The Evergreen Problem – Is it Time to Rethink Classic?

A Perennial Problem

The introduction of Standard to Hearthstone was perhaps the most impactful change in Hearthstone. It involved the creation of a whole new game mode, several card re-balancings, the rotation of 157 cards, and the laying-out of an entire philosophy of how card expansions should be introduced. This massive undertaking naturally lead to significant balance issues, that took many expansions to fix. However, some of these issues could easily occur again, unless the way that the Classic and Basic “Evergreen” set works is fundamentally rethought.

Eternal Strength

One of the core issues with the notion of an Evergreen Classic set is that of imbalance between classes. To put it simply, some classes have the functioning “skeleton” of a deck, and some do not. Classes like Mage or Druid contain the basis of functioning, synergistic decks to fulfill a certain archetypal goal. For instance, Warrior’s Classic and Basic removal tools provide a powerful framework around which to build all manner of control decks. Mage can build burn-focused tempo spell decks, and has access to a versatile freeze package. Druid meanwhile has fundamentally strong ramp and cycle options, as well as flexible early-game removal in Wrath.

Warrior will have good Control tools as long as it has its Classic and Basic set; other classes are not so lucky

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allows classes to retain identity, and means a million different iterations of “Fireball” don’t have to be printed to keep Mage viable; but the benefits are not evenly applied.

Class Struggle

Meanwhile, other classes are left without key core cards, and must be continually given them. Priest suffers from a lack of any kind of early-game consistency or large-scale board clears in its Classic and Basic set. As a fundamentally reactive class focused on a combo/control strategy, this is backbreaking. The immediate impact of this was a multi-expansion slump immediately after the Whispers of the Old Gods release where the class remained nigh-unplayable. Paladin suffered a similar fate; though it had more tools and coherent identity in Classic and Basic than Priest, its Midrange strengths were unexplored due to a dearth of any kind of early game removal or minion options, even to a greater extent than Priest.

The Danger of Continual Correction

Having to print a new Lightbomb every expansion comes with risks

Now, so far so obvious. Surely Team 5 can just add in replacements every standard cycle, like with Dragonfire Potion for Priest, and Lost in the Jungle for Paladin? It’s the strategy that has been pursued so far, but it comes with many caveats and risks.

The first, and most obvious, is that multiple cards are harder to balance than one. Under-doing or over-doing such key class elements as their defining, archetype supporting class cards that allow them to do something they otherwise couldn’t is fraught with risks. For instance, look at Excavated Evil and Shadow-Word: Horror; anaemic board clears that left Priest crippled. Alternatively, look at Shaman; efforts to buff its early game subjected the ladder to the horror of the overbearing Tunnel Trogg starts.

Not only that, but it leads the classes to have a more diffuse, temporary identity. It’s harder to form attachements to a class if their whole playstyle becomes invalidated every few expansions, seemingly at random.

Lessons Not Yet Learned

Do we need to be stuck with this as the only sizeable Neutral Healing in Classic?

One final issue with the current implementation of Evergreen sets is the crystallization and preservation of early mistakes from the balance team. Several mechanics were significantly over-costed by the design team in the earliest days of the game. Compare early healing cards like Voodoo Doctor, Healing Touch, and Holy Light with later additions like Forbidden Healing or Feral Rage, which offer far more value and flexibility. Other mechanics, like Windfury, Taunt, or the Attack were consistently over-costed; whereas potent Deathrattles, Draw, and Charge were extremely competitive.

Though in some cases it is justified (there is an argument to be made that Magma Rager is a deliberate “Noob Trap” to teach players the value of HP), it seems odd to have certain mechanics always have a strong classic support base but not others.

The Solution; a Revamped Classic Set

If Classic and Basic are truly going to be Evergreen, then simply nerfing or rotating out problematic cards is not enough. There needs to be a correction to the fundamental errors made in the first few steps of Hearthstone. There’s simply no reason to put up with the benchmark set by mathematically underpowered Classic cards to clog up our collections forever. Though cutting down on auto-includes in some areas is healthy, never buffing or adding to Classic is a recipe for continual unnecessary risk and erosion of identity.

A comprehensive balance review should take place, excising cards that serve no purpose or limit design space needlessly, while adding or reintroducing permanently key cards that are necessary for a class’s viability. What’s more, underpowered cards in the Basic set should be buffed or replaced so that the core class identities they supposedly represent can be properly exemplified. If we’re stuck with Classic and Basic forever, then Team 5 should first refine it into something worth keeping.

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ASL Season 3: Round of 16 Preview

The second round of ASL is just days away. While my bae Stork may have made an early exit, the lineup is packed with legends and shows you absolutely don’t want to miss. Here’s your guide to the Round of 16.

 

Group A

Lee “Flash” Young Ho

Ko “HyuN” Seok Hyun

Lee “Shine” Young Han

Kim “ggaemo” Kyung Mo

 

Welcome to the battle for second place. Flash straight up got a free pass to the Quarters here. The second slot is a bit more tricky. Neither Hyun nor Shine have particularly stood out, both advancing second from relatively unremarkable groups.

Ggaemo is another story, but has yet to be tested in any matchup other than ZvP. To advance, he’ll have to prove himself against the best Terran to ever touch StarCraft, and at least one ZvZ.

 

Predictions: Flash, HyuN.

Airs: April 30th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group B

Yum “Sea” Bo Sung

Kim “EffOrt” Jung Woo

Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong

Kim “Soulkey” Min Chul

 

Despite sSak’s efforts, Group B somehow became the Group of Death. Without question, this is the group to watch. It says everything that not even Bisu can be considered safe here. Quite the contrary when you consider Bisu and Sea’s recent history. In the ASL Season 2 Quarterfinals, it was Sea that knocked Bisu out in a 3-0 shutout. With Protoss in general struggling under the current ASL map pool, we’re looking at a real possibility of Bisu making an early exit.

EffOrt looks like a genuine contender at the moment, steamrolling his way through Group B and Soulkey. He proved himself after knocking out the Season 1 ASL Champion on his way out of the Round of 24.

Literally every player in this group has a case to make for the Quarterfinals, and competition for the two available slots will be like nothing we’ve seen yet.

 

Predictions: None. But I’d put the odds ever so slightly on Sea.

Airs: May 2nd, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group C

Doh “BeSt” Jae Wook

Yoon “Mong” Chan

Kim “IamMang” Seung Hyun

Kim “Jaehoon” Jae Hoon

 

With Protoss’ struggles in the current Season of ASL, it seems harsh that three of the four remaining ended up in one group. In reality, this actually ended up being the best case scenario for Protoss, guaranteeing at least one Protoss in the Quarterfinals, and a strong probability for a second.

Group C is another interesting one. BeSt got seeded in from his semifinal run in the last ASL where he took Sea to a Game 5 series. With this in mind, he’s a player that cannot be ruled out. Mong got into the Round of 16 at the top of his group, defeating Shuttle on the route out. We know he can hold his own in high level PvT, and in this group that makes him a genuine threat.

Meanwhile, IamMang advanced to the Round of 16 through two PvP wins, dropping Stork on his way out. His PvP is in proven form. In a group with three Protoss, he absolutely cannot be underestimated.

As for Jaehoon. He made it out of his group by 2-0’ing Light. If he can somehow make it past IamMang, and ends up against Mong in the Winner’s Match, I can see him possibly advancing. Of course, making it past IamMang’s PvP is no easy feat. Jaehoon does have a route out, but it’s undeniably a long shot.

 

Predictions: IamMang, BeSt

Airs: May 9th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group D

Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong

Choi “sSak” Ho Seon

Kim “Last” Sung Hyun

Jo “hero” Il Jang

 

With Zerg dominating Season 3 so far, Jaedong would be a given. But a wrist injury in February does put his current form into question. He did participate in the I love StarCraft showmatch in March, so it’s likely not still an issue.

Last made it into the Round of 16 at the top of Group F. However, the level of competition he faces here is a steep climb from Group F. Despite an impressive performance, he’s yet to be truly tested which makes him a bit of an unknown.

This brings me sSak. For those of you lucky enough to read Naruto before it went downhill to its comically slow and painful death, you’ll remember Jiraiya. Jiraiya’s character carries a lesson: don’t judge someone’s capability based on their interests. The comparison to Jiraiya becomes even more relevant when you consider sSak’s apparent love for female Broadcast Jockeys and drinking streams. Unlike Jaedong, don’t let this distract you from the fact that sSak advanced from the Round of 24 at the top of a stacked group. sSak is more of a threat than he lets on.

 

Predictions: sSak makes a surprise advancement in first place, Jaedong advances in final match.

Airs: May 9th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

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Smite Pro League: Smite Masters LAN Preview

With the Gauntlet behind us, it’s now time for the LAN everyone is waiting for: Smite Masters.

Coming into Masters, we all probably thought we had a good idea of what was going to happen. The Gauntlet taught us a few things that we weren’t prepared for. On top of that, there are a few teams coming to Masters that maybe not too many Smite fans know about.

The teams participating in Smite Masters are as follows:

  1. Obey Alliance
  2. Team Eager
  3. Team Dignitas
  4. Luminosity Gaming
  5. Team Rival
  6. SoaR Gaming
  7. Isurus Gaming/Valorous Team (Winner of match at 11am Thursday, April 27th)
  8. NRG Esports
  9. LG Dire Wolves
  10. Black Dragons

Smite Masters will start Thursday, April 27th at 11 AM EST with the two LatAm finalists fighting for the 7th seed. This will be a best-of-5 match. Then, NRG Esports will play LG Dire Wolves, followed by the LatAm winner facing Black Dragons in a best-of-3 format. These matches will determine top 8, and will set the stage for the rest of the weekend. There will then be four best-of-3 Quarterfinal matches played Friday. The winners will move on to the Semifinals on Saturday which will be best-of-5, followed by Finals on Sunday. Each day will begin at 11 AM EST.

Photo Courtesy of Hi-Rez

What to Watch For:

Which Favorite Will be the First to Fall?

Team Eager and Obey Alliance are the two favorites for Smite Masters, and for good reason. Both put on a show in the Spring Split, finishing first in NA and EU respectively. Obey’s first game will be against NRG. Way back in week one, Obey shocked the Smite world and beat NRG 2-0. Before you would say Obey is unlucky to end up with NRG in their first match, realize it’s the other way around.

Eager, on the other hand, will end up with the LatAm winner, or the Black Dragons. This game is likely going to be a stomp no matter who they face. Eager will then be matched up with either Soar or Dignitas. Both of whom will be tough matches, but both winnable for the NA squad.

If Eager and Obey both make it to the finals, then you can’t really say that either team failed, now can you?

Will NRG bounce back?

A big question on the minds of every Smite fan, and most likely every player, is which NRG team will show up? Will it be the two-time defending World Champions, or will it be the team that finished 3rd at the Gauntlet? Personally, my money is on the World Champs showing up and taking care of business.

NRG showed in the Wild Card game that they’re still a force to be reckoned with. Sure their recent performances have shown a chip in the armor, but don’t sleep on NRG. Their first match is against LG Dire Wolves, a team that went unbeaten in the Oceania Pro League. They were underwhelming at the Season 3 World Championship, and will likely be a pretty easy warmup game for NRG.

The big test will be the next round against Obey Alliance, a rematch of the 2017 Smite World Championship. This is a set to be on the lookout for, and you can expect NRG to want to take the title of top EU team back.

Who Will Win the Region War?

Will it be EU, or will it be NA? There is an opportunity, again if the seeding holds true, for three NA or three EU teams to move on to the Semifinals. We could also end up with two EU and two NA, both on opposite sides of the bracket. This means that the Finals could end up being EU versus EU or NA versus NA. So what will it be?

Based on the recent performances from the EU teams, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see three EU teams.

For NA however, it’s a bit of a tougher road. Eager should be fine, but Luminosity will have to play Team Rival, who put on a show at the Spring Gauntlet. SoaR will have to play Team Dignitas, and after their match against Team Rival, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The EU versus NA rivalry is fun, so whatever happens, it’ll be sure to be exciting.

Photo Courtesy of smitecentral.com

Gods to Look Out For

The Spring Gauntlet gave everyone a good look at the meta that will be played at the Masters LAN. We saw the rise and fall of a few picks, and we’ll see more of the same this weekend. Last time I took a look at the Gods we’re likely to see, I called out Ah Puch. I’m not going to make that mistake again, thanks Deathwalker.

Solo:

Bellona is back! Expect to see a lot of her, along with Osiris and Herc. Every Warrior was played at the Gauntlet, with the exception of Sun Wukong. When it comes to the short lane, your guess is as good as mine. Terra, Cabrakan, and Sobek could also see some time there as well.

Jungle:

Lots and lots of Susano. Bans. With how he performed at the Gauntlet, teams should be banning out the mobile Jungler unless they have first pick. Hun Batz saw his stock fall a bit, but not enough that he won’t be played. Surprisingly, Ratatoskr wasn’t played at the Gauntlet, but he’s still a strong pick, so if someone is feeling Rat he’ll get played. Cabrakan is still really strong, and Cody “djpernicus” Tyson from Team Eager is here, so you know you’ll see Chang’e jungle.

Mid:

Thoth performed very well at the Gauntlet, and he will likely be just as strong this weekend. He’ll be joined by the old standby Gods like Zues, Ra, and Janus. Poseidon has dominated in Season 4 as well. Mid lane Hunters are also a possibility with the prospect of Magical Junglers so be on the lookout for that.

Support:

Fafnir was a strong pick up for teams at the Gauntlet. Sylvanus and Khepri were obvious choices as well. There will be more of the same played this weekend at Masters. These Gods all have the ability to separate players in a teamfight, and each has great support abilities for their team. Expect to see some of the Guardians mentioned for the Solo lane in Support as well, just to get them on the team.

Carry:

Any Hunters truthfully. Cupid, Rama, Medusa, Skadi, Hou Yi, and Anhur are all really strong picks. We saw Ah Muzen Cab and Chiron at the Gauntlet. Honestly, any of these Gods shouldn’t surprise anyone when they’re locked in.

Photo Courtesy of Hi-Rez

Smite Masters Predictions

There are a lot of good teams playing in the LAN this weekend, each with the ability to win. Almost every game this weekend will feature close sets that anyone can win.

I’m expecting the four Semifinalist teams to be Eager, Obey, Luminosity, and Dignitas. Truthfully however, Obey, Luminosity, and Dignitas could all end up losing their quarterfinal match and I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll take Eager over Dignitas in five games, and Obey over Luminosity in four games to make the finals. I think the finals will be a really close set, with Obey edging out Eager in five games in one of the best sets in Smite history.

No matter the outcome, we’re in for an exciting weekend of Smite.


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Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

As the world of esports grows, analysts, fans, and sponsors will be looking towards examples from traditional sports for inspiration. They will draw comparisons between the two to figure out where exactly esports are heading. Franchising in the LCS, for example, is one such move towards traditional sports, away from the relegation model League of Legends has become accustomed to.

A somewhat less important, yet interesting topic, is that of mascots. Do teams need mascots? Do mascots belong in the LCS? Will this be part of the scene in the near future? What would their purpose be?

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Mascots are generally symbolic representations of the teams they tout. From the Phillie Phanatic to Benny the Bull to Big Red, most sports teams have a mascot. These mascots are a physical representation of the team’s name or logo. They are responsible for hyping up the crowd throughout a competition, during slow times, scores, or wins.

It is commonplace for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey teams to have mascots. They are out in the crowd. Part of the live audience experience usually includes getting a hug from or pictures with the team mascot. They sign autographs, and they provide immense brand recognition.

Merchandising around mascots is prominent. Slapping the mascot’s picture or logo onto items makes them collectibles. For example, many NBA fans can recognize Boston Celtics merchandise if it features “Boston” in green letters, shamrocks, Lucky the Leprechaun, or some combination of the three.

Mascots in LCS

The closest example of a mascot in the LCS is Unicorns of Love’s manager, Romain Bigeard. He generally wears a unicorn costume and dyes his hair and beard bright pink to support the team as they compete. Romain is an iconic member of the Unicorns’ team and brand, instantly recognizable.

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to create mascots. Between North America and Europe, there are Phoenixes (Phoenix1), Immortals, Foxes, Aliens (Dignitas), Horses (Team Liquid), Ninjas (G2), Rabbits, Cats (Roccat), Giants, and Snakes (Splyce). The other teams’ mascots would be less straightforward, but something like “TSM Titans,” or “Fnatic Falcons” could be a cool way to expand their brand. The mascot can also be incorporated into creating new logos, jerseys, champion skins, and collectible merchandise.

Mascots could also help solidify a team’s fanbase. Many LCS fans get attached to players, rather than the organizations they play for. And since so many players switch teams in between splits and in between seasons, organizations have a hard time keeping a consistent base. For example, Immortals probably gained some fans when they signed their most recent jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and probably lost some fans when Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin left. Introducing a mascot onto the scene may be a small way to retain a fanbase by providing a consistent symbol to rally behind, rather than just a simple logo.

What Could Go Wrong?

Individuals who do not closely follow specific sports or teams may find mascots to be cheesy. It may seem immature to grow an attachment to some guy in a costume who peps people up at sporting events, like a Disney World character. Does esports really want to go there?

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

Another consideration is the fact that League of Legends is a game packed with fantasy characters anyway. Would it make sense to introduce a G2 Samurai mascot onto the scene when similar characters already exist in the game? This could create some awkwardness or show that it is unnecessary for the LCS scene.

Cosplay, where fans dress in elaborate costumes of their favorite characters, is already a huge part of the competitive League of Legends experience. Bringing in mascots could be confusing or over-doing it. Cosplayers already act as League of Legends mascots, in a way.

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

These mascots could also need to span over several esports. For example, Cloud9 has teams in League of Legends, Counter Strike, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, DOTA 2, and a few others. How can they create a mascot that makes sense in all of those venues? What if the organization has competitions for different games at the same time? Traditional sports do not run into this issue. Los Angeles is home to several sports teams, but they all have different mascots.

Conclusion

Mascots may not help a team win, and introducing them to the LCS scene may present some complications. But, overall, it could be an interesting experiment. Romain and the Unicorns of Love have proven that it can be done. Other LCS teams have straightforward opportunities to bring on their respective hype men.

A mascot could greatly help organizations solidify their brands by opening up new merchandising opportunities and retaining fans that may otherwise leave the team with a traded or lost player. Possibly the greatest gain from a mascot, though, is pure fun. Imagine the broadcast cutting to a video of a fox mascot hyping up the Echo Fox fans after Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham secures a First Blood. That could be pretty cool.


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Full Timeline for HCS Open Circuit Revealed, Online Cups Make a Return

In an announcement Monday, the HCS revealed a full timeline for the North American HCS Open Circuit. The timeline features six online placement tournaments and two conclusive live events. With HCS Daytona quickly approaching, amateur players must soon face off online for seeding points. This article presents the timeline for the HCS Open Circuit and breaks down the format.

HCS/UMG Daytona

To seed for HCS Daytona, Millennial Esports will host two online Placement Cups. Each cup will operate a double elimination format, with best-of-5

Image by Twitter.com/UMGEvents

series played throughout. The first cup will use the newly-crafted “V2” settings. This will be the first official tournament in which these settings are used. For the second Placement Cup, Halo mentions potential use of “V3” settings.

 

These Placement Cups will be open to any team outside of the top 7, and will likely draw most of the top amateur talent. To raise the stakes, Halo states that the winner of Placement Cup #2 will ultimately bear the 8th seed overall at HCS Daytona.

 

Important Open Circuit Dates

The Open Circuit format is as follows:

  • Placement Cup #1 – April 29-30
  • Placement Cup #2 – May 6-7
  • UMG/HCS Daytona – May 12-14
  • Cup #1 – May 27-28
  • Cup #2 – June 3-4
  • Cup #3 – June 24-25
  • Cup #4 – July 8-9
  • Dreamhack Atlanta – July 21-23

Details are still scarce surrounding the four online cups preceding Dreamhack Atlanta. It can be assumed that the cups will be used for seeding the amateur bracket. Four online cups will allow amateur teams to further solidify their status without placing too much weight on one single tournament

Image by ESLgaming.com

With the announcement, Halo reiterates their dedication to amateur players who want to fight for pro status. Although there will be several opportunities for amateurs to ascend the ranks, the heavy reliance on online play may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of players. Online tournaments drew criticism last season from pro and amateur players alike, due to their sometimes-unreliable nature. Hopefully, these tournaments will not be plagued with connectivity issues.

Despite players hoping for a more event-oriented Open Circuit, the improved structure will be a refreshing characteristic for most. Nevertheless, this summer will deliver more spectacular Halo matches, and prove who has best mastered the new competitive settings.

Are you competing in the upcoming Halo 5 Open circuit? Let us know in the comments!

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Smite Gauntlet: What Did We Learn?

Bellona’s Back!

Bellona, in the online portion of this split, was nothing to scream and shout about. She had a pick/ban rate of 16.36%, a win rate of 50%, and a relatively low KDA of 1.8. Bellona, however, returned to take a prominent place within the Gauntlet meta over the weekend. With a pick/ban rate of 42.42% and a staggering win rate of 88.89%, it was a bit of a surprise as she is not one of these typical LAN monsters, such as the Anhur, who gains a lot from the 0 ping environment. Her abilities are easy to hit regardless of ping (barring the exceptional). She has been seen lately as a bit of a counter pick, as the disarm on her 3 can really hinder basic attack based gods. However, AA gods were not the story of the Gauntlet.

The favoured Hunter, Skadi, is the most ability-based Hunter Smite has ever seen. With power and penetration being the preferred build with very little, if any, attack speed being picked up. Ability based Junglers dominate the meta and the Kali pick we did see was far from expected. It is worth noting that the Bellona was also drafted in that game, perhaps in an attempt to protect the Kali from that disarm, although that is hard to say considering Adrian ‘Deathwalker’ Benko’s tendency to pick the Bellona this LAN anyway.

Image courtesy of SmiteFire

One criticism of Bellona is that she can be low impact. Her burst damage is easily interrupted, a disarm is all well and good but there is better CC, and the ultimate is rather telegraphed. But at the Gauntlet, any claims about low impact and the ult have been dismissed by Deathwalker. Look to game two against NRG when they were fighting for their life being down 0-1. He gets a great ultimate at the left Phoenix setting up the defence against a Fire Giant team, setting Rival up to not lose a Phoenix in that push.

Then the coup de grâce when Deathwalker single-handedly wins his team the game. Left Phoenix down, tank dead and you’re facing a full Fire Giant back to back World Champion team. I mean the game should be over, but in steps Deathwalker with a three-man Eagle’s rally right to the dome of the Support, ADC and Mage. GG Rival and then we all know what happens next.

One thing to point out here is that while that ultimate was great, it should never have been allowed to happen. This is clear from when we hear the NRG comms in their games against eUnited and them screaming ‘safe way!’ repeatedly, when they are making that same rotation to mid Phoenix.

One reason why Bellona showed her potential this LAN is that she is great in every part of the game. Her laning phase is great, and even if you can interrupt her Bludgeon it is still amazing. One reason for this is because of the Season 4 Death’s Toll. The loss of power for increased sustain is great for solo laners with AOE autos. If you go to interrupt the Bellona you will get hit, meaning she can group the minions. Then, Bellona is healing for 48-56 health per auto depending on whether or not she is hitting you, as well as the wave. That means over a wave she has nearly got a full health pot worth of healing. Considering most solo laners will start 4 health pot 4 multi pot early on she is gonna out clear you anyway and doesn’t need to worry about tanking the wave that much.

With that sort of laning phase, it is easy to get Bellona ahead or at the very least stay even. Once that happens, you have a Warrior with strong autos, a decent amount of burst from Bludgeon (serious burst if you are ahead), who is also incredibly tanky when you consider the blocks on her dash and the ability to stop the highest damage characters in the late game from doing their damage thanks to Scourge.

There is also the incredible zoning potential of her ult. You are not going to want to take a team fight down 35 protections from the other team! Let’s not forget her passive giving her movement speed and protections from being hit or hitting you! Bellona has been slept on recently, but with the recent performances in the Gauntlet, most notably on Deathwalker and Peter ‘Dimi’ Dimitrov, do not expect that to be the case going into Masters and the Summer Split.

 

Itemisation

The biggest point of note in Itemisation is how much Spear of Desolation was picked up in the Gauntlet compared to the online section of this Split. Spear of Desolation is a great item for Mages. It has so many of the stats you want giving a decent chunk of power at 90, CDR, and penetration.

Image courtesy of Smite Wiki

Item’s do this occasionally when they are new, they don’t get picked up during the online phase as all scrims are dedicated to the game they are playing that week and they want to get their builds right. As much as the pro’s play the game, they know what works and it will take some time to oust their preferred items from the build. Especially more than the average player, builds are made around timings and pros have a better understanding of how a change in one part of the build effects another. When we have these breaks between the season and LANs it gives the pros time to experiment more in scrims as they aren’t worried about the set in two days. The big bonus of Spear of Desolation is being able to build CDR and Penetration at the same time.

The big bonus of Spear of Desolation is being able to build CDR and Penetration at the same time. The drawback was always the expense of the item, with other pen items being 450 gold cheaper in Spear of the Magus and Obsidian Shard being 300 gold cheaper. Never mind it’s not giving as much pen. However, it seems the pros have decided it is worth the investment. Most are building Spear of Desolation in the third item slot. This means that by your third item as a Mage you have 20 pen due to the 10 also on boots, 10% CDR, and a large power base, especially as a lot of people are building it with Bancroft’s Talon an item which is coming back into favour with recent buffs.

This is also a reason for Spear of Desolation’s entrance into the meta. The low cost of Bancroft’s allows your third item to be slightly more expensive. Most people are building another pen item on top of this later in the game, meaning you end up with more pen overall. Although Alexandru ‘Wlfy’ Lefterică showed this is not necessary, starting Book of Thoth and going a fourth item Rod of Tahuti in Rival’s second game against Eanix. He went top damage with the same build on Thoth as well as in the second game vs Soar. Pulling top damage numbers twice shows that he wasn’t hurting from the lack of pen. It is worth noting there weren’t many dedicated magical defense items built by Eanix that game.

Bancroft’s has seen a resurgence and is worth a quick mention as well. I say quick, because the reasons are obvious: the item is great. At its max effectiveness, you get 200 power 40% Lifesteal and you only pay 2300 gold for it. Also, now you don’t need to be dead to get max effect of the item. Being capped at 25% means you get a lot more use out of this item as the passive is strong when you are healthy enough to still fight.

EU Stronger than Ever

Team Rival

Rival looked very strong at Gauntlet and obviously not the biggest upset of the week considering Oxygen Supremacy’s incredible run. They were however not many people’s favourites to face off against NRG. Then to take that a step further by beating NRG! Although as I have alluded to and will go into more detail later they shouldn’t have. Smite like life, however, is about seeing an opportunity and taking it, something Deathwalker definitely showed in their game two against NRG.

What was probably the most impressive was the way in which they dispatched Soar. I was not expecting their victory, if they got one, to be so comprehensive. The first game, while not always leading in term of kills, they always led in the more important stats of gold and experience. Of the 70 players at the Gauntlet only 17 managed a KDA of above 3 barring their support the remaining four players of Rival all managed this showing this was definitely a team performance.

Stand-Out Performers

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Aleksandar ‘iceicebaby’ Zahariev, apart from having a great IGN, was also the MVP of the Gauntlet. I don’t think I am being unfair when I say nobody saw that coming. He more than tripled his Spring Split KDA of 1.31 with a KDA of 4.5 at Gauntlet. The Bulgarian Jungler looked dominant on his three main picks of Susano, Thor, and Serqet. Particularly the Susano where he has a combined slash line of 26/6/21. While Susano was definitely the most successful Jungler at Gauntlet with a win rate of 76.92 iceicebaby piloted the God incredibly well. His K/D on the God of 4.33 compared to the Gauntlet average of 2.27 proves this point. Look out for him at Masters we may have a new superstar from the Jungle to talk about.

DeathWalker had a great Gauntlet and is one of the major reasons behind the Bellona resurgence the first part of this article was dedicated too. I have made clear how I think without Deathwalker, Rival do not win this Gauntlet. He also has the most interesting pick of the Gauntlet. A solo Ah Puch – nobody who hadn’t been scrimming Rival or is very close to the scene would have been expecting that pick. That is something which would be met with hails of ‘report!’ In most ranked games! Yet, while they lost the game, it wasn’t the Ah Puch which was to blame. The way Deathwalker navigated the early game on one of the easiest Mages to kill in the game is something worth taking note of. This begs the question what else is he likely to pull out at Masters?

NRG

There has been a lot of talk about NRG being knocked off their perch. It is a little too early to be saying that as far as I am concerned. They should have 2-0ed Rival and they only didn’t due to a pathing error. An error as I said earlier, their comms suggests they are not likely to repeat again. Then considering what Rival did to Soar it is more than probable that NRG would have also walked away from that set victorious. The eUnited set was not just NRG booking their place at Masters it was a statement. From one man in particular Kennet ‘Adapting’ Ros. Who decided he wanted to remind us all why for the past two years he has been considered the best player in the world!

eUnited Set

The first game was even through 20 minutes with eUnited actually slightly ahead. Then it just became the Adapting and Dimi show, going 11/0/12 and 8/0/14 respectively with Adapting doing 26k damage. To put that in perspective, the Zhong Kui did 16k. That is another thing often overlooked about NRG during their drafts.

That draft was beautiful at shutting down a Zhong Kui. The Nemesis pick is obvious and its benefits have been espoused numerous times. What was drafted around it was what made it so great. The Scylla Nemesis combo makes it impossible for a Zhong to get a decent ult off. After the Judgement from Nemesis, you have the root chunking 20-30 percent of a Zhong’s health and then the unmissable damage in the Crush which takes off the same or more again. So without even needing to ult the Zhong is on his heels.

Admittedly, the Bellona pick came before the Zhong and it just happened to work out very well for eUnited. The Hou-Yi also zones the Zhong out as he isn’t walking through that and living to tell the tale. This made it nearly impossible for Zhong Kui to be Zhong Kui as he was relegated to a back-line mage.

The second game had NRG dominate the kills throughout although eUnited did a good job utilizing the map to keep it even. That is until the 20 minute mark. Then again, NRG just blew the game open. From minute 20 to 24 they turned a 3k gold lead into a 8 k gold lead. There were impressive performances from multiple players from NRG this game Dimi with top damage on the Erlang Shen going 1/2/17 doing everything you could ask of your solo laner, as well as André ‘Yammin’ Brännvall going 7/1/12 and the ADC Emil ‘Emilitoo’ Stärnman putting in a solid 4/1/8.

However, the main man was Adapting going 13/4/10, not participating in two of his teams kills for an overall kill participation of 92%. Adapting is unreal when he plays at his best. He also shot calls for his team which shows that there is more to this Jungler than mechanical prowess. If I was going to be facing NRG at Masters that set against eUnited is the last thing I would have wanted to see. Not only will NRG have a chip on their shoulder, but they will be the bottom seed from the two major regions in the game. The King is back and has got to be feeling himself after those performances in the final two games they played. This really should have been their 7th straight LAN victory and I wouldn’t be surprised for them to take number 7 when they get to the main event.

Looking to Masters!

Considering the last SWC finals was an entirely European affair, and this LAN, made up of the mid-lower tier teams, was dominated by Europe, the question of the stronger region seems to be pretty self-evident at the moment. Eager and Luminosity will have to play incredibly and put in a great performance to upset the European dominance. Bare in mind that Obey beat Eager in the Semi-Finals of Worlds to go through, and since then have only gotten better. Although, the Anubis pick which went 1-2 in games won in that set for Eager probably hampered them. As I reckon they had a better than 50 percent chance in a straight up game, especially as the first game went horribly for the Anubis. Putting yourself behind in such a pressure cooker of a set is more impactful than normal. LG and Eager are both great teams who could very easily walk away from Masters with a win. My money though is on EU to bring another trophy back across the Atlantic with them.


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A History of Trash Talk – Call of Duty at its Finest

For those of us with Call of Duty deeply ingrained in our blood, we know that trash talking is an integral part of the scene. Whether it be a simple public match, an online tournament, or LAN, players learn quickly and sometimes harshly that if you’re losing, somebody will be there to repeatedly remind you. After all, there’s nothing better than rubbing salt in the wound when you win, right? Despite being quite shallow in nature, trash talking in Call of Duty has given us some of our most memorable personalities as well as some of the best entertainment.

The future of Call of Duty is looking bright with the upped investment from Activision. The World League, which includes more lucrative open tournaments and Pro Leagues, gives the space a more professional feel. However, I find it imperative that we remember our roots and ensure that we don’t leave those memories behind.

Trash talk has always been at the heart of Call of Duty, so let’s look back at some of the most memorable insults:

Satisfaction

Beating your opponent is one thing, but ensuring they know you won makes it just that bit more satisfying. This one isn’t a throwback, but instead from the recent CWL Birmingham where Bradley “wuskin” Marshall, from the newly formed Fnatic, gives Team Supremacy a taste of England after annihilating them in their long loser’s bracket run.

A similar scenario from back in Ghosts features OpTic Gaming and Clayster, who after defeating their rivals Team EnvyUs in dominating fashion, had the crowd rampant with a hand sign that would later become one of Clayster’s signature moves.

The Call of Duty scene has become synonymous with ‘letting everyone know’ when they win, but it’s all in good fun. It definitely gets the fans involved and is part of the reason why organizations like OpTic and FaZe have such dedicated fan bases.

Psychological Edge

For long-time viewers, this trash talk clip is probably the one they’ll never forget. The culprit? None other than Adam “Killa” Sloss.

Recently voted the most delusional professional player, the man became a Call of Duty sensation built off of moments just like this. The abuse comes as a result of Damon “Karma” Barlow leaving Killa to join Team EnvyUs, whom Killa just so happens to be playing. The former World Champion runs his mouth in an attempt to throw his enemies off their game. It’s hard to say whether the outlandish tactic was the reason for the win or not. However, one can imagine it would be hard to start performing when this happens on top of already being behind. Without further ado, take a look at the infamous clip from Black Ops II.

Although coaching is rarely seen in Call of Duty, as you can see from the next clip even coaches like to get involved in trash talk. They might look like complete assholes, but they are trying to achieve the same outcome as Killa in the previous clip.

The two in this clip are coach Hilton “Hilton” Howell and player Anthony “Nameless” Wheeler. Another instance of coach trash talk is from compLexity versus Team Kaliber. The compLexity coach Matthew “Mr. X” Morello shows former player Clayster why he was kicked from the team.

It might seem slightly immature, and the Call of Duty scene has come a long way since most of these examples, but hopefully every now and again we get trash talking moments like these because as a fan myself, these are the memories that stick. The victory is marked by the victor.


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MSI: Group A Preview

The first stage of the Mid Season Invitational is just a few days away, and there’s a lot to be excited about. For the first time ever, MSI will have a play-in stage where wildcard regions will play for a chance at a best of five series with either TSM or Flash Wolves. Group A may be nicknamed “group of death” in terms of the talent in this group. Many of these regions have been known for stellar play in Wildcard tournaments.

Red Canids

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Red Canids will have the home field advantage playing in Brazil. They handily swept Keyd Stars 3-0 in the CBLOL en route to qualifying for MSI. On that Keyd Stars team were fan favorites from last worlds, jungler Gabriel “Revolta” Henud, and top laner Felipe “Yang” Zhao, who shocked EDG at last worlds.

They made a key addition to the head coach position, adding on longtime League personality/coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal. His latest stint ended with his North American Challenger team, EUnited, falling to Team Liquid in the LCS qualifier.

They come in with one of the strongest bot lanes in Brazil.  At ADC they sport one of the most famous Brazilian superstars in Felipe “brTT” Goncalves. They have the French support, Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau. Dioud who has shown much success in the region.

Mid laner Gabriel “tockers” Claumann also got to strut his ability on the World stage last year. He was a great addition to this roster, allowing them to finally find success in the region.  Their second mid laner is infamous twitch streamer, Felipe “Yoda” Noronha. Yoda is a master of playing assassins. He’s most infamous for his Katarina which has drawn bans in competitive play.

Brazil has been known to have some of the best international success among Wildcard regions. With the home field advantage, everyone in Brazil will be rooting for them to advance to represent their region well.

Super Massive eSports

Courtesy:Riot Esports

Super Massive Esports return to MSI, where they took a game off of NA’s CLG the last time they were here. Statistically, Super Massive has the best players at every role. Each player is a top player in the region. They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Crew esports.

Much of their roster from last MSI are returning. Many will remember their star support, Mustafa Kemal “Dumbledoge” Gökseloğlu. In their first match vs. SKT, they did a clever roam to the mid lane to first blood Faker. Jungler Furkan “Stomaged” Güngör and mid laner Koray “Naru” Bıçak also return to the MSI stage.

Top laner Asım “fabFabulous” Cihat Karakaya had one of his best splits earning the TCL MVP award. He had a perfect win rate on Camille so look for it to draw bans possibly.

Turkey has had a very good record in Wildcard play. They’ve had some of the best success in Wildcard tournaments, so they’ll definitely be favorites to get out of group A.

Rampage

Courtesy: lolesports

Rampage is one of the newest Wildcard regions in Japan, qualifying for MSI after barely beating Unsold Stuff Gaming 3-2, en route to sweeping a 3-0 final against Detonation gaming.

At the support and jungle positions, they have Korean imports Jeon “Dara” Jeong-Hoon and Moonyong “Tussel” Lee. Dara has quickly risen to stardom in Japan, being voted to represent the region for the International Wildcard Qualifier two years in a row. He’s been known for playing tanky bruiser supports, but has shown great skill on Lulu as of late.

Dara has shown skill on very high pressure junglers, such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll look to pressure the map early for them to see success in this group A. The pro scene is definitely growing in Japan, and Rampage will look to prove how much they’re growing as a region.

LG Dire Wolves

Courtesy: OPL lolesports

Last, but not least, we have LG Dire Wolves out of the OPL region of Australia.They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Legacy eSports. After a few splits of barely missing success, the Dire Wolves were able to take the OPL championship.

The Dire Wolves are led by star ADC Calivin “k1ng” Truong, who showed great play on some of the early lethality champions, such as Jhin and Varus. He’ll be vital in their team’s success in this group. Mid laner Richard “Phanatiks” Su is an aggressive player, known to play assassin champions when he can, such as Zed, Fizz, or Kassadin.

For the past few IWQ events, the OPL have fallen just short of qualifying for international events. The Dire Wolves will want to come in and prove that they can be the first team to do so. Their first step will be qualifying out of group A.

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Ashton Cox’s Lucky Pineapple: VGC 2017 Latin America International Championships Recap

Ashton Cox is your first ever Latin America International Champion for Pokémon VGC, thanks to a lucky pineapple. Yes, you read that right. A pineapple.

Aside from Cox’s innovative good luck charm, he played an impressive finals set in the face of a dominating Game 1 win from his opponent. With some controversial, lucky critical hits going his way in Game 3, Cox took Torkoal and Lilligant to their first major win of the season. There’s a lot more to discuss from São Paulo, but let’s first take a look at the Top 8 results.

Results & Teams (Top 8 Cut)

1. Ashton Cox [US]

2. Javier Senorena [ES]

3. Gabriel Agati [BR]

4. Carlos Ventura [PE]

5. Ian McLaughlin [US]

6. William Tansley [UK]

7. Tommy Cooleen [US]

8. Markus Stadter [DE]

Weather WarsImage result for torkoal png

São Paulo’s Top 8 consisted of five different weather setters, with three different weather conditions being featured in the top three teams. We saw weather playing a pivotal role in the finals match between Ashton Cox and Javier Senorena. Positional switching determined the effectiveness of both Cox’s Torkoal and Lilligant, and Senorena’s Ninetales. Is it possible that weather will finally make its way to the top of VGC 2017’s usage?Image result for lilligant png

So far, only two weather team modes have made themselves known: Double Duck and
Torkoal+Lilligant. With Double Duck recently claiming its first major tournament in Utah, and now Torkoal+Lilligant with a victory in São Paulo, we could see a dramatic rise in weather usage in the coming months.

But not just Torkoal and Pelipper, this also means definitive rise in the hail and sandstorm setters, Alolan Ninetales and Gigalith. A popular way for teams to counter opposing weather is by setting their own, which Ninetales and Gigalith perform effectively.Image result for alolan ninetales png

Aside from their weather benefits, Ninetales and Gigalith mainly play much more pivotal roles. Ninetales is effective in supporting its teammates with Aurora Veil, which boosts both defensive stats for the entire party for five turns. Gigalith, on the other hand, takes advantage of its low speed to act as part of an ant-Trick Room or pro-Trick Room mode on a given team.Image result for gigalith png

What’s fascinating about weather in this format is the slight alteration to its role. Instead of weather-based modes and teams becoming popular, we’ve seen weather being used mainly to disrupt opposing weather conditions. Pokémon like Ninetales and Gigalith serve much different roles, with their weather conditions simply being a plus.

Poor Politoed probably misses its friends Kingdra and Ludicolo.

Xurkitree & Smeargle: An 8-0 Swiss Run

Hm… Smeargle paired next to a boosting sweeper? Where have I seen this before?

image courtesy of PokémonShowdown!

Oh right, last year’s atrocity of a format…Image result for xurkitree png

Anyway, Ian McLaughlin piloted a rather new strategy that could launch this shocking Ultra Beast into the realm of relevance. Meet Smeargle’s newest partner in crime: Xurkitree. Another powerful Pokémon with an amazing set-up move that can just as easily take advantage of Smeargle’s insane supportive abilities to ruin your life.

Despite Xurkitree’s very sub par defenses, this strategy features a bulkier build, holding one of everyone’s favorite 50% HP recovery berries. By abusing Fake Out and Follow Me from Smeargle, Xurkitree can boost to absurd levels of Special Attack by using Tail Glow (boosts the user’s Special Attack by three stages).Image result for smeargle png

While we didn’t see Xurkitree shine in McLaughlin’s streamed match versus Eduardo Fontana, what we did see was just how scary Smeargle can be when paired with another Ultra Beast. By, once again, abusing Fake Out and re-direction, McLaughling was easily able to sweep through Fontana’s team with Pheromosa. With Smeargle there to protect the constantly boosting Ultra Beast, Fontana stood no chance against Pheromosa’s onslaught.

I think McLaughlin’s performance with this team proves just how scary Smeargle still is. There are still powerful Pokémon in this format, mainly the Ultra Beasts, that can easily take advantage of Smeargle’s endless supportive move pool.

Carson St. Denis: The 5 Mon Champion 

The Senior division rarely gets a lot of attention, but Senior player Carson St. Denis did the impossible in São Paulo. He won the entire tournament with a party of only five Pokémon.

St. Denis most likely fell victim to a fate that has plagued a number of strong players this season: team sheet errors. For those unfamiliar with the rule, if there is information on a player’s team sheet that is inconsistent with what appears in game, the affected Pokémon can be removed from the player’s party.

Luckily, St. Denis is one of the strongest Senior’s players in the world and really did not need Snorlax much in his Finals match against Jan Tillman. Tillman’s team featured his own Snorlax, but not an accompanying Trick Room mode which would’ve been a reason for St. Denis’ Snorlax to be useful. St. Denis played an amazing set despite his handicapped party to take a 2-0 victory, and another International title.

Tman’s Top 8 Curse Image result for pelipper png

I unintentionally called this in my last piece, but Tommy Cooleen made it yet again to an International Championship Top 8 with his signature Double Duck team. But, unfortunately like London and then Melbourne, Top 8 was as far as the ducks could swim.

Nevertheless, Cooleen’s consistent performance with the same archetype is beyond impressive. Out of the three International Championships so far, Cooleen has made it to the Top 8 in all three tournaments. With just one International left, can Cooleen make the cut again and potentially break his Top 8 curse? We’ll find out in Indianapolis.

Final Thoughts

With the penultimate International Championship behind us, we set our sights stateside for the upcoming Virginia Regional Championships, which proves year after year to be one of the US’s most competitive events. As for the International stage, the final tournament in Indianapolis could be a make or break tournament for players both native and foreign. It’s going to be an exciting end of the season leading up to the World Championships in August. Only time will tell what groundbreaking new strategies will claim these last few tournaments.

Thanks for reading!

Art of Pokémon courtesy of Pokémon and Ken Sugimori

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Mindfreak: Paving the way for APAC

In Australia, Mindfreak has been the team to beat for years. They are one of two APAC teams to ever place top eight at the Call of Duty Championship, and now they are the lone APAC team in the Call of Duty Global Pro League, a spot they earned over closest rival, Tainted Minds.  

With the Call of Duty World League restructuring this year to focus on international competition, Mindfreak restructured themselves as well when Denholm “Denz” Taylor left to join Tainted Minds, and Cody “Excite” Rugolo took his place. The move helped create two premier teams in the APAC region, with both Mindfreak and Tainted Minds traveling to North America for CWL Atlanta and CWL Dallas. At both events, Mindfreak placed better than Tainted Minds, and even won CWL Sydney over them, ultimately earning themselves the spot in the Global Pro League. Now, after placing third in Group Red, Mindfreak has paved the way for more of their countrymen, and others in the APAC region, to qualify for the Call of Duty Championship.

APAC Spots

APAC could have had as few as two teams qualify for the 2017 Call of Duty Championship, but now they could have as many as four.

With their recent placement, Mindfreak has already secured their trip to the year-end tournament. They also qualified for Stage Two of the Global Pro League, and a pool play spot at CWL Anaheim, encouraging other APAC teams to push for the same level of success.

At the end of Stage One, the lowest placing team in each group will fight for their spot in Stage Two via a Relegation tournament. Two new North American teams, one European team, and one APAC team have a shot at qualifying for Stage Two through this process, and Tainted Minds look to be the most likely APAC team to do so. If Tainted Minds do manage to make it into Stage Two, they automatically qualify for the Call of Duty Championship. Two other APAC teams will later qualify through the APAC Last Chance Qualifier, potentially bringing the total to four teams at Champs.

At the 2016 Call of Duty Championship, APAC was represented by four teams as well. Unfortunately, none of them made it out of pool play, a testament to stacked North American and European rosters at the tournament. Mindfreak beating out a North American team in the Global Pro League, however, proves that they deserve to be mentioned among the world’s top teams.

Team flags in MLG Arena.

What does Mindfreak do now?

There is a lot of time between now and Stage Two of the Global Pro League, which starts in late June. While Mindfreak would gain a lot of useful experience in North America scrimming against the likes of OpTic Gaming and FaZe, they are needed back on home turf.  

According to Mindfreak owner Albert “Naked” Nassif, the team will be heading back to Australia to prepare for the next CWL Sydney event, taking place May 12-14.

“The plan is to get them back [to North America] for S2 and Champs,” Naked said on Twitter.

Mindfreak will also be attending CWL Anaheim in June, as they are already qualified for pool play.

Naked was happy with his team’s performance in the Global Pro League, telling Game Haus, “Disappointing result, [but] performance was good. Map count of 10-15 isn’t bad [against] Splyce and nV twice.”

Mindfreak does not plan to settle for anything less than first. The rest of APAC, however, was content with Mindfreak’s placing because of the opportunities it created for other teams in the region.

Australian Call of Duty personality BioAcid told Mindfreak, “You guys did your org, your fans and your region proud this weekend. Keen to see you in S2.”

Other players also offered their congratulations to Mindfreak after their performance.

Mindfreak now looks forward as they have a busy few months ahead of them. They will prepare for CWL Sydney, CWL Anaheim, and another shot at making the playoffs in Stage Two of the Global Pro League.


Image: CallofDuty.com

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