This article is part of our Additional Recaps series.
For the Gigabyte Marines, the last 12 months have been a wild ride.
First place in the Garena Premier League (GPL) in both the Spring and Summer Splits. Sixth place at the Mid-Season Invitational, securing a spot for themselves at the 2017 League of Legends World Championships. Western commentators have called their style 'chaos' and 'cheese', but they're objectively wrong.
GAM's play style is neither of these things - it is disruption through discarding assumptions about how the game should be played, and analyzing the raw mechanics available to them.
Coach Duong Nguyen "Tinikun" Duy Thanh's ideas about how League of Legends should be played involves not simply grinding for the highest level of laning mechanics, rather focusing on the possibilities. It's those possibilities that lead us to a Level 1 lane swap with a top-sacrifice double Jungle against European third seed Fnatic in their first game at Worlds.
Jungler Duy Khanh “Levi” Do spoke with a reserved calm after the match. His diminutive stance, a mark of modesty as a social norm in Vietnam, hides an underlying confidence that leaks through the corners of his face when talking to the media. This is a humble man, but not one to be taken lightly. And make no mistake, his Nocturne was the star of Thursday’s upset.
"Once you get an early advantage in the game, you have to spiral it into a strength, then use it against their weaknesses to get the win," said Do. While Nocturne is unlikely to be banned in future, teams about to face off against GAM may be looking to take Galio and Kassadin off the board to defend against this strategy. However, Levi says this won't be enough. "This strategy can be used with a lot more champions. This is not dependent on Galio and Kassadin at all," he says, a wry smile forming in the corner of his mouth.
That said, let's look at how they used those champions. To understand what happened in this game, we need to look at where their resources were allocated. Near useless in early levels, Gigabyte top Minh “Archie” Nhurt Tran’s gold and experience on Galio were sacrificed to put strength into Nocturne, a champion with good early-game skirmish potential. A heal/ignite (a summoner spell combo that’s almost unheard of for a support) Lulu for Phung “Nevan” Thien Nhan was going to be able to have kill pressure on a Level 1 Maokai for Fnatic top laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer on the far side of the map, and Gigabyte AD carry Nguyen “Noway” Vu Long’s Tristana was going to be able to bust towers even through the Fortification bonus defence. These were the first two elements of a four-part strategy. The third part was using the threat of an unseen Nocturne to remain threatening while Galio soaked catch-up experience, which allowed Gigabyte mid laner Van “Optimus” Cuong Tran’s Kassadin to free-farm mid. The mid-game rotations were then timed around using double teleport, Kassadin's mobility, and Galio's Heroic Entrance to turn attempts to capitalize.
Simply put, no one noticed the Tristana getting huge. Whenever the team was fighting cross-map, Tristana was getting global gold from towers, and the items stacked up. When it finally came time to 5-vs-5 in teamfights, the globals turned it into a stomp, and Fnatic threw themselves willingly to the grinder without armor to clog the gears. It was a surgery on the Rift; a careful push and pull using power in unexpected places to bait the enemy into giving up objectives. Acceptable sacrifice was necessary to achieve this. When asked what they were prepared to lose to make this work, Levi mused, "I don't know [how much we were willing to sacrifice]. We just did it.”
Coach Tinikun once famously said that knowledge is no match for imagination. Which raises the obvious question for the roaming member of the Marines; just how strong is his imagination?
"My imagination, combined with my coaches imagination, has become my subconscious."