The best early game team at the event averaging a 2,031 gold lead across the 2017 Spring LoL Master Series split. The only team that stood a chance at beating tournament favorites, SK Telecom T1. Top two. The SKT killers.
All of this praise and more was given to Taiwan’s Flash Wolves prior to the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational based on their peerless domestic performance this past season and prior history against SKT. Although the history between the two teams spans only four games, the Flash Wolves are the an anomaly: a foreign team with a winning record against SKT.
This 3-1 winning record is now likely to shift in SKT’s favor.
“Actually, we weren’t expecting for people to say that we were number two this whole tournament,” former top laner turned Flash Wolves coach Chou “Steak” Luhsi said. “I think it’s a little bit overhyped.”
At the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational, the Flash Wolves shocked the community by going 0-2 on their first day, unexpectedly dropping games to Team WE and G2 Esports.
“Everyone on a personal level was performing pretty good, but we’re a bit nervous so maybe that’s causing the decisions in mid and late game,” jungler Hung “Karsa” Hauhsuan said. “We had the advantages and nothing was happening, I think we got hasty.”
Although Flash Wolves still looked fairly strong in the early game on Day 1, they squandered opportunities come mid game and didn’t make the most of their leads. They weren’t the same early-game powerhouse that had swept through the LMS in spring.
“The first day was kind of bad,” Steak says, laughing. “The first game, we kind of lost early ganks, failed Flashes, and stuff like that. And the second game we uh, just got tilted a bit.” He shook his head and chuckled.
“LMS has always been a mechanically weak region,” he said. “Most of our players play on the Korean server. No one actually plays on the Taiwanese server so the mechanics are very low-ranked over there. It’s easy to get away with some plays in LMS, but you can’t do that at international stages. No matter how good you do in the LMS, it doesn’t really help your performance at international stages.”
Despite wins over GIGABYTE Marines and Team SoloMid to bring their overall group stage record to 2-2, Day 2 still looked shaky for the Taiwanese representative. In those victories, Flash Wolves came back in the mid and late game thanks to their AD carry Lu “Betty” Yuhung and some excellent Graves play from Karsa.
“Betty, I think he’s one of the good mechanical players in LMS,” Steak said. “He could compete with top Korean players, but since he’s only been playing AD professionally for five-six months his champion pool isn’t that large right now. I think he’ll do really good by Worlds.”
At the end of the 2016 competitive year, Betty joined the team under the name “DoubleRed” following the temporary retirement of much-maligned AD carry Hsiung “NL” Wenan. He was a surprising choice, given he had previously been a jungler for the Flash Wolves’ challenger team. After a rather inauspicious debut at IEM Oakland, Betty is now an integral part of the Flash Wolves’ game plan. On Day 2 of the 2017 MSI, he was their savior, putting up a strong Ezreal performance against the Marines and a surprisingly effective Jhin outing against TSM.
“NL is more farming for late game, so I didn’t go bot often to get early advantages,” Karsa said. “Betty is a very skilled player and he’s very aggressive as well. With this patch as well, it’s more bot-lane focused so I want to help gank.”
Their new style marks a shift in the Flash Wolves’ play from their prior strategy of protecting NL at all costs, one that gives Karsa more flexibility in his early jungle pathing.
“The big thing this time, we have stronger lanes,” Steak said. “They’re still not international-level, just a bit stronger, so we don’t have to cheese as much. It’s still an upgrade.”
Holding off until late game is hardly what the Flash Wolves are known for, and it’s rare to see them have an early deficit, so Day 2 of the 2017 MSI marked a significant departure from their usual play. Surprised by the GIGABYTE Marines’ Level 1 raptor invade into a lane swap, the Flash Wolves fell behind the Vietnamese team and had to rely on their superior macro play and scaling teamfights with Betty’s Ezreal to win the game.
“It’s been a long time since [the Flash Wolves have] played lane swaps, so they got confused a lot,” Steak said. He shook his head and smiled. “I honestly think [Marines] shouldn’t get anything from that lane swap, but they did.”
“I think we’re very aggressive when we can be,” he added.
One of the primary criticisms of Flash Wolves since they arrived at the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational is that they haven’t taken enough risks, or made the most of small advantages they’ve had. Steak vehemently disagreed.
“I honestly don’t agree with not taking enough risks because I believe that any risk can be calculated, it’s just good play or bad play.” Steak continued, explaining that rarely is anything a true risk if you execute perfectly. The Flash Wolves’ execution had been lacking, he believed, rather than a lack of courage.
Their imperfect execution now has the Flash Wolves tied with Team WE and G2 Esports with only one opponent yet to face: SK Telecom T1.
Karsa shook his head when asked about the Flash Wolves’ record against SKT. “For LMS, the tempo of the LMS is sometimes fast, sometimes slow,” he said. “I think it might have caught them off-guard, giving us advantages.”
“I don’t know,” Steak said. “I hope we can make it to the finals, there’s a little chance. I don’t see anyone having a chance against SKT, they’re way too good right now. But if we can get lucky, we can make it to the final.”
Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.