Another questionable roster move in the LCS was announced yesterday, as Evil Geniuses announced they would be subbing in Huni and Goldenglue to their starting line-up.
There’s a scene in Major League II where the pitcher decides to walk the bases loaded so he can face down the movie’s antagonist for the deciding out, who happens to be the opponent’s best hitter. The announcer, seeing this, says “clearly he’s thinking…I don’t know what he’s thinking.” That’s what was going through my mind when I saw the announcement yesterday that Evil Geniuses are going to make a line-up change, subbing out top laner Ziqing “Kumo” Zhao for former Dignitas top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, as well as swapping mid laner Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro for the former Golden Guardians mid Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer.
.@Goldenglue and @Huni will be taking to the Rift this weekend in our matches against @TeamLiquidLoL and @Cloud9. @KumoLoL will be playing in Academy for this week while @JiizukeLoL takes an active sideline role.
— Evil Geniuses (@EvilGeniuses) July 16, 2020
Some roster moves for Evil Geniuses are understandable. The team is coming off an 0-2 week against Golden Guardians and CLG. They have lost four of their last six games entering the back half of the Summer Split after starting off strong at 3-1.
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These swaps are not meant to be viewed as straight upgrades across the board. The goal of the roster swaps was clearly to swap in Huni for the struggling Kumo (who had a pretty atrocious performance in that 0-2 week that included a horrific 3/7/6 performance on Wukong). Because of imports, however, that meant that the team would have to swap out one of Jiizuke or ADC Bae “Bang” Jun-sik. With how strong Bang has been playing of late, I cannot disagree with their decision to keep him in the line-up over Jiizuke.
In doing so, however, Evil Geniuses are gambling that Huni will be a significant enough of an upgrade over Kumo that he will offset the disparity they’ll suffer in mid lane by going to Goldenglue. To put it kindly, I don’t think there is any world where you can think Huni is that much better than Kumo to justify the swap.
Even in a vacuum, we have seen this season that top lane is a role with far less influence than having an elite mid. In tracking my player power rankings for the year, the role with the top correlation between their player’s performance and the team’s winning percentage is actually support (at a 71% correlation) followed by mid lane (60%). Top lane does rank third (46%), but it is closer to the influence of jungle and ADC (both tied at a 38% correlation than mid laner).
In short, even if we assume that swapping Huni for Jiizuke and Goldenglue for Kumo are equal trades in terms of talent, Evil Geniuses lose out on this swap because mid lane is just more important than top lane. But there is also plenty of evidence to support the notion that this is not an even swap of talent.
Right now, based on available statistics and my talent evaluation, I have Jiizuke graded at an 82.6 in terms of mid laners (80 is average and players are judged compared to other players at their position). Kumo, on the other hand, is graded at a 79.3 based on his current season’s performance. This means, just purely based on talent, Jiizuke and Kumo have an average grade of 80.95.
In the Spring Split, Huni ended the split as the second-lowest graded top laner at 72.5 (ahead of only sOAZ at 70.4). Only once in the Spring Split did he grade higher than Jiizuke’s 82.6, when he had an 82.9 grade after Week 1.
Goldenglue was better than Huni, but not by much. He ended the Spring Split with a grade of 75.4, which was ahead of only Ry0ma and Crown. Now Goldenglue did have a much higher peak grade than Huni, ending Week 2 of the Spring Split with an impressive grade of 83.1, but unfortunately he never eclipsed a grade higher than 79.5 for the rest of the split. This means that, at their best, this tradeoff would be a slight upgrade, but if Huni and Goldenglue perform as they did last split, this would be a straight downgrade in both lanes.
Perhaps there is some stylistic or strategic advantage for swapping in Goldenglue and Huni, but unfortunately, I just do not see how this will be a benefit to Evil Geniuses. While their play has been uninspiring of late, with games coming up against Team Liquid and Cloud9 this weekend this substitution puts them behind the 8 ball in terms of synergy. There’s no reason to also take a step back in terms of talent as well.