A battle between two excellent League of Legends players is like watching a high-level chess match. Every move is based not only on what the player is capable of, but also based off of the potential responses that the opponent will likely make. Predictions that are mechanical in nature are much easier to spot. After all, Hong “Madlife” Ming-gi made his career off them by expertly predicting where his opponents would try to go to dodge his Thresh and Blitzcrank hooks. Predictions on a macro scale are harder to notice, yet no less impressive than their more noticeable counterpart, and Ryu “Keria” Min-seok is a master of it. Keria’s shrewd macro decisions in Game 2 of T1 vs Liiv SANDBOX remind viewers that one cannot be a world-class player with mechanical excellence alone.
Why the Rift Herald is so important
In order to discuss Keria’s performance, we must outline the importance of the first Rift Herald and the typical setup that professional teams follow to capture it. With the introduction of Mythic items in Season 11, the impact of completing the first item has intensified significantly. As a result, the importance of early gold income has also correlatively increased, which is when the Rift Herald comes into the discussion. The Rift Herald typically guarantees 320 to 1250 gold depending on how low in health the tower is. Despite not giving any permanent buffs like the elemental drakes, this potential boost in gold income is the reason why the Rift Herald is the most prized neutral objective in the early game.
The 7:10 rotation
Professional League of Legends teams has developed multiple strategies over the years revolving around the Rift Herald. The most popular one is the 7:10 rotation. A cannon wave spawns at 6:35 that will arrive into bot lane by 7:10. The goal is to crash this cannon wave into the enemy tower and allow the support to reset and assist in controlling the river by Rift Herald by roaming up to the top side. The support would be first onto the map since the enemy bot lane would have to first catch the wave under their tower and push it back towards the other side before resetting. With the numbers advantage acquired through the support roam, the mid laner would be able to crash their wave and assist in capturing the Rift Herald. This is the textbook strategy that was also utilized by Liiv SANDBOX against T1 in Game 2 during Week 2 of the LCK spring split 2022. Taking advantage of their favorable champion match-ups, LSB’s bot lane successfully crashed the 6:35 cannon wave and reset while Keria and Lee “Gumayushi” Min-hyeong were stuck beneath their tower. Getting the bot lane involved in the Rift Herald was especially crucial for LSB since Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Corki would have his passive, the Package, ready at 8:00. This devastating ability would give T1 a major advantage that could only be equalized by a numbers advantage acquirable through the 7:10 rotation. However, Keria knew that the Rift Herald was far from lost. With LSB capturing Dragon at 6:30 after a skirmish in the mid lane, Kim “Kael” Jin-hong stayed on the map while Keria reset. As such, Keria didn’t have to reset once more and used that time to rotate to the mid lane to match Kael’s next maneuver.
So far, however, this is something that Kael likely expected to happen based on the circumstances of the game. After all, Kael had a countermeasure in place if Keria contested LSB’s Rift Herald capture. With control over the bot wave during the Rift Herald spawn, a team could use the wave to execute a strategy known as the Cutoff. Instead of giving up control over the Rift Herald, the support along with the jungler would instead control the enemy jungle quadrant on the opposite side. With the bot wave stacking and pushing into the tower, the enemy AD Carry has to abandon the tower or get dove. The enemy support also cannot quickly return to the bot lane since the river and the jungle quadrant cannot be traversed without the risk of getting caught and killed, which would aggravate the situation and result in further denial of gold and experience for the AD Carry. As a result, the enemy support must reset and return to the lane through the base. During this time, almost three waves can be denied from the enemy AD Carry, which can often compensate for the losing Rift Herald. With Yoon “Ice” Sang-hoon controlling the bot wave, Kael intentionally hid his position to threaten the potential of the Cutoff and force Keria to choose between the Rift Herald or the welfare of his AD Carry.
Why not both?
Keria, however, found a way to assure both. He knew that he only had to match numbers to ensure Rift Herald’s capture with Chou “Zeus” Woo-jae having control over the top side, so committing to the top side river was not necessary. As such, he intentionally showed himself pathing back towards the bot lane. Based on this information, Kael will naturally be dissuaded from pursuing the Cutoff since Keria would be in a position to stop the wave denial. However, Keria had no intentions of committing towards the bot lane. The moment that he got far enough into the blue side jungle to bluff his movement, he immediately turned back to the mid lane to link with Faker with his package to contest the mid-wave. By the time Kael realized Keria’s bluff it was already too late. The bot wave already crashed and he was not in a position to deny Gumayushi the wave.
In order to execute this level of play, Keria not only had to know the two strategies, but understand the conditions for both of them to the minuscule detail. Using the said details to his advantage allowed him to evade the dilemma that most supports would have faltered in. The ability to identify the rules of the game, and then break it to their will, is what separates exceptional, world-class players like Keria from the rest.