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East vs. West: European and Korean Titans Clash in IEM Hanover Semifinal (SPOILERS)

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Picks, bans, early aggression and lane swaps were all central to the outcome of the hotly anticipated IEM re-match between BenQ Gambit (undefeated in IEM) and CJ Entus Frost, who were taken down by Gambit the last time these two teams faced off in the IEM Katowice Grand Final. This best-of-3 received extra international attention as a top European team competing at the peak of the EU LCS was facing off against a top Korean team. Would Gambit remain unbeaten in IEM competition, or would CJ Entus Frost prove once and for all that the Koreans were the teams to beat in the LoL pro scene? Read on, but beware of spoilers…

GAME 1 (VOD: IEM Semifinal GG/CJF Game 1)

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A lot of interesting choices started off the best-of-3 semifinal between Russian team BenQ Gambit and rival South Korean team CJ Entus Frost. GG support player EDWARD, known for his Thresh play saw no ban from Frost. The Korean team seemed more concerned with the top lane play of Darien as bans against Renekton and Shen both came out from Frost. Likewise, GG misses an important ban, giving CJF top laner Shy his preferred champion: Singed. Predictably, Shy stepped up in game 1 to show the world exactly why Singed is getting a nerf. GG ADC Genja elected to go with a Miss Fortune pick, which would prove to be popular in the semifinal in general, taking ghost instead of flash perhaps for the synergy with MF’s movement speed passive. Additionally we’d see MadLife’s Lulu throughout the series, and both Xin Zhao and Kha’Zix represented throughout the series by both teams.

First blood came out for Gambit on a spectacular play on top lane which turned very bad for the Russians due to a quick response by CJF jungler CloudTemplar. Diamondprox – on Volibear – swings up to top lane to assist Darien – on Jax – whose health has dropped fairly low after some early trades with Shy’s Singed. A great flip from Volibear paired with a good Jax Counterstrike lead to first blood, but not before the ever popular Xin Zhao shows up to crash the party. CloudTemplar cleans up the low health Volibear and chases Jax through the brush, burning Jax’s flash but then responding with a flash of his own followed up with an Audacious Charge and the final hit on Three Talon Strike to turn the GG first blood into a double kill for Frost, plus a refreshed double buff on Xin Zhao and buff denial for the Russian side. From there, CloudTemplar wasn’t done; picking up Boots of Mobility, Xin Zhao was flying around the map ganking every lane and playing hyper aggressively. The tenacious play of CloudTemplar helped lead to a 7:25 objective as CJF pushes and takes mid tower, increasing the gold lead to upwards of 1,500 for Frost.

The first attempt for Gambit to get back in Game 1 was an early dragon that they ended up trading for top lane’s tower. The global gold from Dragon might have helped, if not for the continued aggressive play of Frost, who proceed to rotate down the map, nearly taking the interior turret in mid lane, before rotating further down to take the first bottom lane turret, making it 0-3 on turrets at just under 11 minutes, advantage: Frost. From here, the laning phase has collapsed, leading an underpowered Gambit into a dangerous team fighting mid-game. A lot of the problems which plagued Gambit in the laning phase become very apparent by the first mid-game team fight. First, EDWARD spent much of the laning phase roaming, trying to pick up kills which left Genja’s Miss Fortune alone to farm. In fact, this becomes such a major problem for GG that RapidStar – on Gragas – outfarmed Genja by over 20-30 CS at some points, and certainly outfarmed Alex Ich – on Kha’Zix – who, unlike Gragas had to compete in a 2v1 lane. The gold advantage for Frost became too much as eventually the persistent pushing of Shy forces Gambit to over-commit 3 champions to stop Singed on top lane, allowing CJF to finish taking the interior mid turret and to cycle down and take another turret on bottom lane. In the end, the item advantage Frost held was far too much for Gambit to overcome, leading them to drop their first ever IEM game to Frost.

GAME 2 (IEM Semifinal GG/CJF Game 2)

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With their backs against the wall, Gambit had to pull out a win in game 2 to remain in the series. Gambit, who curiously missed the ban on Singed in game 1 apparently learned their lesson, banning him out for game 2; the first of a series of good choices by Gambit who played with poise and confidence in the second clash. Like the first game, game 2 was full of hyper aggressive plays which began very early. A late invade by Gambit leads to a stolen blue buff and a series of very important advantages for Gambit which help them snowball the second contest. First, Frost tries to respond to the stolen buff by heading over to Gambit’s Elder Lizard camp, but a quick response by GG sets up first blood for EDWARD and no buff for Frost. In addition, all of the attention paid to these early invades by Shy’s Jax gives Darien’s Darius a huge advantage in lane. By the time Jax arrives in lane, Darius is already more than 10cs up with a 3-to-1 level advantage. The lane swaps from game 1 persist, but even more strangely in game 2. By 4 minutes in game time, it becomes apparent that top laners Shy and Darien would be facing off in bottom lane, mid laners Alex Ich and RapidSTAR would fight it out in top lane, and the bottom lane duos of Genja/EDWARD and Woong/MadLife would compete over creeps in mid lane. Initially, this presents a major problem for Gambit, whose Kha’Zix has limited access to blue buff on red side while all the way on top lane.

Game 2 was about even trades early on, as Shy, trying to tower dive Darien gets taken down, leading to a dragon-for-tower trade, resulting in GG coming out with a slight gold advantage. So even were these early trades that by around 14 minutes in-game-time the game is deadlocked on kills at 4-to-4. It took a huge play by Gambit to force the game in their direction. A successful Hook/Box combo from EDWARD leads to a massive team fight that starts off looking great for Gambit until Frost responds leading to an intense chase through the jungle. RapidSTAR in pursuit of Darien barely misses a few barrels due to great jukes and a timely flash from Darien. Gambit comes out one kill ahead as Darien’s long chase results in an execute on Frost’s bottom lane inhibitor turret – not a kill for Frost. That one fight cost Frost much more than it looked at first, as GG was able to extend their gold lead by taking dragon, now up over the Koreans by 3000 gold.

The gold advantage for GG shows itself in the next contest for Dragon in which at points it seems like Frost has superior positioning, but thanks to a tight formation from GG, effective zoning from Genja with Bullet Time and a straight up better complement of items, Gambit takes the team fight 2-for-0 plus the game’s second Dragon. From here, the game settles down a bit until the next major team fight in which Gambit decimates Frost, takes down Baron Nashor and rolls on to a win which was predictable since First Blood. With a final kill score of 20-to-7, Gambit takes game 2 with ferocity.

GAME 3 (VOD: IEM Semifinal GG/CJF Game 3)

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Game 3 was decided in champion select – a sentiment we here at allMIA generally try to avoid, but look at the lineups: Gambit picks late game hyper carry Kog’Maw in response to Woong picking up Genja’s MF. The Frost picks of Kha’Zix and MF come seemingly in response to Gambit first picking Xin Zhao – a decision that Gambit made undoubtedly before considering they would end up running Kog’Maw.  Because of these picks, Gambit ends up playing “protect the Kog’Maw” with a team who is simply unsuited to protect the ADC. With patchy CC here and there, Gambit’s team composition leaves them with no reliable way to peel for Kog’Maw, which – in the end – costs them the game and the series.

First blood comes out in flashy style, as EDWARD jumps in on a low-HP Lulu at the top lane tower at just level 1. Just like the previous two games, both teams trade kills fairly quickly in the early game, resulting in 3 total kills by 3 minutes in-game-time. The game heats up after Frost takes the game’s first Dragon nearly uncontested, resulting in a 1-for-1 trade that ends up favoring Frost who get the extra global gold from Dragon. Until the first Dragon, Gambit’s curious champion select choices haven’t been a problem. The first time it becomes apparent that “protect-the-Kog’Maw” will not succeed for Gambit is this teleport play in which Genja gets caught and killed. This would happen to Genja too many times in this contest, leading him to a 2/4 score by 21:00 in-game-time.

The advantage Frost builds early shows itself in the first major team fight of game 3. The play starts with Kog’Maw caught by himself again, this time by the Skarner played by Frost jungler CloudTemplar. In his first game of the series away from his preferred Xin Zhao, Templar shows off why Skarner is still a viable choice out of the jungle; dragging Kog’Maw to his death. Templar starts a fight which would continue up river and end on Gambit’s mid lane turret with kills on Diamondprox and EDWARD for a 3-0 “trade”.  From this point, the game has swung so firmly in Frost’s direction, that Gambit cannot mount any kind of a comeback. By 25 minutes, Frost is over Gambit by 10,000 gold. With Shy and RapidSTAR continuing their dominant play, both summoners begin the game’s last team fight with 7/1 scores.

WRAP UP

With the small advantages Frost was able to build – starting with smart picks and bans in champion select – Gambit was simply unable to overcome the might of one of Korea’s top teams. Frost, who avenges their IEM Katowice loss to Gambit moves on to the IEM Hanover Grand Final to face CJ Entus teammates Team Blaze, leaving the e-sports community with several questions: how will Gambit respond to the tough loss next week in LCS competition? Does this mean that Korea does truly have the best League of Legends teams in the world? Was Azubu wrong to lose Blaze and Frost? These two teams simply dominated at Hanover to the point where the only challenge they end up facing is one  another.

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