Part One Part Three
While most of us are simply counting the days until IEM Katowice, there are certain community members, who just cannot sit on their hands. One of them is Ari "Storm" Storm (@StormDK), who prepared a three-part article about our miraculous run at IEM Katowice in January 2013. The first part of the article was initially posted on Reddit, but we have gained a permission to share this amazing piece that focuses on analyzing our resurgence within the walls of Spodek. Enjoy!
This is a three-part article dealing with Gambit's famous win at IEM Katowice last year. As we move closer to the IEM World Championship of 2014, it will revisit the myths of Gambit's victory. IEM Katowice 2013 arguably had one of the strongest narratives in the history of professional League of Legends. Furthermore, it is my belief that Katowice stands as the most misunderstood tournament in LoL history.
5. Gambit returning - composition intact
Gambit returned to Katowice on day 3 – the day of the knockout stages of the tournament. During the break, the organisation managed to procure jerseys for the players to wear. This was a clear contrast to the first day of Katowice where the players wore nothing but their regular clothes. The first semifinal of the day saw a 2-1 victory to Blaze over Fnatic. Gambit was now, as expected, the last unlikely hope for Europe.
The following four games against Frost and Blaze had a number of things in common. First of all, Gambit chose to ban the same two champions against both Frost and Blaze: Olaf and Miss Fortune. They each make perfect sense in the context of the tournament and the metagame as a whole. The Olaf ban was without a doubt prompted by Flame's Olaf in the groupstages. With Shy from Frost being known as another very strong top laner, Gambit probably didn't like the idea of giving up Olaf to either of the Korean top laners. Since they were not able to win with Olaf themselves, they simply chose to ban it all four games. Miss Fortune was the third and last ban. It is important to note that both Captain Jack and Woong, the ADC for Frost, had Caitlyn and Miss Fortune among their main champions. Banning these pushed the Korean ADC's slightly out of their comfort zone. More specifically, banning Miss Fortune prevented either Azubu team from running a 'Curse of the Sad Bullet Time'-type composition. Gambit had tried it themselves and couldn't make it work. But they knew the Korean teams potentially could make it work as they had done so many times in the past. As a result, they simply denied them the option to do so. Caitlyn was the third ban in their final game against Blaze. They had troubles against both the Caitlyn of Captain Jack, and the Nunu/Caitlyn from Curse. Caitlyn is also considered a moderately strong pick againt Ezreal and the rest of Genjas champion pool (in addition to being highly efficient in sieges).
When it comes to champion picks, Gambit again remained very consistent throughout the four games. Genja played four straight games of Ezreal with a confidence that surprised the casters completely. It seemed very clear that he had rediscovered a comfort pick (Ezreal complements Genja's style as a positional player) against MYM that he would stick with. Diamondprox picked Xin Zhao three out of four games (with Xin being banned in one). Like Genja, he had found a champion he was comfortable with. Darien played Renekton in three out of four games.
When it comes to Alex Ich, something very typical of Alex happened. In the first game of each series, he managed to grab a champion that was traditionally considered ban-worthy against Alex, but somehow still managed to sneak through champ-select. In the first game against Frost is was Kha'zix and in the second game against Blaze it was Evelynn. Both Azubu teams wisened up and banned both Kha'zix and Evelynn in their respective subsequent games.
I have omitted the support of Gambit until now. Edward mainly played Sona and Nunu. Aside from the usual clutch usage of Sona's ultimate Crecendo, the support player cannot be considered a core of Gambits Katowice composition.
It is possible to analyse the core of the composition, which traditionally is remembered to be just Xin and Renekton. I will in addition to Xin Zhao and Renekton include Kha'Zix as the core midlaner (given Alex's history, it is fair to assume that Alex would have picked Kha'Zix every every game had it not been banned). In terms of syngery, there are incredible advantages from pairing Xin Zhao with Kha'zix. Mainly because Kha'zix benefits heavily from the armor shred from Xin Zhao's passive. Also, there is even more synergy between the point blank AoE knockback ultimate of Xin Zhao and the isolation bonus of Kha'Zix. A similar and more concurrent variation is using Gragas in place of Xin Zhao (although I would argue that this is in fact a weaker combination – with Xin Zhao you are always guaranteed that one target will be isolated). It is important to note that Kha'zix fills slightly different role today compared to his place at Katowice. At Katowice, he furfilled the triple role of reset assassination, objective control and poke/waveclear – today the professional itemization metagame usually drop the poke/waveclear capabilities of Kha'Zix in favor of higher assassination potential.
Items acquired prior to the final team fight (Azubu Frost vs Gambit Gaming)
Another fact that is usually mentioned and cherished in the memory of fans, was the Renekton pick by Darien. Renekton, too, had a way to shred armor using the dash Slice & Dice. Compared to Xin Zhao, this armor shred is extremely situational however. Firstly, it requires enough of Renektons resource, Fury, to be available. Secondly, the ability in question is a two-chained ability, with only the secondary activation triggering the armor reduction. Thirdly, it requires you to hit a specific target. Fourthly, the Fury resource is often better used on Renektons 'Q' ability which make Renekton a very efficient tank. Finally it is an ability with an awkward dual debuff/mobility nature. Often the positional advantage a dash can bring far outweights the benefits of the armor shred. This is not to say that players of the highest level aren't able to make Renekton's armor shred work. But it remains, at best, very situational and unreliable.
Yet this is what made up Gambit's famous armor shred composition. It was about to be tested against a team notorious for running a lot of defensive items.
6. Azubu Frost: Game 1 – When Damage Outscale Tankiness
Azubu Frost did what most would expect them to do. Facing a full physical damage composition like the one Gambit fielded, the standard response is the abundant stacking of armor. Frost took it to the next level. Considering Azubu Frost history as a defensive team when it comes to itemization, it was completely inevitable that they would follow this path. Also, according to the professional Korean metagame, health (and by extent, armor) was considered a hypereffective stat. Azubu Frost put everything they had, all their trust and experience, into this strategy.
Before they got to this stage, however, the early game was slowed down considerably by a failed gank by Diamondprox. Gambit ran a 2v1 top lane configuration, and as Diamondprox ganked top lane for a textbook 3v1 dive and turret takedown, he was counterganked by the Amumu of Cloudtemplar who cleverly predicted the 3v1 situation. Although the slowed the game down somewhat, Diamondprox tried the same manouver a couple of minutes later and suceeded.
A series of indecisive skirmishes occurred during the midgame, with Frost emerging slightly ahead. It wasn't by much, but it gave them time to power up on their defensive items. At the same time, Gambit was also getting their much needed armor penetration items. Frost was not getting any ability power on Shy's Singed, however, and the rest of Frost relied on defence to such an extent that the carries of Gambit had few troubles surviving the damage from Frost.
The rather inconclusive mid-game transitioned into an endgame that was marked by some of the best teamfight positioning of all time. A teamfight near baron 42 minutes into the game saw some incredible positioning by Diamond and Darien, who both alternatively switched between kiting and tanking in an extremely efficient manner. At one point four Frost members were trying to pin down a low-health fleeing Diamondprox, who had just intentionally thrown himself in front of Frost. Cloudtemplar has since commented that the best crowd control or 'taunt' in LoL, is a low health champion running away. Frost never recovered from the late-game teamfights, despite a valiant effort from MadLife's Blitzcrank. 52 minutes into the game, Gambit took the victory.
The main reason Frost lost the game, was not entirely due to Gambit's spectacular positioning in teamfights, but in part also to poor itemization from Frost. While it was well within the boundaries of the professional metagame at the time, it simply wasn't effective in the endgame. Shy not building any ability power ment that his abilities did base damage. That is to say they did almost no damage to a level 18 champion. Woong building Warmog's/Randuins had the same problem – it was a questionable way to build an ADC, yet within the borders of the Korean metagame. On the other side, a champion like a properly itemized Kha'zix doesn't care much if the other team is armor stacking. Having a low cooldown nuke on Q, and poke on W, the low threat against him (bar a Blitzcrank hook) simply allowed him to get enough spell rotations off in fights. Had Shy acquirred some ability power and had Woong not put as much faith into the perceived efficiency of tanky items, Frost could very likely have won the first game.
7. Azubu Frost: Game 2 – Breaking the Turtle
In contrast to the first game, the second had Gambit securing the early game advantage. Weak warding from Frost in the fouth quadrant of the map saw Diamondprox, again on Xin Zhao, execute two ganks in the midlane. The ganks perfectly showcased why double CC ganks (meaning crowd control from both jungler and midlaner) is considered the bane of low mobility laners like the Anivia of Rapidstar. A root from Alex's Ryze almost guarantees the knockup from Diamonds Xin Zhao.
Against any other composition, Gambit could have pushed for quick turret takedowns (especially considering their composition was originally created with this purpose against MYM). This attempt was blocked by Frost having amazing turtlers among their champions. With Rapidstar being on Anivia and Woong being on (this time full damage) Varus, Frost had almost instantaneous waveclear against a single lane push. Even if Gambit ran a splitpush configuration, Frost could theoretically split up Woong and Rapidstar and still turtle pretty efficiently.
The first turtle attempt by Frost at the midlane outer turret was assaulted when Gambit engaged Frost in a 5v4 towerdive situation. Meanwhile, Shy's teleport from botlane was cancelled which allowed Gambit to break the turtle and win the teamfight.
At this point Gambit had to make the classic decision of securing Baron Nashor or trying to take down an inhibitor. Gambit, a team that usually values Baron very high, chose the former. The question at the time, however, would Frosts later attempts at turtling have been less efficient if an inhibitor was open? At the same time, the buff from Baron could also be instrumental in cracking the shell of Frost.
But even with Baron buff active, Gambit could not push into the base of Frost, although they did manage to destroy all outer turrets. The Koreans succesfully stalled the game until Baron buff had timed out on Gambit. In order to secure the game, Gambit knew they had to mix up and adapt their strategy. A pretty stardard teamfight was forced by Gambit at the respawned Baron. Gambit, with a gold lead, managed to win the teamfight and secure the second Baron of the game.
In the end, it was the way they utilised the buff that signaled a moment of perfect adaptability from Gambit. As they moved in to siege the base of Frost, Gambit chose to run a rare 2-1-2 splitpush configuration (two side-laners on each side, one mid laner). This triple push from Gambit utterly destroyed the otherwise excellent waveclearing and turtling from Frost, since it dramatically lowered the effectiveness of Anivia and Varus. Azubu could not withstand the pressure for long.
Gambit ended the game at 36 minutes and knocked Azubu Frost out of IEM Katowice. The Russian squad had heard the cries of their fans, yearning for a return to how things was during the Moscow Five era. Yet one final obstacle stood between them and total resurgence. They had already lost one game to them in the groupstage. Enter Azubu Blaze.