NALCS Teams on the Rise: Echo Fox and Immortals

We’re almost halfway through the NA LCS split. NA LCS teams look all over the place in terms of standings. Cloud 9 stand above the rest undefeated at 8-0. Other than C9, the rest of the standings appear up in the air. This will be the first of a two part piece where I’ll be highlighting teams hitting their stride halfway into the split. This week I’ll start with Echo Fox and Immortals.

Echo Fox

Courtesy: Riot Games

 

Echo Fox may just be the definition of inconsistency. One week they throw enormous leads, another week they’re dominating their games. Echo Fox is coming off an impressive 2-0 week where they swept some big name teams in CLG and TSM.

Jungler Matt “Akaadian” Higginbotham has erupted in his rookie split. He has shown to be an extremely aggressive jungler who’s not afraid to make the big play. Often times rookies are not aggressive due to the jitters related to playing on stage for the first time. He has developed into the “NA First Blood King” holding the highest first blood percentage among junglers at 70%.  

Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen has been the leader for this team since its inception into the NA LCS. Frogen holds the 2nd highest KDA among mids with 4.6 while also leading the league in damage percentage at 30.7%.  He’s also been one of the most flexible mids, having played seven champions. Having that wide champion pool makes it impossible for enemy teams to ban him out.

After being the scapegoat of many of Echo Fox’s early losses, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew has looked better week by week. In a meta where ADC’s are seen more for their utility, Keith hasn’t needed to carry teamfights. He’s had some good Jhin/Ashe ults and has been working on getting caught less.

Echo Fox seem to finally be figuring out how to transition their early leads to victories. It’s surprising to see they hold the highest gold difference@15 in the NA LCS at 1,530. Akaadian has been a major contributor in getting his team ahead. If this team can build off their momentum, they can begin to show the league that they’re real contenders.

Immortals

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Immortals are another team coming off an impressive 2-0 week after looking like a bottom tier team for most of the split. The slow start could have been due to communication issues within the team, but they looked much better.  

Rookie ADC Cody “Cody Sun” Sun looks to have found his pocket pick in Miss Fortune. After looking rocky for most of the split, he posted an eye-popping 19.5 KDA on Miss Fortune. Immortals won all three games that Cody Sun played her in. If teams start banning her moving forward, it will open up more champion choices for his team.

It’s been no secret that mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park has looked suspect for most of the split. This past week he posted an 8.2 KDA in the four games Immortals played. Hopefully this propels him back to form as the best NA resident mid laner we’ve been used to seeing from him. 

Finally, Immortals look to have finally resolved some of their communication issues. Their schedule gifted them with some bottom tier competition in Team Liquid and Dignitas. With some other teams beginning to struggle, they may be able to use their newfound momentum to creep into a playoff slot.

After Cloud 9, just about every NA LCS team looks even in skill and competition. Every team has different strengths that allow them to win games. In my next piece, I’ll be looking at some teams heading downwards in the standings.

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Cloud 9 vs. Flyquest Preview

The matchup we’ve all been anticipating since the start of the LCS, “Cloud 9 White against Cloud 9 Blue.” For obvious reasons, this is the highlight match of the week for most viewers. Current Cloud 9 were heralded as the top dogs heading into the split, so it’s no surprise that they sit atop the standings at 6-0.

The old school veterans of Cloud 9 now have a chance to prove that they’re better than the members who replaced them. Flyquest were coming in as “washed up” former pros that everyone expected to be fighting towards the bottom. With a 5-1 record, Flyquest will have a lot to prove this week as they face some of their toughest opponents so far in Phoenix1 and Cloud 9.

Solo Laners and Macro Play

Cloud 9 have been winning games through their mid-game team fighting abilities and superior shotcalling. Along with that, Cloud 9 have top talent in just about every position. Similarly for Flyquest, they’re often looking to just go even in laning phase before exploding for early baron calls and immaculate shot calling we’ve come to expect from mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam.

The difference between the two is that Flyquest doesn’t exactly have top talent in their roles. Individually, they don’t do phenomenal in lane as opposed to Cloud 9. C9 have some of the best solo laners in Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen.  

For Flyquest, An ”Balls” Le and Hai have never been known as strong mechanical laners, but do what their team needs. Despite having the worst CS differential@10 among tops, Balls has the third highest KDA. Hai currently has the most kills of all mids along with the highest damage percentage. Hai’s shotcalling has also reminded us that you can never truly count any roster out as long as he’s there.

We witnessed this firsthand when Hai retired and was brought back to salvage a struggling Cloud 9 team. Through the leadership of Hai, Cloud 9 turned around a seventh place finish into a magical run through the gauntlet to qualify for Worlds.

Hai and Balls will be looking to take revenge on the players that replaced them. Meanwhile, Jensen and Impact will look to prove that Cloud 9 made the right choices in doing so.

Jungle Matchup

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

In the Jungle, Cloud 9 rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia is facing off against Flyquest’s Galen “Moon” Holgate. Contractz had been praised as being the next up and coming rookie talent from North America. He has not disappointed so far, and looks to be improving every week.

For Moon, not many expected this kind of performance from him. He was once in Contractz’ shoes, seen as an up and coming talent, but never really developed into what many had hoped. Under the veteran leadership of Flyquest, Moon has been able to finally show the NALCS that he is a top jungler in this league.

Moon and Contractz currently hold the top KDA’s among junglers at 6.5 and 4.8 respectively. It will be exciting to see just how well these two do against each other. They both look to be contenders for the best jungler in North America.

 

 

Sneaky vs. Lemonnation

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

One of the best bot lanes to ever play in North America face each other for the first time in competitive play. C9 ADC Zachery “Sneaky” Scuderi and Flyquest support Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart were infamous innovators during their time together in competitive LoL.  

Lemonnation was one of the first innovators of really breaking down drafts strategically. With Ashe and Zyra returning to the meta, it reminds us that Sneaky and Lemonnation were one of the first bot lanes to use those champions successfully in competitive.  

Sneaky now lanes with current C9 support Andy “Smoothie” Ta who has looked like one of the most improved players from last split. Lemonnation joins Johnny “Altec” Ru who isn’t exactly a carry style AD, but he’s definitely not someone you can sleep on. Smoothie has developed into arguably the best support of the NALCS. He currently holds the highest KDA among supports at 6.0. Altec currently holds the highest KDA among ADC’s at 6.2.

 

 

Prediction

Cloud 9 and Flyquest both have special places in my heart as I’ve been a C9 fan since I began watching competitive. I’ll never forget the undefeated LCS playoff title runs or the magical Worlds performance against Najin White Shield. This split has been a treat for C9 fans, as we’ve basically gotten to witness essentially “two C9’s” do extremely well to start off the split.

Cloud 9 have the edge, but Flyquest will not go down easy. Cloud 9 will take it in a close 2-1 series with a lot of bloody fights. As long as Impact is starting, I don’t see any team being able to take them down. Cloud 9 without Impact look completely different. With him, they look unstoppable.

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Comparing Current Cloud 9 to TSM of Summer 2016

Cloud 9 look miles above the rest to start the split. They currently sit atop the standings with a 6-0 record and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. They look like a team ready to retake their North American throne. Their current start is reminiscent of TSM in Summer 2016.

TSM had a similar start to Summer, where they looked so dominant after replacing veteran support Bora “Yellowstar” Kim with rookie Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. TSM had arguably one of the best splits in NALCS history by finishing the season off with a 17-1 record, and a total of 35 games won and only six lost. Let’s look at how TSM of Summer and current Cloud 9 stack up statistically.

TSM Summer 2016

Courtesy of Riot Esports

Three weeks into the split, TSM held a 6-0 record. Same as the current Cloud 9 squad. The difference is that TSM only dropped one game during their first three weeks. C9 has dropped two games so far.

TSM held the highest gold difference @15 with 1,615. TSM was known for getting huge gold leads from pure talent in the laning phase. They were also extremely proactive and had mastered the lane swap meta that dominated that split.

They also held the highest Dragon control %, along with the second highest Baron control %, only behind Immortals. Along with this stat, they held the shortest game time average at 32.2 minutes and had the highest team KD at 1.68. TSM were kings of knowing exactly what to do with a lead and how to translate them to victories efficiently.  

Current Cloud 9

Currently, Cloud 9 is 6-0 and sits alone at the top of the NALCS. They look much stronger than any other team so far, but the competition also seems a bit weaker. Teams are still adjusting to imports, and North American games going to 40+ minutes seems to be the norm at the moment.

Courtesy of Riot Esports

Cloud 9 is third in Gold Difference@15 with only 423. They actually trail Flyquest and Echo Fox. Despite Echo Fox sitting in the middle of the pack, they have the highest Gold Difference@15 with 1,389. Cloud 9 does have strong lanes, but their mid game team fights and skirmishes are where they’ve gotten their leads.

C9’s shotcalling and communication are above the rest of the league at the moment. They’re usually pretty proactive in setting up plays and know how to play their comps properly. They have the third shortest game time, averaging 37.9 minutes. With wave clear picks such as Varus, Orianna, and Corki being in the meta right now, it’s easy for teams to try to stall out when they’re behind.   

Cloud 9’s baron control this split hasn’t been too great. They currently sit fourth at 59% and sixth in Dragon control at 51%. Cloud 9 seem to be content with giving up Dragons if it means getting a tower in exchange. In the lane swap meta, it made it easier for teams to do early dragons as well. They currently hold the highest team KD at 1.72.  

 

 

Who would win in a BO3 series?

The ultimate question is who would win in a best of 3 series between the current Cloud 9 team and TSM of Summer? Cloud 9 looks better and better each match with Reapered coaching them. TSM did look top notch in NALCS last split and definitely looked better with ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Contractz also brings the right amount of aggression that synergizes well with Cloud 9.  

Looking into the future, we could very well see this matchup come to fruition. TSM’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect how much they’ve struggled. Even with a lead, TSM has struggled to close out the game cleanly. Various members of TSM have mentioned the absence of Doublelift has hindered the shotcalling of the team. If TSM doesn’t win first place, I believe Doublelift will be returning to the starting lineup for summer.

Owner of TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, has made it clear that he wants to see TSM do well at Worlds. If TSM can’t even win the North American title, he’ll want to see changes. Doublelift has also made it very clear on stream that he wishes to return to pro play for the Summer.  

If these teams do end up getting the chance to play one another, it will be one of the most hyped up matches LCS viewers have ever seen. It’ll be a huge question mark if Doublelift will still be in the same form after his break, and if TSM can continue their success from Summer.

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NALCS Week 3 Key Matchups To Watch

Week 3 of LCS kicks off Friday. Heading into the week we have some under-performing teams looking to turn their season around. Then we have teams looking to build momentum to show that they aren’t flukes. These are some key matchups to look out for.

Photo Courtesy of Youtube

Team Solo Mid vs CLG

The rivalry is rekindled once again this weekend, as CLG and TSM face off for the first time this split. The teams sit in opposite spectrums of the standings after two weeks. TSM is 3-1, tied for second place, but their wins have not been as clean as we’re used to. CLG sits near the bottom at 1-3, but a close series against the league’s best in Cloud 9 showed that they’re not down and out just yet.  

TSM has looked like a much different team compared to the one we saw in Summer. The induction of AD carry Jason “Wildturtle” Tran to the starting lineup has been quite noticeable. Members of TSM have discussed in interviews of how vocal Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng was in game compared to Wildturtle. The team did bounce back well last week and looked a lot better than week 1.

CLG looked outmatched against Flyquest. Specifically, star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black has been heavily under-performing. In a meta where control mages are dominating at support, he hasn’t looked comfortable. We’ve come to know CLG as a team centered around bot lane; but that hasn’t been the case lately.

Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun has surprisingly been one of the best performers this split. Meanwhile top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha has looked bad on anything that isn’t a split pusher. Darshan has been prone to ganks and overextending without proper vision.

TSM and CLG is one of those historic rivalries we’ve come to look forward to. Everyone recalls the old school CLG owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis against Andy “Reginald” Dinh in the younger era of pro League of Legends. This series will look to not disappoint. TSM looks to build off a successful 2-0 week, while CLG looks to turn their season around after a disappointing start.

Flyquest vs Dignitas

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Two of the “newer” LCS teams get their first looks at each other in this weekend’s matchup. Most expected these teams to be reversed in the standings, as Dignitas sits near the bottom with Flyquest contending for the top.

Dignitas were pegged as a top three team on paper, but the roster has not come together the way they had hoped. Their early game dominance has been evident, but their mid/late game is where they’ve lost games. When top lane star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho isn’t on a split push carry top, the team has struggled to find production from their other roles. Against better teams, they’re often playing reactive, as opposed to setting up their own plays.

Flyquest, on the other hand, have exceeded expectations ten fold. Most analysts pegged them as a bottom tier team on paper. Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate looks reincarnated from his previous stints on other LCS teams. Many are crediting mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam for Moon’s success, but individually he looks more confident.  

As always, many underrated Hai’s shotcalling abilities. The team is often just looking to hold even coming out of lane phase and out-pace their opponents in the mid/late game. On paper, the roster doesn’t look that great mechanically, but as a team they synergize perfectly. They’ll look to prove that synergy can beat raw talent in this matchup.

After a close series loss to Echo Fox last week, Flyquest look to take a win off a struggling Dignitas. It’s a huge question mark if Flyquest can continue their early season success, or if it’s just a matter of other teams around them adjusting to the start of the split. Dignitas want to prove that the roster moves were worth it and they’re ready to finally contend in NALCS.

Phoenix1 vs. Team Solo Mid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

TSM faces off against another great opponent in Phoenix1 on Sunday. P1 and TSM have identical records at 3-1 heading into this week. Phoenix1 and TSM looked much improved from their week 1 performances. Not many expected this start from P1, but for TSM this has become the norm for them.

P1 will have a lot to prove as they’ve had the easiest schedule of all three teams tied for second. They also struggled against Dignitas during their week 1 matchup; it will be a huge question mark if top laner Derek “zig” Shao can compete with Hauntzer. He has been fulfilling his role as a low econ tank top laner quite well. Phoenix1 have been winning games off the play of their other carry roles.

Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh, has thrived in this high damage carry jungler meta. In their week 2 series against Team Liquid, Inori showed why teams need to ban Rengar against him.

No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and Adrian “Adrian” Ma have also developed into one of the strongest bot lanes in NA. Arrow currently leads the NALCS in KDA and damage per minute. Many thought communication issues may plague this bot lane, but they seem to have synergized quite nicely.

TSM will look to build off a nice 2-0 week. TSM still has the raw talent to not fall too far behind, but still need to work on pulling the trigger in making decisive calls. They’re working on slowly improving to be back in form to where they were in Summer.

ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang will need to not fall too far behind against Arrow and Adrian. Wildturtle is currently second to last among ADC’s in CS differential@10.

If both of these teams win their first matchups of the week, this matchup will be key in seeing exactly where the top teams stack up against each other. Phoenix1 want to prove they belong at the top, while TSM will want to prove they’re getting back to where we saw them in summer.

Echo Fox vs. Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

On one hand you have Echo Fox who is coming off a shocking 2-0 week. With the recent news of LCS teams denying them scrims, this makes this matchup even spicier.

Echo Fox had a much better mid/late game this past week. In week 1 they showed the ability to gain large gold leads from the aggressiveness of jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, but struggled in late game team-fights. They convincingly beat Dignitas, a team most expected to be a top tier team on paper.

In their second matchup they handed Flyquest their first loss of the Split with a cheese Camille support pick to snowball game one. After being caught many times during week 1, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew took a lot of criticism from the community for his play. His week 2 looked much better and he finished the week off with the highest kills among ADC’s with 26.

Team Liquid seems to be struggling in their drafts and inside the game. In their games against TSM and P1 they allowed Rengar to go through the draft, when teams are perma-banning Rengar on red side. P1’s Inori made a name playing as Rengar, and he exemplified why when Team Liquid left it open to him.

Jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin has not been able to perform adequately on any of the meta junglers so far. Many expected him to be a key addition to the roster after successful seasons on Immortals and Fnatic. He’s currently second to last among junglers in total KDA and has not played up to par lately.

Their ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has also struggled to adjust to the utility carry style meta. Piglet was known for his Caitlyn, Vayne, and Twitch picks. With the meta shifting to supportive/utility ADC’s, Piglet has not looked nearly as good. He’s currently last in KDA among ADC’s.

Team Liquid has yet to utilize their sub mid laner Austin “Link” Shin. Although starter Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer hasn’t looked terrible; a roster change may be necessary to see if they can improve. My bold prediction for the week is that we see Link play for the first time sometime this week to help save Team Liquid’s season.

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NALCS Teams On the Hot Seat

We’re two weeks into the split and there are a few teams on the hot seat, fighting against relegations soon if they don’t turn their play around. These teams were expected to be real contenders heading into the split, but have not met expectations.

Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Team Liquid was thought to be real contenders. Most spectators were placing them around 4th-6th in terms of rankings before the split. They’ve come out flat, as it seems jungler, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, and AD Carry, Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin have struggled. 

Reignover has a lot to prove as this is his first season playing without Top Laner Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Reignover’s playstyle often revolved around ganking Huni a few times to allow him to carry the game as a split pushing threat. Without Huni, Reignover has struggled so far. His 58.6% kill participation is last among NA junglers. Often times this season we’ve seen Reignover make basic mistakes, such as jumping in too aggressive ahead of his team or failing a flash. He just doesn’t look comfortable in this carry jungle meta so far.

Piglet also seems to be in a slump. Team Liquid has dedicated the last few seasons revolving their team comps around Piglet, using him as the main carry. Time and time again, playing around Piglet has not worked for this team. At this point, the individual play of Piglet doesn’t show any signs of him being able to be a top carry in this league anymore. He is middle of the pack in CS differential@10 and dead last in KDA among ADC’s. This may seem blown up since ADC’s tend to look worse on bad teams, but the synergy of Team Liquid looks very worrisome.

They have yet to incorporate sub Mid Laner Austin “Link” Shin. Subbing Link into the starting role could produce better results. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer hasn’t looked terrible, but sometimes a minor roster change can yield a “honeymoon” effect that we’ve seen from teams in the past. If their play doesn’t turn around soon, I’d expect a change.

 

Immortals

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Looking at their record of 2-2, Immortals is in the middle of the standings; but one of their wins was against Team Envy. Most spectators put Envy as a last place team. They did almost take down TSM during week one, but it wasn’t clean by any means on either side. Against Cloud 9, they looked terrible as a team and individually.

Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park in particular has struggled to start the season. Usually heralded as the best resident NA mid, he has not looked up to form. He’s currently dead last in total KDA among mids and second to last in CS diff@10. Many have been quick to point out being on a worse team, but individually he needs to step up.

Top lane import Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong has done little to show that he can replace Huni. Flame has consistently been caught out or misplaying ganks when jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett tries to get him ahead. Communication also seems like a big issue. Flame is too early on engages or late for teleport plays. He currently has the worst KDA among tops and is near the bottom for CS diff@10. We have yet to see his infamous “flame horizon” (being ahead 100+CS) in a match yet.

The bottom lane of Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung has looked decent in lane. Cody Sun currently has the second best CS diff@10 among ADCs. Cody Sun has been caught out of position too many times to count. As a rookie, it was to be expected though. Their bot lane wasn’t expected to be the best coming into the season. The under performance of the roles around them is what is giving this team the most trouble.

Dardoch is still a steady jungler who can carry the game, but he has also had some really bad misplays that have cost his team. We know how emotions control how he plays the game, so it will be interesting going forward to see how the chemistry unfolds. Dardoch does not like losing, so if this trend continues, we may see this team continue to fall.

Team Dignitas

Dignitas were praised for the roster haul of top lane star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. Most people pegged this team as a top three team on paper. After two weeks, this team is 1-3, towards the bottom of the standings.

If Ssumday gets banned out of playing a carry/split-pusher, the team doesn’t play nearly as well. Carry junglers are strong right now, so top revolves more around the tank role. Chaser has one of the worse Damage%’s among jungler, with a measly 13.5%. With the emergence of the North American jungle talents, Chaser will need to step up. Dignitas has yet to show the ability to really have carries elsewhere, other than Ssumday.

Reginald may have been right when he called out teams for importing without knowing how to properly mesh them into the team. While Dignitas have been great at getting early game leads just from laning, their mid/late game have looked mediocre. They’re often reacting to their opponents and not looking to set up their own plays to win.  

Support, Alex “Xpecial” Chu, has been the main shot-caller for the team. He has experience doing this on his previous teams. It begs to differ how much the language barrier is really affecting how they’re performing. For most teams, they’ve pointed out that having one shot-caller isn’t the best way to play the game. If this team wants to succeed, every member will need to be able to communicate effectively.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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Is Flyquest the Real Deal?

Flyquest became the newest addition to the NALCS teams this split after qualifying as the Cloud 9 Challenger squad. Their members are far from being inexperienced though.  

Mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam was the longtime Cloud 9 mid laner before stepping down due to medical/performance issues. Support Daerek “LemonNation” Hart thought he was wanting to retire and go into coaching, but his path lead him back into LCS. Top Laner An “Balls” Le was replaced on Cloud 9 by former SKT World Champion Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong once his play began to decline. ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru and Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate were once heralded as upcoming young talents, but had failed to live up to those expectations on past teams.  

Many analysts predicted Flyquest to be a bottom tier (7-10) team coming into the Spring Split. After their week one performance, nobody can call them down and out just yet. They convincingly finished the week 2-0 after sweeping Envyus and taking a close series against Team Liquid. Individually they may not look that strong, but Hai just has a way of being able to micromanage a team to victory like no one we’ve ever seen.  

Photos courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

After stints on NRG and Team Liquid, it appeared Moon may never become the prospect many had hoped. He was heralded as being the next upcoming North American Jungle prospect, but never quite lived up to that title and was forced back into the challenger series. Flyquest decided to give him a shot, and he has come back stronger than ever. He finished the first week second in KDA and First blood percentage among NALCS Junglers. Maybe playing with Hai has given him the confidence he needs to perform well on stage.

While previous synergy does help, most of Flyquest’s victories have looked cool, calm, and collected. When they’re behind, they wait to scale, and take picks when they can. When they’re ahead, they know what to do to end the game efficiently. Hai gets his team to commit to baron calls and team-fights. Their wave management and control of the pace of the game looks superior to many of the teams right now.  

We’ll need to wait and see if the NALCS teams with imports are able to cleanup their communication. Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals have all shown the raw ability to gain huge early leads off strong individual talent. We’ve also seen how it has affected them in the mid to late game, especially for Echo Fox. It seemed that NALCS teams in the first week were struggling with how to finish games. Teams were constantly throwing leads throughout their games

Communication is key in being a top team in League of Legends. All members must fully commit to the call being made or the game can be lost in that instant. Hai is one of the most brilliant and decisive shot-callers in Pro League of Legends. People will still doubt how far Hai’s shot calling can really take this team, but they’ve started off on the right foot. Flyquest will look to pull the “original Cloud 9” by taking the LCS by storm heading into their first Split, with Hai leading the way once again.

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Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Rookie Cloud 9 Jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia, looked far from any rookie we’ve seen in NALCS. In two games against the North American powerhouse, TSM, he ganked early and often. Both games he got first blood, and set the tempo for Cloud 9 to take the series 2-0. He started game two with a 5-0 kill score on Lee Sin, basically snowballing the early game before sealing the deal with an amazing ult onto Wildturtle in the final team fight.  

A lot of analysts were wondering whether they should believe in the hype for 17 year old Jungle prodigy. After a performance like that, it’s almost hard not to. In his post game interview he was extremely humble, saying, “This isn’t where I want to be yet, I want to be much better.” If this is only the beginning, everyone will be watching to see how far he can really go.

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham of Echo Fox had much less hype around him. Most people expected him to be average at best. In both games against Phoenix1, Akkadian was able to get Echo Fox off to an early lead with some aggressive ganks to the Mid and Top lane. Although, the team fell short with some late team-fighting failures, Akkadian was a standout player for me. Nobody was really talking about him before the NALCS Split, but it definitely looks like they should be.   

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

People will be quick to place the blame on replacement ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran for this loss, but TSM as a whole played poorly from what we’re used to seeing. Even the draft was questionable.  

What stood out the most was the poor shotcalling, specifically in Game 2. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen made an amazing Baron steal to keep TSM in the game. He died quickly after, and instead of TSM resetting with four members with Baron Buff they decided to try to make a pick on Cloud 9 support, Andy “Smoothie” Ta. The team takes a poor 4v5 fight and Cloud 9 takes an inhibitor for it. In the final team fight of Game 2, TSM tries to focus down a very tanky Nautilus which leads to them getting Aced, and Cloud 9 ending the game from there.  

This isn’t the first time they’ve had questionable decision making either. Poor decisions with Baron buff against Unicorns of Love also led to them losing 1-2 at IEM Oakland. That was a few months ago. It raises the discussion of how much they miss former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s contribution to shotcalling. If this team hasn’t fixed those issues yet, it will be a tough Split for them. Cloud 9 is a hard first opponent, but if TSM can’t fix their shotcalling issues, Doublelift may need to come back sooner than later. Reginald has made it clear that anything outside of first is a failed Split for TSM. 

P1’s abysmal early game vs. Echo Fox’s terrible late game

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 and Echo Fox came into the Spring Split with not too many expectations. Most people were ranking P1 as a middle tier team and Echo Fox near the bottom of the standings.  

Echo Fox surprised most spectators as they were able to take command of the early game for both games. Back to back ganks from Akaadian for Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen set him up to be able to carry on his Leblanc. That was not the case, as poor teamfighting allowed P1 back into the game. It was a back and forth clown fiesta for a bit before Phoenix1 eventually closed out Game 1 with a victory.

In Game 2, Akaadian aimed his ganks to the Top Lane for former World Champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok to  be able to carry on his signature champion, Singed. Echo Fox were ahead by as much as 3.1k at one point, and once again, threw their lead at a poor team fight around dragon. Shortly after, Phoenix1 took baron and ended the game in 24 minutes.  

Phoenix1 simply won’t be able to rely on poor mid-late game team fighting against stronger teams. Inori will need to be more active in the early game if this team really wants to contend. It may have been nerves, but most teams won’t throw away huge gold leads like Echo Fox did today.  

 

Echo Fox’s Jungler, Akaadian, looked better than what most people expected. Much of the early leads were off the ganks and pressure he was distributing among the map. Mid and late game shotcalling will need to improve if this team wants to make playoffs. Looper looked okay at best, but not nearly what we expect from a former World Champion. The language barrier may be more of an issue than they had suspected.  

One thing that may also develop is a rivalry between these two young junglers. In an interview before the match, Akaadian called spectators out for overrating Phoenix1 Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh last season. Akaadian also noted that if Inori isn’t able to “cheese” people, than he’s basically useless for the rest of the game. When David “Phreak” Turley asked Inori about it in the post game interview, he declined to fire any shots back towards Akaadian. He chose to let his play speak for him, but it will be interesting if this evolves into a mini-rivalry between these two young NALCS jungle talents.

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

In an interview in between Games 1 and 2 between C9 and TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh fired shots at other team owners, saying, “A lot of the team owners don’t know what they’re doing. They’re importing Korean talent over without knowing how to place them into their roster.”  A lot of NBA teams buying into the NALCS with no experience of the scene have been trying to acquire the biggest names possible and hoping it works without having the right infrastructure to support them  

He specifically aimed his comments towards Team Dignitas and Echo Fox, saying, “They’re going to place bottom half for sure.”  

It’s a bold prediction going into the Spring as most new North American teams have looked to Korea to import some of the best players in League of Legends. Reginald’s philosophy with TSM is to prioritize communication and synergy over individual skill. No one can really argue as his team finished first place in Summer 2016 for North America, only losing one series to Phoenix1. CLG, who won Spring last season, had five players who all spoke English as well.  

This Split will definitely prove Reginald right or wrong. Many of the newer teams entering the scene have imported a lot of Korean talents in an attempt to contend for an NALCS title. It will be interesting if more owners follow Reginald’s philosophy moving forward, or continue with the trend of importing high-profile Korean talent.

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Day 1 of NALCS is in the books and I look forward to the rest of the match-ups!

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NALCS Darkhorse Teams

With the new season upon us, there’s always those teams that many don’t expect to contend, but come out of nowhere and turn the LCS on their heads. I’ve decided to highlight two of my favorite darkhorse contenders for the North American LCS Spring Split Title.

Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 rose from the ashes last split, after bringing on Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. They turned around a winless season to finish 5-13 for 8th place, and sweeping Echo Fox handily 3-0 in the relegation tournament. They also shocked TSM by handing them their only loss of the Summer Split.

This season, they’ve imported LCK veteran ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and former H2K mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook. If Arrow isn’t held back with the language barrier between him and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma, they can contend to be one of the best bot lanes in North America. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA of LCK summer, only behind SKT’s Bang. It’ll be up to him to prove that he is a top carry in his role and wasn’t being carried by the other stars of his old KT team. Ryu has always been a consistent performer, competing against some of the strongest Mids in Europe. I don’t think he’ll have much trouble transitioning over.  

The biggest question mark is if top laner, Derek “zig” Shao, can compete at high levels. He was underwhelming last season, but filling important slots in the carry roles lead to them bringing back their North American top laner. Zig had the worst CS differential @10 in the entire NALCS for Summer. If he can play the role of a good low-econ top laner I think this team can go far.  

Inori looks like a top North American Jungle talent, and outside of playoffs, Adrian has looked like an above average support. Adrian had the second highest KDA of Summer, only behind TSM’s Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.  Many people questioned his move from Immortals to P1 since Immortals had a more successful season overall. I don’t believe he’d make this move if he didn’t think this roster could contend for an LCS title.

Another move that has been underrated was bringing back former coach Kim “Fly” Sang-chul. Fly coached P1 back when they were Team Impulse. Most recently, he was the head coach of China’s Royal Never Give Up, who made it out of groups at Worlds. Fly is a respected head coach and has experience coaching mixed Korean/English teams. With this talented roster and the upgrade at head coach, Phoenix1 has the potential to go far.  

Team Liquid 

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

A lot of people predict Team Liquid to be a middle of the pack team, probably finishing fourth or below. Team Liquid released the documentary “Breaking Point” last fall that opened up the community to the team’s struggles during Summer Split. Former jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett and head coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon were often clashing with one another, having very different opinions on a multitude of areas. Team Liquid decided it was best to replace him with one of the best Junglers in the game in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Reignover has become a well-known name in the Jungle after back to back successful seasons with Fnatic and Immortals. Reignover had the second highest KDA among Junglers last Summer, and lead the League in CS differential@10.  

One member who may benefit the most from having Reignover as the new Jungler is Top Laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson. Lourlo looked good at times last season, but showed an inability to stay consistent. He was able to post the third highest KDA among North American Top Laners with a 3.6, but was middle of the pack when it came to CS differential@10. Looking at Reignover’s previous playstyle on Immortals, he liked to play around the top lane with Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. This allowed Huni to carry games and apply pressure while split pushing. If Reignover continues this playstyle, it may enable Lourlo to be an essential carry on this new Team Liquid.

Team Liquid also brings back star AD Carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin for their LCS lineup. Piglet requested to play on the Challenger squad after issues with Dardoch arose through the Summer Split. In nine games of LCS, he posted a 2.2 CS differential@10, third among all ADC’s in North America. Often times Team Liquid has tried to play around him as the main carry. They’ll need him to do it once again, now more than ever, with the inexperience in the mid lane.

Mid lane is the biggest question mark for Team Liquid. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer has been a lurker among the Challenger Scene. He’s done okay at best, but most people have agreed that he isn’t an LCS caliber Mid. Perhaps Fenix’s attitude issues spurred the roster change, but it will be a significant downgrade in terms of skill. Bringing in former CLG Mid Laner, Austin “Link” Shin, makes me suspect that they don’t have total faith in Goldenglue. My bold prediction is that Link eventually overtakes Goldenglue as the starting Mid and makes a successful return to  the LCS. I believe he’ll thrive under a better coaching staff than he ever did under CLG.

Team Liquid has promoted former Challenger coach David Lim, and released former coach Locodoco.  David Lim seems to be much more emotionally stable and overall a better fit for leading young players. They’ve also brought on Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco as a strategic coach. Saintvicious has become infamous as of late for coaching teams from Challenger to LCS. He has a ton of game knowledge as a former pro Jungler himself, so he knows what it takes to be successful. If Link or Goldenglue can establish themselves as a top tier mid, this team can contend for top three and break the curse of “forever fourth”.  

Every team honestly looks like they could be contenders. These two are my favorites to sneak in unexpected and be heavyweights to contend for the title.

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North American LCS Pre-Season Power Rankings

With the North American LCS just days away, I’ve decided to give my take on how I rank the teams coming into the season. My rankings are based off how I believe the teams will finish at the end of Spring Split, based on their roster and coaching. I’m going to judge players based on their most recent performances and the region they were competing in. Some teams may struggle to find their synergy, but in the end this is how I believe the teams will play out.

10. EnVyUs

EnVyUs returns three out of five members that made playoffs last Summer. With most teams improving around them, I can’t see this team really contending for playoffs again. Nam “LiRa” Tae-yoo is an upgrade in the Jungle. Keeping Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo as an import slot and downgrading in ADC from Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, to Apollo “Apollo” Price will hurt them though. They’re both average at best for their carry roles, and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent hasn’t really shown much from Support. Top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and Lira may be able to carry a few games, but the Top lane talent in NA is so much stronger this year with Ssumday and Looper being added to the mix. I just don’t see this team coming together unless Ninja significantly improves from last split. I think it’s also a bit troubling that the bot lane has a language barrier with the rest of the map.

9. Echo Fox

Henrik “Froggen” Hansen leads the way once again this Split, this time alongside former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok in the Top lane. Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham steps in to replace Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev as a rookie Jungle talent. He has made appearances on Challenger teams before, so he’s not completely new to competitive Jungling. Playing on stage could be a huge adjustment for him though. Yuri “Keith” Jew and Austin “Gate” Yu round out the Bot lane as subpar talents at best. Keith showed glimpses of how good he could become on TL and from his own SoloQue time in Korea. Maybe playing with a better support could help him, but he may have already hit his ceiling. Echo Fox might need to improve in other areas of the roster outside of their solo lanes to be able to contend.

8. Flyquest

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

The original C9 returns to the LCS with a few new faces joining them, and having one of the worst team names I’ve ever seen. Galen “Moon” Holgate joins the team replacing Juan “Contractz” Garcia in the Jungle. Daerek “LemonNation” Hart will have a chance to experiment with the new 10 ban system, as he was one of the first innovators for really mind-gaming pick-ban in pro League of Legends. The last time we saw An “Balls” Le his play had been on the decline, so he’ll need to show he can still play at a high level for this team to avoid relegations. Hai “Hai” Lam will always be a strong shot caller, but the individual talent around him may not be strong enough for them to really contend. Moon and Johnny “Altec” Ru once looked like promising young prospects, but never developed into the stars many teams hoped for. Lemonnation’s pick-ban and Hai’s shotcalling may win them a few games, but mechanically most of the roster looks like washed up veterans and young talent that never reached their potential.  

7. Immortals

Immortals nearly lost all of their roster from last Split, but have brought on some big names to replace them. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett steps into the jungle after a rocky ending with Team Liquid, where ego issues were an obvious problem. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong, a longtime star Top laner, comes in after spending some time in Korea and China. Former wildcard All-star Support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, joins rookie, Li Yu “Cody Sun” Sun, in the bot lane. Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Flame, and Dardoch are all individually very talented players, but I think if this team doesn’t find success early, attitude issues may arise. We’ve seen how Dardoch can tilt in games from TL’s Breaking Point, and I think those same issues will hinder them with a fairly new Bot lane in their first Split in LCS.    

6. Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 is my darkhorse team for this season.  They bring back rising star Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh, who basically solo-carried them to give TSM their only loss of Summer Split. They bring in star import carries Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon who looked very good in their respective regions. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA in LCK, only behind SKT’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik. Ryu was also regarded as one of the better Mid laners in EU, and comes in already having learned English playing with H2K. Adrian “Adrian” Ma is definitely an upgrade at support, but we’ll need to see if he can finally perform well in playoffs if P1 make it that far. Derek “zig” Shao will need to build off his rookie split for this team to have some real success with all the top lane talent entering the region.  They also brought back Coach Fly who coached when they were Team Impulse. Kim “Fly” Sang-chul is highly respected as a coach, coming off a Worlds run with Royal Never Give Up. If communication issues don’t hinder them, I could see this team contending for top four.  

5. Team Liquid

Team Liquid comes in as the only known six man roster, rotating their Mid between Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.  They have two of the best players in the world at their positions in Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. It will be interesting to see if Reignover is able to show off the same success without Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo by his side. Top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson looks to build off a good IEM Gyeonggi performance, where he looked like he could be a main carry for the team. Support Matt “Matt” Elento looked to have the most confidence playing with Piglet last season, so I think he returns to the big playmaker we saw before the switch. Along with the new coaching staff, this team looks strong. The only big question mark is in Mid lane. Bringing in LiNK makes me think that the team doesn’t fully believe Goldenglue is ready to be a starting LCS Mid laner. With that sort of uncertainty, it makes me question how consistent a North American team can be with two Mid laners since we’ve really only seen it work in other regions.  

4. Counter Logic Gaming

The five best friends all return for CLG and look to prove synergy can trump individual talent once again. You can never count these guys out, with superstar Support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, leading the way. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes comes in as probably the best AD in North America with Doublelift stepping down for the Split. Jake “Xmithie” Puchero is always that steady, consistent Jungler who does what the team needs. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha had his inconsistencies at times, but he showed up quite well for them at Worlds. Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun will need to step up his champion pool with Riot’s 10 ban system coming in. If he replicates the same issue with being only able to perform godly on one or two champions, this team will have problems and likely see a roster change for Summer if they really want to compete at Worlds.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

3. Dignitas

Dignitas looks to try to replicate the success Fnatic had, bringing in Korean talents in the Top lane and Jungle. The difference with Dignitas is that these aren’t two rookie subs with no stage experience. These are two well known players, regarded as some of the best in the World. Top laner, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, has been one of the best in LCK for the last two seasons and had a monstrous showing at Worlds two seasons ago. Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun comes from Jungling against some of the best in LCK, into a rather weak NA scene, Jungler wise. He held one of the highest kill participation ratings in LCK, so he’ll be active around the map. Benjamin “LOD” deMunck is a significant upgrade to Apollo “Apollo” Price since he matches Xpecial’s aggressive style much better. Lae-Young “Keane” Jang is heavily underrated, and the 10 ban system won’t hinder him as much as other players since we’ve seen what his champion ocean holds. With Korean coaches assisting the team, communication issues may not be as bad as people may think. If things come together as well as they look on paper, we could see this team contend for a North American title.

 

2. TSM

TSM comes in with only one roster change: bringing in former ADC Jason “WildTurtle” Tran to replace superstar Doublelift. A lot of people consider this a tremendous downgrade in terms of skill, but I personally believe they’ll be able to adapt without having too much trouble. Wildturtle matches the aggression that TSM like to play with, so I don’t think that should be an issue. However, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang and Wildturtle looked outclassed by UOL’s bot lane at IEM Oakland. Wildturtle is also not known for being a strong laner, and I see TSM struggling to continue gaining huge early game leads because of that. I understand that they hadn’t practiced much before that tournament, but it has to worry you a bit looking forward. Having one of the best Mid-Jungle duos in the World will always keep you at the top of the standings. We can’t forget this team only dropped one game after the change to best of three’s. TSM has a very good drafting phase and coaching structure. They’re also known to work harder than any other team in North America, so I don’t see them dropping out of the top two just yet. I do want to make a bold prediction that Doublelift will need to return at some point in the Split if the team struggles.

1.Cloud 9
Cloud 9 is in a similar situation to TSM in having only one roster change. Most people would say William “Meteos” Hartman stepping down from the jungle, and Juan “Contractz” Garcia coming in would be a significant upgrade. Meteos seemed to have hit his ceiling as a pro, and bringing in a young hungry talent into the Jungle may be the jump start this team needs to start competing on the World Stage. Andy “Smoothie” Ta looks to build off a poor showing at Worlds and get back to the greatness he showed in Summer. Jensen will need to become more consistent if this team wants to really contend for Worlds. Cloud 9 loves this meta as they have top talents in just about every lane. It will be up to Contractz to make sure he can keep up. With the help of head coach Reapered, I think his adjustment into LCS should go smoothly and C9 take the reign as North America’s top team. 

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Can Mastermind Weldon solve G2’s International Woes?

Weldon’s Own Success

G2 Esports made an amazing addition to their League of Legends team with the official announcement of TSM’s former assistant coach, Weldon Green, joining their coaching staff. Weldon has been working vigorously within the Pro League of Legends scene with high-profile teams such as TSM, CLG, and Fnatic as a team psychologist. With his recent success with TSM, other teams have picked up on this trend and decided to hire their own team psychologists. They are meant to help deal with the mental grind that pros endure throughout the season, along with helping players deal with the jitters that may be related to playing on stage.

Weldon began on TSM in small sessions during the 2016 Spring Split, eventually landing a full-time position for the Summer. TSM finished the Summer Split with a phenomenal 17-1 record while also finishing first place in the NALCS, before failing to get out of their group at Worlds. Weldon was credited with playing a major role in their success last season. TSM decided that they wanted to part ways with Weldon for the upcoming season, noting that having his assistance may be better in sessions as opposed to full time.

Current State of G2

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Weldon enters a G2 team that has found much success, almost breezing through the EULCS competition last season. They have a talented roster that has failed to show up in international events since they’ve begun their LCS journey. Last season, G2 failed to make it out of groups at Riot’s Mid Seasonal Invitational, struggling against most of the teams there. They received a lot of hate and criticism from the community when they stated they decided to give their players a break coming into a very serious international tournament that would affect seeding for Worlds.

G2 hoped to redeem themselves at Worlds after being put into a group most agreed they would be able to get out of. That did not prove the case as Albus Nox Luna shocked the World, as they became the first Wildcard to make it out of groups. They beat out CLG and G2 for the second spot out of their group. G2 finished Worlds with a 1-5 record, only taking one game off of Albus Nox Luna. G2 as a whole received a lot of hate from the EU community for representing their region so poorly, coming in as the “best team” from Europe.

Building off Regular Season Success

Weldon comes in looking to improve off an overall successful regular season from G2, and improving on the international problems that have plagued them. In EU, Trick and Perkz have looked like two players with amazing synergy and individual talent. As we know, that hasn’t translated into international play just yet.  Meanwhile, Zven and Mithy, have proven to be one of the best bot lanes in the West, but even they didn’t look as good as most people expected at Worlds. Their top laner, Expect, for the most part, was a consistent performer, doing what his team needed. His miscommunication on Teleport, however, cost his team at times.

What is it about performing at international tournaments that hinder G2 so much?  In a twitlonger posted by Perkz after Worlds, he stated, “I was mostly sad that I disappointed myself because I had a lot higher expectations of myself after the whole Korean bootcamp where I felt like I had reached very high level and consistent performance in scrims and not being able to translate that on stage hit me really hard”. The bootcamp in Korea resulted in many rumors that G2 was one of the stronger teams at Worlds. When it came time to play week one, their showing was miserable. They went 0-3, while not looking competitive for basically every game, besides a strong early game vs. ROX in which some poor teamfighting led them to another hard loss.

Weldon has a tough task ahead of him. With a lot of new, young, revamped LCS teams coming into Europe, G2 will not have as easy of a path to Worlds as they did last season. Will he be able to show off the same success as TSM, or will G2’s nerves get the best of them?

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