2019 has been an absolute blinder of a year for Europe and the LEC. European representatives have taken first place trophies in both international events so far – initially at MSI and then at Rift Rivals – marking the first time a western region has achieved that feat. The “what” is easy to see by the dominant performances on the Rift (especially by G2, who demonstrated the fastest ever domestic and international BO5s in the Spring Finals and MSI), but the “why”? That's more tricky to break down.
Some might say Europe's path to kingdom started at the 2018 Worlds where Fnatic reached the grand finals for the regions' first time since 2011, but I think it goes even further back than that. A different time but the same place: Fnatic's 2015 summer record shattering roster; the undefeated titans of the west. Not just in their players but also their coach, Deilor. What did the Season 9 MVP of the EU LCS bring to that squad that made them so strong? Structure, stability, and most importantly: yoga.
Bear with me.
Fast forward to 2019 and yoga has become a common routine among esport teams. It's easy to see why. Yoga increases your mental and physical strength – improving energy, mindfulness, and of course, flexibility.
Fnatic’s 2016 squad limber up to play by downward dogging.
This flexibility was on full display during Rift Rivals 2019. In the first two days of competition all but three of EU's team comps featured some form of flex pick (and all three of those comps where played by FNC), some of which had players doing the MEGAFLEX and completely role swapping. OG's Patrik played Neeko mid in to Bjergsen's Akali with Nukeduck going Yasuo botlane and G2's Perkz and Wunder swapped positions playing the Yasuo top and Neeko bot respectively.
A cool little observation by itself, but let's break down a little more why the flexibility provided by YOGA has made this happen.
Y – your unpredictability in draft
Being hard to read in draft is a clear benefit to flexibility. If the enemy team can't confirm where your champions are going to be played on the rift then they will struggle to optimise their team composition. This leaves holes in their gameplan – holes you can attack and exploit to your own benefit.
Here’s Jensen, who was on the receiving end of this last weekend: “We weren't really sure where their champions would go so we were a little confused... G2 just does crazy stuff, even when we practice against them you never really know where their champions are gonna go, so it’s hard to predict how to play against them.”
O – ounterpicks
It's ounterpicks and not counterpicks because the enemy team won't C it coming. Most teams in 2019 are smart enough at drafting that they won't leave their picks vulnerable to hard counters without having an equal answer in response. If you can hard flex your locks to transcend the rules of what champion goes where, you can snag a cheeky counter without the enemy team even realising what's going on.
A great example of this was the very first game of Rift Rivals. G2 vs C9 – G2 FIRST PICKED their Yasuo and later revealed a Neeko and Twisted Fate. This combined with the support pick of Gragas heavily implied a Yasuo x Gragas bot lane, leaving C9 with their last pick on red side to lock in the Gnar as an answer to Neeko and synergy with the rest of their “group up and win” comp. In an ultimate bamboozle, G2 decided to stick Yasuo top and Neeko bot lane and optimise those picks by keeping PerkZ on the Yas. This kills the Gnar pick and doesn't hurt G2 much at all due to their flexibility. Imagine your first pick on blue side becoming a counter pick in draft. EUPHORIC.
“Initially the plan was to play Gragas Yasuo bot lane, but then they picked Gnar top,” said G2's coach Grabbz afterwards. “So we were just like, “Oh Yasuo's good in to Gnar, we played it in scrims and it went well.”
G – Good luck banning us out
How do you extinguish a wildfire with a bucket of water? When multiple players on your squad can play not only multiple champions but multiple roles, how do you effectively cut them down in ban phase? Target banning is an effective strategy against players who have limited champion pools or certain power picks, and this can even work well for the teams on the receiving end who essentially force the opponents to waste a ban (see Heimerdinger bans versus G2's Hjarnan at Worlds 2018).
However, trying to target ban against a team with the draft diversity that we see in the 2019 LEC is nigh impossible. The best bet is to aim to take away certain team comps – this is fine if you want to avoid the scissors to your paper, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to leave up just rock.
A – ahahahaha what is a meta
League of Legends has been trending in a direction that rewards teams for creativity and the professional circuit has never seen more of an incentive to play anything anywhere as it sees today. With this being as it is, teams that can play with a varied deck are finding ways to set the pace to great success. Innovation and domination seem to go hand in hand right now – G2's answer (yes, I realise this is my tenth G2 example, but come on, they're something else) to the new and un-nerfed Sona Taric in the Spring Split Finals vs Origen was a great testament to this. Funneling Xayah Rakan? Really? Still, it triumphed the untriumph-able and was a huge component of G2 setting that record paced BO5.
To this extent you can also bait your opponent in to picking something meta and then serving up a piping hot can of spaghetti uh-ohs on their hopes and dreams.
2019 is a great year for asanas disciplines and European League of Legends.