Phoenix1 turning to Ashes – Explaining the fall of the former third place team

After ascending from a bad start in the summer split during the Rift Rivals, the team that started out in the NA LCS in 2016 after buying the slot from Team Impulse, Phoenix1 ended up once again in the promotion tournament.

One of the most important factors was Inori becoming the starting jungler in the end of the split, who would lead the team to a 3-0 victory over Echo Fox in order for Phoenix1 to maintain their spot going into the 2017 season. He was one of the three players that re-signed with the organization, that aimed to build a stronger roster.

2017 looked promising for Phoenix1 as the organization kept their best performers and contracted two former kt Rolster players – Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook and Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon along with an American support – Adrian “Adrian” Ma. Despite decent results, internal issues forced the formation to bring in William “Meteos” Hartman from his retirement. Soon after, Adrian “Adrian” Ma has publicly praised Meteos comparing him to Inori, and saying that it’s much better to play with someone who actually listens to what teammates say, caused bad blood in the team environment and has prompted another roster change. Adrian left the formation and Phoenix1 acquired a high-level solo queue player Jordan “Shady” Robison and Team Diginitas substitute support – William “Stunt” Chen.

In the playoffs, Phoenix1 had a struggling Team Dignitas as a first opponent, only to lose against Cloud9 in the semifinals. The team ended their first playoff run in the third place after beating a declining FlyQuest.

Summer of 2017

With all the roster swaps and uncertainty about the starting squad, it seemed like the break between the seasons would serve Phoenix1 well. That was not the case though.

The formation lost its first 6 series, winning the first match in Week 4 of the NA LCS. Meteos and Inori were sharing game time at that point, but neither seemed like a good fit the team and without Adrian, the formation was much more disjointed. Arrow and Shady weren’t as dominating and started losing lane frequently. The turnaround happened after signing the SoloQ talent MikeYeung, to replace Meteos and Inori. The young player brought a lot of motivation and a high mechanical prowess to the team. It became clear, that despite his lack of experience, MikeYeung is the best fit for Phoenix1.

Things started to look better, especially after the team signed with Xpecial. Bringing in a new support player changed the structure of the formation, and everything seemed to flow better. The Shotcalling appeared to be more clear and the team cohesion has visibly improved. Rift Rivals performances showed a lot of promise, despite the EU teams not showing proper understanding of the meta. Phoenix1 showcased many positive tendencies even though the squad was still struggling. Everything pointed towards the team regaining their spot at the top of the NA LCS after coming back from Europe.

That did not happen though. Instead, the team crumbled and started losing again, ending the split with a 4-14 record, finishing in the last place and being forced to play in the Promotion Tournament. In addition to that, Ryu wanted to take a break, which caused the team to bring in Pirean. The Ex-H2k midlaner came back though, as his replacement was nowhere near an acceptable level. In the relegations, Phoenix1 won their initial match against Gold Coin United, then lost against Team Liquid, to requalify to the LCS with a win against eUnited.

Where the Phoenix collapsed

When talking about players like Arrow, Ryu or Xpecial, it’s hard to imagine that a team composed of these Veterans would end up in 10th place of NA LCS Summer Split. What were the team’s main problems and which of them affected the formation the most?

First of all, let’s start with a player that has not exactly been in the spotlight. Zig was one of the most solid toplaners in the NA LCS, becoming a solid foundation for the team. Unfortunately, his level of play started to decline as the meta shifts did not favor him. Zig was known for bringing out the Kled and being bold enough to blind pick it. After some time, other teams learned how to deal with this champion, and the Tank meta made it hard to abuse Kled as he started having a lot of iffy matchups. That was a first major hit to zig’s champion pool – inability to play tanks well was another one. In his history, the only beefier champion that zig has looked decent on was Shen. The player has never been a good Teleport user, his flanks were always lackluster, so having a built in tool to impact the map was a huge factor. Having two decent picks is not good enough though and that’s where Renekton appeared to be a good way out. Zig has mastered the crocodile but still had a very shallow champion pool throughout the course of the split. His laning phase was also in decline – it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to die from the simplest ganks. Without having a stable roster and synergy with a jungler, zig has been becoming more and more of a liability, instead of a pillar for the team. His poor performances were a problem for the whole team, as the toplaner used to be a very consistent and reliable factor.

zig’s poor play played a huge part in the Phoenix1 collapse. Photograph taken by: Riot Games

Another problematic aspect of the Phoenix1 summer roster was Ryu’s level of play. P1’s Midlaner was another player that was really affected by lack of synergy with his jungler. With all the changes and swaps between Inori and Meteos, Ryu could never build a duo to impact the map with. Only with the arrival of MikeYeung, the midlaner started to get back to his older form.

The meta changes would fit his style usually by picking a waveclearing mid with the ability to rotate around the map quickly. That means that Ryu would choose Corki or Taliyah most of the time, defaulting to Orianna and Cassiopeia in other cases. The Korean player would shove the lane as hard as possible in order to roam. Unfortunately, in the summer, his roams were usually reduced to helping zig, who’d lose his lane and would get abused by his opponents. That meant, that Ryu could not ever be proactive, dictated by the need of helping his toplane survive. This snowballed to a huge problem, as Ryu was not nearly as impactful as before and would lose a fair chunk of time trying to help a sinking ship. In addition to that, the midlaner could not try to make plays with MikeYeung and his botlane, which also meant that the team would usually concede all the pressure around the bottom half of the map. This translated to having the lowest percentage of taken drakes from the whole NA LCS and, in the most cases, to losing the early game by a huge margin.

The botlane was also not impressive at all. From being named a Spring Split MVP, Arrow became one of the worst AD Carries in the League. In all honesty it was not only due to his decline in mechanical skill, but the Korean player lost his lane in almost every single game. In summer, he averaged  -9.7 cs @ 15 minutes compared to +1.1 in spring. His struggles came mainly from changing botlane partners 4 times since the beginning of the season. It’s impossible to build a meaningful synergy between one of the most important duo’s in the team when your partners get rotated like that. Shady was never the greatest laning support and his lack of cooperation with Arrow was visible with bare eye. In the end, things got a little better with Xpecial, but his roaming style helped MikeYeung more than Arrow, who’d still lose the lane. The Korean marksman had all the freedom to pick scaling champions or more utility ones in the Spring Split and would still make them work as a main carry for the team. That was mainly due to other members performing well, and Arrow himself was controlling his lane so much better. In the summer, the Korean AD Carry was being pressured into picking more of a carry kind of champions. That was partially enforced by the meta swing, but also because other players were not able to perform. From playing mostly Varus, Ezreal and Ashe, Arrow started choosing the likes of Kalista, Kog’Maw and Twitch. Arrow played 8 games with Kog’Maw, yet he has not won a single one of them. He lost almost every single laning phase, falling behind and eventually becoming a non-factor due to the nature of the champions he picked. The only champion Arrow had a positive win rate with, was Varus due to the ability to clear waves, poke enemy bot and being a useful tool for his team, no matter the circumstances. Unfortunately, the Korean player would pick champions to carry the games with, but didn’t have the necessary resources to do so, which only made his underperformances even more visible.

Phoenix1 had a lot of problems as a team. Photograph taken by: Riot Games

The team also had more flaws. As mentioned before – the early games of Phoenix1 were tremendously bad. The way the formation played left much to be desired in that aspect. Lack of any proactivity and being forced to save zig, despite not having a good laning phase in mid and bot these were the main reasons the team couldn’t get anything done. Even when drafting compositions that aimed at the earlier stages, it was mostly up to MikeYeung to make plays and single-handedly carry the games. Xpecial has never managed to formulate a tag team with the jungler in order to build vision, which usually meant that Phoenix1 would make lots of uninformed calls in the midgame. Rotational play was lacking an idea how to approach the game – the team could rarely split the map well for themselves and would end up grouping pointlessly or trying to force a fight.

All of those factors had a great impact on the way that things unraveled for Phoenix1. The team was never built to succeed with all the roster changes. Players were not given time to build meaningful synergies and that caused many of them to underperform. Meta shifts and decline in individual play were also important factors that became a final nail to the Phoenix1 coffin, making the team a pretender instead of a contender.

 

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Tomasz Milaniuk

Tomasz Milaniuk is a Polish writer who has been spending his last years writing about the Korean and European esports scene. His ability to analyze games and the abilities of individual players have made him a valuable resource within the League of Legends and CSGO communities respectively.

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