In the latest Ties’ Takes, we look at the fallout from the OPL finals, and explore a couple of the more interesting storylines that we saw emerge from Split 1’s Finals run, including the idea of how player hubris could change the course of a series.
In a region with a rich history of gallant underdogs and fanciful gauntlets runs, at the end of the day the story of Oceania tends to be that the Chalk always wins. And so it remained last week, when the Dire Wolves’ hype train came barrelling from the lower bracket into the much more fancied Legacy roster. I had predicted “the fastest best of five in OPL history” and it looked I may have been scrambling to do some maths at one point, and after a valiant but ultimately token resistance, Legacy closed them out.
There were a number of threads that I found interesting from the finals that you could pick at, should one have a mind to. The first one is that I can’t quite place my finger on how we got to this point. As a fan, I almost feel cheated that we were denied the OPL-classico grand final we seemed to be drawn inexorably towards.
This is not intended to, though it doubtlessly does, take anything away from the Dire Wolves who displayed a feat of endurance and resilience that only feels overshadowed by the Sin Gaming and Order runs of years previous due to the current playoff format and that it started with a loss.
I also don’t intend to use this as a dry way of pointing out that “Of course this is different, everything is different in the current environment.” Rather, it felt like that once we all realised that Legacy and the Chiefs were either the two best, or two of the three best, that we all settled in for an entertaining split of “who is going to win the race to third” among the rest of the teams while we waited for a grand final treat we had not seen in some years.
And then it didn’t happen. All the emotional preparation and investment I had put into the split fell by the wayside and it just felt…anticlimactic that it wasn’t Chiefs/Legacy.
I’m not mad about the resulting match, we got to see the Wolfpack make an accounting for themselves that didn’t seem possible. I had written them off. We’ve seen the infamous ‘Kai Kerflop’ on more than one occasion as Ben “Kai” Stewart’s teams would spiral their seasons into the gutter.
At the beginning of the season, I was utterly convinced we’d see it again. At the regular season’s end I was utterly convinced we were seeing it again. Then they lost their first playoff match and I was banking the sentiment.
Still and through it all they found another gear. Even though 3-1 doesn’t read good on paper, I still think there were more positives than negatives for the Dire Wolves when you look at the totality of this playoff run.
And what more can be said about James “Tally” Shute that hasn’t already been gushed about? I think the comparisons to the end of Simon “Swiffer” Papamarkos’ playing career are apt, and not just because they both had a mean Galio. What I love about both of these players, is that when they were on the picks like Tally’s Cho’Gath, or the aforementioned Galio, they exploit the biggest advantage they have left – brain gap.
It isn’t a case of not having the hands anymore – both players have the totality of career and individual plaudits to show that. The thing that I love most about these mid picks is that it’s identifying the biggest differential that the player has over basically all of their opponents – experience and knowledge – and exploits it mercilessly.
It really pleases me to see Oceanic teams identify the different ways you can win a match other than trying to take skillcheck matchups and just hoping to press buttons better than the other team. The “don’t worry, I’ll dumpster this guy” approach feels like it is opted into far too often, as we saw throughout this playoffs.
Solo Lucian Blues
One of the main examples we could see from this is the curse of the solo lane Lucian pick. It actually started spritely enough, with Jesse “Chazz” Mahoney picking up a couple of wins on it, and Pentanet.GG picking up a couple of losses. After getting bounced with it twice, PGG actually took it for themselves and it had a decent, yet unspectacular, showing for them in a losing effort to the Wolves.
This became the story of it as the season played out, and is part of the reason why I don’t like it. You pick it to bully lane and pressure early towers, but the tradeoff for this is heavy in a competitive environment. It forces your jungler’s hand to shadow the Lucian (as we saw Park “Croc” Jong-hoon making time for Romeo “Thien” Tran in the playoffs), risking early Dragon control going out the window. If you don’t get your own jungler into the mix you risk the enemy jungler crashing Lucian’s party and ruining the point of picking a lane bully in the first place.
Then, even if you get through laning phase with the bully ahead as planned, you need the composition to be spiking at the right time to take advantage of this plan so you can begin to take objectives and accrue leads before the other composition begins to do what it wants to do.
In my opinion, it’s taking the path of most resistance. Too much needs to go right to make the solo lane Lucian worth its investment. Further, we saw the pick absolutely crushed in the playoffs with a 0-4 record with Harry “Haeri” Kang (twice), Thien and Chazz all unable to make the pick work. It’s inconsistent with how the playoffs tended to go – teams take fewer risks in the early game and wait for more controllable outcomes in teamfights, as evidenced by the longer game times.
We see this across Esports and traditional sports that things slow down and teams go for outcomes they can control over unpredictable risks. This doesn’t seem to be the place you want a solo lane Lucian. You want him in those early skirmishes and dominating the chaos. It isn’t just here either, globally the solo lane win rate reads like a disaster: 39% in LCK, 36% in LPL, 25% in LCS, 20% in NA Academy – only the LEC has a positive record, with two wins from its two matches (regular season records).
Winning is already hard. I don’t see any reason that teams should make it harder on themselves.
There’s nothing more dangerous than a 2-0 lead…
Normally this adage applies to traditional sports, but it seemed in the playoffs this split that it applies to the OPL as well, because no team closed out a 2-0 lead into a sweep. Three times teams had the chance, and each time they couldn’t get it done.
It could very well just be something as straight-forward as the desperation of being put in the 0-2 hole, but I’ve encountered a little of the attitudes of pro players when they’re ahead and feeling good about themselves. Accordingly, I formed the theory that players permitted themselves a little hubris and decided that it wasn’t just enough to be beating them in the series, they needed to show that they were better players. They had to win with style.
So, I enlisted the help of former OPL analyst, OCS head coach, and Snowball contributor Callum “CDM” Matthews to have a look at these three games and see what we could find.
PSA: must be logged in to a Riot account to view match history
Avant 0-2 Order
This first game is probably the closest thing to proving my hypothesis. The Lucian mid pick rears its ugly head here, and it left the Order composition begging for magic damage. The Lucian started out only okay, then things rapidly got worse, comparatively and composition-wise. The Syndra was up over 500 gold at 10 minutes, which is not ideal to say the least. The gold difference was even, negligible at 20 minutes. While better than down 500, this still is not where the Lucian wanted to be.
And things went from bad to worse there. I would have liked to have seen an Orianna here, but just anything to keep the Sylas and Olaf honest with their resistances would have worked.
Dire Wolves 0-2 Order
This game is tragic. You may remember game 4 as the one with tragic gameplay, with the early kill for Swip3rR’s Rumble negated by the Wolfpack turning around Order’s effort to ram the advantage down their throats, but this one is tragic because after three bans and three picks each, Order have got them. They had them.
They got the Senna/Maokai pair to get the funnelled heavy tank and late game Senna passive damage combination, and even managed to secure the Trundle into Olaf matchup that went so well in game 1.
But after the second ban phase they take Corki, allowing Shok one of his signature picks in Cassiopeia. Then Dire Wolves throw the curve ball with Malphite, but it actually doesn’t matter here, Order are still fine. As Callum pointed out, this draft is still excellent for Order – if they can take Gangplank last.
I can only assume that Swip3rR’s Gangplank wasn’t current, because instead they flex the Maokai to the top lane for a new support in Tahm Kench and now Order’s damage is cooked. It’s too little, it’s too late and without the wave clear, global threat and most importantly the zone control that Gangplank provides by 23 minutes they’ve given up the baron, their small lead and ultimately the game.
This one I don’t think was hubris, by any stretch. But it’s an interesting case study in how one pick could have changed so much in this game.
Dire Wolves 0-2 Legacy
This one is a form of hubris, but not the one I had in mind when I formed my idea.
The genesis for this game comes from Game 1. I don’t know what piece of candy that Legacy’s coach Jensen Goh dangled out in front of Dire Wolves to distract them, but it sells them up the proverbial river. Legacy blind the Trundle jungle in the R1/R2 rotation… and Dire Wolves oblige them by picking the Olaf for them. Madness.
Kai proved that his team can adapt and they won’t make the same mistake twice though. When Legacy start on the AD/Trundle opener at R1/R2 in game 3, the Wolves respond with Kindred…and Legacy are basically doomed. Leo “Babip” Romer does the best he can on the Trundle pick as the map explodes around him, but he’s powerless. He’s down roughly 750 gold to his direct opponent at 15 minutes, and it’s nearly double that just five minutes later.
I think Legacy thought they could dictate the terms of this draft to Dire Wolves, and Dire Wolves showed that they wouldn’t be pushed around. At least for this game, given they handed Legacy a reasonable Trundle matchup by B1’ing Jarvan in game 4 and letting them go right back to their nonsense.
So at the end of these games, I was left with a hypothesis that couldn’t be proved from this sample size, but I still feel like there was a lot to learn about the way that teams handled being in this scenario. I’ll be looking to bring you some examination of trends like the 0-2 deficit in future editions of Ties’ Takes.
With Split 1 in the books, and moves already being made for Split 2, the time has come for teams to put the learnings they will have taken from their own experiences like these and make the push for the World Championship.
Next time on Ties’ Takes, we’ll begin looking at what each of these teams would, could or should be looking for as they make this push.
Follow Reece “Ties” Perry on Twitter.