Why N’Golo Kante is the Premier League’s Best Player

Since moving to England in the summer of 2015, N’Golo Kante’s 276 tackles lead the league by a comfortable margin. The little French wizard played a key role in Leicester’s shock title run a year ago. This season Kante has been a catalyst of Chelsea’s great form which sees Antonio Conte’s side ten points ahead of their nearest competitor.

It is no coincidence that Kante has been a regular starter on both teams. In addition to his tackling, he excels at reading the game and understanding when to tackle and when to kick-start the counter attack.

Kante is widely considered to be the best tackler in the Premier League

This was extremely vital to Leicester’s style of play last season. As a side that never had much possession and struck quickly and decisively on the counter attack, Kante’s ability to win the ball anywhere on the pitch helped set up Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in their respective breakout seasons. Perhaps under-appreciated last season, the Foxes’ struggles this season show how big of a piece Kante was to their title winning side.

This season, Kante has taken his talents to Stamford Bridge and has been a part of Chelsea’s season of redemption following a tenth place showing last season. Kante’s presence in the midfield has allowed Antonio Conte to run his three back formation, which has taken the Premier League by storm this season. Kante is such a great tackler and defensive mind that Chelsea’s wing backs can go forward and threaten.

Kante has also improved his attacking this season. He has scored important goals for Chelsea against Manchester United and West Ham this season.

Kante is one of the few players capable of making significant contributions anywhere on the pitch.

The impact that Kante has had on the teams he joins is without question. His one title-winning year in Leicester has been sandwiched by two relegation battles for the Foxes. And although he can’t take all of the credit for Chelsea’s resurgence, he has been a major contributor. In a game that is all about winning, the best in England at the moment is the one who brings success with him.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

I present to you my 2017 fantasy baseball right field rankings.

The top 30 right fielders have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below. The average draft position of each player, according to FantasyDraftPros.com, are listed adjacent to the player.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Saunders (PHI), Brandon Drury (ARI), Aaron Judge (NYY), Shin-Soo Choo (TEX), Josh Reddick (HOU), Avisail Garcia (CWS), Danny Valencia (OAK), Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE), Steven Souza Jr (TB), and Travis Jankowski (SD)

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Besides Mike Trout, Mookie Betts is the only other player you should consider for the first overall pick in 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox, (4)
  • Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, (10)

 

Mookie Betts is the only player other than Mike Trout you should consider for the first overall pick this season. Betts had a breakout campaign in 2016, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 122 runs scored, 113 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases.

The runner-up in MVP batted .338 in the second half, suggesting we could see further improvement from Betts in the near future. The five-category contributor will remain in the MVP conversation for years to come.

Bryce Harper had a rough 2016 and battled injuries all season. The 2015 MVP had a career low batting average of .243, while only hitting 24 home runs. That is quite low by his standards.

Harper decided to forgo the World Baseball Classic in order to be fully healthy come opening day. Be confident in a bounce back season for the 24-year-old because he has all of the potential in the world.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

George Springer will finally prove himself as a contender for 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. (Courtesy of The Unbiased MLB Fan)

  • George Springer, Houston Astros, (28)
  • Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates, (54)
  • Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners, (42)
  • Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, (34)
  • Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, (39)
  • Matt Kemp, Atlanta Braves, (96)
  • J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers, (40)
  • Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, (67)
  • Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles, (77)
  • Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals, (118)
  • Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals (103)

 

George Springer is a highly sought after commodity in all fantasy leagues, and for good reason. The 26-year-old played in all 162 games last season and finished with a .261 average, 29 home runs, 116 runs scored, 82 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Springer lead the league in times caught stealing in 2016, although he stole 37 and 45 bases in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Be confident in drafting Springer in 2017, as his 30/30 potential is very real.

Adam Eaton will join Bryce Harper and company in Washington D.C. in 2017. The 28-year-old will bat in the leadoff or two-hole for the Nationals, which will give him a great chance to eclipse the 100-run mark for the first time in his career.

The move from Chicago to Washington will also help Eaton increase his steal totals, as the Nationals are a much more aggressive base stealing team than the White Sox. Eaton will be a great source of runs and speed with solid floors in all other categories, which makes him well worth a top 100 pick.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Stephen Piscotty went overlooked in 2016 fantasy drafts, but this will not be the case this season. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals, (98)
  • Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels, (144)
  • Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants, (122)
  • Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros, (174)
  • Jay Bruce, New York Mets, (153)
  • Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, (122)

 

Stephen Piscotty flew under the radar in 2016 after playing in 63 games in 2015 when he finished with a .305 batting average, seven home runs and 39 RBIs.

If you invested in Piscotty last season, you reaped the benefits, as he ended the year with a .273 batting average, 22 home runs, 86 runs scored and 85 RBIs. The St. Louis Cardinals clean-up hitter is a safe top 100 selection in all formats, as he is a career .282 hitter entering only his third major league season.

Miguel Sano’s upside has been duely noted for years. He has hit 107 home runs in only 453 minor league games. The knock on Sano has been his atrocious strike out rate of 36 percent. It severally limits his upside, especially in leagues that consider OBP.

I don’t see myself drafting Sano this season as his ADP is fairly high at 122. However, the 23-year-old has all the time in the world to prove me wrong.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Hunter Renfroe should be on everyone’s radar come 2017. (Courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune)

  • Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres, (262)
  • Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, (205)
  • Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs, (123)
  • Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins, (230)
  • Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks, (191)
  • David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks, (279)
  • Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers, (297)
  • Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers, (258)
  • Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs, (232)
  • Curtis Granderson, New York Mets, (181)
  • Jarrod Dyson, Seattle Mariners, (219)

 

Hunter Renfroe was called up by the San Diego Padres in September of 2016. He batted an astounding .371, with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his short stint of 11 games.

I understand this sample size is too small to consider relevant, but his minor-league statistics also suggest that he will be successful. In four minor-league seasons, he has batted .281 and hit 77 home runs in 438 games. The upside is real, and the ADP is very low. Renfroe will be a game changer in deeper leagues come 2017.

Jarrod Dyson will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. The 32-year-old will bat lead-off for the Seattle Mariners to begin the season. This alone makes him a candidate to score 100 runs.

The career .260 hitter is most known for his prowess as an elite base stealer, who has stolen 176 bases in 550 MLB games. Dyson could be everything fantasy owners are looking for in Billy Hamilton, except Dyson is going 150 picks later. If you need cheap speed, Dyson is your man.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Brood War HD

The Brood War Renaissance

The Brood War HD rumors are back again. And if you’re anything like me, your first reaction would have been to roll your eyes and move on without a second thought. For those that have been keeping up for the last year, this would seem all too familiar. We’ve been down this road before, and we know from experience it leads to a dead end.

The rumors originally started prior to Blizzcon in 2016, and at the time, why wouldn’t we believe it? The Afreeca Starleague (ASL),  had just completed her maiden season. Brood War was back in the spotlight for the first time in six years and the audience was there. And the legends that built, not just StarCraft, but all of esports, were slowly but surely returning to the frontline. The news from Seoul said the announcement would be made at Blizzcon.

Why wouldn’t we believe it?

Yet Blizzcon came and you could almost hear the grasshoppers chirping as the StarCraft community stared on in utmost confusion. We had assumed far too much and we were asses for it.

Brood War HD

Now four months later, here we are once again. You’d be a fool not to be skeptical. I sure as hell was.

Then a Reddit user by the name of Voltz found something. The Battle.net Store, ie. Blizzard’s official store, ceased sales of the original StarCraft Anthology. As of this posting, downloads of StarCraft and Brood War are still listed as “sold out”.

This came just as Blizzard announced a special event to take place at the season 1 GSL Finals in Seoul, the StarCraft capital of the World. An event that would be attended by the CEO of Blizzard, Mike Morhaime. And would feature a special showmatch between the “TaekBangLeeSsang”. Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong, Song “Stork” Byung Goo, two most feared of the 6 Protoss Dragons. Lee “Jaedong” the Tyrant and Lee “Flash” Young Ho, simply called God. Four of Brood War’s legends known as the most dominant of their respective races.

Very quickly, the burns of the past went out of mind and the realization of what was happening came crashing down.

 

The Second Coming

As exciting as the prospect of a Brood War renaissance seems, it’s important to remember this can still go badly. The second coming isn’t a given, it’s a work in progress that must be polished to perfection.

Balance

One of the more entertaining misconceptions among those that know of Brood War’s role as the progenitor of modern esports but have not actually watched or played it is that it was a well-balanced masterpiece of a game that StarCraft 2 never matched. The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Brood War was and still is an imbalanced mess of a game. Cracklings are overpowered, Mass Recall is overpowered, Siege Tanks are overpowered. Every race in Brood War is horribly overpowered in some way or another. And this is something that should absolutely not be touched.

If Brood War’s balance is such a mess, why leave it alone? Because that’s exactly what made Brood War amazing. The game was like the world’s hardest equation that programmers were constantly trying solve. For this reason, Brood War went through several eras where on race or player would dominate for months.

One of the most famous moments in Brood War was the legendary “Bisu build” that solved Protoss vs Zerg. Protoss vs Zerg was a matchup that was previously heavily Zerg dominated. The Bisu build shifted balance back into the favor of Protoss eventually leading to the Era of the Protoss Dragons.

Brood War always has been a game of using your races’ overpowered crap to deter or counter your opponents overpowered crap. And Mapmakers played a crucial role in this by crafting areas of the map that each race could use to their maximum advantage. This is how Brood War was truly balanced, not by crunching numbers but by putting the onus on the players themselves to use what resources they had available in the smartest way possible.

 

Mapmaking Resources

With this in mind, it should be clear fostering Brood War’s mapmaking scene is critical to building a healthy second generation. Remastered models and textures are a given. But extending new textures and resources for mapmakers to build beautiful new worlds is important to drawing creators back. Brood War has very different art style to StarCraft 2 so the canvas is there to work with. They just need to be given the tools too.

 

Brood War HD

Abyssal Reef by SidianTheBard is a recent and beautiful example of what mapmakers can do if you indulge their creativity. Naturally, I’m not saying this should be the standard but just give them a fighting chance, their imagination is our greatest asset.

Mistakes of the Past

There are a lot of features that took a frustrating amount of time to reach StarCraft 2. This is something that absolutely must not happen again. Automated tournaments and micro-transactions immediately come to mind. But some issues require us to take a hard look at Blizzard’s design and structure choices. And why a lot of it may not still be up to date.

Prioritizing Accessibility

One of the most obvious grievances that has plagued StarCraft 2 is the first thing you see before you even start a game. I’m of course referring to the game client. StarCraft 2 features a client that is so completely overloaded with bells and whistles, that there have been reported incidents of the game menu putting as much as 3 times more strain the GPU than the game itself. Just to put that into context there have undoubtedly been incidents where there are players able to run the game itself but find the menu unworkable.

StarCraft 2’s beautiful but less than practical game menu. Featuring an animated background taking up the vast majority of available space.

And I can say this with certainty because I was one of these people. The laptop I used at the time could run the game but would suffer heating issues and fps drops attempting to navigate the menu. It’s for this reason that I actually switched to League of Legends as my esport of choice for several years before I eventually upgraded. And as grateful as I am to be back with StarCraft, it seems a bit ridiculous to say that I was driven away from a game because of the menu you have to navigate to play the game.

Now, this is of course my personal opinion but I genuinely don’t care about that massive animated background that is taking up 90% of the menu. What I care about is being able to run my Hello Venus playlist in the background without my game client having a seizure.

Brood War HD may be a re-mastery of a 1998 game but this is 2017. And a lot of the standards from then have gone out the window. Perhaps back then we would have stared at our menu screens and admired the visuals but now a menu is just a lobby that we tab back to just to queue for another game.

Brood War HD

League of Legends game client. Simple, un-intrusive design that prioritizes information and accessibility.

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment. Abyssal Reef designed by SidianTheBard.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

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The League’s Explorers: A Retrospective

It’s hard not to look back on the League of Explorers expansion with rose-tinted spectacles. It came after the relatively non impactful Grand Tournament expansion that seemed to do little but introduce the much-maligned Secret Paladin, and following on the heels of a controversial Warsong Commander nerf. It provided a well-needed injection of variety and levity. Though the expansion added a number of exciting, archetype defining cards, it’s best remembered for its four eponymous Explorers. These oft-hatted adventurers weren’t just the thematic heart of the expansion; they each provided a powerful and lasting impact on Hearthstone’s history.

 

Sir Finley Mrrglton

This gentleman’s refined demeanor belied his aggro inclinations

Sir Finley heralded the rise of a whole new breed of aggro decks. Previously, many archetypes had been lumbered with an inherently defensive hero power. Classes like Warrior or Shaman could sometimes match Hunters with their quality of cards,; but the consistent pressure granted by the Steady Shot Hero Power made it the premier aggro class. Sir Finley Mrrglton single-handedly smashed that paradigm. He provided a decent body early-game, but mainly allowed a game plan synergistic hero power to replace an otherwise near-useless defensive one. Along with his one mana, 1/3 buddy Tunnel Trogg, he was a vital part in the rise of Aggro Shaman.

Steady Shot and Lifetap were of course the most coveted, but even Fireblast or Druid’s Transform were viable alternatives to the otherwise near-useless Armor Up and Totem powers. Whether or not this impact was healthy in the long run is a matter of perspective. In the short run, though, it contributed massively to an increase in the variety of Aggro. With Hunter on the ropes as a class, perhaps it’s best that Steady shot becomes unique to them once more…

What can we learn after Mrrglton’s Rotation? Well, for one, changing to another class’s hero power might dilute class flavor a bit much. Especially in the days when Small Time Buccaneer and Patches were ubiquitous, opening into the same few cards and the same few hero powers began to get monotonous. On the plus side, his voice acting and entry sequence were truly top-notch. On the other hand, allowing more variety in hero powers can help more viable decks flourish.

Brann Bronzebeard

Brann’s wild combos might be best suited to the Wild format

Brann Bronzebeard was an obvious addition ever since the likes of Baron Rivendare’s Deathrattle-doubling effect was introduced. His battlecry duplication ability with only minor stat costs made him a versatile inclusion in a wide variety of decks. From Dragon, to C’thun, to Jade, there were very few archetypes that couldn’t at least partially justify his inclusion.

While his incremental value was impressive, he could also inspire some truly broken combos. While Brann-Kazakus is the most popular now, few can forget the game-ending might of Brann into a Thaurrisan discounted Doomcaller. Barely any decks could withstand the onslaught of three C’thuns.

However, perhaps it’s for the best that he’s rotating out. As Kazakus has shown, he severely limited the design space for potent battlecry minions, or otherwise making certain archetypes and strategies far more potent than they had any right to be (see Jade Shaman). In that regard, Brann is a perfect advertisement for the merits of the Standard rotation system. While his potentially gamebreakingly powerful interactions will still exist to inspire and provoke wonder in Wild, they won’t pollute the carefully tuned balance of Standard.

Elise Starseeker

This card defined Control before Jade and Kazakus

Elise Starseeker was never meant to be anything other than a fun diversion. When she completely redefined Control decks, it was almost by accident. Together with Justicar Trueheart, she marked the temporary transition of Control decks from having heavy threats like Ysera in their deck to largely relying on her late-game value generation after reaching fatigue. The ability to swap out useless card draw and low-impact spells and minions for a cascade of huge bombs led to the evolution of Warrior and Priest decks. They could afford to go as anti-aggro as possible while still having a fighting chance in the control mirror.

The Golden Monkey itself provoked wonder, counter-play, and frustration in equal measure. While Legendary RNG decided many matchups, the variance was welcomed by adding unpredictability to the otherwise mathematically tedious calculations of Fatigue; and whilst she was powerful, there were numerous counterplay options. Most notably saving tempo tools like removal or Sylvanas for after the monkey hard replaced all comeback mechanics with clunky minions.

That said, the promotion of 20-minute plus games was perhaps an unhealthy one. Many players found it tedious and time-consuming facing decks that stalled out for dozens of turns before doing anything proactive. Still, Elise proved a powerful point; the promotion of potent proactive late-game strategies for control decks that don’t rely on replacing significant proportions of the deck with slow bombs could shake up otherwise stale interactions between late-game decks, while keeping their viability against aggro and midrange.

Reno Jackson

The fact that “Reno decks” are a concept tells of this card’s power

Few cards have been as impactful as Reno. This dapper member of the Explorers inspired multiple breeds of decks. Even the name Reno became a byword for singleton decks. His unique ability to provide incredible burst healing to classes that otherwise struggle with survivability, like Warlock or Mage, resulted in a new style of potent control decks. With the near-extinction of Handlock and struggle of Control Mage to find a raison d’etre after Echo of Medivh rotated out and Molten Giant’s mana was raised, the card provided a safe haven for those who wanted to play late-game oriented versions of those classes.

Kazakus provided a boost for singleton decks, making them the only option for Control after Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. This rise provided an additional spotlight on the less pleasant aspects of the class. By concentrating huge amounts of the decks’ power into a few key cards, decks tended to be exceptionally powerful, but horribly inconsistent, especially versus aggro. This made it especially frustrating when draw RNG was in favor of one player, as games often felt like a coin-flip.

Perhaps the best lesson to learn from Reno Jackson is to spread out the power cards for any given archetype over a decent number of deckslots. This will make games not as overly dependent on one draw-specific answers. The other, more positive lesson is already one that Team 5 has learned from; giving players reward for creative deckbuilding challenges pays off in terms of gameplay variety.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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Cinderella Basketball

Which March Madness Cinderella is Staying?

The Sweet 16 is an amazing accomplishment in it amongst itself. It’s an accomplishment that many college basketball programs don’t see very often. High expectations come with it.

Winning in college basketball is hard, and winning in the NCAA tournament is even harder. Time after time we’ve seen favorite teams go down. Some top teams don’t even make it past the round of 64.

Winning two games in the NCAA tournament and making it to the Sweet 16 isn’t a fluke. The teams in the Sweet 16 deserve to be there because they all won two games (sometimes three if they were in a play-in game). That is a hard thing to do in the NCAA.

We’ve now officially gotten to the point where we find out which teams are for real. We will find out in this next round what the Cinderella teams are made of and if they are here to stay.

Cinderella teams are traditionally defined as teams that are seeded ten or over. All of these teams are not necessarily “Cinderella” teams, but they are by no means the favorite to win or even be here in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the teams that most people didn’t expect to be here and how they might fair along the rest of the way.

Xavier

March Madness Cinderella

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett goes up to score against Florida State Defender in their game last weekend. (Photo/ Getty Images)

The Xavier Musketeers make their eighth appearance in the Sweet 16 as the highest seed (11) left in the tournament.

A victory over Maryland in the first round and nearly a 30-point victory in the second round over third-seeded Florida State puts the Musketeers a step closer to their third appearance in the Elite eight in program history.

Junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who averages 18.5 points a game, helped Xavier finish 21-13 overall with a conference record of 9-9. That was good enough for an 11 seed after losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament.

They now face their toughest task yet, the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats come in as a two seed and a favorite for many to win the entire tournament. Xavier will look to become the highest seed to ever win the tournament after their two big wins.

Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines are arguably the team with the most momentum and burst into the Sweet 16 as a seven seed. The Wolverines are coming off of a Big Ten tournament championship after their plane skidded off the runway en route to Washington D.C. for the tournament. They are poised, hungry and very good.

They beat Oklahoma State in the first round and a really good second-seeded Louisville team in the second round. The Wolverines had a rocky regular season, but with the leadership of senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and the outbreaking stardom of sophomore forward Moritz Wagner from Germany, Michigan is in good shape to move onto the next round.

With a matchup against the Oregon Ducks, who lost one of their key contributors Chris Boucher before the start of the tournament, many believe this game to be the one where the underdog prevails.

South Carolina

March Madness Cinderella

South Carolina players celebrate their victory over Duke on Sunday with their coach Frank Martin (Photo/Bob Donnan)

South Carolina advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 1973 with a big win over second-seeded Duke. The Gamecocks look to advance to their program’s first Elite Eight.

With another tough matchup against third-seeded Baylor, the Gamecocks look to their leader, Sindarius Thornwell, to lead them to victory. The Gamecocks are not always your most flashy and good-looking team, but they get the job done.

Baylor may be the perfect opponent for the Gamecocks due to both teams’ scrappy and fast-pace play. That will make an interesting and entertaining matchup.

Wisconsin 

Wisconsin comes in on a high after taking down tournament number one seed Villanova. Many believe the Badgers were underseeded and should have gotten a better seed. Nevertheless, here they are.

With a matchup against the Florida Gators, who are also coming off of an utterly dominant victory over Virginia, the Badgers are actually favored by many despite being the lower seed.

The Badgers look to win their first NCAA championship since 1941, and they very well could.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Federer Indian Wells

Federer Poised for Dominant 2017

Roger Federer cruised to his second title of the year in Indian Wells last weekend without dropping a set. The Swiss legend will turn 36 in August. Thus, it would be startling to see him dominate 2017 the way he did the mid-2000s, but that scenario is becoming increasingly likely. Here is why.

He is healthy, his Main Competition is not

Most folks were writing off an aging and injured Federer a year ago at this time as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ran rough shot over the rest of the tour. Things have really changed in a year. Federer has notched his 18th grand slam singles title after six months of intense knee rehab while Djokovic and Murray are in disarray.

Both the Serb and the Brit pulled out of the Miami Open this week citing elbow injuries. They also both have flopped out early in the two biggest events of the young season. In the case of Djokovic, his slump dates back to right after winning the French Open in June.

Novak Djokovic

Photo: eurosport.fr

He has won just two events since then and failed to reach the second week in two of three Grand Slams played. No one knows exactly what is going on. The elbow injury is a new wrinkle to the public. Reports of marital problems have been running rampant since August. No matter how you slice it, all is not well with Djokovic at the moment.

Murray is in a momentary dip. The Australian Open and Indian Wells did not go well for Murray. However, he played five consecutive events at the backend of 2016, a year that had already seen him raise his second Wimbledon trophy. There is virtually no offseason in tennis so a hangover from that is perfectly reasonable. Murray saw a chance to take the top ranking from Djokovic late last year and took it.

Andy Murray

Photo: si.com

The injury is the cause for concern in the Murray camp. He reported no issues in Indian Wells. The clay court season looms following Miami.

Clay is extremely grueling on the body. It tends to make any injury worse, not better. Murray has a good chunk of time to get healthy before the first big event on clay. The fact that he is not healthy ahead of the most physically demanding part of the year is not a good sign.

No athlete ever wants to see a fellow competitor injured. However, all this bodes really well for Federer. Even when he has played poorly in recent years, it has still been pretty rare to see him drop matches to guys not named Djokovic, Murray or Nadal. Moreover, poorly is the last word anyone would use to describe Federer’s play right now. Speaking of Nadal…

Federer is Playing Nadal as Well as he Ever Has

Nadal leads his all-time series with Federer 23-13, but dig deeper. Federer has won three consecutive meetings with the Spanish lefty for the first time in his career. His one-handed backhand has always been a liability against the incredible topspin and high bounces of Nadal. Federer has been much more aggressive with that shot recently.

Federer always tinkered with his game and coaching team, even when he was at his best. The 2017 version of each is really paying off for Federer, particularly in terms of Nadal.

Federer Nadal

Photo: ibtimes.au

Nadal has won nine titles in 12 attempts on the clay courts of Roland Garros over the years, mostly at Federer’s expense. Federer has only one French Open title to his name. However, if the two were to play anywhere other than there tomorrow, it would be hard not to view Federer as the favorite.

Things can change quickly in any sport, and tennis is no exception. After the first week of the 2017 season, I wrote an article about how Djokovic and Murray would be head and shoulders above the competition again this season. About eight weeks later, that looks like one of the most ridiculous things ever written.

Maybe Djokovic and Murray find their health and good form as quickly as they lost it. Maybe Nadal reasserts his mastery of Federer. Maybe one of the young guns steps up.

It is Federer’s world for now and we are all just living in it. There is no reason to think that will change this week in Miami. Furthermore, with one already down, there is a real chance Federer wins three of the four Grand Slams in 2017.

 

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EU LCS Group Draft format 2017

Thoughts on EU LCS Group Format

For 2017, the EU LCS adopted a new regular season format which involves two groups of five teams. These changes were put in place to resolve fans’ issues with the dual-stream and best-of-2 format. The new grouping would allow viewers to watch one best-of-3 stream at a time. But is it better?

Most LCS fans would agree that the best-of-3 format is vastly better than the best-of-2 last year. The murky nature of ties left many fans feeling unsatisfied. Having definite winners and losers in such a small league is much more appealing. It can also, theoretically, better prepare European teams for international competition by rewarding consistency and adaptation.

Best-of-3 seems to be the perfect balance between viewer satisfaction, player well-being, and proper preparation. In comparison, best-of-1s reward teams that can successfully cheese their opponents for one match, and do not necessarily allow EU to send its most consistent representatives to international competitions. Best-of-2’s and best-of-4’s create too many undesirable ties, and best-of-5’s can result in more fatigue for the players and an extended schedule that would strain the production crews and viewers.

Having a single stream is fairly beneficial, too. It is the most comfortable way to watch every scheduled series live, rather than choosing which to watch in a dual stream. There may be fewer match-ups to watch in a given weekend, but a viewer is able to see all of them without turning to VODs.

EU LCS weekly schedule format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

The sacrifice, it seems, is regular series quality. Of course, the group format should not take the whole blame for this. There are other contributing factors. However, splitting the teams into two groups has resulted in regularly lower quality match-ups.

This split, EU LCS teams were separated into Groups A and B. Teams within Group A play each other twice; teams within Group B play each other twice. But they only play across groups once. This sounds like a small difference in play-rate, but it has huge consequences on viewer experience. For example, G2 and MSF will only face H2K, UOL, and SPY once each, but FNC, ROC, and GIA twice before playoffs. Since the teams were drafted to split their overall abilities evenly, this schedule has created gradients within each group. The gap between the top teams and bottom teams is huge. And just as H2K will only play G2 once, GIA will only play OG once.

Week 9 of the LCS is representative of this unfortunate reality. Previewing the match-ups is not possible because every single one is one-sided. SPY should beat VIT, G2 should stomp GIA, MSF should destroy ROC, and down the list it goes. Most weeks have featured one to three quality match-ups, while the other three to five seem pre-determined.

EU LCS promotion and relegation format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

This group format, however, is sufficient for figuring out which teams should go to playoffs and relegation. The top six and the bottom two are extremely apparent. But week to week series are lower quality. There is less to analyze. There is less guessing or postulating.

If EU mirrored the NA LCS format, it may be a bit better. Sure, audiences would sacrifice the comfort of watching every match-up live, but they would receive much more frequent close match-ups. Teams would need to prepare and adapt against nine opponents, rather than four. And if they really wanted to allow viewers to see every stream live, then they would simply spread the series out over four days instead of three.

While this split’s scheduling and grouping format has been an upgrade over 2016’s, there are still issues that need to be addressed. The EU LCS could possibly allow for more teams in the league, such as 12 or 14 total teams (6-7 per group). This, again, leads to longer schedules over more days, but it may create more frequent close match-ups. As professional League of Legends becomes more and more popular, overall viewing experiences will need to be closely managed. Hopefully, moving forward, EU LCS tournament formatting will be able to strike the right balance between audience gratification, production value, player well-being, and quality competition.

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NALCS: Grading this Split’s Rookies

In my last piece I took a look at some of newest imports of the North American LCS. This week I’ll take a look at the rookies and how they’ve made an impact to their team this split. There are only four this split, but nonetheless every rookie has come onto their team and made an impact. Grading will be based on expectations heading in and how they’ve met them. Lets take a look:

Phoenix1 Stunt (Support)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

William “Stunt” Chen began this split as a sub on Dignitas. He also spent some time last summer on Team Liquid Academy playing alongside Piglet.  Little was known about Stunt heading in, as most didn’t even know he was a sub on Dignitas untill he subbed for a series against Envy.

He finally got his shot at LCS as a starter when Phoenix1 acquired him before the trade deadline. Their former support Adrian “Adrian” Ma was transferred to Team Liquid in wake of internal issues with jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. Stunt came in as a brand new support who had never really had a starting role on an LCS team. Phoenix1 has not been phased by this at all, if anything, they’ve looked to have grown even stronger.

In the 8 games he’s played, Phoenix1 is undefeated and look to be catching up to Cloud 9 as the second best team in North America. Stunt himself has been performing quite well in this support meta. His champion pool is diverse, having played seven champions already in his short time on P1. Stunt currently has the highest KDA of supports at 5.5 and a spectacular 80 percent kill participation.

Phoenix1 seemed to have done a great job integrating Stunt into the team. Phoenix1 look like top contenders heading into playoffs.

Grade: A-

Cloud 9 Contractz (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Juan “Contractz” Garcia came in as the next hyped upcoming challenger talent. He spent time on Cloud 9 Challenger and helped them qualify for the LCS. Many praised him as a solo que star being bred to take the NA LCS by storm. After a phenomenal week 1 performance many thought Contractz would pop off and propel Cloud 9 to the top team once again. That hasn’t really been the case as Cloud 9 have regressed as other teams around them have improved.

Contractz in particular has had his fair share of rookie mistakes that have cost his team. Sometimes getting caught out before big objectives or invading without the aid of his team behind him. Even a minor accidental slip up in champion select may have cost his team a close series against CLG.

Nonetheless, Contractz has played pretty well for a rookie Jungler in his first split. Expectations may have hindered how well he’s actually played this split. Contractz came in molded to be a somewhat supportive style Jungler helping his talented laners get ahead. He gets deep vision for the team and tracks the enemy Jungler.  He currently has the 2nd highest KDA among Junglers.

What’s worrisome is how much Cloud 9 struggles to make plays in the early game.  With so many talented players, their early game is still one of their biggest weaknesses. Contractz has the worst First Blood percentages among Junglers which speaks to the lack of C9’s play making in the early game. Often times their wins come off mid game fights.

 

Grade: B

Echo Fox Akaadian (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham came into the LCS with little to no expectations of him. Most expected him to be average at best and not make much of an impact. That was not the case as he stormed onto the scene in the first weeks as an extremely talented and aggressive Jungler.

As the split has gone on, some teams may have figured out his style. With teams around them getting better, Echo Fox has struggled to stay afloat. Akaadian went from having one of the best KDA’s in the league, to having one of the worst at 2.7.  Nonetheless, Akaadian has been one of, if not the best player on his team this split. His early game play making has often netted his team huge gold leads. It’s more of the team as a whole not being able to transition those leads into victories.

It will be interesting if he garners interest from other teams during the off-season. Any North American talent is crucial as it allows for imports in other parts of the roster.

Grade: A

Immortals Cody Sun (ADC)

Li “Cody” Yu Sun was an up and coming ADC fresh out of the challenger scene. He spent time on Dream Team last split where he stood out as a top performer. As a rookie, not much was expected from him and his lane partner Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. People expected Immortals to play mostly through their talented solo laners and Jungle.

It took awhile, but Cody Sun and Olleh are quietly becoming a bot lane force. Their first few weeks were a bit rough. As a rookie ADC being thrown into a meta where ADC’s were basically ult bots was a tall task.

As the ADC meta is slowly shifting back to meta carries Cody Sun has shown some great performances on Ezreal and Cait. He’s one of the underrated pickups during the off season as a North American talent who doesn’t take up an import slot. Moving forward, he’ll need to continue his growth for Immortals to perform at their highest level.

Grade: B-

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SHOUTcraft Kings: March

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my fifth Weekly Recall, a recap of the major events in StarCraft over the past week.

 

Highlight Games

 

GSL Semifinals – Eo “soO” Yoon vs Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin (Abyssal Reef)

GSL Semifinals – Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob vs Kim “Ryung” Dong (Daybreak)

SHOUTcraft Kings – Joo “Zest” Sung Wook vs Tobias “ShoWTimE” Sieber

SHOUTcraft Kings – Stats vs Artur “Nerchio” Bloch

GSL Semifinals – Stats vs Ryung (Daybreak)

 

 

GSL Semifinals

 

 

soO vs sOs

 

Echo

Game 1 on Echo was an interesting idea from sOs. Here he attempted to keep soO on the defensive through repeated multiprong Adept harassment while teching up back at home. Instead he continually traded out waves of Adepts for very little return. By the time sOs had completed PsiStorm it was just too late. soO army easily overwhelming sOs in the end to take an easy lead to the series.

Whirlwind and Proxima Station

This game would set the theme of the series. Where sOs maintained the role of aggressor while soO’s defensive ability would be put to the test. sOs would break soO’s defense on Whirlwind, getting himself into a favorable mid game to tie up the series. Again on Proxima however soO’s defense would hold out against sOs’ series of aggression letting him take 2-1 lead.

Abyssal Reef

As they always do, things eventually did get interesting on Abyssal Reef. sOs took a massive economic lead early into Game 4. Taking out soO’s 3rd Hatchery with an Immortal drop reinforced by Adept Warp-Ins. From there soO maintained an airtight defense that allowed him to get back into the game. sOs would again take a massive lead after soO attempted to engage sOs’ from a choke point. soO would lose most of his Lurker based army in the engagement forcing him to retreat. A tech shift into Brood Lords would catch sOs off-guard letting soO again bring himself back into the game. Unable to fight soO in a head-on engagement sOs instead used his superior mobility to his advantage. While sOs played a strong tactical game for a while he was eventually cornered and without a base to retreat to. Putting soO at a 3-1 lead.

Cactus Valley and Newkirk Precinct

sOs went into Cactus Valley with a standard Dark Templar-Prism build. Following up with a second Prism and a second wave of Dark Templars sOs dismantled soO through multi-prong harassment. soO wasn’t able to recover from sOs’ early lead taking us to Game 6 on Newkirk Precinct.

It’s possible this match could have gone to a Game 7 had sOs’ play been up to standard. Or at least the same level we saw in Cactus Valley. Instead he went for a Pylon rush into soO’s third failing to kill the hatchery after a lackluster engagement. He would later attempt to followup with a massive Adept push but seemingly forgot to research Resonating Glaives. soO took a huge early advantage just by holding off sOs’ attempts at aggression which sOs would never recover from. Running over sOs in the inevitable counterattack, soO closed the series advancing to the finals 4-2.

SHOUTcraft Kings: March

Hatchery bleeding almost as heavily as sOs’ supply

 

 

Stats vs Ryung

 

Abyssal Reef

Stats had a rough start to Abyssal Reef losing his first Oracle to a Widow Mine. Shortly after his third was to cancel by an early push by Ryung denying any chance of early aggression. Stats and Ryung fell back into a defensive game for a short time to build up their tech. As both players entered their mid-game tech the game became a street fight.

Stats made the first engagement with an army of Colossi, Adept and Phoenixes. After trading out his Adepts for worker kills Stats was forced back and Ryung made his counterattack. Stats’ main was brought to its knees by Ryung’s bio-drop, having most of his expensive tech taken out. But Stats would retaliate with Adept harassment sending Ryung’s worker count plummeting.SHOUTcraft Kings: March

Behind the frantic attacks at eachothers bases Ryung teched into Ghosts while Stats built up his High Templar count. The final stage of the game was decided by EMPs and PsiStorms. While Ryung landed several solid EMPs Stats’ superior positioning let him deal crippling damage with PsiStorms deciding the game.

Act II

Echo was decided in just over 30 seconds where Stats found a gap in Ryung’s defense to land a Prism right behind the mineral line of Ryung’s main then cutting off Ryung’s army as he attempted to fall back. One game later on Cactus Valley, Ryung crippled Stats’ economy in the same way, exploiting a gap in Stats’ defense to make a massive drop into Stats’ 3rd base.

This put the series at 2-1 heading into Newkirk Precinct. Apparently not wanting a repeat of Cactus Valley, Stats’ defensive game was completely on point in game 4. Defensive play made all the difference in this game as both players made attempts at harassment. While Ryung had some relative success with a single Reaper, overall Stats’ was able to clear Ryung’s aggression taking very little economic damage in the process while dealing economic damage on the other side of the map. This created a huge economic gap that Ryung wouldn’t recover from.

The deciding moment of Proxima Station actually took place in the first few minutes of the game. Stats attempted a proxy StarGate but failed to do anything with it. After losing both his Void Rays while failing to secure any real economic damage, Ryung was given a massive advantage he never let go off taking the series to Game 6.

Daybreak
SHOUTcraft Kings: March

Well, you don’t see that everyday

Stats went for another proxy StarGate again on Daybreak. And if possible, this went just as bad as the last. While he did get some damage in, he would lose his Oracle for it. A widow mine drop into Stats’ base would level the game for Ryung and propel him into an advantage. From there the game entered a deadlock with both players seemingly determined to take the game as late as possible. Stats kept up his attempts at aggression while teching up in the background. Each took there own turns attempting to cripple the others economy. Stats focusing on small economic attacks. Ryung on the other hand went big, pinning Stats’ 6th base with a Tactical Nuke. At one point Ryung had as many as three silos available.

For all their tactics however, it eventually it came down to a final engagement. Stats having repeatedly picked off Ryung’s Ghost with Feedbacks and had the advantage with free use of PsiStorm. And after several Storms weathered down his army, Ryung was forced to tap out advancing Stats to the finals after a 4-2 victory.

SHOUTcraft Kings: March

 

 

 

SHOUTcraft Kings: March

 

SHOUTcraft King: Han “aLive” Lee Seok

 

Streaks

aLive: 4

Kim “herO” Joon Ho: 4

Stats: 3

ByuN” Hyun Woo: 2

 

 

Map Pool Updates

 

New Maps

• Ascension to Aiur by SidianTheBard
• Blood Boil by Avex
• Sequencer by NegativeZero
• Defender’s Landing by YoungRustler

 

Dropped Maps

• Newkirk Precinct TE
• Bel’Shir Vestige LE
• Cactus Valley LE
• Honorgrounds LE (Please for the love of Tassadar NO)

 

Mapmaking Community Discussion

 

 

 

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

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The History of the Game: WBC Semi-Final Nations

Baseball is one of the most played sports on the planet. Its popularity is largely unrivaled next to soccer. How did “America’s pastime” become a global game?

The four semifinal teams represent three continents and millions of baseball fans across the globe. Let’s go nation by nation and examine each country’s unique baseball origins.

The Netherlands

WBC

Bert Blyleven is the only native Dutch player to make the Hall of Fame (Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images).

The Netherlands has become a baseball powerhouse with one of the top teams in the WBC. It comes from humble beginnings like most empires.

The origins of baseball in the Netherlands can be dated to the early 1900s. J.C.G. Grase is credited with introducing the Netherlands to baseball with his foundation of the Dutch Baseball Union in 1912.

Grase was an English teacher in Amsterdam, and was first introduced to the game on a vacation to the states. His ability to translate the rules from English to Dutch was vital to the growth of baseball in the Netherlands. However, it wasn’t until Emile Bleesing founded the team “Quick Amsterdam” that the game started to grow.

Quick Amsterdam was founded in 1913, and is the longest continually running baseball team in the Netherlands. Bleesing is the most important baseball pioneer in Dutch history. His trips around the Dutch countryside to spread the game planted the seed that sprouted into what baseball in the Netherlands is today.

Dutch baseball goes farther back than just recent history. A longstanding tradition of baseball dominance in Europe has the Netherlands increasing its baseball empire. The Dutch influence continues to grow with multiple Dutch players in the majors.

Japan

WBC

With 3,030 MLB hits, Ichiro Suzuki is the crowning jewel of Japanese baseball (Bill Boyce/AP).

Japan will be making yet another WBC semifinals appearance this week. Their championship pedigree has its roots deep in Japanese history.

Americans Horace Wilson and Albert Bates are credited with introducing Japan to baseball. However, it was Hiroshi Hiraoka that helped grow the game.

He became a die-hard Red Sox fan while attending school in the states. This lead Hiraoka to found the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics in 1878. The evolution of baseball in Japan ended up being much different than that of the Netherlands.

Baseball in Japan began to grow just after the dawn of the 20th century. Amateur ball became the major form of baseball in the country. Baseball was able to take root at a younger age level since the focus was turned away from the pros.

Kids in public schools and universities became players of the sport. This encouraged them to become baseball fans for life, and led to the development of the pro leagues.

The first professional league was founded in 1936. The current highest level of baseball in Japan, Nippon Professional Baseball, was founded in 1949. Japan has come into its own with such a long baseball history.

puerto rico

WBC

Carlos Beltran has represented Puerto Rico in every WBC played (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North Americ).

The previous two countries can be traced to a few individuals, but Puerto Rico is much different.

Baseball was introduced to Puerto Rico by a group of Puerto Ricans and Cubans who had learned the game in the United States. The first impressions by the locals were poor, but the first two teams were founded in 1897.

The Almendares Baseball Club, owned by Francisco Alamo Armas, and the Borinquen Baseball Club, owned by Santos Filippi, were the first two baseball clubs on the island. On January 11, 1898, the first baseball game between the two teams was played. Baseball began to explode in Puerto Rico at the end of the Spanish-American War in the summer of 1898.

Puerto Rico was passed from Spanish possession to U.S. possession with the conclusion of the war. Americans brought baseball with them when the United States began stationing troops in the territory.

The U.S. troops on the island formed their own baseball club. They were beaten in 1900 by the Almendares Baseball Club 32-18.

Baseball began to expand after the war. Towns and schools founded their own teams. Professional ball began in 1938 with the founding of the Puerto Rico Baseball League.

The growth of baseball in both public teams like school and town teams and the development of a professional league really set a firm foundation for baseball in Puerto Rico. The island has grown from that foundation to become one of the leading nations in baseball.

United States

WBC

Alexander Cartwright was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 for his work with the Knickerbockers (baseball.org).

As “America’s pastime,” baseball has a longstanding history in the United States. Accordingly, the game is almost as old as the country itself.

Baseball can be traced back to a Pittsfield, Massachusetts law written in 1792, which prohibited the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house.  The first team to organize was the New York Knickerbockers, who were founded in 1845 under the leadership of Alexander Cartwright.

The Knickerbockers established the modern rules for baseball. These “Knickerbocker Rules” dealt with laying out the rules of the game, as well as organization. Even with their own rules in place, the Knickerbockers were bested by the New York Nine in the first official game played under the new rules in Hoboken, New Jersey.

A few years later in 1857, the National Association of Base Ball Players was organized. It was the first entity to govern the sport and establish a championship. The game grew in popularity with the outbreak of the Civil War.

Union soldiers introduced their southern counterparts to the game, and it was quickly picked up in the south. The growth of baseball in the south became a uniting factor during Reconstruction. People all over the country were introduced to the game, and its this spread in popularity that lead to it becoming “America’s past time.”

Luckily for us and the rest of the world, it isn’t limited to just the United States.

 

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