H2K has stunned viewers and opponents alike with a string of convincing victories Friday night; four of them in a row, actually. The only other team to achieve that at this Worlds has been fan favorite Albus NoX Luna. While there's a larger conversation to be had about how quickly we judge players (and indeed entire organizations) on very small sample sizes, and an entire other one about rhyming puns regarding the discussion of Russians, we need to talk about win conditions and exploitable weaknesses.
Exactly a month ago I wrote an article called Twitch Chat Doesn't Know Shit (About Match-ups) on SplitPush.net. It described that picking a TF/Elise team composition screamed to high heaven that you were going to push in mid and bot lane then dive bot lane tower, for a team whose win condition was ADC-focused.
Playing against EDG, AHQ picked TF, Elise, Jinx, Tahm Kench and Gnar. The message of their strategy had been broadcast in the draft. The first two parts of the plan happened. The third didn't, as no-one informed AHQ AD Carry AN that right-clicking an enemy champion would cause your champion to attack them. However, they understood EDG's weak laning and exploited it. Sure, they failed to execute on the last part and ultimately lost the game because of it, but that was the plan, and they did play to their win conditions while controlling the tempo. EDG both failed to identify the plan, and failed to thwart it, but then basically just made AN scared enough of getting a PawN Vladimir to the face that they were unable to lock down the final part of the execution.
Compare and contrast H2K vs EDG with a similar team composition; this time, Caitlyn, Karma, Kennen, Ryze, Rek'sai. Now that Ryze performs a similar function to Twisted Fate with his semi-global, Kennen is a popular alernative to Gnar, and Rek'Sai is champion that exists in League of Legends, it should have been clear that they had seen EDG's weakness and decided to exploit it the same way.
EDG wants to use Clearlove to take control of the jungle to control the tempo of the game, so he can bridge his power into their bot lane for the late game. Games that EDG wins, Clearlove wants to kill you in the jungle and gank your lane. Games that EDG loses, Clearlove is prevented from getting work done because his lanes are overrun. This is how INTZ was able to beat EDG; Clearlove was so busy running around trying to clean up the destructive mess that Revolta left all over the map, getting fed then feeding the Brazillian laners; he couldn’t get anything done.
Weakness exploited, game won.
Now look back over AHQ’s games. How do you win against them? By empowering your mid and top lanes to make AN afraid for his life. When that fear takes over, he becomes functionally irrelevant. AHQ beat H2K in Week 1 because AHQ’s top was strong. When AN feels protected, he can do his job from the back line. When he doesn’t feel protected, he shies away from doing pretty much everything. It has nothing to do with how protected he actually is, but by how protected he feels. Sure, AHQ is a top-focused team, but for AHQ, a strength disparity in your solo lanes becomes multiplied when it hits the duo lane.
So how did H2K go from 1-2 in Week 1 to 4-0 in Week 2? By understanding that these exploitable weaknesses exist in the other teams, drafting to punish them, and then executing plays that deny their enemy’s win conditions. Every team has these weaknesses. Even the godlike SKT is punishable, if you're the Flash Wolves.
H2K didn't magically become mechanical geniuses in a week. They're the same players they were a week ago. They weren't trash then, but they're killing it now. They shut down China's #1 seed twice in one day by understanding weaknesses, setting win conditions to align with them, and developing drafts & strategies that played to theirs while working against their opponents.
I leave it to you, dear reader, to look back through the VODs, the results, and run the numbers on the past two weeks of play. See if you can figure out what each team’s weaknesses are, how they planned to win, and how their decision-making either helped them achieve that, or held them back from it.
See you tomorrow.
Chhopsky had 47 tabs of match data open at the completion of this article, and can be found on Twitter memeing relentlessly during Worlds. And probably the rest of the time too.