LoL Week in Review: The Return of Faker
The biggest news of the week centers around the greatest talent ever to play League of Legends: Faker. The best player of all time made his return to T1’s starting lineup against Gen.G. Out West, the regular seasons have wrapped up in the LEC and LCS. Top contenders Fnatic and Team Liquid are currently trending in opposite directions. We take a look at the top news and storylines across the LEC, LCS, LPL, and LCK.
FAKER RETURNS TO THE STARTING LINEUP
With such a deep roster, T1 has used the Spring Split for experimentation. They’ve started 10 different players so far, all with enough talent to deserve an LCK spot. Over the last 11 games, none of those lineups featured Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Faker confirmed in an interview with Inven Global that he requested time off to regain his form.
Faker finally returned to T1’s starting lineup in week eight against Gen.G. After exhausting almost every possible combination of players this season, T1 surrounded him with a familiar lineup. Top laner Kim “Canna” Chang-dong, jungler Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan, and ADC Park “Teddy” Jin-seong joined Faker to make up four-fifths of the 2020 Spring lineup that beat Gen.G in the Finals. Only Lee “Effort” Sang-ho, who is now on Liiv SANDBOX and was replaced by Ryu “Keria” Min-seok, is missing.
T1 rekindled some of that 2020 magic, beating Gen.G 2-0. Faker played well in the series against one of his rivals, Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong. Though he was played the supportive Moonstone Renewer/Staff of Flowing Water Seraphine in both games, Faker went a combined 6/2/24. Bdd finished 2/7/3 on two Azir games.
Faker wasn’t the only player who played well for T1. Teddy, with the help of Keria, dominated his matchup against Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk. Teddy went 5/1/6 on Fasting Senna in game one, followed by 13/0/3 Kai’Sa in game two. It didn’t hurt to have Faker’s Seraphine boosting him up in both games, either.
Another important note for T1 was the impressive play of Canna. Even though Canna was never a dominant laner, he was T1’s best player in 2020. In 2021, he had been abysmal in lane. Choi “Zeus” Woo-je had played 19 consecutive games since his debut, leaving Canna in the dust. Canna, like Faker, took to Solo Queue to regain his form. That persistence paid off in this series. Canna dominated game one with a 9/0/6 Gragas performance, earning Player of the Game. He then played his role well in a 1/2/9 Gnar game in game two.
With only Keria locked into a starting role, this was an important match for the “veterans” of T1. Despite the rumors of clashing play styles among these members, this was one of the most cohesive performances of the season for any T1 roster. This also came against Gen.G, who are fielding the same lineup from 2020 and are still second in the LCK standings.
We know that players like Zeus, Moon “Oner” Hyeon-joon, Lee “Clozer” Ju-hyeon, and Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong are the future of T1. But, for now, the present might be the lineup we just saw sweep Gen.G.
FNATIC MAKE PLAYOFFS DESPITE NOSEDIVE
Heading into week eight of the regular season, Fnatic was all but assured a playoff spot. At worst, their nine wins through seven weeks would earn them a tiebreaker for one of the last spots. They just needed one win in three games to guarantee a spot.
As it turns out, it was a good thing they had a strong week seven. Fnatic lost their final three games of the season. They faced tough competition in FC Schalke 04, Misfits Gaming, and Rogue, but that isn’t how they wanted to close the season. Fnatic finished the second half of the season 3-6. Only Excel Esports (2-7) were worse.
Perhaps most emblematic of their struggles was a bot dive gone wrong against Rogue. Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov’s Thresh hit a hook on Steven “Hans sama” Liv’s Senna under Rogue’s tower. Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek tried to predict Hans sama’s resulting flash but missed. Hans sama got away alive, Selfmade was locked up under tower, and Fnatic gave away First Blood.
Speaking of Hylissang, Fnatic may have an excuse for their final week struggles. Jacob Wolf of Dot Esports revealed that Hylissang and assistant coach Gar “Tolki” Mialaret tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Both isolated from the team and continued working. Though Hylissang’s play was fine, it’s fair to wonder if Fnatic would have performed better with a fully healthy support. It’s very possible that Hylissang’s shot calling was affected.
Fortunately for Fnatic, Hylissang and Tolki will have time to recover. The first round of the playoffs does not begin until Friday, March 26. Everybody responds differently to COVID-19, but Hylissang should have enough time to join his teammates in studio for their match against SK Gaming.
The main beneficiaries of Fnatic’s late season slide were FC Schalke 04. Once on the outside looking in on the playoff race, S04 won their final four games of the season to jump Fnatic into fourth place. That landed them in the Upper Bracket, giving them a double-elimination playoff run. They will open the playoffs against G2 Esports, the probable favorites.
TEAM LIQUID END SPRING ON A TEAR
After a strong offseason, Team Liquid won the inaugural Lock In tournament. They looked like the big favorites to dominate the LCS in 2021. However, they didn’t start the Spring Split off well. Through their first 10 games, TL were just 5-5. Not only was that not the dominant start they expected, it left them in danger of missing the Mid-Season Showdown. A 4-1 finish to weeks four and five put them in a better position, but there was still work left to do.
Team Liquid finished off week six in style, going 3-0. Their wins over Dignitas, Evil Geniuses, and 100 Thieves moved them up to 12-6 on the season. That was good enough for third place, locking them into the Upper Bracket of MSS. Even though Cloud9 and TSM finished ahead of TL, no team enters the tournament as hot as TL. Team Liquid finished the season 7-1 in their last eight games.
Top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris continues to play at an MVP level in his first year with the team. Alphari posted score lines of 3/1/4, 6/1/9, and 5/1/10 in TL’s three wins. In his first split, he led the LCS top laners in kills (63), fewest deaths (27), KDA (6.1), team kill share (25.8%), gold difference at 10 minutes (478), CS difference at 10 minutes (11.4), CS per minute (8.3), damage per minute (520), team damage percentage (28.6%), and team gold percentage (24.2%). Alphari could not have had a more dominant debut in the LCS.
Still, it hasn’t all quite come together for TL yet. After arguably being TL’s best player at 2020 Worlds, Edward “Tactical” Ra has had a poor Spring. The only North American player on TL plays next to the best support in the LCS, Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, and with an All-Star lineup around him, so it’s hard to look bad. However, Tactical has repeatedly been caught out in poor situations this season. His Tristana has been looking more like a Malphite than a hypercarry the past couple of weeks.
By securing the Upper Bracket, Team Liquid have afforded themselves the chance to rebound if they slip up early in the tournament. Considering the general inconsistency of the LCS field, that’s a good thing. Though the tournament does not award any points toward Worlds qualifications, the teams will be playing for the right to attend MSI. That international experience, though, is priceless. Especially during a time that has afforded pro teams few stage games.
Team Liquid kick off MSS against TSM on Saturday, March 20th.
FPX NOCTURNE COMPOSITION GROWING IN POPULARITY
If you’ve been following the global professional LoL scene the past couple of years, you know one team stands out for their unique compositions and play styles: 2019 World Champions FunPlus Phoenix. Even while cycling through junglers this year, that has not changed. That’s in large part due to mad scientist Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang. FPX’s mid laner has always been able to pick and thrive on off-meta picks.
This year, one of Doinb’s new picks has been Nocturne mid. It may seem like an odd fit at first in the pro meta. Nocturne is a melee, AD based champion without any dashes. That doesn’t fit the usual profile of a mid laner. However, he still has useful traits. His Q-Duskbringer combined with passive Umbra Blades offers good waveclear, and his W-Shroud of Darkness is a spell shield. Combined with teleport and the resolve tree, that is enough to survive the early laning phase.
The fun, though, starts after level six for Nocturne. Like Pantheon, Nocturne is great for getting out of lane and influencing other lanes. That play style is Doinb’s bread and butter. The pick becomes even better when the meta revolves around a number of immobile carries, as it currently does. Doinb builds Stridebreaker on Nocturne to add mobility to the champion. So, Nocturne has a 2500 (minimum) range ultimate, a tethered fear, and a dash to follow any escape attempts.
That makes Nocturne a lot like Pantheon, just with a weaker early game but stronger late game. But the great thing that FPX does is make sure to build around their Nocturne pick. In their first two instances, FPX paired Nocturne with a Karthus jungle. Doinb could dive in, knock down most of the target’s health bar, and Yang “Beichuan” Ling could finish them off with R-Requiem. In their latest version, FPX surrounded Nocturne with poke and catch champions in Jayce and Lillia. Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang and Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song were also ready to dive in on Kai’Sa and Rakan.
FPX are now 3-0 with Nocturne mid, and the rest of the world is taking notice. Song “Fly” Yong-jun recently played it for Afreeca Freecs in the LCK, while Felix “Abbedagge” Braun picked it in S04’s playoffs-clinching win in the LEC. Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau picked it top lane in Fnatic’s final loss, but he did not have the same composition set up that FPX (and S04) use.
With the playoffs now beginning in the LEC and LCS, teams will have to draft carefully. Pick immobile carries like Aphelios and Syndra early, and you run the risk of teams countering with a Nocturne dive composition. The evolution of counters to the current meta are always fun to follow. The teams that put themselves at the forefront of understanding and countering them give themselves the best chance of winning tournaments—Just ask FunPlus Phoenix.
With no matches on Tuesday, March 16th, it’s a shorter than normal week in the LPL. Highlights include Victory Five (5-8) trying to fight their way back into the playoff race against Top Esports (9-3) and FunPlus Phoenix (10-4). The match of the week, though, is on Saturday, March 20. Royal Never Give Up (11-2) take on TES in a matchup that will be important for playoff seeding.
The LCK kicks off their week with a banger on Thursday, March 18. Gen.G (10-5), coming off their loss to T1, play DAMWON KIA (14-1) in the first game of the week. T1 (8-7) and DRX (9-5) play the next day as both teams try to improve their already clinched playoff position.
In the West, the LEC has a week-long break and resumes with round one of the playoffs on Friday, March 26. The LCS has no such break—The Mid-Season Showdown begins on Saturday with TSM against Team Liquid. It will be followed on Sunday by Cloud9 versus 100 Thieves. The winner will advance to face each other in round two, while the losers will play against Evil Geniuses or Dignitas next weekend.