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10 thoughts going into Week 6

Days since CLG last beat TSM: 1176 4. Well… this has been a year where I thought the top three teams in the league would not be usurped by anyone, but here we are over halfway done with the summer split and Counter Logic Gaming (who else would it be) has thrown a wrench into the top of the LCS pecking order. Alongside a strong surge from OpTic, I’d say we’re in for a tight race down the stretch. Here’s 10 thoughts going into Week 6!

1. CLOUD9 [7-3] — Bartholomew Kumo
Kumo means Cloud in Japanese, and in his debut game against Team Liquid, the combined sum of his stat line (5-1-3) was 9. Kumo9. Cloud9. I’m not saying this is a sign for a larger conspiracy (which could be anything), but I am saying it is the kind of thing that would lead to a cutscene in a Phoenix Wright video game. Licorice announced last week that he would be taking some time off to recover from a nagging wrist injury, which is a devastating blow to C9’s long-term trajectory this year. As good as Kumo was in subbing in for Licorice, it’s not an easy task to replace a player who shines even on the Worlds stage. It’s also a good reminder to all the pros and even the low elo players that you should stop to stretch your wrists. The human body isn’t designed to be hunched over a keyboard all day! This isn’t to say Licorice didn’t take as many precautions as he possibly could have — sometimes this is just how the dice rolls. I’m hoping he can enjoy a lengthy recovery period, though — I don’t feel like there’s any rush to bring him back so long as Kumo can continue to fill (and perform) for him. I know even a couple months off can really damage a player’s reputation (and in turn the longevity of their career), but I feel like Licorice is someone who won’t suffer from that at all. C9 was absolutely dominant in their first hurdle without him, though, thanks to MVP-level play from Svenskeren and a precise level of macro that let them cut through the map. This is a team that seems to try to end the game as fast as they possibly can, and their thrashing of Liquid shows us a 4th consecutive title for TL is anything but a given.

2. COUNTER LOGIC GAMING [7-3] — Castaways
The 2000 survival movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks is a metaphor for CLG’s struggles against TSM. First there is the plane crash symbolizing their fall from the top of the league (after winning Spring 2016 over TSM), and then there are countless moments of self-doubt and perseverance which are akin to living through storms. And then finally, only after their oldest friend drifts away at sea and his lost to them forever, they are able to find salvation. That’s right — a win against TSM at 1176 days is exactly like surviving on a desert island. CLG is doing this by opening up the map with the strength of their solo laners — PowerOfEvil and Ruin are super content to sit in the side lanes to wreak havoc on their opponents, which is kind of ironic considering Darshan’s peak with CLG was when he was known as a split pusher (press F if you are sad). But it’s not just the two of them — maybe the most important role when your team is executing a 3-1-1 is for the cluster of three to be extremely vocal about what’s happening in front of them. They not only need to help their side laners be aware of potential collapses, but they also must not be baited into extending too far lest they get caught out. Losing a single split pusher can hurt a lot, but you could still generally contest objectives. Losing the cluster of three, though, means you are almost assuredly going to lose game-winning objectives like Baron or Inhibitors. So props to the entire lineup for clicking right now. Ruin has been a super valuable pickup for this roster, and while it’s weird to call a team with a share of first place a dark horse, that’s exactly what CLG are when you look at them in the wider context of this entire year. 

3. TEAM LIQUID [7-3] — Decrescendo
I think about the Sona/Taric lane a lot, which maybe says a lot about me, but I find it to be a fascinating duo. I’m someone who loves seeing non-marksmen in the bot lane because I think it’s really fun to watch (even if it can be super frustrating to play against). Sona and Taric are designed to just lose lane gracefully so they can be impactful later. I think they’re fun to watch in team fights, but in the lane phase it only gets exciting if the other team decides to dive them (which they should — every game!). This isn’t the first bot lane pairing to cede control of the lane to come to prominence in the meta — you can go back years and find the likes of Vayne doing the same thing, but Sona/Taric is the most egregious example. For a team like TL, it doesn’t really matter much if they lose the lane early in the game because most teams in the LCS can’t capitalize on early game leads to truly punish them. It makes a lot of sense. But still I kind of hate it for them. Doublelift and CoreJJ are pretty comfortably the best bot lane in NA, and I really feel like they should be playing to win lane every game. It just feels like a shame that a lane this strong is opting to give up any sort of immediate pressure they can normally apply in the early game. And even though they did manage to beat 100, it was only after 43 minutes of game time, and even that came after a loss to C9 the day before. To be clear, I’m not at all worried about this team’s chances going forward, but it was a shame to see them stumble after a fairly strong Rift Rivals showing. It just feels to me like they don’t really need much more practice on Sona/Taric, so I’m hoping they’ll try out a few other things before the summer ends.

4. OPTIC GAMING [6-4] — Crown Jewel
Luckily for OPT, Crown’s absence from the team lasted only a week, and based on the confidence Meteos projected in the post-game interview last weekend, I’d say this team is well-poised to make a strong push into the Playoffs. To me, the best formula for a successful team on the Rift is to have a strong mid/jungle pairing — pretty much every single game plan revolves around having some sort of control over mid. You give up way too much space on the map when your mid laner isn’t able to have any sort of pressure in the game. And right now, there aren’t many duos that are better than Meteos and Crown. Meteos in particular leads all junglers in kill participation at a whopping 85.3% clip, which shows how much the team leans on him to get things done on the map. Arrow has also been performing much better lately, so it was nice to see him bust out his signature Draven pick and dominate with it last weekend. However, as we saw in the game against FLY, there are still plenty of areas this team struggles with. They are, for example, seemingly at a loss when Crown struggles in the early game. They’ve still got some way to go before I’d peg them as a championship hopeful, but at least they’re starting to enter the conversation this split.

5. TSM [6-4] — Soon TM
If you’ve ever been to the casino, then perhaps you’ve sat down at a blackjack table and suffered a huge string of defeats. It gets so bad that the dealer looks at you and says they want you to win. They slap their hand on the table before they flip your card and maybe they even motion to a waiter to bring you a drink. At some point you start to feel like you’re friends. But of course none of that can really change the outcome. You still lose. That dealer’s name is TSM, and you are CLG. This is one of those situations to me where the win feels super great for CLG fans, but for TSM fans it’s kind of like, “Yeah, I’m glad you won honestly.” It just didn’t matter as much to them beyond it being kind of a disappointing loss, but a record of futility like that just makes you almost relieved that you don’t have to maintain such a streak anymore. TSM still hasn’t really found the form from their Swift Wrath™ run that took them all the way to the Spring Finals, and the clock is starting to tick on the end of the season. I can keep saying that they should get into form soon, but soon could now mean Week 8 or Week 9 or Quarterfinals… and what if by then I am still saying that? It’s good to see them test things like Yasuo for Zven (inspired by Rift Rivals?), though, so perhaps they’re taking more time to experiment this split. And so I will say it again — surely they should return fully to form soon.

6. GOLDEN GUARDIANS [5-5] — The GGS Report
So now that the stock market rankings (a game analysts play on the pregame show, which you should watch if you aren’t watching) were posted last week, and yours truly was tied for first, I will keep you updated on my progress. I sold all of my 100 stock and placed it entirely into GGS, which means I need them to win purely for bragging rights on a thing that actually has no rewards (and may even have negative value). And as we all know, those are exactly the kinds of things that matter the most. The Guardians debuted FBI over the weekend alongside support Huhi (yes the former CLG and 100 mid laner) to mixed results. They’re still struggling at closing games out in a timely fashion (as evident by a nearly 40 minute game against a lowly FOX), but perhaps Huhi can help shore up some of that. He’s a very aggressive playmaker and was known to be a vocal leader on his former teams, so if he’s able to step up and focus more on shotcalling in a less mechanically-intensive role, then maybe he could be the famed mid-to-support transition that we seemingly talk about all the time with mid laners who we deem to be mechanically lacking. GGS has games against FLY and CLG this coming week, who are both coming off 2-0 weeks, so this should be the first major hurdle for the young FBI.

7. CLUTCH GAMING [4-6] — The Parts
At one point during the Clutch game against CLG last weekend, I looked up and it really just clicked that the Sona had half of Sivir’s items, and then it clicked again CG had a Graves on their team. Both of those things were puzzling. Both of them probably should not have happened. CG’s comp was rounded out by Rumble, Syndra, and Tahm Kench, which means they pretty much never get to fight unless the other team decides that’s what they want to do. Which is also a weird thing considering this is a team that seems like they always want to fight. It was not a good weekend for CG, and with FLY and 100 both looking a bit sharper now, I think you have to start wondering if this team is en route towards another devastating losing streak, which they were prone to last split. An 0-2 showing against TSM and OPT this weekend could spell doom for them, so I’m not really sure if I agree with that draft or their other draft last weekend where they decided to play Cody Sun’s Zed of all things in the mid lane. This is very much a team where the parts seem greater than the sum, and it’s hard for me to envision stability from their performances. If I want the teams at the top to experiment more, then I want the teams towards the bottom of the standings to experiment less — this is the time to solidify an identity.

8. 100 THIEVES [3-7] — Tripping alarms
There’s a trope in heist scenes where the thief is lowered from the ceiling with a rope of some sort and then something falls out of their pocket just as they’re being lifted back up. The security guard turns around. A fight ensues. Maybe they escape. Maybe they don’t. That’s kind of what happened last week for 100 — it wasn’t a successful heist, but they looked pretty cool (good) during it. Such is the case for this team in the last few weeks, which is I think a testament to the veterans they have the roster. A rookie team might crumble after starting 0-5, so it’s good to see they’ve rallied and are able to maintain a fighting spirit. So far, it looks like they’re opting to keep the Ryu and FakeGod pairing, which means that Ssumday will remain on the bench for a while. It’s kind of a weird spot to be, and if you’d told me even at the beginning of the split that 100’s best move might actually be moving him to the bench, then you should reach out to me and tell me what lottery numbers to pick this week. Even still, the 0-2 weekend means they’re 3-7 overall, and if they suffer even one more weekend like that — no matter how well they play — it’ll likely be lights out for them this year. With no Spring points, missing Playoffs means they could be mathematically eliminated as early as two weeks from now. That’d be a catastrophic year for an organization that was expected to challenge for a Worlds slot.

9. FLYQUEST [3-7] — They’re aliiiive!
Honestly, I thought they were dead, so that I am saying otherwise now is a very good thing for them. I mean — I still think they’re pretty dead, but they’re now 3-1 with Wadid in the lineup and breathing life back into their chances. This is a squad that still has Spring Split points to fall back on if worse comes to this split, so I feel like it’s enough for them to just get close to making Playoffs since that’ll mean they’ve maintained form for the latter half of the split. They don’t need to spike this week or next week — they need to do it a couple months from now when the gauntlet starts, and they need to secure enough points right now to ensure that they get a crack at it (or get lucky and have no one else secure points). Their biggest problem right now is that this is a roster where every single lane is prone to overextending or making a boneheaded play. V1per, for example, nearly cost FLY the game against 100 with a weird pathing decision when they were up massively in the game. If not for a clutch team fight a little after that, their rally could have had its balloon popped just like that. Right now their focus should be on checking their decision making — I feel like a lot of them are feeling a bit of extra pressure to go win games, and that is making them make critical errors from being aggressive when they don’t need to. It’s exactly like last split where they often failed to follow through on their win conditions (and at times did the very exact opposite of what they needed to do). It’ll be interesting to see if they can extend their rally this split or if they’ll truly just have the gauntlet.

10. ECHO FOX [2-8] — Looking for something to hang onto
MikeYeung is so fresh to the team that he didn’t even have his own jersey yet (he was wearing Lost’s jersey during his first match). Though I guess he could have just forgotten it, too, or spilled water on it (as gamers do). The results after the roster shuffle showed that FOX clearly has problems beyond just any single position, though I think it’s fine to give MikeYeung some more time to adjust to the stage again. He’s been out of the LCS for a while now and there’s bound to be plenty of jitters — I imagine he’s placing a lot of burden onto his shoulders by wanting to prove all of his doubters wrong. He’s also unfortunately drawn a lot of eyes towards himself with some comments he’s made in the past, so fans have been extra critical of him. I hope he’s able to block all of that off and focus on improving his own play. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but himself. FOX still has some points from the Spring but it likely won’t be enough to get them anywhere, and at this rate it’s hard for me to imagine them making a Playoffs push to add onto that. I just hope they’re able to pull it together to get a few wins the rest of the way — right now this is a team with a very murky future, but that can be cleared up significantly if they can pull together. 

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/dev: Life of a Patch