Rift Rivals is now over. One of the biggest takeaways from the tournament was that NA showed up and proved that--for now, at least--they’re better than EU.
But aside from regional rivalries, the tournament also showcased big stylistic differences between NA and EU teams.
NA’s drafts focused mainly on early game presence and lane pushing. They were also the only region that picked Ashe to bring engage in the ADC role, and were responsible for most Kled and Jarvan picks, top laners that can force fights.
On the other hand, the European teams were generally more keen on building scaling compositions, which in turn required them to sacrifice early game pressure.
This clash in style did not work out well for the Europeans. The game between Cloud9 and Fnatic, in which Cloud9 got a 6k gold lead in just 15 minutes, showcases why. Let’s take a look.
Starting from the draft, Fnatic opts into losing matchups in all three lanes. Fnatic first-picks Thresh, a highly contested support pick. Cloud9 immediately responds by picking up the frequently-banned Caitlyn and LeBlanc. Both champions can push their lanes safely and have oppressive laning phases.
After seeing LeBlanc, Fnatic picks up Orianna. While Orianna can defend herself fairly well, she can’t push as fast as LeBlanc in the early game.
Cloud9 then picks up Gragas, who can be flexed between top and jungle, and the second ban phase begins. Three top laners are banned and Cloud9 promptly blind-picks Renekton, a strong lane bully that can crush most melee matchups.
To round out their draft, Fnatic needs an AD carry and top laner. While no other AD carry can match Caitlyn’s oppressive range, picks such as Ashe or even Varus can match her push and even trade in the right circumstances. But instead, they go with Twitch, a late-game champion with awful early laning pressure. Caitlyn vastly outranges Twitch and can effortlessly push him in. They also pick up Galio in the top lane. Galio has decent wave clear with Winds of War, but against Renekton, he can never push too far forward without being massively punished.
So, ultimately, Cloud9 ends up with push advantage in all three lanes. But what does this mean for the two teams when they get on the Rift?
PUSH ADVANTAGE = JUNGLE CONTROL
With losing lanes, your jungler can also lose control of his own jungle. The team with pushing lanes gives a lot of breathing room for their jungler to invade, as they can quickly follow up with an assist whenever needed.
Cloud9’s pushed lanes allow them to push their vision forward and track Broxah throughout most of the early game. This information allows them to steal resources and avoid ganks.
After a level 2 gank on mid, Broxah heads towards his top side. Ray pushes in his lane and freely roams down to the jungle to ward, spotting Fnatic’s Jungler.
With 3 CS, it’s obvious that Lee Sin did Red, Blue, and Gromp, meaning he has yet to clear Wolves, Raptors, and Krugs. The most natural path for Lee Sin would be to clear Wolves and then move toward the bot side, where he can clear Raptors and then either look for a gank or go for Rift Scuttler or Krugs.
Cloud9 recognizes this, and Contractz immediately punishes by moving in, warding the brush and stealing away raptors.
Later on, at 7 minutes, Broxah tries to clear his raptor camp again but is punished a second time. Contractz and Smoothie aggressively lock him down and give Jensen the kill.
This trend continues, as Cloud9 keeps full control over Broxah’s jungle, constantly stealing camps and denying him valuable experience, to the point where he even resorts to pathing around his jungle to reach camps without walking over an enemy ward.
PUSH ADVANTAGE = VISION CONTROL
Pushing lanes also allows a team to keep tabs on when and where their opponents ward.
With their lanes constantly pushed in, Fnatic had few opportunities to put down vision to track Cloud9’s roams and ganks.
At 3:30, after shoving in bot lane, Smoothie is allowed to roam unnoticed all the way from bot lane to eventually flash-hook Caps between two mid lane turrets. What would normally be considered a risky dive is perfectly fine because Cloud9 has information on where all of their opponents are, while Fnatic lacks the vision control to see it coming, since they have to farm under turret.
As the game progresses, Fnatic can barely get vision outside of their own jungle, as they’re constantly getting pushed in, and even a supposedly easy ward in the river for Caps is immediately punished.
PUSH ADVANTAGE = CS DEFICITS
Last but not least, the most common consequence of playing in a losing lane is lost CS. If a jungler is unable to affect a losing lane matchup, chances are the losing side will start falling behind in farm.
Since Fnatic has 3 losing lanes and a jungler constantly getting camps stolen, they incur a massive deficit just from CS differentials.
Soaz is down by 22 cs, Caps is down by 15, and Rekkles is down by 14.
These differentials only get aggravated with time and, along with good objective control around the rest of the map, Cloud9 nets a massive 6k gold at just 15 minutes.
Now, before you comment something like this, understand that Fnatic opted into this composition knowing they would be playing into losing matchups. Twitch, Galio, and Orianna were all picked after seeing their lane opponents. The Europeans were looking to scale: Twitch and Orianna become formidable carries and Galio becomes near unkillable as the game goes on. The tradeoff was that they had to yield some amount of early pressure, and if the game had stayed close until the late game, Fnatic’s comp could have overpowered Cloud9’s. However, though Fnatic expected to fall behind early, what they didn’t account for was just how well Cloud9 could play. Sure, the North American team had a stronger early-game draft, but it was ultimately their near perfect lane execution and map control in the first 15 minutes that won them the game.