Azubu Blaze - Return of the "Early Game" Meta, Cassiopeia still Sucks, and Why I HATE Gragas.

Azubu Blaze are the talk of the town right now and with good reason! For most of us familiar with the competitive League scene we have only been exposed to the playstyles of NA teams and EU teams so finally getting to see some competitive Korean style play has been an incredible sight to behold for all of us. The Asian playstyle has definitely evolved since Guangzhou in 2011. I remember back in Season 1 when Fnatic shook up the meta by making double AP popular, and running crazy things like AP Alistar and Gragas, everyone had to promptly pick their jaws up off the floor. After the first day of MLG Summer Arena and watching Azubu Blaze absolutely Crush the #1 NA team, TSM, you may have to do more than retrieve your jaw from the floor, like get a fresh pair of pants.

"Ok so what's the big deal? They are Korean, and everyone knows that Korean people narrow games down to a science and then shove players into gaming houses and make playing at a hardcore level look as simple as breathing." Well yes, although extremely racist, that is partially true (and shame on you for thinking it!) But I would be lying if I said Azubu made League of Legends look more like a science rather than an art form. The way they play is fluid and smooth as opposed to cold and calculated. From the way they pick their teams to the way they push towers. Let's take a look at game one which I think is a perfect example of this and also indicative to me as a glorious (or feared) return of the "early game" meta.

Game 1 - Return of the "Early Game" Meta

Above are the picks and bans from each team with some color added to help distinguish the pick orders and responses. I feel the bans are pretty standard (and in game 1 are usually based around what is op) so I won't bother going into them. If you look at both teams you won't notice any unorthodox champions or new strategies being revealed. Looking at TSM we see some pretty standard stuff, their favorite support Janna, Regi picking up Twisted Fate, and Dyrus being the scapegoat for TSM putting all their eggs into the "lategame 2x AD carry with bloodboil strategy" basket. Then if you look at Blaze they have strong champions but no real inherent synergy. They picked up Vlad and aren't even running a scary 2nd AoE AP with him. "So why on Earth does this guy think this is artistic?" Because their team is blatantly overpowered and allows them to flawlessly dominate the early game and no one can even detect it. Let me explain, lets examine all the champions.

TSM's Champions

Janna: Passive Mobility, Lots of CC, Disengage, Heal, Shield (All around a solid support although her ultimate does nothing against Blaze's champion picks. If they had Kennen or Amumu it would be superb but in this case it won't even stop Vlad from casting Hemoplague.)

Twisted Fate: Stun, Long Range Nuke/Poke, Map Control (Strong champion which excels early in the laning phase due to map presence.)

Nunu: AS/MS slow, AS steroid, fast jungle clear/counterjungler, situational ultimate. (Nunu is great for lategame when your carry is farmed, his ganks are average, but he excels at counterjungling which I will consider early game/laning phase.)

Corki: Strong early and mid game, some burst, fantastic sustain damage with E, poke, insane late game AD carry. (Corki is just a solid champion. He has good early/mid game, is safe with an escape, and late game becomes a top 3 AD carry.)

Yorick: Safe pick, Lots of Sustain, Slows, Stupid in Lane, Ult Double's/Ressurects someone. (I am not a fan of Yorick mainly because I play soloqueue but in competitive play where AD carries are king and he can give you a 2nd one we all know why he gets picked. Plus his laning phase is broken.)

Overall: All together TSM has a group of strong champs with individual strengths and weaknesses. Janna is the most versatile/useful in and of herself but this is normally a property seen on most supports. TF and Nunu provide the most early game power while Yorick provides the most late game power with Corki as long as he is alive to cast his ultimate upon him.

Blaze's Champions

Graves: Passively Tanky, AD caster, strong AD ratios, AS steroid/escape, Smokescreen. (In my opinion Graves is too much rolled into one and this is something I have always felt. He is always tankier, always burstier, and always safer than other AD carries due to Quickdraw and Smokescreen. Smokescreen also gives him a ton of utility for his team which most AD carries don't have - Slow and Blind.)

Maokai: Fast jungler, good early game ganks, CC, AoE -20% damage ultimate. (Maokai is an incredibly tank, a good ganker, and in a team fight makes your team tankier than the other team.)

Vladimir: Weak-Average early game, Crazy strong mid and late game, Pool makes him untargetable and hard to gank, free stats through passive, provides 12% damage to your team. (Vlad is ridiculous because even if you shut him down he still makes your team 12% stronger and even when he is weak he can still live through hell with his pool.)

Taric: Heal, Stun, +10-30 armor to team, +15-35 AD/AP to team. (Taric makes your team stronger and tankier. He can provide moderate sustain which is better than nothing and can also punish an enemy for being out of place with his stun whether it be reactionary or used as initiation.)

Ahri: Sustain through passive, True damage, CC, High Mobility, Burst damage. (Ahri is ridiculous. She has few popular lane counters, she has incredible mobility which makes her relatively safe and incredibly dangerous, she has high burst, and a long ranged taunt providing cc for the team, she can initiate and she can follow up.)

Overview: If you haven't already noticed the "team" synergy, as opposed to "champion" synergy (like Morg and Kennen or Kayle and Karthus), is vastly superior on team Blaze than on TSM. I don't know if this perfect team was intentional or not but it is absolutely astounding if your main strategy is to push towers and capitalize early game. Once Blaze hit level 6 their team does 12% more damage, takes 20% reduced damage, has +20 armor, +15 AD/AP, can blind and slow the enemy, can stun or charm someone out of position, and has powerful forms of AP and AD burst with decent scaling meaning that late game items are not required for them to start being a threat. Have you ever theoretically though of a more perfect team a team that grows this exponentially strong as soon as they hit level 6? I didn't think something like this could be possible! To top it all off you run it on a team whose favorite strategy is to capitalize in the early game and crush towers. That is why I think Azubu Blaze is artistic and not scientific. Whoever came up with this composition is someone truly passionate about this game and not someone with a chalkboard and a calculator.

Gallery: Game 1 Money

Ok now that I am done being a fanboy and explaining why TSM got completely outpicked in Game 1, and also why NA decisions in the whole champion selection process might be out of date, lets take a look at how effective the Early Game Tower Strategy is. It was mentioned by the casters a lot in Game 1 that even though TSM was behind in towers they were only 2k or 3k gold behind Azubu Blaze at times which is not always a "significant" advantage. I managed to get this screenshot of the money values in the first game. It shows that Chaox was getting all the kills on TSM and was the top earner on the team which is where the small gap of about 10% gold comes into play; but if you look at Blaze not only do they have the most farmed player on their team, in Ahri, but all their other lanes are ahead of their counterparts which makes their team stronger overall. This shows that not only is the Early Game Tower Strategy effective but it is also self-sustaining (so long as you don't have a completely botched team fight and throw your advantage *cough M5 vs CLG.EU cough*).

Time of Tower Deaths for Game 1

Top Blaze Top TSM Mid Blaze Mid TSM Bot Blaze Bot TSM
1st - 10:55 1st - N/A 1st - 12:18 1st - 36:41 1st - 13:03 1st - N/A
2nd - 20:27 2nd - N/A 2nd - 14:29 2nd - 40:42 2nd - 15:47 2nd - N/A
3rd - N/A 3rd - N/A 3rd- 28:21 3rd - N/A 3rd - 36:02 3rd - N/A
Nexus 1 - 41:06   Nexus 2 - 45:01      


Game 2 - Why Cassiopeia still Sucks

Game 2 is just an overly glorified reassuring perfect example of why Cassiopeia still sucks as a mid champion. I first want to start by saying that I do not know why, if TSM wanted an aggressive AP mid champion, they wen't with Cassiopeia over Ahri (who was open). Even if she synergizes well with Yorick (12 months ago) there were other, and better, combos available like Kennen/Morganna or Karthus/Kayle. Cassiopeia is too high risk/low reward right now to be playing her over other more reliable and arguably more powerful AP champions. Plus her ultimate, which is arguable her strongest move, has such a strange gimmick to it to proc the stun, in the fact that they have to be facing you. I honestly think that TSM lost this one straight out of the gates when they picked Cassiopeia. Now some of you might be mad because Regi did good on Cassiopeia and there was a point where he was 6/2/2 or something and you are right but the underlying fact is that they lost because they had a weak strategy that relied on weaker champs to execute.

Blaze did not have an incredible awe inspiring composition like they did in game 1 that is worth analyzing every detail of but their team as a whole retains a lot of similar elements that make their push strategy work: 12% damage from Vlad, AoE heal from Soraka (level 1 her wish heals for 200 which could arguable be 20% of any champions health at level 6, giving her close to the same value as Maokai from game 1), Stun and Supression/Reposition from Irelia and Skarner respectively to punish out of position enemies, and good burst from Corki.

Time of Tower Deaths for Game 2

Top Blaze Top TSM Mid Blaze Mid TSM Bot Blaze Bot TSM
1st - 20:57 1st - 32:16 1st - 17:15 1st - 21:08 1st - 11:37 1st - N/A
2nd - 21:47 2nd - N/A 2nd - 35:11 2nd - 30:39 2nd - N/A 2nd - N/A
3rd - 36:28 3rd - N/A 3rd- 35:26 3rd - N/A 3rd - N/A 3rd - N/A
Nexus 1 - 35:45   Nexus 2 - 38:31      

Game 3 - Why I HATE Gragas

I am going to go ahead and say that forcing a team to play a 3rd game after they have already lost 2 (and have nothing significant to gain for winning the 3rd) is almost like parading someone around town naked after you just murdered their family and stole all their money (sounds like a plot for the 4th Batman movie). So I don't fault TSM for performing their weakest in Game 3 but it will not stop me from highlighting one of the things I hate most about Gragas.

Let me first say that my hatred for Gragas comes from 3 things:

1. I could not play him skillfully when Shushei and Reginald made him popular back in Season 1 and early Season 2.

2. Gragas' damage is unreliable and he suffers from the problem of being a 2 skill AP champion like Twisted Fate (meaning that you have to utilize him 100% perfectly within the first 25 minutes of the game or winning becomes an uphill battle).

3. I have never won a soloqueue game where Gragas is on my team.

Now point 1 is me holding a grudge. Point 2 is worth examining and Point 3 is related to Point 2. so lets look at Points 2 and 3. Gragas' damage is unreliable because all his spells are skill shots and have weird gimmicks to them:

Barrel Roll: His Q has long range and has a fantastic AP ratio but suffers from the fact that you have to activate it to do damage, this means that a well timed silence or stun can ruin your entire output of damage. The skillshot factor means they can also dodge it. It is also not a skillshot like Ezreal's or Morgana's where it does damage to the first thing it hits even if it is the wrong target, you have to detonate it every time! Which means even if you do hit someone point blank with it sometimes you can derp and they can move before you actually blow it up.

Drunken Rage: Useless outside of laning phase

Body Slam: Another line skill shot which is best used for bypassing terrain. The attack does good damage but has a strange component to it that divides your damage among multiple targets. It has a slow which is nice, makes hitting your Q easier, but the worst part is it puts you in melee range which makes it impractical, and ultimately useless, in large engagements.

Explosive Cask: This is the worst spell in the game. Yes it does a lot of damage and yes it has a good AP ratio, but the randomness factor of the knockback is not worth the risk especially when you consider other AP champs with AoE ultimates that do similar damage (Vladimir, Morgana, Orianna, Zyra, Karthus, Fiddlesticks, Galio, Kennen, Lux, Malphite, Rumble, Sona, Viktor, Xerath, Ziggs). Ya some pretty pathetic champs on that list (I was even going to include Cassiopeia but I feel that would be too contradictory to my last paragraph.) The point is that whatever Gragas does someone else does it better and does not screw your entire team. The randomness can also be completely detrimental to your team and the worst part is that unless you have split second processing there is no way you can consistently analyze situations on a second by second basis that will give you precise use and placement of the ultimate. Take Game 3 for example:

Gallery: The Randomness of Rabble Rousing

As you can see in picture 1 this is before the Cask is about to land. Now presumably Gragas threw it to do damage, which is a good thing, but imagine trying to see those lines I drew into the picture every time you thought about using your ultimate so that you could adequately decide when it is or when it is not a good idea. Do you really think Regi had the time to think "this is going to knock Irelia in the direction Corki valkyries," or do you think he was just thinking "FK IT BAY LIFE!" He would also have to think of the possible effects it would have on the other 2 players in this situation (noted by the blue lines). Picture 2 shows the effects of the Cask (Lulu and Shyv ended up not being in range) highlighting the fact that not only did his Ultimate not hit 2 people, which cripples his overall potential contribution to the remainder of the fight when considering those 2 champions, but he has also thwarted the escape of his teammate.

This is why I hate Gragas, this is why you should never play him in soloqueue, and this is why no one should play him competitively either.

In this game Blaze's composition did not have any overwhelming growths in power once they hit level 6 like in the past 2 games but they did have a suite of tricks at their disposal. They had amazing initiation with Lulu + Irelia/Shyvana, they have good crowdcontrol to punish their enemies with Lulu, TF, and Irelia, they had good zoning and poke with Lulu, Graves, and TF, and they even had split pushing capabilities and map control with TF.

Time of Tower Deaths for Game 3

Top Blaze Top TSM Mid Blaze Mid TSM Bot Blaze Bot TSM
1st - 8:51 1st - N/A 1st - 15:42 1st - N/A 1st - 4:21 1st - N/A
2nd - 23:14 2nd - N/A 2nd - 18:22 2nd - N/A 2nd - 22:11 2nd - N/A
3rd - 32:50 3rd - N/A 3rd- 18:32 3rd - N/A 3rd - 33:09 3rd - N/A
Nexus 1 - 35:28   Nexus 2 - 35:28      

All in all I think Azubu Blaze is the real deal and that they are going to live up to, and possibly exceed, the expectations of the viewers only exposed to NA/EU styles of play. It will be interesting to see what kind of compositions Blaze comes up with today or if they reuse the comp from Game 1. I can only hope that my boys from Curse read this to help them better their chances against the fierce competition that is Azubu Blaze.

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