MVP's of the Jungle - LCS
When it comes to the many titles and accolades a player can get in their career, there are many that are seen as large achievements. A lot of players and teams take pride in making the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd All-Pro team for their respective region, winning the rookie of the year award, or even coaching staff of the split.
However, there is one award that is meant to highlight the best performing player of the split and is usually a good indicator on why a team is so successful, the Split MVP award. When it comes to this accolade in the storied region of the LCS, its seen its fair share of familiar faces take the award home, such as Bjergsen, Doublelift, and Aphromoo. The thing is, it is an award usually given by the roles those three aforementioned players play, mid, bot, support, but it’s rarely given to junglers, and has never been won by a top laner. Recently, there has been a surge of new blood in the LCS that has produced some stellar jungling talent, and as a result, there have been two MVP caliber junglers that have emerged; Cloud 9’s Blaber and TSM’s Spica. These two highly talented junglers were awarded the LCS Split MVP for Spring and Summer respectively. This is something that has happened twice, with Rush and Reignover in Summer 2015 and Spring 2016, and coincidentally enough, Svenskeren in Summer 2019 and Blabber in Spring 2020. What makes the back-to-back occurrence significant this time around is the fact that it has never been done with two NA developed players. With a new spin on an old phenomena by two of the brightest stars of the League, it is certainly worth looking into.
To Make an MVP
In order to give fair elaboration into a split MVP, there should be some detail in regards to how the process works for the award. Firstly, the split MVP award is determined based on regular-season play, and not playoffs or finals. This means that the player that receives it does not benefit from any potential hot streaks or meta change that can carry them to a title or potential worlds birth, they need to prove themselves before the pressure is on in the postseason. Secondly, the MVP vote is a predominantly internal process, with players, coaches, and broadcast media being the few that are able to vote on the matter. The LCS is filled to the brim with veteran talent, former world champions, and hard-hitting youth, so there is no shortage of players that can be in consideration for the award. This is best showcased in the top 10 lists that are put out by the LCS itself, showing some of the many players that had a good enough year to net an award of this prestige. That being said, there are two great examples of MVP junglers that have come out this year.
Blaber’s Spring Splash
When it comes to promising young talent within the LCS, few have shone as bright and have seen heights as high as Blaber. Blaber was selected with the 9th pick in the 2017 Scouting Grounds Draft to go to Cloud 9 after a promising practice with team Ocean Drake. Blaber developed well within the Cloud 9 Academy system, being a frequent bright spot and Worlds substitute over the span of two years. Since getting promoted as a starting jungler in 2020, Blaber has impressed many with both his mechanical skill and his aggression, with his prowess helping Cloud 9 to their first LCS title in six years and garnering his first Split MVP award. That being said, that title and that award came at a cost of a 7 year long worlds attendance record, losing to TSM in a heartbreaking 3-1 series in the lower bracket. In spite of missing worlds, after meeting both success and failure all within the same year, Blaber came back with a vengeance in 2021.
Over the course of the Spring Split, Blaber was able to showcase his refined aggression, which took many different forms and was able to trounce many of his fellow junglers. Mainly, Blaber was very good at garnering kills; he had the highest amount of kills amongst junglers with a total of 64, averaging 3.7 kills per game across 18 games in the Spring Split. Blaber was also very efficient at getting kills, since his average Minutes Between Kills was 5.3 minutes, only being overshadowed by Dardoch’s 5.3. Blaber was also no stranger to helping out his teammates since he was also the jungler with the highest amount of assists with 132, averaging 7.7 per game. Blaber was also able to keep himself alive quite well, he averaged only 2.2 deaths per game, and only had 4 Worthless Deaths (WD). Blaber was also able to channel his aggression into 5 First Bloods, a stat that nobody else in the LCS was able to match that split. That First Blood stat also means that, of the 18 games played, Blaber was getting first blood 27% (or over one of four) of his games. Overall, due to some stellar survivability and proactive killing, Blaber earned a 1.68 KDA, of which kept pace with other MVP hopefuls, such as FBI (2.4), Alphari (2.0), and former fellow Cloud 9 teammate Perkz (1.8).
Outside of the more aggressive stats, Blaber also had some solid income. Blaber was able to be one of the three junglers that had a positive Average Gold Difference at 15 (GD@15), with his being the highest (418.80), followed by Santorin’s 332 and Xerxe’s 10.93. Blabber was also able to rack up the gold, having the third-highest Average Total Gold of 11,981, behind Closer’s 12,346. Blaber also had some solid farming numbers, averaging 185.1 neutral (jungle), minions per game, third-best behind the likes of Iconic’s 195.45. Blaber may not have been able to lead every stat in his MVP Crusade, but he did keep pace with some of the finest the LCS had to offer.
The only glaring weak point when it came to Blaber’s stat sheet is his vision stats. Blaber averaged 9.2 wards placed per game, which was 9th best amongst junglers, with Spica having the highest average of 16.8 per game. Blaber was not as efficient at clearing vision in comparison to his peers either, since he had the lowest ward kills with 10.2 per game, with the likes of Svenskeren having the highest average ward kills of 19.37 per game. Blaber was also heavily beaten out by the likes of Svenskeren in terms of vision score, with the former having an average of 42.2 in comparison to the latter’s 60.77. Despite this one hole in his play, Blaber was able to work wonders on the Rift.
As a result of his stellar play, Blaber was not only able to garner the 2021 Spring Split MVP, but he was also able to help Cloud 9 to their second LCS title in two years. With his refined aggression, solid survivability, and competitive gold garnering, Blaber was once again a champion. While the trip to MSI a month later did not bode as well as hoped for the LCS and North America at large, there was plenty of time in the Summer Split to get back on track to worlds. While there would be some success, it would be without Blabber as MVP and with a returning challenger reclaiming his title as MVP.
Spica’s Summer Spike
There are many parallels to Spica’s path alongside Blaber’s. Mainly, they were both a part of the same Draft Class of 2017, only Spica was picked 2nd by Echo Fox. While Spica did not have the luck of starting at a promising developmental system like Blaber, he was quickly scooped up by TSM shortly after Echo Fox’s closure. Spica had the ability to play behind well-traveled junglers like Akaadian and Grig, getting some occasional time to start during the 2019 Summer Split, and was a part of the roster that lost out on Worlds due to Clutch Gaming’s underdog run through the Regional Finals. Despite the struggles early on, Spica managed to grow and was a part of the TSM roster that broke Cloud 9’s world record attendance streak in 2020. With making worlds in 2020, as well as a solid top 3 placing in Spring 2021, Spica had plenty of momentum going into Summer to make a fantastic run.
With the changes to the LCS format, there were now 27 games being played during the course of the summer split as opposed to the 18 from spring. With this larger input of games, as well as data, it made for quite a competitive split stats-wise. Spica was getting quite a lot of competition from many junglers, such as Blaber, Santorin, and Closer. For example, Spica gained 93 kills, with an average of 3.4 per game, but those were both 2nd best behind Closer’s 97 kills and 3.7 average per game. Spica died a total of 52 times, which was 5th out of all junglers, but he had an average of 1.9 deaths per game, a stat only topped by Closer’s 1.8. Spica did have a few bright spots that nobody else had, which included his ability to get First Bloods. While Blaber was able to get 6 First Bloods again, Spica managed to top him with 8, which is the most First Bloods out of every player that entire regular season. This also means that he was getting First Blood in 29% of his games, which is very impressive. What also makes Spica’s efficiency more amazing is that his Average Minutes Between Kills was also a 5.06, which was the highest, and therefore the quickest, at getting kills than any other jungler on average. Also, due to Spica’s well-rounded Kill and Death stats, his KDA clocked in at 1.7, which was only behind two other MVP candidates, that being Closer’s 2.02 and Fuge’s 2.15.
As for other, less kill-related stats, Spica faltered a bit. Spica did not have the best neutral minion kills stats, recording the lowest average amount between all junglers with 157.64. Spica also did not have the best vision stats either. Spica was 8th among LCS junglers with an average ward count of 11.48, as well as 8th best vision score of 46.48. Spica also wasn’t the greatest at garnering assists for his team, with 143 assists total alongside an average of 5.2 per game, but those stats are 5th and 7th among junglers respectively. Spica also had 9 WD’s over the course of this split, meaning every 1 in 3 games he accrued a WD. Thankfully, Spica also had a few upsides that were not KDA-related. Mainly, Spica had a 5th best average GD@15 with 138.44 per game. Spica’s average Total Gold was 11,647 per game, not too far off from the likes of Blaber’s highest of 12,017. Spica even has some solid vision clearance with an average of 12.44 ward kills per game. Despite Spica’s stats having some clear-cut downsides, there was plenty of upsides in regards to gold and kills that made the difference in many games.
As a result of this solid amount of stats, Spica was able to garner his first-ever Split MVP award. However, despite such a large personal achievement, the results did not carry over to the playoffs. TSM fell to both Team Liquid and Cloud 9 to finish 4th in the split, and subsequently missed worlds. The cruel irony, that Spica squashed Blaber’s MVP to Worlds route in 2020, only for Blaber to return the favor in 2021. Despite this setback, Spica is now in the same position Blaber was in at the end of the 2020 season, with plenty to fight for, in a highly crowded LCS.
What makes an MVP?
Looking at all the results of the last year of MVP statistics, there are a few observable patterns that go into an MVP jungler. Firstly, having high impact kill stats, whether it kills counts and averages, or garnering a consistently high amount of First Bloods. Secondly, having a positive GD@15 stat, or consistently staying ahead of your opponent economically, is key for any jungler to have success. Lastly, maintaining a competitive standing with other junglers. While both Blaber and Spica both had less than ideal stats in some capacity, they were able to keep up with other stats outside of kills, which likely made the difference in the end.