wasn’t the team most people would have predicted to take the LEC playoffs.
This statement was true up until the very end. Despite going into the Grand Finals
in the winner’s bracket, Rogue
still seemed to be the favored team after their triumphant victory against G2 Esports
in the loser’s bracket. The first two games of the Grand Finals supported this, with Rogue up 2-0 in a best of 5. After MAD Lions sent Rogue to the loser's bracket in a dominant fashion, Rogue wanted to show MAD who the best team was.
After MAD’s loss in game 2, Armut
put himself in the spotlight and threw up two numbers: 3-2. As it turns out, Armut would be the player to lead MAD to a 3-2 victory by winning 3 consecutive games.
How did Armut bring his team together to win finals, and how did MAD go from a mid-tier team to the best in the region?
Finding an opening
Top lane has a unique place in League of Legends. When it comes to drafting identity, most teams show their hand with their top lane pick. Some champs are meant to be damage dealers that play around sidelaning, while others are more oriented around being a tanky, CC-heavy threat that stalls out the lane.
However, there are a select few top laners you pick almost solely because of their teamfight prowess. Gnar is the premiere top lane pick when it comes to teamfighters, and his lane safety makes him one of the only top laners worth picking in the first phase.
Considering that MAD Lions play for teamfights, it makes sense that Gnar was Armut’s most played champion this split. However, after losing games 1 and 2 on Gnar, Armut decided he would need to surprise Rogue in order to have any chance of winning.
The Wukong pick itself wasn’t all that surprising; at least, not in the hands of Armut. Ender pointed out a very important detail here: MAD drafted in a way that suited them, not one that counters their opponent. Wukong’s a historic pocket pick for Armut, one that he has shown strength on time and time again. This is due largely to Armut’s persistent flanking playstyle.
In this pivotal game 3 teamfight, Armut teleported behind Rogue. Inspired is separated from the rest of Rogue, and that MAD’s carries were lagging behind a bit. It was going to take time for MAD’s damage dealers to get into the fight, time Armut would have to create.
Elyoya decided to split off and rejoin the rest of MAD, but it’s important to notice how well Armut baited Inspired. Inspired popped Oracle Lens to keep Wukong from sneaking past, but Armut decided to path through the jungle rather than heading straight through the lane. This roundabout pathing threw off Inspired and put Armut in the prime position to disrupt Rogue.
All that setup led to this moment. Armut was able to get into Rogue’s backline with a full HP bar, and the rest of MAD were on the approach. Trymbi’s Black Shield was on Hans sama, the only member of Rogue who wasn’t affected by Wukong’s CC.
Larssen tried to knock Armut out of the fight by using his ultimate, but Armut was able to clone himself just in time to avoid the knockback. Larssen ran away, fearing that MAD would collapse on him and take him down. However, this response split Rogue, and that panicked response gave MAD a way back into this game.
This set looked like a clean 3-0 for Rogue until this moment, where Armut’s key positioning and split-second decision making allowed MAD to take a clean teamfight despite Rogue having the Baron buff.
If it weren’t for Armut’s near-perfect play in this teamfight, MAD would have lost right here. Just like most of the community predicted. Armut’s rampage didn’t end in game 3, either.
A team’s momentum is a difficult thing to quantify. And, on paper, it doesn’t make much sense. The only thing that carries over from a victory is that game’s individual win.
However, a team like MAD Lions (and any team that manages to take a 3-2 reverse sweep) play the mental game well. This feat requires not only on-the-fly adaptation and quick wit, but also the ability to come together and avoid tilt.
One of the most straightforward ways to keep a team together is to rally around a singular point. Taking advantage of a weakness and exploiting it is something that strong teams find over the course of a set, and Armut’s outright superior top laning would show through to game 4.
Rogue made the mistake of picking away Gnar and giving Armut Wukong in game 4’s draft. Odoamne found himself behind, just like game 3, and his inability to pressure out Armut’s Wukong was very apparent.
Odoamne’s Karma in game 3 had some impact in teamfights despite being down 0-2 early, but game 4 was even worse. Armut and Elyoya completely shut Odoamne out of the game due to their much stronger early 2v2, and MAD played around Armut’s lane kingdom for a well-deserved game 4 victory.
The final hurdle
Rogue learned from their mistake and decided to ban away Wukong, knowing that they didn’t have a great way to deal with the pick. Even if Wukong isn’t as strong in lane as some other prominent top laners, the fact that Armut is the only player in the LEC that plays the champ on a regular basis gives him the element of surprise. So, Rogue decided to eliminate that variable and put Odoamne on a dominant top laner that could properly counter MAD’s strong top lane pressure.
Rogue fired back in game 5. They identified the problem, drafted to counter MAD’s strategy, and executed well in the early game. After clawing their way back into contention, there’s no way MAD wanted their run to end like this.
Sure enough, Armut was able to claw his way back into the game.
Despite being at a massive deficit, MAD took two back-to-back teamfights off of Armut’s strong engage capabilities. Rogue is a team made up of strong individual players, but MAD play like a unit. Rather than worrying about some sort of gimmick or hidden strategy, MAD draft what they want to play and teamfight better than everyone else.
No one exemplifies this philosophy better than Armut, the player that led his team to the playoff victory no one expected.
With their ticket to MSI stamped, MAD are looking to take on the best teams in the world as the LEC’s sole representative. After locking G2 and Fnatic out of MSI , we’ll have to see whether MAD can take up the mantle and pave the way for an EU victory on the international stage.