If anything is to be learned from the success of Western pros on the Korean ladder, it is that mechanics are not what separate the very best teams in the world from the merely great ones. There is one realm where the best teams stand head and shoulders above the rest – rotations aside – and it is Champion Select. What can we learn about champion select from the Group Stage? It may be all-too-easy to simply reject the losing teams as possessing weaker mechanics or game knowledge. However, given displays of skill like NaMei’s team fight ability vs Samsung Galaxy White or TPA’s early game vs SHRC, we can simply see one thing that the very best teams excel at: picking a team composition and playing to its strengths.
To demonstrate this, I’ll be looking at SHRC’s victory over TSM to show how they played the draft phase beautifully, and only needed to execute their comp to win.
Top was supposed to be one of SHRC’s weak points, with Dyrus being consistent and Cola not being one of the stars of SHRC. Cola had had a huge impact playing Ryze in SHRC’s victory over TPA in the previous game, while Dyrus had been an extremely strong Alistar in TSM’s victory vs SK Gaming. However, neither player was expected to be the focus of their team’s strategy.
Amazing and inSec are both similar players: extremely aggressive playmakers who fall into trouble when they lack escapes. Lee Sin is a strong pick for both of them, thanks to his mobility, potential damage, and playmaking ability. Amazing tends to fall back on Elise when Lee Sin is not available, while Insec’s backup pick is Rengar.
Corn and Bjergsen can go toe-to-toe, although Bjergsen probably has the slight edge in champion pool and overall skill. Corn is known for his Fizz, Orianna, and Yasuo, and should be able to hang with Bjergsen on those picks.
Uzi has the advantage here over WildTurtle. However, he has two clear weaknesses: a tendency to tilt when he falls behind, and a tendency to play over-aggressively, hurting him when his team cannot follow him up. He has largely dominated on Lucian, but fares quite well on hypercarries so long as he doesn’t go on tilt.
Lustboy is the largest advantage that TSM has, with his Nami being near godlike. Nami is also one of the preferred picks of Zero. However, Zero’s main goal is to pick a support that can disengage or bail inSec/Uzi out of sticky situations.
In a lot of ways, TSM and SHRC are similar teams.
TSM relies on the early aggression of Amazing and Bjergsen to make plays early and give TSM momentum. Dyrus specializes in tanks and support tops, allowing him to help Amazing and Bjergsen be so aggressive. As well, Lustboy’s Nami can be used to enable the aggression of their plays, and WildTurtle can simply follow up and put out huge damage despite the cs deficits he has been suffering recently.
SHRC can replace “Amazing” and “Bjergsen” with “inSec” and “Uzi” and basically you have the same strategy. However, their main followup comes Corn’s mid, whose secondary threats force attention away from inSec. He has been spotted consistently on Fizz and Orianna, following up on inSec and Uzi’s plays with hard initiations that allow them to continue to churn out damage.
Essentially, TSM had several win conditions. They could beat Corn, and prevent him from making plays to followup on inSec and Uzi’s aggression, or they could shut down inSec or Uzi and put them on tilt, causing them to make bad, overaggressive plays.
SHRC, on the other hand, wanted to prevent Bjergsen from snowballing, win bot lane, and move into the aggressive teamfights they favor.
With that in mind, SHRC dominated in the pick/ban phase by picking a champion that fared well against Bjergsen’s playstyle, and dominating bot lane via a pocket counter-pick. However, TSM simply didn’t show up to champion select, making a vague attempt to ban some of SHRC’s champions without going deep enough into any player’s pool that they affected their ability to run their planned comp.
SHRC’s bans were nothing short of brilliant. They targeted Dyrus hard, knocking out Maokai, Nidalee, and Alistar. Lulu could also have been a viable ban over Nidalee, as Dyrus has not played much Nidalee, but by their bans, they simply wanted to force Dyrus to think he had only one top lane option (Ryze), and then play their pre-planned counter (Irelia).
TSM, on the other hand, seemed to struggle with their strategy. They banned Lucian to keep Uzi from getting ahead on his signature champion, banned Fizz to slightly hit Corn’s pool, and banned inSec’s signature Lee Sin. However, these bans all seemed very inefficient due to how unfocused they were. The Lee Sin ban was especially pointless. Amazing does not play Rengar, one of inSec’s signature champions. Why ban one signature champion, leaving the other up and uncontested? TSM was either cocky, or didn’t expect the Rengar pick given its lack of success in North America.
SHRC made quite sure that TSM was thinking of Ryze going into the first round, even hovering him as a pick (after they’d just destroyed TPA thanks to Ryze’s late-game strength) before snapping up Zilean up as a first pick. Why is Zilean such a solid pick for SHRC? Remember everything I said about Corn following up on inSec and Uzi? Instead of following up, SHRC simply doubled down on those players’ aggressive strengths. Zilean allows Uzi and inSec to go even harder thanks to the added Movement Speed, and still be safe thanks to Chronoshift. Even more brilliant, Zilean counters Zed and Syndra, two of Bjergsen’s best champions. The Zilean pick essentially allowed SHRC to avoid banning Bjergsen at all, because Zilean does so well against Syndra and Zed.
TSM was too inflexible to switch things up, however, grabbing the Ryze to deny him from Cola, and picking Zed simply because he is a strong champion of Bjergsen. From their second pick, they were at a disadvantage, with Zed picked into a bad matchup vs Zilean, and a blind-picked top lane. This put them in a position to have both of their solo lanes countered, without getting anything in return. This could be understandable if Ryze were a comfort pick of Dyrus, but he has performed equally well or better on Lulu, and has historically preferred Dr. Mundo as a counter to Ryze. Given that Uzi was expected to win bot lane through skill alone, TSM was put in a position where they had no winning lanes.
With these picks, SHRC secured the game. Tristana is – hands down – the best AD Carry in the game right now, and inSec is godlike on Rengar. We can see how brilliant this draft phase was, however, by the contingencies their pick-ban phase planned for. Aside from Zed/Syndra, Bjergsen’s next-likeliest pick is Xerath, a champion against whom Tristana does well thanks to her long range and mobility, and nimmobile champion Rengar can easily dive on. Bjergsen’s comfort picks would all have performed poorly vs SHRC’s compositions, so even had they avoided the Zed pick, they would have had few preferable options.
TSM did secure Nami (Lustboy’s best support) here, but it was simply too little too late, due to the backup plan SHRC had.
Having baited the Ryze pick, SHRC countered with Irelia. As well, knowing Nami was a likely pick, having Janna as a pocket pick is brilliant, as her shield can prevent Nami’s poke. Moreover, the entirety of Janna’s kit screams “SHRC”, thanks to her AD-granting shield and ability to disengage for her team.
At this point, TSM was simply cleaning up picks, but their composition wasn’t suited to handle SHRC’s. TSM had a burst composition with only Elise and Nami for pick potential, and even if they did manage to catch Tristana or Rengar out of position, they both have strong escapes. On top of that, even if TSM manages to prevent their escapes, Zilean ultimate nullifies TSM’s burst. Basically, TSM had no viable win condition in this game other than “play better than SHRC”, an unlikely proposition given the sheer talent of Uzi and inSec.
In my opinion, TSM could have played the draft phase much better.