University of Jamestown

Collegiate esports programs: University of Jamestown part 1

While collegiate sports has seen fan-bases that rival that of some of their respective professional leagues, collegiate esports, thus far, has not been able to gather as much fervor. Collegiate esports have seen an insane growth in recent years, with practically every major school in America and Canada clamoring to form some kind of a team. Fans of the scene and esports in general are hopeful the trend will continue to grow. I sat down with head coach of one of the newest esports programs, Josh Knutson of the University of Jamestown. We discussed the program, in its first year at the university, his hopes for the scene and some of the trials and tribulations of collegiate esports.

The program now

The first order of business is always working out the details. Currently, Jamestown fields teams/players in Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone and CS:GO. The usual suspects for any collegiate esport program. However, Knutson also hopes to expand into Heroes of the Storm if possible. “Its an easy add, and Blizzard as a company has been really awesome with working with our association on the corporate level.”

University of Jamestown

Josh Knutson, Head Coach for the University of Jamestown. Courtesy of Jimmies Athletics.

When deciding on which esports to try to enter first, Knutson said they looked first and foremost at what other teams were competing in within their association, NACE (National Association of Collegiate Esports). A focus on hitting the ground running with the program fueled this, as they wanted to get into a regular season from day one, with a good number of fellow colleges involved.

With the physical equipment bought, and an established presence now, Knutson is hopeful for the program’s expansion. Bringing on incoming freshmen to join is easier when you can show them it’s already happening, rather than based on promises. Expanding into other games, too, is an easy step, as with esports it just requires an installation on a computer to play. No need for new stadiums and turfs mean collegiate esports programs can be flexible and more daring with their expansions, Knutson explained.

The program’s future

When I asked about goals for the program, Knutson gave the tried and true hope for his team: “From a coaching standpoint…. I want to put a national championship trophy on my shelf.” Starting off a new program though, Knutson is aware of the challenges they’ll face on that quest. ‘Moving Forward’, is the motto for him and the team. “Every day take practice seriously, take our games seriously, move forward and keep getting better from a skill level and from a player development status.”

More concretely, Knutson discussed hopes for growing the program itself, hoping to (roughly) double the size of the roster from the current 16-30 next year. With a bigger roster comes the usual need for more facility space and more equipment. He highlighted, too, that this year was mostly focused on laying the foundation for success with the program. In the years to come, it’ll be about growing bigger and stronger, along with their chosen league in NACE. “We’re in a really good spot to be in the forefront of that big wave that is coming for esports.”

Alex Huff, one of the Overwatch players for the team, added to the discussion too, from a player’s perspective. Alex notes that two of his fellow Overwatch players are prior friends, so synergy with them was never an issue. However, noting the increase of players that will most likely exist next year, he mentioned his excitement of mixing up that dynamic and learning from his fellow teammates. “It’s going to definitely be able to facilitate growth and to grow the whole program itself. We’re going to have some people who are going to come in who may have more knowledge and teach those who may not have as much knowledge.”

 NACE and a shake up in collegiate esports

I’ll admit, I’m relatively familiar with most of the popular collegiate esports leagues. TeSPA, Collegiate Starladder League, etc. are names I’m aware of. NACE was not one. I asked Knutson why he and the program chose to go with NACE. While being less of a household name as the others, Knutson highlighted how their mission and his program aligned: “To legitimize collegiate esports as a respected athletic activity on college campus’. Really push it to the same level as football, basketball and some of the other traditional sports.”

University of Jamestown

The National Association of Collegiate Esports, or NACE, is the latest league to try and make a dent in Collegiate esports. Courtesy of The National Association of Collegiate Esports

Knutson discussed NACE’s formation frankly, stating that he thinks part of the reason NACE was formed was out of frustration with the other leagues. From league structure to technical help, NACE is attempting to set itself up as something different than the others. Through corporate partnerships with Blizzard, Twitch and Battlefly, to a commitment to ‘doing it right’ from the beginning, Knutson believes NACE has set itself up as a leader in the scene.

Citing a few reasons for this, too, Knutson pointed to the similar level of dedication and regulation that exists already in collegiate sports as one of the reasons. Setting up a league with a similar structure to the NCAA, say, or some other established form of competitive league, was something attractive about NACE for Knutson. “We really bought into that idea of ‘if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this the right way.’ We want to legitimize it right away, and have it as respected as any other program is on our campus. We wanted our student athletes to be in the same vein as the football player or the basketball player.”

Knutson deeply identified with this notion of putting newly minted esports programs on the same level as the traditional programs offered by Jamestown. His players are held to the same requirements as their fellow athletes at the school. From attending the All Athletes meetings to community service requirements in their community, his players check all the same boxes as the football and basketball players. “I think that our administration and our coaching staff really brought in that idea of let’s legitimize this and do it the right way.”

 

This is part 1/2 for an interview with the University of Jamestown’s esports program.

 

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Featured Image courtesy of University of Jamestown Athletics.

Worlds Group A

Worlds Group C preview: The Group of Death™, or a song of Fire and Ice

There’s one every year, and this year it’s the fated Group C that has been dubbed by many as the Group of Death™. Honestly, it’s hard to debate this fact. You’ve got the top seed from Europe in G2, the tyrannical kings of Europe whose track record at international tournaments can be shaky but domestically unquestionable. You have the storied Samsung, managing again to upset KT and find themselves back at the World Stage, looking across from what is quietly becoming somewhat of a Worlds Rivalry in Royal Never Give Up. RNG, the golden darlings of the LPL, return once again to Worlds, bringing the ferocity that the LPL is known for in droves.

It’s a spicy group, but more interestingly it’s a clash of identities, between the cold Ice of a mid to late game team and the fire of early game aggression. G2, once known for their aggressive tendencies, have become quite the defensive team as of late, absorbing early game aggression with grace, to come out swinging in the late game to demolish teams. Samsung are of a similar philosophy, as was shown in their series against KT Rolster, the most aggressive early game team in the LCK. Samsung played like a defensive boxer, taking blow after blow, but ultimately doing so only to wear out their over eager opponents to close in for the knockout.

RNG have never had such ideas cross their mind. They’re aggression through and through, bringing the LPL’s almost trademarked style of taking fights wherever they are, whenever they are and however they are. But RNG is even known within this region of brawlers to be exceptionally brawly, and early aggression is one of their fortes. While the Group is most obviously dubbed the Group of Death™, it very well could be just as easily understood as a case study in style. Will the two defensive sides, absorbing blow after blow effectively, come out on top in a late game orchestra of macro play and team fights? Or can the scrappy, fast and furious Chinese squad of RNG bring that fire into the post-group stage? What could the possible addition of, as Joshua “Jatt” Leesman pointed out, the likes of a Cloud 9 thrown into the group do too?

 

G2 Esports: The tyrant kings of Europe

 

Another EU LCS Finals, another G2 win to make the fourpeat a reality. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr.

G2 are one of those teams that just look too damn good domestically. Sure, they’ve stumbled, but a four-peat at claiming the EU LCS title (something they’ve done since qualifying for the league) is something that has to be respected. And yet, commentators are almost always going to remember the G2-8 memes, even if G2 has shown to be much better now internationally at the most recent MSI, making it to the finals after a 3-1 victory over LPL side Team WE. They’re unquestionably the strongest team in Europe, but outside of it they’ve had some troubles.

But that is the past. Too often analysis has to focus on what was, and G2 look to prove that wrong in this group. Lady Luck was not on their side, as they’re facing some of the strongest opponents at the competition. Against Samsung, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen will be tested against the likes of Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk who has been a dominant force in the LCK. Against RNG, Perkz matches up against the Little Tiger in Li “Xiaohu” Yuan Hao . While Europe is renown for its mid lane talent, Xiaohu, the LPL’s Summer Split MVP, has had the split of his life.

But G2 brings the talent where other teams may not. Sure, against RNG they may struggle in the mid lane, but they very well may not. Luka “PerkZ” Perković has had some great showings against the likes of Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok (getting a first blood quasi solo kill on God himself counts for something); and while Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao and Shi “Ming” Sen Ming are a great bot lane, the Zven/Mithy combo has been one of the most constant terrors in the bot side Europe has ever produced. G2 has recently overcome its international woes, but even then its group stage hasn’t been nearly as dominant as their Bo5’s. Whether G2 can come in strong in a one game showing will determine whether they can flex that adaptability.

Oddly enough, it’s the Korean top side that has questions for me going into this group. While Liu “mlxg” Shi Yu and Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, one a snowballing gank bot and the other a defensive jungler, may not be the most formidable. Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin and Yan “LetMe” Jun Ze both match up stronger into Ki “Expect” Dae-Han for me. Equally, Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun has not been the strongest point for G2, and is something that can easily be abused if teams want to. Particularly against the likes of RNG this can be worrisome, as an early lead is something the Chinese side will be looking for. However, consistent play from the Korean top half can thwart the game plans of not just RNG’s early game, but Samsung’s mid to late game too.

 

The X Factor: Perkz and Zven/Mithy

The star mid laner Perkz is behind much of G2’s success domestically, but can he show up at Worlds? Courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr.

League of Legends has always required that laners be as strong as they can be for teams to win, but it’s particularly important in the primary carry position of the mid lane. Group C is no exception, with the star Mid of RNG being a constant threat, but also the ability for Perkz to show up against a slightly weaker Lee “Crown” Min-ho. Winning in lane doesn’t just put Perkz ahead, but also puts the opposing jungler on the back foot, making them decide whether to try and save their ailing mid laner with gank(s), something Perkz has been adept at avoiding, or to try and help other lanes get ahead. But that pressure that Perkz can create on the map will only be a good thing, and the European phenom will need to step up against some of his toughest competition yet.

Zven and Mithy also are key factors for this team’s success, not just because they too occupy a huge carry position, but because they can nullify the strongest parts of both of their opposing teams, in Ruler/Jo “Core JJ” Yong-in and Uzi/Ming. Winning lane, or even being ahead in lane, has important macro advantages too, something that G2 can take advantage of over the more pensive Samsung or the rash RNG. An early lead, or at least a showing of good form, can either set themselves up for the late game, or put a halt to the aggression. Either way, Zven and Mithy need to bring their A game for G2 to stand a chance making it out of groups.

 

Samsung Galaxy: The defensive, pensive boxers of the LCK

 

What was tragedy for the KT Rolster organization and their fans (those poor, poor fans…) is a happy repeat for the Samsung organization, qualifying for the second year through the gauntlet format. The roster, largely unchanged from last years iteration, bring a sense of stability to the LCK representatives this year. And as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Samsung organization is one of the few teams to know the sweet taste of winning at Worlds. Can they make a return to the Finals this time around? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Samsung occupy a unique space within Group C. They’re the Korean team, so a lot of expectations of them advancing from the group exist. But they’re also stylistically very different from the real wildcard of the group in RNG. They also match up in similar style to G2, and ultimately many have them favored as the stronger outfit in that regard.

But a weak mid laner is not the position you want to be lacking in this group, against the likes of Perkz and Xiaohu. The boon of at least a strong bot lane is good, but could very well be nullified again in a group that boasts the likes of Zven/Mithy and Uzi/Ming. Cuvee is notorious in the top lane, and would be a strong point against G2 and probably RNG, but in a tank meta that may not mean as much. Samsung will need to be the better defensive team, but also be able to react and reply in kind to the aggression of RNG to top the group. Even if first place isn’t secured for the Korean team, a second place finish is just as good, and highly likely.

For Samsung it’s about shoring up their weaker flanks and sticking to their own stylistic way of playing the game. A Bo1 format does not agree the most with a team that tends to be more defensive, as it does not allow for the adjustments in between games. But it’s not the biggest hurdle for the team. This is an experienced roster, and while they seem the ‘I’m you but stronger’ version of G2, they also have a strong win condition against the early game style of RNG. If they play their cards right, the top seed of the group is a big possibility, so long as they can prove to be the stronger mid-late game than G2 and be able to rebuke any of RNG’s aggression.

 

The X Factor: Cuvee and Ruler/CoreJJ

Cuvee may the most underrated top laner going into Worlds, with a strong solo performance. Can he show up in the Group of Death for Samsung? Courtesy of leaguepedia.

While not as hyped as Kim “Khan” Dong-ha is, nor say the Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo of Spring Split, Cuvee is still a terror in the top lane for Samsung. He’s a solid player and can make a great advantage for the team in a group that doesn’t boast the most star studded of top laners. A stronger Cuvee can draw pressure away from Crown and Ruler/CoreJJ, allowing the carries to get ahead, or at least make the opposing junglers dance to Samsung’s beat.

Interestingly enough, he leads all top laners currently at Worlds in solo kills (over Khan). That says something, and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong may have to be careful of his meme “top die” being handed over to a new top laner. A top laner, particularly a tanky one, in the late game can be a scary thing, particularly for a team so adept at team fighting. Cuvee’s role may not be the most glamorous, but it’s imperative.

You can’t talk about Samsung without talking about the Ruler/CoreJJ bot lane. Ruler has had an amazing split in the Summer, and while Crown hasn’t looked as strong, Ruler and CoreJJ have stepped up in a lot of ways. With the highest damage percent out of any ADC from the LCK in the Summer, not only is Ruler doing work for his team, he’s going to need to in this group. This is a group with Zven and Uzi, who are both formidable ADCs not just in their laning phases, but in their abilities to continually dish out damage effectively and safely. With a strong side lane pressure, Crown is also opened up to bounce back and create some pressure of his own in the mid lane. Keeping ahead, or at least even, favors Samsung heavily into any of their known match ups.

 

Royal Never Give Up: The Little Tiger and the puppy

While under many names, the Royal Club/Royal Never Give Up organization has been a staple of the LPL region. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

For fans that have been in the scene for awhile, Uzi, and the ‘Royal [insert whatever]’ organization are old names, dating back to the Season 3 Worlds. They’ve bounced back from a relatively irrelevant few years (being dropped down to the LSPL league for a second, before picking up a new roster in the LPL) into a monster in the LPL region, and are one of the few teams to consist of only Chinese players. International fans will recognize Uzi and possibly MLXG, but that shouldn’t distract from the mid lane Xiaohu, or the Little Tiger, who has become much of a talking piece for analysts when discussing RNG. With a 70% First Blood rate in the LPL, the highest in the league, they’re a team that puts their foot on the pedal from the first minute of the game.

RNG play a hard and fast game, with MLXG ganking often for his laners, often sacrificing his own farming abilities to do so, to get them ahead. And that makes sense, when you’ve got the likes of Letme, a carry top laner in his own right, Xiaohu, the MVP of the Summer Split, and the duo of Uzi and Ming. There’s a lot of raw talent on the roster, and MLXG is the tinder to ignite those fires. Or to not. He can be the wild card of the team, and whether he performs at his best or his worst often can be the factor that swings games.

If it’s not Uzi and Ming making plays and getting ahead in the bot lane, then MLXG can look to the mid, particularly against a weaker Crown on Samsung Galaxy, for Xiaohu. Or maybe focusing towards Letme against the likes of Expect might be best. MLXG and RNG enter the group stage like a football team. MLXG, the quarterback, has an array of options and weapons to choose from to get the team ahead. It all matters on making the right choices against the right team at the right time. If they can pull that off and close games off of early leads, RNG look poised to top the group. If they struggle with that, or worse, find themselves behind early, RNG are in a much shakier position.

 

The X Factor: Xiaohu and MLXG

Praised in one stroke for his unique jungling, criticized in the next for questionable decision making, MLXG is a key part to any of RNG’s games, for better or for worse.

The first kind of goes without saying, Xiaohu is the scariest carry currently on the RNG roster, and one of the best mid laners at the tournament. But, more interestingly, him performing well has two meanings in each match up. Against G2, he can nullify one of G2’s greatest weapons in Perkz, who has been a star for the European side. Against Samsung, he can cause so much pressure by taking advantage of a weaker Crown, possibly not just getting himself ahead, but opening up other lanes for MLXG to gank.

There’s a lot of RNG’s hopes being rested on the Little Tiger’s shoulders, but if he can pull it off, RNG look to be a titan in an extremely hard group. A first place in the toughest group in the group stage wouldn’t just be a confidence boost for the whole team, but a statement against future foes to take RNG seriously.

MLXG is the other key factor in RNG’s success, or in their failure. Known for getting his laners ahead, but equally for making some… interesting decisions for a jungler, RNG is going to need him to be as strong as possible. RNG bring a strong set of laners for MLXG to choose from, so he’s not stuck ganking for any particular lane to get a star ahead. Rather, each can stand on their own against their lane opponents, and it’ll be up to the decision making on who to get ahead in each game.

If it’s MLXG at his finest, this will be a scary opponent for G2 and Samsung to face up. If it isn’t, and early game miscalls allow the late game teams to stall out that early stage, it can mean the demise of RNG. Consistency may not be RNG’s strongest suite, but with the explosive gameplay and team-fighting, it may not have to be, and MLXG exemplifies that the strongest.

 

The overall story lines: A clash of styles and laners

 

The biggest feature of this group is the two contrasting ways of playing League of Legends. There’s the slower, methodical, late game focused approach that both G2 and Samsung are fond of. On the other side, you have the intense, in your face fiery style of RNG, looking to fight early and often. The question will be, which style is the stronger one come Worlds? Samsung look poised to deal with RNG’s aggression fairly well, having had to take down KT to find themselves at Worlds. G2, on the other hand, may not be as equipped for the fight-fight-fight style of the LPL. Or, possibly, the meta (noting that no patches will be dropped and applicable for the competitive scene) may shift to favor one style over the other. It’s hard to say, but it’s rare for a group to be so crystallized in a contrast of styles.

The other aspect, and this could be argued of every group some might say, is the clash of laners themselves. The three teams locked in for Group C bring some of the strongest players in each position in the tournament, at least individually. Whether it’s the mid lane battle of Perkz/Xiaohu/Crown, or the bot lane of Zven and Mithy/ Uzi and Ming/ Ruler and CoreJJ, sparks will fly in any of these lanes. Even the top lane is no slouch, with the likes of Cuvee and Letme duking it out, while Expect may bring some unexpected (hah) surprises to the tournament. The more defensive teams need to deflect much of RNG’s aggression, and RNG in turn need to make the aggression ‘stick’ to take an advantage in the group. The laning phase will surely be a sight to behold for Group C.

 

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Courtesy of LoL Esports.

Worlds Group A

Worlds 2017 group A : The Clash of Titans

Introduction

Every year, as the post-seasons of the multiple leagues around the world come to a close, many fans set their eyes on Worlds and the meeting of the best of the best in the international throw down. While maybe not the exciting affair for some, the group stage draw signals the coming of Worlds in the hearts of fans and is the nostalgic feeling of ‘Worlds is around the corner’ again. The group draw is this series of events that will drastically shape which teams are slated to go forward, who has the easy group, who gets the dark horse team and who gets placed into the dreaded Group of Death™. With that each group has its own story lines that emerge, and for group A, the title I’d give it has to be the Clash of Titans.

Group A drew not only EDward Gaming (EDG), finalists for the LPL, but also Worlds’ favorite and defending champions in SKT T1. As if a more storied and titanic clash could exist, the group, for me at least, avoids the term Group of Death™ because, well, AHQ is there. With the fourth team still to be determined, we can’t comment too much there, but this group is definitely a dance of two. Will it be the resurgent LPL region’s EDG that walks away in first, or the fan favorite in SKT that manages again, even with questions hanging over their head, to prove themselves as the best in the world? Or can AHQ, against all odds, pull off a miracle and make it out of the group? Maybe the fourth team will add some unexpected spice that upsets the perfect balance of the two titans facing off for the first and second seed.

EDG 

With some of the most stylish jerseys out of the LPL, EDward Gaming hope to cement themselves as a force to be reckoned with internationally. Courtesy of EDward Gaming Facebook.

EDG come into Group A as the finalists from the scrappy LPL region, a region known for aggression that can start as early as level one. After reverse sweeping Royal Never Give Up to keep the team from winning an LPL Finals, to cement themselves, at least as far as standings go, to be the best in China, EDG come into Worlds roaring with confidence. However, EDG come into the group in an odd position; they match up against their titanic opponents, SKT, which draws concern.

Questions surround EDG’s top lane, Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao, and even Ming “Clearlove7” Kai, the on and off star jungler, abound. It’s the weaker side for the roster, that contains Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “meiko” Ye on the other half of the Rift. That being said, EDG’s draw in the group stage is a slight benefit, they face SKT, which for most would be a bad thing. But with SKT’s struggling top lane and jungler position too, EDG’s weaker sides may not be placed up against a stronger side. This means not only will EDG’s side not be exposed to a stronger lane match up, where the other team can focus and create a lead there, but also maybe EDG can manage to be the stronger side in the top half.

Their bot lane, with new kid on the block Hu “iBoy” Xianzhao, will be the true point of contest between the two titans. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan have not looked like the dominant force they once were, having been a key part in SKT’s slump mid split. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a formidable foe for a rookie ADC. EDG will have to prove themselves the stronger team even with the questions that surround them, but given their pedigree and history of strong performances, EDG look to be easy favorites for at least second place, if not first in the group.

 

The X Factor: iBoy and Scout

Rookie iBoy will have his skills and mettle tested severely against the veteran bot lane of Bang and Wolf. Can he come out ahead? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The two primary carries of EDG are the linchpin of the roster for me. Scout has to be performing at his top tier to dominate the group, and particularly to show up against old teammate Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. If it’s Scout at his ceiling, he can be the carry that EDG needs to maybe secure that first place in the group. If he’s at his floor, EDG will find trouble against possibly even AHQ.

The other big factor is iBoy, the newcomer to the LPL scene. A rookie by all accounts, he comes into Worlds only having played a total of 22 games over his entire professional career. To be thrown into a Worlds roster, let alone one that has SKT and Bang in its group, is one large task for the rookie. However, iBoy’s stats aren’t worrisome, and with the veteran lane mate of Meiko by his side, this could be a real time for the young player to shine. On the other hand, not performing will be costly for the team overall, so the pressure on iBoy is pretty damn high to at least go toe to toe with Bang.

SKT 

Ahh, SKT. They barely need introduction for fans of League of Legends, but the once completely unstoppable juggernauts have had a slightly less than glamorous recent showing. The notable slump in performance, and the question marks not only in top lane of who to start between Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Ui “Untara” Jin-Park, were concerns that many analysts brought up. Not just that, but also their jungler position too is up in the air, with Han “Peanut” Wang-hoand and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, being the two possibilities. For many on the outside looking in, this has put the organization in a bit of a tumultuous position.

SKT’s full roster will be tested as they go into Worlds. Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

Just as with EDG though, SKT lucked out slightly by placing in a group with similar question marks in the top side of the Rift. With the “Unkillable Demon King” of League in Faker playing on the team though, and the long standing relationship between Bang and Wolf in the bot lane, it’s hard to say SKT is weak, even through their struggling top and jungle positions. Untara looks to be the more stable top lane, and Blank slots in similarly, and that almost feels the stronger formation for SKT going into Worlds. SKT can win games off simply mid and bot lane, and a tank meta supports a more supportive top and jungler position, rather than the more carry-oriented play that one might expect out of Huni or Peanut.

SKT however is still not the guaranteed top squad. With the current draw, they should be able to squash struggling AHQ Esports Club, but will be faced against an equally formidable EDG. The more aggressive nature of LPL teams may be a challenge for the defending champions, but it’s difficult to say they’ll struggle. Sure, at Rift Rivals the LPL were the ultimate winners, but LCK is never a region to bat an eyelash at. And almost most importantly, this is still a team with Faker on it, and Bang and Wolf, who bring not only their experience, but synergy. It will depend on how the squads match up, if Faker can take on his once pupil, Scout and if synergy wins out over new kid and star iBoy in the bot lane and the veteran in Meiko.

 

The X Factor: Untara/Huni and Blank/Peanut

High risk, high reward, is what has always characterized both Huni and Peanut. But can SKT take the gamble at Worlds? Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

This may come off wrong, but I’m not worried about SKT’s bottom half of the map. Faker has rarely performed negatively, and the Bang and Wolf duo seem a lot more energized after their slump. It’s the top half that’s the tricky part for SKT, and ultimately something they’ll need to address if they plan to make any real statement at Worlds.

The Huni/Untara saga continues, as Huni, previously the star diamond in the rough player, has looked considerably disappointing in recent showings (like, recent for a while…) Untara, on the other hand, may not be as flashy as Huni in his hay day or the phenom in Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, but he gets the job done for SKT. If Huni can be assured to perform, he’s the obvious pick, as a strong top laner into a group with weaker top laners could be another weapon in the SKT arsenal. However, he’s a liability, and SKT may decide to go with Untara for the security in the top lane.

The next question mark is in the jungle. Peanut, the darling of the Rox Tigers that stormed onto the scene last year, is in doubt. He’s not the consistent jungler that SKT needs. Stats aren’t everything, but Blank, particularly in SKT’s playoff run, was the superior jungler in almost every category, having played six games to Peanut’s eight. That’s a decent sample size. With Blank’s solid performance, and the bigger question mark being in the top lane, SKT could very well leave Peanut out of the six man roster for Worlds in favor of a more diverse top lane option. Regardless, whoever fills in the jungle position for SKT will need to be able to get their carries in the position to succeed. 

 

AHQ

The LMS region has always been a dark horse region. Often times discounted, except when one remembers the miracle run of Tapai Assasins, or Flash Wolves’ constant ability to take down the tyrants of SKT, they tend to look to be the weakest region of the non-wild card regions. While expansion of LMS teams at Worlds has gone from two to three, a welcomed sign for the region, it’s not as bright a note given the current teams being fielded.

Can the weird… flying… unicorn… horse thing of AHQ carry the team to one of the biggest upsets of the year against the two titans in Group A? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Many pundits feel that AHQ is a fairly weak team, and particularly compared to Flash Wolves, is the easier opponent hailing from the LMS region. While an AHQ of yesterday, with a strong top lane in Chen “Ziv” Yi , might’ve posed a threat to the group of weak top side teams, it’s not as big a factor anymore. As the analysts noted, Ziv has not looked as strong as he has in the past. More importantly, the mid lane question mark for AHQ is whether to play weaker Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei who synergizes better with jungler Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong, or stronger mechanics but weaker synergy in Wong “Chawy” Xing. SKT and EDG are teams that play around their star mid laners, and to have a position of almost a lose-lose scenario of options to field in that vital role, it’s hard to see them coming out ahead.

While longtime Chou “AN” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei in the bot lane might bring some stability to the roster, it’s difficult to say whether they’d be able to make any real threats against the likes of Bang/Wolf or even iBoy/Meiko. AHQ look like a team that, truthfully, doesn’t have a real edge in any position over their (confirmed) group opponents. While that doesn’t mean they can’t win, their lack of clear, concise team play doesn’t assure a “team play > mechanics” style of winning either. It’s hard to see the team making a real dent in the gargantuan teams of SKT or EDG here, but we’ve seen before that the LMS region can pull some real dark horse prowess on opponents who may not give them the credit they are due.

 

The X factor: Chawy/Westdoor and Ziv

Ziv is one of the old faces of the LMS, and it’ll be on his shoulders to try and create an advantage for his team to work off of. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Group A is a group of strong mid laners, and that’s something that cannot be said for AHQ. The rotating mid lane of Westdoor, who has the weaker mechanics but better jungle synergy, and Chawy, the newer, stronger, but less synergized mid laner, is the biggest hurdle for AHQ. They need to make the proper decision, either trusting Mountain and Westdoor’s ability to work together, or Chawy’s individual prowess, when facing up against some of the strongest mids at Worlds. 

Ziv is the rare situation in the group up until now: he’s a steady top laner for a team. Another long term member of the club, his performance has not be the most impressive, and it’s questionable on whether he would even be able to match up well into either Mouse or Huni/Untara. But if he can, if he can become the strong point of AHQ, he’s in the group of his life to upset. While the mid lane is looking to be a fiery display of strong skill, the top lane is almost unanimously questionable on each roster. A strong showing from the top lane could be just the trick that AHQ needs to be memorable additions to Group A. Without it, there isn’t much in the way of hope for any particular position on the AHQ roster to have any clear advantage against their confirmed rivals of EDG and SKT. 

 

Overall story lines to follow

The big story line here is the mid lane, with Scout facing up against his old organization SKT, and Faker, looking across the rift to a player he once helped improve. Scout has improved considerably with EDG, and while a kind of High Ceiling Low Floor (i.e. can either do really well or really… not… well,) may be enough in a Bo1 series against SKT, it’ll still be questionable on whether he can truly make a god bleed. Faker, on the other hand, looks to reassert SKT’s position to the World, coming in with a lot of questions hanging over their head. If SKT can make quick work of a team like EDG and look comfortable doing so, they’ll remind everyone of why they are still one of the favorites to reclaim their title. If they struggle, if EDG instead are the ones standing atop the battle in the mid lane, SKT’s position in Worlds will be called further into question. And for EDG, the curse of performing not as hot in international tournaments can be fully put to rest. 

AHQ, on the other hand, are on the outside looking in for the group. They’re not really slated to do overly well, and it’s questionable if they can even make a dent against the two teams already pulled, let alone a possible third seed team. Their relevancy at the world stage will be tested, and while not even a gambling person would have them out to make it out of groups, taking a few wins will be imperative to give some sense of dignity going home for the team.

Overall comments

I know it sounds kind of lame, but I have to agree with the analysts on the group from the group draw. This is definitely EDG and SKT’s group to lose. What order that’ll be depends on which team can shore up their leaky top side, or which team can make enough plays around the mid to bottom half to make up for it. That’ll decide who takes the first seed, and while many would be safe in saying SKT has that all but locked up, I’d caution against counting EDG out of that contest.

However, AHQ are a team that many still feel shouldn’t even necessarily be here. The LMS region, while still upset-able, are not necessarily that strong of a region in recent times. EDG historically face up well against AHQ, and SKT, not facing Flash Wolves, should be able to dismantle the LMS representatives fairly easily.

The third spot, as discussed by Jatt, has the potential (note: this is highly speculative so keep that in mind) to have either Fnatic or Cloud 9 in it. While both teams, particularly Cloud 9, seem slightly more assured in the top lane, it’s hard to hold the rest of the roster as showing much potential to upset for a second place slot. They can each bring damage to the records of both, and honestly could be the decider for the top seed teams, but their shots to make it out of groups are thoroughly suspicious. It’s just hard to imagine the two titans in EDG and SKT falling victim to a third place team from the West. But crazier things have happened. 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Courtesy of LoL Esports.

Counter Logic Gaming’s OmarGod : “I was pretty satisfied with the Series, but there was still a hole in my heart that we should’ve played like this against Immortals.”

With a decisive win over Dignitas, CLG place their sights firmly on the Gauntlet to try and make their way into Worlds. While the 3rd place game wasn’t overly consequential in the grand scheme of things, as both Dignitas and CLG had secured at least making it into Gauntlet, the series was still imperative for both rosters, who had just recently suffered tough losses in the semi finals.

Bouncing back from a tough loss against Immortals, ultimately knocking them into the 3rd placement games, OmarGod talks about his feelings on the series, maturing as a Jungler and as a player, and gives a little insight into life going from CLG.Black to the main squad.

 

Transcript

Jared: So, my name’s Jared, I’m with the Game Haus and Omar, after a… we’ll call it a very dominant 3-0, it was really impressive. So, how are you feeling? IT’s been a couple of interviews in so…

Omar: I feel pretty satisfied with how it went, but there’s still this hole in my heart that we should’ve played like this last week against Immortals. We’ve should’ve been to the finals. I guess it’s ok winning the third/fourth place match, but I’m not too happy about it. For me, it’s just like nice.

Jared: Kind of my first question was, it was kind of my first time getting to know you as a player, your first game when you were promoted to CLG. They interviewed you, and it was a very emotional interview for you, it was very passionate… I think it really showed your character. I was wondering, does that passion, does that kind of emotion come out in your gameplay, is that something you find fueling you, or are you more cool and calm type thing?

Omar: No, I don’t think I have that passion, that emotion, anymore. [laugh]

Jared: It was in the moment?

Omar: It was only in the first day, I just super happy, I’ve never felt like that way before. I didn’t even know I was tearing up. But definitely, being cool, calm, and collected is the way to play.

Jared: So my next question, you know, I think it was a little prophetic when CLG picked you guys out of the scouting grounds, and they formed CLG.Black and that became this academy team before Franchising was like, ‘ohh everyone is going to have academy teams.’ With that, there was that commitment to you guys, with that really rough series against Toronto Esports, that’s in the past. I’m curious though, how was that kind of process for CLG, how was being on CLG. Black, did they help you coach, getting used to being in the team environment?

Omar: Yea, being in CLG.Black was definitely a huge help. Before joining the main team, CLG.Blakc was my first real team in a real gaming house. It was kind of my trial, I made a lot of mistakes as a player, and as a team player esepcially. They’ve helped me grow as a person, they’ve helped shape who I am today. I’m really happy to have played on CLG.Black. The management and staff made sure that all the players will develop as players, first and also as human beings and their attitudes afterwards. I’m really happy with how CLG managed me development, and I’m proud of what I’ve become today and how I played today.

Jared: The last question before I let you go, I think you’ve probably been asked about the intergration between going from CLG.Black to the main squad, was there anyone who in particular on the roster who helped you or coached you from that training where you were helping to develop, where you’re now on the big stage now.

Omar: The LCS team, compared to the Black team, was a completely different level. Being on an LCS team, everyone had to help me, everyone helped me learn. When Josh [“Dardoch” Hartnett] was on the team, he was helping me learn too. I guess, I looked up to… if I had to choose players I looked up to, I looked up to [Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black] and Darshan [“Darshan” Upadhyaha].

They’re the veterans, they’re the leaders of the team and the way they handle they handle themselves and carry themselves around is charismatic and confident. As a rookie coming, I was able to place my trust in the veterans of the team to kind of bring me up to where I am today.

Jared: Awesome, thank you very much, I will let you go after a couple of interviews before us.

Omar: No problem.

Jared: Thank you again for taking the time!

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Photo and video by ‘The Game Haus’ Patrick Mcd

NA LCS Finals: The Old Guard shows that even Immortals bleed

Introduction: “This is where we make history.”

The elevators in TD Garden proudly proclaim, “This is where we make history,” with a Boston Bruins player, Boston’s storied hockey team, displayed. The NA LCS Finals, regardless of the actual results, was just that. Immortals, the first non-C9/TSM/CLG team to make it to the NA LCS Finals since Good Game University. Team SoloMid, the undisputed fan favorites, poised to make history with the first three-peat [edited: Thank you ProArsonist93] in NA LCS history, that would permanently place them as legends. There was no way that fans would be disappointed with either team winning.

With the pre-show done, the teams were brought in. To the excitement of music fans, and Boston locals too, “Shipping up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys was the pump up song of choice. The crowd went wild, and many followed along.

Immortals, going for the Green Lantern look here. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

Immortals are called first, the new kids on the block, hoping to upset the favorites in TSM and secure themselves a spot at the elite club of NA LCS winners. A mixture of faces new and old, with the legendary Lee “Flame” Ho-jong in the top lane, the longest tenured jungler in NA LCS Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, the 200 IQ Eugene “Pobelter” Park, their ADC who really likes his own name Cody “Cody Sun” Sun, and the NA LCS All Pro Team Support in Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.

Then it’s TSM’s turn to take to the stage, the obvious fan favorites, as they walk with confidence to a stage they’ve always found their way to, the NA LCS Finals. The all American top laner of Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, the Dane in the jungle, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, ace and MVP for the Summer Split Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, the trash talking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng flanked by his lane-mate and eventual MVP of the series, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.

Game 1 to 3: Ask me about my macro boys

Game one is, in a lot of ways, a testament to many about how the series will go. It can tilt players and entire teams, it can give confidence, or it can mean barely anything at all. The one theme for the rest of the series was the heavy showing of macro play from both teams, and this was on display throughout the series. When TSM made one great macro move, Immortals matched them in kind. Ultimately, Immortals’ draft lost them the game, as they had no damage to close things out, and TSM executed their win conditions exceptionally. The first game goes to TSM, and the excitement of the fans echoes throughout the stadium.

TSM, the fan favorites and NA LCS Finalists. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

Immortals, undaunted, go into game two with a bold direction: Kill the Bjerg. The total bans reach seven towards mid lane, five of which came directly from the Immortals side. For Doublelift and Biofrost, the Xayah and Rakan are the big takeaways from the draft phase. At the 15 minute mark in the game, both squads are even, but ultimately the ‘keep Bjergsen down’ strat works.

Overall, Immortals controls the tempo, with a tower advantage and a decisive Baron take. With the score evened out, Immortals eventually swing the game in their favor and close the game out off of not just strong macro play, but also understanding and reading the team fights well. Bjergsen wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do on Kassadin, which is scale and then jump on a target. By keeping TSM’s ace down they even up the score 1-1.

Game three brings in a mix up in ADCs for Cody Sun, rocking the Jinx; the game goes a whole 13 minutes before even a single kill is had. Immortals look to be in control of things, but never cementing a lead too crazily. But all it takes is one misstep, Cody Sun being evaporated by Bjergsen’s Oriana, or TSM to bring the fumbling Immortals down around the Elder Dragon. The unchecked Cho’Gath from Hauntzer, and Bjergsen’s strong Oriana, lead to Immortals’ Nexus falling. The pressure is on, as TSM stand at match point.

The series was, from this point on, basically two things: Immortals looking great in the early half of the game, and TSM pulling off the insane comebacks again and again. Immortals looked in control in the macro points of the early game, making the right moves to get ahead. However, TSM executed something important for Worlds: knowing exactly how to play when behind and how to take the fights to come back.

Game Four: The game that history won’t forget

Game four is one of the most insane games I’ve ever seen. I have to confess, half way through, I forgot to keep taking notes, so I had to review the VOD afterward to make sure I had remembered it right. For the first twenty minutes of that historic game, the map, and by all rights the victory itself, belonged to Immortals. They were 7-0, they had taken Baron practically as it spawned, and then proceeded to destroy an inhib moments after. It was all but locked up, we were going to game five… Right?

When you hit the Rakan engage just right and pull off the impossible comeback off of it. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

I have never been so wrong. TSM pulled off the impossible, they took a team fight from being massively behind. Biofrost, with the heroic play on Rakan, got the perfect engagement, and without any hint of hesitation, TSM jumps onto Immortals like a pack of wolves. It’s a slaughter, and TSM handily win the team fight. And then they took the next one. And the next one. Immortals went from being in the drivers seat to trying to look like a team with the advantage. TSM, fueled by the chants and energy of the crowd, kept pushing, kept pummeling. TSM somehow managed to overcome a massive disadvantage, making attack after attack in a tense tactical battle.

I managed to ask Biofrost what was going through his mind during the fated Rakan engage at the post game press conference. “Those engage timings, I didn’t really think about, ‘if I mess this up we’re going to lose the game,’… If I don’t do this right now, then we lose anyways, and this is the only shot we have. If I do, then we’re going to come back.”

As the final fight begins, the silence and tension of the crowd leading up to it is gone. Instead, the stadium practically shakes, as TSM do what seemed impossible merely minutes prior: win the game when they hadn’t even managed to get on the board with kills. The crowd, and even the relatively more modest and quiet press area is a clamor of cheers and roars. While the Immortal fans, or even those who just root for the underdogs, were crushed, the winning-est team in NA LCS history walks once again to their trophy. And they looked good doing it too.

So what now?: A new NA or the same old narrative?

TSM, the obvious victors of the night, have a lot to look forward to as they march onward to Worlds. The team looked tight, with clean macro play and a kind of trust that will go a long way. They fought when they could win the fight, even when behind 10K. Not only did they play smart, but methodical too. They looked, in a lot of ways, like a team that could be a real contender to make a decent run in Worlds.

But we say that every year. TSM, in the press conference, mentioned their hopes going forward into Worlds that they could shake that curse. Doublelift stated that Worlds last year, they went in overconfident, feeling like they already were a top four team. They weren’t. This year, they plan to go in humble and let their play speak for itself.

For Immortals, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Game four was heartbreaking, and while TSM made the insane comeback a reality, it’ll be in the back of their minds that they managed to lose a game where they were up 10K with one inhib down by 20 minutes.

But Immortals should still walk away with their heads held high. They looked strong throughout the series, and had some insane early game, with their macro play keeping them going toe to toe with TSM. That’s nothing to scoff at, too, for a team to reach Finals in any event. Many fans and pundits agree that TSM and Immortals look like the strongest teams NA could’ve sent. And their meeting had to be a titanic affair.

Battered, but not broken, Immortals next opponents will be the Worlds best. Can they step up to the plate? Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

While the CLG vs. Dignitas game looked like a hyper aggressive, non stop action fest, TSM vs. Immortals turned out to be more like a chess game. Macro play was king, and ultimately both teams seemed to have answers to the other team’s plan. Execution of win conditions was the deciding factor in these games. With both teams guaranteed Worlds spots, the results only having implications for seeding, it was a pride match. But it wasn’t just for pride, or for who got to hang their banner amongst the teams who have won the NA LCS. It was to instill hope into NA fans. To show fans they are ready to face every League of Legends teams’ toughest challenge: showing up at international events.

 

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NA LCS 3rd Place Series: CLG’s Redemption or Dignitas’ Ascension?

Warning: Spoilers

Walking to the TD Gardens for the NA LCS 3rd Place Series feels surreal. As a Canadian, the TD Gardens, and the Boston Bruins, are familiar names, even to someone who admittedly knows very little about hockey. But today, it’s a different black and yellow jersey that takes to the stage: Dignitas. Across from them sit one of the oldest names in League of Legends history, Counter Logic Gaming. A rollercoaster of a team, standing before the scrappy underdogs of the regular split, Dignitas.

As is par for the course, EU LCS goes first. The NA LCS fans eagerly await for their own 3/4th place games to begin. But the crowd isn’t silent, as the fans slowly filter in, the audience comes alive, cheering on their fellow western league in a riveting series. As the series wraps up, the crowd grows bigger and louder.

One wouldn’t be too hard pressed to imagine that CLG, with it’s longer continuous history in the league, would win the jersey war, but Dignitas’s new and old fans are out in force, as an equal amount of yellow and black are in the crowd as the many colors of CLG jersey’s.

The stadium may not be full, but the eruption from the crowd fills the TD Gardens. As the roar dims slightly, James “Dash” Patterson, saluting the local storied sports franchises in the Bruins and the Celtics, is met with a deafening reply.

Dignitas is the first team to be introduced, and as the yellow and black walk up to the stadium, the crowd is alive. The obvious fan favorite Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho unsurprisingly receives the loudest cheers, but the notorious Double A bot lane are no strangers to the crowd.

The loveable Ssumday. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

As David “Cop” Robertson, the ever stylish coach for Dignitas, is finished being introduced, Counter Logic Gaming enter the fray. The Pocket Pick Prone mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun receives a lot of love, rocking the black hair again. The “B Tier” ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is met with similar fanfare, but the star Support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black steals the show.

The games begin, with Game 1 a testament to the series. Everyone is locked onto the screen, and as if we were watching the LPL instead, the opening minutes are action packed, with CLG’s Omar and Darshan creating a very strange, yet favorable, top side engagement. The composition is all out aggression. CLG are like a train and DIG quickly become someone strapped to the tracks, as none stop, in your face engagements from CLG pummel the caster voted favorites of the series.  

It’s a statement game from CLG: We are not the team who almost lost to EnVyUs. We are not the team who lost to Immortals handily. They looked confident, they looked on the same page. And most importantly, they didn’t give up the lead.

If Game 1 felt like a statement from CLG, Game 2 was the exclamation mark. CLG again came out of the gates swinging, securing another first blood, this time before the minions even spawned. CLG’s composition, similar to Game 1, are a non-stop aggression of multiple skirmishes and engages going their way. Aphromoo’s Rakan is a tyrant on the Rift, and Dignitas are left dancing to the beat that CLG is playing. Game 2 is almost handed to CLG by the 15 minute mark, and the score goes 2-0 in favor of CLG.

Dignitas look reactive and lost. Some questionable macro plays, and honestly some very unlucky plays, have the underdogs looking like a different roster than the upstarts who took down Cloud 9 no more than a few games back.

Counter Logic Gaming, on the other side of the Rift, look entirely different from their near loss to EnVyUs. They look like a team with a purpose, a team with a concrete win condition, and honestly, a team that understands their identity.

New Hair, New CLG. Aphromoo was a consistent terror throughout the series for CLG.

Huhi drew a consistent two bans to non-meta champions each game. Vel Koz and Aurlion Sol are too much to give away to the once criticized Huhi. Darshan, too, was too much of a threat in the series, and banning champions against him would’ve been useless: he looked strong on three separate champs.

Game three starts, and everyone in the stadium is tense. CLG’s no stranger to being reverse swept, but Dignitas desperately need to shore up some of their shortcomings if they want to stay alive in the series. As the Pick and Bans come to a close, the crowd loses their mind upon seeing the Jax locked in for ZionSpartan– I mean, Darshan. The aggression, and identity, of CLG in this series carries on.

CLG secures the first blood again, off of a counter invade from CLG, Stixxay, on the Tristana, instantly rocket jumping in for the kill. The communication and confidence from CLG is astounding, and Dignitas are again knocked off balance in the opening minutes of play. Fate seems cruel to Dignitas, as multiple occasions a cocoon out of Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon barely misses and CLG narrowly escaping with flashing health bars. This was unfortunate to the many good macro plays out of Dignitas.

A great play from Ssumday’s Jarvan, ultimately resulting in a 4 for 5 trade for a very behind Dignitas, breathes some life back into the game, but ultimately CLG’s pressure and control over the map wins out. While the game’s results aren’t overly impactful for either team, both having secured the gauntlet already, just fighting over who would face FlyQuest and who would wait for the results of that.

If there is one way to summarize the series overall, it’s that CLG looked almost like an LPL squad. If there was a chance to fight, a chance to throw down, CLG were there. Even though the games felt short, they were bloody. They didn’t look like the CLG of the EnVyUs or Immortals series. They looked decisive, confident, in the face of competition many had heavily favored going into their confrontation.

Top Side Synergy. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

Dignitas, bloodied but not broken, are looking to prove themselves to not just be upstarts, but real contenders to represent NA at Worlds. They’ll have to go through FlyQuest first, and then face off against first CLG in the second round of the gauntlet, and Cloud 9 as the final boss. Dignitas have to pull a CLG in this series, coming back from a tough loss stronger for it.

It was the story of redemption for the top side of CLG that dominated the narrative though. Darshan hasn’t seemed as strong in the post-split push centric metas, and Omargod was promoted trying to fill the big shoes left by Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. This series, though, showed that both are still starter material. The real crucible for these two teams will be the gauntlet, and whether they can perform there and possibly at Worlds.

For Dignitas, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Their win over Cloud 9 started the giant slayer narrative, but ultimately against CLG it was difficult to find much silver lining. Still, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho’s performance, even when behind, was of the caliber one would expect. Dignitas need to review the VODs, reflect on their early game, and ultimately shore up some of the micro, mechanical errors that cost them compounding issues throughout the series.\

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Interview with the YIKES! Support Staff : Part 3

Intro

They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the lesser known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite a prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch support staff, Head Coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radar, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! has shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.

This is Part 3 of a 3 part interview series. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here.

 

The Uncertainty of the Scene: Esports and… Car Sharing?

Overwatch’s esport scene is young, even in an industry that is itself quite young. It’s only officially been released for a year, and we’ve seen the growth of its esport scene from launch to now. But with this growth has come the biggest uncertainty, and also Overwatch’s (possibly) greatest feature: the Overwatch League. With hot topics like franchising, city based teams and a global league, Overwatch League has many fans excited and pundits questioning.

But, like a shadow, uncertainty hangs over the scene because of this venture. It’s almost unsurprising to hear a big team drop their Overwatch team lately, with many pointing to the leviathan costs of the Overwatch League as the culprit. Ninjas in Pyjamas, Dignitas, Splyce, the list goes on of ex-Overwatch teams. The scene has been abuzz with opinions, whether this marks the decline of Overwatch esports before it even begins, or whether this is just a herald of the times to come: put up or shut up. For the YIKES! support staff, it seems more like the latter than the former.

Esports… 2 Go? Yup, car sharing and esports share a lot of similarities for Jerkkit. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jerkkit remarked on the relative difficulty of commenting on the inner workings of a League that not many on the outside know enough about. Overwatch League, for all its hype, has been relatively silent on key aspects. “You can’t look at this from a very bystander or community or even a player perspective, because at the end of the day the decisions and the things and the information that Blizzard has provided the public so far is going to leave you in a very uncertain void.” Uncertainty is one way of summing up the community’s concerns. While many organizations have left the scene, but not permanently, it seems more a case of uncertainty in a young scene that’s driven away some key esport players.

But the trio isn’t one of those concerned with the future of the scene. Uncertain, yes, but not thinking it’ll go away. Jerkkit recalled a similar industry in his mind to draw out his analogy: car sharing (yes, hear us out on this one…). He brought up car sharing as an example of an industry that reached a certain point of growth. It was an interesting, hot topic amongst economist and venture capitalists, young and volatile, and also, not having a lot of money already in it compared to other industries.

Looking back to 2012, he discussed how Zip Car was the biggest and most successful of the car sharing companies around. But by that, it was meant that, “I’m talking about still running in the red, about 20% off on their books from being in the black, never mind making a profit yet, and there’s huge potential in the scene.” A lot of buzz, a lot of interest and a lot of potential, but not quite turning an easy profit for those involved. That should sound familiar to anyone in esports, and while it may not be as negative as that, esport teams are still running pretty lean in contrast to their traditional sport counterparts.

The Prophet Jerkkit, doing… something?

Surveying the landscape, Jerkkit felt that the car sharing industry was at a crossroads of sorts. “Unless someone comes in here with a big investment to really push Zip Car for ten times, hundred times more of the working capital that they have, they’re going to be stagnant and the industry itself is going to be stagnant.” Noting that without outside injection of money and working capital, a scene can be stagnant and severely hampered in its potential growth.

He noted too that it does this in a few ways: Not only by directly injecting money into the industry, but by forcing other competitors in the scene to figure out a way to remain viable. “Either find a VC firm or perhaps merge with another car sharing company to combine their resources, or it’s just going to come down to simply at the end of the day if you can’t undergo one of the two mentioned you’re going to be left behind.” It’s a go big or go home mindset, and one that happens in a lot of young industries.

But why does this relate to esports? Because they both share the buzz around the upsides and potential of the industry. Esports has gone from ‘nerds playing video games in their basement’ to ‘huge competitions for big numbers and big salaries in the public’s eye. With that it’s also caught the business world’s eye. Big money, particularly from traditional sports side, has increasingly found itself at the table with endemic organizations and game developers. That all makes a whole lot of sense. Esports has some of the youngest viewership out of any sport, it’s fast growing in viewership, and it’s red hot. For bigger players to come into the scene, invest some money, and dominate, that’s just sound business. “Overwatch today, that’s what you’re seeing. You can call me a conspiracy theorist if you want… I’m able to see a lot of trends happening before they come to fruition in reality.”

 

What Does this Mean for Esports?

“Sovereign: Wait, what was the question again…?”

Getting called out by your fellow staff support for being long winded… YIKES! Courtesy of xQc’s Twitter.

While Jerkkit’s tangent may have felt slightly off topic, he noted that it all intertwines with his answer: Blizzard’s project is seeing the trend of esports and riding that wave for the benefit of those involved, not just for Overwatch esports, giving to both, “A boost all across the board financially.” Noting that most organic esport organizations have been running the red, and he projected would be for years to come still, it isn’t sustainable in the long term. Professing that it may sound like conspiracy theories again, Jerkkit feels that Blizzard is probably deep into their discussion and negotiations with key players and heavy weights in the esport scene, as well as those in the ‘moneyed’ scene.

“It’s becoming the time now, it’s becoming more mainstream, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard was going around and discussing and having meeting with these big sports ventures and telling them we really want you guys to come in and buy out League spots and perhaps even boost the epsorts scene, partner with some of these orgs, and share some of the responsibility of pushing esports to that next level.”

Money in esports has increasingly become a topic in the forefront of many fans minds. For many of the major esports, the grassroot, rag tag team of no namers pulling off a miraculous run is becoming less and less a thing. With the involvement of money, in most cases (looking at you, Team Liquid’s League of Legends team…) improves the consistency and stability of the team. “At the end of the day, you gotta think about it now, go back to the micro level of hiring coaching staff and players, your salaries are naturally just going to be more. Because they have to be competitive.” Not just improvements for players, but support staff and all those ‘behind the scenes’ players in esports should be a good thing going forward for the scene. Money removes a certain stress and anxiety from an organization, and gives them the resources to perform at their top level.

“That’s going to create a lot more stability in esports. One, the ecosystem in terms of the financial support is. Players aren’t worrying about their financial issues anymore. They’re really focusing in on winning games and helping that organization that hires them under their brand to really become more marketable, to be more of a staple household name for a player for a specific title they play for. Like I said, it’s not just going to apply to Overwatch.”

Jerkkit highlighted Cloud 9 owner Jack Etienne’s game plan as one other organizations should emulate. He said to simply google search the name, and you’ll see multiple articles detailing Jack’s rounds of acquiring investors and funds for the Cloud 9 team.

“Everyone sees it. He’s making the right moves, whereas there’s other orgs out there that are not wanting to give up everything they built or perhaps even a large stake or a majority stake for that working capital to really boost their organization to where it really needs to be at… That’s going to be a really big danger for them, if they miss their chance, they will miss their chance at becoming that next level org that they’ve always dreamt and wished they were from when they first started out.”

 

Zach on the Natural Progression of this

Sovereign chimed in on the discussion too, agreeing with Jerkkit’s overall thesis: endemic organizations may be hitting the panic button, but not because Overwatch will fail. With the entry of massive goliaths of moneyed interests, particularly traditional sports teams, endemic organizations become either something to partner with or a stepping stone to enter the scene. “These endemic orgs are now the stepping stone, I will say this very… it’s the truth, they’re just stepping stones for these huge clubs.” Those in the traditional sports scene have taken notice of esports’ rapid growth and potential, and it’s only natural that the two would mix. Sovereign says, “This is becoming the next generation of sports. If you don’t see these household names being like legacy teams, you’re going to see them fade away.”

Sovereign, the Player Development guru, isn’t worried about players in these uncertain times.

While many are sympathetic to the organic, grassroots nature of esports, a true hallmark of many of its biggest brands and teams, it’s not necessarily a sustainable way to carry on a professionalized business. Sovereign noted that the trend for certain endemic owners to retain their sole ownership of the team isn’t just a detriment to themselves, but to the scene’s growth in sitting at the table of the big boys in sports. While this grassroots nature in esports is somewhat of a hallmark, for Sovereign it isn’t here to stay if esports wants to reach the levels of traditional sports. “That’s just not how sports works, that’s never how sports worked, and that’s not how esports is going to end up. You’re going to see them fade out.”

On the trend of players and teams being dropped by organizations, particularly under-performing rosters, Sovereign feels that this is actually a benefit to not only the the players themselves, but the overall ecosystem of Overwatch. If the players were already under contract and signed to teams outside of the Overwatch League, Sovereign explained, and a draft was held for teams who actually had spots in the Overwatch League, those players may not be picked up, or would be but their teams would demand financial gain. For those organizations feeling the cash burn, it’s a sign of the times and (hopefully) can lead them towards reaching out to get sufficient funding to remain relevant.

 

But What About the Money…?

While the information around Overwatch League has been relatively small in quantity, one of the biggest story lines out on it was the price tags. Reported or rumored, choose your preferred way of putting it, costs of League spots ranged between two million to a staggering 20 million. But Jerkkit felt that, given his previous ideas that bigger money was going to increasingly play a part in esports, this actually isn’t that crazy. “I mean, at the end of the day, let’s be real here. If you’re going to tell me that the Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat, or any other professional sports org that comes and buys or partners with an esports team right now to get into this league, what is two million dollars? What is five million dollars? In fact, what is ten million dollars? Twenty?” Jerkkit stated that while to us, the general public, this is an insane figure, that perspective isn’t the same for these bigger, moneyed ventures.

Even more so for Jerkkit, in the case of traditional sports teams, these figures are nothing in comparison to their own teams. “Some of their rookie players coming into their professional sports teams have signing bonuses of those amounts. So… twenty million dollars, that’s a good tax write off if anything for these guys.” While many would reply saying that the rookie being signed to a team for millions is probably hailed to be their next star, and not a venture into a risky, volatile scene like esports, the point stands. For sports teams and investors, 20 million isn’t as big of a deal. But, Jerkkit mentioned, for teams still running in the red, 20 million is impossible.

As for the status of the Overwatch League and esports going forward, Jerkkit isn’t worried.

“The buildup, the anticipation is phenomenal. You have all the players who are not orged, fighting tooth and nail to make sure they’re on top of their game, to make sure they are on fire all the time, because they don’t want to be left in the dark when those teams are ready to pick up players again for their designated Overwatch League teams… I think Blizzard is doing all the necessary things it needs to do to really drive home and push esports as a whole in North America towards the mainstream segment of society. Because it currently isn’t still.”

Kitta chimed in as well, professing to not having much to add to the discussion other than a slightly dissenting voice. While she agreed with the other two that a deep player pool of unsigned talent is good for the overall scene, particularly if there is a formal draft to the Overwatch League, she highlighted some concerns over Blizzard’s lack of communication with its community. “For Blizzard to be successful they really need to value the community, it is their biggest asset to making their business work.” A strong community isn’t just important for a game to thrive, it’s probably the most crucial aspect for an esport to thrive too. If Blizzard can meet in the middle and provide for their community, while also developing the league without too much trouble, Kitta still feels the League will be a great success.

 

The Ever-Present Question: Overwatch League

Needless to say, when Overwatch League was announced, the ambitious project was at once hyped and then doubted. Sovereign recalled how he felt the progression to be expected: big money enters into the organic, grassroot scenes, and it becomes a highly professionalized league. While the Overwatch League brings a lot of exciting aspects to the esports scene, Sovereign also highlights how many feel it’s an impossible task. “The Overwatch League sounds amazing, the scope sounds amazing, but for anyone who’s been in esports, it sounds a bit unrealistic. To have like a global league where every region is playing in their own league, and they have this global thing going on.”

While it sounds like a crazy venture, Sovereign thinks that Blizzard can still pull it off. While he said he was anxious for them to release some new information on the League (this interview was conducted before the big update from Blizzard on the Overwatch League), he feels that for now it’s only a good idea, one that needs to manifest quickly. Noting that Overwatch League is set to kick off sometime this year, that’s not a lot of time for it to formalize more into an actual league. While it’s mostly a lack of knowledge about the Overwatch League’s actual progress, given Blizzard’s tight-lipped nature with it, Sovereign, like many others, is going off of what little has been stated. It’s quite an uncertain, but hopeful time. “That’s kind of where Overwatch is right now, everyone is really scared but excited.”

Jerkkit, ever business minded, noted too how he felt that the big price tags of League spots was a positive, even with bigger organizations like Splyce, backed by the Boston Bruins of the NHL, may have balked at the price.

“Yea, it’s a sports org saying that, and a lot of people are saying that, isn’t that a concern? It is and it isn’t because you can look at it in two ways: You can look at it as they don’t value, but they see potential in the industry, they don’t see the value in a League spot being that high. But at the same time, if everyone does it, from their peers, whether they’re in the same sport, or in different sport with the same financial funding, how are they not going to want to jump in on this? You got to? Isn’t that the reason you got into this in the first place?”

The Overwatch League is also particularly attractive to traditional sports teams looking to enter the scene. Why? The infrastructure for a location-based team is already well established. Jerkkit noted that for endemic teams, this could be a difficult task to imagine. Where would you house your facilities? Are you going to need to provide your own viewing area for your fans? But for sports teams, this groundwork is already laid out. “It’s literally them unlocking their doors and letting the esport team and their fans in and letting them partake in these events.” Traditional sports teams are, in a way, already in the same business as esports: making the best, most competitive team they can, housing their fans and selling official merch to make a profit.

Jerkkit said that particularly that last point, merch, is a side of esports that has been sorely undervalued. While revenue sharing is a key aspect of the Overwatch League’s future plans, he noted that it’s merch that sets esports apart from its traditional sports side. For sports teams, he said, a lot of their profits come from alcohol sales, ancedotally recalling how you never really see lines at sports games for the merchandise booths, but you definitely will for any concession stand selling alcohol. While noting that bandwagoning, particularly when a team enters a playoff situation, can create a lot of merch revenue for sports teams, it’s not as present as their alcohol sales.

That’s different for esports. “There’s not a lot of bandwagoning. You either love esports or you don’t. There’s no in between.” Jerkkit attended the NA LCS Finals in Vancouver for League of Legends, and noted that the lines were, given esports’ relative young fan base, not for the alcohol stands. Instead, there were lines at merch stands, “these merch stands had, at times, [lines] that would reach to the next concession stand before the next merch stand.” It wasn’t like these stands have different merch either, it was just that the demand was so high. Having attended the NA LCS Finals that went to Toronto, it was the same story here. Merch and esports are a match made in heaven for organizations trying to make some money.

While merch stands dominate the scene now at live esports events, Jerkkit held that, if managed correctly, esports will soon have that aspect AND alcohol sales. Fans do get older, and eventually reach the legal age for drinking. “You factor that in later down the line… how much more revenue are you bumping from food and beverage.”

As if the potential merch sales and soon-to-be alcohol sales weren’t attractive enough, Jerkkit also highlighted a key element that esports has over traditional sports: enthusiasts. Fans aren’t just ‘weekend warriors’ of teams, or fans of convenience or fair weather fans that’ll tune in when a team is doing well. Esports fans, “If they’re not at work or school and they’re a fan of an esport, they’re watching a live stream of a player from their favorite team play, or just maybe community streamer, or something along the lines where they understand the game to a certain degree of level that translates them into an enthusiast.” Esport fans watch the game to see their favourite teams or players duke it out, to see amazing story lines play out from season to season, or just because they love the game to such a degree that seeing it played out at its highest level is joy in and of itself. Fans of esports, for Jerkkit, live and breathe esports.

That’s why Jerkkit remains optimistic about Overwatch’s future as an esport, and the League itself. If nothing else, for Jerkkit, it’s not Blizzard’s esport track record that inspires hope, but rather their successful business. “But their business sense and how they do business, that I’m definitely confident in. That’s what a League, a successful league, requires is a successful business with the right expertise to get together the right talent and organizations and sports owners under one roof and really spear head this in the right direction.”

 

Conclusion

This is the third and final part in a three-part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The YIKES! support staff were full of knowledge, and I cannot thank them enough for sitting down and spending a whole two hours interviewing with me.

 


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Interview with the YIKES! support staff: Part 2

They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the lesser known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite a prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch support staff, Head Coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radar, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! has shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.

This is Part 2 of a 3 part interview series. Part 1 can be found here.

On Being a Coach

Esports coaching is still very much in its infancy, and because of that coaches are still figuring out what exactly they can bring to their teams. For Jerkkit, it’s his life experiences. Being the self-proclaimed Old Fart of the group (don’t worry Jerkkit, I won’t let them know just how old you really are…), Jerkkit brings a certain life wisdom to the squad that many of the players, being young, don’t have access to.

“It’s the life experience, the professional experience that I’ve endured and went through throughout my life. Having that privilege to go through all of those transformative experiences, I can now bring this to the esports coaching field,” he says.

Coaching such young players means that, unlike in traditional sports, there is always a certain life coaching aspect to the day to day, a point that both Jerkkit and Sovereign highlight again and again. With his maturity, Jerkkit contributes not only an objective mindset, but “tying in the objective mindset comes to the competitive drive. The consistency and the determination. [The] thirst and hunger. The last thing I want to be doing where I allow myself to become complacent.” Not letting himself, the support staff, or the team become complacent, and stop growing, is a key aspect to his coaching objectives.

“You hear it all the time from very successful or very competitive individuals that make a name for themselves even in sports. At the end of the day it comes down to all those factors, and you have to consistently and religiously get better all the time.” For Jerkkit, getting the players into this mindset is their main goal. “Being able to come in, really hammer that type of mindset and persona home in that environment, it’s very beneficial for an esports team.”

Being true to the Old Man Father Figure, Jerkkit highlighted his time playing hockey as a kid, saying, “I played as a shutdown defensemen on our hockey team. When I messed up, my linemate would tell me. He’d give me an earful. You think people are ‘toxic’ right now in this generation in esports when these guys play together, yea perhaps in a memey way, but the profanity and the words you can’t take back after it’s said and done when you’re playing sports, you never have to take them back.” While being toxic to your teammates in competitive isn’t being endorsed here, Jerkkit highlights this kind of attitude being a positive when done right. Filtering out the words said in frustration, and focusing on what their critique is aimed at, will help players improve. In short, it’s focusing on the critique that focuses on, “where you really get critiqued on results, objective results, nothing else.”

I’m not a young man anymore… Courtesy of Blizzard.

“Jerkkit: It’s really tough, I think being able to come with that mindset, it really provides a very thriving environment naturally for everyone. Myself and Kitta, we’re the eldest in the group…

Kitta: I’m not quite there yet, just kidding [laughter]

Jerkkit: I’m the old fart, we’ll just put it at that. Her professional experience really helps support that type of mindset and the type of environment that I want for coaching. Even Zach, Zach’s just as old as the players, even though he sounds like he’s eons ahead of his actual age.

Zach (Sovereign): The hell!?

Jerkitt: Wisdom wise! Please!”

The coaching staff also brings another advantage to a team in not quite being their peers. Peer to peer critique can be helpful, but often times breaks down into, ‘well, what would YOU know, you don’t even play Tank?’ The trio prevents that by taking an outside, objective standpoint on things. Keeping the team level headed through rough times is another important aspect of the support staff.

In a key game to their OMM qualifiers (all mentions of OMM are referring not to May but April, as this interview was conducted prior to the results of May’s OMM), Jerkkit recalled how an opponent’s Sombra pick gave their team comp a huge problem. 

“On the fly, right away, it made me really stumped. The coaching staff, ourselves, we were just stumped,” he explained.

Due to being forced to watch the streams, delayed 45 seconds, and the distance between everyone physically, the support staff were scratching their heads on how to tell the team to counter the pick, what to change. But, the team themselves figured out a way to deal with it, coming up with the solution and ultimately taking the map to reverse sweep their opponents. Jerkkit accredits it to not only the team’s skill, but to the support staff’s work on keeping the team level headed.

For Jerkkit, that’s what he brings as a coach in these uncertain times of esports coaching. Life experience, having done corporate jobs as well as owning his own business, and keeping a level head in the face of adversary. “That’s the huge advantage I can give, not only to myself but this team, and especially the coaching staff as well. I think that’s what I really do bring in terms of coaching towards the team and this infancy stage of where esports coaching is right now.”

 

What Makes a Coach?

I asked Jerkkit about his objectives as a coach. Aside from the obvious points like seeing their roster do well and be a productive part of that, he highlighted a few of his tribulations in his earlier days. “Well, when I first started coaching I wasn’t sure I was approaching it with the right mindset or the right structure that I did envision in my mind. I think I really had doubts until the last OMM.” The addition of Kitta and Sovereign, with their shared princples and mindset, helped.

Being surrounded by like minded members, Jerkkit pointed to the fact that Overwatch is a bit of a beast to tame in terms of coaching. “As I mentioned before it’s very dynamic in the way it shifts and changes in terms of the meta and how the game is supposed to be played. The players need to be very adaptable. You need to be fluid with these changes and not resistant at all and thoroughly be coach-able as a player all the way through.” With the ever shifting nature of the game, from the three tank meta into dive comps, Overwatch demands a lot from not only its players, but its support staff. Players need not only be good, but be flexible in their positions and hero pools. It’s not just about being a good tank player, but knowing how to shift your focus into new win conditions. For support staff everywhere, molding talented players into these flexible players is a main task.

So how does one go about doing this task? For Jerkkit and the support staff, it’s about making a system. “When you look at a sports team, there’s a structure in place on how to develop players, how to develop coaches, how to develop a team, how to organize a team, and how to really establish what you want as a team. As an organization.” Given the dynamic flow of Overwatch, Jerkkit believes firmly it’s about building up strong players, rather than building up strong role players. For this to work, there needs to be a strong system, some way to #TrustTheProcess.

Because of this, Jerkkit describes himself as a ‘pseudoscience’ kind of coach “where I’m the one coming up with these really rambunctious, crazy out of this world dumbass ideas. But at the end of the day, that’s where Zach and Kitta really get to ground me and say whether it does or not [work], or if I’m just crazy.”

Rather than focus on what’s vogue now, or what heroes are insta-locks for most games, Jerkkit says head coaches need to look ahead; for players, too, it’s not just about being the best at one thing. “Fantastic players aren’t about being the only DPS carry, it’s you can DPS like Pizza on Pharah and frag out and hang with Mangachu and Talespin, some of the world’s greatest Pharah players, but yet you’re able to dominate on the ground with a strong Tank game, or a strong Solider 76 play.“

 

Staying Ahead of the Curve: Watch the Koreans

To stay ahead of the curve for how to play the game, Jerkkit looks towards the powerhouse in esports, South Korea. Namely the OGN teams in the Apex league. “We all understand that the Koreans are heavy adopters of creating the new meta always. I think that this particularly has to go to credit to the support staff of these teams.” Whenever the gap between Korea and everyone else comes up, it’s always about how to close it. How come the Koreans are so much better at the esports they set their minds to? What is it about the West that just falls behind?

For Jerkkit, it’s not just the skill of the players or the acceptance of esports in Korea that sets it apart, “It’s not just because the Koreans put a lot more time, it’s not just because the Koreans are so much more dedicated, that’s just one aspect.” The main aspect that he really hammered home for me is: “The players respect their coaches. The players are coach-able. They’re not trying to be coached, they’re not filtering out what you’re saying and what they think applies to them and doesn’t apply to them.” While Jerkkit has faced some of these issues with the YIKES! crew, not naming names of course, he says he can’t much blame them. The distance, and having never met in person, really put a damper on not only the confidence the players may have in their support staff, but also in the support staff’s own abilities.

The Apex league is the apex predator of Overwatch Esports. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

“I can tell you this much: If you were in person, how much more of an effective role I would have for the team. I think myself and even the two analyst coaches as well, not being present in person, I think it takes away 80% of the effectiveness we can have towards our team. I’m running at max 20-30% capacity in what I could potentially provide to a team if we were all together, training together.”

The disadvantages of not being together in one concrete place abound. Not being able to discuss VODs together in a room, where everyone is honed in on the task at hand, makes reviewing gameplay harder. Time zone differences can make scheduling hard. Even the simple fact of knowing the people around you face to face, outside of the time spent together in game or on TeamSpeak discussing things, can be vital to improving a team. 

Getting the right mindset for improvement is another vital aspect that is considerably harder when you’re not there next to the players. “There’s going to be a lot of things as, you as a player, to have those resistances that Zach talked about before where they would say, ‘I’m a player, what, do you know more about the game than I do?’ That’s the thing. That’s where players really hinder themselves with that type of mindset. Not being able to accept criticism, objective insight about their gameplay that someone else sees.”

The importance of a third party, someone other than the player(s) themselves, looking over their VODs is vital to Jerkkit. It’s one thing to review VODs of yourself, but it’s another to have an unbiased opinion on where you went wrong in that VOD. Jerkkit himself said, “I’m going to look for the good stuff more than the bad stuff, that’s just being human, that’s just how life works. Even the greatest players, I can guarantee you, most of the greats of sports players will tell you the same thing. Michael Jordan had a coach. Tiger Woods has a coach. Why do all these great players in the world have coaches, when they’re the great players?” Without someone on the outside with a critical eye on where you could have played better, you’re hampered in your growth.

For the trio that’s the main focus, outside of just pure results. Establishing the coaching structure and infrastructure to see Overwatch produce the greatest players it can. It’s not just a goal for itself, the trio sees it as an almost ethical duty to the scene. “But at the end of the day as a coach I know my underlying responsibility, not to just myself or my team or the two other coaches and analysts I work together with. I think… you have a responsibility to really set a foundation, a new standard when there isn’t one set. And if you’re not making that prerogative or your main goals, then why are you coaching in the first place?” 

 

On Being a Strategist

Every support staff needs someone looking out for the next big strategy, or how to shore up weaknesses in game, and Kitta fills that role as Strategist for the group. The role of strategist in any esports is still being refined, but for Overwatch, it’s a particularly unrefined aspect. “The role itself is really unrefined because Overwatch is really in its infancy stages. And the design of the game incorporates a variety of different game genres.” Overwatch combines time sensitive objectives, class based heroes and an assortment of other features that give strategists a lot to work with. “There’s a lot to look for as an Analyst, and it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and side tracked.”

Kitta gave some insight into the overall system as well, saying that, “As the support staff, we’ve pretty much created a system, where we all have a pretty good understanding of all areas of the game. Each one of us has coaching experience, each one of us knows how the game works and knows how to deal with people and talk with people.” The emphasis on flexibility in role extends to support staff, it would seem, as well as players in the YIKES! group, and to good effect. Highlighting the three core areas for support staff, Headcoach/Strategist/Player Development, allows the trio to focus on their own areas while building up a strong system for a team’s success.

Instead of hamsters, Kitta’s tactical brain is probably just Winston. Courtesy of Blizzard

“So, although we have experience in all areas of coaching, I think it’s really important to establish roles of concentration in areas of a support staff so that we create an environment where we’re a jack of all trades and still a master at one.”

What drew Kitta to the role of strategist, having felt comfortable in multiple aspects of support staff? “It’s the most fun and the most challenging. With every aspect of the game, I think strategy is one of the most important factors that if you do not have in any competitive game, it’s going to be highly unlikely that you’re going to be competitive.” With the multi-layered gameplay of Overwatch and the ever-shifting marker for identifying the win condition of a winning comp, the strategist has a lot set out for themselves as a role.

With that in mind, Kitta’s main objective is to always have the winning answer for the roster. “My objective as a Strategic analyst is to make sure that we always have the upper hand throughout each game through tactics.” To develop these strats, it’s important to consider all the variables that go into an Overwatch game. Not just the complexities of the game play itself, but also, “Basic stuff like basic team foundations, things like coordination, synergy, attitude, all the way through to like player psychology.”

Kitta’s approach to strategy development? You could call it the Keep It Simple, Stupid method. “The other part of its success is to also simplify the strategy as much as possible. The same thing with motor-work, the less moving parts involved the smoother the operation’s going to be.“ With the intensity and craziness of Overwatch’s team fights, one can see why this practice would be more important than ever. Keeping the strats easy but effective is key. “My objective for the team is to just pretty much create a good template to where we always have the advantage in every single situation.”

 

On Being a Player Development Analyst

Sovereign, as the Player Development Analyst, is also at the cutting edge of support staff discussions. Occupying a position that is somewhat between his fellow support staff and the players, as a kind of bridge, he operates as the arbiter between the two.

In a lot of ways, Sovereign is limited due to the situation that the team is in, namely, not being together in one location. It’s been a hampering aspect for the team, who even through it have put up impressive results against top tier teams. But for Sovereign, in particular, he’s not able to do nearly as much as he would like to. For the moment, he joins in with the group, ”I think we all kind of take the same role at the moment, we want to help facilitate the best possible practice and results going forward in our matches, just in every facet of how we look at the game.“  

But given that, what are Sovereign’s objectives in the long term? “My goals as a player development analyst, I generally want to build a system where players trust me to help them go about explaining their feelings, not just their thought process and how they go about explaining it.” It’s become an increasing trend within esports to have serious discussions about players’ mental health and well being, as burnout and tilt are more and more apart of players’ day to day lives.

A good Player Development means you won’t have to say YIKES! to player-coaching relationships. Courtesy of xQc’s Twitter.

Sovereign says, in particular, “You know when you see a lot of players in teams where they just can’t really cope with a lot of the issues of being in a team, where they don’t really properly express themselves or their feelings at the moment. That kind of causes a lot of build up of tension and sometimes players just aren’t compatible at all, and that causes a lot of issues going forward when you want to practice in an effective way.” Of course, keeping the trade secrets under lock meant that Sovereign couldn’t go into full detail on how he goes about preventing these issues. (That, and Jerkkit silently saying ‘Trade secrets’ disapprovingly when Sovereign or Kitta would say ‘too much’).

Outside of trying to create not just esports players, but functioning humans, Sovereign also highlights a key point of his job: working to find the border between the support staff and the players, and bridging that gap. “You know, we have this border between the support staff and the players, and I kind of help bridge that gap between, where I’m trying my best to get the players to the point where they understand what we’re trying to achieve and helping the support staff where they’re maybe overbearing or overstepping.”

Sovereign believes that not properly identifying this border causes a lot of the breakdown between support staff and players. “For most teams, you see a lot of players where they don’t really like their support staff, because of how they go about trying to build a strategy or to build a system. They really just don’t know where the line meets.” Without properly understanding the relationship, and more importantly having someone dedicated to understanding that border and gap, internal frictions can lead to poor results. “I’m here to bridge that gap, and also facilitate a proper system of how to go about it.”

 

What exactly does a Player Development Analyst do?

It’s a theme almost anyone in the scene highlights, but nobody really has quite an idea of what they’re fully doing yet. Esports is a young industry, not just in the age of its players and people involved, but also in best practices. “It’s something you can’t just get a degree for and you kind of already know the boundaries on how everything works. Esports is a really unique thing, these are a lot of undeveloped kids and teams where they don’t really know what they’re thinking.”

Focusing on how to go about this is difficult. “Trying to facilitate a better environment for those players is something that is unchartered territory, where a lot of the coaches who do this they can see the benefit, but outside of that it’s hard to tell organizations or like a team that hasn’t gotten the benefits of it how it works.” Unlike in support staff positions, like Strategist or Head Coach, the results are not as immediate or as quantifiable. Results are not guaranteed right away, and the focus is on developing a better working relationship that will lead to results, rather than the reverse. “It’s that bridge in between, where you don’t see the benefit pay off immediately, it’s something that you have to constantly work on.”

For Sovereign, the main task isn’t to make better players per say, but better people, and the player part will follow. He is working closely with the players and the support staff, too. “Where the player is a better person rather than being a better player, and that facilitates everything afterward. They’re a better teammate, they’re a better person outside of the game, and when it comes to the game they start thinking a lot better about how to go about things.” It’s an ongoing process, and not one that reaps immediate benefits. While the results are difficult to quantify, helping players develop into people and better teammates sounds like a pretty good venture for any team.

But it’s not all about results for Sovereign. Sure, everyone wants to see a team play well, and none more than the support staff, but these are still young players making their ways in the world. Furthermore, being that bridge between support staff and players is vital, “I still think it’s one of the most important roles going forward in esports, because like I said you have a lot of undeveloped people who are coming into esports who don’t really have that one person to talk to outside of their coach.” Being the bridge and that third party that will listen to the players’ needs is the position Sovereign hopes to fill. “I’m that bridge, I’m just there to help, that’s it.”

 

Conclusion

This is the second in a three-part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The next part will get their opinions on the esport scene in general for Overwatch. Check back soon for Part 3!


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Interview with the Support Staff of YIKES! Part 1

They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the less known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch Support Staff, Head coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radars, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! have shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.

 

Your past experiences in esports

 

As I said above, coaching and support staff in esports are still relatively young in the scene. We’re not talking about traditional sports coaching, where there exist literal handbooks and strategies. I asked the team about their past experiences and how they informed their current positions. For Jerkkit, it wasn’t anything officially esports related that’s helped him become the coach he is today. Rather, it was his past experience with business that molded his coaching. “I was able to manage a lot of people development programs that we created within our company as head of directing for our HR department… helping them to develop skill sets to become more effective individual for themselves. I guess you could say ‘life coaching’ would be more exact.”

For Sovereign, his experience in the scene dates back to CSGO. Sovereign, however, eventually moved on from the CSGO scene, finding the amateur scene’s focus too heavily centered around the mechanical side of the game, rather than the bigger picture. “I moved onto MOBAs, I started playing DOTA, the Warcraft 3 MOD, the glory days. It was interesting because a lot of people had a lot more outlook into the game, they didn’t just focus on the mechanical side of everything, and the community fostered a better esports environment than I’d say CSGO at the time.” Eventually Sovereign found himself focusing on League of Legends, citing the ever important reason that, “I settled on League because the majority of the time it was my friends saying, ‘let’s play League.'”

One thing’s for certain, a better team logo won’t be possible.

From there, Sovereign found himself increasingly invested in the scene. Eventually, around Season 3 or 4, he was doing VOD reviews of games, trying to bring a professional, objective view. At this time, League of Legends, like many esports, was still fully figuring itself out and how to best utilize non-player support staff. Sovereign submitted his VOD reviews to a few teams, citing the GMs of both Liquid and Enemy as ones he remembered, eventually hearing back from Enemy to help them in their Spring Split in the Challenger Series.

How did Sovereign’s first gig work out? “We got into the Challenger Series, we bombed completely, [laughter] it was an awesome experience. But it was an experience.” With a foot in the door and a taste for esports, his focus also changed. “I wanted to be a coach at that point, I was like, ‘ok an analyst is cool and all, but I feel like I have more of a personal outlook on how to go about things.’ So a coach kind of fits that description.” Dipping back into CSGO, Sovereign found some mild success with one on one coaching, but was never able to crack into the scene fully because he didn’t have the connections. With Overwatch on the horizon, Sovereign shifted again to enter the burgeoning esports scene there.

It’s worked out well so far for himself and the team, with Jerkkit breaking in saying, “Thank God for the lack of your connections in CSGO. Worked out for myself, the guys, and Kitta too I’m sure [laughter].”

Kitta, like Jerkkit, comes from a slightly less esports-sided background. While always a gamer at heart, starting off in Star Wars Galaxies (the failed MMORPG based in the Star Wars universe), and eventually moving into the juggernaut of all MMOs, World of Warcraft, her experience was informed more by non-esports related things. For Kitta, the focus was always on PvP in MMOs, as, “one thing that I found fascinating with them was the PvP, we actually had to think like two steps ahead.” Strategy and planning were the name of the game. As many familiar with PvP in MMOs know, it’s not just your mechanics but also understanding what to do against certain opponents in certain situations.

Like many, when Overwatch was announced, excitement about the new esports scene attracted many to the game, and Kitta was no different in that regard. Kitta started out as a player, moving to a more IGL role and eventually, due to time restraints, taking a step back and focusing more on coaching. She started off by coaching a tier two team, while also working a lot on the analytical side of things. For what drew her to the coaching and support staff life, she cited, “I have a strong military background, I’ve been in the Marine Corps for several years, and so I have this burning desire to lead people and help people and coach people.” While her previous team eventually disbanded, Kitta found herself quickly on the YIKES! team as the Strategic Planning Analyst.

 

Past relationship with Denial eSports

 

Those who have followed the scene, particularly in North America, know that rosters being dropped and picked up by organizations has been a hot topic lately. Fans of YIKES! may remember the squad when they were under Denial eSports, and I took the time to ask the trio what exactly went down between the two parties there.

Jerkkit recalls how Brice “Gingerpop” Breakey approached him about joining the team, after having worked together as IGL (Gingerpop) and head coach of another project. They had been playing under Denial, and Jerkkit was on board. Jerkkit recalls how, when he first joined the team, the squad presented quite the interesting challenge. Those familiar with the likes of Félix “xQc” Lengyel won’t be surprised to learn that the larger than life personalities of the players was an interesting team dynamic, while it also felt that the players were largely on a very subjective mindset. They focused on how they viewed the game to be played. Quite different from the team that managed to take first place at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee.

Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

The main reason for the mutual separation of Denial and the current YIKES! team? Each party’s goals and hopes didn’t align. With Overwatch League looming over the entire scene, the YIKES! team felt they had it in them to make it into the League, and while they felt Denial were a good step for them as a team, the two couldn’t see that being a possibility together. While the severance left no bad blood between Denial and YIKES!, a point Jerkkit stressed, they all felt they needed the chance to make it into the Overwatch League. “Going forward, we have all the pieces in place now. Everything from the players and coaching structure.”

For the next organization that YIKES! hope to represent, for the support staff, it’s about showing off their particular style and approach to coaching. “We really want to be able to exemplify our style of coaching and how we want to develop the players into becoming the best in North America if not the world.” While the roster has definitely shown up as of late, most notably with a first place showing at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee (note: interview was conducted prior to the finals, and thus any reference in quotations to the OMM  is referring to the results of April’s OMM and not the most recent one).

Denial eSports, while not the permanent home for the roster, gave the squad one of its strongest assets: longevity of the roster. “With Denial eSports that’s what really helped set us in position for where we are today. If we did not go through the transition of Denial and the players being signed under that specific org, we wouldn’t have had one of our team’s biggest strengths: which is a roster that has been able to keep the majority of the roster together for 5-8 months.” The ability to have trust in your fellow players, alongside knowing them and building strong connections with them, is an invaluable aspect of YIKES! roster overall.

Something that’s plagued the roster that other teams at their level have had is the ability to practice together under one roof. Scheduling scrims late at night, to accommodate players’ schedules and jobs, has its toll on the team, and the support staff is hampered by the distance. A long day of streaming for Félix “xQc” Lengye can lead to sub-optimal scrims, while Derek “Pizza” Johnson cutting back hours at his full time job to get an extra scrim block in, are among some of the difficulties the roster has had.

Overall though, Jerkkit felt that their experience under Denial was only a boon for the team. It allowed them to, “build character for our roster, for ourselves as coaches too, it really tested our mental fortitude.” As the team pushes forward to higher heights, they set their sights on growing and learning from their time with Denial and hope to find an organization that can give them the assets they need to take their next big step forward in the professional scene.

 

Hopes for YIKES! going forward?

 

Every team dreams of making it in the “big leagues,” and while that term isn’t quite accurate for many esports, it still holds true; every team reaches a point where they’re good enough to make it, and just want the chance to prove it fully. I asked the trio their hopes and aspirations for the squad. Not much of a surprise, given that the Overwatch League is materializing more, the unsigned roster hope to find an organization that can back them. “You’d love to have the financial support, the infrastructure, the equipment, the tools, when you need them you can get em.”

Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, Builder of Humans.

Any support staff dreams of having access to the tools and equipment to improve their roster, particularly if that equipment isn’t something they have to stress about. Jerkkit noted the increasing complexity and difficulty of tracking Overwatch. With its ever changing meta and chaotic gameplay, it can be difficult for the team to get the kind of data they’d like. Noting his team’s struggles with the Tank meta, and their prowess in the more dive comp meta, “With those types of changes that shift so fast in Overwatch, it’s not like CSGO where there’s a set meta and set way or foundation to play the game. It’s not really going to change in a 180 degrees when a patch releases. That’s not the case for Overwatch.”

Sovereign’s hopes for the roster were a little more pointed. “I hope to build athletes. That’s my end goal. I want to facilitate the proper system of building an athlete that can play any game, not just Overwatch. I want to see them grow into humans [laughter] that are functioning.” Noting that in many esports scenes, early pro players had a tendency to fade into the background once they retired, not bringing away much from their esports career except having perfected their skill in a game.

Without structure to their lives, or aid from their teams in growing them outside of their game, many players drift after their careers without any real help from their previous teams. “I want to change that. I want to build, I want to structure the bridge and making/filling in between obviously playing the game but also living a life. It’s something I want to bring together. So once they’re finished playing their games, once they begin wanting to coach, analyst, shot caller, caster, or whatever, they can do that. They wont fall apart once they’re not a player. I want to build a human that functions.”

 

Orgs needing to be flexible

 

On the topic of their future, the trio noted the need for organizations to be flexible and have strong backing for the future of esports, particularly with Overwatch. “When we need something done we need something done and it needs to be done now. The org needs to be able to support that.” Fans of the scene are aware of the increasing involvement of Venture Capitalist and traditional sport teams backing esports. With this in mind, many of the endemic teams may fall to the sideline unless they can secure financial backing as well.

On the note of endemic organizations, Jerkkit signaled a slightly counter voice to the prevalent opinion on certain endemic teams dropping their rosters in light of Overwatch League. Rather than laying the blame at the feet of Blizzard or the structure of the Overwatch League, he highlighted that, “while they did build esports to where it is right now, a lot of them [endemic organizations] aren’t evolving to the next step.” Without evolving, increasing their own funding and stepping up what they can offer their players, Jerkkit thinks they may fall behind bigger competitors. “You see a lot of orgs just pulling out entirely, they don’t have the funding, or the initial man power at the moment to facilitate their teams, so it’s hard to say where they’ll be in five years if they don’t start getting with the program.”

Jerkkit, the Old Man of the group and Head Coach. Also side hustles as a good mafia boss man for movies.

While it may sound like doom and gloom from the Old Man of the group, Jerkkit feels it isn’t a negative aspect of the way the scene is going. “I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a post-apocalyptic thing, this is how business works at the end of the day, and you’re going to start seeing a lot of it faze out.” While it’s yet to be seen whether these endemic teams are down and out, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the Overwatch esports scene like some have thought. For YIKES! though, it’s about focusing on the here and now, and progressing steadily on their own gameplay.

For Kitta in particular, it’s about having access to the basics and fundamentals that an organization needs to provide, things, “like proper places where we can all train together. Because without having those utilities, it’s quite a challenge to get everyone that are scattered all over NA to come together, but we still do it.” A common concern from the trio was this aspect of having to strain not only themselves, but their players, due to the lack of funding and ability to come together under one roof to practice. It’s no surprise then that the hope from a new organization is that they provide those basic assets.

While Kitta was a later addition to the support staff, she notes that coming from her tier two team to YIKES! was a massive change of scene. “Everyone has developed this like really strong relationship, where they become more of like a family. So coming onto this team, that really attracted me, and their eagerness to learn to thirst to win, not to mention their professionalism as well. Each player has a specific characteristic that makes the roster what it is.”

 

Flexibility of players’ abilities

 

Flexibility in organizations and support staff isn’t the only thing that Overwatch requires of its pros to be flexible in. Players, too, can’t find themselves too complacent on one or two heroes, or even on their particular role. While some players have heroes that are like pocket picks, heroes the opposing team might not expect them to be on, it’s more so that players need to be flexible in their hero classes overall. It’s one of the few games where a player’s role, Flex, is literally to be the hero the team needs in certain situations and certain comps. But for the YIKES! crew, it’s not just about one player, but all their players, needing to have that flexibility or depth to their hero pool.

While a player may be the off tank role for their team, they should be comfortable enough on other heroes to help their team in a pinch. For Jerkkit, it’s about being good enough so your team can have trust in you. “That’s the key factor, that trust level of being able to count on one another. ‘Ohh, he’s on this hero now, even though that’s my main, but I play this other hero we need right now.'” For an example, he highlighted how the roster can rely on Pizza, normally known for his Pharah play, to fill the role of D.Va or Roadhog for the squad. Tactically, however, he may value Indy “Space” Halpern’s D.Va, or prefer that hero on Pizza for the higher game sense he shows. It’s about flexibility with strats, but also knowing that you can trust the players beside you to do their role for the team on whatever hero is required.

 

Conclusion

 

This is the first in a three part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The next part will detail more of each support staff’s particular profile, while our last part will get their opinions on the esport scene in general for Overwatch. Check back soon for Part 2 and Part 3!

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CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 2

Welcome to Part two of our CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS. For the first part looking at the build up and protagonists of our CLG story, check out my article here.

 

The Split

Not many fans of CLG were expecting much from the Spring Split. Eyes were glued to how the new rookies would integrate into the squad, whether the veterans could teach the new kids how to play the Rift in the LCS, and truthfully if they’d manage to scrap their way into Playoffs. First was the surprise win over long time rival and new home of star ADC Doublelift, TSM. Then, the honor of being the only team in the Spring Split to actually take a win off of the (almost) undefeated Immortals squad (with a cheeky baron steal into Darshan backdoor win). CLG surprised everyone with a 13-5 split, narrowly passing Cloud 9 in Week 9 with Team Liquid being… Team Liquid… and securing fourth place.

Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was the split that even the most faithful were cautious in hoping for. The team meshed together as a unit, and countless interviews with CLG players highlighted this. The story line was never about one star player winning games. Rather, it revolved around which player would the team elect to carry them this game. We saw stellar performances obviously from the likely culprits: Darshan with the split pushes that the other team could not answer, Xmithie with the Smite wars and overall map control, and Aphromoo leading his lane to dominance.

But it wasn’t just the vets. Viewers caught glimpses of greatness with Huhi, as he broke out the Aurelion Sol to great effect, still drawing bans against that pocket pick. And Stixxay came up huge when the team needed him most. His triple kill in the final fight between the long time rivals took the Finals for CLG and sent them to MSI. In many fans’ minds, it was clear that the CLG management knew what they were doing, maybe even better than they thought.

But back to the story lines. What a roller coaster of a split. While some looked to CLG’s playoff as a result of other teams failing expectations, that shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment at hand. They didn’t take it because Huhi or Stixxay were amazing diamonds in the rough. It wasn’t the steadfast veterans, the grizzled familiar faces after the roster shuffle, that carried the CLG banner to victory. No. It was the team. They came together, they held each other up, and most importantly, they never stopped believing in each other. The rag band team of veterans and rookies took the split, and ultimately the finals, to propel them further than even they had hoped for: representing their region at the second most important Riot tournament besides Worlds.

Sweet, sweet victory. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

From “Unlikely” to “Runner-ups”

The now (in)famous power rankings going into MSI 2016 didn’t have CLG doing much. At their brightest, CLG were a dark horse roster, one that could make some upsets and maybe see themselves get into Playoffs. But they weren’t expected to do much. If they showed up, it would be mildly surprising. If they flopped, it also wouldn’t be too shocking a revelation. They weren’t the dominant (domestically) G2, the juggernaut SKT T1, or the stacked Royal Never Give Up. Heck, they weren’t even as hyped as the LMS’ representatives Flash Wolves. The Flash Wolves didn’t mince words with their expectations of CLG, with SwordArt’s comment towards them simply being, “We don’t actually have any preparation. Because CLG is the worst team besides IWC teams.” Ohh the irony.

Worse than an International Wildcard Team you say? Well that’s awkward for you. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In true CLG fashion, they did the exact opposite of what the pundits and critiques expected them to do: they thrived. I’m not one for taking phrases from others, but man did ESPN writer Tyler Erzberger put it perfectly for CLG’s mantra, “Respect all, fear none.” This was a roster that didn’t claim to not prepare for an opponent they felt was weaker, because they knew they had to do that to every opponent they would meet. Their record tells the story of group stage well. They had a 2-0 record against Flash Wolves and G2, and a 1-1 record against SKT, RNG, and BAU Supermassive (I mean, it is CLG, Wildcards are pretty much confirmed their kryptonite…).

Of course, in a perfect kind of story line, the team that looked down on CLG were the ones facing them in the Semis. The Wolves had to look across the Rift at the team they felt was as strong as an IWC team. Still, even with their group stage performances, many were timid to cast their vote in favor of CLG. Sure, they had bested the Flash Wolves, but that didn’t paint them as clear favorites going into their confrontation. Keen observers would’ve had the two as neck and neck, equal parties, and that the battle would most likely be a back and forth series.

It was, in a lot of ways, a clash of styles, and a clash of ways to play League of Legends. Flash Wolves brought strong talent and mechanics in their games. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in particular found many advantages in his laning phases that put the Wolves ahead. Of course, CLG, on the other side of the spectrum, trusted in each other, in their own style: teamwork and macro plays. CLG played the maps out like an ebb and flow of a tide, and ultimately came out on top of the Wolves in a 3-1 series. The under-looked team, practically spit upon by SwordArt’s comments, came out convincingly on top to move onto the Finals of MSI, the first time any North American squad had done so at a Riot International tournament.

To Face a God

It was only a befitting ending. Sports animes aren’t Mary Sues. It’s about learning, about hardships and about trying to take those lessons and bringing them into the next competition. So when CLG lost 3-0 to SKT, not many were surprised. It’s the narrative any time a team faces SKT, whether it’s in region rivals like KT Rolster or pre-exodus Rox Tigers, or the latest crop of non-Korean teams hoping to make a dent in the armor that is SKT’s record internationally.

Heads held high to face the gods. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was a bit of a miracle run overall, and while they did lose it all in the end, CLG weren’t completely outmatched. Like any good team, they had their shining moments against SKT. In the first game, far behind SKT and ultimately completely outplayed for the first half of the game, CLG almost made the comeback against the Gods. Through smart play and a cheeky hide-and-then-five-man-dive-poor-Faker-and-Wolf, they almost mounted a convincing lead, but ultimately lost to the superior skill and experience of SKT.

On the back of a strong comeback that ultimately fell short, CLG started game two strong, with a 3K gold lead on the Korean giants at the 14 minute mark. The rest of the game was a back and forth, punch for punch game where both teams matched each others plays, with the game being swung in SKT’s favour during a decisive team fight victory. For all the hype and near moments of excellence, CLG eventually dropped the game, unable to withstand the onslaught.

Game three was probably the finale of the series everyone expected, but no NA fan hoped for. It was a lashing, as SKT showed masterfully how to rotate the map and pick off CLG members who seemed completely caught off guard. Outside of a prolonged fight that showcased a lot of CLG’s strength at the 32 minute mark, it was hard to say they stood much of a chance. Ultimately the bloodiest game of the set, and really the most one sided, SKT walked away heads held high, sitting on top of the world of League of Legends.

Murica. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG, on the other hand, walked away beaten but not broken. They still stood toe to toe against the team favored to take it all, the team who ultimately would take Worlds again, and then would end up taking MSI again too. It’s hard to imagine a world where the rag tag team, compiled of a couple of rookies, would be able to take down that dynastic of a team.

But it’s not the victory that makes the story line. It’s the sheer run of it all, a team from NA, going up against multiple opponents who not only were touted to outclass them as a team, but were supposed to outclass even their region. It was the first time an NA team made it into the finals of a Riot international tournament. What an amazing run from a team whose only talent was in working together, in picking up where their teammates faltered.

It wasn’t big roster moves and long time rivals TSM. It wasn’t storied Cloud 9, the wunderkids of the NA LCS, with their opening split of dominance in their minds. No, it was the roster that had every single NA LCS fan, even the most faithful of CLG fans, scratching their heads at the off season. They took it to the finals of MSI and brought recognition back to their region. While the ‘best’ story line is highly subjective and up for debate, the Spring Time of Dreams CLG are at least in the top five for League of Legends esports. And it’d be a damn good sports anime plot line too.

 

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