Worlds Play-In Expectations: LJL

With the 2019 Worlds group drawings completed, comes everyone attempting to justify their team’s survival through the tiniest amount of evidence. Some organizations have real dreams of hoisting the Summoner’s Cup and others will be more than happy to have wiggled their way into a group stage appearance. While dreaming big is an acceptable practice, the probable reality for many teams is a swift trip home. I believe this reality lies heavily with the League of Legends Japan League(LJL) representative, DetonatioN FocusMe(DFM). Even with the slightest chance DFM do end up making it past the first round of the Play-In, they will very likely meet their fate against a third seed team from a major region. Now it is not unheard of for an emerging region to make a lofty stand in front of a major regions representative. We have of course seen the Vietnam Championship Series(VCS) offer considerable challenges. That being the case, the LJL is not the VCS. Not even close. Nor is the LJL even close to the third seeds of major regions.

After watching LJL finals unfold, I became increasingly interested in how DFM would compare to teams they will likely face at Worlds. While I already had suspicions, it did not take long to start seeing the disparity between DFM and even the LJL as a whole, when compared to major regions’ third seeds. Although, Clutch Gaming, Splyce, Damwon Gaming and Hong Kong Attitude all have varying tournament expectations looming around them, they look far and above DFM. Looking through various moments of DFM’s finals matches and comparing them to third seeds’ regional qualifiers, makes the LJL look unfit for the World stage,

Very quickly we can jump into game 1 of the LJL finals of DFM against V3 Esports. DFM are attempting to take a Rift Herald and on a very surface level, there seems to be decent reasoning to do so. V3 are taking the Ocean Drake and DFM believe they can trade up for a Rift Herald. The process of this though is half-hazard, as DFM are not far along with the neutral objective before V3 finish the Ocean Drake and saunter over to Rift Herald. Maybe DFM were thinking about making the call to turn onto and fight V3, but that didn’t happen. Instead, DFM continued to try and eke out the last few hits of the Rift Herald and provided a gracious opening for V3 to steal it.

Now let’s now take a look at game 1 of the LCS Regional Final between Clutch Gaming and Team SoloMid(TSM). Clutch are setting themselves up to take Rift Harold and TSM are positioning to challenge them. Whether you know the tendencies of this team or not, Clutch make it pretty clear they want a fight and begin the objective in full vision of TSM. While there are a few other indicators to Clutch’s play here, in the end they are daring TSM to overstep. Sure enough, as soon as a member of TSM steps too far forward, Clutch immediately pounce and secure first blood. I am well aware if you keep watching, TSM do end up with the better trade here as they continue to pressure Clutch around Rift Herald, but let’s just focus on the first part of that play. Clutch almost immediately turn together, to lash out at TSM. This is counter to what DFM were doing, where instead, they appeared to become overly infatuated with the idea of getting Rift Herald.

We can find a similar scene by jumping into game 2 of the LJL finals around dragon pit. This time, DFM are the ones aiming to get themselves a prized Infernal Drake and doing so in a rather straightforward manner. DFM went ahead and gained vision, pushed waves, and even called over their laners to conquer the dragon. This attempt to grab an Infernal Drake, however, seems like nothing more than someone marking off a checklist. DFM do little to take in and consider the volatility of the variables in front of them; where V3 are on the map, how quickly can V3 respond, or what are V3’s champions capable of doing. I fully admit I do not understand how the newly reworked Pantheon fits inside the global meta, but I do know I don’t want to get hit by a Grand Starfall in solo-queue. Either way DFM posture in the perfect position for this ultimate to hit, while toying with the idea of teamfighting. This scene ends with V3 coming out ahead with kills and that lovely fiery drake.

Over in the LEC, let us take a look at how Splyce handle themselves around the dragon pit in game 2 against Schalke in their Regional Qualifier. Splyce know their current position in the game quite well and even though they are starting up the dragon in full vision of Schalke, they know how they can and are going to react. As soon as Schalke come around the corner, Splyce pull the trigger and rip Schalke apart. Splyce don’t fiddle around trying to determine if they will or will not engage. Whether it is Rift Herald or Dragon, DFM have this massive issue of making a call at a moment’s notice. In just a few glimpses, we saw how their future competition is not willing to just twiddle their fingers around an objective. With the advantages Splyce gained earlier on in that match, as well as that play, they were able to very easily pick up a win. You would assume nearly the same result from V3 esports over DFM in game 2. Unfortunately, V3 offer ample opportunities for DFM to strike back in the game and even returned the favor of an Infernal Drake.

The reason I used “unfortunately’ is not because of some bias against DFM, but an overall sense of dread on behalf of the LJL. The types of “difficult” decisions LJL teams offer up when facing off against each other, is not something to be feared. When an LJL team is trying to force their opponents into a difficult position, it often just results in mistakes that do more harm to themselves than good. We can see an example of this in game 3 of the LJL finals, where DFM have taken a comfortable lead. V3 Esports are growing more desperate to try bringing themselves back into the game and hoping they can catch out a member of DFM. V3 successfully find Evi roaming through the jungle and bring him to a low enough health to force him to base. This prompts V3, with their numbers advantage, to jump onto DFM in the mid lane. What follows is an unfocused engage resulting in V3 losing a member and several flashes. V3, similarly to what we saw of DFM around the dragon pit, don’t look beyond what was in front of them. They did not consider the possibility of Evi teleporting in, nor have a clear indication of what target they wanted to take down in the mid lane. This jumble of indecisiveness and lack of foresight only makes for obvious windows to be taken advantage of, all the while V3 are also losing minion waves. DFM do well to capitalize off of this poor decision making, but it was an exceptionally simple choice to make.

The opportunities V3 provided to DFM are ones that will not be so graciously presented on the international stage. Instead, even when ahead, teams are going to pose threats that make you question your safety. In the LCK, DAMWON Gaming up against Kingzone DragonX in their series to determine the last ticket to Worlds, was pressured even when they had a five thousand gold lead. Although Kingzone were now facing a baron powered DAMWON, they did not stammer around and instead, took action. Kingzone immediately limited DAMWON by pushing back minion waves to hold of the effects of the Baron buff. This then provided Kingzone enough time to determine where DAMWON wanted to focus their efforts on the map and moved all of their members to answer the oncoming push. At this time, whatever the reason may have been, DAMWON’s top laner, Nuguri, used teleport. Perhaps this was a missed call from another teammate or just trying to be in range of a potential fight, this provided Kingzone a teleport advantage.

This game between DAMWON and Kingzone was very close, and that teleport advantage acted in a small part of Kingzone actually pulling off the victory. A beautiful Emperors Divide by Naehyun, obviously sealed the deal at the next baron fight, but DAMWON may not have been so pressured in this situation to take the objective had they still had teleport. DAMWON themselves wanted to force Rascal from continuing his push bottom lane and commit his own teleport. While I could drone on about those series of events, the takeaway in this context is DFM have not dealt with anything like this before. They do not take nearly the same initiative in a losing battle, nor have they faced a significant amount of adversity during a game.

Instead, DFM just get abusable situations that result in free objectives. Jumping back into game 2, V3 are attempting to be clever and set up in a vision controlled area heading toward Baron. With a blacked out baron pit on the map, DFM know they need to contest for vision in the area. Leading up to DFM walking into the river, I am expecting V3 to engage. This clearly doesn’t happen and V3 get routed and engaged on while figuring out if they were going to keep hiding. Considering this as any kind of tactical “play” would be a misnomer. DFM were allotted a simple grab for a winning fight and Baron. By all means, do not get confused with something looking “simple” as being something poorly done. If you look at Hong Kong Attitude in their series against G-Rex to qualify for Worlds, they are able to make taking Baron, look “simple.” Hong Kong Attitude use the vision advantage they have to secure baron. They also increase their likelihood of securing the objective by zoning out the enemy with defensive positioning of team members. This level of care and thoroughness is something I have yet to see on any consistent level coming out of DFM.

There are a lot of things I can keep going on about, but I am going to draw the line here; I can’t find hope for DFM. They lack the proper amount of decisiveness to make proactive calls and drill into their enemy. The limiting factors of the LJL doesn’t come from being put into a bad position by the enemy, but often themselves. Far too often the LJL can be seen almost blatantly showing opposition where to strike.

“Is it possible for DFM to pick up wins on the world stage?”

“Certainly.”

DFM have talented players and unique champions pools that can perhaps, surprise and even throw a team at worlds off their game. The problem is DFM have yet to ascend to a level outside of “win game, win lane” or just scaling and stalling for a teamfight. There is no real shame in this, it took several years for regions outside of the LCK to even pose a threat on the world stage. As talent continues to disperse globally, I am sure the LJL will grow and a new team will appear to push and challenge DFM and others. Until that happens though, the LJL will likely be watching much of the World Championship at home…

*Looks at 9.19 patch*

They buffed Heimerdinger?!

Yo! You know my boy Ceros is gonna come for you. DFM got the number one Heimerdinger players in the world. Ain’t nobody got a chance now!