Day 1 of the fifth week of the EU League Championship series provided relief to a team that direly needed it. Now occupying the seventh spot in the rankings at the time of this writing, Team Vitality has built a small gap between it and Origen, the Unicorns of Love and Team ROCCAT.
The squad struggled to get to that point, and Raymond "kaSing" Tseng had, arguably, the toughest road to climb among his teammates. An event that occurred before the start of the summer split served as the precursor: the departure of long-time bot lane partner Petter "Hjärnan" Freyschuss from competitive play. It was one of those times when the adage "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" applied.
"Right now, he's still a sub for Vitality, so anytime he feels like he wants to play again then he'll ask, and we'll consider," said kaSing about his former AD carry. Later, he confessed "I honestly think it was fun to play with him. I'll be happy if he came back."
Does that detract from Police's performance? KaSing says otherwise. In fact, he noted that it was going quite well, despite an initial rocky start that saw the support play with two different AD carries in the span of three weeks. Park "Police" Hyeong-gi was initially shy and had a poor grasp of the English language, which made communication difficult and prompted the squad to operate with another player, Victor "Reje" Etlar Eriksen.
Reje initially caught Team Vitality's eyes in virtue of his performance in the Challenger Series qualifiers, and he emerged from the experience with more game knowledge and onstage experience. However, his inability to cope with stress - a hurdle for newcomers - and Police's improvement pushed him into a substitute role.
The game is different from solo queue, when players merely try their best to win regardless of competitive fundamentals - a key one being wave management. For a player (and Reje in particular) to succeed at a competitive level, kaSing explains why that component of the game is key. "There were some moments where he might have pushed one wave when that could have been really useful for our top laner if he wants to swap with him, or if you just slow push the wave in order to do dives or stuff," he illustrates.
But the differences don't end there. For supports, success at the competitive level hangs on their ability to coordinate with their bot lane partner and their jungler. AD carry-support chemistry helps secure laning phase advantages, a matter which junglers and supports may leverage into map-wide takeovers. A lack in the latter leads into lack of initiative and stale play, which in turn leads to hard-fought victories or straightforward losses.
"It was really hard to play because support-jungle synergy is still important in this meta, and if the support and jungler are not on the same page, and let's say the enemies want to pressure, always one of us is either back or not available in time to do anything or react," depicts kaSing. "So we lose a lot of objectives for no reason, and slowly we just bleed out and lose the entire game."
Vitality's lack in the latter paved the way for Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema's return to the lineup, and the result (a 1-1 tie with the Unicorns of Love) spoke for itself.
"I can talk to Shook freely in how we play and where he's gonna go, and he communicates actually more now compared to before," the support adds.
However, before Shook's return, the support naturally struggled to reach the same impact level of his H2K-Gaming and spring-split Team Vitality days. He needed to communicate efficiently with Police and MightyBear, but that created a paradox where he needed to do so slowly enough for them to understand, and fast enough for his teammates to adapt to the call as quickly as his opponents. His performance took a hit, and a Bard game served as an example.
As kaSing brings his perspective on the matter, the reasons for Vitality's on-and-off play become clear. "It's important for a support to be understanding with [his AD carry and his jungler], because if I don't understand the AD carry, I don't know how he players and it will go super bad in lane," he explains. "Same for jungle, if he wants to go something else, and I want to do something else, then we're not on the same page."
Since Shook's arrival, and considering Police's constant improvement, Vitality's first day this week was an 'on' day. The squad's game plan in Game 1 involved Shook's Nidalee aiding the side lanes (primarily Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet's Irelia) while the squad's bottom lane (Sivir and Braum) scaled up, conceding as little ground as possible to Schalke 04's Caitlyn-Nami combination. Schalke 04 retaliated in the second game as Etienne "Steve" Michels single-handedly decided the outcome of the game with a five-man Gnar ultimate.
The squad still has work ahead of it. Identifying overconfidence when the squad plays scaling team compositions with set champion power spikes or when it has a strong match-up, he notes that he and his teammates need to pressure more during windows of opportunity. In the end, it came down to wave management and the aforementioned reasons.
"We didn't pressure as much as we could have, because we mistimed the way we controlled the wave, and the way it went to their side and we didn't do much when it was on their side," kaSing recalls. "When it came back to us, we wanted to do something but if both side lanes are pressuring into you, you have to clear them. We made a mistake in terms of understanding where our power spike was, and that was it."