Pushed to the Limit: Sword vs Ozone

There’s no pair of teams more intriguing as of late than NaJin em-Fire’s Black Sword and Samsung Galaxy’s Ozone; both teams, having won respective OGN Champions tournaments as recently as last year, have since fallen rather curiously, due to a combination of factors such as shifts in the metagame and the rise of SK Telecom. Roster turnovers have been a constantly looming threat, and in the wake of LoL Masters, both teams have brought in fresh faces and have revamped their strategic philosophies, which has so far paid off dividends all around. Game 1 of NaJin vs. Samsung Galaxy’s Masters match is an incredible display of how far these two teams have come in their understanding of the game as well as turning prior weaknesses into strengths.

Champion Select

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Ozone showed their hand during picks and bans the team composition that they were trying to set up. The final Renekton ban set up an opportunity for Ozone to get a number of great champion selections on red side; limiting Sword to pick only one of Lulu/Sivir/Shyvana would have left the other two to Ozone, but instead they opted for a LeBlanc pick second. It seemed curious at first, but picking the lane opponent against lulu with an open sivir left Ozone’s ultimate comp strategy in the dark. This allowed for Sword to pick up the dream push comp that they wanted, with Lulu/Caitlyn/Shyvana and Evelyn to set up strong ganks during the laning phase.

After the Kha’Zix and Dr. Mundo selections, the pick composition came into view. Kha’Zix is a strong signifier for the comp, and Mundo is a generally strong champion, but both selections strongly telegraphed the early strategy for Ozone; they would force 2v1 lanes to trade a pair of towers for free, gambling on their ability to take Dragons to keep up with the gold income that Sword would eventually take with their superior sieging. Once the map opened up more in the mid-game, Ozone would try to set up picks with vision control, and then use superior numbers to take their own tower objectives and ultimately win the game with incremental advantages. They eventually built up a 10k gold lead by the end of the game, but how they got there was particularly impressive.

Intriguing Early Trades

Within the first 5 minutes of the game, Ozone played out their strategy as strongly as they telegraphed it during champion select. Ozone forced the 2v1 swap with Sivir and Fiddle going top. Had either of their lanes played standard, Sword’s superior lane setups would have had noted advantages (Caitlyn and Sona with superior range/sustain and Shyvana’s aggression via Blade of the Ruined King against Dr. Mundo). An early Blue steal from Ozone on Kha’Zix effectively forced Sword’s Evelyn to stay in the bottom half of the jungle to mirror the steal against Ozone, allowing both her and Kha’Zix to pressure their respective 2v1 setups, resulting in mirrored 3v1 tower takedowns instead of a 3v2 top and 2v1 bot. As MonteCristo said in the cast, it’s more ideal for Evelyn to dive the 3v1 in this case, which plays to Sword’s advantage on the Blue side, as they are given dragon control.

But what makes this particular case interesting is that both teams ended up pressuring the inner turret as well, drawing their respective mid-laners to defend; the distance from mid-lane to either inner turret is negligible, but an offensive rotation runs risk of disaster due to shaky ward coverage in the early game. Both inner turrets (Sword’s outer top and Ozone’s outer bot) were destroyed, and while both bottom tandems recalled to base, a large wave at Ozone’s outer mid prompted Lulu to put some early pressure on it, disallowing a low-health LeBlanc from backing.

Sword’s decision to match Ozone’s bot lane recall in lieu of taking an early dragon was reasonable. They opted instead to supplement their early siege potential with wards and boots for Caitlyn, but the most interesting play in the early game is Ozone’s early sweeper swap; by 6 minutes, three members had switched to sweeper trinkets, setting up for a very interesting mid-game struggle for vision control around neutral objectives.

Dragons going Down

Despite the mirrored recalls, minions still pushed deep into both teams respective lanes, with a bit of an advantage to Sword in the battle for mid. A strong push to the tower from four Ozone champs nearly took down mid, but they didn’t have enough item-wise to truly push it down. The timing was rather impeccable, but the missed opportunity here cost Sword quite a bit, as they had full knowledge of the sweeper swap. At this point, it was Ozone’s moves that had to be responded to with other objectives. The first dragon of the game came when Ozone’s initial sweeper swap cooldowns were finished, prompting Sword to finally take the mid turret that they were supposed to finish initially. The exchange advantage here went to Ozone.

A curious move from Looper on Mundo resulted in a Teleport to the top lane in response to Sword’s rotation from the freshly downed mid outer turret to the top outer. Despite having vision of Sword’s movement, Looper’s decision to teleport to the top lane cost him a summoner’s spell in exchange for essentially nothing. Had he stayed with Ozone after dragon came down, his team could have taken advantage of Sword’s over-rotation to the top lane by responding with an outer mid turret of their own(1). Instead, they weren’t able to capitalize on map objectives with the global pressure provided by Teleport.

The threat of a Looper teleport is what allowed them to take the next dragon after the summoner spell’s cooldown returned. An unseen exchange occurred between Looper and Limit at the top lane while the others postured about dragon. Limit was somehow forced to shift into dragon form after taking down the tower, which forced him to back after Looper chased him down. Despite capturing the inner objective in the top lane, Limit essentially eased pressure off of Looper on his teleport, allowing him freedom to teleport safely to his team for the successful dragon attempt.

What actually happened up top is a mystery, but from what I gather based on both Looper and Limit’s position on the mini-map, as well as Limit’s smart backing tactic prior to the exchange, I imagine that the following happened:

1. Looper recalls in the inner top lane bush.
2. Limit pushes the lane as much as he can, clearing waves with burnout while attacking the tower.
3. Looper returns to tower and takes burnout damage, causing Limit to take tower aggro earlier than he’d like.
4. Limit decides to finish off the tower instead of backing out, causing him to drop dangerously low, effectively withdrawing from the lane.

Limit played within the confines of Sword’s game plan; he needed to keep pressure on the tower so that Sword could further establishing map pressure and utilize it . However, Limit may have pushed a little too hard, and Looper was able to see the opportunity to push Limit out for good, allowing him to regain control of the lane, and thus the rest of the map. It was the logical decision coming from both sides; Looper’s was slightly more forward-thinking, which won them the dragon.

Sword would correctly respond to Ozone’s dragon attempt by taking the mid turret, and while they managed to bring it down from full health, they got chased out fairly hard, being forced to use long cooldowns in order to escape through Ozone’s upper jungle. A tower for a dragon is definitely worth it for Sword, but at only 15 minutes into the game, it would be difficult for Sword with their current items to push any further.

Mid-Game Mindgames

By this point, the game essentially flowed into a pattern of vision control in between dragon/tower exchanges, as Sword didn’t have the requisite items to initiate lengthy sieges for turrets. With such a low kill score(2), there wasn’t nearly enough gold to go around. Meanwhile, with outer towers still available for the taking, Ozone managed to pressure the middle outer tower at very little risk.

It brings up an interesting point about the importance of neutral map objectives like dragon and baron. Static objectives like towers will always be available for the taking if a team needs global gold later on in the game. With the changes to tower gold back in patch 3.14(3), originally designed to prevent snowballing in other lanes that weren’t fed, it becomes more rewarding to participate in a tower kill as a team, which is more likely to happen in the mid-game. I feel as though this sort of change really benefit push-strategies, and perhaps was the cause of the fast-push in early season 4, prompting the armor change from Riot in season 4(4).

That said, it would appear that those moments between Dragon contests were filled with broadcast lulls; without much kills going around, there wasn’t much to contest. Most of the action revolved around vision control and the numerous amounts of wards cleared out by Ozone as well as Sword, who at this point had switched to a 2-lens setup.

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You could tell that both teams were hyper-aware of the importance of vision on the map. The above screenshot was of Cain on Sona, whose squishiness combined with the lack of vision in Sword’s lower jungle left him incredibly scared, and for good reason. The threat of Leblanc and Kha’Zix is too much, and could very well lead to another objective, such as Sword’s bot tower that got taken as a result of a previous pick onto Sona at the 21 minute mark(5).

On the flipside, a face-check mistake from Limit on Shyvana cost him his life as well as a dragon, but Sword once again responded perfectly with the inner mid turret. They were chased out through Ozone’s upper jungle, but the long cooldowns were worth the objective taken.

After the third dragon, it became quite clear that Sword’s lack of kill gold prevented them from building the necessary items to further establish their siege, and that they were losing the vision war as well. A fantastic vision sequence occurred at 29 minutes, which led to the defining teamfight of this match:

1. Preface: at 25 minutes, Ozone’s Mundo spots an opposing pink ward in the bush close to Sword’s wraith entrance. He destroys it and replaces it with a pink ward of his own. This ward would go unnoticed for at 3 minutes.

2. Cain notices the pink ward, but is too far separated from the rest of his team to take it out by himself, as he is a very squishy Sona who had given up first blood previously. Pings go all around that bush from both teams. A vision battle ensues with Ozone moving towards this region first. 20 seconds remaining until dragon respawns.

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3. LeBlanc hops over the dragon pit into the bush with Ozone’s pink ward and waits there for a good 10 seconds.

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4. Helios on a stealth Evelyn gets too close to Kha’Zix in the bush and has to retreat towards wraiths. He gets caught by LeBlanc’s chain and flashes away with his life. A virtual 5v4 teamfight occurs, resulting in a full ace for Ozone in exchange for only 2 deaths.

5. Ozone proceeds to take baron and dragon.

The gold given to Ozone from the teamfight and both neutral objectives allowed them to gain a significant enough item lead that they could pick a lot more openly, but not enough that they could siege towers or engage in 5v5 teamfights. Sword, despite being behind, still had the team composition to play defensively and clear waves as a group. However, Limit’s Shyvana stayed too long clearing out top lane that Ozone could safely dive a tower 5v4 with Sivir’s On the Hunt. That lead to Ozone taking the first inhibitor turret, which eventually snowballed further into a second ace at the bot lane inhibitor turret, and eventually the game.

Final Thoughts

In hindsight, having teleport on the top laner eased a lot of map pressure that was placed on Ozone’s team throughout the game. It makes sense that a champion with global mobility would be able to circumvent the distance caused by the minion waves pushing so deep into their side of the map. Further mobility from leaping champions like Kha’Zix and Leblanc allowed Ozone to brilliantly slip through vision, which, combined with the superior vision control via early, upgraded lenses, allowed for those fantastic picks to happen.

That said, both teams played their comps to the best of their ability. While NaJin Sword ended up losing the game, they still responded decisively to the map movement of Samsung Ozone. Sword answered every dragon that Ozone took with a tower, except for the final one, and they pressured the map early and often. Seemingly gone are the days of the old Sword, where their play style was often reckless and high-risk, a signature identifier of MaKNooN’s glory days with the team. This NaJin team, along with Shield, has come such a long way in their strategic development that they are no longer the same mechanically dependent team that they once were.

On the flip-side, a rejuvenated Ozone team that also relied on very strong game plan execution continued its strong technical play, sticking to a very defined game plan and pushing the strategy to its limits. For most of the game, they were unable to take any turrets away from the map, but the two-tower start was a blessing of sorts for them, which allowed them to emphasize the dragon half of the map as the game wore on. Their defining pick came from a very nice setup from Pawn on LeBlanc, but plenty of missed chain opportunities may have resulted in more objectives than they actually got.

Upon first glance, one could say that Looper should have been awarded the MVP of that match, had Masters used the MVP points system, but his play to force Limit from the top lane didn’t greatly affect the outcome of dragon; the top tower ultimately went down, and it was due to the low kill count that Sword couldn’t push the map advantage any further. The first teleport was also highly suspect and should be considered along with the other things that Looper provided. That said, he’s still a fantastic addition to the team, and has been a strategic backbone to Ozone. I look forward to every single game in which he plays with Teleport.

The future is bright for both teams, and with the uncertainty in once-strong teams like KT Bullets and CJ Entus Frost, both Ozone and Sword have shown that they are also teams to watch out for this upcoming Champions season.

1. In fairness, Sword’s over-rotation was safe because they saw Looper teleport top. Had he not moved that way, Sword could have kept one or two players back to defend mid while still being able to take down the top turret.

2. 0 to 0, MonteCristo’s dream.

3. Outer turrets grant 100 global gold and 150 gold split between participating players, instead of a base global gold. Inner turrets grant 125 global gold and 100 gold split between participating players, instead of base global gold.

4. I’m still adamant that Riot made that change to top/bottom turrets in 4.1 to begin with, but it’s rather fascinating to imagine that this game in particular had the opposite effect; bot tower got pushed much easier by Sword, but Ozone had dragon control throughout the game. One may argue that their superior vision control allowed for this to happen, but the general consensus in the community is that Dragon isn’t necessarily worth enough early on to warrant such changes anyway. Ozone seemed to think otherwise in this game.

5. That kill was for first blood; this game was not quite MonteCristo’s dream game, but pretty close to it.

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1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, eSports, League of Legends

One response to “Pushed to the Limit: Sword vs Ozone

  1. Pingback: Sword and Board: The Strategic Emergence of NaJin e-mFire | The Piltover Pundit

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