All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure
- Mark Twain
In the Spanish scene, where the hype surrounding the ex-Giants roster (sans Lucas "Cabochard " Simon-Meslet, who would take Kim "Ruin" Hyeong-min’s place in the toplane) was well above that of the international experts, people were still rating Vitality as a barely-playoffs kind of team. This judgment was based on the expected weakness of the bottom tier teams, rather than confidence on the rookies being able to perform extraordinarily.
I confess myself a surprised motherf**ker.
As of last Saturday, team Vitality sits alone atop of the EU LCS, outperforming every other roster that was predicted to come ahead of them. For many, this already might be enough to give midlane star, Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro, the rookie of the split award, with some experts already drawing comparisons with the already established greats of EU’s most stacked position.
However, not much of a closer look is needed to figure out why his performance is looking so strong game after game. The setup goes as follows:
On a carry toplaner, Cabochard will either gain priority to roam midlane looking for a gank or have strong gank setup himself, allowing for Jiizuke to be able to move toplane should the opportunity arise. A strong mid-jungle duo will control the center of the map, where Gilius likes to have fearsome kill threat on the enemy midlaner thanks to the likes of Jarvan or Zac, and Jiizuke will go for midlaners with good setup and easily transferable leads, such as Ryze or Zoe.
The botlane will enable this style through drafting a waveclear heavy ADC and a support that allows Jakub "Jactroll" Skurzyński to roam midlane at every possible reset. Against the likes of Caitlyn, it’s pretty hard to achieve pressure on the botlane and, because every Vitality member but the unkillable Amadeu "Minitroupax" Carvalho will be playing for midlane control, the necessary warding for it becomes almost impossible to achieve.
There are a lot of upsides to Vitality’s identity. First of all, they have one, already a rare sight on the current EU LCS. As they say, a bad plan is better than five good ones, and Vitality is getting a lot from each player understanding their role in the team clearly.
But it’s not only the identity that is making them look coordinated. Team Vitality has a good deal of grit, something that is not only hard to teach but also a common trait of the best teams of all time. League is a game of windows, making the decision to go in half a second too late can separate victory from defeat. Saying their shotcalling is decisive is an understatement.
Finally, it can not be omitted that the 8.1 metagame heavily favored their natural style. The popularity of Targon’s in the botlane, combined with the ever-present Stopwatch, made it almost impossible for teams to gain advantages playing around the botlane.
Instead, a counterpick heavy midlane pool, combined with the aforementioned botlane troubles, meant that allocating most of the vision resources around the shorter lane became the go to plan for most junglers. In Korea, this translated into vision wars that would extend through the early game and often lead to nothing. In less coordinated regions, if you were on the losing end of the jungle pressure, you would likely feed from the midlane.
In context, Jiizuke’s permafighting mentality was bound to give Vitality an edge, as the style was not only clear for everyone but also strong in the initial metagame of season 8. However, several cracks in the team structure are already apparent, despite their dominant record.
Gilius, who was perhaps the most notorious member of the team prior to their LCS showing, where Jiizuke and Minitroupax have hogged the spotlight, can really struggle when his role in the game goes beyond ganking.
On the promotion tournament series against Schalke 04, his Elise showing left a lot to be desired. The talented jungler struggled to recognize situations in which he could safely invade to create warding advantages that could be translated into objectives or lane pressure. Sure, when he is on a position to smash lanes, he shows brilliant aggressive instincts and decisive mechanics but, unfortunately for Vitality, that is but a piece of the jungle puzzle.
On the Spanish League playoff tournament finals, Gamergy, local rival MAD Lions was able to exploit another flaw through a Jayce pick that opened a window for rising jungle star Oskar "SelfMade" Boderek to invade Gilius’ jungle. Stubbornly, Gilius would often overcommit to the defense of his jungle resources, losing a flash or even dying for it, forfeiting a lot of early pressure and overall game impact.
▲ With nothing to defend and both nearby lanes pushed against him, Gilius still takes a fight and ends up losing a flash for it
The same flaw showed when playing the newest iteration of the Schalke 04 lineup. Even though Vitality was able to outplay their flanks and came out with the victory, Pridestalker’s early plays on the Kha’zix again saw Gilius committing to take his Krugs despite again having both lanes pushed in, no vision on Azir, his toplaner in base and being low health.
Unavoidably, this leads into another concern, as Vitality’s mid-jungle synergy seems to transcend the Rift and bleed into their personalities.
Jiizuke doesn’t like to fight, he loves it. Ahead or behind, right or wrong matchup, he will often go in at unexpected times and commit where others wouldn’t, gaining advantages many of his peers could not conceive of. Because he is also very good at converting into team leads, he is becoming increasingly feared on the EU LCS stage.
However, as great as it might look right now, it can also look much worse. Both the metagame and teams not having figured out weaknesses of the roster are covering a lot of potential problems. Jiizuke is a double-edged sword.
It’s very hard to be able to fight if the opponent looks to invade your jungle, something teams will try to do once Gilius’ past issues become more apparent. Unleashed Spellbook being so strong up until now has also been keeping this weakness from showcasing further, the punishment for coming behind in trades is not as big with such a low cooldown Teleport.
In the past, it was not uncommon to catch him on the bad end of trades enough to lose his team a good deal of pressure. It remains to be seen if this is something that has disappeared from his play or rather something that remains hidden by the metagame.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having a set style and, obviously, certain weaknesses will come with it in exchange for the strengths. Nevertheless, predictability is very punishable in League of Legends, every successful team needs a certain level of strategic depth.
Misfits, who gave Vitality their only defeat of this season, came prepared. Against a botlane that is only looking to waveclear and roam, they drafted Kog’maw and played for the late game. If you are not ready to punish an enemy botlane from drafting for mid to late game, since you want your support to roam most of the time, there really is no reason for them not to.
To the mix they added a strong jungling duelist with high mobility in the form of Kha’zix, making contesting vision around the midlane much easier. Were it not for how Sencux’s passive play, which allowed Jiizuke to roam in every wave and pressure Misfit’s midlane outer, Vitality could have found itself in very dangerous waters that we’ve yet to see them successfully navigate.
As it stands, Vitality doesn’t seem to have the strongest Baron setups from ahead, and seem to default to botlane collapses if they feel like their lead is not big enough to straight out go for the Baron Nashor.
If you find contention with this point, I completely understand. After all, I’m giving merit to a setup from Misfits that didn’t work as intended, precisely because of Jiizuke’s aggression that is coming under the spotlight of my critique.
However, in no universe is the Azir end of the Azir Zoe matchup supposed to lose as hard as Misfits lost it. Schalke 04’s Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik too played the same end of the matchup against Jiizuke, with a similar plan from both teams, and found quite a good deal of success and pressure for himself. By choosing to never fight, Sencux completely forfeited any chance of keeping the Zoe from taking over the entire game.
This article might seem too harsh a criticism for a team composed of three rookies. After all, rookies are just that, their lack of extensive experience at the highest level, navigating through metagames and adapting to how elite players can punish you is a big disadvantage.
I agree. Vitality has shown fantastic gameplay, and everyone in the team should be proud of that.
But it is also our duty to present the public with a fair portrayal of reality, and the truth is that their style has also shown a lot of concerning patterns that people seem to want to ignore in the pursuit of a sexier narrative.
Tomorrow, Vitality could come out of the gate with a completely different setup, closing games in unexpected fashion and showing a different face to the team unknown to the general public. As of today, they haven’t, and I personally will wait a bit to get my first class seat on the hype train.