In the final games of the 2018 Spring Split, two of the top teams decided to field substitutes instead of their starters. Echo Fox and Fnatic each brought in some fresh faces to get some experience. As it turned out, their results were quite different.
Bringing in substitutes at the end of a season isn’t unprecedented. It is often a great way to get young players some stage experience in preparation for them to take a leading role in the future. Despite this, there were still those who wondered if something had happened with veteran Paul “sOAZ” Boyer when it was announced that Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau was starting against the Unicorns of Love in Week 8. In fact, sOAZ had been splitting time with Bwipo and mentoring him during scrims all season.
Game 1 – Unicorns of Love
Though Bwipo had proven himself to the team as a mechanically skilled player, most of the questions were focused on experience. Could this young player not only handle the pressure of the stage, but also help a team succeed that is so used to sOAZ in their top lane? Fnatic had picked the perfect time to answer that question. Facing eventual last place finishers UoL, Bwipo could gain LCS experience in one of the easiest possible games. He got to lane against Matti “WhiteKnight” Sormunen, who was one of the worst Top Laners of the split. On top of this, he was able to secure one of his most comfortable pics in Sion.
On a team like Fnatic, it would have been easy to sit back and farm while Martin “Rekkles” Larsson or Rasmus “Caps” Winther carried the team. Bwipo was not looking for a passive first game, however. With the help of Caps and Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, got first blood on Whiteknight before 7 minutes. Careful not to let this go to his head, Bwipo kept his wits about him. He helped secure the victory for Fnatic by contributing 8 assists and 300 CS over the course of the game without dying once. Five of these assists came in the final seconds of the game. He used Unstoppable Onslaught to charge under the enemy inhibitor tower, securing a Double Kill for Rekkles. Without hesitating, he acted as a threatening front line as Fnatic walked in and took down the enemy Nexus. Fnatic locked in their first place spot in the EU LCS with this victory, and as the players circled up immediately afterwards, they chanted “1-2-3-Bwipo!” in celebration.
Game 2- Giants Gaming
In the first game of Week 9, Bwipo once again joined the rest of Fnatic on stage against Giants Gaming. Having already secured their first place spot, there was even less pressure than the week before. Initially selecting Sion once again, the enemy’s picks caused Bwipo to go with Swain instead, moving Sion down to the Mid Lane for Caps. He started off a bit slower this game, but began to shine with a Double kill during a Team Fight after securing Baron. He earned another Double Kill later in the game, Flashing behind the enemy Inhibitor Turret and eliminating Kim “Ruin” Hyeong-min and Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi. It took a few more Team Fights to close out the game, but it was another decisive victory. Despite lacking experience, Bwipo did what he needed to for the team, and the rest of Fnatic was able to adjust to get the job done.
Over in the NA LCS, Echo Fox also brought in some substitutes, but to much different results. They chose to start two of their Academy team players, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte in the Mid Lane and John “Papa Chau” Le as their Support. Just like Fnatic, they were not replacements due to any problems or illnesses. Rather it was to get two exceptional academy players some experience on the LCS stage. Facing 5-11 FlyQuest in their first Week 9 match was a great opportunity for this, and the two substitutes did not disappoint.
Game 1 – FlyQuest
After an uneventful early game, PapaChau (Alistar) roamed up to the Mid Lane at 15 minutes. He flashed in to take Fly (Karma) by surprise, and used Pulverize to allow Damonte to secure First Blood on Cassiopeia. From there, Echo Fox looked like they had for much of the season. Though the game stayed close, they utilized superior team fighting and map awareness to close out a 40 minute game. Damonte finished 3/1/9, and PapaChau consistently found the right engages to give them the edge in Team Fights.
Unfortunately for Echo Fox, the rest of the weekend did not go as smoothly. Up against a 100 Thieves team that was not only significantly stronger than FlyQuest, but rivaling Echo Fox for first place, they decided to keep Damonte and PapaChau in the starting lineup.
Game 2 – 100 Thieves
In a back and forth, nearly hour long game, the teams looked fairly even. Damonte did well to hold his own in the Mid Lane against the experienced Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook, and PapaChau helped Johnny “Altec” Ru get the edge in the Bottom Lane. As often happens in such long games, it all came down to one team fight.
At the right moment, 100 Thieves used their experience to make sure it went their way. Initially backing away from a fight in the Echo Fox base, four members baited the enemy out just far enough. As Echo Fox chased, they seemed to lose track of William “Meteos” Hartman (Zac). He had stayed in the base, and moved towards the top lane rather than down the Mid Lane. Using Elastic Slingshot, he dove into the middle of the enemy team. With PapaChau’s (Morgana) Black Shield already on Altec, 100 Thieves were able to take out Damonte (Azir) and Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon (Gnar). With Death Timers being so long at this point in the game, the remaining three members of Echo Fox were unable to hold on. 100 Thieves moved in for the victory, and with it, forced a tiebreaker with Echo Fox for first place.
Despite the first place spot being on the line, Echo Fox decided to stay with Damonte and PapaChau as they loaded in for the tiebreaker game. Damonte once again chose Azir, and they secured the Alistar that brought PapaChau success against FlyQuest earlier in the day.
Game 3 – 100 Thieves
In one of the most exciting games of the Split, both teams really showed how much they wanted the title. With seven total kills already recorded by 15 minutes, Echo Fox chose to start a team fight in their own jungle, but bit off a little more than they could chew. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett (Nocturne) and PapaChau (Alistar) engaged on Cody “Cody Sun” Sun (Jhin). In response, Cody Sun flashed over the wall into the empty Baron Pit. From safety, he used Curtain Call to disrupt the enemy team. This allowed Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook (Ryze) to get off some impressive damage, and 100 Thieves got two kills in the Jungle.
The remaining members of Echo Fox tried to run, and Damonte used Emperor’s Divide to seal off their escape. Without missing a beat, Ryu used Realm Warp followed by a flash over the wall to catch them in the Top Lane, and the team secured two more kills. 100 Thieves tasted blood, and didn’t let up. They kept the pressure on, taking Baron and used the buff to push for the victory, and with it, the first place title in the Spring Split.
Losing first place
Although it of course had an impact, it would be unfair to put much the loss on the two substitutes. They played very well mechanically over the three games, and had respectable stats. In the bigger picture though, that was not enough. Against a team playing as well as 100 Thieves had been for the past several weeks, Echo Fox needed every advantage that they could get, and by mixing up their lineup, they sacrificed something.
Mechanics, CS, and KDA are all important, but it’s not always enough. Late in the game, experience, cohesion, and teamwork are needed in those big team fights in order to come out ahead. It is unrealistic to expect a team with two new players, no matter how skilled, to work together as smoothly as a team that has been playing together for over two months. Both PapaChau and Damonte had very good showings in their first taste of the LCS. However, the decision to start them in the tiebreaker game may have cost Echo Fox first place.
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Featured image courtesy of LoL Esports