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Pro League of Legends: What we learned from Week 3

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Ivern and Warwick got picked this week, but a ninja was the real surprise.

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There are two kinds of surprising weeks in competitive League of Legends. First, there are the weeks that surprise you because the lower ranked teams rise to the occasion to pull off grand and exciting upsets. Then there are the weeks like this one, where everything goes exactly the way it was supposed to. No big upsets, just good games that all made perfect sense. In the grand scheme of League of Legends in 2017, it was actually pretty shocking.

So, in the aftermath of this week's astounding normalness, where are we left? Well, with a lot of answers actually. We know the top three teams in North America, Europe is more clearly stratified than it was during the Industrial Revolution, and SK Telecom and KT Rolster continue to be very good, and completely unchallenged.

So, let’s take a look at what happened this week, and see how these answers will carry into the next several weeks:

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The European Trendsetters

Back in Season 3 there was an order that picks would go in that you could almost always count on. Europe would pick a champion no one was playing, it would unexpectedly work well, then everyone else would start playing it, and finally Korea would perfect it. But over the last few years, Europe has taken a backseat in terms of innovating, preferring to follow the meta rather than make it. But that might be changing.

In the first week, I wrote about how Unicorns of Love were the first to realize the strength of Lulu as a counter to Malzahar. Since then, the pick has caught on and has since turned into one of the more popular tier two support picks. Now, in week three, it is once again time for Europe to show the world who’s good. This time, Ivern is the new EU power pick, and it isn’t just the Unicorns who noticed his strength.

Ivern has been picked 17 times in EU LCS with a 71% winrate. If that sounds really good to you, congratulations, you are very right. In fact, it’s the highest winrate of any champion with that many games. Ivern seems to be an almost perfect answer to some of the more prevalent assassin junglers that are currently dominating the meta, particularly Kha’Zix, who he has a 73% winrate against. And, apart from one stray LCK game, no other region was playing him before this week.

Finally, after seeing him dominate EU over and over again — including having the highest win rate and play rate this week — NA decided it may be time to try him out, at least in a few games. And you know what, he did pretty well.

So, for the second time this season, EU seems at the forefront of a pick that seems incredibly strong and a likely answer to one of the meta’s strongest trends. Does that mean that Europe has made a comeback as the world’s trendsetter? Not yet, but next week, most of the world’s leagues come back from break, and the LCK goes back to its full schedule. That means we end up with about triple the games of the last two weeks, and I expect Ivern to play a role in a significant number of them, and Europe gets credit for all of it.

And that’s without even mentioning EU was the first region to pick up the newly reworked Warwick.

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TSM is good, mostly

Team SoloMid is now officially a top three team. The only problem is they are still supremely beatable. On the one hand, this is probably a good statement on the parity in North American LCS; on the other, it means the top teams in the region still have quite a few glaring weaknesses.

For TSM the clearest of these weaknesses is their consistency. They struggled early in almost every game this week and seem worryingly uncomfortable with Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell on damage top laners, a growing trend over the week. The only exception for Hauntzer was when he got the chance to steamroll Darshan while playing Camille -- probably the game’s strongest champion. The one question I can’t quite shake though is whether or not these early game mishaps can really cost them in North America.

There are three teams in North America with consistently strong early games that have actually found success so far this split. Cloud9 is generally fine, but they also haven’t looked even vaguely challenged in a series this year, and have outclassed opponents on almost every level. Phoenix1 look great most of the time, but against Team SoloMid this week, couldn’t turn their early leads into objectives during games two and three. So, that just leaves FlyQuest as the shadowy elephant ninja in the room:

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FlyQuest picked Zed. Twice.

There are times in the LCS when it seems like players pick champions simply as a tip of the cap to fans when playing in games they think they would win. Which is exactly what I thought was the case when Hai locked Zed in against Dignitas on Saturday. It was a sly wink at the fans — or perhaps, the Rift Herald Bingo board — and a great pick to catch a good-not-great team off-guard. Then the Immortals game happened.

Don’t get me wrong. Hai “Hai” Lam’s Zed was good against Dignitas. It proved its potential as a pocket pick against Corki that could be taken as a legitimate threat. A kind of pick-ban trick play that keeps the opposing coach on his toes. But to take a champion that is completely out of competitive play and impress on him is one thing, to turn in the split’s most dominant performance — by a mile — is something entirely different though.

In a 30-minute game, Hai did almost as much damage as the Immortals Toplaner, Jungler, AD Carry and Support combined. He picked up 11 kills against a team that has been competitive in almost every game they have played.

It’s performances like this that can’t help but bring up some of the larger questions that still surround this FlyQuest team, like: are they really this good? In a lot of ways, they feel like a team that is over-performing. Like they are a puzzle for the rest of the teams to solve, and then they won’t be much of an obstacle. The question that remains for FlyQuest is when exactly a team who seems to be over-performing expectations week after week goes from impressive but unsustainable, to a legitimate LCS contender.

The good news is, if we are going to get an answer to this question before playoffs, it’s going to come next week, when FlyQuest play both Phoenix1 and — their “sister” team — Cloud9.