Versatility: The Ingredient That Makes Good Teams Great

Teamwork. Talent. Tenacity. I’m not just alliterating; I’m listing some of the attributes that make up a good, successful team, whether in League of Legends or any other team-based competition. But the World Quarterfinals have been teaching us that there’s another, less-discussed attribute that is essential to competing at the highest level of pro LoL: Versatility. Each of the three Quarterfinals we’ve watched so far has carried a valuable lesson about the importance of versatility, both as a team and as a player.

Watching SK Telecom T1 beat up on AHQ, we saw what happens when a player lacks individual versatility. AHQ’s Westdoor (may he enjoy his retirement) may possibly be the best Fizz player in the world. He’s also a very good Twisted Fate and a pretty good Diana. His skill with those champions was never in question. But all three of those champions do essentially the same thing: they are built around roaming assassinations in the early/mid game, and then split pushing and dueling in the mid/late game. They are binary champions: either they get ahead in the mid-game and become unstoppable terrors, or they fall behind and have a hard time positively affecting the game. No matter what champion Westdoor picked, SKT could easily predict the play style he was going to bring to the table. He was always going to roam to the side lanes, always going to try to split push. It was very unlikely that he would ever draft a champion built for team fighting or Tower control. As a result, SKT could come up with multiple ways to beat Westdoor’s play style, either through scaling champions or team fighting or appropriate vision control. AHQ had the talent and the teamwork to compete with SKT–maybe not to beat them, but to put up a fight–but because of Westdoor’s monotone champion pool, they didn’t have the versatility. AHQ was too predictable, and it severely reduced their ability to compete.

In the Flash Wolves vs. Origen series, we saw what happens when a team lacks versatility as a unit. The Flash Wolves earned their first-place finish in Group A on the back of some great protect-the-AD-Carry compositions and strong team fight execution. Maple’s assassin play was also a highlight, but the core of their approach was putting NL on a hypercarry and setting him up to mow the bad guys down. Over their four-game Quarterfinal, though, the Flash Wolves stuck much too closely to this formula, making very few changes in their champion picks, even despite losing games. And the changes they did make were fairly subtle, swapping out one or two champions for others that did largely the same thing. Origen beat the Flash Wolves’ preferred composition once, then beat it twice more, only dropping one game along the way. The Wolves never threw a single curveball, so Origen had the chance to learn from their loss and immediately put their lessons to use when they faced essentially the same composition the very next game. The Flash Wolves’ lack of versatility, their inability or unwillingness to run a pick comp or a skirmish style or any other significant adjustment, ultimately prevented them from overcoming Origen.

Fnatic offers the other side of the story. In their Quarterfinal against EDward Gaming, Fnatic eschewed their heavy skirmish-style play from the group stage by drafting an AoE team fighting composition in game 1, built around Viktor, Kennen, and Jarvan IV, and using it to make a mid-game comeback against EDG’s triple-Teleport snowballing comp. Then Fnatic upped their skirmish game with a Riven + LeBlanc combo paired with the popular Jinx + Tahm Kench duo for extra map movement and late-game insurance. Game 3 was a moderate variation on game 2, with Azir and Alistar for added team fighting strength. In the first iteration of game 2, which was remade after a Gragas bug, Fnatic even showed a willingness to leave Mordekaiser and Gangplank unbanned, a scary experiment that they chose not to repeat. Versatility wasn’t the only reason, or even the main reason, why Fnatic beat EDG, but if Fnatic couldn’t bring out multiple unique play styles, the series might have looked very different. And as Fnatic prepares for the Semifinals, their opponents will have a much more difficult time developing ways to beat them, since it will be tough to predict what Fnatic is planning to roll out.

There are lots of other signs pointing to the importance of versatility. Look at Cloud9’s week 2 collapse, after they failed to iterate on the composition they used to sweep week 1. Look at the poor showings by Invictus Gaming and LGD Gaming, who weren’t able to adapt well to the 5.18 meta, showing poor versatility in their practice and preparation. Look at the massive champion pools of players like MaRin and Faker and anyone else in the top tier of stars, and see what that does for the team’s success.

Versatility can’t make a team successful on its own. Talent, teamwork, and tenacity are what make a team good. But no matter how good a team or a player is, without versatility they will never be truly great.

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Tim “Magic” Sevenhuysen runs, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics, and writes for theScore esports.

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