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News LOL Game Ask the Pros: Why has Malzahar taken every region by storm?

News LOL Game Ask the Pros: Why has Malzahar taken every region by storm?

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The EU LCS Coach’s Week has come and gone once again. For the week's matches, coaches lent their insight on the desk during the draft, and their interviews provided a glimpse into the coaching philosophies of some of Europe’s most celebrated League of Legends leaders.

To start the week, I investigated regional differences in pick priority, but to close the week, I want to examine how Europe’s Top 3 — Fnatic, G2 Esports and Splyce — create their compositions. EU's top teams seem to value aggressive jungle picks and a strict circle of top lane champions, along with their counters.

Yet even with these similarities, each team approaches their games with a unique style. Splyce generally gravitates towards more 1-3-1 style play, with their top laner choosing somewhat unconventional picks. G2 favor early skirmishes and teamfighting, with emphasis on their bottom lane and jungler. Fnatic tend to play much longer games. We can learn a lot about what makes each team's approach work by looking at the champions they value most and how they construct their drafts to make sure they can win games.

Overview

To establish a team's pick priorities, we combine the champions they ban, the champions banned against them, and the champions they pick. The assumption is that whether a team is picking or banning a champion, they place a high priority on it for some reason.

Opponents' bans similarly indicate the champion is important to a team, but opponents' picks aren’t necessarily high-priority for the team, so they are excluded. This is an imperfect measure, since opponents' first picks could be denial picks, but they could also be strong champion picks or neutral picks intended not to reveal a strategy, so there's no way to draw a simple distinction.

Only data from Patches 6.12 and 6.13 are used to avoid having to account for drastic shifts in the meta. As a result, only four weeks worth of data, 16 games per team, can be considered. These sample sizes aren’t robust and are only intended to provide a snapshot for further examination.

The top five picks for Fnatic, G2 Esports, and Splyce are listed below. Each champion's prioritization is expressed in a percentage of games played where the champion was picked by the team, banned against the team, or banned by the team.

Highest priority champions among the Top 3 EU teams

Champion FNC G2 SPY
Azir 88 75 56
Bard 38 44 69
Irelia 50 44 63
Karma 75 69 81
Nidalee 88 88 75
Olaf 81 88 44
Sivir 44 75 19
Vladimir 81 56 63

It appears G2 and Fnatic put much higher priority on aggressive jungle picks Nidalee and Olaf (with Olaf having the ability to flex to the top lane), and Splyce is happy to take Rek'Sai or other jungle champs instead. Fnatic highly values the Azir pick, much more than Splyce in particular. Splyce has a much lower value on Sivir, and a strong preference for Bard and Irelia. Fnatic have also kept a very high Vladimir priority, while G2 and Splyce value Vladimir much less, especially in the most recent week of the LCS.

Fnatic have a much stronger preference for wave clear mid lane champions, which is what we've seen in their games. This also means they'll favor Karma or Braum (who can counter enemy wave clear) more than Bard. Splyce favors Bard the most of the three, and G2 favors Bard more than Fnatic. We can see Splyce and G2 working much more off of picks and plays made earlier on in the game by their support players. Fnatic also have a slightly longer average game time than G2 or Splyce, though not considerably, which likely corresponds with their preference for wave clear mids.

An Irelia priority for Splyce reflects a lower tendency to pick tank top laners. Martin "Wunder" Hansen's duelist style is much more suited to the 1-3-1 approach, which means one might expect them to favor a wave clear AD carry like Sivir. Splyce instead have a higher priority on Caitlyn and use her traps to stall pushes mid lane. Top and mid lane usually carry the team through mid game while Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup scales, making them more willing to pick Caitlyn's weak mid game than G2 or Fnatic.

G2's high Sivir and Olaf priority reflects their tendency toward collapse compositions. As a team, G2 like to hit hard-and-fast. They also use Sivir to push out waves aggressively to create passive side lane vision, invade the jungle, and look for opportunities through jungle control.

Comparison of champion priorities among the Top 3 EU teams

Red (1): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in more than 75 percent of games they played.
Yellow (2): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in 50-75 percent of games they played.
Green (3): The team picked, banned, or had this champion banned against them in 40-50 percent of games they played.

Expanding the scope to examine all champions Fnatic, G2, or Splyce prioritized in at least 40 percent of their games on Patches 6.12 and 6.13, we can see which champions have unique priority among the Top 3 teams. Those champions are Braum, Elise, and Gnar for Fnatic, Ryze for G2, and Caitlyn and Taliyah for Splyce.

Gnar can duel and teamfight, allowing Fnatic to both stall lanes and win battles. Ryze benefits a lot from Sivir, so though he has largely fallen out of favor in the EU LCS, he still works well with other picks G2 like to play, and the style of collapse they like to use. Splyce's preference for Caitlyn over Sivir comes through more clearly (though they will also play the likes of Lucian for a similar reason), and they enjoy using Taliyah as a flex pick given Wunder's unique champion pool. Taliyah can provide pressure globally and works in their 1-3-1 style.

Highest priority champions by draft rotation

Team Last ban First pick First rotation red side Last pick
FNC Elise; Shen; Braum Nidalee; Vladimir Azir; Gnar; Jhin; Nami Braum
G2 Azir Karma Karma; Olaf; Rek'Sai; Sivir N/A
SPY Shen; Azir; Irelia; Ryze Karma Rek'Sai Gnar

Given the small sample size, the pick frequency of each champion in the blue-side first pick, red-side first rotation or last-pick phases won't be very high. Picks are included if they are the most frequently picked, or picked one less time than the most frequently picked. In the eight games played by G2 on red side, the team picked a unique champion each time, so they were not included.

G2 and Splyce seem to prefer to last-ban Azir, rather than play the champion. While Azir gives Fnatic the high-wave clear they prefer, the champ requires setup and doesn't synergize very well with the collapse style of G2, or the double-Teleport and split-push style of Splyce.

Fnatic's tendency to first-pick Nidalee again shows the emphasis they put on their jungler. Lee "Spirit" Dayoon's somewhat selfish carry style and heavy farming synergize well with Nidalee. Fnatic are also willing to pick Gnar or Azir early in red-side first rotation, in addition to the typical bottom lane or jungle picks. G2 favors high-mobility choices early, which often gives away their game plan, but also reflects the general strength of those champions.

Splyce's fondness for Rek'Sai in early rotation just shows the jungle champion is safe. Though Jonas "Trashy" Andersen has gained recognition, he doesn't get pick priority for either first or last pick, and Rek'Sai is a well-rounded jungle pick that won't necessarily do as much damage as Nidalee or Olaf, but will provide a lot of utility and still clear well.

There isn't a lot of data to make the last pick datapoint robust, but last-picking the Braum reflects Fnatic's willingness to give up Karma and try to counter fast-push or simply play a safe laning phase generally. Braum can also bait enemies into choosing assassins or other champions with combos that can be countered by Stand Behind Me.

Splyce's last pick Gnar only shows their preference for last-picking top lane.

The above graph reflects the percentage of blue-side games in which each team will first-pick their top, jungle, mid, AD carry or support champion. Again keeping the small size of the sample in mind, one can see Fnatic's willingness to take jungle first. This is either when Olaf is available and can be flexed, or when the enemy team leaves Nidalee open, a champion Fnatic highly prioritize.

G2's frequent first-picking of support both reflects how highly they value Karma and their trust in Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez to make the pick worthwhile. In all four instances in which Karma was first picked for G2, it was used as support. In this case, it has less value as a flex pick. As the patch changes and melee supports become popular again, G2 may still favor a first-pick support.

Splyce also first-picked Karma as a support every time, but were also willing to first-pick both Sivir and Caitlyn. Kobbe's willingness to first-pick an ADC means Splyce can deny opponent ADCs their preferred picks. Splyce may prioritize Sivir even more highly in coming weeks, given that she also serves the mid lane wave clear function well, and Caitlyn has fallen in popularity due to her mid-game weaknesses and vulnerability to flanks.

The most noticeable variation between teams in the distribution of red-side first rotations is that Fnatic have a fairly even distribution among all roles of top, jungle, mid, AD carry and support, while G2 and Splyce heavily favor picking their jungle in red-side first rotation. Since a lot of emphasis is placed on making Spirit comfortable, Fnatic will pick his jungle champion early in the draft if it's Nidalee, but will otherwise wait for a counter-pick later and even be willing to choose a solo lane in first rotation instead. This opens them up to counter-picks or the enemy team reading their strategy.

All three teams tend to save their top lane for last-pick more often than mid lane, diverging from the general trend in the EU LCS. Since the sample size for the league as a whole is much larger than that of individual teams, the apparently negligible difference between last-picked top lane versus mid lane in EU LCS as a whole could potentially account for roughly the same number of total games as the difference for the individual teams. Yet Fnatic, especially with Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek, look for top lane counter-pick frequently to be able to pressure a 1-4 split-push advantage. G2 will last-pick top lane when they can secure Irelia for Ki "Expect" Daehan, which has had mixed results. Because of Wunder's unique champion pool, Splyce will also try to put him into an advantageous position, and if they do choose Taliyah early, they can flex it into the mid lane and still counter-pick the top lane last.

The mid laners of Fnatic, G2, and Splyce are incredibly versatile. They are willing to choose a wave clear mid and hold the lane (like Fnatic's Azir) or a more niche mid lane pick and pressure the appropriate advantage when it arises. Meanwhile, the EU LCS top lane meta has evolved in such a way that strict counters exist to some of the favorite picks like Irelia, Gnar and Trundle. Choosing one of these champions first with their counter up can sink a team's win conditions, so picking a top lane champion last may have, at least in part, contributed to the success of EU's top teams.

Patch 6.14 will hit the EU LCS next week. Support champions like Leona and Sona have been heavily altered, and Ryze received a complete rework. From this data, one can guess that G2 — with the value they place on mobility and support flexibility — will react well. Ban priority might shift a lot to include the new Ryze, meaning that some of the last-banned champions may get through more often.

G2 and Fnatic will likely continue to prioritize their desired jungle picks. Top lane counters will remain powerful. A lot of these identities will be retained. As the split develops, revisiting and building upon conclusions on the champion selects for G2, Fnatic, and Splyce will be worthwhile, since it will let us assess whether or not G2, Fnatic, and Splyce have remained true to their identities from Patches 6.12 and 6.13, and understand better why pick priorities are shifting. This will give a more complete picture of how the teams operate within their dynamic and what they'll look for when they draft against teams internationally.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

News LOL Game Emily Rand's LCK Weekly: the Freecs become their own protagonist

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Following their 2-0 victory over SK Telecom T1, the Afreeca Freecs top laner Jeon “ikssu” Ik-soo joked to Inven that he wasn’t too excited about the victory because it was a match he thought they would win. “I think I’ll feel really good if we win the next match too,” he said.

Whether ikssu’s blithe braggadocio is representative of looking ahead to playoffs or a simple joke — SKT has been on the Freecs’ hit list since LoL Champions Korea Spring 2016 — it’s an attitude that the ROX Tigers should study, possibly taking notes.

The Tigers are the best team in Korea at the moment, but they have a figurative asterisk next to their name larger than a steroid era baseball player’s hall of fame bid: SK Telecom T1. Despite their dominion over both spring splits of LoL Champions Korea and more recent ownership of the number one spot in LCK Summer 2016, the Tigers have an abysmal winrate against SKT, especially when you consider their winrate against all other teams in Korea. This summer alone the Tigers are 0-4 against SKT, but have a 22-5 record against all other Korean teams.

It’s easy to point to the Tigers’ mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng and say that he’s the problem. His individual record against SKT’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is awful, and while KurO holds his own against every other mid in Korea, Faker makes KurO look like he doesn’t belong on a professional team whenever the two meet. Yet the Tigers as a whole adopt a more defensive and reactive attitude as a team while playing SKT that is counterintuitive to the Tigers’ naturally aggressive playstyle.

The Freecs’ fearless blueprint of how to best Korea’s top team is not the only positive thing to come out of the Afreeca and SKT series for the Tigers. Afreeca swept SKT, giving the Tigers a bit of breathing room at the top of the LCK Summer 2016 standings that they didn't expect to have. The coveted first-place spot and guaranteed finals berth is something that the Tigers likely need if they are to eventually beat their nemesis: SKT. A first-place regular season finish would allow more prep time for the Tigers, and the off-chance that another Korean team could dispose of SKT for them, prior to the finals.

Meanwhile, other Korean teams jockeying for playoff positions either welcomed the SKT loss, or watched their own playoff hopes fade further into the distance with the Freecs’ 2-0 victory.

Race to the top five

KT Rolster

Remaining matches: Longzhu Gaming, ESC Ever, CJ Entus, Samsung Galaxy

Believe it or not, KT Rolster haven’t actually clinched their playoff spot yet. With only five series losses thus far and seven points, missing the playoffs isn’t mathematically impossible for KT but it is highly improbable. Their series record is only one win above their closest competition in the Freecs — 9-5 to the Freecs’ 8-6 — but at 21-14, they have a strong five point lead over Afreeca in the standings. KT’s remaining opponents are the current bottom three teams in the league and Samsung Galaxy, the latter of which they face in their final match of the split in Week 10.

Following the Teemo pick in Week 8, which arguably cost them a crucial sweep of the Jin Air Green Wings, KT Rolster took no prisoners in Week 9 with a dominating performance over MVP. Due to the sheer amount of talent on Longzhu Gaming’s roster, they can never be wholly counted out of a match, but KT have continued to show hidden creative depths on top of a remarkably strong early game. Their Aurelion Sol pick solves many of mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun’s control issues, opening up the map for jungler Go “Score” Dong-bin, who has been one of, if not the best jungler in Korea this split.

Afreeca Freecs

Remaining matches: Jin Air Green Wings, Longzhu Gaming, Samsung Galaxy, ROX Tigers

Afreeca’s next match is against the Jin Air Green Wings, a crucial series in their quest to lock up a playoff spot. Their win over SKT ensures that they’re firmly in control of their own destiny and wins over Jin Air and Longzhu this week would clinch a spot and keep their World Championship dreams alive.

The Freecs still suffer from poor mid game decision-making at times — especially from overly-aggressive individual players like mid laner Son “Mickey” Young-min — but have improved enough that they’re a dangerous threat, even to Korea’s top teams. Last split, the Freecs transformed from being a team that could take individual wins from presumably better teams to a team that can win whole series, despite their occasional lapses in judgment. They’re one of Korea’s bloodier teams — tied for third in combined kills per minute with SKT at 0.61 — with a hyper-aggressive mid in Mickey and bot lane duo of AD carry Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun and support No “Snowflower” Hoi-jong. In previous seasons, their recklessness was their downfall, but now they’re able to coordinate as a team, taking opponents by surprise and forcing them to fight.

Sangyoon’s Kog’Maw was the star of their series against SKT, but what was more impressive was how the team played the composition as a whole — baiting out SKT top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong’s Gnar while choosing their fights wisely. The Kog’Maw was a perfect response to SKT support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s Tahm Kench pick, and Sangyoon kept Wolf busy while Mickey dealt massive amounts of damage across the entirety of SKT with Varus. Their preparation for this match and others this season, despite what the team might jokingly say in postmatch interviews, showcases just how much the Freecs have improved. Afreeca is still capable of dropping series to lower-tier teams, so their playoff spot is not guaranteed yet, but unlike last split which required a miraculous end-of-season run and Samsung faltering, the Freecs are in control with their sights set on a playoff spot and possible bid to represent Korea at the 2016 World Championship.

MVP

Remaining matches: Jin Air Green Wings, Samsung Galaxy, ROX Tigers

Going into the split, MVP was on a downward slide. After topping Challengers Korea for the majority of 2016 spring, they were bested by ESC Ever in the Challengers Korea Spring finals and looked worse in their promotional series against Kongdoo Monster than Ever did against the presumably better SBENU Korea.

A good jungler goes a long way, and Kim “Beyond” Kyu-seok has been one of Korea’s best this season, vaulting MVP up the standings after an unfortunate 1-6 start in the first two weeks of LCK Summer 2016. Their first win came against Ever in Week 3, and from that point on, MVP established themselves as the stronger of the two LCK rookie teams, despite much-improved performances from Ever’s jungler Choi “Bless” Hyeong-woong.

For the majority of the split, the meta has also somewhat suited MVP, since their weakest link is AD carry Oh “MaHa” Hyun-sik. MaHa has a habit of getting caught out in teamfights before he is able to deal any amount of damage, a large problem when he’s supposed to be a primary carry. With mid laner An “Ian” Jun-hyeong and top laner Kang “ADD” Geon-mo improving throughout the split, MVP has been able to hide MaHa’s weaknesses surprisingly well while relying on Ian and Beyond to carry them from the mid and jungle.

That being said, making the playoffs is going to be incredibly difficult for this rookie team. MVP only have three series left as opposed to Afreeca and even the Jin Air Green Wings’ four, which gives them a shorter amount of games to make up their win-loss deficit. They’re at -4 points to Afreeca’s 2, which is a significant six-point difference in the standings. However, MVP should be able to secure their spot in the LCK Spring 2017 split by knocking off the Jin Air Green Wings this week.

Jin Air Green Wings

Remaining Matches: Afreeca Freecs, MVP, SK Telecom T1, ESC Ever

At this point, we can all set our watches by the Jin Air Green Wings’ inevitable end-of-season collapse. Beginning in LCK Spring 2015, the Green Wings have made a habit of becoming one of Korea’s top teams in the early parts of the split only to end the season with a miserable string of losses, either barely making playoffs or missing them entirely. Last year, much of the blame was placed on then-jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, who was unable to adjust to the Cinderhulk patch in spring. Then it was the inability of AD carry Na “Pilot” Woo-hyung to play with any sort of proactivity in teamfights.

Across the past three seasons, and this LCK Summer 2016 split, it’s become apparent that Jin Air’s slow and reactive playstyle just isn’t competitive enough anymore. While teams are still adjusting to a new meta, or a new roster, Jin Air can best teams with their methodical approach to the game. They became the first team to beat SKT earlier in the split by punishing Faker’s relentless aggression, freeing up Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok on Lissandra to roam top and keep Duke’s Fiora down while Bae “bengi” Seong-woong inexplicably focused on the bottom lane. Jin Air then played it safe, snowballing their advantage slowly. Any modicum of aggression from another team will put Jin Air at a disadvantage, provided that said aggression has thought and purpose behind it. Jin Air can certainly capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes, but they lack the proactivity that would push them into becoming a top tier team.

Series to Watch

Afreeca Freecs vs. SK Telecom T1

The Freecs became the first-ever team to sweep SKT in a regular LCK season this past week with this 2-0 victory on Saturday, July 23. Of particular note is their use of an on-hit Kog’Maw, who dealt massive amounts of damage and also soaked up a lot of attention from SKT, allowing Mickey to deal similarly large amounts of damage on Varus and Vladimir. It was a risky composition to run, but the Freecs refused to be cowed by SKT’s presence, and SKT had no answer for the Kog’Maw, picking up Sejuani for jungler Kang “Blank” Sun-gu in Game 2 with poor results.

Samsung Galaxy vs. SK Telecom T1

Going into Week 9, this was the headlining matchup, featuring two of Korea’s top teams. Although it was overshadowed by SKT’s loss to Afreeca later on in the week, this is another great series to watch, with some fun compositions of its own.

In particular, Game 2 features an interesting zoning composition from SKT, built around Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s Miss Fortune, Faker’s Azir, and Duke’s Gangplank. Due to three AD carry bans from Samsung — Sivir, Ezreal, and Jhin — along with an Ashe ban from SKT, bang locked in Miss Fortune while Samsung AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk took Tristana to the Rift. Using the Miss Fortune and Gangplank ultimates, SKT was able to set up strong sieges against Samsung, leading to their victory.

Player of the Week

Afreeca Freecs’ Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun

Mickey is the star of the Afreeca Freecs, and has been since they were Anarchy, and Rebels Anarchy, throughout their LCK Summer 2015 performance. However, it’s extraordinarily difficult to rely on one player and one player alone to carry a team, unless that player is SKT’s Faker. Anarchy were quickly figured out in LCK Summer 2015 as teams learned to ban out Mickey’s favored assassins and the rest of the team was unable to pick up the carry slack. This year has been completely different for the Freecs, and LCK Spring 2016 saw the rise of Sangyoon’s carry prowess accompanying their Cinderella 7-2 run through the second round robin.

Sangyoon’s improvements have widely flown under the radar in the LCK, especially with the rise of SKT’s Bang, and the resurgence of the Tigers Kim “PraY” Jong-in — the latter of whose career was thought to be dead prior to the Tigers picking him up. While Sangyoon isn’t on the level of those AD carries, he’s improved immensely over the past year, tempering his laning aggression into a precise weapon, rather than ascribing to his previously reckless solo queue mentality along with his bot lane partner Snowflower.

It’s always important for a team to have as many carry options as possible, offering flexibility in both drafting and resource allocation in game. Afreeca can now rely on Sangyoon to carry as much as, if not more than, Mickey. His Kog’Maw was impressive in both games against SKT and allowed Afreeca to set up coordinated teamfights and turret sieges en route to their 2-0 sweep.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

Gaming A load of new Pokemon will be added to Pokemon Go so your life is over

Gaming A load of new Pokemon will be added to Pokemon Go so your life is over

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A load of new Pokemon will be added to Pokemon Go so your life is over
(Picture: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock)

There’s going to be a bunch of brand new Pokemon coming to Pokemon Go so this will never end.

The hugely popular app are making more generations of the little critters available to catch.

Niantic’s founder John Hanke dropped the teaser during the Pokemon panel at Comic Con.

But according to The Verge, the new Pokemon might not arrive for ‘years’.

He’s quoted as saying: ‘Beyond first generation, there are some others that may make their way into our universe.

Women play "Pokemon Go" in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Tokyo, Friday, July 22, 2016. The Japan launch of "Pokemon Go" on Friday included the game's first partnership with an outside company: fast-food giant McDonald's. About 400 McDonald's Japan outlets are "gyms," where players can battle on their smartphones. The other 2,500 are "Pokestops," where they can get items to play the game. The hope is, presumably, that they may also buy a Big Mac in the process.(AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
We could have this for ‘years’ to come (Picture: AP/Koji Sasahara)

‘We’re looking forward to finding interesting ways to make that happen in the coming months and years.’

That’s not the only change they’re thinking of making – pokestops are going to be a bigger part of the app by giving players the chance to modify them.

Hanke went on: ‘That’s a pretty cool idea that you can acquire an object that changes the function of a pokestop and gives it a new ability.’

Television cartoon, 'Pokemon Chronicles', TX Toonami, May 11, 2005.
We’ve been promised a new generation of Pokemon is on the way

One way they could be changed is by turning them into pokecenters.

He also revealed that Niantic have been looking into Pokemon breeding, and tweaking trading and training features too.

Pokemon Go isn’t going anywhere any time soon – and we’re secretly okay with that.

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