Dispelling The Mysteries Of NA LCS’ “Upset Day”
By Kelsey Moser
On the first day of Week Four of the North American LCS, four of five game results flew in the face of majority analyst predictions. The final match, Golden Guardians vs. Echo Fox, had a surprising turn that almost looked as if it would complete the set, but the Foxes prevailed in the end. A lot of the matches seemed like fluke accidents with Apollo “Apollo” Price stealing objectives with Mystic Shot and 100 Thieves getting muscled out despite FlyQuest refusing to prioritize mid priority.
Yet looking closer at “Upset Day,” most of the wins identified weaknesses and trends persistent in how the dominant teams have been playing. While it may have been shocking to see NA’s hopefuls all unravel on the same day against less favored competition, a closer look dispels much of the mystery.
The Team SoloMid siege problem
One of the clearest games for observing Team SoloMid’s problem with sieging the enemy’s base in the late game was Echo Fox vs. Team SoloMid from Week Two. Despite an early lead, Team SoloMid kept trying to group as five to push into Echo Fox’s base instead of trying to spread their enemies thin. This allowed Echo Fox to keep their wave clear resources, answering TSM until they could punish their foe in late game team fights with Tristana and Gangplank.
To win cleanly, Team SoloMid could have positioned Vladimir or Malzahar in a side lane to pull pressure for Zoe or Gangplank, forcing Echo Fox to thin their team’s defenses while TSM coordinated wave shoves into Echo Fox’s base. Clutch took a cue from Echo Fox and replicated this approach more successfully on “Upset Day.”
Corki and Gangplank not only make phenomenal late game carries, but they have the tools to clear out mid lane effectively while TSM found new and creative ways to botch siege attempts. For example, Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez looked for an engage after Syndra had stunned a single target, but had no real way to get out and no follow-up with Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell answering a wave in top lane.
The game ended with more catastrophic forcing in mid lane at 53 minutes after Clutch had time to use TSM’s uncoordinated sieges and forced engages to climb back in. Certainly, Apollo’s objective steals helped, but Clutch’s scaling approach brushed up against two teams that have trouble doing more than pushing as five in OpTic and TSM, meaning that they would eventually get to a point where they simply win fights flat out.
Liquid’s facade of a good early game
In my assessment of Team Liquid and Cloud9 two weeks ago, I asserted that Cloud9 had the better early game macro execution. With a good understanding of how to match the enemy jungler and prevent dives at early levels, Cloud9 exploited some of Team Liquid’s gaps in a more single-minded early game approach.
With Corki and Vladimir both pushed slightly at early levels, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen took Teleport in case of a roam top at level 2-5 (though it may have been less risky if Dennis “Svenskeren”
With bot lane often difficult to dive in the current meta, side trades don’t always work out. If one team has pushed mid at level 1, it’s easy to coordinate a dive on the top laner with very few good answers from the opposition. Aside from just picking the difficult to dive Vladimir, Cloud9 made sure they could protect Eric “Licorice” Ritchie at all times until Corki could answer Taliyah’s push, something many teams globally haven’t done as well. With Team Liquid often failing to acknowledge top lane leads when it has them, that made Cloud9 a good option for blowing open this hole in their early macro.
But if Team Liquid don’t have as much of a clean early game as some of their other high-ranked compatriots in Cloud9 and Echo Fox, how do Team Liquid manage to finish with some of the fastest games in the league? That came out in Cloud9’s match against Echo Fox, when a smart engage from Jake “Xmithie” Puchero allowed Liquid to nab a Baron from behind, abusing some of Echo Fox’s own problems setting up neutral objectives. A lot of Liquid’s games cement at Baron with superior team fighting. That’s enough to close a game against most of the league.
CLG’s failure to recognize trades
While Cloud9 properly defended their top laner with a mid who got pushed in at early levels, CLG abused OpTic’s ability to react to the same phenomenon. Counter-Logic Gaming invested heavily into snowballing Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya with a pushing mid lane advantage. Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage couldn’t react without using Teleport or missing waves. Derek “zig” Shao reacted by backing away from his turret, so even if his jungler showed up to help defend, they’d be at a disadvantage, and when Darshan stacked waves, zig could lose up to two at a time.
After ensuring this investment into Darshan, however, CLG grouped too eagerly around it. For a dragon, Darshan Teleported readily when zig could have stayed top side to recoup experience and a turret. Instead, unfortunately for OpTic, zig Teleported in after pushing the wave back and died instantly.
Luckily for OpTic, however, CLG kept making the same mistake. Choi “Huhi” Jaehyun readily shadowed Darshan in side lanes, looking for more openings. Yet when OpTic invariably followed the lightning rod of Darshan’s pressure, CLG didn’t trade in open lanes.
At 20 minutes, with waves to push in top or mid, CLG reacted by using Tahm Kench’s ultimate to come to Darshan’s aid, but with Twitch and Ryze, OpTic could pick off Darshan and then any defenders without getting punished for over-grouping. Waves simply bounced on top side, giving Ryze momentum to get OpTic map control, and CLG’s important lead dwindled.
Even if Darshan was a lauded split-pusher in the past, CLG haven’t been able to execute 1-3-1’s, 1-4’s, or other split-pressure lane assignment compositions well this season. Though OpTic has had a similar problem, having a better 5v5 let them win out. It’s hard to really call this match an upset after seeing the draft.
There’s a reason they’re called “Thieves” and not “Murderers”
100 Thieves have the lowest combined kills per minute in the North American LCS at .40. Even in LCK, where teams are regarded as rotation-based and less blood-thirsty, there is only one team with a lower CKPM (Afreeca Freecs at .37).
A low taste for blood makes sense in conjunction with 100 Thieves’ wins up until now. 100 Thieves are often willing to trade Baron for objectives in side lanes, especially inhibitors. Unwilling to risk 5v5s, 100 Thieves has the lowest Baron control rate in the league. 100 Thieves even seem to view Kog’Maw as more of a long range poke champion than a team-fighting hyper carry.
But in a meta full of scaling 5v5 comps, only a few picks really facilitate 100 Thieves to play this style. These picks include the likes of Ryze and Gnar for their ability to keep strong side lane pressure as the game progresses.
FlyQuest seemed willing to give up mid priority easily to ensure that Gangplank didn’t get put behind the Gnar. With Lee “Flame” Hojong able to scale well on the Gangplank pick so that he could both more than match Gnar or Ryze in a side and lane threaten Baron with ult, 100 Thieves’ tricks of the trade got shut down as the game progressed, and the team simply spun its wheels until the game was lost.
It looked even worse for 100 Thieves with Azir and a full team-fighting composition but no Kog’Maw or Tristana the next day against Golden Guardians. 100 Thieves seemed to lack the agency to execute fights unless they could spread the enemy team across the map and capitalize on a numbers advantage. FlyQuest gave them no other choice.
While Golden Guardians didn’t quite upset Echo Fox, so it doesn’t warrant its own subheading, they did abuse rushed mid-to-late game objective setups and decisive catches. Poor Baron and dragon control on Echo Fox’s end are things I’ve addressed before, and it reared its head again against Team Liquid the next day. Though Echo Fox won both its games, the fact that teams are beginning to exploit these holes more and more isn’t a surprise.
Many fans probably got taken away by the excitement of “Upset Day”, but teams merely abused existing and observable trends in some of the squads expected to win. Davids will almost always look harder at the weaknesses of Goliaths when trying to chance wins. “Upset Day” feels more like an inevitable conclusion and a call back to the drawing board that teams near the top of the standings will have to accept to remain favorites of the league.
You can check out some of Kelsey’s previous work here.
Follow her on Twitter @KelseyMoser