How teams work and how they could potentially work is one of my favorite topics to discuss as it pertains to team building. The ability to figure out a team identity, the strengths and weaknesses among the roster, and how to play around it all is one of the most interesting and important things as it can very well determine what kind of team compositions you can run or how your pick and ban priority will play out. There have been countless teams that have struggled with the basics of finding a team identity or identifying their individual strengths and weaknesses.
With the offseason in full swing, I feel it’s appropriate to talk about these two topics; How they affected certain teams during the past year and how they look to affect certain teams going into 2016.
With the recent acquisition of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng by Team SoloMid, there has been a good amount of talk regarding gold distribution within that team and how the dynamic may shift away from the extremely mid centered style they had grown accustomed to. They had shown quite a lot of success with an international tournament victory at IEM Katowice earlier in the year and a quarterfinals finish at Season 4 Worlds.
Doublelift joining Team SoloMid is arguably the biggest roster move North America has seen in years. The personality and talent that comes with Doublelift and him leaving one North American giant for their rival is a story dripping in drama. Stepping outside of the drama, Naser “Empyre” Al-Naqi discussed the move here in a more in-depth and analytic manner.
Team SoloMid is an interesting team this offseason due to dropping four of their five members and having the opportunity to build around the consensus best mid in North America, someone who has shown remarkable versatility through his time on the team. Where they decide to go with the remaining three roster spots is unknown, but they started their rebuilding effort by going out and obtaining Doublelift, a marksman who has for the most part required quite a lot of resources to function at an optimal capacity through his career.
Given the strengths and identities of both mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Doublelift, both of which led the NA LCS at their position in gold share, one would hazard a guess that Team SoloMid will likely be a more mid-bot lane focused roster next split when previously they were very much a pure mid lane focused roster. The shake up and more dependability in the bot lane should give Team SoloMid more options to choose from in the pick and ban phase of the game along with opening up more strategies in general.
Stepping to the Korean league, Champions contained some of the more unique stories in regards to team dynamism and gold distribution. Najin e-mFire, being one of the most heinous offenders of the “three hard-carry strategy”, drew the ire of many analysts and fans with their completely disappointing performance through the 2015 season. Eschewing the now-KOO Tigers mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-Haeng in favor of the organizational veteran Yu “Ggoong” Byeong-jun, Najin sank their ship before it even sailed by disrupting the delicate balance past Najin rosters had displayed, as talked about here by Emily “Emily Rand” Rand.
Najin White Shield and Najin Black Sword both had their own identities through the years. Shield trended more to the top-mid focus and allowed the bot lane to fend for themselves while Sword much preferred the top-ADC focus with a more self-sufficient mid laner. During the Fall 2014 offseason multiple changes occurred to the Korean league which outlawed sister teams, forcing Najin to create one single team from their two solid sister teams. Where Najin used to have cohesive units that understood their identity with both Shield and Sword, the 2015 Najin roster lacked this entirely.
They brought the two side lane carries from Sword, Lee “Duke” Ho-seong and Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min, and stirred them together with the mid laner from Shield, Ggoong. This led to a three-headed monster of carries, yet one stood out in a bad way compared to the other two. Ggoong held his “carry” status, not by virtue of taking over games and dominating his opponents like his side lanes did, but by not being proficient enough in a utility and self-sufficiency game to earn the “versatile” title. He was a carry because it was the only role he could ever possibly fill given his stringent champ pool. The three-headed monster turned into a nightmare as the team dynamic in-game fell apart almost immediately. Ggoong required the priority, both in-game and in champ select, that his side lanes should have received. He received the priority and resources just to perform at an adequate level which in turn left one of his side lanes, who were more apt to carry a game, in a position where they weren’t able to impact the game in a way they otherwise could. This also had a very negative impact on jungler Cho “watch” Jae-geol as he took the largest hit of any player on the team.
Watch turned into the poorest jungler in Korea, having the lowest gold share of any starting jungler, having the second worst cs differential at ten minutes of any jungler, and having the worst cs per minute of any jungler. He was having to operate on the lowest amount of farm possible and the result led to him having the highest death share of any jungler in Korea and the third most total deaths of any jungler. The three-headed monster strategy led to Najin disappointingly not making Worlds and not placing top four once during the year.
Another disappointing story during the year is that of the Jin Air Green Wings. Brimming with talent in every position, the Korean side finished in a mediocre fourth place during Spring and sixth place during Summer. How could a team that I just described as “brimming with talent in every position” finish in such disappointing placements? The team very obviously had meta issues, failing to transition properly throughout the season, and appeared to have management issues with the head-scratching roster swaps in the bottom lane. Most of all they were lacking entirely in a team dynamic sense.
While nearly every player on the team is regarded in a positive light, no player on the team had the style of play to take a game over. They lacked play makers and a primary carry whom they could funnel gold to and ask to carry. Yeon “TrAce” Chang-dong, veteran top laner for Jin Air, received the absolute lowest amount of gold of any top laner in region. Trace was often hung out to dry on the top half of the map while other, more meta adept teams would attempt to swarm him over and over again. This became increasingly problematic during the Summer split when the top lane importance grew tenfold.
In the mid lane Lee “GBM” Chang-seok received a minute amount of resources, fourth least of all starting mid laners, and his slower, surgical play style resulted in an inability to truly take over a game in a way that other mid laners like Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok or Shin “Coco” Jin-yeong could consistently do. Despite being regarded as an incredible talent of the mid lane, he lacked the “carry” factor certain other mid laners had. GBM was the consistent DPS all game long, yet he was never the one to force a game winning play.
With both solo lanes receiving extremely little gold or having a secondary carry style of play, Jin Air would often look to their bottom lane as the resource funnel. Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo and Na “Pilot” Woo-hyung both sat in the top five of their position in gold share, Cpt Jack sitting at the top of Korea. Unfortunately, despite being on the receiving end of the resource funnel on Jin Air, both Cpt Jack and Pilot had styles of play more in line with their mid laner GBM. Both marksmen had impeccable positioning and great mechanical skill, yet were met with the misfortune of an anti-ADC meta and thus had their “carry impact” lessened. Both marksmen were also often placed on Utility or Poke style champs like Sivir or Corki.
Whereas Najin was suffering from their chosen team dynamic of three hard carry players, Jin Air suffered by not having a single hard carry player. Both teams failed to make Worlds and were widely regarded as talented, yet under-performing teams all throughout the year. Their under-performance during the year was widely driven by the lack of a successful team dynamic.
While the two teams detailed above languished in mediocrity for the majority of the season, SK Telecom T1 rose above everyone else, claiming the Season 5 World Championship. Where the two teams above failed to find a successful team dynamic, SK Telecom successfully shuffled multiple substitutes and were among the first teams to transition comfortably to the top lane heavy meta near the end of Spring.
Consolidating the two SK Telecom rosters of 2014 for the 2015 season, they were initially expected to be a very top-mid focused roster. When you have two hard carry style solo laners in both Faker and top laner Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan it was a very accurate assumption during the first parts of Spring. However, as the season wore on SK Telecom trended far more to a strictly top lane centered team and Faker made an incredible transition to being one of the most self-sufficient players in the entire world. Whereas they started the year splitting the most resources on the team, midway through Spring everything started floating directly into Marin’s hands.
By the time Summer started the transition had been complete within the team. Faker and marksman Bae “Bang” Jun-sik both took the absolute lowest amounts of gold that any starter in their positions took within Korea; Faker taking 25.3% of his team’s gold while Bang took a minute 23.9%. In the top lane, Marin took a whopping 23.8% of the team’s gold, second most in the world only to Gambit Gaming’s Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, and would often be given extremely high priority in the pick and ban phase to ensure he was in a comfortable match up. The two carries on SK Telecom not named Marin operated on nearly the lowest amount of gold possible so that their top laner could have his weaknesses shored up, yet both still retained incredible performances throughout the Summer split.
By shoring up the weaknesses and playing to the strengths of Marin, his inability to operate effectively from behind and his low game sense being glaring faults, SK Telecom easily rode through second half of the season on their way to the World Championship where they bested Korean side KOO Tigers in the finals, 3-1. With this very clear and easily defined team dynamic, SK Telecom went 53-7 in individual matches during the Summer split and at the World Championship.
While it helps that they had the best, most versatile player in the world sitting in the mid lane, they went into each game with their own game plan and executed it to near perfection. They had the right people in the right carry positions and they had the right people in the right background positions. Whereas teams such as Najin e-mFire and Jin Air struggled with the basics in their team dynamics, SK Telecom figured theirs out and as such were rewarded in spades.
Hopefully Team SoloMid are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their roster like SK Telecom accomplished so they may put the right people in the right roles during their rebuilding period. With two pieces already in place, one of which with the capability of filling the versatile role in Team SoloMid like what Faker filled in SK Telecom, Team SoloMid have a very solid foundation to build upon. Now they must make the right choices to fill in the background of the roster; The supportive players that will help facilitate the set carries.
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