Worlds 2019 Journal: Clutch Gaming vs Unicorns of Love, Game 1

The Worlds 2019 Journal is an ongoing content series from former Clutch Gaming Head Coach, Brendan “mcscrag” McGee.

Each post will be an in-depth review of one of the North American teams’ games from the 2019 World Championships.

With the coaching change at Clutch, one of the primary differences in draft came with a change in philosophy. For most of 2019, Clutch was the team that valued annoying ranged champions that get a lot of early priority, take turret plates, and snowball from there. However, sometimes these compositions lacked a cohesive team fight, reliable crowd control, engage, or all of the above. The team was often criticized for playing compositions that required far higher execution than they were capable of.

The new staff seems to value the opposite, preferring instead to focus on compositions with plenty of engage and crowd control, but low early lane priority. Of course this is a massive simplification, but generally the trend holds true.

The change was wildly successful and played a large role in their resurgence and qualification for Worlds. In many games they would fall behind early but find that one fight that is required to turn a game around with strong melee flankers like Sylas, Qiyana, and Akali.

UoL were obviously prepared to deal with this play style, and by the end of the draft phase they seemed to have Clutch completely downloaded. Neeko, Tristana, Rek’sai, Morgana, Heimerdinger. Every single one of these champions has two primary characteristics: early push and pressure in lane, and most importantly some kind of tool that counters engage. Clutch ended up with their new comfort zone: three losing lanes but a massive spike in team fight capability at level 6. And as always they intended to assert this team fight capability on Rift Herald.

Despite all this, Clutch were in a very good position coming out of the early game. Cody and Vulcan did their signature level 1 all in that caught UoL off guard and gained them a few levels of push and space. Akali was up CS heading into level 6, which is when this lane becomes a real bad time for Neeko. However, the mid lane for Clutch was a complete disaster, with Tristana able to start reliably hitting plates with absolutely no reprisal. You could see Lira coming mid multiple times to try to push the Tristana out and create some map control, but it was just never going to happen.

As expected, UoL were able to slowly but surely take all the outer turrets while avoiding any game-defining fights. In the future they’ll need to work on setting up a choke-hold with the map state that their turret lead can create. But many of their players held onto starting items, leading to a lack of pink wards and an inability to control the enemy jungle. This could have easily set Clutch up for a winning late game, but the draft difference was so huge that it didn’t end up mattering.

At multiple points in the late game Clutch drove up mid as five to assert themselves and get mid priority. Teams will often do this even when behind at this stage of the game. Observers call this the “NARAM”, meant to be a disparaging critique of the North American inability to play through side lanes. But the truth is it’s a phenomenon that occurs in every region. It’s a play pattern that has evolved out of every team recognizing the indisputable importance of mid priority (or first push on the mid wave) for a number of reasons:

  1. The easiest path to contest Baron is from the mid lane up into the river. This path is much less dangerous than moving into Baron from any of the jungle entrances.
  2. Waves are vision. If a team hangs back and allows the enemy team to push mid uncontested, that wave will have to be caught and thus reveal whoever is doing the catching.
  3. Catching the mid wave takes time, which gives the enemy team more free time to clear vision, start Baron, prepare an ambush, or recall for additional wards.
  4. Even when there’s a sizable gold difference, a 5v5 team fight always has some degree of variance, especially when the losing team has fundamentally better team fight champions.

UoL did a fantastic job handling these drives from Clutch. They played it cool, contesting mid prio without being baited into a sub-par engage. Their strength allowed them to control the superior left side and thus dominate Baron vision. Conversely, you could see by the way Clutch was posturing that they were trying to find that engage angle, but due to the superior draft by UoL, they were unable to find it.

It’s no surprise that these types of one-sided drafts are making an appearance on day 1. This can be expected at the start of Worlds, with so many regional styles converging, as well as a new patch to get a handle on. We’ll slowly see the pick priorities congeal into a recognizable meta, but for teams in the play-in stage there’s no time to wait. They are the vanguard of this Worlds meta, and the team to figure it out first will be at a massive advantage. We’ll see if Clutch is able to make it happen.

Brendan “mcscrag” McGee is a synthetic organic chemist and the former Head Coach of Clutch Gaming.

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