Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more great sports content from writers like Mark!

“From our Haus to yours”

Hylissang may change teams in the off-season

Strategies for success in the EU LCS off-season

November 20, 2017 marks the start of the free agency period for the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split, and it is soon approaching. Organizations will begin signing, trading and letting go of various players with hopes of putting together a competitive roster. They will cite all kinds of reasons for making their decisions, but, at the end of the day, they all go into the off-season with one goal in mind: winning.

Various different team-building strategies have been successful in past years. The 2017 World Championship qualifiers from Europe showcased three totally different strategies, which ultimately got them to the top of the standings. G2 kept their entire roster from 2016, which allowed them to continue building synergy while bringing on Weldon Green as an assistant coach. Fnatic completely rebuilt their roster around their star AD carry, Rekkles. The endemic organization brought on a mix of veterans and rookies, which allowed them to shape their playstyle over the course of the year. Misfits came into the league from the Challenger Series, and only replaced their jungler and mid laner. Their focus on combining younger Europeans with talented Korean imports provided fertile ground for experimentation.

Between the reported changes for the EU LCS in 2019, and the expectations surrounding North America’s franchised league starting next year, it feels like there is a lot of pressure on European organizations in 2018. The group system, best-of-three series, mid-season relegations, none of these will be suitable excuses next year. The World Championship is one year away. The path to get there begins in a few days, and decisions made in the off-season will ripple from now until then. Each organization should have had ample time to reflect on 2017 and develop strategies that will get them ahead of their competitors.

Giants Gaming

Gilius returns to the EU LCS with Giants Gaming

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Giants enter the 2018 Spring Split after taking down Ninjas in Pyjamas and Schalke 04 in the 2018 Spring Promotion tournament. Gilius should be a familiar personality to welcome back into the LCS, but everyone else is new. Giants enjoyed a relatively strong run through the Challenger Series, but they would benefit from some upgrades. If a veteran support like Kasing signed on, it would bring more stability on and off the Rift to prop up the rookie carries.

This strategy would mirror Misfits’ updates when they entered the LCS. By bringing in another teammate with multiple splits of LCS experience, Giants could gain leadership and maturity with just a small investment. It would give the new guys an opportunity to prove themselves against other teams without feeling like they are being thrown to the wolves. Spring Split is slightly less important in the grand scheme of the year, so experimentation is a smaller risk. If the team is still not competitive after that change, then mid-season would be the time to shake it up a bit more.

Schalke 04

Schalke 04 joins the EU LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Schalke 04 is the other team promoted from last year’s Challenger scene. SmittyJ is their most veteran player, with several splits of LCS experience under his belt. Memento has been in and out of the LCS for a couple of years now, but the rest of the team is relatively new. Upset is a lauded up-and-coming AD carry, which should be Schalke’s strongest weapon.

It would not be surprising if Schalke took the 2016 Splyce approach to entering the LCS: keeping the entire roster. Each of these players actually produced carry performances last year. With the announcement that Krepo will be head coach this spring, Schalke may decide to invest in infrastructure, rather than talent. They may also be turned off to veteran talents due to last time they entered the LCS with Steve, Gilius, Fox, MrRallez and Sprattel. Just like Giants, Spring Split should act as the testing ground for these new players.

Team Vitality

Week 8: Team Vitality on stage

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Despite optimism towards Vitality’s acquisition of VandeR in the mid-season, the team still had a lackluster Summer Split performance. It turned out that Vitality’s issues ran much deeper than Hachani’s death share. The jungle position turned out to be much leakier than previously understood, and since the role was essential to team-wide success. This position should be Vitality’s primary focus in the off-season. Cabochard and Nukeduck were consistently strong in the laning phase, but could not get much going in the mid-game.

Shook and Amazing are veteran options that will become available since Mysterious Monkeys and NiP were relegated. Kirei, Loulex or even Santorin will be available from other Challenger teams. It may not be the best time for Team Vitality to pick up someone without experience, because they placed highest when they had a complete veteran squad in Spring 2016. AD carry is the only position possibly worth filling with a younger player, kind of like North America’s Immortals this summer. HeaQ is the best recommendation.

Roccat

Roccat enter the off-season looking for change

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The other fourth place team, Roccat’s problems were inverted from Vitality’s. They almost always won games late with scaling compositions and smart play around objectives. Roccat’s solo laners, Betsy and Phaxi, were two of the weakest early game players in their respective positions. Meanwhile, Pridestalker showcased several statement performances, and Roccat’s bottom lane was in the top half of the league during Summer Split.

It is time for Roccat to let Betsy go. They have cemented him in the mid lane for two straight years, and it has not really panned out, especially when compared to Perkz with G2 or Bjergsen with TSM. Roccat could take a Misfits approach to this off-season, importing for one role and filling the second with a sophomore talent. Top lane seems like the role with the best chance for a successful import. Mid lane imports have almost never worked in Europe, which means someone like Selfie could fit into this roster well.

Splyce

Will Splyce change their roster this off-season?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Arguably, the Snakes have the most difficult off-season of any team. Splyce’s role in the EU LCS is reminiscent of CLG in North America, because this team seems to be stronger than the sum of its parts when it clicks. They could not take more than one series from the top five teams in the league, but then they almost stole semifinals from G2 in the playoffs. Now they have a tough decision in front of them. Does Splyce change its roster and risk losing the synergy of friendship? Or do they stay together and give it another try?

Like CLG this past mid-season, the jungle position would be the most likely target. Trashy felt like the least consistent player on the team throughout the year. When he was on, Splyce was on. When he was off, Splyce was off. And, like Xmithie, he might even feel better switching to another team too. Maybe Splyce tries to nab a Korean aggressor from North America’s discarded teams, such as Chaser, LiRa or Shrimp. They could also try promoting their young substitute, Gripex, to the starting roster to see how it goes. Regardless, Splyce’s coaches and analysts will likely be the most important investments. The team looked best after head coach Gevous stepped down at the end of Summer Split.

Unicorns of Love

Unicorns of Love may lose some members for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Barely missing Worlds for the third year in a row, Unicorns of Love have to make some changes for 2018. Exileh’s inconsistencies in the mid lane were obviously problematic. Hylissang played uncharacteristically reckless most of the year. Even Vizicsacsi did not look as polished as past splits. Interestingly enough, Xerxe and Samux, the rookies of 2017, felt like the consistent elements on the team.

This is also the first team on the list with a high probability of losing certain members to the hypothesized “EU-xodus,” due to a franchised NA LCS. Hylissang is reportedly signing with Fnatic, and there were rumors of Vizicsacsi moving to North America. If these veterans skip UOL for new opportunities, they may look to VandeR, Kasing or Kikis as replacements. They could also potentially experiment with rookie or imported top laners, such as WhiteKnight or Profit. If the Unicorns are able to keep all of their members, then it would be smart to bring on a substitute mid laner, like Blanc or CozQ, to have back-up for Exileh.

H2K

H2K may lose players in the off-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

H2K is in the same boat as Unicorns of Love. They barely missed Worlds after a rocky year, with high peaks during the regular season and low valleys during playoffs. Jankos, Odoamne and Febiven are star players with targets on their talent for new North American organizations. The off-season presents an opportunity for H2K to bring in a new player or two, but also potential for keystone players to leave.

Hypothetically, if H2K can only retain one of their three European starters, then Febiven is probably the best bet. He is a relative newcomer to H2K, while already feeling like someone worth rebuilding around. H2K would most likely release the imported bottom lane duo so they could look towards top and jungle imports. Young AD carries and supports would be easy for a team like H2K to bring on. Noxiak, AoD, HeaQ and Minitroupax are a few players worth considering, especially if they are able to acquire experienced players for the top side of the map. The best case scenario is for H2K to keep top, jungle and mid, while signing a new bottom lane.

Fnatic

Fnatic's roster could remain the same in the off-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While Fnatic did not have a spotless performance in 2017, they certainly grew as the year went on. Broxah and Caps proved to be worthy investments as rookie players, and the veterans, sOAZ, Rekkles and Jesiz pulled their weight. It would be surprising to see this roster change too much in the off-season, considering this year was much better than 2016 for every single player. It seems mutually beneficial for the organization and players to stay together and build off of their accomplishments this year.

However, ESPN esports already reported that Hylissang will sign on as support, replacing Jesiz. This position seemed most likely to change, because Jesiz’s contributions to the team went unnoticed most of the time. With his assistant coaching experience, his value on and off the Rift was most likely more as a leader than an individual talent. Someone like Hylissang would seem to bring just as much veteran experience and flexibility to hopefully elevate Fnatic even higher. Top lane would be the next spot to consider changing, as sOAZ did express issues with his teammates throughout the year via social media. If he can get that part of his personality under control, then he is definitely worth holding.

Misfits

Misfits' roster may change in the off-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

What a whirlwind year for this team. Misfits continued Europe’s trend of sending a team to Worlds from the Challenger Series within the same year, like Splyce and Origen in 2016 and 2015. Replacing KaKAO with Maxlore panned out well, and it is difficult to think of what the organization might want to change roster-wise. This team probably has the greatest risk of falling apart due to the players changing teams.

Maxlore and PowerOfEvil jump out as prime candidates for swapping teams. Talented European junglers are a hot commodity, and sophomore star talent could go to another EU or NA LCS squad. PowerOfEvil has switched teams every year since entering the LCS, so another jump would not be a surprise. With IgNar hinting at leaving Europe, Misfits would be left with Alphari and Hans sama. They should definitely fill the mid lane with their strongest possible candidate, such as re-signing Selfie, or trying to score Nukeduck. Pulling Trashy or Jankos would be an excellent fit, and maybe Misfits could be Jesiz’s new home. If this organization continues to prioritize communication, then they will be prone to prioritizing new talent over imports.

G2

Could G2's roster change in the off-season?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The reigning kings of Europe enter the off-season after suffering another bitter knockout in the group stage of Worlds. Like Splyce, it seems as though the experiment of maintaining the same roster from last year did not pay high enough dividends. International performance was G2’s ultimate focus this year, which showed at Mid-season Invitational, but not at the World Championship. To be fair, they had a difficult group, but the players and staff must still be disappointed.

Trick felt lackluster this year. His farming control style did not punish opponents the same way this year as in the past, and it seemed to hurt G2. It would not be surprising to see him replaced just to freshen up the jungler role, because every other member had relatively consistent performances and carried at times. Expect is the secondary weak point, but even he fulfilled his roles in the tank and split-push metas. Perkz seems highly unlikely to leave, while G2 offered their bottom lane duo to field offers elsewhere. Zven and Mithy have a lot of star power and success under their belts, which makes them an attractive acquisition. It is just hard to imagine them on a different team. It may be worthwhile for Zven and Mithy to stick with G2 another year to try playing with new top-side players, such as Maxlore or Odoamne.

Overall

2018 feels like the year when the EU LCS organizations change their identities. Unicorns without Vizicsacsi, H2K without Jankos, Splyce without Trashy, Roccat without Betsy–these organizations could have new faces next year. It will be exciting to watch veterans try to find the best teams for achieving greatness, while young players try to raise their stocks. Recognized imported players may decide to return home, while newcomers arrive to Europe. And there is a decent chance that keystone European players export to North America’s possible greener pastures. Regardless, this off-season will be another whirlwind of trades, acquisitions and “parting ways,” and EU LCS fans should be excited for change.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

The Tyler1 Championship Series is coming soon

Four ways to get your esports fix in the League of Legends off-season

If you spend a significant amount of time watching professional League of Legends (like me), then you are probably starting to feel a void where the LCS, LCK, LPL and other leagues used to be. You have caught up on watching everything at Worlds. Maybe you even went back and checked out VODs that you missed in Summer Split.

But now there is no more League to consume. Worlds is over, and every team is taking a much needed break from competition. There have been several announcements regarding changes to leagues next year, but what about now? We have two months before any professional leagues restart. How do we get our weekly fix of esports in the meantime? Here are my top four recommendations. Hopefully one of them will work for you.

Follow your favorite players’ streams

This is the most straightforward option. While the professional leagues are on cooldown, the individual players will most likely still be streaming on a regular basis. This form of viewership has several benefits. It allows you, the viewer, to feel more of each player’s personality, since the stream is built around them. You also get to experience the game from your favorite player’s perspective, which allows you to analyze their mechanics, builds, etc. For example, here are links to some of the professional players, coaches and casters that were streaming at the time of writing this article:

Watch your favorite player's stream in the off-season

Screenshot of Jankos’ stream on Twitch

Search for your favorite talents’ social media pages, as they usually update their fans when they will be streaming. Consider following and subscribing to their Twitch channels, as any advertisements directly benefit them. These sessions provide a more intimate setting for viewers, and players that stream frequently generally enjoy interacting with their audience. Tuning into streams lacks the casting and third-party analysis that professional broadcasts have, but story-lines and drama pop up now and again.

There are also plenty of top level League of Legends players who simply do not play professionally. They may prefer the casual nature of streaming, have a large enough following that financially they can stream full-time, have retired from pro play or may be a rising star in the making. Preseason is an ideal time to watch those streamers, because they are probably innovating with Runes Reforged, item builds and strategies. You might be able to learn a thing or two and apply it in your own solo queue.

Look out for regional/amateur tournaments and Scouting Grounds

Last year's Tyler1 Invitational was a huge success

Image from Tyler1’s Youtube

While there are regular amateur tournaments for League of Legends around the world, not many of them are actually broadcast. Expect to see some in the off-season, though, as they will not need to compete with the regular professional leagues for attention. For example, CompeteLeague will be hosting the Tyler1 Championship Series, starting on November 18. Last year’s Tyler1 League of Legends Invitational turned out to be a huge hit, so they will be back this year for your viewing pleasure. It is not an entirely serious event, so it may not be appealing to every esports fan, but the teams that were announced include some of the top Challenger-level players.

Regional leagues are also sometimes broadcast during this time period. For example, Ogaming is currently hosting Challenge France, the French national league that qualifies into the European Challenger Series. While the French casting may not be for everyone, the actual gameplay should appeal to viewers of the European LCS and CS. Europe has leagues for the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and others too. Be on the lookout for announcements to watch these if they have not already happened.

For North American fans, this year’s Scouting Grounds are announced for November 26 to December 3. Riot invites the top Challenger players from each position to create four teams and compete in hopes of being drafted into the LCS and Academy teams for 2018. This is an event that showcases rising stars who may be among the 10 players to join a team following the matches.

Try watching another esport

Overwatch is an alternative esport to watch in the off-season

Image from Twinfinite.net

Yes, there are other esports out there other than League of Legends. The media is building up a lot of hype around next year’s Overwatch League (OWL). Overwatch combines certain aspects of massive online battle arena (MOBA) games with first-person shooter mechanics and game modes. Blizzard recently announced updates to make Overwatch more spectator-friendly and to create larger distinctions between the two competing teams. If the action was difficult for you to casually follow before, now might be a good time to give Overwatch another shot.

If you need something third-person, and much closer to League of Legends, then maybe give DOTA a shot. Summit 8 is currently pitting teams against each other from all over the world for a $300,000 prize pool. The draft, map, role-based gameplay and other elements of DOTA should feel right at home for League of Legends viewers. There are four DOTA tournaments in November and December, which should be plenty of content to help get through the off-season.

Hearthstone could be an option for League of Legends viewers who may not enjoy watching other MOBAs or first-person shooters. It is an online card game from Blizzard, which boasts being “Deceptively Simple. Insanely Fun.” Much like other card games, each player has a deck of cards to play with in hopes of draining the enemy’s health to zero. Spectating this game is incredibly easy. DreamHack is hosting a Winter Grand Prix December 1-4, which will be the last Hearthstone event for 2017.

Put more time into your own game

Everyone should learn about Runes Reforged in the off-season

Image from Surrenderat20.net

Of course, this is the best time to play more League, rather than spectate others. Maybe this could be your first time downloading your replays in the client. Rewatch your games and figure out what you could do differently to improve for 2018. Clip some highlights to show your friends, or just have fun playing a few more ARAMs that you missed during the LCS season.

Preseason is the time to adapt and innovate. Study the new Runes Reforged, watch out for Zoe’s release and figure out where they fit in the meta landscape. If you do not learn these elements of the game in the next two months, then you may be caught off guard when players are drafting next Spring Split. Get out on the Rift, get a feel for who and what is strong and weak, and compare.

Even if you have no interest in grinding more games, watching other esports or tuning into streamers, you can still just enjoy a break. Invest those extra minutes and hours into some other hobby. Most people will turn to exercise or catching up on music, books, movies and television. That is okay, too. If the professionals are taking a break, then why not you? It will be a while before teams return to the LCS, so make the most of it.


Featured Image: LoLesports.com

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more great sports content from writers like Mark!

“From our Haus to yours”

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future

The Milwaukee Brewers might have struck gold with Keston Hiura, their first-round selection, in 2017’s first year player draft. Let’s talk about Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future before he’s a star everyone knows.

David Stearns, Milwaukee’s general manager, has done many good things in his first two years at the helm. Perhaps one of Stearns’ best moves though is his selection of sweet-swinging second baseman Keston Hiura with the ninth pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. For Hiura, the best is most certainly yet to come.

Hiura’s Bat

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura was the Division I college batting champion last season at UC Irvine. (Photo courtesy of: Baseball America)

Hiura was billed by many pundits leading up to the draft as the best pure hitter available. It’s not hard to figure out why either. As a junior at the University of California–Irvine, Hiura batted (.442/.567/.693) leading to an astounding OPS of (1.260). As far as college bats go, a scout for any MLB team would be hard pressed to find one better.

Hiura did, after all, lead Division I college hitters in both batting (.442) and OBP (.567).

Hiura’s hitting prowess saw him named as a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. Though the UC-Irvine standout didn’t win the honor, it is most certainly high praise to be named to the semi-finalists list.

The hits just kept on coming for Hiura after making the jump to pro-ball as well. In his first 42 games of professional baseball, the first-round pick belted an impressive (.371/.422/.611), split between two levels.

Putting those number into perspective, Hiura spent the majority of his first pro season at Low-A Wisconsin. It was there that Hiura put up an impressive batting line, hitting (.333/.374./.476). As the old turn of phrase goes, “That’s just par for the course.” Well, for Keston Hiura it is anyway.

Hiura, at 21 years of age, still has a long road to travel to get to the big leagues. His bat might be hard to slow, however. He showcases the plate discipline of a player more advanced in years, and that bodes well for Hiura. He could potentially be one of the first hitters from this year’s draft class to step to the plate in the majors.

Hiura’s Injury

As good as Hiura is at the dish, he doesn’t come without a certain amount of risk attached. This is not a unique circumstance though. There is a certain amount of risk with every prospect that makes the jump to pro-ball.

In 2016, as a sophomore at UC-Irvine, Hiura suffered an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm. While playing center field, Hiura unleashed a throw to home resulting in a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. The injury led to many MLB teams wondering if the dreaded Tommy John surgery would be in Hiura’s future.

Hiura has said in an interview with Baseball America that the injury never affected his swing. It did, however, affect his fielding. As a result of the injury, Hiura spent the entirety of his junior season as UC-Irvine’s DH. Hiura’s lack of game film in the field and the threat of a possible surgery on that elbow without doubt caused some of the teams picking ahead of the Brewers to go another direction with their pick.

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Hiura has also played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. (Photo courtesy of: Orlando Sentinel)

An outfielder by trade, Hiura’s task now is learning how to become a professional second baseman. Not a small task, but if anyone is capable of the transition it would be Hiura. This youngster has drawn rave reviews from his former coach at UC-Irvine, Mike Gillespie, about his work ethic.

Much to the delight of David Stearns and the Brewers organization, Hiura was back in the field by the middle of August while with Low-A Wisconsin. Even better still, Tommy John surgery has been ruled out for Hiura’s elbow.

Hiura did suffer an injury that saw him on the DL toward season’s end, but breathe easy Brewers fans, it was a strained hamstring that kept him out of action. Hiura’s arm is seemingly good to go for 2018 and his first full season of professional baseball.

Playing a full season at second base, the Brewers and Hiura should know very early on in the year if his arm is going to be an issue. At least for the moment though, all signs point to his UCL sprain as being behind him.

Hiura in 2018

Based on the numbers Hiura pounded out in his first taste of professional baseball, Brewers fans might want to see him start 2018 at High-A Carolina. It is very doubtful that he will start there with the work he needs in the field.

It is far more likely that he will be the opening day second baseman for Low-A Wisconsin.

While his bat is ready right now to face tougher competition, his glove invariably needs work. Brewers fans need to remember that Hiura is essentially learning a new position. There will be a learning curve to this process and it will take time.

Hiura won’t be toiling away at Low-A Wisconsin all season though. I fully expect Hiura the climb the prospect ladder at least one level by the end of 2018, if not two levels. It isn’t unreasonable to assume Hiura could hit his way to Double-A by season’s end. Of course, this depends on how Hiura adapts to second base and how that arm holds up.

The good news though, is if a player can play center field he more than likely can handle second base as well. As he logs more innings, he should come to terms with how to play second base fairly quickly.

Another factor that bodes well for Hiura is time. At the tender age of 21 and with a glut of rising prospects at the keystone positions in the Brewers organization, there is no need to fast-track this young man to the big leagues. Time is on Hiura’s side as far as learning how to properly defend second base is concerned.

Hiura’s ETA in Milwaukee

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura signs his autograph for some of the Milwaukee faithful. (Photo courtesy of: The Post-Crescent)

While the fans in Milwaukee will want to see Hiura sporting the ball and glove logo on his hat sooner rather than later, it would be asking too much to see him up with the big club at any point in 2018. He simply has too much glove work to do before making that jump.

Also, there is no question that as the standard of pitching gets better, his bat will have to adjust as well. In this category though, Hiura will most likely do just fine. There is absolutely nothing in his past to suggest that he will suddenly forget how to hit. It is, after all, his best tool.

The future is indeed a bright one for Keston Hiura. He’ll be knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-2019, and his bat will be the major reason why. But of course, this is all assuming he experiences no further problems with that balky elbow on his throwing arm.

Hiura seems intent on battering minor league pitching. This should leave Brewers fans with those warm and fuzzy feelings inside. With the emergence of Travis Shaw at third base and Orlando Arica at short stop, adding in Keston Hiura could be a watershed moment for the Brewers organization overall.

How quickly Hiura makes the transition to second base will be the difference maker in how quickly he ascends to the big club in Milwaukee. One thing is for certain though, if his glove adapts anywhere near as quickly as his bat has, you will see him in Milwaukee sooner than later.

Hiura has the bat to play beyond the level he is currently at. If he can become just an average defender in short order, he will be forcing the Brewers’ hand very soon.

For Brewers GM David Stearns this is an excellent problem to have. And it’s a far cry from the pile of smoldering, twisted, wreckage that the Brewers’ farm system had become under Stearns’ predecessor, Bob Melvin.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: azcentral.com)

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more great sports content from writers like Mark!

“From our Haus to yours”

H2K played below expectations in summer split

Reflecting on mid-season EU LCS expectations for Summer Split

On June 1, 2017, the first day of the EU LCS Summer Split, I articulated my expectations heading into the second half of the year. There were a lot of roster changes in between splits, which led to speculation about what shake-ups might occur before Worlds. I called out four of the ten teams that I thought had the best chance to define the landscape of the EU LCS. These would be the variables that shape their groups, depending on how they adapt to their new rosters and build off of Spring Split.

Like every split past, some teams performed to expectations, others did not. Some played up to a higher level, while other teams further fell. The big picture of the EU LCS remained fairly similar to spring, with the same top six teams qualifying for playoffs. However, the intra-group dynamics and individual team results are fairly different compared to expectations coming into this split.

G2

G2 played to expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: G2 dominated Spring Split: they only lost one best-of-three series out of thirteen. The Samurai went on to finish second place at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational. No other team in Europe looked to be on par with G2 before the tournament, but MSI certainly quieted any dissent. With no roster or staff changes to speak of, G2 looks to remain at the top of the ranks. Their eyes will be on the world stage.

Recency bias will paint G2 as the undoubted best team in Europe. They added another LCS victory to their trophy case. The Samurai will be EU’s first seed representative at Worlds. By the end of playoffs it was clear that no one in the EU LCS could challenge G2 in a best-of-five.

But Summer Split was rocky at the start. G2 was 3-3 after five weeks, beating Roccat, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Mysterious Monkeys, but losing to Fnatic, Misfits and Unicorns of Love. Their game score was 9-7, far from dominant. G2 sat in third place in Group A. It was a trying time for fans who were hoping that the G2 from MSI would be back in Europe.

They did eventually ramp up to finish second in Group A, push through quarter and semifinals and take the finals. Perkz returned closer to his MSI form earlier in the year. Mithy stepped up to become a primary initiator for the team. Trick began to rise towards his past level, as well. While all of these players had low points during summer, the G2 line-up did eventually reinvigorate to pre-split expectations. No one could have predicted their early fumbles after a dominant Spring Split, MSI and no major changes to the roster and staff.

Fnatic and Misfits

FNC played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Fnatic ultimately beat Misfits for third place in playoffs, beating them 3-0 in the best-of-five. Fnatic picked up a new coach, Dylan Falco. Misfits released their jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, and acquired Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian. The effects of these changes do not appear to be drastic on the surface. Fnatic should be able to retain second place within Group A, putting Misfits third.

Both of these teams surprised analysts, but in different ways. Fnatic and Misfits followed slightly different trajectories throughout the Summer Split. Fnatic tore through the European competition, finishing the regular season 11-2, but faltered in the playoff semifinals. They pressed on by winning third place against H2K, and went on to win the EU LCS Regional Qualifier to make it to Worlds.

Misfits had strong showings during the LCS regular season, but never fully convinced the fans that they were a top contender. They finished with a 1-6 record against the top six teams and a 5-1 record against the bottom four teams. However, Misfits shifted gears in playoffs, knocking out Unicorns of Love and Fnatic to make it into the finals. They are the surprise second seed to represent Europe at this year’s World Championship.

Fnatic’s surge is not entirely surprising, but it could not necessarily be predicted. This is the same roster that tied Roccat for third place in Group A just a few months ago. Bringing on Dylan Falco, previously of Team Envy in North America, was the only major change to the roster, which was seen as questionable, at best. The veterans of the team, Soaz, Rekkles and Jesiz, approached their top performance levels. The sophomores, Broxah and Caps, showed their own prowess at various points in the split. Most of all, the synergy among these members was much more apparent than any other team in the league.

Misfits’ growth could be a bit more conceivable coming into the Summer Split. They did make a name for themselves in their inaugural Spring Split by placing fourth. Time in the mid-season should allow this new squad to build synergies and come back to the LCS even stronger. However, by switching out KaKAO for Maxlore, it was unclear how this might affect things. The team did cite communication issues as the primary purpose for the replacement, but Maxlore’s actual skill as a jungler did not appear to be much better or worse than KaKAO. Would Misfits’ communication improve enough to offset the synergy and possible skill loss of trading at all?

In the end, the answer must be “yes.” Ignar and Maxlore did develop a strong jungle-support relationship in the playoffs. Alphari and PowerofEvil were better at using laning advantages to rotate, split-push and teleport around the map. Hans sama proved his worth as an AD carry against Samux and Rekkles, both All-Pro this split. Viewers will have to wait and see how this team holds up against international competition at Worlds. Hopefully, Misfits’ peak is yet to come.

Unicorns of Love

UOL played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Following a similar trajectory to G2, UOL finished the regular season 11-2. They did not drop a series to other members of Group B. UOL went on to finish second in the playoffs. Seeing as the top teams in Group B did not have any major roster updates in the off-season, the Unicorns should easily maintain their top position.

“Should” was the key word above. Just like G2, Unicorns finished at the top of their group and made it to the finals in Spring Split. They did not make any roster changes in the mid-season. Intuitively, UOL would continue to build off of their strengths coming into Summer Split and continue to be a dominant team in Europe.

But that did not necessarily happen. UOL began the season 6-1, including victories over G2, H2K and Misfits. They finished the last four weeks 3-3, including defeats to Roccat, Fnatic and Vitality. This fall-out culminated in UOL’s 3-0 loss to Misfits in the quarterfinals, and their 3-2 loss to H2K in the gauntlet.

Most critics would point to faulty draft strategies, mid lane instability, and failure to adapt to meta changes as UOL’s biggest problems. Exileh fell from third team All-Pro to seventh on Caps’ mid lane tier list. His performance issues, combined with Xerxe’s curve ball jungle picks, caused UOL to have difficulties drafting to be competitive. Exileh’s reliance on Talon and Vladmir shoehorned Vizicsacsi into a lot of AP top laners, instead of Jarvan IV, Gnar or Renekton.

Summer Split is a huge disappointment for the Unicorns. They continue their legacy of missing Worlds by losing in the gauntlet. All of these players have shown excellence on the Rift, but the limited in-game strategies and individual inconsistencies make it hard for this team to reach the next level. It will be interesting to see what changes happen in the off-season for UOL, if any.

H2K

H2K played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Although playoffs were not pleasant for H2K, their regular season went well. They finished 10-3, losing twice to UOL and once to G2. H2K had not lost to any other team until Fnatic beat them 3-0 in the quarterfinals of playoffs. Only earning 10 Championship Points, H2K will need to perform at a much higher level to re-qualify for the World Championships.

H2K played about where most people expected them this season. They did finish at the top of Group B, but that was more due to Unicorns faltering than H2K scaling higher skill-wise. Febiven looked more refined than Spring Split, but the bottom lane, Nuclear in particular, proved less dominant in the new meta. Odoamne and Jankos showed glimpses of their top-tier play, but could not exhibit such talent consistently against other top teams.

Playoffs was almost more heart-breaking this split for H2K. G2 skunked the squad 3-0 in the semifinals, sending H2K into the gauntlet. Once there, they made it all the way to the finals, but lost 2-3 to Fnatic to miss the World Championship. The expectation was for H2K to grow in the mid-season to stand a chance of making it to Worlds. Unfortunately for them, that did not happen.

Mysterious Monkeys

MM played to expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While EU Challenger teams have historically performed well in their first split of LCS, this roster’s talent is questionable compared to the others. They even lost their starting jungler. The Monkeys come into the split with low expectations, most likely ending the regular season in fifth for Group B.

As expected, Mysterious Monkeys did not have a successful Summer Split. They lost 23 of 28 regular season games, finishing with a 2-11 record. Ninjas in Pyjamas and Roccat were the only two teams they were able to take series from. Even after signing Kikis and Amazing as a top-jungle duo in week four, the Monkeys struggled to make much of an impact on the EU LCS. They did finish last in Group B, which forced them into the promotion tournament.

Although it is unclear how the reported LCS restructuring will affect European teams in 2018, Mysterious Monkeys did get “relegated” in the promotion tournament. They lost 2-3 to Schalke 04 in round one, and 0-3 to Ninjas in Pyjamas in round two. That is the ultimate proof that a team is not ready for the professional league. The Monkeys’ organization will most likely rebuild the roster in the off-season and come back next year with more experience.

Splyce

SPY played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: It is unclear what Gevous will add to Splyce. It is possible that a new coaching style may help bring Splyce’s members up to a new level. The players know they can play up to the same level as Unicorns or H2K. The anticipated meta shifts will probably help Splyce, as well. Tankier junglers with fast clears and impactful kits suit ‎Jonas “Trashy” Andersen, and  Martin “Wunder” Hansen generally looks more influential with damage-dealing split-pushers.

Firstly, Splyce let Gevous go around two months ago, with two weeks of the regular season, playoffs and the gauntlet remaining. He has yet to be replaced. That being said, it is difficult as a viewer to understand how much of an effect a coach has on a team. How much of Splyce’s shortcomings can be blamed on a lack of chemistry between the coach and the players? It is hard to parse apart.

It should be safe to say that Splyce will be disappointed when reflecting on this split. The organization’s power level in the LCS has effectively plateaued this year. Of course, Splyce has not had the same falling off as Origen. Splyce is still a playoff team, and they are clearly a step above Roccat and Vitality. They took G2 to an edgy five games in quarterfinals of playoffs. However, it has felt like a long time since fans and analysts held Splyce to the same esteem as their LCS debut.

Nothing about Splyce’s gameplay is horrible. Each lane is able to hold its own in the laning phase. They are able to contest objectives and commit to rotations. They are able to team-fight in the mid and late game. Splyce just is not the best at any of these gameplay elements. H2K and Fnatic will almost always get larger early game leads and close the game before Splyce can team-fight them. Unicorns of Love and G2 will almost always beat Splyce in a beefy brawl. The Serpents are the undoing of bottom four teams, just like Misfits, but they have been unable to break through the upper echelon of Europe.

Like Unicorns of Love, it will be interesting to see what happens to this roster in the off-season. Trashy seemed to be the most up-and-down player on the roster, thriving on Gragas and Ivern, but struggling on Elise and Rek’Sai. Mikyx was overshadowed by more proactive support players, but Wunder, Sencux and Kobbe have proven they can carry when needed. Each of Splyce’s players are capable of playing up to the best of Europe, and this roster has played together for two years. The coaching position will obviously need to be filled with someone who can unlock the potential of this squad, or who can make needed adjustments for the future.

Team Vitality

VIT played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: This is another team that looks to benefit from the upcoming metagame. Top laner, Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, looked best as a split-pusher when Vitality finished the regular season in third place in Spring 2016. A more anchored bottom lane and pressured top lane could open Charly “Djoko” Guillard up to have more options in the jungle. Vitality could look to move up in Group B if they mesh properly and other teams show weakness.

Bringing on Vander was supposed to shore up Vitality’s glaring weaknesses in the support position in Spring Split. It did not. Vitality looked roughly the same as last split. Nukeduck put the team on his back almost every game. Cabochard did look a bit more like his former self while laning, but Vitality’s bottom lane and jungler could not hold up against the rest of the LCS. To make matters worse, H2K, Unicorns of Love and Splyce all showed serious weaknesses this split, which Vitality was unable to punish. It is no coincidence that three members of Group A are attending Worlds as Europe’s representatives.

Vitality finished with a 12-17 game score. They only took one point off of a top six team (UOL), but won all series against MM, NiP and Roccat. Vitality will need to make serious changes coming into the LCS in 2018. They are simply not an exciting team. Replacing one player in one role does not seem to be sufficient. Looking at jungle and bottom lane is a start, but even top lane is not out of the question. A roster overhaul will be necessary before Vitality lives up to the expectations of European fans.

Roccat

ROC played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Roccat will come into summer an underdog, yet again. But if they can build off of their gameplay, synergy, and growth from spring, then they can definitely take games off of other Group A teams. Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren, in particular, should be able to continue drafting lane bullies such as Gnar, Fizz, and Renekton, which he played well in the final weeks of last split.

Roccat’s spring momentum did not carry over much into Summer Split. This team continues its arc as the most inconsistent performer in the EU LCS. Roccat finished the Summer Split with 1-1 records against every team in Group A, the only one to do so. The Cats also lost every cross-group match-up, except Unicorns of Love. It is strange that the same team that is taking series off of Fnatic, G2 and UOL is also dropping series to NiP, MM and Vitality.

Pridestalker actually pressed himself into the EU LCS in his debut split. Generally starting ahead in CS and gold at 15 minutes, Roccat’s jungler was one of the only players happy to draft Warwick and Kha’Zix over tank junglers throughout the split. Pridestalker also participated in First Blood in 27.3 percent of games.

Phaxi and Betsy were highly inconsistent this summer. The solo laners could never seem to hold pressure in their lanes against other European teams. Meanwhile, Roccat’s bottom lane was solidly top five in the LCS (in my opinion, Wadid deserved recognition as an All-Pro support). Like Vitality, a roster overhaul will be necessary if Roccat wants to reach the next level of competition. While no one would necessarily expect Roccat to suddenly become a title contender, many analysts were probably hoping for more from them after their end-of-split streak in spring.

Ninjas in Pyjamas

NIP played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While this team will most likely be the Spring 2017 Origen of Summer Split, it could also come together as an unexpected surprise. If Shook can manage to find synergy with Profit and Nagne, and HeaQ and Sprattel can grow together, then they could find upsets in Group A. This could also be Coach Nicholas “NicoThePico” Korsgård’s shot at redemption, as well. If they can all put aside their past failures, then they just may find success.

It’s safe to say Ninjas in Pyjamas was better this summer than Origen was in spring. They had a stiff early game, often gaining large gold leads by 15 minutes. NiP showed some signs of strength, such as their win over Fnatic in week 10. As expected, the Ninjas finished last in Group A with a 2-11 record. The team never seemed to synergize in the mid-late game, often missing opportunities to pressure turrets or neutral objectives. Sprattel and Shook were unable to engage or peel effectively for Nagne and HeaQ to carry, which made Profit’s split-push strategies fall flat.

At the end of the day, NiP was not ready for the LCS. This team did get relegated in the promotion tournament by losing to Giants and Schalke 04, but reported 2018 changes may make that insignificant. Like Mysterious Monkeys, NiP may return to the domestic leagues of the EU LCS. If so, they will need to take a hard look in the mirror and make adjustments. NicoThePico did not add much to his resume on this one, but, again, it is hard to tell how many of NiP’s issues were from the roster or the staff. 

Overall

MSF played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While hardly any of the teams in the EU LCS played to pre-split expectations, the on-paper breakdown of the split was fairly usual. Splyce, Misfits, H2K, UOL, Fnatic and G2 qualified for playoffs. Mysterious Monkeys and NiP fought, and lost, in the promotion tournament. Vitality and Roccat were somewhere in the middle. G2 took home another domestic victory. Fnatic is attending Worlds. Rekkles was voted Europe’s MVP.

This Summer Split will be remembered as the last one with two groups and one professional-level league. If the reported changes for the EU LCS come through in 2018, then we will be looking at an entirely different ecosystem. It will be home to 24 total teams with 24 rosters and 24 different dynamics to keep up with. The lines between S tier, A tier, and so on will become more blurred, and placements between organizations should become more nuanced.

Expectations going into Spring Split next year will be so up in the air it may not even be worth writing about. So as we move into the 2017 World Championships, take some time to reflect on your experience with the EU LCS. As you cheer for G2, Misfits and Fnatic through the event, preserve these Summer Split memories so we can talk more in 2018 about the future of League of Legends in Europe.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

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

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

The Runback: Street Fighter V Patch Notes, Evo Japan Update, and FPS2 Preview

It’s another busy week in the fighting game community. We’ll cover the new Street Fighter V update, Evo Japan dates, and a preview of Frame Perfect Series 2 in Orlando, Florida. The Killer Instinct World Cup also wrapped up last Saturday, we’ll take a look back at the KI community’s biggest event.

Street Fighter V Season 2 Patch

The rumors of a possible patch before the start of Season 2 were (somewhat) true. A week after Final Round 20, Capcom released a patch with minimal nerfs. As expected, Capcom essentially went through and adjusted the smaller aspects.

Accordingly, the game has seemingly shifted towards grappler-type characters. There’s no overarching mechanical changes outside the fact that the risk-reward system is now amplified with no jump back option select. The direction of how Capcom wants players to play this game is clear: BURST DAMAGE ABOVE ALL (sorry for yelling)!

It’s likely that this will be Capcom’s last patch in Season 2. Players will now have the rest of the season to refine their characters. Ibuki won the first major CapCup event, but Mike and Guile had a strong showing. Balrog seems unexplored and ready to become a real tournament contender.

Evo Japan: January 26-28, 2018


The date is set and it’s actually happening. Evo is going across the pacific to Akihabara, near Tokyo. The wait will only be a full-year, but Evo will once again expand into a two-event circuit. Japan is also an obvious choice for the next Evo as a large population of the country plays fighting games.

It’s an ode to the strong Japanese community that has spent years flying west to the United States. It will be the first Evo outside America and should display the quality depth of Japan’s street Fighter V, anime, and 3D fighters. Many top players are already considering making the trip to Evo Japan.

Frame Perfect Series 2

FPS2, a Smash event in Florida, will host four of the Melee gods and a litany of other top players from the region. The majority of the Smash 4 top 15 will also be in attendance to face the strong Florida Smash 4 scene. The tournament will feature runner-up at Frostbite 2017 Tsu and his Lucario.

Additionally, the Japan crew will be making an appearance in Smash 4. The event will be focused on top player vs. the field. Is it possible anyone outside of Armada (Adam Lindgren) and ZeRo (Gonzales Barrios) win in either game? The last five months say don’t take the bait, pick the favorites. Players have gotten close, but just haven’t finished the job.

The event will feature eight top-20 Melee players. Unfortunately, aMSa (Misaya Chikamoto), the popular Japanese Yoshi, can’t attend because he has the stomach flu. The field isn’t as deep as Smash 4, but the names at the top make this a major event. Winning this Melee tournament will require running the gauntlet of Mango (Joseph Marquez), Mew2King (Jason Zimmerman), and Hungrybox (Juan DeBiedma).

KI World Cup Levels Up

Twitter.com/Cptn_EO

Despite missing out on making it into Evo, the KI community is going strong. After another average attendance year, the future of KI was in the balance. The community responded with a well-funded and represented tournament.

Regardless, Sleep (Darnell Waller) was able to continue his run of strong play with his win at KO cup. He couples this win with his Evo title, which makes him the undisputed number one. The Ultra Tour will continue into Season 3 with Combo Breaker on the horizon.

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Blake!

Alex Ovechkin, NHL, IIHF, IOC, Olympics, 2018, Korea, NLHPA, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, Washington Capitals, National Hockey League, International Ice Hockey Federation, 2018 Olympic Games, 2014 Sochi Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Olympic Hockey

Olympic Hockey: The NHL Abroad

Olympic hockey as you know it may never be the same again.

Players badly want to represent their countries in the upcoming Olympics, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL owners see no benefit in allowing their players to compete overseas. It is now up to Bettman to find a suitable solution to this problem.

But how did we even get here?

Alex Ovechkin, NHL, IIHF, IOC, Olympics, 2018, Korea, NLHPA, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, Washington Capitals, National Hockey League, International Ice Hockey Federation, 2018 Olympic Games, 2014 Sochi Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Olympic Hockey

Gary Bettman (left) and Donald Fehr (right). Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports

For the past twenty years, the NHL has participated in the Winter Olympics without interruption: Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver, and Sochi. This young tradition may soon be coming to an end.

With the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang a little over a year away, the NHL has not yet decided whether or not they will allow their players to travel to South Korea and represent their respective countries.

The main actors at play here are the International Olympic Committee, the NHL, and the NHLPA (Player’s Association).

The whole question of whether or not the NHL should participate in the upcoming Olympics began when the IOC announced that they would no longer front the bill for travel and insurance costs. The estimated cost to cover these was over $10 million. This left a sour taste in the mouths of many NHL owners.

 

According to Bettman

There is a “strong negative sentiment” among NHL owners towards halting mid-season and allowing their elite players to compete overseas in 2018. Their concerns primarily revolve around the almost certain revenue losses, which inevitably come with an Olympic break, and potential player injuries. Both pose serious problems for owners routinely responsible for hundred million dollar payrolls. For Bettman, the solution was a matter of compromise, but not between the NHL and the IOC. Instead, Bettman and the NHL approached the NHLPA with a deal.

In return for the NHL fronting the travel and insurance bills, suffering the revenue losses, and risking their most valuable players to injury, the NHLPA was asked to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, thereby waiving their opt-out clause in 2019. This would have extended the current CBA well into the future, ensuring players the opportunity to participate in international hockey for another two Olympics. It was, however, categorically rejected by the NHLPA.

And so here we are

Everyone is waiting for a decision to come down from the NHL’s top brass about whether or not we will see the world’s top talent compete in Korea in 2018. Some aren’t waiting though.

Washington Capitals star, and NHL icon, Alexander Ovechkin has repeatedly stated that his will to compete in the Winter Olympics is greater than that of the NHL’s to abstain. Even if the NHL refuses to participate, Ovechkin has said that he “and other players will definitely come [to the Olympics]” in 2018 and represent Russia. He made similar statements when the NHL’s participation was up in the air prior to the 2014 Sochi games.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky gave his two cents, stating that he happens “to love everything about the Olympic Games.” Gretzky knows, though, that his love of the games does not necessarily mean that the NHL has to participate. “I like the Olympic Games, but does that mean that the NHL is going to go? I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you,” he said.

While Gary Bettman and the NHL hope to reach a decision by early January, they continue to appear rather pessimistic in their potential participation, or lack thereof, in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea.

 

In the meantime

 

 

The League’s top super stars of past and present have spoken out against the NHL’s proposed divestment from Olympic hockey. Their representative, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, recently released a statement to the public on Sunday.

I’m more optimistic now than I have ever been, at least as far as we’re concerned, that we’ll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go.

The problem is that this sentiment is not felt by the other parties involved. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has told the NHL that they will find a way to bridge the $10 million gap, but the NHL remains weary of their ability to do so.

The IOC has stoically remained silent on the subject.

The NHL has yet to release any more information other than the fact that they are no more inclined to send their talent to Korea in 2018 than they were before Fehr’s statement on Sunday.

This leaves us fans, sitting here, waiting patiently. Wondering what our respective teams will look like without their NHL talent on board. Wondering, perhaps, who will be willing to follow the likes of Ovechkin and company if the NHL does indeed pull their support for the games and what that will mean for the NHL, the NHLPA, and the IOC.

 

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers like Kyle! 

“From Our Haus to Yours”