The online portion of the Season 4 Spring Split has come to an end. I went 7-5 on the week, finishing a respectable 33-23 (59%) for the split. It ended not with a whimper, but with a bang. How big of a bang? Well, one day after a set that highlighted the problematic nature of certain rituals Hi-Rez announced that the 4.5 patch would be removing rituals. If you look back over the release notes, you’ll find that wasn’t mentioned last week. We also had a day relatively free of drama. Instead of a weekend filled with tiebreakers, Team Dignitas won a closely contested set over Eanix (VAC), eUnited split with IMOG, and Eager split with LG. As I mentioned before, I am sure Hi-Rez is breathing a bit easier now that only gauntlet seeding was impacted by the eUnited fiasco. I’m on board with giving them a reset, now that the immediacy of the decision has passed. This was a great weekend to finish up the online portion of the split, and there is a lot to discuss. Let’s get into it.
Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Loss
We have seen an awful lot of double hunter, double (or triple) guardian teams in the SPL this split. As the season has gone on, this has been less and less successful. After Eanix broke this out in the early weeks and saw success, other teams began to copy them. However, after a game against NRG when NRG used two guardians, two hunters, and one assassin it became clear that even a little more burst would help carry the game over the tankier opposition. Sure, the early game was a littler harder, but once guardian scaling dropped off it was a bigger win for the side with more burst. This also speaks to why a team comp that drops the second hunter for a mage is going to see more success.
As I have mentioned many, many times the meta is about area control, movement, and burst. Guardians can mitigate a lot of damage, but mage burst is still mage burst, and once that chunk of life is gone – or relics are used – that guardian is in a world of trouble. Two hunters can do meaningful damage, but it’s the same type of damage and it’s less about burst and more about consistency. Critical hits can still do a ridiculous amount of damage, but when you have to only focus on one real source of protection you can go a long way towards reducing the impact of those hits. It still hurts, but with just one protection as a focus you are likely to get a lot of incidental effective health and survivability. Having the mage to toss out the different damage and get some of the confirmed, non-random burst is huge.
People have figured this out after spending some time playing around with different comps. You will still see it from time to time, but it’s not an insurmountable powerhouse, and teams have learned to contend with it. You can play the different classes in different roles – warriors in the support role are still great – but varying the high-damage types is important. This doesn’t even speak to the level of control that mages can break out. Cernunnos having control equal to a mage was a big deal because the sustained high damage he tossed out was problematic. In short, you actually do want a team with good synergy, and that synergy is found generally with a mix of roles.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
Seriously, can we finally stick a fork in the whole “first blood means you win” and “impossible to win games if you are losing because of the snowball” stuff? It is definitely easier stay ahead with the changes to objectives and itemization, but it’s not impossible. There have been enough come from behind victories in the SPL at different levels of team skill to show that this is not a fluke. I am not discounting the fact that some teams throw hard enough to lock in a spot on the Mets roster (if Tebow can make spring training, so could they). This is very often the Game of Throws – you win or you throw – but that just proves that a few mistakes are enough for a good team to capitalize on it.
I would be remiss here if I didn’t address the use of rituals in the LG-EGR set from this week. There was a lot of talk around LG buying so many rituals, and how these rituals allowed them to ignore losing team fights to retreat, not worry about positioning, and just keep the pressure. While there is some truth to this, it ignores the fact that BOTH TEAMS were doing just that. DJPernicus teleporting to Divios after a death around FG to engage and try and capitalize on a favorable engagement to have Mask show up and do the same thing with ScaryD is a good example. The multiple frenzy rituals and flickering rituals while EGR was defending is another. All things being equal the team with the lead was winning – seriously, set aside the bias and rewatch the team fights as the game goes on – but rituals allowed incredibly sloppy play on both sides, and rewarded the team that was ahead even more. Instead of assisting the comeback potential of teams, it was an arms race where both sides HAD to have the rituals, and the team with the gold lead had an easier time. However, this was hardly a one-sided affair in ritual abuse. The whole “LG would have lost but rituals” narrative isn’t true, but it absolutely shows why rituals needed to be removed. They did not serve their role well, outside of providing gold sinks, and they did not make game plan fun or engaging. I think there is a solution that can be found here that does just this, but it needs to go back to the drawing board.
Even with rituals existing as they were, it’s not as if comebacks never happened. It happened at least twice a week during this split. Comebacks are usually thank to minor mistakes and mental fortitude. Teams that can recover from a minor mistake will end up winning out, but a team that can spiral will have a more difficult time. The SPL players do have different skill level, but many of them are mechanically similar and are only separated by their mental fortitude. The ability to brush off a bad call or bad play is the difference between a team that throws and one that closes. There are complaints that it is too easy to get ahead and stay ahead, but it’s just not true. Farming is important, but a few late objective steals still help swing the game. From there, it’s still just a matter of the death timers getting long enough to take advantage of defensive kills. It’s the same old story. I am not proclaiming this as the One True Path or anything. I am simply saying that this is still around, and there is enough evidence to make it apparent.
Casual players should more or less be experiencing the same scenario as the SPL, in this case. It’s disorganized against disorganized. The chaos can either favor the late throw in either direction. The truth is people just don’t know how to play from behind, and it’s important to learn how to do so. It’s really important. Every team wants to be ahead. Not every team will be able to do that. Instead, focus on how to minimize the lead, how to build into easy gains, and how to improve late decision making.
It’s not easy, but it’s something more people need to do.
If you go back in time through this column, you’ll see I very early on discussed the area-control, movement-oriented, burst-centric meta. Well, it finally seems that this is the established consensus across teams. Cabrakan was banned 83~% of the time (20/24), and Hun Batz and Zeus were banned 67~% of the time (16/24). Zeus was picked 6/8 of those times he could be picked, and went 4-2. Amaterasu and Anhur had great win rates (3/4), and you will note I’ve spoken of them before. In a change, Osiris saw a lot of action this weekend in both picks and bans. With the healing reduction standardization, Osiris has become even more valuable after this buffs in 4.3. He is as tanky as ever, and now his scaling is improved. He’s a real threat at the moment, and might even take a small damage nerf in the coming patches. Look for Cyclonespin and Benji to really look to capitalize on his current state.
Skadi ended up doing well for the split, coming in as the second most impactful hunter. Anhur went 19-11 across games he was played, while Skadi clocked in at 16-10. Rama was 15-24, making him the worst of the hunters played at least 10 times. There were a lot of under represented hunters – AMC, Chiron, Izanami, Jing Wei, Xbalanque, and all magical hunters were played 5 or less times. The rest of the hunters more or less clocked in at a 50/50 win rate, give or take one game.
Healers also saw a roughly 50% win rates in games they were in, with Terra coming out the best due to her flexibility. Healing is still incredibly strong in Season 4, especially with the item throughput. I had mentioned that early on, but expect to see it trend upwards a bit more in the Gauntlet and LAN portions of the split. Warriors are still the best supports – particularly Amaterasu and Erlang Shen – and guardians are as good as warriors in the solo lane. Hercules ends up a woeful 9-17 in the solo lane, making me again feel good about my comments early on in the split. The jungle basically broke out to Serqet and Hun Batz being the best, and Chang’e coming in a distant third. Chang’e might see some slight nerfs in the future as she sees more play, honestly. She’s incredibly strong at the moment, and has flown under the radar until her role as a jungler has allowed her kit to really shine. Expect her to be a targeted ban in the LAN for Eager, and probably other teams who are now practicing her a lot – LG and Obey, for example.
Enshrined in Valhalla
Week 6 was the best week of the split, by far. The games were amazing, the plays were great, and the teams absolutely wanted it. This week saw people really stepping up their play, and the greats start to separate themselves. Obey Alliance and NRG esports had easier schedules this week, but they both looked in top form. NRG has their feet under them now, which should make for a great Gauntlet and LAN. This week saw big plays from two players, helping their teams secure their LAN positions. Enshrined in Valhalla this week are Qvofred (EU – Team Dignitas) and Zapman (NA – Team Eager).
The set against Eanix was a great showing from Dignitas. The first game exhibited growth for the team and highlighted how they need to be more methodical, allowing their mechanics to shine. Too often Dignitas has tried to turn it on and become playmakers – looking for the single pick or objective that will turn it for their team. Qvofred was the absolute difference maker in the first game – going 3-0-2 in a game with only 6 kills on the side of Dignitas – and having incredibly presence on the Hun Batz. This impact was noticed in game two, and the Mean Monkey was banned out. Qvofred picked up Ratatoskr – one of the ~50% assassins – and his byline looks a lot worse – 4-7-9. Still, this means he participated in 13/16 kills – only Trixtank was higher, and then only by one. His global pressure was applied in the correct places, and he managed to overcome an early disadvantage to make some key plays late in the game. Once he was able to allow Dignitas to turn a single late team, his team capitalized and pushed the titan down to secure a stunning come from behind win (of the kind everyone says can’t happen this season). He was absolutely the man of the hour for his team.
Likewise, Zapman pretty much single-handedly kept Team Eager in game one against LG for as long as they did – going an impressive 4-0-3 in a 50+ minute game – and was absolutely on fire in game two – having an 8-2-13 byline. Zapman got the better of Barraccudda when it comes to individual play in both games – though Barraccudda was a larger team presence in game one – and managed to just pin down and demolish LG when they began to make mistakes later in game two. Everyone knows he is an incredible player with a tendency to allow his ego and confidence to get the better of him, but his team now needs that from him to allow him to flourish. They absolutely deserve to be the number one team out of NA from the online portion of this split, and it is in large part due to Zapman’s play. He’s good every week, but he was the start this week.
Finally, quick shout out to Vetium (NA – SoaR Gaming). In any other week, he gets MVP for his play. Tough luck, but fantastic play.
Tortured in Tartarus
For the final online condemnation we turn to two teams that fell apart this week. Noble esports has had a tumultuous split, finding only one set victory, but managing two splits with strong NA teams. I’ve stated before I believe that Noble esports plays up to their competition, this also means they tend to play down or let off the gas when not against the best of the best. Part of this seems to be the erratic play and shotcalling of elchapo (NA – Noble eSports). Sadly, he is joined this week by a player I really like, N0numbers (EU – eLevate).
If you have been following the SPL this year, you will know that one of the big stories is elchapo returning to the PC scene and becoming the captain/shotcaller for Noble esports. He is incredibly confident, and I like that a lot, but his god pool is limited and he needs to still adjust to the PC scene. If you take away Hun Batz from him, he’s just not a deciding factor in most games. He’s good on Serqet, but he’s not great at other traditional assassins, particularly those that take to the air. That aside, his awareness of objectives and game factors isn’t where it needs to be. This was particularly evident in allowing the long lane to be more or less left alone in both games when giving Wowy a lead is much more influential to the team comp than giving Uzzy a lead. I think Uzzy is good, but Wowy is probably tied for best individual player on the team. His shotcalling and tendency to spiral when things shift was on full display in game two, when FG turned sour and SoaR was able to stage the rally. I want elchapo to keep getting better and see Noble esports grow. It’s really up to him, and it shows right now.
N0numbers is a guy from the CC scene I like a lot, second only to Repikas in the EU scene (fineokay is my number one overall from the CC). He’s made a great impact so far for eLevate but he wasn’t able to get the job done this week. Part of this is in part due to the double guardian picks in both games – a team or captain decision – and part from the fact he’s still learning the SPL scene and his new team. The synergy wasn’t there for Xing Tian in game one, and his Ymir play in game two left a lot to be desired. I think he will be great once he gets some time, but it’s a dangerous prospect for him and his team going into Gauntlet and LAN.
|1||Obey all the way. They look so good, and it’s nice to see I’ve had them pegged well from the beginning of the split.||1|
|2||Eager played great and deserves the number one seed out of NA. They were the better team all around, though I look forward to Masters.||2|
|3||LG with the salty runback and just spiraling a bit in game two. LG needs to practice on closing out games and continue to work on picks and bans. You can’t give DJ Chang’e and you can’t give Zap Skadi. It’s annoying, but it’s true.||3|
|4||Team Dignitas won a close set over Eanix, but it exhibited so much growth. If they can keep rolling, I see great things for the rest of the year. They just need to keep themselves in check.||5|
|5||NRG ended the split on a strong note, having weathered the toughest teams and dropped only a single set. Sure, they split sets a lot, but they looked better and better as split wore on. I like them going into the Gauntlet.||7|
|6||Eanix (formerly VAC) really needs to look into their picks and bans. Their weird comps did well early, but they have to grow. They also need to ensure they play safe and don’t throw. Game two hurt me a little.||4|
|7||One good, one bad, you just don’t know what you are going to get. In Memory of Gabe needs to continue to grow, and reign in the egos a bit. I understand they want to make their mark, but they aren’t doing themselves favors.||8|
|8||Like IMOG before them, eUnited is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Precise and sloppy all rolled into one. Now that they are in the Gauntlet, I think the stigma can be lifted from the Benji escapades and the team can really prove it out. I wouldn’t count them out, and I look forward to seeing longer sets from them.||9|
|9||What a turn around after Benji left. SoaR Gaming looks like a whole new team: better communication, better mechanics, and better shotcalling. The Gauntlet should be fun.||12|
|10||New week, new sponsor, new zest for playing. Team Rival lost to Obey, but beat eLevate soundly. The renewed vigor of play is a good sign for this scrappy team.||13|
|11||Rough end to a mixed bag of a split. I think eLevate will bounce back and compete during the Gauntlet, but it’s a harder road ahead.||8|
|12||Team Allegiance moves up because everyone else below them has been worse. It has been a bad split with flashes of good play. Maybe the Gauntlet can redeem them.||14|
|13||A crash and burn ending to the online portion of this team’s first split. Noble Esports was inconsistent at best, but played up against better teams. They just need more time before they can compete. A bottom two finish puts their future in a murky place.||10|
|14||A bottom two finish for a team with a lot of turmoil. Lion Guard Esports certainly hoped for better. Maybe they can find a measure of redemption in the gauntlet.||11|
|15||Some great play against ALG, and some awful play. Flash Point has grown this split, but they need to grow more and focus up. The Gauntlet and likely relegations await.||15|
|16||At least it is almost over for Sanguine Esports.||16|
Spring Gauntlet and Masters LAN
Lazy Recall will be running a bracket challenge for both the Spring Gauntlet and the Spring Masters LAN.
You can find information on the challenge here.