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Pro League of Legends: What we learned from Week 1

A huge variety of champions and wins for a few old faces.

Riot Games

There is nothing in the League of Legends year quite like the first week of a competitive season. Teams run bizarre compositions and pick obscure champions half because each team thinks they are good and half because it’s a perfect way to sneak an early win in a season. Everything feels up in the air. It’s the perfect palette cleanser after we obsess over minutia for a month at Worlds.

The opening of the 2017 season brought us all that and more, but the best part about the early season is the opportunity it provides for wild overestimations based on a small number of games.

So, in that spirit, let’s take a look at what we learned in Week 1:

The 10 ban system is great

Riot Games

There were 71 different champions picked this week across all major regions. In-case you forgot, that’s 14 more than the 57 that got played across all of Worlds last year. Sure, we can chalk some of it up to changes in the meta and team experimentation, but credit where credit is due: Riot’s new 10 ban system has breathed new life into the Pick and Ban phase of the game.

The old Pick/Ban system wasn’t bad, it was just simple. For the most part, the coaches had a handle on it and the strategy was fairly straight forward. In other words, it wasn’t very interesting. The new system, however, has more room for personalization and adaptation. It’s more complicated and asks more from the coaches who are in-charge of it.

Take Team SoloMid’s series against Immortals for instance. In game two, Immortals brought out a surprise Morgana pick that was a perfect counter to TSM’s botlane. In game three, TSM picked a botlane they were more comfortable using as a counter to the Morgana, and attempted, successfully, to maneuver pick/ban in a way that forced IMT support Joo-sung “Olleh” Kim back onto the Morgana in this less favorable scenario. It’s the kind of mind game that the wide open lawlessness of the old pick ban system wouldn’t have supported, but made watching game three fascinating.

It remains to be seen just how this new system will age, or whether or not the meta will end up defining itself just as clearly as it did last year, but for now: 10 bans are our immediate future, and the future is bright.

Cloud9 teams dominate NA

Riot Games

The North American LCS has two Cloud9 teams this split. There’s Cloud9 A — that’s the one called Cloud9 — and Cloud9 B — they’re called FlyQuest, but have three members of the LCS’s original Cloud9 team. Now for another bit of truth: Both Cloud9 teams are undefeated through their first four series.

Frankly, one half of this isn’t too surprising. No matter who you were, when you looked at the teams in the NA LCS it was pretty tough not to see Cloud9 among the two or three best teams.

But FlyQuest succeeding is where things get interesting, namely because the way they won isn’t shocking. They won the way Hai always wins, by being smarter than the other team. Going into the split there were three questions I had about FlyQuest: 1. Can any of these players still play in the LCS, after all each of them had in the past and dropped out? 2. What on earth does their name mean? 3. Hai was one of the best shotcallers in the world, but is that really still enough to win in an LCS that is more talented than ever? Turns out the answers were 1. kind of, 2. Still unknown, and 3. most definitely.

In their first series, against CLG, Team Liquid looked smart and exacting, dismantling Counter Logic Gaming with smart map play and measured team fighting that was always done in service of gaining tangible objective advantages. Against FlyQuest though, Team Liquid looked lost. In the second game of the series, FlyQuest took early control of the map and never let up and the third game was downright mechanical. Like someone backstage bet Hai they couldn’t win with the fewest objectives possible.

Sure, it’s a little early to go too far in singing the praises of a team, but after most people wrote them off, hats off to Cloud9 B, er uh, FlyQuest.

Huni played tanks

Riot Games

If I had told you six months ago that Seung-hoon “Huni” Heo played three tanks in four games, you would have called me crazy — I can’t even imagine what you would have said when I told you it was for SKT. But here we are. 2017 is a new year and apparently it brought with it a new Huni, one who plays Poppy and Maokai.

This all may sound overly dramatic, but Huni had only played each champion once in competitive play before this week. One time each across his career of three seasons and 166 games. In that time those champions were picked a combined total of 1,673 times and he played them TWICE.

So, you’ll have to forgive me if it seems like I’m being dramatic about him starting his career with SKT by playing tanks, it’s just not the Huni we all came to expect. A fact that bodes incredibly well for SK Telecom. Coming into the season Huni’s history, or lack thereof, with meta tanks was a huge hurdle for a team that often plays the meta and relies on doing so better than anyone. But if this week was any indication, it seems Huni can play tanks and play them very well. Who knows, maybe Huni found the motivation to play them after all. Or maybe SKT coach Kkoma found it for him.

European LCS knows how to have fun with champ select

Riot Games

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat here: the two best teams in EU are still the two best teams. I know that sounds reductive, after all, H2K underwent some serious changes, but G2 and H2K are well built teams designed to win and that’s exactly what they did this week. But that isn’t the fun part. The fun part is the endless barrage of bizarre champion picks that other regions either couldn’t, or didn’t want to play.

EU LCS, in its first week of 2017, gave us Lulu, Illaoi, Kled, Kassadin, Nocturne and Kennen ADC. These kinds of picks aren’t totally unheard of, but Europe definitely seems to have the strongest concentration of them. Seemingly strange one-off picks with mixed results are the signs of a region that loves to experiment and always has, but sometimes those picks work perfectly and get used in other regions.

Let’s take a look at the Lulu pick for instance. In their series against Vitality, Unicorns of Love picked Lulu. At first, this seemed like a strange choice — after all Lulu isn’t particularly popular in the meta right now — but it turns out they picked it as a counter to everyone’s new favorite support: Malzahar. The pick worked like a dream, giving support Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov a nearly limitless number of ways to shut Malzahar down -- such as turning him into a sheep, or giving his teammate enough health to make Dr. Mundo blush.

With it’s success firmly establish by Unicorns of Love, the pick made its way to North America’s Team Liquid in their win over CLG and even to Korea’s Kongdoo Monsters —though it was doomed from the start as they were facing SKT.