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.
Since my first two games have followed TSM, I may as well continue the trend, as – their game against Star Horn Royal Club aside – their draft phase has been spectacular.
Dyrus has the advantage in this lane. In their last game, his Rumble was absolutely game changing compared to Achie’s Lulu, 1v1ing him and bringing huge damage to teamfights. He has shown himself to be one of the premiere top laners in the game, and is in contention for the best Western top laner. Achie, on the other hand, has been relatively lackluster, reliant more on the scaling of his champions than the quality of his play.
Winds remains the shining point of TPA’s team, with completely ridiculous Lee Sin play. However, like many junglers at Worlds, he is best by far on Lee Sin. While he picked Rengar vs TSM in the face of inSec’s success, TSM showed that they knew how to deal with Rengar, with deep warding keeping Dyrus safe.
Bjergsen has the huge advantage over Morning. Morning has done decently, but failed to put up show-stopping numbers, even in TPA’s wins. Bjergsen, on the other hand, is one of the carries of TSM, and a strong focus for their playstyle. In their last game, TSM put two bans onto Morning, but it is clearly unnecessary, and was probably composition related.
Bebe and WildTurtle are both very aggressive AD Carries, and play similar champions. This matchup is the least interesting for both teams. Both have had moments of greatness, but an otherwise lackluster Group Stage performance.
Jay has shown himself to be a fantastic Janna, picking her up twice, while Lustboy has shown himself to be a phenomenal Nami. However, in their last matchup, Lustboy took Jay’s Janna, and showed himself to be just as competent. This puts TPA in a scary position, as their main support can simply be taken by TSM if they do not prioritize it.
TSM has shown a preference for playing aggressively early on, taking early towers, attempting to snowball mid, and then rotating and diving mid to exert map pressure.
TPA, on the other hand, prefers to freeze their lane in a lane swap, and take towers very slowly, waiting for an item threshold and then catching up with mid-game towers.
What does this really show? TPA is likely to fall behind in objectives (especially their outer towers) in the early game, but make it up with a better ability to farm safe lanes. They then turtle briefly, hit a mid-game spike, and take 3 outer towers, pushing them into a lead. With that lead, they pressure objectives until they can take a major one (inhib or baron), and try to make a win off of that. TPA’s mid-game spike requires them to win by 40 minutes or get outscaled. However, there simply often isn’t enough time for them to win, because they are leaving the laning phase even or even behind.
In their first game vs TPA, TSM countered this by baiting TPA into the late-game pick of Tristana, then picking a mid-game siege composition to push for more objectives after the outer towers. Since TPA was going to give up the early objective advantage, TSM could use that to siege more advantages.
In their follow-up game vs TSM, they banned out TPA’s best bot lane, then abused the knowledge of Tristana’s rarity as a first pick to secure a second-pick Tristana and build a late-game protect composition around her. While they had left open many of the champions that work well in a pick/isolation composition, they simply had too much shielding to have to worry about any picks, and enough chase to followup on any one kill with three more.
TPA banned Nami and Janna, which indicates to me that they were not willing to first-pick a support. They seem to think that Janna has no reasonable counters, and with her banned, Nami has no reasonable counters as well. The two support bans allowed them to go for the pick composition they wanted, by making Thresh a safe pick. However, tunneling like this seems problematic. Had they simply first-picked Janna, they could have banned something other than Nami, although a pick composition would have been less accessible. However, unless Tristana is banned, I find pick compositions problematic on blue side, given how often the two-pick swing includes Janna. Why? Because you can’t run a pick composition into Tristana easily unless the enemy team doesn’t see it coming and pick appropriately. Also, Dyrus’ Rumble had such an impact on TPA that they banned it :p
TSM’s bans were simple. Alistar is a dominant top with significant dive power. Zilean appears to be kryptonite to TSM. Lucian is Bebe’s best AD Carry and the closest thing to an ADC bully that exists in the game at the moment..
As sad as it is to say, the Maokai pick practically ended any potential TPA had to win, given TSM’s plan. Why? Look at TSM’s next two picks:
TSM picked up Tristana and Lee Sin, giving them a highly mobile team composition with a heavy, self-peeling damage source. Typically, the counter to that would be to pick up a less mobile damage source like Kog’Maw, as TSM had done in their previous game against TPA. However, that team composition is somewhat reliant on a champion like Lulu, which was inaccessible to TPA thanks to the Maokai pick. As such, they could not hope to equal Tristana’s damage in a straight up teamfight, and had to run a pick/dive composition.
It showed immediately in their picks. They grabbed Thresh and Yasuo, both great targets for isolating and bursting a target down.
However, TSM was ready with copious disengage from Braum and Lulu. As well, Lulu would be able to buff Tristana up and make her even harder to kill. Tristana is already one of the hardest late-game carries to kill, given her range and knockback. With Lulu and Braum protecting her, she is pretty much unkillable. As a happy plus, Lulu bullies Maokai in lane.
TPA continued picking pick-heavy champions, including Twitch and Kha’Zix, but these choices show how heavily they’d tunneled onto their strategy. Twitch is one of the worst choices you can make into a Tristana. If you stealth up to Tristana as Twitch, hoping to burst her down, she can merely Buster Shot you away and Rocket Jump to safety. As well, thanks to being immobile, Twitch is extremely weak against Braum.
Orianna really just added even more peel and initiate. It was probably already a winning composition for TSM; Orianna just shifted it into overdrive.
TSM left the draft phase with a significant advantage in two of their lanes (bot and top), as well as a clear plan: scale up, protect the Tristana, focus the champions that dive her, and then use mobility to clean up the stragglers. In addition to two winning lanes, they had a Lee Sin jungle, who is extremely capable of making early game plays. With this composition, they denied TPA their mid-game strength by aiming to win the early game hard enough that they could snowball to victor through their early objective advantage.