Though League of Legends Season 2 may be over, several of the teams competing in Major League Gaming’s Fall Championship in Dallas are carrying an awful lot of baggage from it. The first day’s matches were a good test of who is successfully making adjustments in the wake of the Riot tournament, and who might might be poised to endure an even longer struggle.
Things got off to a rough start thanks to an hour-long delay, which MLG tried to make right by dropping the paywall for the duration of the evening, and promising a code for free HD to customers HD-pass customers for this event. Still, in many ways it was a miracle that MLG were able to host this event with only an hour’s delay: Sean “Day” Plott pointed out at the start of the broadcast that with hundreds of flights out of New York cancelled due to the hurricane, a number of MLG staff had to drive cross-country to Dallas in order to ensure the Fall Championship still took place.
Due to the late start, only two of tonight’s four winner’s bracket matches were broadcast: CLG North America v. NaJin Sword, and Team SoloMid v. Curse. Off-stream, heavy favorites Azubu Blaze beat Team Dynamic 2-0, ad CLG Europe and Dignitas fought to the death at the very end of the night, with Dignitas pulling off a surprising upset. They also made a compelling argument for MLG to provide a second stream for League of Legends, as they do for StarCraft, at least for the first day.
CLG Prime fail their first test
Perhaps the most revealing match was CLG North America’s disastrous set against Korea’s NaJin Sword and their terrifying top-laner, Yoon “MaKNooN” Ha Woon.
CLG Prime were badly beaten in the Season 2 playoffs group stage, losing to both Azubu Frost and Invictus gaming, and in the wake of the defeat the team made some high-profile lineup and lane changes that suggested the team’s disarray may be more complete than previously thought.
First, their top-laner Joe “Voyboy” Esfahani was benched while team founder and captain George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis moved back up to top from the jungle. They also added Korea’s Choi “Locodo” Yoon-sub to play support. Voyboy did not take the perceived slight well, posting the news on Reddit and sitting back as CLG NA’s choices and leadership came under fire. Former CLG member Brandon “SaintVicious” DiMarco, now a jungler with Curse, ripped into Hotshott GG, writing, “This seems familiar: Hotshot sucking [at] top decides to try support benches Elementz. Realizes he sucks at it then goes back to top. Hotshot sucks at top, benches me from jungle to try it out. Realizes he sucks at jungle goes back to top and benches Voyboy. I wonder where the problem is.”
CLG Prime may seem to be flailing, but they are also a team that reinvent themselves on a regular basis, and have had a fair bit of success doing that. Still, with Voyboy quitting CLG to join former CLG Prime players Saintvicious and Cody “Elementz” Sigfusson on the Curse team, HotshotGG’s and Prime’s performance would be under a microscope.
What it revealed was not good. HotshotGG was beaten like a drum by NaJin Sword’s MaKNooN, and MaKNooN’s dominance skewed the entire match in Sword’s favor. Jungler Chauster was able to be effective in the early portions of each game against Sword, but eventually he was spending too much time in the top lane trying to find ways to get Hotshot back in the game. MaKNoon, for his part, was not only outfarming Hotshot, but he also had an uncanny knack for evading Chausters attempts to gank him, escaping each time with a sliver of health.
Game 1 ended with a CLG surrender after just twenty minutes, after Sword turned an early advantage into unstoppable momentum with a series of daring dives that racked up kills that turned into towers. CLG got off to a better start in Game 2, getting out to a short-lived lead with a nice gank in the middle lane about ten minutes into the match. But they were picked off in the bottom lane while MaKNooN once again built a lead at top. At 25 minutes, Sword got a triple kill from SSONG’s Karthus, and quickly converted that into a baron kill that spelled the end for CLG.
It was the kind of beating the likely gave Voyboy and Saintvicious an overdose of schadenfreude, but CLG North America are still learning their new team dynamics. Furthermore, while HotshotGG had bad games against MaKNooN, the Korean top-laner is one of the strongest in pro League of Legends. A defeat at his hands is hardly a final verdict on Hotshot’s performance.
It will be fascinating to see what happens when CLG meet Curse tomorrow in the loser’s bracket, given the harsh words and bad blood between Saintvicious and HotshotGG.
Slow versus steady
Curse themselves lost to Team SoloMid 2-1, overcome by excellent play from Dyrus, Reginald, and ChaoX, as well as superior coordination. Game 1 was basically TSM’s from start to finish, but Curse came back with a great Game 2 performance. They steadily built their lead and knocked down towers while TSM played for time, and neatly avoided TSM’s attempts to get a favorable engagement. The match went definitely in their favor when they evaded an ambush, then managed to pick up a number of kills on the back end of it. A few minutes later they got Baron, and used their advantage to clear up the rest of the map and get set up for their victorious push on TSM’s Nexus.
Game 3, however, saw a much stronger TSM take an early lead and build it quickly. TSM’s Dyrus had a huge gold advantage over Curse’s Westrice, so much so that, as in game 1, he could pretty much roam and push at will. TSM won the match on a brilliant play where they let Dyrus and one other player push the middle lane while the rest of the team grabbed Baron. They finished Baron just as their mid-laners were engaged with the whole Curse team, and quickly turned that five on two into a five on five that doomed Curse. They aced Curse, and quickly took down the Nexus.
What was perhaps most striking about the TSM – Curse game was how cautious both teams seemed. Where NaJin Sword looked to use momentary advantages to turn the entire game in their favor, both Curse and TSM played more methodically and conservatively, sometimes to their detriment. Both teams’ strategies relied on avoiding mistakes and hoping to catch the other team in one.
It’s not entirely surprising. Curse and TSM, like CLG Prime, came out of League of Legends Season 2 knowing just how far they had to go to be championship contenders. All three teams are in a back-to-basics mindset, seemingly focused more on avoiding major errors than seizing opportunities. It served TSM well, which is not surprising considering they also enjoy the most roster continuity of all three teams. But NaJin Sword are playing with confidence, like a team that knows it has already a winning formula, and just needs to perfect it. They don’t need to wait for mistakes, they create their own opportunities. It will be interesting to see if TSM’s conservative play can make Sword pay for their boldness.