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 or series from the 2019 World Championships.
Everybody expected the first day of play-in knockouts to consist of a complete blowout 3-0 and a more interesting 4-5 game series. This prediction came true, but not in the order most people expected. Damwon Gaming were shocked in Game 1 by a creative and relentless early-game strategy from LowKey, while Clutch Gaming rolled over Royal Youth in a decisive 3-0. Even the Clutch bot laner Cody Sun remarked in an interview that RYL was a team to watch, specifically their jungler Closer. However, due to a mixture of winning drafts, dominant jungle pathing by Lira, and a superior bot lane, Clutch came out on top.
As you’ll see throughout this series, the draft played a major role in Clutch’s victory.
The initial ban phase was not too surprising for either side. The Rakan ban is fairly obvious considering Clutch’s priority on that bot duo for the past few months. The Elise first pick followed by the Olaf Thresh 1-2 by RYL signaled that both teams wanted to play aggressive and win early. Olaf is traditionally a good counterpick to Elise since his axes clear the spiderlings, his ult makes him win any duel, and he clears the jungle faster.
The Lissandra and Camille bans 4-5 were logical bans since they are some of the best picks against Leblanc as well as comfortable champions for Damonte. However, I don’t think the Twisted Fate ban was necessary since RYL already had Olaf. On top of this, Clutch had the Lucian pick prepared to counter Leblanc and Olaf, and of course Huni’s Rumble to round out an incredibly strong top side of the map. There truly is no “counter” to Huni’s Rumble in the laning phase. Many teams in the LCS have tried things like AD Neeko, Ryze, Kled, Irelia, and others, but none were able to stop the permanent lane priority that Rumble asserts. RYL clearly thought Kled would be a match since they didn’t ban Rumble, but they should have quickly realized it was a complete waste of their fifth pick red side advantage.
So despite picks like Olaf, Leblanc, Thresh, and Kled–all strong scrapping champions that require leads to be effective–RYL were countered in both solo lanes on red side, leaving Olaf with limited options for how to play out the early game.
There are two ways to play Olaf:
- Take advantage of his clear speed to complete his first clear of the jungle before the enemy jungler, recall for items, and utilize the lane priority that should be drafted alongside him bot and mid to take dragon. Then keep speed-clearing camps to hit 6 first and look for an invade/objective skirmish. This is typically how players like Lira and Tarzan play Olaf.
- Take advantage of his early strength to constantly invade and challenge the enemy jungler over camps and buffs. This strategy also requires lane priority so his teammates can rotate to him first. This is how players like Peanut and Dardoch play Olaf.
You’ll note that not on this list is playing Olaf with countered solo lanes and pathing towards those countered lanes.
Here is Lira’s first pathing victory over Closer. Closer starts in his bot jungle and full clears to his top side, finishing Krugs around 3:20. Lira starts his red with a leash, heads straight to his blue and then full clears back towards botside finishing chickens slightly before Olaf, but notably skipping krugs. Thus, Olaf’s faster clear has him up a camp and ready to trade crabs. Except there is one big problem: Huni on Rumble has already hit level 4, pushed the wave all the way in top, and moved down to challenge Olaf on the top crab. Since Kled has to catch his wave, he can’t help. Leblanc is in a similar situation, since Lucian gets to push freely. This all gives time for Lira to finish the bot crab and move to the top crab for the skirmish. And when the fight does happen, Clutch are in the superior position as well as up a level on Rumble, and they easily win the fight one for two. Lira anticipated how Olaf would path and used Huni’s early strength to secure both crabs and a winning fight. If the top matchup was more even, Olaf would have simply taken top crab uncontested then reset, headed to the second clear of his botside, and started dragon knowing his bot lane was pushing.
Since both teams have a draft full of snowball-reliant champions, this sort of early-game skirmish win by Clutch is monumental. On top of this, Clutch make fantastic use of their turns while RYL fail on every turn. In professional LoL, a “turn” is a term used to describe the “free time” a player has when they’ve pushed their wave in all the way and can move somewhere else on the map to do something. RYL’s first turn was on Leblanc, where she walked all the way bottom to dive Nautilus. However, the Nautilus barely lives and Leblanc’s time investment doesn’t pay off. Their second turn is when Huni TPs bot to join a fight. Kled remains top, pushes all the way in, and then uses his turn to ult mid to try to kill Lucian. However, he aims the ult poorly and Lucian survives. Generally after one champion uses a full turn on another lane, the opposing champion will then have their own turn. Clutch use Huni’s turn to cut off Kled’s path back to the top lane, effectively denying him two waves, as well as invade the enemy red buff. In both of these cases RYL get very little tangible advantage from their turns, while Clutch gets everything.
The last point I want to cover for this game is lane assignments. At precisely 11:35 RYL make a crucial mistake that makes the game much more difficult for the next 10 minutes. Kled is catching the bot wave under turret, while Rumble is catching the top wave. Kled has itemized specifically to lane against Rumble. Additionally, Leblanc hasn’t completed Luden’s yet, so the chance of her gaining sidelane priority vs. Rumble is slim. At this moment RYL should realize they need to match the Kled into Rumble if they want to have any hope of a sidelane to work off of. Kled should recall and head top, while Leblanc should head bottom. Instead, Kled stays bottom to push the next wave and Leblanc heads top. This decision contributes to Clutch winning the next few fights, since their side laners almost always have the first move.
All of these advantages combine into a sizable gold lead and full map control. At this stage it’s up to Clutch to maintain a constant vision pressure on the enemy jungle and Baron. They do this, slowly picking off the remaining outer and inner turrets through solid rotations, and finally find a good fight and Baron.
In Game 2, Clutch make some fantastic adjustments in their draft while RYL make some tragic mistakes.
The first mistake is RYL not banning Rumble. They’ve already showed their “counter” and it failed miserably, so sure enough Clutch feel very confident first-picking it. RYL respond with Renekton Elise, an extremely strong top 2v2 that they believe will be able to shut down the Rumble.
Clutch pick Jarvan Kai’sa. Kai’sa is simply the highest priority ADC in the tournament, and Jarvan is a classic combo with Rumble that also limits the enemy ADC choices. Here is RYL’s next big mistake: they 4-pick Ezreal, which theoretically is good versus Jarvan+Rumble in team fights since he can arcane shift out of the J4/Rumble ults. However, the downside to this pick is it applies almost no pressure to Kai’sa in lane. This is the genius in the Clutch draft. The Jarvan pick forces RYL to pick a mobile ADC (imagine playing Varus or Ashe versus J4/Rumble) but ban Lucian, meaning the only mobile one left is Ezreal. Thus Kai’sa gets a free lane to scale up. Kai’sa is also a strong pick versus Ezreal because she can close the gap in team fights to assassinate him.
RYL’s last pick is Irelia. This is a better last pick than the previous game since Irelia is actually a real danger to Neeko in lane. However, since they will be in the mid lane, the danger is much less due to the shorter length of the lane. Additionally, since RYL effectively countered themselves in both top and bot lane, there will be very few turns from these lanes to come mid. When Irelia faces a ranged champion, she generally likes to freeze the wave in front of her turret and wait for jungle or support roams to gank and snowball her. However, since the other lanes are losing, the Irelia can expect little help and thus will have a much harder time finding the all-in on Neeko.
Heading into the game, we see Lira’s second pathing victory over Closer. Lira decides to go straight from his red to the enemy red. Let’s look at the variables he had in his mind that lead him to this decision.
- Elise almost always paths from bot to top in order to gank a solo lane at level 3, especially with Renekton top.
- Elise is very useless level 2, whereas Jarvan is one of the strongest level 2 junglers in the game.
- Rumble catches the first wave and immediately starts pushing, meaning he will definitely hit 2 first and have priority.
- Neeko will always push Irelia in on the first two waves and thus will have priority.
As you can see, there are a lot of good reasons to invade Closer’s red buff. Sure enough, Lira is able to secure it without a fight. Additionally, Armut is obviously underestimating Huni’s Rumble and takes a terrible trade while stuck under turret. Thus there is no realistic opportunity for Elise to gank the Rumble and relieve the pressure. The game is already swung hard for Clutch here, not only because they denied RYL one of the plays they specifically drafted for, but also because there’s a very real psychological tax when game two of the series has this kind of start. It’s easy for the players to feel like they are just out-prepped, and that Clutch has their number. That’s a feeling that has to be mentally battled against while playing the game, and it’s something that younger players will have an especially hard time with. Based on the level of play from RYL the rest of the series, I’d say they lost that battle.
There’s another cost to having three losing lanes that often gets overlooked. It gives lots of time for the enemy team to get wards down inside your jungle. Pausing at 3:40, you can see Clutch have three trinket wards in the enemy jungle, completely canvassing Elise’s topside as well as protecting bot. These wards track Elise 100%, allowing all of the pushing lanes of Clutch to keep pushing without fear. Within 4 minutes of starting the game, Clutch already have a brutal stranglehold on RYL.
Whenever there is an Irelia mid, you’ll generally see multiple points in the game where the supports will sprint mid to look for a gank/countergank. The first timing this game is at 5:00 with Clutch once again having the advantage due to pushing lanes. Pyke is able to recall first, and thus will arrive at the mid lane first. However, the timing is just barely off as Elise makes her move before Pyke can get there. Had Elise tried to gank just 5 seconds later, it would have spelled disaster for RYL. It’s a disaster we’ll likely see many more times over the course of this tournament, but it was narrowly avoided by RYL this time.
Clutch win a big fight around the enemy red buff, and then focus on dragon. Closer makes a good choice to trade sides and dive Rumble while giving up bot. Clutch commit four to zoning off the RYL botlane, and so RYL start Herald, again trading sides and avoiding fights. This is solid play when behind. However, Cyeol makes a crucial mistake. Instead of rotating to help take the Herald, or at least play safe on mid, he gets extremely greedy for the mid wave and dies, forcing his team to abandon the Rift Herald and once again lose everything.
By this point the game is largely decided. Once the bot laners start laning mid it becomes apparent how doomed the situation is. One of Ezreal’s main strengths is his two-item spike which usually aligns with the point in the game when the bot lanes start laning mid. Since Ezreal doesn’t have the best wave clear, you may think he should never get priority in the mid lane. But he’s not really supposed to get priority through pushing, but instead through poke. This is one of the reasons you so often see Ezreal paired with Tahm Kench. It allows him to Arcane Shift forward in the mid lane to land more poke on the enemy ADC/support. If he lands enough poke, then they cannot contest the mid waves anymore and priority is achieved. If he ever gets into trouble when shifting forward, Tahm Kench is standing right behind him to save him. Thresh serves a similar purpose with the lantern. However, in this game since Ezreal is so far behind, his poke doesn’t do enough damage and the result is Kai’sa/Pyke having permanent mid priority, and a Pyke with priority at this stage of the game makes it very difficult for the side lanes to play the game.
In Game 3 we see some additional adjustments by RYL.
The Rumble ban is necessary, and should have been implemented already in Game 2. However, this leaves open Syndra which is the best blind mid lane champion in the tournament and one of Damonte’s best comfort picks. RYL decide to significantly change their priorities, and pick Jarvan Kai’sa away from Clutch. This strikes me as a Hail Mary attempt to move Clutch away from their comfort. It sends the message that RYL believe Clutch is simply the better team, and that if both teams get what they want then RYL can’t win. So instead they take away Clutch’s champions and hope for the best.
Clutch respond very well with Rek’sai Thresh. Syndra/Rek’sai is an extremely strong mid 2v2. There’s essentially no champion that RYL can pick mid here to contest them, so they choose to go with the 50-50 scaling Orianna. Clutch pick Lucian to pair with Thresh, which is a much better response than Ezreal and should have been banned 4-5 by RYL. Now Clutch have a winning 2v2 mid, jungle counterpick, and a winning bot lane. Their top pick can be anything, though Ezreal seems like a bit of a flex to me. Solo lane Ezreal is a very weak champion before he gets his items, and is essentially useless in early game skirmishes. Not only that, but they pick it blind in a long lane. I don’t really know the Ezreal solo lane matchups, but Jayce strikes me as a good pick to punish it. (We see multiple instances during the game where Huni almost dies to Jayce 1v1 and is forced out of lane.)
Sadly for RYL, the top counterpick doesn’t matter. It’s always difficult to make use of top counterpick when your mid 2v2 is so outmatched. Not only that, RYL appear mentally defeated, especially in the bot lane. There’s really not much to go over this game since it’s essentially decided in the first 6 minutes. Bot gets solo killed, and the mid 2v2 goes as expected.
For RYL fans this series was difficult to watch. The Clutch preparation was much better, and with Rumble being open I think the RYL players didn’t have a chance to show what their team is capable of.
Meanwhile, Clutch gained another morale boost heading into Group C. They’re going to need it.
Brendan “mcscrag” McGee is a synthetic organic chemist and the former Head Coach of Clutch Gaming.