Thirty-three minutes into what would be a 43-minute slug fest, the ROX Tigers completed their escape from the jaws of defeat in a decisive teamfight. While there is widespread praise being given to Top Laner, Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho for his explosive Kennen ult in that fight, the real praiseworthy effort is the prep-work done by the team as a whole. The way the crucial team-fight played out was all planned, from the champions they drafted, to the way ROX positioned within it. Smeb’s glorious ultimate was largely just a byproduct of this preparation, something the team had expected the highly skilled player to pull-off at some point in the game. Beginning with the draft, Kyung-ho was set up for success.
Rox: Ezreal (1), Soraka (2), Malzahar (2), Nocturne (3), Kennen (3)
G2: Karma (1), Nami (1), Olaf (2), Jhin (2), Gnar (3)
The crux of this draft phase is the second rotation of picks by G2, and then the response by ROX to those picks in their third rotation, with the key pick being Olaf, which saw play in the late-summer in both Western regions, but didn’t have a single game played in Korea’s LCK. As a result, Olaf was a champion ROX had to prepare a strategy for in advance.
In general, Olaf’s playstyle is very telegraphed, relying on being able to run into the enemy team and force the focal point of a teamfight to be on whatever target he is chasing down. In their first rotation, G2 complemented this with Karma and Nami to speed up Olaf with their E and passive respectively. To round out the second rotation they would pair Jhin with Olaf, who can set-up with Curtain Call from a screen-away whilst still assisting Olaf with slows and damage. These four champions gave away that G2’s composition would be extremely linear in terms of how they can succeed in a teamfight: advanced forward with Olaf and focus down one target. But what happens if you can’t see that target?
This is where ROX Tiger’s third rotation pick, Nocturne, comes into play. With his ultimate, Nocturne applies a global Nearsight de-buff to the enemy team which denies G2 the vision they need to chase down a priority target. Subsequently, Nocturne acts as a definitive counter-pick to Olaf once the game reaches the teamfight phase. In addition, his ultimate also counters Jhin because it allows him to close the gap between Jhin and the rest of ROX. In the ban phase, we see ROX eliminating Sivir, the AD Carry that pairs best with Olaf (because of the speed boost on her ult), and baiting G2 into picking the next best, Jhin. As a result, Nocturne gains double the value in their team-composition, and though he may never be considered “meta” in the popular use of the word, ROX engineers a draft where Nocturne serves as the most efficient tactic available.
Nocturne gains even more value when you factor in what ROX picks alongside him in the third rotation, Kennen. When Nocturne denies vision to the enemy, it also allows Kennen to re-position into a place where he can execute a devastating AOE-ultimate. The biggest flaw Kennen has is being too squishy to properly get past the front-line and be able engage on the back-line of the opposing team to deal damage. A lack of vision for the opposing team allowed Smeb to constantly adjust his position in team fights without the enemy team being able to react to his change in trajectory. Though ROX tried to implement this strategy all-game, the only time we truly saw it succeed was in this explosive team-fight.
Smeb diving in and completely deleting four members of G2 will be echoed throughout LoL history, but what will be less remembered is the beautifully intricate teamfighting of ROX as a whole. Peanut held his ultimate on Nocturne until G2 had committed to the very linear engage their team composition allows: Olaf selects a target, Jhin follows with his ultimate and they place a ward for Gnar to TP onto. With the vision denial, ROX accomplished two different things, the first being allowing Smeb to reposition.
Before he could engage in the manner he did, Smeb had to be in a position where he could flank while also not being focused on by ROX. Using the lack of vision, Smeb transitioned from standing adjacent to his fellow back-line teammates, PraY and Kuro, and moved up to the far left side of the teamfight. This is demonstrated here and isn’t the only clever manipulation of vision denial that allows ROX to have an edge in positioning. During Nocturne’s ult, the ROX Tigers also change where the focal point of the teamfight is and draw it away from Smeb. This is shown by a “line of scrimmage” in this image, where G2 players would tunnel most of their focus in terms of abilities + target selection here.
After Smeb’s awe-inspiring counter-engage, you can see further evidence of ROX’s immaculate teamfighting in the way Kuro and Pray collapse from the opposite angle as their Top Laner. Attacking from multiple angles like this is a common tactic in any sort of battle, causing focus to be divided between different forces, often disorienting the defenders of the attack. It’s a classic technique that is implemented perfectly by ROX in this fight, and this sort of coordination is what really creates the gap Korea has over the rest of the world.
The Art of War
There is a lot of talk about “the gap” closing, but when you breakdown a team-fight from Eastern teams like ROX Tigers or EDG, a graceful, harmonious dance is revealed. It’s something that we don’t see from even the best teams the West has ever produced. When it comes to team cohesion and innovating tactics that enable for consistent success, there is still a valley between East and West. The coaches and infrastructure engineer team compositions, and tactics for them, in a style that is just one-step above that of the West. With robotic-like players of the highest caliber to operate these strategies, there is almost no limit to their options. Perhaps if the West possessed mechanical titans like Smeb they’d be able to keep-up with the pace of the East’s tango-like teamfights.
Photo credits: lolesports flickr