Photo by: LCK Flickr
Griffin should’ve been at Worlds last year. Coming straight from Challengers, they shocked fans as they sliced through LCK Summer 2018 to finish on-par series-wise with KT Rolster and only placed second on an unfavourable tiebreaker.
Griffin’s eventual Gauntlet loss to Gen.G in the Gauntlet to miss Worlds was heartbreaking to so many LCK fans who had grown to love their ballet-esque team fighting. The irony got even more bitter as Gen.G then became the first Korean team to be eliminated at Worlds’ groups since 2013, kickstarting Korea’s worst showing at the world championship in the region’s entire history.
One cannot help but theorycraft the past, imagining scenarios where it was Griffin and not Gen.G at Worlds. We’d have a group of death with Griffin, RNG, Cloud9 and Vitality. Griffin would likely go out as second — or even first — and play Afreeca Freecs, a team they were on par with in LCK, or G2 Esports. With some of the best team fighting mechanics in the world, Griffin might have even been able to challenge the visceral aggression of LPL — the region that won it all in 2018.
But the ifs and maybes are in the past. Griffin have made another LCK grand final and look to qualify for MSI as their first international event. More so, they look to establish their own future-defining dynasty. And for mortar, they’ll use the ashen remains of Korea’s former great emperors, SK Telecom T1.
Pound for pound
Almost every statistic favours Griffin for the LCK Finals. KDA-wise, Chovy, Tarzan, Viper and Lehends are not only ahead of everyone on SKT, but are also the top 4 players in the entire league for that statistic. The same is true for XPD@10 where Chovy, Lehends and Tarzan are once again leading the LCK.
A stat that is way more telling about Griffin’s strength, however, is just how ahead they get after the laning phase. The difference Griffin’s and SKT’s players in the Gold/CS department is staggering, especially in the mid and bot carry positions
- Khan (209) > Sword (176)
- Tarzan (592) > Clid (150)
- Chovy (705) > Faker (68)
- Viper (387) > Teddy (-18)
Ahead in CS @ 15
- Khan (54.5%) > Sword (53.8%)
- Clid (54.5%) > Tarzan (51.3%)
- Chovy (87.2%) > Faker (56.8%)
- Viper (76.9%) > Teddy (61.4%)
Combined, Griffin’s GD@15 lead for the regular season is in the thousands.
LCK’s top 5 GD@15 teams
- Griffin: 2245
- SANDBOX: 361
- SK Telecom T1: 343
- Kingzone DragonX: 264
- DAMWON Gaming: -200
These numbers reflect well the way Griffin like to play League of Legends. The regular season champs are known for a strong early game which they convert into objective and map control and it all starts in the jungle.
Tarzan will often play through Chovy to snowball the mid lane or patch things up top, keeping Sword strong enough to be useful in team fights. His early game presence will often lead to an item advantage for Chovy, which opens up key mid game objectives for Griffin. As a result, they’re the best team in the league to be the first to three towers and first Baron and the second best at getting Rift Herald.
Once they’ve opened up the map and secured a solid gold lead, Griffin rely on their superior team fighting to finish off the enemy. Their 5v5 engagements, however, are not a sought-after effect. Griffin are not fighting because “that’s how they win”; rather, they are fighting to protect their map control lead and prevent any late game comebacks.
When together, Griffin’s five are nigh invincible, averaging 1.17 deaths team-wide across the entire season. According to coach cVmax, this is only possible through next-level devotion and complete reliance on one another.
In battle, Griffin fight like a Spartan phalanx.
“You require a trust that goes beyond trust, a cultish blind faith [in one another],” cVmax told ESPN. “However, the players are not idiots. There must be grounds for such a trust to blossom.”
To the casual observer, Griffin are an amalgam of LCK’s mathematical, macro-oriented gameplay and LPL’s rigorous, aggressive team fighting. But on several occasions, cVmax has corrected this observation.
“LPL’s aggression comes from the hot-blooded proactiveness, while Griffin’s aggression comes from calculative cool-headedness. We are very rational in the way we orchestrate and execute the game plan. […]
We are not an LPL-style team. We are the next generation of what an LCK-style team is.”
Power, but not perfection
Even Spartan phalanxes are not invincible and despite a dominant run, Griffin were toppled on three occasions, two of which by some of the worst teams in the league: Afreeca Freecs and Gen.G.
Some of these losses came at the turn of the new patch where Griffin struggled to figure out how to handle a late-game Vayne. At the same time, these matches showed a worrying tendency: Griffin’s unwillingness to change things up and try a different early game approach to the tried and true.
“Griffin isn’t doing too much special post-9.1 to be proactive, to play a style similar to how I think the game should be played right now,” LCK analyst PapaSmithy said. “But they’re winning because there are certain things they are the best at in Korea.”
Griffin’s infatuation with a passive playstyle went hand in hand with predictable draft tendencies: a Nocturne/Shen objective control compositions; a flex Galio, usually claimed by Lehends; and a team-fighting top laner like Urgot and Sion for Sword to empower Griffin’s 5v5 skirmishes.
Even when Tarzan picked a champion more suited for early game pressure, he’d still go for a rather non-violent approach, all to ensure Griffin enter the mid game with macro advantage. However, that hasn’t always worked out. When they lost to Gen.G in Week 8, Griffin locked Xin Zhao for Tarzan against Peanut’s Zac, but failed to apply counter-jungle pressure. Despite the familiar early game kills up top for Griffin, Zac’s free reign in the jungle led to more powerful team fights for Gen.G in the late game and the eventual turnaround. In the same series, Griffin failed to show respect for Fly’s Lissandra — one of his top champions — or ban away Ruler’s Vayne after she ran away with Game 1.
These are all things SKT can exploit. Granted, Griffin have shown draft diversity towards the end of the season like bot lane Karma and Tarzan on Rek’Sai, there’s more to be made for SKT’s case. Khan remains the better, more consistent player up top and can be a game-winning pillar as proven by their playoffs match against Kingzone. SKT have also liked to play strong early game compositions which, when played proactively, is something Griffin are not known for punishing.
According to SKT’s finest, the key to defeating Griffin in the upcoming finals is breaking their 5v5 after halting the Tarzan/Chovy snowball.
“Griffin’s “core” is their mid lane and jungle,” Faker said in a recent press conference. “We are giving a lot of thought on how to respond to the strength that Griffin has. We will prepare for a more balanced and stronger team fight, instead of focusing on the individual lanes.”
Faker might be onto something. Even as the best 5v5 team in LCK, Griffin have been known to lose late game skirmishes despite in spite of early game leads — as seen in the Gen.G and Afreeca losses and in the more recent 0-2 against Kingzone. SKT themselves have been strong in 5v5 against Griffin, their map win against them in the regular season a prime example.
In order to mitigate the uncertainty of mid/late-game team fighting, the importance of Griffin’s early game becomes that much higher.
“Every single lane in SKT is powerful,” cVmax said. “If we fall behind even in one lane, we start leaking as a team, the snowball will start and the whole game will crumble. Therefore, no single lane is allowed to underperform. Every lane has to do well if we are to defeat SKT.”
“Even when it’s a game that we can easily win, if we become loose or let complacency creep upon us, we are in danger,” Viper added.
The future is now
Even after taking into account the many cracks in the phalanx SKT can exploit, the series still favors Griffin. Pound-for-pound, the youngsters have the edge over the dynasty. Their early game lane strength and macro control set up a mid-game domino effect that few teams have been able to answer, and SKT are not among them.
SKT hold the edge in being the more creative team and are also the more experienced one in best-of-5’s. They are famous for turning series around when up against the wall and it would still take the entirety of coach kkOma’s creative genius to get a win this Saturday. SKT might have the deeper champion but most of their positions favor one or two outstanding picks (Teddy’s Ezreal, Clid’s Lee Sin and Jarvan, and Faker’s Lyssandra, per example) which even a stubborn Griffin can identify and intercept. Ahead of Saturday, SKT fans will hope that kkOma’s hint of a left-field draft rings true, and that one final intangible doesn’t go Griffin’s way.
“I hate to bring last year up. However, Griffin seemed to fail at ‘closing things’ up at last year’s finals,” coach kkOma pointed out. “Issues with mental fortitude, let’s say. I think it will be “interesting” if the same thing happens for the finals this year. I doubt it will be a 3-0. It will be interesting if this year’s finals is a repeat of last year’s one.”