"Today! Gen.G! Really?!"
This was the mantra of the South Korean casters during Gen.G's shocking 2-0 sweep of first-place Griffin. Going into the match, a loss seemed impossible. If then-undefeated Griffin were to fall, they would have surely fallen to a top LoL Champions Korea team like SK Telecom T1 in Week 7.
Instead, they were swept by eighth-place Gen.G in Week 8. Two days later, they were defeated 2-1 by seventh-place Afreeca Freecs. Social media exploded after both losses. Fans and analysts alike wondered what went wrong for Griffin, picked apart their drafting choices, and once again questioned the strength of the LCK.
Heralded as the best team in the world, Griffin was considered the default South Korean representative at the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational and restore glory to the once indomitable region. Griffin's strength is suddenly in doubt, resurfacing a similar creeping dread that accompanied LCK teams at last year's worlds. It doesn't help that Gen.G's win over Griffin wasn't pretty.
Their first game was fraught with disadvantageous early trades and a somewhat hilarious leashing of the Rift Herald by Gen.G for Griffin that also resulted in the death of Gen.G jungler Han "Peanut" Wang-ho. Momentum swung firmly in the favor of Griffin. Ultimately, the series came down to the prowess of Gen.G's Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk's Vayne, and how Gen.G shifted their game around him. Griffin were unable to deal with Ruler's Vayne in teamfights, particularly in the first game where Gen.G overcame a gold deficit and won in the late-game, besting Griffin at their own game. One of Griffin's greatest strengths as a team has always been their 5v5 teamfighting, reflecting their team motto of "five as one" and this is one of the few times in their LCK history that they weren't able to out-teamfight their opponents.
While their inability to pull off a stronger late-game teamfight was surprising, this series also served to highlight a few problems that Griffin have always had since their LCK debut. These include a certain stubbornness in draft as well early passivity.
Outside of one game on Orianna, Lissandra is the only champion on which Gen.G mid laner Song "Fly" Yong-jun has a positive win rate this split. It's also his second most-played champion all time (to Orianna) with a 75 percent lifetime win rate. Known as an Aurelion Sol player, Fly excels on champions on which he can push the minion wave and roam to help his side lanes. Lissandra is the perfect fit for Fly's playstyle. Perhaps they thought they could keep Fly pinned in lane with Corki's superior pushing power, but underestimated how comfortable Fly would also be in teamfights.
This draft also took Chovy off of a higher agency pickup that would partner well with jungler Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong for a high-pressure jungle/mid 2v2. Griffin's Game 2 draft suspiciously paralleled their draft in Game 1, albeit with a Zoe for more pressure in the mid lane. It's not necessarily about individual picks in the draft itself, but more about Griffin's refusal to adjust within a series when something fails. It speaks well of their confidence to execute compositions properly with practice, but in a series has been a facet of Griffin's losses since 2018.
While Tarzan is one of the best junglers in the world, he and Griffin have always erred on the side of a passive and exploitable early game. This was true in 2018, and has been true lately since patch 9.1 hit the competitive stage. Griffin have improved on this, but still fall back on old, passive habits, especially recently. Against Peanut's Zac in Game 2, Tarzan could have exploited a favorable matchup much more aggressively, giving Griffin an early game lead. The passive nature of Griffin's early-game also hurt them in their losses against the Afreeca Freecs. Again it wasn't pretty, some advantages came from top side solo kills, and Griffin's late-game teamfight prowess was still superior, but the Freecs kept Griffin stretched thin with a winning top lane and bot side jungle attention.
Griffin isn't the only top team that's had an off week, or is seemingly struggling on the latest patches of 9.4 and 9.5. Over in the LPL, presumed title contenders Royal Never Give Up were swept by Rogue Warriors on 9.4, led by AD carry Mei "ZWuji" Hong-Hui's Ezreal and Vayne. The win moved Rogue Warriors up from 15th place (second-to-last in the LPL) to 13th. Other teams in all regions are having difficulty with the shift to open and malleable top lane matchups, especially in their early top/jungle 2v2s since 9.4 went live. It's the kind of meta shift that can cause a significant shake-up in the standings right as teams are qualifying for playoff spots.
From the moment that the Freecs top laner Kim "Kiin" Gi-in solo killed Griffin top laner Choi "Sword" Sung-won's Riven, Sword bore the brunt of community criticism. Griffin seem lost as to what they want to do with Sword. He is at his best when he's helping initiate team skirmishes or larger 5v5 fights. His synergy with Tarzan appears non-existent right now, making the stronger top/jungle 2v2s that have been popularized in the current meta more difficult to execute. Through top side is also not how Griffin has preferred to play over the past year. Their drafting post-Gen.G loss seemed like an attempt to understand the current meta that didn't work out for their team specifically, especially when the Freecs tried for scrappy teamfights.
The sky isn't falling for Griffin, but two losses against two teams at the bottom of the standings is cause for some concern, especially if they don't adjust before playoffs. Their early game passivity and drafting stubbornness have always been weaknesses in Griffin's playstyle. Now with the added struggle to understand the current meta, they have some work to do before the playoff gauntlet.