we decided to do that.”
When other teams began putting increased emphasis on choosing counterpicks in 1v1s and 2v2s without the security of lane swaps, Splyce still found instances where they defaulted to the comfort of the scaling choice. This buffered their typically struggling early game so they could create comeback scenarios from dazzling deficits by pinching the map in 1-3-1s or flanks in the jungle. Despite a second place finish in EU LCS playoffs, Splyce averaged the third largest deficit (-1531) and the second largest deficit of any team at the World Championship (-2155) at 15 minutes.
What worked well for Splyce in Europe, securing them second place, failed abroad. Challenged by oppressive lanes, Splyce couldn’t find as many windows to come back and fell out of group stage with a 1-5 record. In the 2017 season, strong laning phase will be cultivated, and being able to secure the push to strangle out less frequently spawning jungle camps may have an even greater impact.
Unless Splyce improve their stuttering early game, it will be much more difficult for them to remain at the top. Much of the onus for the change — and Splyce’s style in general — will fall to Jonas “Trashy” Andersen.
Prior to the World Championship, I spoke with Trashy about the role of the jungler when his team falls behind early.
“I know it’s a thing a lot of people talk about like ‘oh, they’re not doing anything in the early game, it’s the jungler just afk farming’ or something like this,” Trashy said, “but there’s a lot more to it than not being proactive.
“I think it’s a lot about drafts and a lot about understanding what you want to do in game,” he elaborated. “So obviously there will be situations where it’s the jungler’s fault, but in most cases it comes down to, at the highest level, maybe the enemy just have a better early game jungler and a strong matchup that you can’t really challenge, so you have to do something else on the map.”
Draft certainly played a role in Splyce falling behind. In their climb through playoffs and regionals, for example, Splyce saved their support for last pick on red side, leaving solo lanes more open to counterpick. By Sencux’s admission, Splyce also chose matchups that would perform poorly early.
Trashy frequently chose champions like Graves, Olaf, or Gragas that did better after farming to Level 6 in terms of exhibiting lane pressure. This coincided with their struggles in standard lanes, as Trashy often would choose to counter jungle on the opposite side of the map in response to his opponent exerting pressure with a stronger pick. It’s hard to safely invade the enemy jungle if you have a weaker jungle match and your laners aren’t able to push out enough to prevent the opposition from collapsing upon you.
Matchups weren’t the only problems for Splyce’s early game. Even with lane dominant picks like Karma or Aurelion Sol at the team’s disposal, Splyce’s Sencux and Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup averaged CS deficits of more than 7 at 10 minutes in the World Championship group stage. Perhaps this is partly why, in Week 2, Splyce’s draft emphasis swung wildly to Elise, selecting the champion first or in the first rotation on red side in all three of their games.
Trashy is less hesitant to initiate ganks without knowing the location of the enemy jungler if he has a strong matchup.
“If I know I’m stronger,” Trashy said before Worlds, “then it doesn’t matter if I know the enemy jungler’s there, because I know we will win.”
Elise can very easily snowball a lane with her single target stun, burst, and diving maneuverability. She doesn’t have as much utility in the latter phases of the game, so picking Elise early almost always telegraphs that the jungler wants to have an impact on the map right away.
Even with the Elise pick in Week 2, Splyce played a somewhat desperate and reactive style. In their first game against Royal Never Give Up, Trashy’s initial move was a slow reaction to the top lane gank. Though they eventually won the game through invades, mid pressure, and RNG misplaying on the bottom side, desperate attempts to react characterized Splyce’s next two games against Team SoloMid and Samsung Galaxy as well.
Against Team SoloMid, Trashy attempted to match Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen around the map and ended up over-committing to a blind invade and attempting to trade top for bottom pressure. Playing against Samsung was even more disastrous; Trashy showed up late to a bottom lane counter gank instead of moving to take something else on the map. When bottom lane got enough of a lead, Samsung support Jo “Core JJ” Yongin roamed to punish almost all of Trashy’s gank or invade attempts, and Kang “Ambition” Chanyong made more efficient trades.
By his own admission, Trashy’s natural strengths don’t necessarily align with a high-ganking style of play, even with Elise at his disposal. “I think I’m generally better at being the reactive one and being annoying for the enemy jungler,” he said.
For Trashy, playing in the jungle is more about playing around his opponent than confronting him directly.
“I always study my opponent and try to understand his mindset going into his jungle pathing,” Trashy explained. “A lot of times I pick matchups that probably aren’t super decisive in jungle. Let’s say that the enemy have a stronger jungler … I don’t really care too much about that because I feel like I can find other ways around it and kind of counteract that he is stronger than me by doing moves that he is not going to see coming.”
On the World Championship stage, there were moments where Trashy, forced into more of a confrontational mode, looked out of his element. Compounding Splyce’s losing lanes, Trashy also didn’t have many opportunities to invade the enemy jungle and try to steal creeps to punish him for spending time visible on the map. Creep allocation seems to be a major factor for Trashy in how he makes his decisions.
Snowballing lanes early “is not something that I’m the best at right now because there’s a lot of risk in it,” Trashy said. “Every time you go for a gank or pressure, you can fall behind the enemy jungler, and that might determine … the best play.”
In addition, Splyce won’t always play to lanes where they have a lead. In some instances where their bottom lane is most pushed out, as in the Week 1 game against Team SoloMid, Trashy remained farming around top side and looking for advantages there.
“We haven’t been the greatest at playing around bot and setting up plays,” Trashy said prior to the World Championship, “and also we’re not as good at setting up specific lanes to be pressured in the early game.”
One of the most common misconceptions about Splyce in 2016 was that the team was full of relatively weak individual players who managed to win games through strong macro play. On the contrary, Splyce’s players exhibited strong individual skill in flanks or navigating team fights with vision in the late game, but their understanding of early game pressure and opening up the map before 15 minutes was too lacking to call Splyce a truly “strong macro team.”
All of these factors make 2017 an even more concerning year for Splyce and have led many to knock them down a peg in projected rankings. Whether or not one believes they can place Top 2 in Europe again depends on how much one believes Splyce can grow as a unit in draft, individual laning, and Trashy’s own adaptability.
In the new season, Riot Games have reduced jungle creep spawn times to try to encourage junglers to influence lanes more frequently. After first clear, there’s often a short amount of dead time, and junglers can decide between backing or finding a lane to gank rather than continuing to power farm. Some junglers, like Lee Sin or Rek’Sai, will even farm one quadrant and attempt to exert pressure mid at Level 3 first.
Those early decisions will be crucial, but after that, counterjungling can become even more punishing due to increased respawn times. In order to secure counterjungling opportunities, however, Splyce will have to play to lane pressure and secure strong matchups.
The ten ban system has also launched for the new season, in some cases making securing strong matchups more difficult. If an opposing coach decides to pinch a specific champion pool, it may become important to pick a champion earlier in the draft. Unless Splyce’s Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi adapts well, it will become even more difficult for Splyce to get matchups they’re not only comfortable with, but able to win lanes using.
While snowballing assassins like Rengar and Kha’Zix have become popular in the jungle alongside high pressure picks like Lee Sin, Trashy has taken an affinity for Ivern, a new utility jungle pick. It sits as the second most played in his Master account in the new season, and he continued to play it following nerfs.
Trashy has still kept up with his Lee Sin diet, but his interest in Ivern isn’t surprising. Ivern’s passive allows him to free up his jungle pathing a lot more than other junglers, something that would appeal to Trashy, who emphasizes the mind game aspect of jungling. Ivern also has a hint of the tank and utility jungle champions that were most popular in Season 2.
“When I started playing jungle,” Trashy said, “it was the meta when there was like Maokai, Amumu, stuff like this heavy engage champions, and I kind of like that, so that was also one of the reasons why I started playing jungle.”
An ideal scenario for Splyce might just be to pinch the jungle pool. Getting extremely aggressive picks like Lee Sin off the table immediately can force both jungle players into playing champions that get more out of out-maneuvering in the jungle for the first six levels.
In these scenarios, Splyce’s mid and bottom lane may have to improve their play in specific matchups and willingness to push out the lane much more. That way, Splyce can actually use Trashy’s creativity in avoiding the enemy jungler to punish him more effectively, looking for opportunities after first clear to punish the enemy jungler even more with lower spawn timings and creep denial.
That isn’t necessarily easy to do. Pressuring lanes not only requires strong matchups and knowledge, but vision support and working in tandem with how the jungler paths. If Sencux plays far forward in lane, Trashy will need to be in position to react if the opponent jungler comes to gank him. If the 2v2 works out, that could easily give Trashy a window into the rest of the jungle for the rest of the game. Each game, Splyce will have to come with a plan for how to use lane pressure and secure early leads.
Like so many others, I am concerned about Splyce’s ability to adapt, but I’m also aware that this is a team that could hardly win LCS games at the start of 2016 Spring. By overcoming stage fright and making improvements in their macro knowledge, Splyce managed to unsettle many of Europe’s contenders and climb to Top 2. In sticking together, the team has signaled they believe their ceiling is still only a distant notion.
Compared to other junglers he has played with in the last two years, Sencux described Trashy to me as “more willing to play a lot to improve” and “more diverse as a jungler,” specifically referring to Dennis “Obvious” Sørensen’s greater difficulty adapting after the meta shifted away from a farming focus.
Splyce and Trashy face an incredibly daunting challenge. I think they will struggle to meet it at first and have a lurching start to the season, but the solution is achievable. It will take more than standard lanes to uncoil Europe’s snake from Top 2.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.