Group D preview: Group of Life

The 2017 World Championship is approaching, building up hype for this epic tournament. With the group draw concluded most are heralding group D as the “Group of Life.” Group D is considered a favorable group due to not having a Korean team in it. With Korea’s success in previous World Championships, it’s a blessing if you can avoid facing one of their powerhouse teams in the first part of the tournament. This group holds two veteran teams in TSM and Flash Wolves, with new comers from the EU LCS, Misfits. There’s definitely a strong possibility that if things play out the way they should, WE could be put into this group as well.

Flash Wolves

Photo by: Riot Esports

Flash Wolves earned another Worlds berth by winning the LMS region once again, defeating AHQ 3-0 in the finals. They’ve dominated their region for the most part for the past few seasons. They like to play through veteran jungle/mid duo, Maple and Karsa. With the meta shifting to more supportive tank junglers, it will be interesting to see how Karsa performs. We’ve seen in previous Worlds his best performances on aggressive ganking junglers such as Lee Sin and Elise. Maple also hasn’t looked great this past split, but a good boot camp before Worlds could help fix some of their issues.

While Flash Wolves were able to take the top spot in LMS, they haven’t really looked much better from their MSI performance. Top and bot lane are average at best. Support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie will often times look to roam to setup plays for his team. Their ADC, Lu “Betty” Yuhung, didn’t have a great showing at MSI. If he performs the same way against even better competition, they could be hurting. Nonetheless they have been known to snowball really well off early game leads. TSM and Misfits like to play more towards the mid-late game. If Flash Wolves can set the tempo and get snowballing they can definitely win this group.

Team SoloMid

Photo by: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid come in as the number one seed from North America after defeating Immortals 3-1 in the NA LCS finals. TSM have finally been blessed with one of the better group draws they could have possibly asked for. No Korean teams, so there’s absolutely no excuses for not being able to make it out of their group this time around. The pressure will be on for them to perform and make it out.

They are led by the two star carries of Bjergsen and Doublelift. Support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang was shaky in his first Worlds appearance last year. Up against the likes of Mata and CoreJJ, he looked outclassed. This year he comes in with a lot more experience. He showed up huge for TSM in their finals series against Immortals, earning the finals MVP. His play making on Rakan played a huge part in their series victory.

TSM’s weaknesses lie in the early game. With strong roaming, support/jungle duos can look to gain early leads and possibly snowball the game. TSM likes to play towards the mid-late game where their shot-calling has been much improved since the Mid Season Invitational. Even when they are behind, they are very good at knowing how to catch up. TSM look like favorites to win their group on paper, but they’ll need to show it on stage.

Misfits

Photo by: Riot Esports

Misfits head to Worlds as the second seed after losing to G2 3-0 in the finals. Not much was expected of Misfits heading into the EU LCS Summer Playoffs, but they had a magical run to the finals where they looked like a much different team from the regular season. They looked like a completely new team. Maxlore and Ignar in particular were coordinating some excellent roams to help snowball their leads. They were shot-calling much better in the mid-late game as well.

They have two monster solo laners in mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris. Both laners have shown the ability to pop off in games with Power of Evil contributing a ton to his team’s total damage. Alphari is a mechanical beast, but can sometimes succumb to early enemy jungle pressure.

Misfits will be the underdogs of this group as no one on their team has ever been to Worlds. It will be good experience for the young organization from EU, but most people are expecting them to finish like Splyce did last season.

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Courtesy of LoL Esports.

Introducing Group A of Worlds play-in: Team WE, Gambit and Lyon Gaming

With the addition of a play-in stage to the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, audiences will see several new faces on the international stage. To start things off, 12 third seed and wildcard teams have been divided into four groups of three. Each group of three will play a double round robin, and the two with the best record will move to a second phase. First place of each group will play a random second place in phase two of the play-in. The winners of these best-of-fives qualify for the larger Group Stage with the other top teams.

The LPL’s Team WE, LCL’s Gambit and LLN’s Lyon Gaming were drawn into Group A of the play-in. These three teams come from regions with widely differing teams and metas. The clashing of these differences is one of the many reasons Worlds is always exciting to watch. Here are summaries of the three competitors.

Team WE (LPL Third Seed)

WE 957 will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Top: 957 Jungle: Condi Mid: Xiye Bot: Mystic Support: Ben

2017 Spring Split achievements: Tied 1st Group B Spring regular, 1st Spring playoffs, 3rd/4th MSI

2017 Summer Split achievements: Tied 1st Group A Summer regular, 4th Summer playoffs, Rift Rivals winners

Team WE are one of the more aggressive teams in China. Just look at some of the players’ pocket picks in the regular season Summer Split. Kled for 957. Rengar for Condi. Xiye’s most played champion was Leblanc, and he has not played Orianna since spring. Mystic and Ben’s highest pick rates are for Xayah and Rakan. These guys play fast and hard.

WE may be the LPL’s third seed, but this squad tied China’s first seed, Edward Gaming, in the 2017 regular seasons of Spring and Summer Split. WE had a winning record against Royal Never Give Up in spring, and against EDG in summer. They traded wins with SK Telecom T1 and Flash Wolves at Rift Rivals, and also finished the Mid-Season Invitational group stage ahead of G2, Flash Wolves, TSM and Gigabyte Marines.

WE Xiye will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Essentially a shoe-in for the group stage of Worlds, WE will look to exhibit dominance in the play-in. This is not the place to disrespect opponents. WE should view this first step as a mental warm-up for the rest of the tournament. They need to take down their opponents in the same way they would take down the best in the LPL.

WE knows it deserves a spot in the group stage. Now is their time to prove it. If they were somehow unable to push out of the play-in stage, it would be an unacceptable disappointment. Assuming WE finish first in their group, they will have to face a second seed from another play-in group to make it into the next stage. This would most likely be Gambit, Team One, Young Generation or 1907 Fenerbahce.

In the second phase of play-in, all of these teams would be comfortable on stage, and WE should show up in a best-of-five. Cheesy best-of-one wildcard strategies cannot get teams through this section of competition. WE can adapt to their opponent, shift draft advantages between their players, and ultimately succeed. Any of their players can carry in any given game, unlike many of the wildcard teams. WE needs to use that to their advantage.

Gambit (LCL First Seed)

Gambit will play in Group A

Image from EsportsRanks.com

Top: PvPStejos Jungle: Diamondprox Mid: Kira Bot: Blasting Support: Edward

2017 Spring Split achievements: 6th Spring regular

2017 Summer Split achievements: 1st Summer regular, 1st Summer playoffs

League of Legends fans who watched the 2016 World Championships will remember the LCL’s representative last year: Albus Nox Luna. The Russians surprised the world by pushing out of their group into the quarterfinals, finishing fifth-eighth. In the 2017 pre-season, their slot was acquired by M19, who went on to finish third-fourth in the 2017 Spring Split playoffs.

Between spring and summer, though, mid laner Kira and jungler PvPStejos (who moved to top lane) were signed to Gambit. The organization also brought on Blasting from Virtus.pro and Edward from Vega Squadron, rebuilding the roster around veteran jungler Diamondprox.

Kira and PvPStejos will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This line-up performed much better during the Summer Split, following Gambit’s sixth place finish in the Spring Split. They finished the summer regular season with a 13-1 record, met M19 in the playoff finals, and edged them out 3-2 to auto-qualify to Worlds this year. Russia is truly sending her best team to the international stage.

The CIS representatives excel at getting an early lead, averaging 1,258 gold ahead at 15 minutes. This does not necessarily always turn into the first turret (57.1 percent) or dragon control (58 percent), but they keep their grip on Baron (85.7 percent control). This major objective will come up huge at Worlds, and Gambit should replicate this strategy as best they can.

Gambit will look to build off of ANX’s success last year, but they have the additional play-in stage to hurdle. Grouping with Team WE all but ensures Gambit’s second place seeding for phase two, so they will ultimately have to beat one of the top seeds from the play-in to advance. If any wildcard team is up for the challenge, it is Gambit.

Lyon Gaming (LLN First Seed)

Lyon WhiteLotus will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Top: Jirall Jungle: Oddie Mid: Seiya Bot: WhiteLotus Support: Genthix

2017 Spring Split achievements: 1st Spring regular, 1st Spring playoffs, 8th-9th MSI

2017 Summer Split achievements: 1st Summer regular, 1st Summer playoffs, 3rd Rift Rivals

Lyon Gaming has one of the most dominant regional histories in professional League of Legends. Their victory this summer marks eight splits won since 2013. These same five players have been on Lyon for the entirety of 2017. They have only dropped five games total within the LLN this whole year.

However, regional perfection does not necessarily translate to the big stage. At last year’s International Wildcard Qualifier, Lyon Gaming finished the first phase at the top of the standings with a 6-1 record. However, they were knocked out by Albus Nox Luna by losing 2-3 in phase two. In 2015, the LLN was not even represented at the International Wildcard Qualifier, because Lyon Gaming lost to Kaos Latin Gamers in the Latin America Cup grand final.

It is unfortunate that Lyon got drafted into Group A with, arguably, the most difficult first and second seed opponents. They will need to get creative in best-of-ones to take down Team WE and Gambit. The members of Lyon do seem to prioritize different champions than others in their group. Seiya frequently drafts Ahri, and WhiteLotus prefers Twitch to several other AD carries. These types of picks may allow Lyon to gain an edge if they catch WE and Gambit off guard.

Lyon Genthix will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Overall

Group A looks like a strong one. WE can take down any other team in the play-in phase. Gambit and Lyon would both be formidable opponents for first seeds in phase two. All three junglers in this group prefer to play carries, like Elise and Kayn over the current meta tanks, like Gragas and Sejuani. This batch of mid laners loves to mix up their mid lane champion selections. The supports are the only players with truly “normal” champion draft distributions.

Expect AD carries and top laners to be most targeted, as those players seem to have the most clear preferences in champion pools. WhiteLotus should not get Twitch. Jirall should not get Galio. Gambit and Lyon should ban Xayah from Mystic, while Lyon and WE should ban Varus from Blasting.

This group will most likely end up finishing in the expected order. WE should not drop many, if any, games. Gambit and Lyon will most likely take games off of each other, but the macro-play and Baron control from Gambit will most likely undo Lyon. Phase two will be the more interesting test for the Russian organization, especially considering ANX’s dream run last year. WE’s phase two should be much more straightforward. Assuming they enter the larger group stage, Team WE would draft into group B or group D. If all first seeds proceed from the play-in, then WE would auto-draft into group D.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, EsportsRanks.com

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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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.

Worlds 2017 group B preview

It’s that time of year again for League of Legends fans. The Worlds 2017 group draw has concluded and we can start getting excited to see some of the best teams from around the World face off in some heated matches. The group draw has been vital in just how far a team can go at Worlds. Group B has a nice mix of Worlds veterans and rookies. Let’s take a look:

Longzhu Gaming

Top: Khan

Jungle: Cuzz

Mid: BDD

ADC: Pray

Support: Gorilla

Longzhu Gaming took the summer split title of LCK after defeating SK Telecom T1 3-1 in the finals. The way LCK sets up playoffs, we only got to see them in one best of five which was their finals match. They threw multiple bans at SKT’s mid laner, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok en route to winning their first LCK finals. Longzhu had the luxury of being able to watch SKT play two best of five series before facing off whereas SKT did not. Nonetheless, winning the LCK final is a major victory for a team that was bottom tier not too long ago. Winning the best region in all of League of Legends definitely pegs you as huge favorites to make it to the World Finals.

Longzhu has a good mix of seasoned veterans and hungry rookies seeing their first World championship. Pray and Gorilla have become household names at the World championship. After qualifying the past two seasons with the Rox Tigers organization, the team split up, but Pray and Gorilla insisted they stay together. They’ve developed an unstoppable bot lane synergy over three seasons together and will look to show up big once again.

One of the more exciting prospects on the team will have to be top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha. Khan has become known for his huge play making abilities and carry potential from the top lane. His Jayce almost always draws a ban. If left open, he shows why it is such a pocket pick for him. He was vital in their LCK final match in shutting down the top laners of SKT. Him and Cuzz showed a picture perfect strategy on how to shutdown a Cho’gath in the early game.

Mid laner Kwak “BDD” Bo-seong may be the definition of “KDA” player as he finished the LCK summer with an impressive 11.3 KDA. He loves to play assassins, but has shown the ability to play whatever his team needs.

Immortals

Worlds 2017

Photo by: Riot Games

Top: Flame

Jungle: Xmithie

Mid: Pobelter

ADC: Cody Sun

Support: Olleh

Immortals qualified for Worlds as the team with the most circuit points from North America after a second place finish in the summer playoffs. This team came out of nowhere in summer after making the trade for jungle veteran Jake “Xmithie” Puchero. Many thought Xmithie’s career was on a decline and saw him as a downgrade to former jungler, Dardoch. That was not the case as Xmithie revitalized his career on Immortals and showed to be the best jungler in NA for summer. They also brought in former Rox Tigers and Longzhu coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo whose coaching effects showed immediately. The team looked much improved and finished the split atop the standings. Despite losing to TSM 3-1 in a close finals, they go into Worlds looking to prove themselves for the first time on the Worlds stage.

Like Longzhu, Immortals have veterans along with some rookies showing up at Worlds. The bot lane duo of Cody Sun and Olleh will be exciting to watch. They struggled in their first split together, but have steadily improved. They have a tall task going up against the likes of Pray and Gorilla.

As a former LCK top lane star and Longzhu sub, Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong will get the chance to face off against one rising star and another veteran of the pro LoL scene in Khan and Archie. In the jungle Xmithie will need to hold down Gigabyte Marines jungler, Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh. Levi showed the ability to carry games at MSI. With the meta shifted to more supportive tank junglers, Xmithie should feel right at home.

Depending on what last team is drawn into their group, Immortals can definitely show some promise. Don’t be surprised if they are able to take a game off of Longzhu and be the second team out of this group.

Gigabyte Marines

Photo by: Riot Games

Top: Archie

Jungle: Levi

Mid: Optimus

ADC: NoWay

Support: Sya

Gigabyte Marines were able to secure a Worlds spot after helping secure a group stage spot for the GPL region after making it to the groups of MSI. They then went on to qualify in dominating fashion going 6-0 in playoffs.

Last we saw of Gigabyte Marines on the international stage they were handily defeating some of the best teams in the World. They almost took a best of five against TSM in which they led 2-0 before being reverse swept. Most of their MSI victories came off the back of phenomenal jungle performances by Levi. They busted the meta open by openly ganking bot early to get them ahead. This isn’t exactly the same team we saw at MSI. Former support, Minh “Archie” Nhựt Trần moved to the top lane as the team took on a new duo of NoWay and Sya who showed good performances in the GPL.

Top laner Archie will have some stiff competition facing off against two great top laners from Korea in Flame and Khan. With the possibility of drawing 957 or Soaz as well, the top lane competition could become even stiffer. Gigabyte Marines will most likely be looked at as huge underdogs coming in, but the same was said for them at MSI. When underestimated in best of ones, Gigabyte Marines have the chance to shock the World once again. They’ll most likely be looking to go on a run similar to Albus Nox Luna last year.

Last Team Possibilities

With a North American team already in this group, Cloud 9 cannot be placed here. That leaves Fnatic, WE and Hong Kong Attitude of LMS. If we expect all the third seeds from the major regions to advance, Fnatic and WE will be teams to watch. While Longzhu is almost certainly 100% favorites to make it out, the second seed can be a toss up depending on who gets placed here. WE and Fnatic are long time veterans of the LoL pro scene and would make this group even more competitive.

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Unicorns of Love entered the EU LCS in 2015

A brief, heart-breaking history of Unicorns of Love

With the 2017 EU LCS Regional Qualifiers finished, Europe has chosen three teams to represent them at the League of Legends World Championships, and the Unicorns of Love is not one of them. This seems to be their destiny. UOL is always good enough to be a contender, but never good enough to be the champion. They have always had a shot at Worlds, but never reached it. They have made it into the gauntlet thrice, and lost out all three times. Here is a brief look at how the Unicorns got here, and why it is so heart-breaking.

2015

Unicorns of Love qualified for the EU LCS in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Unicorns of Love entered the LCS in 2015 by defeating Millenium in the 2015 Spring Promotion tournament. UOL was promoted, while Millenium was relegated. Their roster included Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás top, Berk “Gilius” Demir jungle, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage mid, Pontus “Vardags” Dahlblom AD carry and Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov support. After Millenium took a 2-0 lead, the Unicorns were able to reverse sweep the series, winning 3-2. This was the beginning of the Unicorns’ legacy as wildcards in the EU LCS.

Coming into the 2015 Spring Split, UOL replaced Gilius with a new jungler, Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek. Kikis was known for his pocket picks in the jungle, such as Sion, Gnar or Shaco. In their debut split, UOL finished with a 9-9 record to secure fifth place and qualify for playoffs. PowerOfEvil was the only player in the league to be the weekly MVP more than once (weeks four and eight).

In Spring Playoffs, the Unicorns had to face fourth place, Gambit Gaming. UOL took them down 3-1, moving them into semifinals against number one seed SK Gaming. In a massive upset, UOL won that best-of-five 3-2. This win brought them to their first playoff finals within their first split, facing second seed Fnatic. The Unicorns took it all the way to five games, but fell short to finish in second place and tally 70 championship points.

UOL came into the 2015 Summer Split carrying momentum. They swapped Gilius back into the jungle role, while Kikis went to G2 (then Gamers2). In almost identical fashion, the Unicorns finished the split 9-9, but placed fourth. Gilius left the team going into playoffs, leaving Cho “H0R0” Jae-hwan as their starting jungler.

Summer Playoffs put UOL against Roccat first, who they defeated 3-2. The victory pushed them into an even tougher semifinals match-up versus an undefeated Fnatic. Getting skunked 3-0, UOL was forced into the third place match with H2K. A win here would send UOL to Worlds as Europe’s second seed, assuming Fnatic won in the finals. However, H2K crushed UOL in another 3-0, and Fnatic won the finals, sending UOL to their first EU LCS gauntlet.

Luckily, UOL’s 110 total championship points entitled them to a full bye in the Regional Qualifiers. Giants, Roccat and Origen would have to fight each other before meeting UOL in the final. Origen, a line-up that would go on to finish top four at the 2015 World Championships, made it to the gauntlet finals and took down UOL in a final 3-0. The Unicorns’ 2015 season would end there.

2016

Unicorns of Love replaced three starters for 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Coming into 2016, Unicorns of Love decided to replace three of their five starters. Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov and Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi signed as their jungler and AD carry, previously of Gambit. Hampus “Fox” Myhre stepped into the mid lane from SK Gaming. Vizicsacsi and Hylissang remained UOL’s top and support.

UOL went through the 2016 Spring Split like past splits. They finished with a 10-8 record, showing strength against teams below them and weakness against teams above them. Most of their problems revolved around the jungle position. Starting in week three, Diamondprox had to leave Europe, due to visa issues. UOL borrowed Millenium’s jungler, Charly “Djoko” Guillard, as a temporary replacement. In week four UOL brought in Rudy “Rudy” Beltran, an unknown player, who was replaced in week seven by ex-H2K Jean-Victor “Loulex” Burgevin. These jungle player rotations hindered UOL’s ability to compete against more stable rosters.

This inconsistency came to a head in the Spring Playoffs when fourth seed Origen defeated the Unicorns 3-0 in the quarterfinals. UOL’s split ended in fifth-sixth, granting only 10 championship points. It was a disappointing placement that demanded change for the Summer Split.

In the mid-season, Unicorns of Love brought in two Korean imports to play jungle and AD carry. Kang “Move” Min-su came into the EU LCS after most recently playing for Gravity in North America. Kim “Veritas” Kyoung-min had played for Vortex, a North American Challenger team. UOL also signed Fabian “Exileh” Schubert, a mid laner with history on several European Challenger teams. Riot also changed the EU LCS regular season to a best-of-two format.

These changes did not seem to affect Unicorns’ consistency much. If anything, it hindered their performance. UOL finished the regular season Summer Split in sixth place with a 6-5-7 record. This line-up was clearly better than tenth through seventh places, but also a step below first through fifth. The Unicorns would go into playoffs as underdogs.

Once there, UOL was able to take down third seed Giants 3-1. Moving into semifinals, UOL had to face an undefeated G2. The Unicorns lost 3-1, which sent them into their second third place match against H2K. Winning 3-1, H2K pushed UOL into the Regional Qualifiers for the second year in a row.

With only 50 championship points, Unicorns of Love found themselves in a difficult position. Giants, Fnatic and Splyce stood in their way of going to Worlds. UOL defeated Giants and Fnatic 3-0, propelling them forward into the gauntlet finals again. 2016 looked like UOL’s redemption. Sadly, Splyce took the series 3-2, keeping the Unicorns out of Worlds for another year.

2017

Unicorns of Love signed Xerxe and Samux for 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This third year has been Unicorns of Love’s third opportunity to go to Worlds. In an off-season full of roster swaps, UOL made some questionable changes. Bringing in European veterans in Spring 2016 did not bring the success they wanted. Korean imports in Summer 2016 was not fruitful, either. For Spring 2017, the Unicorns brought in two low-profile Europeans, Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir and Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort. Xerxe had played for Dark Passage in the TCL, but could not participate in the International Wildcard Qualifiers, due to his age. Samux had played once in the LCS in 2012, but was quickly relegated. He only played in the Challenger Series after that.

Riot further changed the EU LCS format to have two groups that play best-of-threes each week. This format seemed to suit UOL, as they finished the Spring Split in first place for Group B with an 11-2 record. Topping their group afforded UOL a first round bye in the playoffs. They were met by Group A’s second seed, Misfits, who the Unicorns defeated 3-1 to qualify for the finals. This was their first playoff finals over five EU LCS splits. They met defending champions G2 and lost 3-1. UOL was granted 70 championship points.

For the first time since entering the LCS, Unicorns of Love did not change their roster between splits. The team seemed confident coming into the Summer Split with Vizicsacsi, Xerxe, Exileh, Samux and Hylissang. But the summer regular season was slightly worse than spring, mostly due to problems surrounding Exileh and the mid lane. UOL put up a 9-4 record, placing second in Group B behind H2K, based on game score.

Quarterfinals did not look to be much of a problem, as the Unicorns would face Group A’s third seed, Misfits. Unfortunately, UOL could not take a single game, and lost 0-3, ending their playoff run earlier than expected. UOL’s 90 total championship points put them behind Misfits and Fnatic. Unicorns would go to their third straight regional gauntlet.

The Unicorns sat in the second notch of the Regional Qualifiers, after H2K versus Splyce, but before Fnatic. H2K took the victory over Splyce, which meant they could face UOL in a critical moment, once again. In a nail-biter series, H2K secured the 3-2 win, spoiling the Unicorns’ chances of representing Europe at Worlds this year.

2018

 

What will Unicorns of Love do in 2018?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

What will Unicorns of Love do between now and the 2018 season? Every member of this roster has shown promise in 2017. Vizicsacsi and Hylissang have been with this team since their induction in 2015. Coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant and manager-mascot Romain Bigeard have been staples, as well. Xerxe and Samux have solidified themselves as LCS talents. Exileh may have had a rough Summer Split, but his high points are unquestionable.

Like splits past, Riot has already announced major changes to the EU LCS format for 2018. The LCS will be split into four domestic leagues with a greater league running parallel. UOL has claimed their slot in Berlin, as reported by ESPN, with Roccat and Schalke 04. The current two-group format has treated the Unicorns well during the regular season. Maybe this update will too.

Regardless, the pink-and-white have made their mark on the EU LCS since joining in 2015. Despite falling short of Worlds year after year, UOL has cemented itself as a top contender in the regular season, playoffs and the gauntlet. European teams fear this organization as a competitor, because they know that UOL is destined for greatness. 2015 may not have been their year. 2016 may have been rocky. 2017 may have been heart-breaking. But who knows what 2018 may bring? Will falling short remain Unicorns of Love’s legacy, or will Love finally conquer?


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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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

Dignitas Ssumday: “I really want to play Longzhu”

With the gauntlet stretched before them, Dignitas have their eyes set firmly on FlyQuest. Knowing that Fly will have a number of VODs to comb through Ssumday is expecting a different team than the one they faced already.

Ssumday talks about how he believes Dignitas can win the gauntlet tournament and be the North American third seed for Worlds. Once they make it through the gauntlet he mentions that he would like to meet Longzhu at worlds to hang out and play on stage.

Keep it here for more interviews, pieces and photos from NALCS!

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Photo and video by ‘The Game Haus’ Patrick Mcdonald

Should the West head to Korea to Bootcamp again?

This is a foregoing topic around every World championship it seems. Many of the Western teams over the past couple years have gone to Korea to bootcamp and scrim in preparation for the World championship. While it may seem beneficial in retrospect, we have yet to see it really make a difference on the World Stage. We’ve heard the pros and cons of bootcamping in Korea, but with no real results to back it up. Should teams just stay within their regions to practice?

Photo by: Inven

Pros

It’s no doubt Korea has some of the most competitive League of Legends scenes in the World. They’ve produced multiple talents just from solo queue, and usually dominate at the World championships. Korean infrastructure for LoL seems to be miles ahead of their Western counterparts. From the way they develop talent, to how they practice, and their dedication.

The chance to scrim some of the best Korean teams is enticing. To be the best, you have to practice with the best. Since bootcamping in Korea has become the norm for Western teams, you also have the chance to scrim the best teams from other regions as well. Those who don’t attend would miss out on the chance to scrim with some of the best teams at Worlds.

One of the biggest benefits that pros have noted is the solo queue. Being able to practice with very low ping similar to LAN makes a huge difference. Solo queue in North America also tends to have a lot more one tricks, streamers and people who don’t take things too seriously. In Korea, every player in challenger plays to win. The solo queue actually offers a much better practice environment from what we’ve heard from pro players who’ve bootcamped there.

Cons

Practicing with your competition has come up as an interesting topic in pro LoL as of late. Echo Fox was the latest team to decide not to scrim opponents. In all seriousness, why would you practice against your enemies? The most success we’ve seen from a North American competitor was with CLG at MSI 2016. CLG had their own meta developed and had their own pocket picks that they knew they could play. From scrimming Korean teams, many Western teams may try to duplicate their style or try to copy the way they play. A certain meta always develops, and Koreans will almost always have it perfected before any other team.

If Western teams strayed from trying to duplicate Korea’s playstyles, maybe they would find more success. Developing their own meta that they can perfect and show good performances on. It’s fair to say that what they’ve tried the past few seasons has not worked for them. Going to Korea to bootcamp for better solo queue is great, but scrimming against the better competition may not be ideal.

Korean teams are able to get a feel for how Western teams like to play from the first game. From there they’re able to dissect their playstyles and champion pools. If the West doesn’t give them that chance could they have a better surprise factor for when they do face off?

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Schalke 04 joins the EU LCS in 2018

2018 EU LCS changes helping or hurting Europe?

Riot is rolling out big plans for European professional League of Legends, according to a recent report from ESPN esports. Jacob Wolf’s sources outlined a new format for the EU LCS starting in 2018, which includes “the league…[splitting] into four regions… 24 total teams,” “a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket,” and “a multi-year license from Riot Games.”

These updates come in response to several instances of dissatisfaction from organizations that own teams in the EU LCS. Top-tier European teams applying to join the NA LCS in 2018, and H2K’s recent public announcement to the community are two recent, high profile examples. These organizations cite financial unsustainability and insecurity as primary causes of strife within the EU LCS.

Maintaining the current promotion-relegation model creates an environment of uncertainty and risk for LCS teams, which scares sponsors from making high-value investments. European organizations also suffer from a more fragmented, regional market, when compared to those in North America. Without more certainty for organizations, and without the possibility of larger investment, the value of EU LCS slots has stagnated.

As reported by TheScore esports, EU LCS viewership is on the decline, especially when compared to the NA LCS. While Riot has developed and announced plans for franchising in the NA LCS next year, fans and players are worried that the EU LCS will suffer without serious change. The newest report shows Riot EU is looking to bring needed changes in the following areas.

BUSINESS & FINANCES

Misfits Academy sold to Mysterious Monkeys for $400,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

First and foremost, these changes aim at improving the economic environment of the EU LCS. Growth and excitement in esports, professional League of Legends included, revolve around money. Viewership, audiences and fans create opportunities for advertising, which allows developers, like Riot, to monetize the broadcasting of their games. Business organizations, such as Roccat or Splyce, view esports events as opportunities to advertise their products by sponsoring teams to compete. Players and coaches see esports as opportunities to make a living.

The decline in EU LCS viewership and the maintenance of the promotion-relegation model, coupled with the immense potential of an expanded, franchised NA LCS, present problems for European League of Legends organizations. While other regions and esports are taking major steps forward to increase revenue opportunities, the EU LCS is lagging behind. For example, while North America’s most recent LCS slot purchase (FlyQuest) clocked in at $2.5 million, Europe’s (Mysterious Monkeys) only sold for $400,000. Mysterious Monkeys was relegated within one split of entering the EU LCS, demonstrating the riskiness of such a venture.

From a financial perspective, the most compelling portion of Jacob Wolf’s’ report states “Participating teams will be granted a multi-year license from Riot Games to compete in the league, but a hard date on those licenses has not been established, sources said. This means teams won’t have to fear the possibility of relegation from their domestic leagues.” Doing away with relegation boosts the security for teams within the league, which, in turn, makes them more attractive as investment opportunities. This change removes the risk of a team, like Mysterious Monkeys, entering and exiting the LCS within a split or two.

Another element that should affect the business side of the EU LCS is the localization. Since there will now be four domestic leagues centered in Berlin, Paris, London and Barcelona, companies and organizations with more ties to specific locations may be more likely to invest. Spanish businesses may be drawn to sponsor a team in the Barcelona league, while French agencies might invest into Paris. Assuming this localization is more attractive to European investors, splitting parts of the LCS should be a beneficial move.

A final, less direct benefit of these new changes is the fact that Riot EU has tangible plans for next year. Financial backing is impossible without clear, executable strategies for the future, especially when organizations are targeting investments that may not return over several years. Once Riot unveils more detailed plans, organizations, team owners, sponsors and investors can begin to seriously consider their financial future with less uncertainty.

The only possible problem with the new EU LCS league format would be the need for more overall investment in a short period of time. There are currently 10 teams in the LCS and six teams in the Challenger Series. The reported 24-team league would require eight additional professionally funded organizations. This would mean each localized region would need to find two additional major organizations to enter the league from scratch. It is unclear if this is feasible. However, Riot EU has most likely analyzed the market to a point to determine this as a realistic goal for 2018.

COMPETITIVE INTEGRITY

Fnatic Academy sold to Ninjas in Pyjamas for $500,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

When talking about professional sports and esports, the competitive environment is of utmost importance. No one wants to watch matches that are excessively one-sided or low overall quality. The EU LCS has not struggled too much with these two problems up to this point, but the new reported format could have an impact.

Riot will break up the EU LCS into four regional leagues. The  increase in overall league size will bring in at least 40 new players to the big stage, most likely more. This will have an effect on competitive integrity by drawing in a larger pool of players, which may not be impactful immediately, but it will train a mass of players as professionals.

The second part of the reported formatting that will affect the competition is this:

“The top two teams of each domestic league will automatically qualify into the greater league, which will run alongside the competitive seasons of the domestic league, similar to the Champions League, according to sources. The third- and fourth-place teams will compete in a play-in, while fifth and sixth places will play in an open qualifier. The greater league will house a total of 16 teams, with a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket.”

Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and London will now have their own domestic leagues with six teams representing each. These teams will play within their locality first to qualify for the greater league and the play-in. This format will create competition by having all teams competing to get into the greater league, rather than having only the bottom two LCS teams facing off against the top two CS teams for slots.

The major downside to this is that there will most likely be even more striation within localities than what currently exists in the EU LCS. For example, during the regular season this year, Group A created clear first, second, third, fourth and fifth place teams with Fnatic being a couple of wins ahead of G2, G2 a couple of wins ahead of Misfits, etc. Imagine this concept stretching to four groups, and that layered effect may be more extreme.

On the flip-side, this may create more competition, just more often at a lower level. Unicorns of Love may be able to crush all of the teams in the bottom four, but maybe the fights for third through sixth within the Berlin locality would be closer. Maybe the greater league will have closer match-ups more frequently between the bottom 10 teams, while the top six continue to duke it out for championship points.

It is also possible the concentration of high-profile players will decrease if the team market expands. Instead of having several star players within a few rosters, and less notable players meshed together for Challenger teams, perhaps more teams will be able to sign one of the very best and build around them with lower-profile and rookie players. 

FAN EXPERIENCE

Origen may rejoin the EU LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Esports are nothing without an audience. This is where the cycle of monetization begins, and a major factor in the success of professional League of Legends. Making headway with EU LCS fans is vitally important to the future of the league. As stated earlier, viewership for the EU LCS has been on the decline, so investors, organizations, teams and players are looking at Riot to make changes to address the issue.

However, Wolf’s report does not really touch on this part of the conversation, leaving many questions unanswered. With so many more teams, there must be many more games. How will this affect streaming? Will Riot schedule simultaneous broadcasts in Paris, Berlin, London and Barcelona? Will they be in their native languages, or English for all? Are these going to be best-of-ones, twos, or threes? Are these the only changes directed at gaining more viewers?

Audiences have expressed dissatisfaction with best-of-ones and best-of-twos in the past. The two group format for 2017 has also been underwhelming. Splitting even further into four groups may make everyone even more fractured, causing viewership to further decline. If fewer of the match-ups are of higher competitive quality, then viewers may elect to spend time watching other regions, rather than Europe.

There is also the question of production staff. Can Riot get enough casters and analysts to effectively carry four different domestic leagues? Will the quality of the overall production decrease in response to the increase in the total amount of production? The EU LCS already has less week-to-week content when compared to the NA LCS. Will stretching those resources across more broadcasts affect this disparity?

Hopefully, more information will come to light to address these concerns. While it is understandable that Riot may be primarily focused on the health of organizations and the financial future of the league, they cannot completely forget about the fuel for esports: the viewers. Creating opportunities for investment into the league is not enough. Viewership has to scale with the investment, or else it will all be a sink.

PLAYERS’ & COACHES’ WELL-BEING

Paris St. Germain may join the EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://lol.esportsmatrix.com

The EU LCS is not the EU LCS without its players and coaches. These are the individuals that train day in and day out to achieve peak performance and beat all opponents. Professional League of Legends, and esports as a whole, would be nothing without them. Organizations sign contracts with these people to provide them enough resources to get on stage, play the game and gain viewers. Investors have no business in the EU LCS without these talents.

Of course, there is a bit of cyclic nature to professional esports athletes. Money and material gains are the incentives that bring high quality talent up to create professional teams. High quality players need to exist for audiences to watch regularly. But the players may not play if the financial incentives are not high enough.

It is unclear how these changes for 2018 will affect players and coaches in the EU LCS. Will most players’ and coaches’ salaries go up due to an overall larger pie, due to investment? Will the top players and coaches maintain the same pay and benefits, while only nascent teams bring in new money? Is it possible that the top players and coaches already make too much money, and they may see a decline, as the market expands into four separate leagues with more teams and players available to choose from?

The report also does not mention anything about revenue sharing or players’ associations, akin to the announcements for the NA LCS. While owning organizations and teams may be gaining more investment opportunities, there is no guarantee that players, coaches or other staff will actually benefit. Players and coaches should expect higher salaries and more resources, but that may be naive thinking. Some investors may simply view these updates as a chance to recoup losses before expanding their costs in any meaningful way.

OVERALL

Challenger teams may join EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://windandrain.org

These reported changes do seem to be overall beneficial for the EU LCS in the grand scheme. Creating four district leagues that compete alongside a greater regional league seems to address European investors’ issues with the small, localized markets. Removing relegation and introducing multi-year licenses should ease organizations’ fears of the risk-reward nature of the league. Formatting the LCS to include more teams may create a healthier environment for developing more European talent, upping the overall competitive spirit.

There are some concerns with regards to the logistics and quality of broadcasting, as well as the effects on players and coaching staff. These should be addressed more in-depth in the near future. More steps may need to be taken by Riot EU to ensure that these increased economic opportunities are not lost on the individuals that make esports work at the end of the day, audiences and players. Higher investment ceilings only mean so much if there are no consumers to drive the advertising and monetization of the broadcast.

Finally, organizations have been rather quiet in response to Wolf’s report. This silence may be due to non-disclosure agreements with Riot EU. However, considering how vocal owners and organizations have recently been, one would expect more public announcements expressing thoughts and feelings on the subject.

In the report, Wolf mentions “other teams with ventures in League of Legends, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Origen and Red Bulls, have expressed interest in participating.” Misfits’ owner, Ben Spoont, gave some brief insight on Reddit, and former H2K manager, Chris Kalargiros, wrote an opinion piece for Blitz Esports. However, not much else has been heard from the rest of the professional League of Legends community. This may turn out to be a critical moment for European League of Legends. The community is waiting for more clarity from European organizations.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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