Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 faced off in the 2016 Worlds finals

LCK innovation and flexibility could lead to a 2016 World finals rematch

The semifinals match-ups are set for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. SK Telecom T1 (SKT) will take on Royal Never Give Up (RNG), while Samsung Galaxy (SSG) faces Team WE (WE). This stage of the tournament is all about China’s Pro League (LPL) challenging Champions Korea (LCK) in a rivalry as old as professional League of Legends.

Each of these four teams had its own fantastic quarterfinals. WE defeated Cloud9 (C9) 3-2 in a back-and-forth series. SSG skunked Longzhu Gaming (LZ) 3-0, knocking out the Worlds tournament favorite. RNG punished Fnatic’s errors in a 3-1 victory. SKT barely missed losing in a nail biter 3-2 win over Misfits.

Moving into the final four phase of Worlds, these players will be pushed to their limits. SKT has not faced RNG, nor has SSG played versus WE. The second and third seeds from the LPL are facing those of the LCK, seeking redemption for domestic shortcomings. With EDward Gaming, China’s first seed, and Longzhu Gaming, Korea’s first seed, eliminated from competition, Chinese fans have turned to RNG and WE, while Korean fans look to SKT and SSG.

Only two teams move on from here. RNG could be the roadblock which prevents SKT from making their fourth Worlds final. WE could finish in the top two, despite beginning their Worlds run in the play-in stage. SSG and SKT will look for a 2016 finals rematch, which is actually quite likely.

INNOVATION

SSG showed innovation in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

SSG and WE are the two teams in the final four that have shown innovation during the World Championship. WE completely redefined the meta in Group D when they drafted Caitlyn and Jayce to create a high-pressure siege composition to combat the slow, scaling team-fight composition that everyone was drafting. SSG drafted niche picks, such as Kennen, Malzahar and Lissandra during their series against LZ.

Bold adaptations helped these two teams get this far. However, WE seem less interested in continuing to adapt. They returned to their Kog’Maw-Ardent Censer support comfort zone when facing C9, which is part of the reason their series was so close. Instead, C9’s innovations actually caught WE on the back foot through the first four games. WE even ended up banning Singed after game three.

WE did not innovate much in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

On the other hand, SSG just started coming into their own against LZ. Since SSG only needed to study a single opponent, they were able to pinpoint potential problems with LZ, particularly during the draft phase. They took advantage of the fact that LZ prioritize Jarvan IV as a flex pick and roaming mid laners for Bdd. SSG picked or banned Taliyah, and then purposefully left her up in game three to pull out Lissandra as a counter.

If C9 were able to win out during the draft phase, and just failed to properly execute their win conditions, then SSG should be the perfect team to stop WE in their tracks. SSG should be able to pull out even more champion diversity, and then follow through after load-in. They will most likely target the Mystic-Ruler and Crown-Xiye match-ups. Taric was a crucial piece of C9’s puzzle in quarterfinals, as he was for CoreJJ. Shen proved important in the C9-WE series, but SSG pulled it off even better against LZ. 

The other crucial difference between WE and SSG is their quarterfinals gold differences at 15 minutes. WE averaged 1,200 gold behind C9, while SSG averaged just over 1,000 ahead of LZ. Keep in mind, WE were still able to take the series, mostly because of their strong scaling picks, such as Kog’Maw, Corki, Cho’Gath and Maokai. Beyond a certain period in the game, these picks overcome their early game gold deficits and come online. SSG will need to be sure they cut the games shorter.

Flexibility

RNG was inflexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

RNG is facing SKT on the other side of the semifinals bracket. Flexibility, or lack thereof, is the key contrast between these two squads. RNG’s players have played an average of 4.4 total champions during the World Championship so far. SKT’s players average 5.8. Faker and Wolf have played eight and seven different champions, while Xiaohu and Ming have played five and four. This openness to adaptation will be the main catalyst for SKT to make it through semifinals.

For the most part, RNG has relied on Uzi’s late-game team-fighting on Tristana, Kog’Maw and Twitch to carry them to victory. They draft Ardent Censer supports, zoning and roaming mid laners, Jarvan IV and Sejuani in the jungle and AP tanks in the top lane. Meanwhile, SKT leans on Huni to mostly split-push, although he has played Cho’Gath three times. Blank and Peanut exclusively draft Jarvan IV, Sejuani and Gragas. Faker has shown supportive, roaming, assassin and hyper-carry mid laners. Bang and Wolf have run early pressure and late-scaling bottom lanes. Wolf even played Braum and Tahm Kench against Misfits.

SKT are notoriously good at studying single opponents for best-of-five series. Misfits became a thorn in their side when they started drafting engage supports, Ivern jungle and Karma mid. These types of bold innovations forced SKT to become pliable. RNG are much less likely to bring these shake-ups to the table, which will give SKT much more confidence.

SKT were flexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

Targeting the support and top lane champion pool is probably the best way to go. Removing Letme’s fall-back champions and opening up an opportunity for Huni to have the upper hand could puncture RNG’s strategy. Banning out Janna, Lulu and Soraka could take away Uzi’s babysitter (Fnatic’s game three win involved Ming on Morgana). Both sets of junglers will have predictable preferences, as will the AD carries. Finally, Faker has proven that he can adapt and carry in almost any match-up, even if he is set behind early in the game. He can definitely take on Xiaohu, even if he drafts Syndra, Galio or Ryze.

The gold differential at 15 minutes is much closer between these two teams. RNG starts ahead by 371. SKT falls 218 behind. Their early game trends have been slightly different, though. SKT secured first blood in four of their five games versus Misfits, but only first turret in two of five. Meanwhile, RNG took first turret in three out of four games against Fnatic, but only one in four first bloods.

This series is most likely going to come down to late-game decision-making, regardless of the drafts and early games. RNG will be more prone to forcing fights once Uzi has several completed items. SKT will be open to engaging five-versus-five, but they may also implement one-four or one-three-one compositions in certain matches. Huni has pulled off some split-pushing wins with Jayce and Trundle. Faker has drafted Kassadin. The flexibility of their composition and strategy may be the way that SKT pulls through to the finals.

2016 Worlds Rematch

Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 may rematch at the 2017 World finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

SSG’s innovation and SKT’s flexibility will most likely be the crucial factors that result in LCK wins over the LPL. The LCK has proven over the past several years that they are the dominant region. SKT and SSG have both proven so far that, though they have their faults, they come through in the clutch moments. The World Championship is an arduous tournament. While the Chinese organizations have the home field advantage, the Korean ethic has reigned supreme for some time.

These wins would result in a rematch of 2016’s World finals: SKT versus SSG. It would be the first time that two teams had a Worlds finals rematch, and the “script” could not have been written any better. These teams have tested their mettle against the best from North America, Europe, Taiwan and other regions. Now they have their Rift Rivals as their final boss before meeting again. The professional League of Legends landscape would come full circle, and history would be made. It will take innovation and flexibility to get there.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports FlickrGames of Legends

Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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Can Cloud 9 carry NA to semi-finals?

Quarterfinals start this weekend. Week two proved to be the same old story for North America. After a strong week one performance from all the North American teams, Cloud 9 was the lone survivor to make it out. Cloud 9 will have immense pressure as they are the only North American team left in the tournament.

China on the other hand impressed many in front of their hometown fans as both WE and RNG took first in their respective groups. WE are riding high as they finished the group stage 5-1 looking very strong.

How C9 Wins

Cloud 9 wins if Contractz can keep Condi from taking over the map. We saw in WE’s previous games that they know how to snowball their leads. Not only that, but they also know how to play from behind. Jensen will be vital in his team’s success as always. Cloud 9 will most likely look to camp the mid lane as they always do and try to snowball off Jensen’s lead.

Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta will need to hold their own in the bot lane as well. Against EDG and SKT their laning phase didn’t look the best. They will need to be at their best this round. Last year against Samsung Galaxy, they were heavily exploited. They’ll be looking to redeem themselves this time around.

Matchup to Watch: Contractz vs Condi (jungle)

Photo by: Riot Games

WE and Cloud 9 have some of the more talented junglers in the tournament: Juan “Contractz” Garci and Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie. Condi has been heralded as the best jungler by some from the group stage. Contractz came on with a strong showing in week one showing prowess on carry junglers such as Ezreal and Graves.

Junglers have played a large part of each of these teams’ strategies. Cloud 9 looks to setup mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, so Contractz will often look for multiple ganks there to get him snowballing.

Condi has shown the ability to exert his pressure in many areas of the map. Contractz will need to track him well if Cloud 9 stand a chance against these hometown heroes.

Adjustments

With this matchup being the last of all the quarterfinals matches, they’ll have the chance to see how the meta shifts for the tournament. Near the end of week two we saw Caitlyn as a huge counter to much of the farm fest bot lanes that started out. She can easily bully people in lane and go for the early tower with her range. It will be interesting to see how much teams decide to prioritize her moving forward. Cloud 9 picked up Caitlyn in their final match against AHQ in which they dominated.

With how well top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has been playing, I’d like to see him be put on a carry champion such as Rumble or even Trundle. We have yet to see Contractz pull out a Jarvan pick, which has been quite impactful. It raises the question of if he’s able to play it or just doesn’t want to.

Prediction

While Cloud 9 may be slight underdogs here, I think they can pull off a close 3-2 upset of this Chinese powerhouse and take North America to semi-finals.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

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

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

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

Team WE (LPL Third Seed)

WE 957 will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

WE Xiye will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

Gambit (LCL First Seed)

Gambit will play in Group A

Image from EsportsRanks.com

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

2017 Spring Split achievements: 6th Spring regular

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

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

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

Kira and PvPStejos will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

Lyon Gaming (LLN First Seed)

Lyon WhiteLotus will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lyon Genthix will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Overall

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

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

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


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, EsportsRanks.com

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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6 Tips to Becoming the Best College Hoops Fan

(Courtesy of FreeVector.com)

(Courtesy of FreeVector.com)

Whether you are an avid watcher, or go for the socialization and beer, I’m lining you up with some tips that will take your college hoops fandom to the next level!

  1. If you don’t have a team, that’s okay!
    Some people just like basketball, and if that’s you, embrace it! You don’t follow any particular program to enjoy the game, you just really like having an excuse to have a cold 6-pack with your buddies and make incessant noises at your TV screen. It’s okay, we approve.
  2. Stay open minded.
    Who knows, maybe your team is going to come out running a new defense, or they’re trying out a new lineup… We all like to get our panties in a bunch when the starting 5 isn’t the same as it has always been or when our all-star 3-point shooter hasn’t taken any shots. I’m sure it’s for a good reason, and I’m sure if you were the coach, you would know that reason. Enjoy the game… sometimes the only way to work out the kinks is against an opponent.
  3. Don’t think of these players as potential NBA players…
    Remember that these are 18-22 year old kids who are going to school and playing a sport that they love. Enjoy them and their skills for what they are. Don’t try to compare them to what they can be in 5 years as an NBA player – admire what they are bringing to the court right NOW, and just stay quietly hopeful about what they could potentially do in the NBA.
  4. Have patience.
    With the players and the coaches. Not every player is Ben Simmons, not every kid gets drafted outta high school like LeBron, that’s just not realistic. But, every kid is at their respective program for a good reason and they have the skills and/or potential to be a great asset to their program… and let’s be honest, unless you’re Michael Jordan, do you really have room to trash talk this kid’s 48% shooting percentage? It takes coaches a little bit of time to get used to the program that they are in, and it takes them a minute to establish exactly how they want to run things. (I have a 4 year limit – if you’re not making adequate changes, get the hell outta here.) But you have to take these things into consideration and think that maybe, just maybe… things aren’t gelling just yet.
    (Make sure you click the hyperlink! Article about the boy-wonder; written by my colleague Terrance Singleton)
  5. Be passionate.
    We see passion almost everywhere we turn in the sports world. Whether it’s the guy from the student government who is in a morph suit (who’s probably showing a little too much), or the 7 buddies from your freshman hall who are painted head to toe with your school’s name on their chest – find your passion. Stand up and get rowdy, throw your popcorn at the TV set when you get mad, and hell yeah, turn to the guy on your left and give him a high-five because well, SPORTS! It is a totally different experience when you’re actively engaged with what’s going on versus having the game on as background noise.
  6. Allow yourself to relive your own glory days!
    One of the easiest way to stay engaged in the game is to allow yourself to relive what used to be! I’m sure you remember what it felt like to be in the stands when your school was playing their arch rival and your starting point guard sinks a buzzer-beater. Remember what that moment felt like and allow that to transpire into present day. Getting up for work might be a little bit more difficult the next day, but it will be totally worth it!

Start thinking about those brackets people! March will come sooner than you think!