Sweet Sixteen: How OpTic LoL’s minion management problem keeps their top laner starved of XP
By Kelsey Moser
Side wave minion management has long been a point of contention given the 5v5 brawl proclivities of most North American League of Legends Championship Series teams. In the opening weekend of the 2018 season, a lack of attention to side waves and an inability to coordinate sieges across multiple lanes lead to longer game times, not just in NA, but all over the world.
In North America, OpTic Gaming, sitting at the bottom of the table with two losses to their name, was the worst offender. OpTic had the longest average game time at 50.7 minutes, but more impressively, their top laner holds the Week One record for longest time spent at level 16.
During the second game of the opening day of the North American LCS, top laner Derek “zig” Shao managed to remain level 16 for a full six minutes and 23 seconds. During the entire weekend, the level 16 duration was a full minute longer than the second longest time a top laner spent at level 16 (Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya’s Gangplank, while also playing against 100 Thieves) and a full three minutes longer than the average time any top laner spent at level 16 (three minutes and 22 seconds). Adding OpTic’s second game against Team Liquid, zig spent 11 minutes and 24 seconds in total at level 16: a number made even more surprising given the fact that zig ended the second game at level 16 and probably would have remained so for even longer had the clock continued to run on.
While time spent at level 16 might seem like an arbitrary statistic upon which to fixate, it captures OpTic’s side lane management problem in a demonstrative manner. zig spends most of the mid-to-late game falling rapidly behind his enemy top laner because OpTic don’t know when or how to push lanes. In both games, the enemy team kept much more consistent side lane pressure, and the enemy top laner made level 18 before zig could advance to level 17.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that both enemy teams picked top lane champions that could side lane better as the game dragged on. 100 Thieves had Shen to answer zig’s Cho’Gath, and Team Liquid put Gnar against Ornn. Even within these circumstances, though, OpTic responded poorly.
Looking at the minion waves at 30 minutes, the perfect example of the fundamental problem appears. In the top lane, OpTic have a minion wave stacking and slow-pushing toward them. In the bottom lane, the wave will start to push back toward 100 Thieves. OpTic chose to send Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage’s Malzahar to answer the wave.
Outdated or simplistic understanding of waves would indicate that this is the correct call. Eventually, the bottom wave will accumulate a large amount of minions that crash against 100T’s bottom lane Tier 2 turret, forcing 100 Thieves to split and react.
But the flip side of this is that if the wave is stacking toward a team, it 1) is able to preserve multiple waves of creeps that give experience without forcing players to over-extend and 2) allows for much more time to react and clear than a fast-pushed wave. A massive minion wave obliterates all opposing creeps in its path, meaning that a slow wave of enemy creeps stacking toward your turrets in game is actually worse for the opposing team than you. A huge wave of creeps represents all the experience you’re getting that they aren’t — as long as you’re smart about managing your time.
OpTic weren’t. Not only did they push out top wave so it would stack against 100 Thieves and not address the waves they were losing on the bottom side of the map, but they reacted poorly to Kim “Ssumday” Chanho’s hard push to their inhibitor turret. OpTic chose to try to engage mid rather than send zig to match Ssumday.
While OpTic’s reasoning was probably that zig wouldn’t be able to push back easily against Ssumday, their decision created multiple problems for them. Ssumday leveled up and extended his lead well over zig, and OpTic couldn’t find an engage in mid. The current meta is full of champions that kite back well, and 100 Thieves’ Kog’Maw composition with Braum and Sejuani was no exception. Meanwhile, OpTic lacked the long range engage to lock them down. zig would have been better off matching, then alerting his team that he will be Teleporting later than Ssumday on an engage.
When given the opportunity, OpTic seemed content to continue to funnel experience toward 100 Thieves in the form of stacked waves. PowerOfEvil stacked top toward 100 Thieves, and the team simply allowed bottom wave to bounce without answering it all. 100 Thieves had ample time to stall and use their side laners’ Teleports if necessary while they gained experience and enough gold to quickly finish out six item builds.
Ultimately, this continued until 100 Thieves had enough itemization and experience leads that even forcing a fight no longer seemed like a good option for OpTic. Cho’Gath fell behind Ssumday throughout the game, and 100 Thieves could force against OpTic’s base from multiple angles.
Of course, it’s a lot harder to make these logical decisions as the game progresses. OpTic were forced into a difficult decision in the Cho’Gath and Shen matchup without an easy solution, even if they did have a better grasp of the amount of experience they were losing.
Looking at OpTic’s early game against Team Liquid, however, suggests that a disregard or misunderstanding of minions isn’t just a late game problem. Against Jung “Impact” Eonyeong’s Gnar, zig gained an early full minion wave advantage until Gnar came back to lane with Black Cleaver at 11 minutes in. That gave Impact control of the wave, and OpTic made poor decisions against priority.
In a bottom lane engage, both Impact and Zig started their Teleports, but zig did so knowing he would at least lose a wave of minions (most likely more), while Gnar had time to Teleport down and return to lane. Because OpTic had mid lane control, and their bottom lane had already begun to disengage, it would be a better decision for zig to stay in lane for the wave regardless of whether Impact completed his Teleport.
As it turned out, Impact canceled his Teleport, zig overstayed in bottom lane without getting any significant advantage for his team, and Impact not only plowed through OpTic’s top Tier 1 turret, but halfway through its second one. That gave Team Liquid a significant map control advantage and started Impact’s snowball ahead of zig.
Team Liquid actually didn’t even use this advantage well, as they could have used Gnar’s lead to flank a constantly pushed Orianna or look for Rift Herald and even out mid lane. In mid, Orianna would have struggled more without the turret because she would not be able to consistently match Malzahar in side lanes. Instead, Team Liquid continued to play to the bottom lane and offer zig and PowerOfEvil a chance to catch up after the poor bottom lane play.
Instead, OpTic continued to retread the same patterns from the previous game. Instead of staying on the wave when zig had the opportunity to get priority, he rarely pushed past river, and OpTic kept trading Impact’s hard push for a slow push of little consequence. Losing out in experience and side wave control resulted in OpTic making a lot of poor engage decisions, including forcing a fight when Kog’Maw went to answer a wave in the bottom lane.
OpTic’s poor understanding of minion control isn’t just evident in statistics for experience-starved top laners, but from watching the games themselves. If OpTic want to play tank heavy compositions, they cannot constantly just leave their top laner grouped. He has to know when he can match his opponent in a side lane, when to tell his teammates to kite because he will Teleport late.
Otherwise, OpTic may as well let the sand out of the game timer and concede. Sweet sixteen easily sours.