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 TSM’s victory over SHRC to show the mistakes made by both sides in champion select and how they were made up play the draft phase better than their opponents. This game was drastically different from the previous one, where TSM lost champion select hard. While no team took a dominant lead, it certainly was an advantage for TSM.
Top has shifted into Dyrus’ favor since SHRC and TSM last played. Cola has had standard decent play, but Dyrus has dominated land on both Lulu and Rumble, relatively unplayed champions. This changes the dynamic of top lane, making it hard to ban Dyrus out. Most notably, Lulu wins lane against Maokai, and Rumble counters Ryze quite hard.
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. With the rise of Janna as a common pick, look to see both supports prioritize Janna as well.
Essentially, TSM have several win conditions against SHRC. They can beat Corn, and prevent him from making plays to followup on inSec and Uzi’s aggression, or they can shut down inSec or Uzi and put them on tilt, causing them to make bad, overaggressive plays.
SHRC, on the other hand, want to prevent Bjergsen from snowballing, win bot lane, and move into the aggressive teamfights they favor.
In their previous game, SHRC countered both solo laners in a brilliant gambit, and relied on the strength of their bot lane to win. However, TSM learned from this mistake by baiting a top lane counter, and picking a mid-game composition that could take advantage of SHRC’s tendency for aggressive team-fighting.
TSM simply acknowledged that SHRC’s bot lane would win, and focused on strong mid-game teamfighting mids that would prevent SHRC from snowballing that early advantage bot lane into a mid-game advantage in every lane. While they lost bot lane quite handily, they took a huge advantage top, and rode the AoE of a fed Rumble and a farmed Orianna to consistent teamfight wins and mid-game objectives
TSM made a pretty odd choice in the ban phase, banning Lucian. Yes, Lucian is a good champion for Uzi. However, Uzi has shown that he can play Tristana, the dominant ADC of the moment, as well as Caitlyn, a lane bully like Lucian. Banning Lucian simply doesn’t give that much. Importantly, TSM’s bans at inSec were aimed at banning Rengar and picking Lee Sin, and leaving Janna up basically guaranteed that SHRC get her.
SHRC also made a strange mistake here, banning Elise. Perhaps they were banning Elise to force Amazing to take Lee Sin, and thus leave them Janna? However, Amazing’s Elise has been nothing to write home about internationally, and the champion has gone nearly unpicked at Worlds. This ban would have been better used on Rumble, after Dyrus’ dominant performance vs TPA.
This was the expected pick for TSM, denying inSec his two comfort pick junglers. Ultimately, this was a winning choice vs SHRC, by giving them the ability to control early game map pressure, snowballing Dyrus and preventing Uzi from getting out of control.
Ryze has become the expected top lane pick with Maokai and Alistar banned, and SHRC snagged it immediately. In my opinion, had SHRC picked Tristana + Janna, they would have put TSM in a much harder situation. They should be ok with a counter-pick in bot lane, because Uzi is simply so good. Given Tristana’s dominance, he should be ok with any counter-pick, especially with Lucian banned. Had TSM picked Ryze, SHRC could have countered with Irelia again, and if they didn’t, SHRC could still secure Ryze in the next round of picks. The Janna pick, on the other hand, is quite solid for SHRC, as it allows for Zero to give Uzi more strength to show off his skills.
With Tristana up, TSM picked her immediately, as he has been one of the most dominant AD Carries in the game. With such a strong AD Carry, they felt comfortable picking Nami despite the lack of success in their last Nami vs Janna matchup.
It’s no surprise that Kha’Zix was inSec’s next pick, as he shown a remarkable inflexibility in the jungle. Caitlyn is one of Uzi’s best champions, and is quite capable of bullying Tristana.
Fizz gets bullied by Orianna early, but actually has good all-in potential against her due to her lack of mobility. This lane matchup could go either way. There are many better picks against Orianna (Syndra included), but to understand the Fizz pick, you have to understand Corn’s comfort champions: Fizz, Orianna, and Yasuo. With bans on Maokai and Alistar, a first-pick on Lee Sin, and the knowledge that SHRC would pick Janna, TSM could feel quite confident that SHRC would end up with no consistent ways to setup Yasuo’s ultimate, and as such, could pick Orianna without fear of the Yasuo pick, forcing Corn onto Fizz. While Fizz is a strong pick, he lacks the mid-game teamfight ability of Orianna.
TSM learned from their prior mistakes: rushing to pick a top laner not named “Alistar” or “Maokai”, trying to beat Uzi in bot lane, and tunneling onto Bjergsen’s comfort picks. Instead, they acknowledged that no matter what they did, they would lose bot lane. As such, they picked a hyper-scaling bot lane, and supplemented it with two strong mid-game teamfighting AP Carries, to ensure that they would make it to that late game. To guarantee that those lanes snowballed, they banned out SHRC, jungler, inSec, and picked Lee Sin, the most dominant early game jungler, and used his pressure to snowball top and mid while protecting bot from complete destruction. Ultimately, their teamfights proved far too much for SHRC to handle, and netted them the win.