-By Edward Brady
The UNT Esports League of Legends Varsity team squared off against USM Gold in the second week of CLoL South Conference play. Although UNT and USM were quite far apart in terms of standings (UNT is 5th seed, USM was 37th) USM was one of only 4 teams to pull off an upset in week one. While the match against the 66th ranked Barton College could be considered a warmup, this could be argued to be the roster’s first true test of the season.
Game 1 saw the teams take two very different playstyles onto the rift. USM drafted a very simple comp with champions having low skill floors but being very rewarding such as Malphite, Annie, and Miss Fortune. The team had a ton of easy ways to kick off a fight and in a straight-up 5v5, all of their champions could simply press R and tear apart the opposition. UNT on the other hand, picked up plenty of champions that require a lot of skill to pilot Incn drafted Aatrox who is reliant on hitting his Q sweet spot and positioning well, SªvVi took Nidalee into the Jungle, who requires a ton of mechanical skill and game knowledge, and Lil Nate picked Sylas, who forces the player to not only know how to play their own champion but how to best use the enemy’s tools against them.
Early on, the game was incredibly back and forth. The USM bot lane and jungle collapsed onto Rainy to get first blood, but minutes later Incn teleported down bot to pick up a kill on the support, and only a minute later after that, the Annie and Malphite combined their ultimates to pick up a kill on Lil Nate. This tug-of-war continued for most of the early game as 15 minutes in UNT were down in kills 4-3 and behind in gold by a small amount (a little under 2k) but were tied in dragons. USM’s mid laner on Annie was up 1 kill on Lil Nate and had a full item, but in the top lane, Incn was up 50 CS and had completed his first item.
The themes of USM having an easier comp to execute and UNT being a bit behind but never out were prominent throughout the game. In the mid-game, team fights would usually go as follows: Either the Annie, Malphite, or Hecarim would engage onto UNT while Miss Fortune ripped through the team and USM killed either the squishier members (PuertoJew, SªvVi or Lil Nate) or locked down Rainy until he died. Incn would tank the entire engagement, pop World Ender and his Goredrinker to heal back most of his health, and then decimate USM alongside whichever carries of UNT managed to survive the initial engage. The fight would end usually with casualties on both sides but USM picking up one or two more per fight.
Things took a turn for chaotic 20 minutes in after getting a pick on the USM mid, they tried to do Baron. USM spotted this out and with clever use of Heacrim’s ultimate, split UNT away from Rainy when he tried to kick off a fight and cleaned up, killing all 5 UNT members at the cost of two of their own. However, as they soon found out, they didn’t have the numbers to do Baron themselves, and then when they were walking away, a recently respawned Rainy caught out the USM mid, and Lil Nate jumped on him for a kill. The game was still dead even, the two teams were tied in dragons and the gold lead wasn’t even 1k. Ten minutes later, Lil Nate hijacked a Malphite Ultimate and engaged onto the USM backline, and with the help of PuetoJew and Incn, UNT won the fight 3 kills to 1 and took Baron as a result. This good feeling wouldn’t last as not even a minute later, Incn jumped into 4 members of USM and died and the rest of the team fight resulted in a 4 for 0 fight and an Infernal Dragon for USM to put them at soul point. However, the fight for the next dragon would see the game end. Even though USM caught Rainy on a flank and Malphite landed an ultimate onto three people, thanks to Incn pressuring the backline, PuertoJew free firing onto USM and healing his team, and Lil Nate hijacking a Malphite ultimate, and getting a triple kill, UNT won the team fight and Game 1.
Game 2 saw USM focus heavily on their mid laner when drafting their team comp. They picked him Yasuo, (a high skill, high risk, high reward champion) had their top laner pick Gragas, and their support pick Alistar (2 champions with ways to knock multiple enemies into the air, which Yasuo can take advantage of). UNT picked a very synergistic comp, with PuertoJew picking Aphelios, high damage, low mobility AD Carry, and Rainy picking Thresh, whose W gives the immobile Aphelios an escape if an enemy tries to jump on him. (this combo is so good that in pro play, Aphelios is almost always paired with Thresh as his lack of an escape can make him too risky to play at the highest level. It’s usually either Aphelios/Thresh or no Aphelios at all) SªvVi returned to the Nidalee to match the fast clear speed of the Udyr on the opposite side, and Incn and Lil Nate picked Gnar and Orianna respectively. The Gnar provides excellent early game harassment and side lane pressure but more importantly, can provide a ton of crowd control in team fights, especially when combined with an Ori ultimate.
USM picked up 1st blood 5 minutes into the game as the Udyr and Gragas were able to jump on and kill the very fragile Nidalee, and throughout the early game, USM was able to find a few kills across the map. But this is where the good news ends for USM. Game 2 saw the spotlight fall on PuertoJew and Rainy as only seconds after the first blood, Rainy landed a good hook onto the support and PuertoJew picked up his first kill of the game. PuertoJew and Rainy would then snowball this advantage hard as the two players pushed their opponents out of their lane and with the help of SªvVi, UNT took the first tower a little over 10 minutes in. The duo would then move to the top lane where they killed the USM laner 2v1 and took another tower funneling even more gold onto the Aphelios. Rainy couldn’t miss a hook that game if he tried, and almost every one of those hooks leads to either a kill or enough pressure that his team could take an objective. 15 minutes in, PuetoJew had completed his first item, was well on his way to his 2nd, and 2nd tier boots. His lane opponent had only the components for his first item, his tier 1 boots, and a dagger.
The game got out of control for USM fast as only three minutes later, UNT had taken a total of 5 towers, every single member of UNT was ahead of their opponents, and UNT had amassed a 7.3k gold lead. UNT was able to bait USM’s jungler into overextending and converted that pick into a baron and converted that baron into an ace (kill all 5 members of the opposite team) in the base and closed out the series 2-0.
UNT showed plenty of promise in this series. SªvVi showcased an incredible ability to be a team player. Most Nidalee’s usually buy Night Harvester, a damaged item, and just build AP in an attempt to burst out their opponents. SªvVi on the other hand built Moonstone Renewer and Staff of Flowing Water. The Renewer heals a teammate every time you do damage to champions, and the Staff grants movement speed and AP to any allies you heal or shield. This is an incredibly powerful combination and although SªvVi wasn’t being flashy and one-shotting anyone, this combo allowed him to heal his team through the chaotic team fights of game one. Granting that extra survivability, especially to champions that already do a ton of healing on their own such as the Sylas, Senna, and Aatrox helped out so much, and in game 2, it allowed the Aphelios to get to the level of power people pick him for even faster than he already would have. He was doing a lot even if it didn’t look like he was doing much.
The other 4 members were much flashier in their success. Incn was a key part in keeping UNT in the striking distance during game 2 as when the other lanes weren’t doing so hot, Incn built up a massive lead on Aatrox and helped carry throughout team fights. He was also up 2 levels and 63 CS in game 2 over his lane opponent. Lil Nate bounced back from a subpar early game to deal the most damage on his team and turn around the last team fight with the stolen Malphite ult in game 1. In game 2, he put the USM mid laner very far behind when USM drafted a team comp that required him to carry the team. PuertoJew provided a ton of healing and damage in Game 1 and was the star of the show during game 2. Rainy made some very smart plays, catching out members of USM that were out of position in game 1 and hit almost every hook he threw in game 2. Every member stepped up in the match and game 1 proved that they could play from behind, which was the main concern I had about this team heading into the season.
UNT will continue its campaign at 3 P.M. this Saturday vs Niner Esports. Niner Esports are undefeated and are the 16th seed. Niner Esports hasn’t been anywhere near as dominant as UNT, taking around 25 minutes in both games in their “warm-up” match vs VSU Red, and even having to go to a game 3 vs Auburn University, but they have also had a much tougher schedule as their two opponents were ranked 11 spots and 14 spots higher than UNT’s counterpart. As a reminder, teams that go 6-0 or 5-1 will make the playoffs. UNT cannot afford to take any opponent lightly when every game counts this much All matches can be found on https://www.twitch.tv/UNTEsports.
As a bonus, here is a short postgame interview with UNT mid-laner Lil Nate!