So I need to apologize to Moscow Five. In my first Slice and Dice column, I had predicted that they would do well, but ultimately lose to Team Solomid in the finals. While I had changed my mind by the time the ggC staff put together their predictions list, it doesn’t change the fact that I did originally slight the name of the Russian team, however minor.
Unprepared for LAN tournaments and the pressures of a live audience? Who the hell was I writing about? The Moscow Five does not care for your petty attention or your secret techs; they don’t care how many times you’ve watched them invade and destroy their opponent’s jungle. They are a well-oiled, well-engineered winning machine, tuned to one and only one function: to dominate the shit out of the world, and you in particular.
Which they did. Oh, did they ever. The Russian team flew to a resounding, decisive victory in the only way acceptable to a tournament this epic: upon the wings of a fire-breathing dragon. They had brought ruin and lamentation upon some of the best teams of two continents, winning all but a single map the entire weekend. They have brought fame, some fortune, and impeccable honor to home and kin. And they’ve done it with such casual ruthlessness that it would put a wintry, chilly smile on the likes of even Vladimir Putin.
In short, the Russians are a very, very scary team, and their presence in Hanover come March is something to be dreaded by the others.
Of course, whether or not the other teams have gotten the message is questionable. CLG.NA, in particular, seems to have a personal grudge against the results of Kiev – given Saintvicious’s claim that M5 will go the way of Dignitas ( in his own words, “do well one tourney and get overhyped”), their attitude towards M5’s performance is skeptical at best. Saintvicious, in particular, is more liable to blame Solomid for suboptimal play than credit M5 for having actual strategic depth.
Is his critique against TSM, however harshly worded, justified? Perhaps. It is difficult to argue against the fact that the lynchpin for the third match of the finals was TSM’s, and specifically TheRainman’s, inability to keep Shyvana occupied in toplane. The team’s choice to run Irelia in that matchup forced their top lane into an extended period of passive farming, with Shyvana repeatedly pushing her entire minion wave to the enemy’s top tower, freeing her up for a few crucial moments to exploit their unprotected jungle. While it certainly didn’t help that their bottom lane, pitting Sivir against Moscow Five’s now-infamous AD Kennen, was steadily losing ground against their Kennen’s masterful play, much of the burden for TSM’s loss was ultimately the same thing that killed every other team that ran up against the Russian juggernauts.
When you lose your jungle, it’s not just your jungler that suffers. The spillover effect covers a full two-thirds of the map. Losing a lane only loses influence in that lane, and only to the point of the lost tower – losing the jungle means that the “safe” zone for your team has been drastically shortened to just that of the inner lane tower. Even if you were winning your lane up to that point, suddenly being vulnerable to ganks from under your own tower with no hope of a successful countergank effectively overturns all the effort you’ve been making over the last ten to fifteen minutes.
Perhaps it is this that explains Saintvicious’s derisive attitude towards M5’s success at Kiev: the philosophy behind their win is in direct contradiction to what Saintvicious believes is the key to winning in LoL. CLG’s belief is that the first and only important thing is that each lane is won – that the solo players, especially, should be good enough to take on anybody on a 1v1 and come out ahead. While aspects of this are certainly true for Moscow Five, their emphasis is entirely in the other direction. Everything from their counterpicks to team composition wasn’t geared towards individual victory in-lane – instead of the in-lane matchups, the Russians focused on territorial management, emphasizing control of jungle and group coordination.
Saintvicious’s claim that “League has very little strategy … The strategy involved in league is figuring out how to win your lane” begins to look not a little shallow when a relatively brand new group comes out of nowhere to stomp flat five-man teams of solo-queue heroes. Reginald’s Cassiopeia was just as good in midlane as always; TheRainMan’s Irelia lane could not actually be considered lost so much as out-maneuvered. What killed them was not being outplayed on the micro level – if anything, their game 2 win demonstrates a marginal advantage on their group fights and individual matchups. What killed them was Moscow Five’s superior map control.
In many ways, Kiev was a paradigm changer. It was the biggest Intel Extreme Masters event on record: it had the most livestream viewers of any esports event to date. The hype, the excitement, and the audience figures have solidly affirmed that this whole esports thing is not a joke, not a fad, and not niche.
It has also changed the paradigm of the latest game being played within it.
Ukraine was an ultimatum to the League of Legends pro community – one delivered as a mailed, armored-glove challenge by the Russians. Get Better, or Get Out. In three months, Moscow Five will be back yet again for the Grand Finals, and playing against them under the solo-queue hero paradigm will merely make you yet another casualty to their world tour of dominance. Changing the metagame won’t be enough; surprise champion picks won’t be enough; kill lanes and lane mix-ups will definitely not be enough. They are not fallible in the face of cheap tricks and cheap intimidation. All-star rosters like CLG.EU are just barely able to pull even win-loss records against them. You cannot beguile victory from their grasps.
You have to play at their level.
We have entered the Year of the Dragon. It is appropriate – far too appropriate – that it was Shyvana that led the Russians to victory in Kiev. The beating of scaled, leathery wings can be heard in the distant, high cliffs of upper-echelon play in EU-E, soaring onward to Hannover, Germany. But it isn’t the dragon alone to be feared – this dragon, you see, has learned to hunt in packs…