We very well predicted the return of Gnar to the top lane with the start of the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI). Picked in seven out of the eight matches thus far, the Yordle has seen significant prioritization matched only by Thresh and Rek’Sai. However, one thing relatively few people saw coming, even the pros themselves, was Cassiopeia in the Top lane.
Almost exclusively seen in the Mid lane in past seasons, the Serpant has seen a rise in popularity ever since her passive was reworked as both a mid laner and top laner. Now with the ability to hard carry, many players view her as a good way to complement another such carry in the bottom lane or a team stacked heavily with crowd control. She does have certain advantages over her commonly picked Top lane opponents. She frequently outranges and out damage-per-seconds them and can certainly carry much harder than most of them come late game. However, she also comes with drawbacks. Without Ghost as a Summoner Spell, she can’t reliably disengage or chase down enemies without using her flash. Cass also has limited potential with her teleports. Unlike traditional laners, she can’t simply TP in behind the enemy team and engage on all of them. Since her ult relies so much on enemies facing her, they’re more likely to just ignore her and start running toward the rest of her team. Therefore, she oftentimes has to teleport into the thick of the teamfight, opening her up to quick elimination unless she has a Zonya’s Hourglass to buy her some time after using her ultimate.
Location also plays an integral role as it becomes much harder to be in the right place at the right time. The island that is known as top lane means that Cassiopeia doesn't command as much presence during the early to mid game. Rather than having to worry about her roam, with a few placed wards around her lane, it becomes easy to eliminate her threat elsewhere. Fnatic’s Top-laner Huni was the first to pull her out against Dyrus and Team SoloMid. Playing against a Gnar, he rushed Tear of the Goddess, then built a Giant’s Belt to gain some tankiness, before completing his Archangel’s Staff. After completing his boots, he then purchased a Rylai’s and Abyssal Scepter, helping him stay healthy in extended teamfights. Besiktas e-Sports Club’s Thaldrin decided to build a Deathcap instead of an Abyssal hoping to get more damage out before he died. Ultimately the pick didn’t work nearly as well for the team as they fell to AHQ. If you run into any Cassiopeia players claiming they saw her go Top in the LCS and therefore they can too, you know who to blame. With enough coordination and a big enough advantage, Cass helps snowball the game out of control. But get behind, like any other mid-laner, and she’s useless until she can get caught up. So next time you take to the Rift with your friends, don't be afraid to take the Snake against some of the beefier bruisers that frequent Top. Just be careful and don't rush into ranked before you've learned the new intracasies that come with it.
When Riot’s first annual Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) starts this week, six teams from around the world will converge on Tallahassee, Florida. With them come all sorts of playstyles and champion picks, widening the conventional library that we’re used to seeing out of European and North American players. The biggest of which we haven’t seen contested since the rise of Hecarim.
We’re of course talking about the cutest Yordle in the top lane, Gnar. It’s been a long time since he’s been among the top bans of solo queue, as he fell out of favor with players more inclined to sport Maokai, Hecarim, or Sion. It’s a bit strange to think of when you compare their Master+ Tier win-rate and popularity. MSI will be played on Patch 5.7, which came out on April 21, 2015. Since then, despite the fact that the latter three champions are more highly prioritized in the LCS, Sion is way behind Gnar (11.6%) in popularity. In only 8.31% of games during this patch cycle, Sion is the only one of the group behind our cuddly top-laner. Perhaps some of Hecarim’s 12.18% is due to his malleability, able to both Jungle and go Top as well as even Mid, but you’d think the discrepancy would be much lower. Maokai blows away the competition, appearing in almost 16% of all matches Master or above.
But solo queue is only a rough representation of what we can expect to see on the big stage. Out of the last 50 professional matches where Gnar was played, 43 have taken place in the LPL, LCK, or other leagues in the East. We have sparsely seen him visit the West. In fact, only Team Impulse’s Impact and Team Dragon Knights’ Seraph have brought the yordle Top. Most analysts and commentators would rather forget Kikis’ lone Jungle Gnar match even though it was a victory. Regardless of where he is being played, it has been quite some time since we’ve seen him match over match during the pick and ban phase. SK Telecom T1 and Edward Gaming have been two of the biggest advocates for Gnar. In route to their 3-0 stomp of the GE Tigers, SKT’s MaRin consistently prioritized the pick. Though he’s easily the worse of the two on Gnar, he still sports a 3.25 KDA and did an admirable job of holding off Smeb and Lee. Try as they might, he frequently utilized Hop to narrowly escape death after death. Although he holds his own, MaRin doesn’t carry his team with Gnar very often. EDG’s Koro1 should be feared by teams worldwide however. His 12/10/69 record over the past month or so really shows that he is determined to make plays and keep his team rolling. In those five wins and one loss he’s defeated two of the three dominant Western top-laners: Maokai (3-0) and Hecarim (1-1). Arguably the best team in the world, Koro will finally be able to prove his prowess on the international stage. Hopefully we get to see him utilize one of his favorite top-laners in the process. So while Team SoloMid and Fnatic may have gotten used to the lack of Gnar, they had better be preparing for the matchup or be ready to lose a ban. Dyrus only played him once during the entire Spring Split, and that was a loss against Team8 that took place during the first week of play. Huni has a bit more experience (last seen in early March) but only won with him against MeetYourMakers and GIANTS GAMING, hardly the stiffest of competition. (He also lost to Unicorns of Love.) The first time either of the Western representatives will face the Eastern titans is on Thursday, when SKT takes on TSM. Before that though, Edward Gaming and SK Telecom will meet and you had better expect the battle over Gnar to be intense.