League of Legends

Examining the Echo Fox LoL “Buddy System” in the wake of the loss to CLG

By Kelsey Moser

After a close call against Team SoloMid in Week Two, Echo Fox’s League of Legends team finally fell for the first time against Counter Logic Gaming, and it happened during Week Three. Yet after their first loss, they came back the next day to devastate OpTic as if it never happened.

The reality is that Echo Fox’s troubles still exist. One of North America’s top teams, they excel at feral aggression and brute forcing through the top side of the map, but they will need to fix problems that arise from unnecessarily giving up bottom lane leads and setting up for vision for objectives too late.

With the highest combined kills per minute in NA LCS (0.65), Echo Fox games start and end bloody, whether fast or slow. With an average game time of 40.7 minutes, they have the longest average game time of any of North America’s top three teams (just over Cloud9’s 40.4). The popularity of Spellbook in the bottom lane has only accentuated the violence.

Echo Fox Dardoch

So far, in their six games, Echo Fox has operated under a simple formula. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett plays a jungle champion that can do well in team fights while relying on strong side lanes and a mid lane matchup that can pivot on getting a good early buy around four minutes. At which point, Dardoch has shown up reliably between three and a half and four and a half minutes to give Kim “Fenix” Jaehun a window where he can back before his opponent.

While many expected a setup a la 2015 Fnatic and 2016 Immortals where Dardoch camped Heo “Huni” Seunghoon almost exclusively, Dardoch has interfered more directly in the mid lane this split. Dardoch spends most of his time on the top side of the map, and he will often show on wards near the enemy Krugs camp when he plays on blue side to force the enemy top laner back for fear of a dive.

But only 38.1 percent of his ganks in the first fifteen minutes of Echo Fox’s games have been for top lane, while nearly half (47.6 percent) have been for mid lane. Three of six first ganks have also been for mid. And despite this pseudo-predictability, three of seven first and second ganks mid have resulted in kills, while four of seven have resulted in Flashes blown.

Dardoch’s mid presence creates easy side lane opportunities for Echo Fox. Dardoch can then gain top lane knowing that his mid can follow up before the enemy mid. It also puts more onus on bottom and top to have a ‘buddy system’ in the early game in the current Spellbook meta.

With the Spellbook Keystone changes in patches 8.1 and 8.2, 25 percent cooldown reduction on summoner spells, and the ability to change out combat summoner spells on first back for Teleport to return to lane, the current meta allows for strong 2v2 lanes to keep continuous pressure and not lose priority to buy items. Teams in the LPL and EU LCS have even used it in lieu of a Tahm Kench ult to get huge tempo advantages in Teleport lane swaps.

When Echo Fox have this setup, it looks best when they have two winning side lanes, as demonstrated in their game against OpTic Gaming to close Week Three. The threat of at least the support Teleporting top on priority to dive the enemy top laner made it very oppressive for opponents to deal with Huni’s Gnar and the threat of Dardoch counterjungling near his lane.

It has looked its worse in the two games where Huni has played Gangplank and had a losing lane in the early game.

Part of CLG’s winning formula against Echo Fox was in noting Huni’s willingness to play Gangplank in their last game against Team SoloMid and the consequences of the pick.

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In the game against Team SoloMid, Johnny “Altec” Ru and Adrian “Adrian” Ma managed to gain a push advantage in bottom lane. When Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung was sent to dive top, however, Adrian gave up this advantage to Teleport to defend Huni. Eventually, bottom lane, which had begun to gain push priority, lost a turret, and both side lanes fell behind as a result.

In Counter Logic Gaming’s draft, they exacerbated these factors even further by picking very strong early side lane matchups with Gnar and Kalista and Braum into Gangplank and Tristana and Thresh. In this scenario, if bottom lane is being pushed in, the enemy bottom lane can gain much more because they don’t have to waste time pushing back the minion wave. Once again, when CLG went to pressure Huni in the top lane with Gnar, Adrian chose to Teleport top, and Echo Fox lost control of both side lanes early.

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The Teleport top wasn’t the only issue, of course. Jungle and mid lane heading top to answer gave up any sense of security on the bottom side of the map, and Altec was forced back.

This problem didn’t reoccur in the OpTic game because Echo Fox unironically used the same dominating side-laning champions: Gnar and Kalista and Braum. As a result, there wasn’t an opportunity for Huni to be in danger of a dive from the enemy jungle, and Echo Fox didn’t have the opportunity to give up any bottom control to save him.

The gut reaction might be to ask why it’s so bad that Adrian would want to save the team’s star player from a dive. In almost every popular top lane matchup, it’s expected for Gangplank to fall behind in lane or even lose first turret. He’s safe to blind pick partly because Stopwatch allows him to get dived on not once, but twice before he has to even flash. As a result, though he may fall behind, he has a relatively safe opportunity to scale and still offer map pressure if his team has a strong bottom lane 2v2.

In the Team SoloMid game especially, Echo Fox’s bottom lane had started to generate pressure, and the team could have chosen to make a trade to get bottom control for top. Instead, they simply gave up the control they had and played from a deficit on both sides of the map. That also restricted the amount of pressure Fenix could generate because either side lane can then go mid on priority if he over-extends at all. As a result, TSM gained a massive lead, and Echo Fox only won because of very poor sieging by TSM in the late game.CLG made sure to spread out their 3-1-1 setup better in their game against Echo Fox and avoid situations where they could group defend with Gangplank and a late game scaling composition. They closed out much more cleanly by abusing this weakness.

Of course, CLG also didn’t have any control in the bottom side of the map. But when CLG went top to abuse the Gangplank, their bottom lanes had the option of using Tristana and Thresh to give up bottom control and rotate mid. Tristana has a lot of pressure and can out-trade Kalista in turret swaps, and getting a mid push for top and bottom control is better than nothing.

Echo Fox also had poor lane assignments and objective setups from there. When they finally managed to win a team fight with their late game scaling composition, they didn’t follow up with good vision. As a result, when CLG respawned, they easily could reclaim map control, and the Nunu and Kalista composition allowed for quick Baron rushes, forcing face-checks.

This same habit can be traced to the OpTic game, even though Echo Fox had a lead in this scenario and could have gotten better backs to get priority on Elder Dragon or Baron. They had no ward coverage set up behind the pit before rushing the objective to prevent a steal. Of course, with Cassiopeia and Kalista, they should have been able to secure the Baron easily, but failing to prep objectives and having to face-check is a consistent theme.

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If Echo Fox don’t accumulate the massive leads they get from playing strong top lane matchups, it’s easy to see how poor objective vision will hurt them as the season progresses. They have a lot of potential as a unit in team fights, but they rush to convert kill advantages into objectives without resetting or getting good vision.

In order to remain at the top and look beyond North America, Echo Fox need to be able to play to strong side in early-to-mid game, even if it isn’t top. Putting Huni on a scaling late game champion can work for the team if they make smart trades on the other side of the map to allow him to scale.

Very aggressive laning teams like KT Rolster in LCK also have a tendency to keep playing hard on the map without resetting for wards or items. They might get a kill, think they can get a turret, and then a dragon, and then another turret only to get hit by a flank from a respawned team with new items. If Echo Fox want to avoid that pitfall then pushing out waves, resetting, and setting up before taking objectives should become more standard.

In Week Four, Echo Fox will collide with Team Liquid. In their current form, Team Liquid should be able to leverage Echo Fox’s weaknesses, but now that CLG and TSM have set them on display, Rick Fox’s LoL players have time to work the problem.

You can read more of Kelsey’s work here.

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