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LGD.Forever Young has been the most talked team of The International 2017 so far, with a close to unbeaten record and insane execution, particularly when they destroyed both Kiev Major finalists VP and OG.
Even if they hadn’t made such a big splash, I think the sheer idea that a team with these players, all of which had a rough year/season, made it to the TI7 main stage is a feat big enough to take a look at what makes the team so strong and how to potentially take them down.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? With that in mind, it’s almost disrespectful to say (I’m guilty of this) that the “current meta fits LFY”. The meta is, after all, dictated by what the biggest kid in the yard has to offer, and that kid is LFY right now.
For the most part, LFY has played this exact same style of Dota ever since the team’s inception. When the team was created, LFY didn't necessarily have any stand-out performers bar - ah fu - on paper. Super and inflame have had their issues (and still do) and Monet was simply too new and young to really be that performer. Of course, you can’t really argue the same way anymore, now that they’ve virtually destroyed any opponent that came their way, but I’m saying all of this to illustrate a point.
Super’s most played heroes w/ the current LFY roster
Be it ahfu, ddc, a combination of the two or the team as a unit: whoever is in charge of making the decisions has found the perfect way to keep everybody in their comfort zone, a feat that isn’t at all easy considering inflame used to be a mid player and Super had his obvious struggles with certain play styles and heroes. Super in my book has always been a “strat” player, for the lack of a better term I’ll just make one up. With Vici Gaming, Super achieved great things, and a player that placed 2nd at a TI can’t inherently be bad (RIP Shiki). But I think that Super fills a certain role type. Looking at his most played and most successful heroes, you’ll see that Dragon Knight and Death Prophet have played a huge role in his career. That’s just the type of player he is: A stable laner who is difficult to kill and transitions into a pusher with his team, to fight for objectives together. It’s a play style that suited VG in their deathball run at TI4 and it suits LFY now, or should I say they suited themselves to fit this play style?
Super is not a playmaker and not a player to set the pace of the game. He’s lost all 4 QoP games, a Storm Spirit game, and has never played Puck for LFY. Especially in times where Puck is picked early as a flex pick, it is incredible that LFY hasn’t been hindered by this inherent drafting disadvantage, since they haven’t picked it yet for Super. That said, when asking Ahfu regarding this potential weakness, he said that it was a deliberate decision, and not a weakness. Either way, LFY has an approach that focuses on Super's strengths. In most cases, they make sure to draft at least 2 tower hitting heroes (57% of the time, Super plays a hero with dedicated pushing abilities like DK, DP, Pugna etc), a roamer with high killing potential, a lane stabilizer, and an offlaner with lots of killing potential + space creation potential. Knowing this, how does one draft against LFY?
I had a mini discussion with HappyFeet coach Scant on twitter in which we both agreed that Ahfu is likely a target to ban, though I said that perhaps it may be Super after all. Upon further inspection, I think I’ll have to stick with Ahfu.
Top 5 bans against LFY at TI7
Super can play a variety of heroes for LFY’s push oriented strat, and Ahfu’s heropool may be the 2nd least diverse of his team (15, only ddc has played fewer heroes, with 14 different picks) but between Earth Spirit, Earthshaker, Night Stalker and Sand King, it seems nigh impossible to truly ban out his heroes in the first phase, which is usually where LFY will pick them. Interestingly enough, the few games where LFY did not pick Ahfu’s hero in the first phase, the opponents dedicated 2 bans to Ahfu, mostly his NS and Earth Spirit, almost as if to bait the opponent into “wasting” more bans on his hero pool or knowing that they wouldn’t, because no opponent has yet dedicated more than 2 bans to Ahfu’s hero pool in a single draft.
What every team does seem to agree with though, is that at least one of Ahfu’s heroes needs to be banned, or at the very least taken away from him and teams would do well to choose a particular one. In the 14 games LFY has lost since the beginning of the TI7 qualifiers, Night Stalker was banned 12 times. They lost with Night Stalker once and OG first-picked Night Stalker away from them in the #TI7 group stage. Ahfu established Night Stalker in the scene, showing how strong the hero has become with the improved Hunter in the Night. The abundance of Aghanim’s Scepter has made the hero a truly terrible foe to face, with which a team can have near total map control, or at the very least diminish that of the opponent. Of course, LFY have won even without Night Stalker, numerous times in fact. So why not ban as many Ahfu heroes as possible? It’s a risky gamble, perhaps one worth taking in a bo3?
That said, there is one more reason why Ahfu’s hero pool has not been singled out as heavily yet. Teams, during the TI7 group stage, have chosen to ban Lich nine times against LFY in the first phase, and it was picked against them once. Lich made a sudden appearance at this event and stood out first when Cloud9 continued to lose with him. Lich has recovered since and has a respectable win rate of 52% across 29 games. It’s been banned 44 times, meaning that a 5th of these bans has been dedicated to LFY alone. What makes the hero so strong, particularly in LFY’s hands?
Lich wins lanes, that’s more or less it. A team that thrives on winning the laning stage to transition into a midgame machine needs all the stability it can get and that’s where Lich comes in. In a dual lane scenario, Lich enables heroes, especially in the offlane, that would otherwise not be viable.
Against XctN, LFY played a dual offlane w/ Lich and Void, a lane so successful that 10mins in, they were both an entire level ahead of the mostly solo Necrophos. Because XctN’s support were needed all over the map, LFY had an early 4,000 exp advantage. In the following game, XctN picked Lich away from LFY.
So far, the 2nd ban phase against LFY is very much focused on Monet’s heroes. Out of the 36 2nd phase bans against LFY, half of them have been dedicated to Monet, 10 to Super. Both players however feel very comfortable on a variety of heroes, Monet certainly can play a range of heroes as his hero is rarely needed for certain combinations. Between the likes of Terrorblade, Faceless Void, Weaver, Troll and Lycan, it seems almost futile to attempt to ban him out.
Of course, banning a hero isn’t as one dimensional as this may read. Certainly, captains and drafters are aware that a player has more options than just the one or two heroes they choose to ban. It may still be worth exploring a different option, but the draft alone will not win the game against LFY.
When trying to determine how to beat this team, it’s important to look at the few losses they suffered. The key losses in my mind are the 3 games lost to LGD during the MDL finals. In two of the three games, LFY had significant issues in the laning stage, resulting in a heavily lost lane or even two. In the other game, they drew even in the laning stage, but the lane they won was Super’s QoP mid, a hero he simply does not excel at, resulting in a lost mid game.
When falling behind in the laning stage, LFY looks to avoid fights at all costs and even if the team has two dedicated pushers, they won’t look to touch a tower unless they know they can. Often times it is inflame who will draw out the enemies, all the while both supports stay hidden in the fog to pose a potential threat. Do they back up inflame? Are they smoked up with their carries? It forces the opponents to potentially misjudge the situation and over-rotate to answer inflame’s ventures, which opens up the map for the other cores to continue farming or even split push.
Split push might just be where it’s at for teams facing this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. In two of the three games LGD won vs. LFY, LGD had heavy split push, once in form of Broodmother and lastly an Anti-Mage.
In group B, LFY has not encountered heavy split push just yet, or they crushed their opponents before it could ever come to that. Team Liquid in group A on the other hand has shown how excellent they are at split pushing, without losing the laning stage.
I’m not saying that, to beat LFY you need to be like Liquid, probably the best or at least 2nd best team at the event so far. But I do think a page out of their (and LGD’s) book could help. It’s not a coincidence that LGD beat LFY with Broodmother and Anti-Mage, or that LFY's 3rd most banned hero is Nature's Prophet.
Simply banning Night Stalker, picking Lich and Anti-Mage won’t win you the game, but that might just increase the odds. LFY have quite the target on their back, so anything I’ve concocted here has surely long made it into the notebook of any coach looking to take them on.
As straight forward as the theoretical portion may seem, it's not easy to put into practice. Inflame, Super and Monet are all pulling their weight and Ahfu has proven over and over again that he deserves more attention than he’s currently getting, all the while ddc pulls the necessary strings and even shines individually. You can figure out a team all you want, but actually beating them with that knowledge has proven to be very difficult in the past.
I do think that Liquid is a team to naturally counter LFY’s play style, but TNC has excellent Night Stalker and Anti-Mage players themselves, so it might not even come to an encounter between LFY and Liquid.