Four new organizations enter the NA LCS in 2018

NA LCS team identities following off-season roster upheavals

This year’s off-season has been extremely disruptive to the identity of each NA LCS team. Iconic, long-term and founding members of several rosters have switched to another team for 2018. Aphromoo is no longer playing for Counter Logic Gaming. Echo Fox is without Froggen. Hai has moved on from FlyQuest. TSM does not have Svenskeren.

Four brand new organizations are entering the LCS, while four previous organizations are no more. Immortals, Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Dignitas are out. Optic Gaming, Golden Guardians, 100 Thieves and Clutch Gaming are in. All of the narratives surrounding the dissolved teams no longer matter. Immortals’ fumbles domestically, and then their tragic World Championship; Dignitas’ return to the LCS and Summer Split run in the playoffs; Phoenix1’s roller-coaster ups and downs from Rift Rivals, MikeYeung and roster shuffles. All down the drain.

The incoming teams will create new narratives for fans to enjoy. Endemic organizations made big roster moves in the off-season, which will bring their own storylines. The other teams in the middle, like Echo Fox and FlyQuest, will continue to mold into their own identities. 2018 is a watershed year for creating new drama, rivalries and narratives within the NA LCS.

100 Thieves: Old Guard, Modern Marketing

Aphromoo joined 100 Thieves for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The roster and coach announced for 100 Thieves consists of Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, Aphromoo and Pr0lly. Each of these members could easily help anchor a team with their veteran experience and knowledge. However, they find themselves together on a roster that could very well have the most combined professional League of Legends experience on any announced NA LCS team in 2018. The coaching role, every lane, and the jungle position is covered by an established personality.

The organization itself is rather novel, though. Matthew Haag, aka “Nadeshot,” is well-known in the Call of Duty world as a retired player and team owner. He is partnered with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to build a brand and a League of Legends roster under the 100 Thieves moniker. With a standout logo and a merch store full of casual-wear, 100 Thieves will most likely bring a different marketing flavor to the LCS.

100 Thieves should bring a mixture of results on and off the Rift. Meteos, Pr0lly and Aphromoo are some of the most recognized personalities in North America, while Ssumday and Ryu rally their own sets of fans. Nadeshot and the Cavaliers may contribute new styles and promotions than League of Legends is used to. Combine the charisma of the players and staff with the creativity and flashiness of the brand, and 100 Thieves could pull a nice set of followers. Not to mention, if the team actually has synergy, then there is no doubt they can be contenders regardless of which AD carry they sign.

Cloud9: question marks

Svenskeren joins Cloud9 for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fans are filled with confusion and concern towards Cloud9’s off-season. With Impact and Contractz leaving, Cloud9 brought on Svenskeren and Licorice to join Jensen, Sneaky and Smoothie on the starting roster. Factions of the fan-base believe these members to be side-grades at least, downgrades at worst. Licorice has not been tested above the Challenger Series, while Svenskeren was not viewed as a key factor for TSM in 2017. While Impact and Ray had their low moments this year on Cloud9, there is no question that Impact’s high points were on another level.

Cloud9 still remains as one of the goofier, nonchalant organizations. Sneaky will still be the central personality, as the longest tenured member of the organization. Jensen, Smoothie, Svenskeren and even Coach Reapered and team owner Jack have had their fair share of memes and fun. Licorice will probably fall right in line with this theme.

However, the lightheartedness of the players only works if they are winning. Jokes and humor fall flat if the roster has issues clicking, or if results do not show. Despite standing out as an amusing team, Cloud9 actually has a strong League of Legends legacy. They have won two NA LCS championships, and finished runner-up four times. In 2018 Cloud9 will look to continue building on this success, while still playing the jester role off stage.

Counter Logic Gaming: the Nice Guys

Biofrost joins CLG for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLG took their first step away from their “Team Friendship” theme when they traded Xmithie for Dardoch in the 2017 mid-season. They took a step further this off-season by bringing on Reignover to start over OmarGod. Add Aphromoo’s departure, and CLG’s identity is reeling.

But look at the starting roster: Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay, Biofrost. These are the nice guys of the NA LCS. This squad has charisma. None of these members have any baggage following them from a previous team, or lacks personality. When Stixxay is the most arrogant player on the roster, it is probably a healthy work environment.

CLG should have some concerns, though. Who will be the leader and shotcaller to fill the void left by Aphromoo? Is there enough fire in the team? And is the talent strong enough to pass the test of 2018? Stixxay has never played in the LCS without Aphromoo. Biofrost only played one split without Doublelift, and it was not nearly as impactful. Reignover has not shown a level of play akin to his days with Huni on Fnatic and Immortals. 2018 will be a huge test for these players’ improvement together.

Clutch Gaming: upgraded envy

Febiven joins Clutch Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Lira, Apollo and Hakuho made up three fifths of Team Envy in 2017, and they will make up three fifths of Clutch Gaming in 2018. Instead of Nisqy and Seraph, though, Clutch opted for Febiven and Solo. Unlike Cloud9’s, these acquisitions should definitely be upgrades. Nisqy brought a level of consistency to the mid lane, which Envy did not have prior to starting him. Seraph was a starter for the team over a longer period of time, but played much less consistently. Febiven earned first team All-Pro in the 2017 European LCS Summer Split, and Solo was a top performer in the North American Challenger Series.

Envy’s jungler and bottom lane were huge contributors to the team’s Summer Split success. They were able to secure a playoff spot, and took CLG to five games in the quarterfinals. With stronger top and mid laners, Clutch Gaming may be able to reach the next level and push even farther. They also brought on David Lim, who led Team Liquid Academy during their promotion into the LCS and Team Liquid during the 2017 Spring Split.

Beyond a possibly underrated roster, the Houston Rockets’ Clutch Gaming identity within the LCS remains unclear. Sebastian Park, their Head of Esports, seems confident in the team’s potential, and the organization has teased analytical tools for optimizing talent scouting, including a “pathfinding engine.” If these types of developments pan out, then Clutch Gaming could become the Moneyball team in the NA LCS.

Echo Fox: The Aggressors

Dardoch and Fenix join Echo Fox for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

List the most aggressive players in the NA LCS over the past two years, and several of Echo Fox’s reported members are likely to pop up. Huni, Dardoch and Fenix are well-known hawkish competitors. Altec and Adrian began building a similar reputation in the 2017 Summer Split, as well. Echo Fox has combined these aggressors into one squad to completely revamp into 2018.

Drama and tension are the other side of this aggression coin. Dardoch and Fenix had their fair share of issues while on Team Liquid in 2016, as showcased in Breaking PointAdrian had his own problems on Phoenix1 in the 2017 Spring Split. These types of off-stage obstacles could bubble up once again without the proper infrastructure.

FOX’s new look is also a departure from the previous Froggen-centric 10-man roster and the Stream Dream Team (Delta Fox). Echo Fox could never develop any synergy on their LCS roster during Summer Split, due to constantly rotating starters. Froggen’s status is still unknown (although Jacob Wolf reported that FOX plans to drop him), but even if he stays, he will no longer be the only voice on the team. This new Echo Fox will have the highest performance variance, as most of the members rely on emotional momentum to succeed. If this roster is able to mesh and remain problem-free, then Echo Fox could reap huge rewards from this huge risk.

FlyQuest: A chemistry experiment

Flame joins FlyQuest for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the few fully announced rosters, FlyQuest is completely revamped for 2018. Following the trend of keystone figures switching teams, Hai is no longer FlyQuest’s mid laner. Balls, Moon and Lemonnation are gone, as well. Instead, FlyQuest acquired Flame, Anda, Fly and Stunt as starters. They also signed Keane and Shrimp, as well as Ngo, Erry and Jayj from the University of Toronto’s collegiate team. Wildturtle is the only remaining member from the 2017 roster.

Other than Flame, these players feel middle of the pack individually. Anda and Fly are untested in the LCS, but have played in the NA Challenger Series with varying success. Wildturtle can spike fairly high, but generally relies on his teammates to play around his style. Stunt was the on-and-off starter during his time on Phoenix1.

Unlocking these players’ ceilings will be FlyQuest’s greatest challenge in 2018. With the proper synergy, FlyQuest could certainly rise higher than their 2017 Summer Split. Communication problems are more likely, though. Wildturtle has veteran experience, but he may not be a loud voice to build a team around. The rookies, Anda and Stunt, will rely on Wildturtle to be a leader and gel together with the Korean imports, Flame and Fly. Keane and Shrimp are smart pick-ups, since they worked fairly well with Ssumday on Dignitas, and could bring that experience into FlyQuest.

Golden Guardians: Hai and Company

Hai joins Golden Guardians for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Hai kick-starts a new organization in 2018, Golden Guardians, and he is basically their only hope. The Golden State Warriors-owned organization has reportedly acquired Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt. This roster would be the only one in the NA LCS without any imported players. Golden Guardians also seem to have the least combined LCS experience. These two factors will leave many fans wondering what reasoning was used to construct this team.

Golden Guardians will live or die by Hai in 2018. He is surrounded by relatively young players who have never played for more than one previous organization. LCS fans were impressed with Moon’s performance on FlyQuest with Hai as a shotcaller, but that success was short-lived. If Hai is able to unlock Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt the same way, then Golden Guardians could surprise.

ESPN also reported Locodoco as the Golden Guardians’ head coach, which could be helpful. He has experience coaching younger players on Team Liquid and Gold Coin United, including Lourlo and Matt. It would be surprising if Golden Guardians kept these same five members as their starters throughout 2018. Without the pressure of relegation, this organization could be taking the opportunity to develop younger native talents with Hai’s proven leadership.

Optic Gaming: The HodgePodge

PowerOfEvil joins Optic Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

A true concoction, Optic Gaming enters the NA LCS pulling together a wide variety of talents. The “Green Wall” is an expansive organization spanning Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Overwatch and other esports. They have announced their acquisition of Romain Bigeard, ex-manager of Unicorns of Love, and Zaboutine, former caster, as manager and coach. ESPN has reported the starting roster as Zig, Akaadian, PowerOfEvil, Arrow and LemonNation.

If all of this is true, then Optic is combining rising stars in top and jungle with an experimental European mid laner, an up-and-down Korean AD carry and an analytical, veteran support. The roster will be led by an eccentric manager-mascot and a French caster-turned-coach, and they will have the full support of an esports powerhouse brand. There are some strong pieces to this puzzle, but they are not necessarily a clean fit.

The Optic LCS team seems like it may sit somewhere between 100 Thieves and FlyQuest. Optic is definitely a well-known esports organization, and they should draw a fan-base. The first-person shooter edge and player recognition of 100 Thieves combines with the questionable roster synergy of FlyQuest. Romain is a promotional personality with a knack for creating content and winning hearts, so expect Optic to use him to full effect. There is certainly plenty of talent on this roster, but it may take a while for them to actually produce favorable results.

Team Liquid: Vengeful Spirits

Doublelift joins Team Liquid for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The hoarders of the off-season, Team Liquid emerges with a complete roster overhaul. After acquiring contracts for several different players, Liquid has most likely settled on Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift and Olleh. This five-man group feels much stronger and intuitive than Liquid’s team from 2017 Summer Split. Xmithie, Pobelter and Olleh are proven talents who made up three fifths of Immortals’ World Championship-qualifying roster. Impact had a mostly off year, but still solid during the high points. Doublelift comes to Liquid after being replaced by TSM.

Revenge is the overarching theme for Team Liquid going into 2018. Owner Steve Arhancet wants revenge for his last two years of roster troubles. The ex-Immortals players want revenge for losing to TSM in the Summer Split finals, then being denied from the franchised LCS. Most importantly, Doublelift wants revenge for getting nudged out of TSM.

With Cain remaining as head coach, Team Liquid should trend towards the top of the league. If this roster is unable to perform, then it will be a complete disgrace. All of these players have been victorious in the past. Each of these players have attended the World Championship, many of them as teammates. 2018 serves as a fresh start for Team Liquid and Steve, and they need to use their past frustrations as fuel. Dardoch is not an excuse. Piglet is not an excuse. Goldenglue is not an excuse. It is time for Liquid to put up or shut up.

TSM: the final boss

Zven and mithy join TSM for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Citing international shortcomings and issues with shotcalling and communication, TSM’s owner, Reginald, decided to replace Svenskeren, Doublelift and Biofrost with MikeYeung, Zven and Mithy. He also picked up Coach Ssong from Immortals’ dissolved team. The six-time NA LCS champions continue to adapt and reinvigorate their roster, and TSM will remain as the final boss in 2018. Every individual player on this team should be top three in their role at the beginning of the season.

MikeYeung is the only player worth questioning. He showcased an explosive Rift Rivals in 2017, but Phoenix1 fell off as a team afterwards. Fans will find out how meta-dependent MikeYeung is in 2018.

Hauntzer was the standout player at Worlds, and he had an all-around stellar 2017. Bjergsen continues to be an anchor in the mid lane, ever-present, ever-consistent. Zven and Mithy’s reputation precedes them, as they have been a package deal since their time on Origen starting in 2014.

TSM’s performance floor is higher than several LCS teams’ ceilings, because the consistency and experience on this team should be solid. Ssong obviously factored into Immortals’ Summer Split success. If he can produce even a portion of that improvement with TSM, then they have a fruitful road ahead. With so much volatility in the off-season, TSM is one of the only teams to maintain the same identity as the villain of the league. They are the team that assumes North American dominance, and shoots for greatness abroad. Franchising has opened doors for some others to compete financially and strategically, but will they actually have what it takes to dethrone the kings?

credits

Featured Image: Akshon Esports Twitter

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

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NA LCS: Sleeper teams

With teams announcing their new rosters, this has to be the most active off-season to date. No one was a sure thing, with franchising bringing new teams into the league. With some teams not making it in, it left many players as free agents ready to be picked up. With new teams entering the scene some interesting rosters have come about. Here are a few of my sleeper teams heading into the new season.

100 Thieves

Roster: 

Top: Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho

Jungle: William “Meteos” Hartman

Mid: Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook

ADC: Cody “Cody Sun” Sun (Rumored)

Support: Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black

Head Coach: Neil “pr0lly” Hammad

It looks like Pr0lly was given the lead to construct the roster as he pleased and he did an excellent job. Not only is each player individually talented, but their styles look like they could mesh really well together in game.

Adding a personality like Pr0lly already adds some good PR starting off for a new organization. Pr0lly has experience playing in LCS during his time on Complexity, as well as coaching in EU LCS with H2K. Being able to get a star top laner like Ssumday who has shown the beastly mechanics is definitely a success.

Ryu comes in after a struggling Summer Split with Phoenix1. He’s hoping to revitalize his career by reuniting with coach Pr0lly. Pr0lly noted in an interview with Travis Gafford that Ryu has a loud voice that can sometimes distract from focusing on his own play. Bringing in Aphromoo to shot-call for the team takes a lot of weight off Ryu’s shoulders to let him focus on his own gameplay.

With every member officially announced aside from ADC, Cody Sun looks to be the obvious choice. Ryu and Ssumday take up their import slots so if it isn’t Cody Sun, it would mean bringing in a fresh North American rookie. Cody Sun would be a nice added piece after a decent rookie split on Immortals. He showed flashes of greatness at times last year and under the tutelage of a veteran support like Aphromoo, could really begin to shine. If everything works out, 100 Thieves could be a top 2-4 team heading into Spring.

Clutch Gaming

Top: Colin “Solo” Earnest 

Jungle: Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo

Mid: Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten

ADC: Apollo “Apollo” Price

Support: Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent 

Head Coach:David Lim

Photo by: Riot Games

Another NBA team heading into the NA LCS is Clutch Gaming. Clutch Gaming basically took most of Team EnVyUs and replaced their solo laners. EnVyUs didn’t look terrible last split, making their way into the quarterfinals of playoffs. Clutch Gaming picked up most of the core of their team in Lira, Apollo and Hakuho. David Lim heads the team after spending much time on Liquid. His coaching stint never really worked out, but Team Liquid also didn’t have the best roster.

LirA made a name for himself as one of the best junglers in North America despite being on an average team. Many players praised LirA for his aggressive play style and unpredictable pathing almost solo carrying some games. Apollo and Hakuho developed into a formidable duo who were 2v2’ing some of the best bot lanes in North America. Apollo will never be a flashy ADC, but he’s consistent with his play style and can pop off some games.

The acquisition of Febiven in the mid lane is huge as he comes off a year where he revitalized his career on H2K. Febiven looked great once again, looking like his rookie form with Fnatic. The biggest question mark will be in the top lane with rookie, Solo. Solo has been a longtime Challenger Series player who hasn’t been able to crack into the LCS until now. While he’s looked decent in the Challenger Series, he’s looked average for the most part when it came to going against LCS competition. If he can develop into a decent LCS caliber top laner, Clutch Gaming could definitely surprise a lot of people.

Echo Fox

Top: Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon (Pursuing)

Jungle: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett

Mid: Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun

ADC: Johnny “Altec” Ru

Support: Adrian “Adrian” Ma

Head Coach: Coach: Nick “Inero” Smith

Photo by: Riot Games

Echo Fox brought in possibly one of the most high risk, high reward rosters of the off-season. From an attitude standpoint, things could internally implode if things don’t work out early.

Everyone knows the Dardoch story. A highly skilled jungler with all the mechanics you’d want from a rising young rookie. We saw first hand with his time on Team Liquid how he is as a teammate and player. Being kicked off Immortals and Counter Logic Gaming has to make you question if he can ever get his act together. Time and time again he has had his chances. This may be his last shot under Echo Fox. He reunites with former Team Liquid mid laner, Fenix, who spent time in the Challenger Series this past year.

Fenix has shown good laning mechanics, but fails to translate his laning success in a team sense. He can lane with some of the best mid laners, but can he truly mesh with the team around him to make his team succeed.

In the bot lane, Adrian and Altec stay together from Dignitas. Dignitas looked like a strong team who could possibly make a strong run at Worlds towards the end of summer. Things seemed to have imploded as the team lost their synergy. Adrian in particular has been noted to have attitude problems during his time on Team Impulse and Phoenix1.

If this team can find the perfect chemistry to be able to succeed, they could definitely be top contenders. If things don’t work out, this team could fall apart very fast.

 

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Cover photo by 100 Thieves Twitter

Winners and Losers of the Off-season: NALCS

Franchising has definitely brought a different level of spiciness this off-season that has had many fans alike excited for the upcoming season. It almost feels that anyone and everyone has been on the move with every team having money to spend this off-season. While not everything is confirmed yet, most of the rumors have come to fruition.

Some teams have made big splashes recruiting big names this off-season. Others seemed to have been late to the party. This piece we’ll be looking at the winners and losers of the off-season so far. Let’s take a look:

Winners

Team Liquid

While “Paid by Steve” has become a meme, it became a reality as Team Liquid struck fast in the off-season. They were able to obtain most of the Immortals roster who qualified for Worlds last year and added two veteran stars to go along with them. Their starting roster consists of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.

Being able to obtain three players who previously worked together is definitely a win right off the bat will bring some needed synergy for a new team. Pobelter, Doublelift, and Xmithie are all longtime NALCS vets who can bring a lot of leadership to this team. Impact has been a star for the past few seasons on Cloud 9 and had another great Worlds performance. Having played in NA for the past two years, his English has gotten a lot better. He’s often been heralded for his communication and which is a great trait to have as an import. He also has the experience of having been a world champion with SKT in season 3.

Olleh is an aggressive laning support who should do well with star ADC Doublelift. Doublelift comes to Team Liquid after being replaced on TSM by European star, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. Doublelift is hungry to be the best and get revenge on his former team. He’s been arguably one of the best ADC’s in the West since becoming a pro. While domestically he’s been great, it’s internationally where he’ll need to show up. His past few Worlds performances have been average at best so he’ll want to get to Worlds again to finally prove himself.

Xmithie and Pobelter come off a summer split where they both revitalized their careers on Immortals. Both players looked to be on the decline after rough Spring Splits. Xmithie had an MVP like split in which the meta leaned towards tank-control junglers. His play was vital in Immortals making it to Summer finals.

Team Liquid without a doubt had a lot of money to spend, and this time spent it in the right places.

TSM’s Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung

Photo by: Riot Esports

Mikeyeung went from playing on a 9th place Phoenix1 team to one of the most successful franchises in NALCS history. While the pressure will be on to perform, he’ll be surrounded by star veterans in every lane. Opportunity arose with TSM importing the European bot lane duo of Zven and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez. With TSM needing a North American talent in the jungle, Mikeyeung’s opportunity was there.

Mikeyeung had one of the most surprising rookie splits this past summer. He came into a flailing Phoenix1 team that went from 3rd to last place and tried to salvage as much as he could. He showed great aggression on champs such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll have every chance to succeed with TSM being the kings of domestic success. He’ll also have a chance to learn under the leadership of former Immortals coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo. Any team Ssong has coach, he’s been praised for improving the team drastically.

TSM has the reputation of turning aggressive junglers into ward bots so we’ll need to see what Mikeyeung becomes. If he stays the aggressive, play making jungler, it may be just what TSM needs.

100 Thieves

Of all the new teams entering the league, 100 thieves have the build of a prominent roster if things pan out. As one of the only teams who hasn’t announced their bot lane yet, all signs point to star support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black heading their way. The confirmed players look to all be individually really good. They are top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook. It’s also good to note that they’ll be coached by Neil “pr0lly” Hammad who showed great success in EU with H2K.

If Aphromoo is heading to 100 thieves as their support it will most likely be a North American rookie at ADC. Aphromoo has shown the ability to mold great ADC’s in the bot lane with Stixxay on CLG so it won’t be new for him. This team could be a major sleeper to storm into the league as legit contenders right away.

 

Losers

 Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming took a major hit this off-season losing long time veteran leader Aphromoo. Aphromoo has always been associated as CLG’s main leader inside and outside of game. His leadership qualities will be missed. He was always seen as the mediator when things got rough and with how inconsistent this roster can be, his absence will be felt.

Taking his place will be TSM’s former support, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. While mechanically Biofrost has showed to be really good, his communication seems to be lacking as Doublelift and Bjergsen were more of the shot callers on the team. He’s still young, but this roster isn’t too talented on paper. Everyone else imported big names, while CLG looked to stay mostly the same. They picked up jungler in Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin who had a horrific season on Team Liquid. Individually he did okay, but he’ll be looking to bounce back big this year.

The returning members  of the team, mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya have had their share of inconsistencies. Without the leadership of aphromoo this team may crumble if they don’t perform well early.

CLoud 9

Photo by: Riot Esports

In a shocking turn of events rising star Juan “Contractz” Garcia and top laner Impact both left the team for brighter pastures. While one could see Impact leaving as a possibility, the fact that Contractz left meant Cloud 9 needed to either import a jungler or top laner. Cloud 9 seemed to be late to the party as most of the North American junglers had already found new homes.

They found their replacement in former TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen who is an EU talent. This means Svenskeren will be taking an import slot. This most likely means that rookie Eric “Licorice” Ritchie will be the starting top laner for Cloud 9. Svenskeren has had his troubles with inconsistencies. He was a huge scapegoat in TSM’s performance at Worlds in which their early game play making was lacking.

While Svenskeren isn’t necessarily a steep downgrade to Contractz, replacing Impact with a rookie will definitely be felt. Licorice spent his time in the challenger series on EUnited last split. He’s been a top player in the challenger scene for the past few splits. He’ll have big shoes to fill if they plan to start him right away. With many of the top teams looking even better, Cloud 9 may have taken a step back. Only time will tell if this was the right move for them.

EuLCS

An exodus was bound to happen with franchising heading to North America. With EU having some big name talents who can proficiently speak English, North America was bound to try to recruit them to cross the Atlantic. Europe loses the G2 bot lane of Zven and Mithy, along with mid laners Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The off-season isn’t even over yet. There’s definitely still room for more players to head over.

This is a major hit for EU. Misfits in particular almost knocked off former champions, SKT. Most of these rosters did not choose to stick together and EU will have to look to garner new talent to replace the ones that left.

With franchising not coming until 2019, many of the EU organizations can’t compete with the salaries being offered in North America. This will most likely result in EU being top heavy. Players are looking to team up with the best in EU while younger orgs will have to fight for scraps.

 

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Thanksgiving Free Agents: League of Legends Edition

League of Legends is having their first major free agency period since the start of franchising in North America. As with traditional sports, free agency is going to be a major time for teams to build their rosters for LCS’ new start. Instead of just giving you who some of the free agents are and where they might go, a holiday theme has been added for your enjoyment. (Note: As of the time this was written none of these players have signed officially)

Corn “Froggen”

Froggen has been consistent since the day he entered the LCS. Never overly flashy but a major part and sometimes the best part of his team. Corn like Froggen is never flashy but it is reliable and can be the best part of a bad meal.

Last year on Echo Fox, Froggen was the unchallenged leader of the team. Echo Fox finished in eighth, just outside of the playoffs the last two splits. This was due to many things, but rarely ever Froggen. There are plenty of new openings for Froggen. As an in-game and out of game leader, Froggen will be someone who is going to be brought on to do just that. His play is consistent but his leadership skills are what gets him his next position.

For this reason, Froggen will be going to a completely new squad in NA as some of the newer teams will be looking for a leader to help guide them through their first season. He did this with Echo Fox and maybe with a better and more consistent roster around him, Froggen will finally make NA playoffs this year.  With sources saying Akaadian has been bought out by OpTic Gaming it would make sense that they add arguably the two best players from Echo Fox.

Prediction: OpTic

Cranberry Sauce “PowerOfEvil”

Like cranberry sauce you either love PowerOfEvil or you strongly dislike him. He can be an absolute legend on the rift or look like he is lost. That being said PowerOfEvil is testing the waters of free agency hoping to be picked up by a NA squad.

Misfits made a surprising run in world this last year making it out of group stages. While the team played well as a whole, in most games until the end, PowerOfEvil had looked solid. He can make the flashy plays and keep up with many of the games top mid-laners when he is on his game. If he can find consistency there is no doubt that he can challenge just about anyone while in lane. For that reason I think PowerOfEvil will be a hot commodity for NA this free agency.

A great squad for PowerOfEvil would be Flyquest. With Flame reportedly signing there and a solid bot-lane of WildTurtle and Stunt, bringing on PowerOfEvil would make a nice splash for FlyQuest. For PowerOfEvil he would be able to play with teammates who can help guide him in his first year in NA and allow for him to learn from his mistakes he will probably make early on. If they get the PowerOfEvil we saw during group stages and during Mistfits’ run in EU championships, then FlyQuest could have a very strong squad next season.

Prediction: FlyQuest

Sweet Potatoes “LemonNation”

Sweet Potatoes are classic when talking about Thanksgiving dinner. They are sweet and almost like desert before actual desert. Lemonnation is a classic NA support who can surprise people by quietly being solid throughout the game. (Also both are orange/red) Lemonnation has been a consistent and overall solid support since he came into the professional league scene. He does his work and helps lead teams to being better than many people would have thought.

Last year on FlyQuest, many people felt that they would be a joke because it was made up of players who had not played in the pro-scene in awhile. They came out and surprised everyone by making playoffs their first split and barely missing playoffs their second split. Lemonnation came back with a vengeance and showed that older players in the scene can still play and has maybe changed everyone’s opinions about what a “old” player really is.

While Ignar and Aphromoo are higher on teams’ lists, there are still openings for supports especially on new teams. You could reasonably argue that once the other two have signed, whoever else has an opening would sign Lemonnation. With that in mind 100 Thieves looks like a good place for Lemonnation to end up. Ssumday and Meteos (both of whom are on this list) are rumored to be signed with 100 Thieves and Ryu has been confirmed. With Pr0lly as their coach this group could add Lemonnation and have a very reliable team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Green Bean Casserole “Meteos”

Some years it’s there, some it’s not. Sometimes you dislike it, sometimes you love it. Like “Dark” Meteos green bean casserole comes back after missing some time at family events and you’re afraid of what is coming next. It is put on your plate against your will and you are told to try it. This time you like it and oddly want more.

Meteos was a mainstay with Cloud9 for many splits. He has a solid following and thus every time he’s filled in for a team people have been very excited. After spending different parts of the year with Phoenix1, who went from playoffs to last between Spring and Summer split, Meteos is ready to be a starter again. With the many opportunities it is likely that he will get a chance to show he is a top level jungler at the professional level.

It is being reported that Meteos will be signing with 100 Thieves. If this stands, with Ryu and Ssumday, it looks as though 100 Thieves could have a very interesting roster to start of League of Legends franchising.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Biscuit/Corn Bread/Rolls “Febiven”

Any type of bread is needed with any Thanksgiving meal. They help to fill you up and are a go to if you’re not ready to try something new. Febiven in NA would be that. He is a solid mid-laner who brings consistency to any team. He may not be the mvp on his team but he is needed and a safe pickup for any team.

Febiven brings that feeling of a stalwart in the middle of the rift for any team. For H2k this past year Febiven brought composure to an already winning team. He got his start with Cloud9 Eclipse and many speculate he is testing free agency in order to go back to NA. Febiven can bring a lot to one of these new franchising teams and it is likely that he would have a nice payday doing so.

According to sources Golden Guardians only have their coach so far, Locodoco. It is also rumored that Shiphtur might be signing with them. While Shiphtur is a good mid-laner, the Golden Guardians would be making a big time acquisition by signing Febiven. He would not only attract fans but also players. If they know they have someone like him holding down the middle of the Rift then players will feel more comfortable around him. Also wouldn’t it be fun to see Bjerg, Jensen, Pobelter, Huhi, Ryu and Febiven battling it out in mid next season?

Prediction: Golden Guardians

Stuffing “Ignar”

On the outside, if you have never had stuffing before you might think, “I dont know what to think about this”. Then you try it and realize it’s solid and brings the meal together. In many ways this is Ignar. The All-Pro support had some questions coming over to Misfits and showed this year that he is the stuffing to any Thanksgiving meal.

After a quick stay with KT Rolster Ignar found a home with Misfits. He was exactly what you would want in a support. He is able to speak Korean and getting better at English, and he is able to help get bot-lane ahead. His aggresion mixed well with his lanemate, Hans Sama, as he played champions like Rakan, Blitzcrank and Thresh. He is a playmaker and with that will come many offers from teams for a support who can do more than just keep their ADC alive.

There are rumors that Ignar is looking to head back to the LCK, possibly even with SKT. If this doesn’t happen and he heads to NA, there is no doubt that he will land a starting roll. OpTic would be a good match with Ignar. Sources say that Arrow has already signed and thus Ignar would have another Korean ADC. This would eliminate a language barrier and give OpTic another nice pickup.

Prediction: OpTic Gaming

Gravy “Aphromoo”

If you don’t like gravy, what are you doing with your life? If you don’t like Aphromoo the same question should be asked. The man is one of the best supports in NA and, like gravy, he is liked by mostly everyone. Gravy is also what you put on everything in order to help it taste better. No matter what team Aphromoo joins, he will make them that much better.

The Moo has been one of the best, if not the best, supports in NA since he arrived on the scene. His ability to get his ADC ahead by whatever means necessary has made him a lanemate that any ADC would want. While he still can go back to CLG if he wants to, it is interesting that he is testing free agency. It may help drive up the money for his contract wherever he signs, including CLG.

While it would be interesting to see another team pick up Aphromoo, it is likely he stays with CLG. They will give into giving him a large contract and that should bring him back. He is already familiar with the team as most of his teammates, Darshan, Huhi and Stixxay have all already signed with CLG.

Prediction: CLG

Mashed Potatoes “Ssumday”

Mashed potatoes are one of the best parts of the entire Thanksgiving meal. Is it really Thanksgiving without them? Nearly everyone loves them and sometimes if the other parts of the meal aren’t good you can always turn to mashed potatoes to be the best part. Ssumday will be this for which ever team he signs with. Everyone is going to want to bring him on and when others may not be as good around him, you can turn to him and know he will show why he is one of the best top-laners in the world.

Ssumday did not live up to the hype during his first full year in NA, but was still very good. Coming over from KT Rolster everyone believed Ssumday was easily a top 3 top-laner in the world. Dignitas fans were ecstatic when he signed on. Dig went to the playoffs both splits in their first full season back, but unfortunately were not chosen to go forward with franchising. Now Ssumday is again looking for his next home to show he is a top tier top-laner again.

Originally it was thought that Ssumday would be looking to go back to the LCK this season. Then sources came out claiming that 100 Thieves is looking to sign him. While the team has not confirmed it yet, if he were to sign there 100 Thieves, it would have a very nice start for their team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Pumpkin Pie “MikeYeung”

Pumpkin pie is what everyone wants even though they are already full, it is that good. It can be the only part some people care about. MikeYeung is the new, young jungler that everyone is going to be going after. He is the pumpkin pie at this Thanksgiving dinner, every team will be giving him a look.

MikeYueng made a splash in NA during his first split with Pheonix1 by winning Rookie of the Split. He showed that he can be an impact player at every phase of the game, especially when he got ahead. The problem was when he didn’t get ahead or his team struggled, he lacked the experience to bring them back. Now that he has played a full split he will be looking to show anyone who signs him that he is the real deal.

Sources are saying that TSM is likely going to sign MikeYeung. After a disappointing year with Svenskeren, it is not a huge surprise that TSM would be looking at someone with the potential of MikeYeung. With Bjerg and Hauntzer most likely staying, they will be able to help bring Mike along and help him to reach his full potential. Also, with sources saying that Zven and Mithy have come over to TSM, this squad could have an incredible 2018.

Prediction: TSM

Turkey “Peanut”

The main course, the bird that represents all of Thanksgiving is the turkey. Turkey is what people spend days prepping to make sure it looks and tastes amazing. Shows and movies constantly show people fighting over the last available turkey. Thanksgiving dinner is not Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey. Peanut is someone people can build a team around. He is the turkey of this Thanksgiving meal.

Many people were surprised when Peanut announced that he was a free agent. He instantly shot up to the top of teams wishlists, as he is considered by many to be the best jungler in the world. Every team that has a jungle opening should be looking to sign someone of his talent level. He made his name on ROX Tigers and then signed with SKT this last season. While they didn’t win Worlds he was still a major part, along with Faker, of getting this team to Finals.

Peanut is the prize in this free agency and if he heads to NA, every team will want him. If it wasn’t likely that TSM was signing MikeYeung, it is probable that they would be in the mix. Counting them out, there are three teams who will likely be vying for his service: FlyQuest, Golden Guardians and CLG. CLG has a very good squad especially if they bring back Aphromoo. OmarGod had a solid first split after Dardoch left but, if CLG want to be a contender for Worlds, they need to sign Peanut. With him on their team CLG could easily be vying for a top spot in NA and could make a huge run at Worlds.

Prediction: CLG

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Playoffs

NA LCS Playoffs team breakdown

It’s time for that special time of the year. Where every team puts it all on the line for the championship. Teams have finally finished the battle of the summer split and have either qualified or fallen short of a playoff berth. The teams that have qualified each have a chance to take home the trophy as this playoff tournament shapes up to be the most competitive in recent history. This year a team that has never won may claim the title of NA LCS champion.

 

I’ll speak to each team’s recent results and the matchup they’ll have, then I’ll highlight both one key strength and one key weakness for each team.

 

Team NV

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

Team NV has qualified for the NA LCS playoffs as the sixth seed. They will be facing CLG in the quarter finals on the 19th. Though Team NV is the lowest seed, and coming off of an 0-4 run they shouldn’t be discounted. Team NV earlier in the season have proven they can take a series win off of top tier teams such as C9, DIG, and IMT.

 

Strength

Team NV’s clear strength comes from the jungle. Lira has been a dominant force for team NV since he joined the team last split. Despite finishing as a 10th place team Lira was voted as All NA LCS first team jungler. This year he has proved his dominance with 71% KP and strong performances on Elise, Lee Sin, and Nidalee. A great recent example being game 2 versus TSM in week 8.

 

Weakness

NV’s biggest weakness is their top laner Seraph. With a combined score in week 9 of 2-25-10 Seraph is clearly the weak link on NV. With a solid mid and bot lane, it seems as if Lira needs to babysit Seraph in order to prevent the opponent from snowballing. He is sitting on an abysmal 2.31 KDA across the season and has the highest deaths of any top laner in the league.

 

Team Dignitas

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

DIG has qualified for the NA LCS playoffs as the fifth seed. They will be facing C9 in the quarter finals on the 20th. They are coming off a 3-1 last two weeks with only a close loss to CLG dampening their final few games. With plenty of momentum and thoughts of the mid-season slump long behind them DIG looks good going into the quarters.

 

Strengths

Team DIG’s strength is certainly their top laner Ssumday.  His wide champion pool featured 16 unique champions this split featuring tanks, fighters, and even the occasional marksman. Ssumday is the backbone of DIG and has carried more than his fair share of games for DIG

 

Weakness

In that strength, there is a weakness. Ssumday is easily targeted for frequent ganks and roams, because DIG love to play through him. When that’s the case, and the other laners aren’t able to generate leads despite DIG losses. This was the issue in the mid-season, DIG’s bot lane wasn’t able to hold their own without constant jungle pressure, but with the addition of Altec and Adrian, the team has found much more success.

 

Cloud 9

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

C9 has qualified for the NA LCS playoffs as the fourth seed. They will be facing DIG in the quarter finals on the 20th. They are coming off an easy last two weeks going 4-0, playing only one other playoff team, NV. This will have only built their confidence and given them opportunity to work on their team play. C9 has a long history of deep playoff runs and there is lots of experience on the roster of high pressure games.

 

Strength

Jensen’s midlane play has been next level since week two. Despite struggling in the beginning and middle of the season as a team Cloud 9’s midlaner has been putting up some incredible numbers. He broke the split record for kills, a record he already held. He has a disgusting 8.70 KDA across the split and has five champions with KDA averages 6+.

 

Weakness

Despite Jensen’s strong performance, Cloud 9 has, at times, seemed lost. Cloud 9’s macro play has not matched their micro. Some games the communication just isn’t there. Either Contractz will gank late or early and they will trade one for one when it could have been a clean gank, or they will lose a fight and surrender an objective while they’re 2k gold up in the mid game.

 

Counter Logic Gaming

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

CLG has qualified for the NA LCS playoffs as the third seed. They will be facing NV in the quarter finals on the 19th. They are coming off of a 2-2 last two weeks, with an upset from P1 in week 8 and a rough loss to rivals TSM to wrap up their split. They’ll be looking to seek vengeance on their longtime rivals and seek retribution for being upset in last split’s quarter final’s series against Flyquest.

 

Strength

The CLG bottom lane has been a rock for them this split. Both Stixxay and Aphromoo have had great splits. Stixxay has showed competence on a wide range of ADCs, pulling out nine unique champions this split with an impressive 4.33 KDA. Aphromoo, while maybe not in peak performance, is still having a great split. CLG is able to rely on their bot lane duo to either play well and stay even as a weak side, or focus resources to them and have them carry games.

 

Weakness

They’ve elected in their final weeks to replace their jungler with a rookie. While it may help in the long run, there has been signs of a lack of communication from the rookie. Their loss to P1 is an example of this. In game 2 Omargod looked lost on Elise, unable to engage or gank successfully at any point in the game and the team just fell apart in the mid game. This isn’t to say that Omargod is a bad player, only that he lacks the experience on stage to be consistent and that will hurt CLG’s chances in playoffs.

 

 

Immortals

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

Immortals rounded out the split with a 3-1 record in the final two weeks. The loss they did suffer was to DIG. This doesn’t bode well headed into the playoffs, but with a bye they won’t have to face anyone until the semis. Immortals has a lot to prove in this season’s playoffs, having had a rough history in the post season and look to make their first worlds appearance.

 

Strength

Immortal’s strength lies with two players, both in contention for MVP this season. Xmithie in the jungle and Olleh their support. Each player has found a way to control their part of the map, both with vision and pressure. Olleh has really stepped up this year and improved. His laning phase is much better, providing both pressure for Cody Sun and roaming mid for Pobelter. Xmithie has found his stride on IMT after leaving CLG. He plays with a lot of confidence and often chokes out the enemy junglers with invades and frequent ganks.

 

Weakness

Immortals main weakness is their inability to hold onto early game leads against top teams. For example against DIG in game 1 week 8 IMT had an early lead, yet were unable to push that lead to a victory. Same thing happened against TSM in week five. In game one IMT came out to an early lead, yet were unable to stop giving up objectives and going even or less one kill in team fights until eventually they lost their lead and the game.

 

Team Solo Mid

Playoffs

Photo Via Lolesports

TSM has qualified for the NA LCS playoffs as the first seed and have a bye into the semifinals. They have taken a clean 4-0 in the final two weeks with a big win over CLG. TSM has a lot of experience with this roster, and a lot of experience in high pressure games. They’ve yet to miss an NA LCS finals match, and expect to find themselves in the finals this year.

 

Strength

Their strength is certainly their individual play. Each player as an individual has great play. Bjergsen is always arguably, if not definitively, the best midlaner in NA and this split has been no different. The same can be said for Doublelift in the ADC role. Hauntzer has played a great split as well as Sven and Biofrost. Each player as an individual has made great plays.

 

Weakness

When TSM losses, it’s because of team play. When TSM’s team play is on point, domestically they are unbeatable. Take their series in week seven against DIG for an example. A botched team fight in game one at around the ten minute mark lost them their gold lead and led to DIG getting first tower and a cloud drake. If they are all focused together they are unstoppable, but have shown that their team play and macro isn’t as consistent as their individual play.

 

Cover Photo Via lolesports

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Hooks in the LCS

Week Two of the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) has proven once again that NA pros are hooked on League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) picks. While Thresh has been a staple in competitive since release, the rise of Blitzcrank has recently rocketed in North America.

Thresh’s Big Moment

Perhaps the most consistent support pick, Thresh has become stronger than ever with the recent meta changes. Having a kit that is overloaded with the ability to create picks, peel, and reposition allies, it is no wonder that Thresh has been a staple in pro play. This being said, Thresh has reached his peak in both competitive and solo queue environments due to some recent changes.

Photo by: lolesports

Changes to support and laning items have made Thresh’s abusable laning phase easier to handle. Doran’s shield protects vulnerable AD carries from the harassment of the ever popular ranged mage supports. Poke based support champions are also hindered by having less mana regen on the Spellthief’s support item line. With poke supports doing less poking, tank supports running the Relic Shield line have been indirectly buffed, but they are again buffed through the power of the Relic Shield Quest which gives them a refreshing shield once it is completed.

Alongside the lack of health regen from the Ancient Coin line, and less mana regen from Spellthief’s, Relic Shield supports such as Thresh and Blitzcrank are at their strongest.

The Great Steam Golem

The Great Steam Golem has seen plenty of screen-time in the LCK, most notably from the likes of MVP MAX, whose signature Blitzcrank is a pick to be feared. With seven bans and five picks since the LCK started three weeks ago, Blitzcrank maintains a 60 percent win rate. Popularized by MVP Max during the Spring Split of the LCK, Blitzcrank is one of Max’s many play making supports. Currently, in the Summer Split of the LCK, MVP Max has only played two games on his claim to fame champion, winning one and losing the other; this shows that the pick has become popular amongst other supports in the LCK as well.

Throwback to Team Alternate versus Gambit (Moscow 5). Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has always been an unpopular pick in the competitive scene, with exception of the first two seasons of competitive. This is in large part due to the reliability of his one-dimensional kit. Blitzcrank is the quintessential Catcher. While being the best pick based support, Blitzcrank’s toolkit starts, stops and ends at his Rocket Grab. The basic combo, hook into knock-up and silence, can be used for peeling through a separation of the combo into its more basic components.

However, there are so many other better-peeling supports. Due to the nature of his one combo kit, Blitzcrank’s power is completely dependent on hitting the initial Rocket Grab. This is the primary reason why professional players have strayed away from Blitzcrank. While this champion is undeniably one of the most powerful supports in the game, consistently sitting in the top three highest win rate supports for the past few seasons, the lack of flexibility and reliability prevents the Steam Golem from being the most picked support.

Blitzcrank’s Fleshling Compatibility Services

Enter Xayah, the Rebel. Xayah has incredible late game scaling, laning phase damage, wave clear, and Crowd Control. Her popularity alongside her partner, Rakan, has soared in the competitive scene. While her go-to bottom lane partner is Rakan, Blitzcrank makes a potentially more powerful support. Much like the Kalista Blitzcrank combination of the past season, Xayah and Blitzcrank compensate for each other’s weaknesses perfectly. Xayah lacks in gap closers that allow for her to dump her insane amount of damage onto backline threats. Blitzcrank’s Rocket Grab allows for her to utilize her damage on threats that would otherwise be too far away. The Steam Golem lacks in reliability to initiate the Rocket Grab combo, but Xayah’s wave clear and root allow for Rocket Grab to become a point and click ability instead of a jukable skill shot.

EULCS Hylissang gets his hook on in time for a victory. Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has incredible play-making ability that was displayed in game three of CLG v Echo Fox. Alongside Xayah, Blitzcrank is a foe to be reckoned with. Regardless of whether or not Blitzcrank is laning with Xayah, the Steam Golem has seen a recent resurgence in both solo queue and competitive environments. Most recently in the EU LCS, Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov, proved the champion’s power supporting Twitch in the bottom lane. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s knack for play-making supports has translated well into his Blitzcrank play. While CLG would ultimately lose to TSM with Blitzcrank, this is in large part due to the unexpected performance by TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenkskeren” Johnsen.

As support itemization is once again being changed, expect to see both hook-heavy champions in the bottom lane. With Redemption being nerfed when not paired with other healing and shielding items, and Knight’s Vow being made more appropriate for supports to pick up, expect to see a new Blitzcrank and Thresh build path. This new itemization will compensate for Blitzcrank’s lack of peel by allowing him to effectively share a health pool with his marksmen.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

 

Will Super Teams Ever Be formed in the LCS?

For those who follow the NBA, it’s no doubt that the league has changed. Star players used to be much more loyal to the teams that drafted them. Nowadays if players want to compete for a title, they most likely need the help of fellow superstars to do so. Which brings an interesting topic to LCS. What would happen if some of the best players of the region all came together to form “super teams” to begin to seriously contend for worlds. One could only imagine the possibilities of rosters.

We have yet to really see any formation of super teams take place in LCS. In Europe, Alliance had their small run of success before flopping at Worlds. The transfer of Zven and Mithy to G2 was also a bold move for them as they saw the greatest chance for success in joining G2 esports. In the LMS you somewhat have the formation of two of the best rosters on AHQ and Flash Wolves. It’s an extremely top heavy region where Flash Wolves and AHQ are almost always bound to meet in the finals.

Why not?

Photo via Inven

One could see how the formation of “super teams” could greatly benefit a region. Could you imagine a super team of North American talent of Hauntzer, Dardoch, Bjergsen, Doublelift, and Aphromoo? Possibly the best players at their positions from the region all coming together to compete for a World championship.

Player loyalty is much higher in LCS than the NBA. Players are extremely loyal it seems to the teams that gave them their first real shot at playing professionally. Bjergsen will always be famous for the work he has put in on TSM. The same goes for Aphromoo on CLG. Even Froggen on Echo Fox. Despite having some poor splits so far in the NALCS, Froggen remains loyal to Echo Fox as an organization. It makes it difficult to see if either players would give up their loyalty for a shot at a professional title. In the NBA, a star player can only hope for so long that his GM can garner the right pieces for a championship team. Once they’ve hit their peak, they’re looking for a title contending team which usually means teaming up with other NBA superstars (i.e. Kevin Durant to GSW).

Would Super Teams Hurt the LCS?

The competition of LCS may become worse if all the best players of a region are stacked onto 1-3 teams. Looking at the NBA, we can almost expect the Cavs and Warriors to face off in every finals for the next few years until another super team can form to dethrone them. If super teams dominated LCS, and the gap between a middle tier and top tier team were to expand, the league could grow stale for some. Seeing super star heavy teams leaves less of a talent pool for other teams. Most teams would probably need to turn to imports to compete.

With no real player rivalries anymore in the NBA, more players seem to care more about winning a championship than anything. Player/team rivalries are huge in sports/esports, but if every good player just wants to team together, it sort of defeats the purpose of competing against the best.

Can Super Teams actually compete on the world stage?

Photo via Riot Esports

If super teams were to form in NA LCS, it’d be with one goal in mind: to finally contend for a world championship. For so long Korea has dominated professional League of Legends. Forming a sort of “all star” team could be one way to finally contend for a World title. We’ve seen teams like G2 and TSM do well domestically, but flop at Worlds. Could the solution just be superstar players joining up to form all star caliber teams?

It’s hard to say for sure. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward as North American fans grow frustrated with seeing Korea win every year and NA fail to make it out of groups. If the years continue on like this, I could definitely see some superstars look to join up as esport athletes don’t have the longest career spans. Searching for a World title may be one or two players away from forming a super team.

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Cover Photo by Riot Esports

Let me know what your super team would be in the comments below!

 

Why Dardoch and Xmithie are perfect fits for their teams

It’s only been one week into the Summer Split of the NALCS, but Immortals and CLG look impressive. During the off-season, the two teams agreed to swap junglers Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

Most people only saw CLG as the clear winners of this trade. With Xmithie looking to have peaked as a jungler, few expected Immortals to have much success after the transfer. Immortals had different plans, though, as they were able to take a commanding 2-0 week after sweeping last split’s champions, TSM. Both junglers seem to be perfect fits on their new rosters.

Photo via Riot Esports

Mid/Jungle Synergy

Before the split, mid laners Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Eugene “Pobelter” Park were heading in opposite directions. Huhi was often criticized at the weak link of CLG in his first split, but looked much improved in the spring. Meanwhile, Pobelter was known as being one of the only NA mid talents, had one of his worst splits in spring. Statistically, he was near the bottom when comparing stats among other mids.

Xmithie and Pobelter had previous experience playing together on CLG back when they took the 2015 NALCS finals. The support of Xmithie has helped him and Immortals as a team. Pobelter finished the week with a massive 10 KDA and looked like his former star self.

Huhi benefited from having a more aggressive jungler as he was able to help with roams and pressure his lane more with Dardoch behind him. Huhi did work this week doing 33 percent of his team’s damage while also having the third highest KDA among mids.

Jungle Styles

Stylistically, Dardoch and Xmithie are night and day in comparison. Dardoch is extremely aggressive and loves to make big plays. Xmithie is an efficient pather and likes to play more supportive in tracking the enemy jungler while helping his laners.

On Immortals, Dardoch was a huge voice on the team. On a team of very passive personalities, his ego took over and he basically did whatever he wanted. Immortals staff even acknowledged this in their offseason video where they highlighted some of the team’s issues. On CLG, Dardoch plays with the presence of other strong vocal players such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. With veteran leadership already in place on CLG, Dardoch isn’t required to do as much of the heavy lifting as he was on Immortals.

With Immortals, Xmithie is willing to sacrifice resources to allow his team to gain leads. Immortals players have rather passive personalities that could easily be run over by someone like Dardoch. But with Xmithie, they have someone willing to help the team by all means necessary. As the meta shifted back to carry tops and tank/support jungles, Xmithie fits perfectly. Xmithie does not try to make flashy plays that will make himself good, rather he tries to allow his carries to do what they need to do.

Team Environments

Photo via Riot Esports

It almost feels that this is the strongest roster and management staff Dardoch has ever played on. With strong veteran presence leading the way on CLG, he can worry about his own play rather than his teammates. CLG has experience dealing with egocentric players having dealt with star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Dardoch also isn’t relied upon to be the sole shot caller. It’s been known that Darshan and Aphromoo are very vocal in game and help a ton with the macro play.

The Immortals roster felt like it needed a fresh start after playing with Dardoch for a split. In the video going over Spring Split, the roster members felt that because of Dardoch a lot of the relationships amongst team members felt very “artificial”. With that type of team environment, you can’t expect young players to be at their best. Xmithie comes from an environment where team bonding and friendship were a strong vocal point in success. Xmithie doesn’t have near the ego of Dardoch, so you can expect Immortals are riding this honeymoon phase all the way into Week Two.


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Cover Photo by Riot Games

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

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

 

The Split

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

Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

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

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

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

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

From “Unlikely” to “Runner-ups”

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

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

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

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

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

To Face a God

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

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

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

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

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

Murica. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

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

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

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

 

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CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 1

When people say what draws them to esports and sports, you’ll often hear two philosophies: to watch the best of the best play their game at the peak level of competition, or for the story lines that weave themselves on and off the playing fields.

This piece is for the second group. This article started in my mind as a joke, as I was looking back with a friend on past NA LCS splits playoffs and remembered just how insanely storybook like Counter Logic Gaming’s (CLG) run to win the Spring Split in 2016 and their performance at MSI was. In my mind, it was the greatest sports anime style narrative we’ve yet to see. (Rivaled by Cloud 9’s Cinderella story to Worlds in S6, mind you.)

I mean, THIS happened so anything is possible folks…

What do I mean by this? Well, think about it. Long time team, they had just come off a big win but now were thrown into question, lots of pressure on the roster, and a bunch of faces old and new, veterans and no name rookies, who managed to stick it to the pundits and win it all.

Hell, even the archetypes are there: the Leader (Aphro), the Cutesy dopey one (Huhi), the Downplayed ace (Stixxay), the Steady and silent one (Xmithie), the Pretty one (Darshan), and the Mr. Serious Coach Guy (Zikz… kind of).

The narrative practically writes itself folks. There were ups and downs, moments it looked bleak and others where they shined as a team, not as individuals. They coalesced, they backed each other up on and off the rift, and they showed that team work meant more than flashy players and big transfers. They also lost in heart breakers, they had to buffer themselves to the community’s constant criticisms, and ultimately to have faith in each other.

With MSI behind us, and the NA LCS ultimately losing their top seed at the next Worlds, lets take a look back a brighter time for North America, a time where, funny enough, the team representing the region was not seen as the best team there. They were criticized harshly going into it, and many felt that perhaps they would not be the best showing for the NA LCS internationally. It turned out, they were. This is the first part of a two part series, so be sure to check in tomorrow for our dramatic conclusion!

The Set Up

I still remember the shock of the off season between Worlds 2015 and the NA LCS Spring Split 2016. Losing  Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemed like a blow enough. Pob was, as I always said, a solid, if not uninspiring, Mid laner. The perfect fit for CLG, who often had… on and off Mid laners. That was fine. Maybe the team had some crazy import in mind, right? After all, Faith has always been part of the CLG fandom. But that wasn’t all.

Then the unthinkable happened. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng traded in the blue and gray for the black and white of long time rivals TSM. Why not top it all off with picking up two almost unheard of rookies in Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, and CLG pulled a full CLG and went counter to everyone’s expectations. They finally found the solution, the team that got them that coveted NA LCS Finals and Worlds appearance. It was supposed to be the Golden Age. Then they decided to remove two key players and replace them with untested rookies.

The rag tag team of dreams, NA’s hope at MSI. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The scene was left scratching their heads, as eternal rivals TSM looked to rebound after an off performance during their last Summer’s playoff showing, having gotten arguably the strongest ADC in the West from the very team that beat them. TSM’s rivals, of course, were left with two rookies, Stixxay having been promoted from CLG Black, while Huhi was reportedly scouted in Korea for his talent. But they both had big shoes to fill, and while being surrounded by some of the most storied veterans in Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, CLG fans felt that maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to pull out a playoff win in Summer.

Alongside the player changes, CLG brought on a new head coach by the name of Tony “Zikzlol” Gray, now a household name as arguably one of the best coaches in North America, there was a lot of new faces and questions mixed with hopes.

Nobody expected that the team would amount to much in Spring. Even CLG didn’t. A win on domestic soil seemed a great showing, but the impressive showings didn’t end there: they also went on to place second at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational, after showing up against international teams and only falling short against Korean juggernauts SKT. Then again, what would a good sports anime be without the unlikely happening?

Our protagonists

Archetypes in Anime aren’t really set in stone. Sure, there are tropes and there’s kind of constant themes throughout, but archetypes are always kind of murky grounds. Some will disagree with the ones I find almost ever present. Some will say I forgot some. Hell, it’s even likely you’ll disagree with my identification of the players in their archetypes. That’s fine, I’m not claiming objectivity here. But if I were writing the show, this is how I’d envision the players.

Darshan: Even his teacher calls him Zionspartan… but fans now call him Darshan, and arguably last Spring was some of the best times for the one they call Darshan.

He was a monster in the Top lane, eloquent in the lane swap meta, and a menace when left to split push to victory. If fans of the NA LCS had a dime for every time Darshan would split push to win with Fiora or similar split pushers, they’d have a lot of dimes. It wasn’t quite the Flame Horizon in the Top lane, but it was pretty damn close, and many of the W’s in CLG’s Spring Split could be chalked up to the dashing Darshan.

Darshan, probably thinking about how to style his hair or like the next song to cover… Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

Of course, it’s not just about how the players played, but their place in our overall story, right? Darshan could’ve been the kind of Clutch Player, the one who shows up when the team needs him the most and somehow pulls off the victory. But I think the other side of Darshan plays out more in my mind: He seriously was the pretty boy of the group. Amazing facial hair and style aside, he also sings amazingly. If he were to walk onto stage, I feel like he would have to have a flower background and a close up zoom in, as his eye sparkled or something. Next to Huhi, Darshan would probably have the most fanart of himself if we’re being totally honest.

Xmithie: Xmithie has been a staple in the NA LCS since his time way back in Season 3 with Team FeaR and Team Vulcun. He’s been a stable force in the scene, never quite as strong as some of his flashier compatriots in the Jungle, yet Xmithie never failed though to remain a rock and foundational piece for many a team. Hell, he was the unchallenged Best Lee Sin NA for a while folks…

Over the shoulder eye brow raising smoulder. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

But more than that, Xmithie fit into the CLG story line as that Steady and Silent one. For the entirety of the Spring split and into MSI, Xmithie put in production for the team, helping his lane mates get ahead and maintaining overall map control.

He was there where and when the team needed him and read the game to know who to set up and get ahead. In some ways he was like a tactician for the squad, if not for Aphro’s obvious influence in that department. He was, however, always the quietest member it felt like. He wouldn’t be the player dominating a scene in the show, but he would show up at the right time to help a fellow player. The strong, silent type that always held a place in your heart for his sincere concern for his fellows.

 

Huhi: Huhi came in as a heavily scrutinized player, always at the center of criticism for the team and seemingly always the one that had to go. Still, through all of this, it seemed like the bubbly personality of Huhi persisted on. While notorious for his pocket picks like Aurelion Sol, Huhi’s performance on the rift has always been polarizing. He’s either the one surprisingly carrying his whole team on his giant space dragon back, or the one that’s the anchor for the early game of the team. Huhi was always a polarizing player, but he was never a negative player.

If you don’t find this image heart warming and wholesome, I ask you kindly, but firmly, to leave. Courtesy of Yahoo Esports.

It was his off the rift presence that was the perfect fit for somewhere between the comedic relief and the adorable one of the group. Just check his Twitter, and see the beauty that is the HuhixHaru.

It was, however, I think Huhi’s defining feature in my mind of his overall positive attitude in the face of adversity. He always seemed happy, always ready to try and prove himself again, and never daunted by opponents or critics. He would keep the team cheery and would offer his positive attitude to the team atmosphere.

Stixxay: Fans of CLG may have forgotten this, but Stixxay was considered once one of the weakest members of CLG for a time. Not many should be surprised by this, as stepping into the shoes of ace ADC and Best in the West Doublelift is definitely a tall task. But Stixxay never seemed fazed by those who didn’t believe in him. He was always stepping up, and I think the shinning moment of his Spring career was the Tristana play that propelled them to their victory over TSM and onto the MSI tournament.

From Zero to Hero in no time flat. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In a lot of ways, Stixxay would seem our protagonist for this show. The young kid, stepping into the ace role for a team, under heavy scrutiny by fans and pundits, and with a kind of self confidence in himself and his team that felt slightly above what one might feel was warranted. He and Aphromoo set out to prove everyone wrong, the young gun under the mentorship of the leader and brain in the botlane duo of Rush Hour.

Interviews with Stixxay showed this side time and time again: he felt he was good, damn good, but not in a pretentious way, not by putting others down or overstating his point. He felt he had the mechanics and just needed the time to ripen and he could match Doublelift’s legacy. Well, as a spoiler, it seemed he wasn’t too far off, and while a discussion of whether he’s ‘better than’ Doublelift or not would be a hotly contested debate, it’s safe to say that the rookie has proved himself, long before gaining the moniker of Big Dixxay.

Aphromoo: If ever there was a franchise player to match the level of Doublelift, it could be argued that it would be Aphromoo. Support, as a position, occupies a unique role within League of Legends: they’re both the ones to set up the plays and their lane mates success, while also generally tasked with the shotcalling role. In short, the best Supports are often the ultimate altruistic leaders. Aphromoo is no exception to this role either, often being praised as the driving force behind CLG’s success, being the leader the team needs on and off the rift.

There are certain players whose reputation transcends their on the Rift abilities. Aphromoo is one such player. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

It’s the perfect plot line too. The mentor, the veteran, the one left behind the famous departure of lanemate Doublelift. Aphromoo had to prove himself not only mechanically as a player, but to prove himself to the team captain and mentor everyone believed he could be. He was given the untested, gifted, and highly coachable player that was Stixxay, and their role in the team ultimately became the lynch pin for their success.

While Darshan was known for his split pushing, Huhi his pocket picks and Xmithie for his selfless jungling style, it was the Bot lane duo that often was tasked to face some of the best and strongest opponents and carry. If it’s not a saying, it should be, that behind every God ADC is a Support who whipped them into shape, and look no further for proof of this then the Lethal Weapon duo that is Stixxay and Aphromoo.

Zikz: An untested team needs a leader, but it also needs a coach. Zikz stepped into the role of Head Coach before the roster was finalized, replacing William “scarra” Li and being promoted from Head Analyst position. Fans will remember Zikz for his simple, elegant style, a classy suit and non-distracting hair gave him the appearance of a largely non-menacing coach. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Zikz has established himself in the coaching role, holding one of the longest tenures as such, in a position that largely has seen more revolving doors than an European Super Team.

“Ok guys, if we destroy their Nexus first we win. Break!” Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

So how does Zikz play into this story? Well, he’s the behind the scene coach, the one who propels his team, prepares them to the best he can, and then sits there and watches as his work and tactics unfold before his eyes. Zikz was always there with his team, laughing, encouraging, being one on one with many of the players, and arguably a lot of CLG’s success can be placed as a fact of his impressive coaching. He was a strong Runner Up for the Coach of the Spring Split in 2016, and is a constant contender for the best coach each split.

He also plays the role of the coach who not much is known about. He’s been a relative silent force in CLG’s presence, and while this fits that narrative well of the behind the scenes coach who is stronger than he comes off, it also gave him the kind of mysterious aspect to him. All he needs is some glasses to push up his nose menacing when a team falls into his well laid trap and he’d be perfect.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 everyone!

Is That a Jojo Reference? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr and bad MS Paint skills.

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