As the finals approach, Longzhu looks to be SKT’s pièce de résistance in taking back the title of best team in the world. Their unexpected first place finish on the regular season of the LCK; combined with the strategical advantage derived from their straight seeding to the finals, would make it reasonable to picture them having a decent shot at taking the title of LCK champion.
To picture them as a strong contender would imply overlooking the contingencies that allowed them to become competitors of the highest possible caliber. We must first understand the team, in order to properly predict their current strength.
Toplaner Khan’s hunger for resources was enabled by the old Tigers’ botlane, who found themselves in the already familiar position of playing in a top side centric lineup. Once again, Pray and Gorilla have excelled as a low economy duo, able to hold their own against the best botlanes in the world without having as much pressure from their teammates.
With an incredibly skilled midlaner in Bdd, Longzhu was given a clear identity that worked wonderfully in the pre 7.14 metagame. As Bdd secured midlane priority, jungler Cuzz could invest all his time on locating the enemy jungler and camping the toplane.
This allowed Khan, regarded by League of Legends expert Nick “LS” De Cesare as the toplaner with the best mechanics in the world, to flourish as a player. He would gather early advantages that would spill all over the map, paying the resources his teammates had allocated to his lane back with dividends.
Soon, Longzhu gathered a following that ramped as their cohesion developed. Their emphasis on isolating the toplane allowed them to showcase wonky picks such as Cassiopeia or Mordekaiser. Because this was based on strong early plans and a proper setup, they captured the attention of regular viewers and analysts alike.
It’s still riding on this wave of hype that many were predicting Longzhu to remain a strong opponent for whichever team reached the LCK finals.
However, the creeping shift in the meta ever since the implementation of patch 7.14 has transformed the way in which river control works, exposing two weaknesses in Longzhu’s core. That is, Cuzz’s predictable pathing and the monodimensional style derived from it.
The raise of tank junglers has made it both harder to kill them when overextended and less profitable to do so. Junglers having less damage and more resistances now need the help of their support to exert kill pressure on an overextended enemy, a zone control that can be turned into vision advantages as enemies avoid facechecking.
Furthermore, there has been a decrease in the value of early topside control. Tanks make pick based strategies less effective, in turn resulting in a big hit on the value of Rift Herald. Herald is much more effective after getting a kill on an opponent, as it is very easy to contest the push with equal numbers.
All of this has resulted in Longzhu having a harder time getting river control while also deriving less value from it. Focusing only on the toplane is not as viable, and the need to have a push on the bottom lane to activate the river control clashes with the plan of a low economy duo lane.
A push demands jungle presence to avoid ganks, and Cuzz has so far not been up to the task of providing this pressure while remaining effective. Jungling without training wheels has proved much harder for the rookie.
KT jungler Score, hauled by many as the best in the world, gave Cuzz a free master class in early jungling last time they faced. Using his Rek’sai to keep tabs con Cuzz’s Elise, Score managed to triplicate the spider in cs while keeping her from having any effective ganks. Despite cs being a poor metric for jungle gold, due to the nature of the camps, Score was ahead Cuzz by 2 levels and had a seven hundred gold advantage derived only from his superior farming.
Even in uncontested series, Cuzz’s ability to play around any lane other than top comes into question. His Kha’zix in the second game of their last series against Samsung Galaxy was an absolute non factor, despite Longzhu having a clear plan to snowball the botlane and a strong claim at bottom side priority.
The problem is clearly Cuzz’s, but the blame has to be shared. Despite him being the main weakness that’s now being exposed, it has to be considered that jungle is by far the role that differs the most between soloqueue and competitive.
Successfully transitioning into the highest level of play lies as much on the team and coaching staff as it lies on Cuzz’s shoulders. Khan has been brilliant, but also very demanding. Longzhu have developed a stiff identity that has come back to bite them at their higher point, and blaming the person you are responsible for developing is far from reasonable.
Seeing how PraY and Gorilla had no problem snowballing from bot even with little help from their jungler, it’s impossible not to wonder what could have been. We will never know whether Longzhu would be stronger had they given Cuzz more chances to develop pathing alternatives that involved heavier botlane pressure, and more opportunities to fail in less important games.
As it stands, Longzhu is already bleeding out before the series even starts. It’s hard to imagine SKT giving them enough pressure to snowball from the bot side with how poor Cuzz’s presence has been, and Untara playing mostly a safe role will make it even harder to get Khan ahead.
On top of these problems, the low diversity of game plans they have exhibited works even more against them in a best of five scenario. If they manage to start strong, SKT’s famous adaptability in long series will still be an almost impossible to overcome obstacle.
To succeed, Longzhu need to have made the best out of this period in the dark. Innovation is of the essence in order to bring enough diversity to withstand the best of five. Nevertheless, GorillA’s pocket picks will not be a substitute for putting the proper amount of work on Cuzz’s core weakness. If he does not show up significant development, he will crumble when facing SKT’s powerful vision control. And so will Longzhu.
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