Evaluating the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of substitutions in the LCS

By Isaac McIntyre ·
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Photo via Riot Games

The Academy system is now in full effect in North America, and moves between LCS teams’ starting and backup rosters have become much more frequent. Changes between the two five-man squads can bring new strategies, different opinions, or even just catch opponents off-guard week-to-week.


With more and more of these substitution moves cropping up in the LCS, it’s becoming clear these can yield major benefits for the teams that use them. In the past, removing a player from the first-team roster meant they were under-performing. Now orgs are using it as a strategy for regular gamedays and best-of-five series.


We focus in on the positive and negative impacts of major substitutions that were made in the LCS in Week 6. Three teams that made use of the player-swap rule were Cloud9, Echo Fox, and OpTic Gaming. Each team had a varying degree of success, from a crucial 2-0 weekend, to blooding new talent on the league stage.


Cloud9’s jungling prodigy returns, for a time


Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen made way for young rising star Robert “Blaber” Huang in Cloud9’s first game of the weekend, facing Golden Guardians. The other two headliner substitutions from last weekend were not completely clear-cut but this move certainly was. C9 returned Blaber to the stage for the first time in 2019 to regather experience.


Last year, Cloud9 brought a seven-man roster to the Summer Split playoffs before employing a similar strategy at the World Championship. Now, after 14 straight games back in the Academy roster, the org is blooding their 19-year-old prospect in preparation for the spring finals.


Cloud9 were playing against a Golden Guardians team that has had mixed results so far in 2019 despite boasting a roster dripping with household names. Coming up against one of the league’s lower placed rosters made it a great time to drop Blaber back into the mixing pot, due to the lowered pressure of the match. The change paid off big time.



Photo via Riot Games


Blaber’s return to the shining lights of the main stage resulted in a victory for Cloud9, and will have gone a long way to reacquainting the young jungler with the top roster. As best-of-five series loom on the horizon, the ability to swap Blaber and veteran Svenskeren will be a powerful weapon in the org’s arsenal.


It was a great return for Blaber as well, as he delivered a 2/3/5 game on the recently-buffed Rek’Sai n a tight 9-8 victory over the now fourth-placed Guardians. Confidence for Blaber and a reminder of what the top level is like in the LCS will both play key roles when he makes his return to the playoffs.


Cloud9 proved the substitution swaps can still work for them, as Svenskeren played a role in the team’s victory over Team SoloMid the next day. With Svenskeren and Blaber playing two sides of the same coin, Cloud9 are in a strong position as they barrel towards the postseason.


Is Meteos the best choice over Dardoch?



Photo via Riot Games


The second key substitution of the weekend saw William “Meteos” Hartman return to the starting OpTic Gaming. He played both games against first-placed Team Liquid and season surprise FlyQuest, and OpTic ended their weekend with a 1-1 record. They now sit tied at fourth with three other teams with a 5-7 record overall.


The change is less clear cut in its success, because OpTic are in more desperate need of positive results than teams like C9. Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett played last weekend and scored a win over Clutch Gaming. That meant Meteos’ return to the main roster did nothing to boost OpTic up the standings or improve week-by-week results.


The weekend record remaining the same with Meteos or Dardoch in the roster didn’t change OpTic’s position, meaning overall it was a disappointing swap in regards to ladder position for the team. Positives can be drawn from it however, in regards to the team’s position head of the postseason.

OpTic have proven to themselves and viewers they have two LCS-calibre North American junglers on their ten-man roster. For an organization looking to break into playoff contention, that’s not a bad thing.


There are a few things we can draw from Meteos’ back-to-back appearances this weekend. Since returning to the first-team roster in round three against Golden Guardians, Meteos has retained his position in all but one game.


That gives a clear indication the OpTic backroom staff favor the veteran in-game leader that has played nearly 400 professional games on stage. It’s more likely Dardoch’s appearance in the 45 minute win over Clutch was in a similar vein to Blaber’s with C9. With a chance at playoffs now appearing over the next hill, OpTic want to be prepared for a best-of-five scenario within the next month, and giving Dardoch stage time can be key to that.


Meteos played well in both his games on the weekend, falling to league leaders Team Liquid before winning against FlyQuest the next day. Although 1-1 isn’t the greatest result for the team, losing to a red-hot TL is no major disappointment. Instead, Meteos’ 2/1/6 result against FlyQuest is a better indicator of what the veteran jungler brings to the team, as he put his playmaking and map-play to work in the win.


While there are a few problems within the OpTic roster, Meteos’ performances have not been one of them. Instead, the org has been mainly focusing on settling in world champion Min-ho “Crown” Lee. Unfortunately for Dardoch fans, this may see him remain in Academy for the time being. Meteos has proven he’s a solid choice in the jungle position, and one that can certainly help the team in their bid for a postseason campaign.


Collegiate star replaces the Kind Boy



Photo via Riot Games


The third big substitution from the weekend in the LCS is the most interesting. After bringing in Yoon-jae “Rush” Lee as one of their star players for 2019, Echo Fox were forced to turn to their Academy after Rush began struggling with “many issues” in recent games.



Enter Australian-born, North American jungler James “Panda” Ding, who made his name in the collegiate circuit with University of California. Put on the map by Riot’s Scouting Grounds initiative, the new Echo Fox recruit showed he’s ready to cut his teeth in the top league.


On paper, Panda’s first two games in the LCS were not total successes. Defeats to TSM and Clutch Gaming delivered Echo Fox an 0-2 weekend and chalked two straight losses in Panda’s history book.


Despite the overall results going against him, Panda managed to show his potential in the opening game. Against TSM, when Echo Fox lost after a failed Baron Nashor fight, Panda still created and secured seven of the team’s 10 kills on Jarvan.


The team struggled to fight their way back into the game after losing the Baron buff to TSM at 26 minutes, but it was their macro failings that really let the match slip away. Considering Panda was playing his first game in the LCS, it’s likely he wouldn’t have had any major input on the team’s mid and late game calls, yet he still showed off early in the clash.


A more difficult game awaited Panda on the second day, as he died three times and recorded just one assist against Clutch. That one assist contributed to the only kill Echo Fox scored in the entire 31-minute game, as Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae and Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme rolled over the map with their bot lane advantage.


At its core, Panda’s substitution wasn’t a major success, as the replacement of South Korean jungler Rush didn’t lead the team to any victories. The groundwork for future glory with the collegiate star is there for the team however, and that can be classed as a long-term positive for Echo Fox even if they miss playoffs.


Substitutes are here to stay



Photo via Riot Games


With Blaber, Meteos, and Panda all making varying levels of impact in the LCS last weekend, it’s becoming clear the substitution plan is a solid one. Bringing in Blaber over Svenskeren and not losing pace is a positive for Cloud9. Panda’s step up to main stage is also a positive, with Echo Fox now able to work on Rush’s recent struggles behind the scenes.


The ongoing contest for the top spot in the OpTic Gaming lineup between Meteos and Dardoch still has weeks to play out. The fact Meteos can be motivated by another LCS-caliber jungler waiting behind him may be a massive bonus for the organization however, and could push both of them to new levels if it pans out.


As substitutes continue to popularize in the LCS, it’s becoming clear these player-swaps can be positives, and sometimes even vital. No longer are substitutions always used because players are under-performing, but instead they can be used to blood new talent or change the way the team plays.


Fans and pundits alike will be carefully watching organizations like Cloud9 and OpTic in the coming weeks as they continue to test the waters on their jungler substitution plans. We may even begin to see teams regularly playing different junglers between Saturday and Sunday games in the near future.

Author

Isaac McIntyre

@everin_oce
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