Flash Wolves ended their 2017 season on a rather sour note, winning only one game in the League of Legends World Championship Group Stage. The four-time LMS champions were lost in a meta focused on caster supports and late game teamfights, two of the team’s greatest weaknesses dating back to 2015. The longtime Taiwanese titans were cornered and things had to change if the team’s trajectory was to be saved. It was time for a roster mixup, for better or for worse.
The champions of Taiwan had to move on from longtime jungler Karsa and tinker with their identity as they attempted to “Keep the Faith,” the team’s running slogan this Spring Split. The reputation of the LMS and Flash Wolves has tanked since Worlds and the team seems relatively invisible coming into the Mid-Season Invitational. There is no better time for the team to find its footing, bear its fangs, and re-enter the international spotlight with its newest roster.
Farewell, Karsa. Welcome, Moojin.
Some of the biggest international news this offseason was centered around Karsa leaving the Taiwanese champions for greater aspirations across the strait to LPL team and Worlds semi-finalist, Royal Never Give Up. Karsa’s addition to the team in 2015 is potentially the greatest addition any team in Taiwan has ever made, bringing the team up to speed as a top-tier competitor in Taiwan. His play on Lee Sin and Nidalee had been highlighted domestically and internationally, but it was time for the two parties to say goodbye. Flash Wolves were stagnant and Karsa was hungry for more. Now, both sides had to learn to exist without each other.
Flash Wolves eventually moved to sign Korean Jungler, Moojin, previously of Red Bulls EU, largely due to his potential as a player, rather than his track record. The Taiwanese talent pool is notoriously shallow and despite Flash Wolves having trouble with Korean import, Kramer, in the past, this was the best move going forward. Team manager, 4LeaF, intended for Flash Wolves to stay on top and insisted that they had “learned from their mistakes” with Kramer.
At first, the team struggled to perform consistently and looked shaken up by the late-game focused Targon’s meta to start the season, but the tone changed as Moojin quickly adapted to the Flash Wolves system. Moojin was far from a “cerebral jungler,” but provided the mechanical muscle that Flash Wolves was looking for in a Korean jungler. He performed best on carries, but got the job done plenty on meta tanks like Skarner or Sejuani and succeeded as a passive-farming jungler that primarily supports the bottom lane’s ventures with Scuttle Crab priority and deep warding.
Moojin is no Karsa, lacking the playmaking ability and foresight of the Taiwanese star, but with Maple and Betty being as dangerous as they are, he didn’t need to be. His pathing wasn’t too creative, but with SwordArt calling the shots and making plays, he just had to follow up. Moojin became the moldable clay in an otherwise set Flash Wolves identity.
Smile, Hanabi is in
Speaking of moldable clay, Flash Wolves welcomed another new player in the LMS Spring Split: Hanabi (formerly Smile). Hanabi joined the team as a trainee behind top laner, MMD, and was well known for his mid lane play in solo queue. Despite being a rookie, Hanabi quickly fit into the Flash Wolves system and offered much-needed flexibility to the team.
Flash Wolves have constantly struggled with MMD, both domestically and internationally, but Hanabi breathed some new life into the top lane. Although Hanabi has recently transitioned to top lane, he is more aware of how to deal with losing matchups and is more respectful of opposing jungle pressure. That better sense of self-sufficiency allowed the Flash Wolves to more comfortably and more obsessively focus on the bottom lane, with fewer repercussions.
Hanabi is also noticeably proficient on carry champions like the Gangplank or Camille, giving the Flash Wolves an extra dimension when they occasionally flex in that direction. Traditionally, Flash Wolves had used red side to counter pick for MMD, but it’s not a total necessity for their newest tool. In an LMS era where Taiwanese top laners have become much more competent, Hanabi has been a great boon to Flash Wolves within the region. It also better complements the bot-lane focused style that Flash Wolves have refined since the middle of 2017.
Bringing it back
Following the addition of its new players, Flash Wolves were also challenged more than they ever had on a mechanical level. Mid-tier LMS teams brought on Korean imports that greatly elevated the individual skill in the region. Flash Wolves were punished early on for its slow macro play, just as they had been at Worlds 2017, but adjusted accordingly with a greater focus on objectives, primarily Baron.
That increased competition in the LMS also meant that Flash Wolves’ native talent had to step up, namely their mid laner, Maple. This split, Maple reminded everyone why he was the first mid lane prodigy in the region. His spunky, aggressive play set a tone for Flash Wolves this split and the mechanics returned to back it up. Maple isn’t the star of this team anymore, but there’s no “Flash” in Flash Wolves without his individual playmaking in teamfights.
Betty and SwordArt further solidified themselves as the best bot lane in the LMS last year and although G-Rex’s Koala was voted as the All-Pro Team Support, SwordArt is still very much at the top of the region. A meta centered around more tank-supports, as opposed to the caster supports of 2017 Worlds, is much more the Flash Wolves speed. SwordArt is great individually on champions like Janna and Karma, but his influence will always be more felt on that of the Rakan and Alistar. Karsa might be gone, but SwordArt was the foundation that allowed both his jungler and carries to thrive.
SwordArt is a top LMS support and arguably the best player in Taiwan, but Betty also furthered his game and became the undisputed star carry of Flash Wolves. While the young AD carry struggled at his first World Championship, he opted to challenge his mechanics further and trusted his teammates in front-to-back team fighting. Betty has now had a year and change to fully transition from Jungler to AD carry and it is just about time for him to show up well at an international event.
The Mid-Season Invitational
Flash Wolves struggled with late game team fighting at the start of the split with the LMS becoming more competitive at the middle of the table but quickly bounced back to make that their strength. The increased level of play forced Flash Wolves to be more aggressive in its objective control and mindfulness when it came to snowballing, something that has burned the team internationally since its first splash in 2015.
Prior to this Spring Split, Flash Wolves had taken four straight LMS titles and it had little issues actually acquiring its fifth. Things might have been rough at first, but Flash Wolves ended up only dropping a single game to its eventual final opponent, G-Rex. That was a 2-0 loss for the Flash Wolves, where G-Rex exposed holes in the team’s drafting around jungle and mid lane, but it didn’t matter when it came to the real final. Flash Wolves paid back that 2-0 loss with a 3-0 victory in front of an electrified crowd in Macau. Two and a half years of dominance was solidified and there is only one place left to look.
Going into MSI, Flash Wolves remain an unbalanced team, putting a great amount of focus into one lane, but still admirably cobbled pieces together to make it work. Moojin and Hanabi weren’t among the first choices for the team, but both were expertly worked into a working team system, propping up the star bot lane and a resurgent Maple. This rendition of Flash Wolves at its third straight MSI is far from the strongest and most hyped, but the team’s backbone and its reinforcements are ready for its first challenge abroad.
The Wolves start their MSI run in the Play-In Stage, thanks in part to its weak international performances, but it’s the perfect place to start a redemption story. The rising level of play in developing regions makes this stage more difficult than it has been in the past, but it is still a challenge that Taiwan’s champions can handle. Setting itself apart from minor regions and convincingly taking its seat in the group stage is a must if the Flash Wolves are to earn their respect once more.
Photo Credit: Garena Esports