Kelsey Moser: The SKT Ezreal infatuation - Dexerto
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Kelsey Moser: The SKT Ezreal infatuation

Published: 19/Sep/2019 10:34 Updated: 20/Sep/2019 14:51

by Kelsey Moser

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In 2017, Longzhu Gaming qualified as the first seed from the LCK for the League of Legends World Championship.

Seen as heavy favorites to take the title, the team had four players make the lauded Riot Games Top 20 Players at Worlds list, with three qualifying directly for top five. Kim “Khan” Dongha, rising Korean top lane star, served as the centerpiece of the team, unstoppable in lane domestically and capable of split-pushing to victory.

After exiting the Group Stage without dropping a best-of-one match, Longzhu directly hit a wall. Samsung Galaxy, LCK’s third-seed team, managed to heavily target Longzhu’s bottom lane of Kim “PraY” Jongin and Kang “GorillA” Beomhyun. 

Normally left to their own devices domestically while LCK teams tried to shut down Khan, PraY and GorillA consistently won lanes in isolated 2v2s. Yet when they fell heavily behind vs Samsung Galaxy, they couldn’t hold the mid section after first turrets fell. Khan couldn’t split push, and many of his flaws in team fights came to light when the enemy team either forced him to group for objectives or collapsed on him in side lanes.

Since then, Khan – now an important member of LCK’s dominant 2019 first seed, SK Telecom T1 – has certainly evolved. His exciting Vladimir flanks against Afreeca Freecs in Game One of the LCK Wildcard Round didn’t have the same unfortunate echoes of 2018 KingZone’s Mid Season Invitational Vladimir Teleports. SKT T1 even managed to play somewhat consistently to the bottom side of their map in Spring of this season.

But even with a completely different roster around him and now the substitution of support Lee “Effort” Sangho over Kim “Mata” Sehyeong, the more SKT play, the more they start to look like the unfortunate 2017 Longzhu. SKT, like Longzhu, deal with Khan’s peculiarities by shifting burden to the bottom lane, resulting in what I like to call the Ezreal infatuation

A history of Ezreal

SKT T1 bottom laner Park “Teddy” Jinseong loves Ezreal, much like the team’s previous bottom laner, Bae “Bang” Junsik. Ezreal is Teddy’s career most played champion with 45 games and a 64.4% win rate while Bang’s career total is at 98. Pointing out that SKT loves Ezreal seems relatively obvious and unnecessary given the players who have occupied the team’s bottom lane, but in the Summer Split, Ezreal has shifted subtly and almost geniously from power pick to crutch pick.

With an 80.6% win rate in 2019 (SKT T1’s highest win rate AD Carry), Ezreal also became one of the champions most banned against SKT T1 (banned in 26% of games). But the bans didn’t just come from Teddy’s prowess in team fights. Rather, Ezreal became the most ideal pick for how SKT T1’s gameplay evolved.

As a champion, Ezreal plays self-sufficiently in the bottom lane. High mobility, and the ability to thin his wave with his ultimate or freely chunk the opponent after building Tear of the Goddess, make him really difficult to dive. Most importantly, however, he can clear the wave in the mid lane very quickly in a 1-3-1 or 1-4 map states in mid and late-game, particularly in an isolated 2v2 against opponent bottom lanes.

Any team with Khan or any SKT T1 roster historically would find an Ezreal player appealing. Ezreal allows SKT T1 to play for 2v2s or 3v3s top with top lane, jungle, and mid while bottom lane can safely lane. Then, as long as Ezreal stays somewhat competitive in CS, he can secure first move on the mid lane at two items and allow for an accelerated top laner to split push without concern.

In other words, it wouldn’t really matter if you can out-skirmish SKT’s top side the way G2 Esports did at MSI or the way Griffin did in Game Three of the Grand Final if SKT T1 have Ezreal. Khan can still outscale in a side lane and split safely as long as Teddy remains untouched and safe on his best champion.

Riot Games

A lot of SKT T1’s best picks serve this function well. With Ezreal down, almost nothing can match Xayah-Rakan in the mid-section in mid game. Varus-Tahm Kench can not only safely and quickly clear the lane with a Varus combo, but have higher mobility for getting to side lanes faster. Sivir merely needs to W and auto the wave for it to vanish.

Obviously, most of these champions were just good in much of 2019 Summer for this exact reason, but that’s also why the meta so heavily seemed to favor SKT T1. In a lot of ways, teams in the LCK Playoffs didn’t properly pressure SKT T1’s flaws, but instances of them still shone through.

Examples from SKT T1 vs Griffin

In Game One of the Grand Final, it became very clear that Griffin didn’t have quite the level of jungle tracking as SKT T1. Despite the awkwardness of Xayah-Tahm Kench as a bottom lane and Ezreal-Rakan’s priority, jungler Kim “Clid” Taemin still chose to path from Blue Buff to Red Buff, then clear small camps back to top side before heading bottom. This left Khan’s Akali at an awkward position when trying to crash the wave against Mordekaiser, but he still reacted well to Lee “Tarzan” Seungyong’s pressure on Sejuani.

Meanwhile, almost every gank mid by Clid for Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok around reset timings as the Elise-Renekton combo seemed unexpected on Griffin’s side. SKT T1 got resets for free despite Clid not hovering for them in bottom lane. Griffin didn’t use SKT T1’s late back timings bottom to play for Infernal. When SKT T1 set up for a top play, Teddy cleared the bottom wave with his ultimate to avoid a trade dive, but Griffin still reacted far worse.

But most egregiously, when it came to playing for objectives in mid game, Griffin seemingly gave up the mid wave for free to SKT T1. Lee “Tarzan” Seungyong could have walked directly mid before an objective to try to pull SKT T1’s side lane pressure into a fight that may have benefitted Griffin, but instead, Ezreal could take the wave for free, and SKT T1 rotated to whatever objective they wanted first.

Riot Games

Griffin simply didn’t prioritize playing for mid wave in the mid game (or in the early game when Faker could basically secure it for free with a good matchup). As a result, SKT T1 could move to any objective first completely uncontested. Since Griffin played so poorly around the mid wave, they ended up denying and then banning Ezreal for the last two games of the series.

It worked out for them relatively decently in Game Three. SKT T1 didn’t pressure their bottom lane advantage and instead played defensively around top side for Khan. These skirmishes didn’t work out in SKT T1’s favor, but even worse, Clid didn’t hover his duo lane in the mid section to secure their resets or try to play for the mid wave later on, despite Teddy having an advantage. When Griffin got priority for free as a result, the collapse on Khan could easily remind one of his Longzhu days.

Griffin weren’t the only team to make denying Ezreal and playing for the mid wave work for them. Almost all of SKT T1’s losses came from forcing them to play for mid wave priority off bad reset timings. When Khan had to flank on champions like Kennen because teams properly contested the mid wave, it still felt fairly hit-or-miss.

Points of concern for SKT T1

But this shouldn’t all be about Khan. He has demonstrated a great deal of improvement in both flanks and reacting to opponent jungle pressure, but combining Khan with some of the cornerstone flaws of SKT T1 makes for an interesting mix.

As a team, SKT T1 have a history of not only Ezreal, but playing to top side. People cite Heo “Huni” Seunghoon as an extreme example in the west of a top laner who requires constant jungle pressure or his lane will explode unfavorably. But Huni is more a typical example than an exaggeration of some of SKT T1’s top laners.

In 2015, SKT T1 went to great lengths to give Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan advantages, even when he played more tank-oriented picks. The bot lane gromp leash into Teleport top to match KOO Tigers’ blue buff hand-off to Song “Smeb” Kungho stands out as a pretty clear example of SKT T1’s top lane catering style.

But players like MaRin also worked really well as flanking team fighters with advantages. That’s where Khan stands out in making SKT T1’s Ezreal priority more necessary than preferential. It’s still hard to say whether a team philosophy makes SKT T1 play hard to top side to the point where their top laners seem unused to isolated 1v1s, or if they simply seem to hire these players to slot into their teams. The Tigers’ attempts to match SKT T1 through top always made it hard for them to win against them.

Either way, replacing Mata with Effort speaks pretty highly of SKT T1 solidifying their style. Historically, teams with Mata have played pretty hard to the bottom side of the map. SKT T1 seemed far more split in 2019 Spring, but this swap to Effort has made them more one-dimensional. That could be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time.

The fact that SKT T1 don’t play well for their bottom lane resets means they’ll likely come into dragon plays disadvantaged. Attempts to get prio through mid 2v2 in the early game will be met by supports roaming from bottom lane. SKT T1 then have to hope the mid wave isn’t contested in the mid game for them to secure leads against teams that better accelerate through bottom lane like G2 Esports, Fnatic, and even Royal Never Give Up.

Echoes of Longzhu’s 2017 form ring eerily around this SKT T1 roster. Especially after LCK’s disappointing performance at Worlds in 2018, a repeat of history for Korea’s Seed One would be all too tragic.

League of Legends

Ablazeolive on his LCS call-up: “You have to take risks on younger talent”

Published: 19/Jan/2021 12:39 Updated: 19/Jan/2021 13:33

by Andrew Amos

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Golden Guardians’ new Mid Laner Nicholas ‘Ablazeolive’ Abbott isn’t a household name yet. While LCS 2021 expectations are low for the rookie squad, he has high hopes of proving pundits wrong.

Worlds 2020 ended on a sour note for North America, more so than any year previously. The region’s failures were being exposed on a platform like never before, and changes were needed.

As it was all going down in Shanghai, Ablazeolive was sitting back home, patiently waiting for a potential call-up to the LCS. Five years after he made his competitive debut in NACS with Zenith Esports, it finally came.

Abbott is one of three rookies Golden Guardians put faith in for LCS 2021. They didn’t take long to impress, beating CLG in their first game at Lock In. Despite the experience gap between the two squads, the youngsters looked like the veterans.

“I actually wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I was a lot more nervous in my Academy debut. I’m not sure why, I’m still trying to figure that one out, but I felt really comfortable,” he told Dexerto.

Ablazeolive playing for Golden Guardians Academy in LCS 2020
Paul de Leon for Riot Games
It took five years and hundreds of Academy games to get his LCS call-up, but Ablazeolive is hungry to make up lost time.

The 22-year-old has been on the cusp of LCS stardom since 2016, but never actually got the go-ahead. It was taxing at times, but Ablazeolive never lost sight of that dream.

“I had a very positive outlook after 2019. I thought from when I was talking to people and their opinions of me, and my own interpretations of my own strength, I thought I was pretty likely to get into the LCS in 2020, and when that didn’t happen, I was pretty disappointed.

“Golden Guardians as an organization showed faith in me and saw the potential and took a chance on me — and I’m very glad that I’m able to show them they were right in choosing me as their Mid Laner.”

Shaped by Bjergsen

Although he never was on stage against the best, behind closed doors, he had the best mentor you could ask for ⁠— Soren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg. Two years on TSM Academy with the star Dane taught Ablazeolive not just invaluable lessons in-game, but off the Rift too.

“Naturally, he was really good in-game, and nobody would be surprised to know I learned a lot from him. However, the most important thing he taught me was to not be as nervous on stage. He showed me how to get over it, talked to me, and helped me work it out. I was very grateful for that,” he explained.

While he won’t get the chance to play against Bjerg on stage after his retirement, Abbott isn’t concerned about not giving his tutor a send-off. Instead, he’s trying to build the same reputation himself.

“I like to think he retired because of me. He started out as this unreachable goal and I didn’t know how I could improve and get better than him. While it’s sad I won’t be able to play him, I’m not upset. I’d still feel confident against him, like I’d be confident against any other Mid Laner.”

Ablazeolive playing for TSM Academy in LCS 2019
Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games
Ablazeolive won LCS Academy Spring 2019 on TSM Academy while under Bjergsen’s wing.

LCS 2021: Year of the rookies?

Ablazeolive is trying to turn around the perception of NA Mid Laners as a whole too. There’s been a distinct shift in the NA mindset this off-season — away from importing every half-decent European player. Instead, the focus has become on local, homegrown talent.

Golden Guardians is the epitome of that, but they’re far from the exception. Immortals, Dignitas, and FlyQuest have all done the same. This is especially true in the Mid Lane, with six North Americans finally outnumbering their European counterparts for the first time in years. This investment in Academy players, in Ablazeolive’s eyes, is the only way NA can redeem themselves internationally.

“That’s the only way NA can rebuild itself. Relying on imports and other regions to supply our good players isn’t going to be a realistic strategy to become dominant or even competitive at Worlds. You have to be able to take these risks on these younger talent, and I think this year, a lot of teams have done that which is very surprising,” he said.

“It’s great that we have so many [Academy Mids] coming up, because it’s always been a meme that NA Mids are really bad, but it’s also because no one tries to play them. Maybe if we play and get the exposure and practice, then we can show our improvement.”

Ablazeolive playing for Golden Guardians Academy in LCS 2020
Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games
Worlds isn’t on the horizon yet for Ablazeolive. However, LCS playoffs are.

All eyes on LCS 2021 Playoffs

It’s a long-term plan, but it’s one that ultimately could shift where NA ends up in the global power rankings. Worlds might seem like a distant dream for Ablazeolive for now, but he’s at least confident Golden Guardians can defy expectations and really show what homegrown talent can do.

“A lot of people aren’t expecting us to make Playoffs, but personally from scrims and how we’ve been playing, I’d actually be quite surprised if we didn’t make Playoffs. A lot of the teams, at least starting off, don’t look like they’re fully together yet.

“This isn’t going to be the same Golden Guardians in five months, or three months. We’re going to get better ⁠— the difference between us at the beginning of scrims and now is mind-blowing, and that’s very directly attributed to our coaching staff helping us out individually and as a team.”

Golden Guardians next play against the top-of-the-table 100 Thieves on Friday, January 22 at 4PM PT.