Under pressure: Where the top LPL teams accept risk to gain advantages

Meiko is the support player for EDward Gaming (Dionne Ng)

At the moment, the top three teams in the League of Legends Pro League are Royal Never Give Up, Team WE, and EDward Gaming. EDward Gaming will play WE one more time in the second half of the season, but so far they have defeated WE once, WE have bested RNG, and RNG cleanly and efficiently 2-0’d EDG. A precise ranking remains unclear. Stylistically, these teams are all very different.

The disparity comes in how these teams use pressure. Teams usually generate pressure by pushing advantages with their strongest matchups in their compositions or their strongest players. By putting members of the team on one side of the map to make a play, they force the opposing team to react or fall behind, and how they react determines which side gets the advantage. Exerting pressure also generates a small amount of risk. Tracking how the top teams in LPL accept risk in order to create momentum helps us understand them a little better.

This past week, all three teams stumbled. RNG went 2-1 against Invictus Gaming, EDward Gaming dropped a single match to Newbee, and WE lost entirely to QG Reapers. In those losses, their opponents hit them in the sweet spot.

Royal Never Give Up’s high-risk jungling

Though many consider Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu as one of the team’s primary stars, Royal put little effort into building him up. In order to keep momentum in their fast-paced games (averaging 33.6 minutes), Mlxg spends a lot of time in lanes ganking for teammates.

Royal Never Give Up like to draft compositions that give power to lanes early and allow them to constantly pressure their opponents. This includes picks like Leona that might be risky because they require an all-in, but make it extremely hard for the opposing team to dive them.

Though coach Huang “FireFox” Tinghsiang told press that he let mid laner Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao pick Lucian to “let him have fun” because “the team would avoid relegation,” it fits well into what Royal like to do. Xiaohu himself said that the champion “creates a lot of pressure in the early game, but you can’t make mistakes.”

RNG’s unconventional composition in Game 3 against iG (lolesports)

RNG also favor strong top lane matchups like Rumble. Mlxg said in his broadcast interview after the game that it’s important to do well on the top side because of the power of Teleport. One can infer that Royal will prioritize pushing pressure in lanes at the expense of their jungler.

It’s not uncommon for Mlxg to fall behind in experience. This leaves RNG open to early invades and skirmishes if they don’t have strong lane matchups. In RNG’s loss, Mlxg invaded Invictus Gaming’s top side jungle five minutes in. Because Ge “Kid” Yan had surpassed him in experience, and Lee “Duke” Hoseong had a top side push, the skirmish initiated by Mlxg’s invade went in Invictus Gaming’s favor. They took control of the game and snowballed.

RNG lose a fight on top side with their jungler behind (lolesports)

Because Mlxg takes a lot of individual risk, he often falls behind in experience and gold. As a result, small skirmishes with Mlxg and one laner can easily go in the opponent’s favor. If RNG don’t get a large enough advantage on their lanes to offset Mlxg’s disadvantage, they can quickly fall behind, and it becomes even harder for them to come back in teamfights.

As a result, some analysts have argued that RNG struggle to play from behind. That in itself isn’t a condemnation since RNG tend to acquire a massive lead and close out most of their games, but in identifying where they struggle, opposing teams can develop a strategy against them. It will, however, involve a strong pick and ban (and not diving Leona five minutes into the game).

EDward Gaming’s fast duo lane rotations

Like Royal Never Give Up, EDward Gaming don’t prioritize gaining a lead on their primary jungler, Zhao “Fireloli” Zhiming. He spends most of his time pathing between mid and bot lane to pick up early ganks; the ultimate objective for EDward Gaming in the early game is the first turret on the bottom side.

In EDward Gaming’s first game loss to Newbee Gaming in Week 8, the team focused a lot of energy on getting mid laner Lee “Scout” Yechan ahead. Fireloli made the smart decision to gank mid after realizing Baek “Swift” Daehoon would most likely counter his krugs invade by matching it on the top side of the map. Scout got ahead and continued to pressure the matchup against Yu “Cool” Jiajun.

As EDward Gaming also had a strong matchup that forced Newbee’s bottom lane under their turret, Swift countered by staying near the top side of the map, ensuring both he and Fan “Skye” Qifang would have a lead over their opposites. While this occurred, Scout and Fireloli roamed to the bottom lane.

By grouping all five members to the bottom turret, EDward Gaming felled it before the 12-minute mark. By taking bottom turret early, they can move their duo lane to other parts of the map and take more of the Tier 1 turrets quickly.

This strategy has characterized their play since the start of the split. When it works, EDward Gaming can sweep the entire outer ring of turrets before 20 minutes. In the third game of the series, they did it just shy of 14.

EDward Gaming took all Tier 1 turrets prior to the 14 minute mark in Game 3 (lolesports)

Hae “Zet” Sungmin will kill the first turret of the game once in every 2.5 games, compared to Jian “Uzi” Zihao taking first turret once every 4.5 games and Jin “Mystic” Seongjun taking the first turret once every 4 games. Zet takes the first turret twice as often as AD carries on the other two top teams.

The downside to this strategy, however, came out in EDG’s loss. By committing so many resources to taking the bottom Tier 1 turret early, EDward Gaming fell behind in farm in every role except bottom lane. Despite Scout picking up kills, Cool remained competitive in itemization by rushing the armor component of Zhonya’s Hourglass. Skye had completed Ninja Tabis against Jayce and Ashe, giving an advantage. Swift had a full level of experience over Fireloli.

Even AD carry Lin “Lwx” Weixiang managed to neutralize the advantage of his lane opponent by rushing Sheen before the fight. Blade of the Ruined King rush on Ashe has relatively low early damage by comparison.

EDward Gaming take a fight with disadvantages, despite a kill lead (lolesports)

As a result, the advantages EDward Gaming picked up dissipated. Their focus on pressuring the bottom side of the map was too risky, and Newbee swung the game in their favor.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to EDward Gaming. Even when Ming “Clearlove” Kai played for them against Snake eSports, they had a similar problem. All lanes fell behind in farm due to EDG giving up pressure on most of the map to make a play on the bottom. Clearlove accumulated a lead over the enemy jungler, but the solo lane deficits were great enough that EDG had to give up objectives and lost fights in trade.

EDward Gaming also failed to allocate resources well in their loss to Snake (lolesports)

Of the three teams, EDward Gaming’s use of pressure seems riskiest. Royal’s style invests in pressure across the map in the early game, rather than sacrificing leads in multiple lanes to make sure bottom is freed up as soon as possible. While EDward Gaming understand how to rotate their duo lane to take turrets quickly and often can identify how to defend a push better than other teams by securing river vision, their lopsided resource allocation makes their approach the most exploitable.

Team WE’s path into the enemy jungle

I’ve previously praised WE’s understanding of the early game and improvements made by Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie. I still think WE use pressure better than their peers, but theirs is the hardest to execute, and their play this week seemed to indicate that the team might fail to understand their most effective strategy.

WE have always had a dangerous tendency to draft too many scaling matchups. They’ve picked bad matchups in the past, relying on late game teamfights to turn a game around. Compositions with Maokai, Ryze, Ezreal, and a scaling jungle pick have trapped them.

Champions like Graves and Gragas appeal to Condi for their ability to scale well into late game. Condi sits above both Fireloli and Mlxg in neutral minions killed per minute by about .8. The team lets him kill the first turret of the game every eight games, more than the other two junglers, giving him an experience advantage.

In order for this strategy to work effectively, WE need to draft at least two strong lane matchups. In this situation, the opportunity to invade dwindles for the opposing team. They can’t push out their lanes, which means that WE’s laners will always react more quickly to defend Condi.

In the two games against QG Reapers, Team WE chose a weak top lane matchup. In Game 1, this created the opportunity for Kim “Clid” Taemin and Kan “Kabe” Homan to camp Condi’s red buff. Kabe told press this strategy wasn’t prepared specifically for Condi, which makes sense as raptors to red buff is an extremely common start for any jungler (yet an opposing team won’t fall for it more than once).

Kabe and Clid set a drap for Condi in Game 1 (lolesports)

With this advantage, Clid rotated bottom and snowballed the game for QG. Despite QG’s fast early snowball, WE’s strong understanding of cross-map pressure allowed them to stay competitive and trade objectives when QG went for kills on the other side.

Even with the early snowball from QG, WE trade for the first turret smartly (lolesports)

Game 2 was far more disastrous. I don’t like to blame draft for a team’s woes, but WE ended up with a weak laning matchup in top lane and mid lane. The jungler also couldn’t exert much pressure, and Nidalee is able to stay competitive in farm with Graves.

Though Condi got a lead through a better first clear in Game 2, Ke “957” Changyu died solo to Kabe. The exchange may have been a failure in communication since Condi was nearby, and 957 may have expected backup when he engaged, but a solo kill is still inexcusable if a team wants to maintain pressure in a lane.

Either miscommunication or miscalculation cost WE top lane pressure in a solo kill (lolesports)

QG then executed their siege composition well, using triple Ocean dragons to stay in lane and continue the push. WE weren’t able to catch up and lost this game much more decisively than the first.

QG keep up pressure with poke threat and can easily dive turrets (lolesports)

If WE want to play a scaling jungle pick, they need to have multiple winning lane matchups. In Game 2, only bottom lane could push out, which made it difficult for WE to allow Condi to invade and get the most out of his creative sense of jungle pathing.

WE’s concept of pressure is harder to execute than Royal’s or EDward Gaming’s because it requires better communication. If a play happens on one side of the map, WE will try to keep pressure on the opposite side, but doing so may open their laners up to ganks. They also tend to fall behind because they haven’t been able to execute this strategy perfectly yet. If they can, however, it will allow them to distribute resources more efficiently than RNG or EDG. WE will always win midgame fights with their method of play.

Royal Never Give Up want to place the most pressure on the top side of the map, but they’re able to rotate which lane they want to pressure the most depending on the composition. They will give up advantages in the jungle to make it happen. EDward Gaming will over-invest on bottom plays to make sure they can get the first turret and rotate their duo lane across the map. Sometimes this means giving up advantages in every role except AD carry, and is the easiest to exploit.

WE have the hardest concept of pressure to execute, as it requires them to keep lanes pushed out so Condi can invade. In this way, all lanes are susceptible to ganks if Condi cannot keep track of the enemy jungler, but it theoretically allows them to get the best distribution of advantages for winning fights and skirmishes and staying even in objectives. If they can avoid losing 1v1s and drafting too many weak matchups, they have a good formula for winning LPL, but even with their recent decimation of Game Talents, they’re hard to bet on after their series against QG.

You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.