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.
I ripped into TSM for their horrendous draft phase against SHRC, so it’s only fair that I follow it up by complimenting them for learning from their mistakes and completely dominating TPA in the draft phase.
Dyrus has the advantage in this lane. While he had a poor performance vs SHRC, this was largely due to a camp by inSec’s Rengar, as well as Cola’s Irelia picking up 3 kills on TSM’s overextended bot lane. Achie was struggling, having only done decently on Ryze. The best Ryze players in the game take advantages, whereas Achie has just been waiting to scale up. Without any champions he really shines on, every top lane pick is more of a threat for Dyrus. The only exception is Nidalee, as Dyrus has yet to pick that champion up.
Winds and Amazing are both fantastic junglers. However, like many junglers at Worlds, they are best by far on Lee Sin. Winds’ games on Kha’Zix have been somewhat disappointing. However, he is also known for his Rengar play, and Rengar has already shown itself to be effective vs TSM.
Bjergsen has the huge advantage vs Morning. Bjergsen put up great numbers vs Jesiz, thanks to his weak laning and synergy with Amazing. Yes, Morning has a stronger jungler supporting him in Winds. However, even with Winds supporting him, Morning lost to Jesiz’s Ahri in a favorable matchup. Morning has played Syndra, Bjergsen’s signature champion, in both of his games.
Bebe and WildTurtle are both very aggressive AD Carries, and play similar champions. This matchup is the least interesting for both teams.
Jay has shown himself to be a fantastic Janna, picking her up twice, while Lustboy has shown himself to be a phenomenal Nami. However, neither player has established themselves on a different support.
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. Their champions vs SHRC and SK show that, with them having a mid-game spike but being outscaled by both teams. 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. Had TPA not outplayed SK Gaming at baron several times, it is unlikely that they would have won as Dr. Mundo and Tristana scaled harder and harder. Against SHRC, their failure to make aggressive plays allowed SHRC’s late-game comp back into the game.
TSM countered this by picking a a strong mid-game composition that could siege towers. Why is this important? Siege compositions are typically highly effective (read nigh-unstoppable) when ahead. TSM knew TPA would allow them to take an early gold lead via objectives, and with that early objective lead, they sieged up tower after tower, poking TPA down until the objective was a safe target. Their top lane, support, and jungle picks were all focused at disengage, while their ADC and mid lane picks were focused on long-ranged poke.
TSM’s bans looked scattered and confused at first, but they were absolutely brilliant. The Nidalee ban may have seemed like a standard ban for them, as Dyrus does not play Nidalee. From there, they banned Zilean, seemingly enabling Bjergsen’s standard Syndra/Zed picks. However, they then banned Syndra, and Zed had already been banned. This may seem like a scattered ban strategy, but it actually enabled their overall strategy, while crucially not revealing their plan at all. Syndra is extremely strong against a Kog’Maw or Xerath because her long-ranged stun can prey on their immobility, and allow for a follow-up engage. Zilean, on the other hand, speeds a dive target up and allows them to dive without risk.
TPA, on the other hand, dropped some pretty generic bans, banning Zed, Maokai, and Alistar. Interestingly enough, Zed and Alistar bans actually ended up helping TSM’s plan.
TSM secured the most important pick of this game: Lee Sin. Why was this pick so important? The Lee Sin ban leaves TPA’s Winds with Kha’Zix or Rengar, which forced the nature of their composition more towards dive than peel. A Lee Sin could have peeled for Trist, or used his mobility to flank engage, while much of TSM’s strategy was designed to halt only a frontal assault (and look how many pink wards they invested in to stop a flank).
TSM had to have known that Tristana would be picked up, as she is picked in the second two picks very consistently. On top of that, the Lulu pick came out. The Lulu pick was actually a great pick vs Dyrus, who has mostly played Lulu when Maokai is banned. However, I think it’s possible that TSM may have foreseen this move as well. By leaving Lulu open, they did themselves two favors. If TPA didn’t pick Lulu, they could put Dyrus on Lulu and use her peel to protect a key target. If TPA did pick Lulu, they wouldn’t have enough hard engage, and Dyrus could counter with Rumble.
From there, TSM made another defining pick: Kog’Maw Janna, a similar pair to Tristana Lulu. Both give long-ranged damage with a ton of peel and shields. In a teamfight, Kog’Maw Janna is superior, due to the AD on Janna’s shield. As well, Kog’Maw takes control of games in the mid game with a huge amount of poke from Living Artillery, consistent damage from Bio-Arcane Barrage, and an earlier range peak than Tristana. Equally importantly, this denied Jay his signature support thus far.
TPA rounded out their combo with Rengar Orianna. This is actually a very deadly combo, as a Rengar with an Orianna ball on him can dive into the enemy team, and be followed up by a Lulu/Orianna ultimate, wreaking AoE havoc on the enemy team. This was a logical choice for TPA. Tristana has more self-peel than Kog’Maw, and therefore, TPA could dive onto Kog and let Tristana peel for herself.
TPA should have seen the Xerath pick coming miles away. Bjergsen has recently played four champions at an exceptional level: Zed, Syndra, Orianna, and Xerath. With Syndra and Zed banned and an Orianna pick, Bjergsen only has Xerath remaining. Xerath was a perfect counter to Rengar, and would have been to Kha’Zix as well, thanks to his long range. Rengar was the delivery toTPA’s initiation, and Xerath was always in a position to prevent his engage, leaving Janna free to counter any follow-up. On the other hand, the long range of Xerath and Kog’Maw meant that TSM could put down endless free damage. The only way TPA could engage would be to run straight at TSM as a group, and that played right into TSM’s other pick, Rumble.
Rumble turns this composition into overdrive, namely because of his ultimate. Rumble’s ultimate can just be used in so many different ways. If TPA rushes in as a team, the Rumble ult can simply be laid along their path, slowing them, damaging them, and otherwise making a hard engage unfavorable for them. If Rengar uses his Orianna/Lulu initiation, the Rumble ult can be used behind him, to zone the rest of the team away from the teamfight. Either way, Rumble makes it very hard for a team to force a fight.
At this point, TPA was simply already committed to the all-in dive, and they decided to double-down with a Leona for even more hard engage. However, Leona fares extremely poorly vs Janna, thanks to her heavy disengage.
By securing Lee Sin and banning out heavy dive champions, and by baiting out the Tristana pick, TSM played into TPA’s early-game willingness to trade away towers by picking siege-oriented carries that would snowball in the midgame, then invested heavily in disengage and zoning to prevent any engage by TPA. Knowing that the Kha’Zix/Rengar would have to engage head-on, they invested heavily in straight-line AoE, like Xerath, Kog’Maw, and Rumble, as well as heavy disengage from Janna and Lee Sin. Then, to prevent any flanking which might disrupt that strategy, they invested heavily in pink wards. This prevented any initiation from TPA, and allowed TSM to slowly siege tower after tower en route to their eventual dominant victory.
TPA simply needed to have seen TSM’s composition earlier, and responded better to it. They needed some of the following: