In the opening game for the spring season of the Garena Premier League, AHQ e-Sports Club showcased a unique composition featuring GreenTea’s support Malphite. There were several factors that led to the success of this team composition, and potential weaknesses which AHQ expertly bypassed. Note that this game was also played against the Taipei Snipers, who finished second in an extremely close 5 game series against the GPL winter champion Taipei Assassins just a few months earlier. However, the TPS captain, former world champion support MiSTakE, retired in the offseason. Consequently, this was their first game with Awei, the Sniper’s new support. The loss of such an experienced member seemingly contributed to their generic picks and bans as well as their lack of in-game adaptation and shot calling.
It’s important to first take a look at some of the weaknesses of support Malphite, specifically noting his weak early laning phase. Before level 6, Malphite is a melee champion with one ranged ability. The base damage is decent, but not incredible. It has a cooldown that does not lower with levels and costs 90 mana by rank 5. Against dominant laners, this should translate to being punished early and often. With the presence of a timely jungler, this could be turned into an advantage that would put the Malphite lane beyond recovery. And a Malphite behind with no gold is going to find himself quickly disposed of in the middle of the enemy team.
The second main weakness of support Malphite comes with his lackluster peel when compared with more conventional supports. Malphite is an extremely one-dimensional support. Specifically, he excels against melee attack speed scaling champions like Tryndamere with his movement speed slow and attack speed slow. When compare a movement speed slow with a reliable stun, you begin to see a significant difference. Hard engage supports such, as Annie and Leona, have much more reliable peel by saving their cc for those diving the back line.
Lastly, Malphite’s ult places him directly in the middle of the enemy team. The previously mentioned examples, Annie and Leona, both possess ranged crowd control as well as defensive steroids. This provides increased safety and a more reliable chance to complete a second round of cooldowns, thus dishing out higher amounts of damage and crowd control. Following that logic, no matter how far ahead a team is, support Malphite isn’t going to provide the same versatility of more conventional support picks.
The picks and bans yielded not just an unconventional support, but also left the highly contested Annie unpicked. The Snipers banned Thresh and picked Leona. This ensured thresh couldn’t be picked to counter and that only Annie was left of the top tier supports, which under normal circumstances would have been considered strong picks and bans. Leona is widely preferred as the counter against Annie, specifically in Southeast Asia. While you could have possibly predicted a variety of second tier supports such, as Lulu or Alistar, no one could have predicted the AHQ support.The highly unconventional Malphite pick suggests that this was an intentional pick tailored to their specific team composition and strategy.
To understand the goal and purpose of the Malphite pick, it is crucial to first break down the lane matchups, and then consider the two main themes of the AHQ team composition – global pressure and dive. Rengar, Malphite and Pantheon contribute immense dive, while Twisted Fate and Pantheon create high amounts of global pressure. Lucian is a solid pick who excels as an adc to ensure towers and is intrinsically safe.
Support Malphite’s laning would be considered traditionally weak. However, the combination of Ezreal and Leona is fairly weak itself before level 6 due to the difficulty for Ezreal to follow up with his full potential damage through minions. Leona, a melee support, has no way to effectively harass Malphite down and Ezreal is known as a weaker laning champion than Lucian. Following from that the 2 vs. 2 bot lane matchup was not in and of itself detrimental for AHQ. Similarly to Annie, Malphite also utilizes his passive more easily in the support role. This is due to the fact that supports don’t have to farm. Where Annie is able to hold the threat of her stun, Malphite can more easily back off to regenerate his passive shield.
While Annie ultimate has no cast animation and is more difficult to avoid, it comes at the cost of 300-400 range. Malphite can force fights from an exceptionally long range and lock up the enemy team giving sufficient time for Rengar, Pantheon and even Twisted Fate ultimates to follow up his initiation. However, Unstoppable Force was utilized by GreenTea even more effectively as a setup for the global pressure of the AHQ team composition to execute ganks in the side lanes.
Due to the focus of AHQ on picks and skirmishes through global pressure (and subsequently not on team-fighting), GreenTea was able to itemize aggressively with early magic pen. His final build included Sorcerer’s Shoes and Haunting Guise as well as an Abyssal Scepter. The Abyssal Scepter proved to be an incredibly smart purchase, bolstering Twisted Fate’s damage output when executing picks. Abyssal had the additional effect of boosting the damage of Rengar’s Battle Roar and Pantheon’s Grand Skyfall in team-fights. Most of the enemy team was also unable to prioritize significant magic resist for the majority of the game due to the fact that the main damage threats were Pantheon and Lucian, and the low amounts of magic resist made the flat penetration and magic resist shred from GreenTea that much more potent.
Malphite support may not bring the versatility of other supports, but what he specializes in—long range initiation—he does considerably better than other champions. When combining Malphite with strong dive, and the follow up repositioning that Rengar, Twisted Fate and Pantheon ultimates allow, it creates a team composition exceptionally potent at creating picks and initiating fights from insane range. If you would like to watch support Malphite in full momentum, here is the full match between TPS and AHQ from the first day of the GPL 2014 Spring Season.