Unicorns of Love entered the EU LCS in 2015

A brief, heart-breaking history of Unicorns of Love

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

2015

Unicorns of Love qualified for the EU LCS in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016

Unicorns of Love replaced three starters for 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

Unicorns of Love signed Xerxe and Samux for 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

2018

 

What will Unicorns of Love do in 2018?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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The Return of Dyrus: Will his new team grace the LCS? Marc Merrill Confirmed

Well it’s that time of year again folks. The Spring Split comes to a close, the Promotion tournament rages on, and the majority of us are left with no good League of Legends to watch. Thankfully the scene delivers us some exclusive news that will excite any fan of League: the return of Marcus “Dyrus” Hill.

Dyrus reached out to me personally on my MySpace account saying, “It just didn’t feel the same watching these scrubs win Top lane. That’s just not how you do it. I had to come back and teach kids how to play Top lane again ;)” Wink included. Dyrus detailed how he felt it was important for some real American throwdowns to return in the Top lane.

Dyrus also confirmed the backing of a venture capitalist group succinctly titled “Sketchy Big Money Guys Who Want More Money But Love Esports We Swear Ever Since It Made Others Money”, or SBMGWWMMBLEWSESIMOM, or just Big Money Guys. “With the backing of Big Money Guys I feel we have a real single shot at making LCS before all our funding is pulled suddenly and violently leaving many of our support staff stranded and without any chance of survival! We’re absolutely excited and thankful for this single shot at the big leagues with a group that only believes in us if we perform in one split of Challenger Series.”

When asked about the process of forming this new team and anyone who inspired this sudden change of heart, Dyrus simply sent me this image as a single tear rolled down his cheek.

While Dyrus stressed that this was not necessarily the final draft, he assured me he did not in fact do it in MS Paint five minutes before contacting me. Definitely not.

While Dyrus is currently the only announced player for the roster, he hinted at some fellow familiar big names that may join him. “I’m not allowed to say who will be joining me just yet, but I can say that they are known to LIFT things sometimes twice or DOUBLE… Double times… Ohh, and I think TheOddOne said he was free too I guess.”

(Praise be Unto Mark Merrill, our Lord and Savior)

But what will this legendary team be called? Dyrus also wasn’t hesitant with this. “We wanted to be known for our own legacy and not the team we played for in the past and had massive success with. So we decided on Team Alternative Middle, or TAM. Our logo is pretty cool. It’s got fire and stuff. But we wanted to build our own, completely unique and never done before sounding team. Like, we may bring in a super star Danish mid laner or something.”

In case it wasn’t apparent, April Fools folks. Sadly the return of Dyrus doesn’t seem to be happening (yet!?) Hopefully my bad humour was mildly amusing to someone. Anyone. My mom thinks my jokes are funny.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Joe!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part 1

And so our tale begins... Courtesy of Amazon.uk and Leaguepedia.

And so our tale begins… Courtesy of Amazon.uk and Leaguepedia.

Well folks, let it not be said that the offseason in League of Legends is anything less than filled with drama, roster changes, and, well, some new faces. As many of our readers will already be aware of, Riot dropped probably the biggest (and most historic) competitive ruling in LCS history. The short of it? TiP (the organization) is banned from ever playing again for not paying their players on time and contract shadiness, and Renegades and TDK are caught in an awkward dance of player trades that look suspicious to Riot, while the former is banned for having ‘ex’-owner Chris Badawi still involved in the organization following a one year ban due to poaching allegations.

Now that the dust has (largely) settled around the issue, and many pundits within the scene have staked their claim, either in defense of Riot’s actions or decrying them as tyrannical, I thought I’d wager not only my opinion but some alternative views to the rather prevalent feeling. In this three part series, we’ll look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what very well could be Riot’s defining move outside of its forming of the LCS. For our first installment, let’s look at the Good that Riot has done with this move.

 

TiP just couldn’t get the tip…

Socially Awkward... Team Organization? Courtesy of memegenerator.

Socially Awkward… Team Organization? Courtesy of memegenerator.

Alright, so let’s look at the probably only uncontestable point of Riot’s recent ban hammer swinging: TiP getting the boot for not paying their players properly or on time. This absolutely sickens me as a fan of the NA LCS, and is something that, sadly, I almost wish Riot would’ve done earlier (but I think I understand why they didn’t.) This is completely unacceptable behaviour in any workforce, particularly one as young and, well, with as young of workers as you get in esports. It’s completely abhorrent, abusive, and not at all what we want as a representative of one of the premier esports leagues in the world, particularly contrasted to the other top teams who have never had this problem.

What’s worse is that not only did this happen multiple times, Riot had to personally intervene into the situation upon finding out players had not been paid yet to see that they were. To clarify this too, we’re (sadly) not even talking about full salaries here. Riot has a Minimum Player Compensation (MPC), which requires that players are paid a salary of at least $12,000 per split. While we cannot know exactly what player salaries look like for top teams, we imagine (and hope) that they are far beyond this with salaries that the organizations pay to the players per split, which we could call their Full Player Compensation (FPC) to keep with the nice short forms.

An unfortunate aspect of this is that while Riot is essentially banning TiP for not paying their Players their MPC, Riot is unable to act on the FPC because the players never entered into formal, written contracts with the organization (more on this in our next section.) This, sadly, is both a good and bad move from Riot, but I have to favour the former for purely ‘legal’ reasons. Without any actual amounts known, players might, not that they probably would, attempt to extort extra salary from the shamed organization who Riot would be truly tested to believe against the earnest players. If, for instance, Gate was promised a salary of $35,000, he might, the logic goes, say it was $40,000. Riot would then be put in a situation of ‘their voice against ours,’ where it is difficult to objectively see which side is correct. Still, the action stands, and it is easily the most uncontentious of all of Riot’s rulings. I’ve not heard a single person come to TiP’s defense in this issue, and I think that is because there is no reason to do so. Good riddance to ‘em.

 

TiP of the Iceberg…

Courtesy of worldartsme.

Courtesy of worldartsme.

We hinted at in our last paragraph the other major problem with TiP, and a problem in esports in general, that is, of contracts. Contracts are the bane (and boon) of many a pro player, and equally of many an organization. While Counter Strike: Global Offensive offers for much more exciting examples, (Screams contract being bought out from G2 for $150,000 to transfer to Titan as an example,) it is relatively more hush hush or not allowed in Riot’s settings. Players tend to have much more power and places to turn to get ‘out of’ contracts, and I cannot think of a player being ‘held back’ from moving onto a better team in recent memory (although I’m assured there have been examples…) However, contract buyouts have been a major issue recently, but it’s hard to find a fair compromise: without them, poaching and players leaving for greener pastures would leave orgs in their dust, while them being there prevents players (and regions overall) from forming possibly the best teams for that region.

The other main reason TiP was banned, and arguably why they were perma-banned rather than given a certain limited sentence, is that they did not sign, create, or seem to encourage written contracts with their players (until Riot intervention.) This means that, essentially, the players have no written, objective case for what is rightfully ‘promised’ to them in a contract, and equally what they have promised to the organization itself. A verbal contract is shakey business and there is a lot to be said of such a young industry needing clear, concise and accessible contracts. Contracts bind an organization to do what they say they will do, and can make that organization legally bound to do so (and if they don’t, there is, again, formal legal groundwork to take them to court.) Without these written documents, however, players are hard pressed to pressure their team to actually fulfil their promises.

However, there is one point to be made about this: some of TiP’s players (reportedly) did have contracts with TiP, just not all. Riot conducted a League wide audit to ensure contracts were in fact signed, and found that TiP had not done so for this split nor the last. TiP eventually did sign contracts with some of their starting roster, but not all. Actual names are not given either, so we can only assume who it might’ve been (maybe import players, so that they felt security in staying in NA?) This just isn’t a satisfactory process in a scene struggling so hard to standardize itself and, through that, legitimatize itself to the world. Working without a contract makes no sense in a scene whose behind door dealings are relatively unknown to those outside of it. Without public knowledge, there cannot be public outcry, and unless a leak happens (as is the case with the recent incarnation of WESA,) fans, who have the most power in the whole equation of esports, have no way to boycott a team or demand their dismantling. Needless to say, Riot made an excellent choice in banning TiP here; if an organization can’t guarantee their players these two basic needs then surely another can, and with the growth of esports there is no need to allow such shadey organizations to continue operations that abuse their players.

 

Competitve rulings are the law, ye Renegades…

"I'm the Sheriff round these parts," said a Riot Games, before he shot his six shooter of Bans. Courtesy of freepik and wikipedia.

“I’m the Sheriff round these parts,” said a Riot Games, before he shot his six shooter of Bans. Courtesy of freepik and wikipedia.

Now onto the stuff that will either make you hate me or not. Renegades and TDK’s situation is a much more… murky one. Sure, on the one hand, the reasons Riot has given to ban the two organizations seems reasonable (taken as an isolated case without any outside information or opinions on the matter and taking the Riot report as fact.) As I’ve said, this part of the series deals solely with the decisions I think were Good from Riot, so I won’t focus too much on the complexities, nuances and counter-points made by sources close to the organizations themselves. I’ll deal with that in the articles to come, so hold onto your butts because I’m going to try and save at least a bit of this sinking ship.

Riot banned Chris Badawi on charges of attempting to poach players Quas and KEITHMCBREIF from Team Liquid, to which he was given a one year ban from having any dealings with and ownership over Renegades as an organization. It seemed a kind of harsh ban, but that seems to be Riot’s style: ban harshly so to set an example. The problem, then? Well, Renegades broke this ruling, kind of. There was an arrangement in place with ‘current’ owner of Renegades, Christopher Mykles, that, essentially, guaranteed Badawi a 50% stake in the company come the end of his year ban. Not bad right? I mean, he’s technically not owner of Renegades that way… right?

Well, not so much. Apparently that contracted agreement to give 50% ownership to Badawi in a year’s time boils down to… him having 50% ownership at the time of signing. The logic follows that any agreement to ownership, regardless of the actual time, is an agreement to current ownership of some kind. This (kind of?) makes sense. If I am guaranteed half an organization in a year’s time, I have a considerable stake in that organization and its preservation, but also, in a way, in its development. I am a part of it (kind of.) And, therefore, Badawi was still associated with Renegades during his ban time. Yes, this seems a slightly obscure ruling, but I feel like, in a way, it’s still something one should make sure to consult prior to making it a written document.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

But perma-banned from all Riot sanctioned tournaments over this seems to be harsher than even Riot tends to be. I think this is because we cannot isolated this fact from the other multiple infractions that Renegades was found to have done. I have a hard time coming to Renegades aid here. Riot’s rulebook is only 58 pages, and it’s in a neato PDF thing so you can, y’know, Ctrl+F to find sections that might be important… like whether you’re involving a banned party who is not supposed to be associated with your organization or not. I think it was an oversight on the side of Renegades, and I can’t much blame them for that, but I also find it hard to say that they should be forgiven for it because of that. It’s sad, really, because Renegades was such a storied organizations for its relative infancy. Great PR gimmicks, bringing in the first female LCS player in history, these were the starts of a branding that you can’t buy folks. But I think they took the Renegades moniker a little too seriously with their disregard for rules, and it bit them hard(er than it should’ve.)

 

‘Suspicious’ trades and the Balance of Power…

 

While our last Good thing was contentious on the issue of strange legalities (who needs temporality, anyways?) I think this is another one where a serious amount more of information and evidence needs to be made public. Still, if the allegations are correct, well, then I can see it be a problem. What is this allegation then? Well, the Good portion of it, in my opinion, is to do with the strange trade the two organizations made with each other. We could, in a way, say that the balance of power given to Renegades over other LCS teams was skewed (and TDK over other CS teams.)

Why is this? Well, it essentially that the ‘relationship’ between the two organizations wasn’t as clear cut as it is between, say, CLG and TSM. We’ll take the example of Doublelift going to TSM from CLG: we can assume that in this trade/him being dropped/whatever, that there was a kind of contractual agreement between the two that was Riot approved. This prevents a few things: players being traded in a bad way, organizations being ‘shafted,’ unfair deals etc. Well, it appears, according to the official Riot ruling, this was not as clear cut of a case, and certain conditions, like the payment for players and housing of players a month after the trade, was not made explicit, and could be argued to skew the balance of power of those teams against their rivals in their respective leagues.

In other words, Riot had been under the impression that, to quote the report, “Both teams assured officials that their businesses were not linked in any fashion, and that the trade was in the mutual interest of both teams independent of any additional relationship or agreement.” But why is paying a player’s salary (for a months,) such a bad thing? Even some took to twitter saying this was a regular thing in the realm of sports. I think the reason that Riot is still doing a (shade of) Good here is that the teams weren’t frank about this arrangement, and it stinks of financial pooling.

By keeping it all hidden, and because Riot got, it appears, conflicting answers on the topic, I do side with Riot on this occasion again. This is something that, while I will show that I do not like this fact, Riot needs to be the judge, jury and executioner of whether it maintains competitive integrity. The reason I say this is that, unlike teams (think the recent move by Cloud 9) who field, and thus also fund, their own Challenger team, Renegades was given a similar advantage (talent farming,) without having to pay those players. On the flip side, TDK was given the advantage of receiving some valuable, experienced players (whether they really made a difference is questionable…) in the process without needing to buy out contracts or scout for that talent in unsigned players. It puts other teams at a disadvantage who might’ve tried to do the same but go through the proper channels to do so.

Courtesy of all-free-download and Leaguepedia.

Courtesy of all-free-download and Leaguepedia.

Conclusion

 

I think it’s still a hard thing to come out in complete favour of Riot given the nature and context of the situation, but for the reasons I’ve stated I do think Riot is in the right side of history for making some of their decisions. You can’t have things like this happening in a professional sports league, and similarly harsh actions would be taken outside of the LCS if such a case were found. However, Riot occupies a strange field in a way in esports so far: they have an exclusive League in which they, essentially, have complete power over. This is unseen in other esports, as Leagues have existed in, say, CSGO, but these are run by third party entities from Valve (the owner of the IP for CSGO.) This will lead into my later discussions on the issue, but for now we’ll say that I am concerned if Riot does not make the proper moves to distance itself from its (albeit mostly benevolent) despotic ways.

Summing up what makes the Promotion Tournament stand out

The Promotion portion of the LCS season is something special. The 8th, 9th, and 10th place team in the league have to fight for their spot in the next split against the 1st, 2nd and 3rd team from Challenger.

Changes this split to the Promotion tournament have eliminated the tenth place team being automatically demoted, and has given them a chance to stay. The Promotion tournament takes place over three days. The format for the matches is best of five. Round one is a best of five between the ninth place LCS team and the second place Challenger team. The loser of this series is eliminated from contention. The second day, we see the eighth place LCS team play the winner of the first round match, and the first place team from Challenger play the 7th place LCS team with the winners of these series earning a spot in the LCS. The final round takes place between the two teams from day two who didn’t win. The winner of that series makes it to the LCS, with the losing team playing in Challenger.

Renegades, a team who went 6-11 in the LCS this season, played last summer in Challenger. (Image http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/File:LA_Renegades.png)

Renegades, a team who went 6-11 in the LCS this season, played last summer in Challenger. (Courtesy of esportspedia.com)

This Spring split, Renegades, Team Impulse and Team Dignitas will have to fight to stay in the LCS against the top two challenger teams, Team Dragon Knights and Apex Gaming. Before the rework, Team Dignitas would have been automatically demoted with Apex Gaming automatically advancing. Now, Dignitas has a chance to defend their spot while Apex Gaming has to fight their way in.

In Europe, the Promotion tournaments already happened and all of the LCS teams remained. Giants! Gaming cut it the closest, playing in 3 best of five series. The tenth place team, they played on day one and won, eliminating the second place Copenhagen Wolves. They then lost to Splyce on the second day, giving Splyce a spot in the Summer split. Then, the third day they faced Team Huma, who lost to ROCCAT the day before. Winning 3-1, Giants! reclaimed their spot in the EU LCS.

The promotion tournament as it played out. The LCS teams remained. (Image http://lol.gamepedia.com/2016_EU_LCS/Summer_Promotion)

The promotion tournament as it played out. The LCS teams remained. (Courtesy of gamepedia.com)

The new Promotion tournament is designed to do this. It even says it on the page on lolesports.com where it was announced. It was created to help “stabilize the LCS.” It is designed to keep the 10 LCS teams in, and the Challenger teams out.

Some of the reaction of this was negative, but I don’t see it that way. The LCS teams should have the advantage when it comes to staying in, after all they already worked to get that spot. They should be given the edge to keep it. If the Challenger teams want to get in with the big boys then they can win a few games.

Think about how unique of a concept the Relegation/Promotion is. This is really the only setting where something like this could work. Think about the rosters. There are ten teams of five, plus they’ll carry one or two substitutes. That means that the whole LCS is somewhere around 60 players. That is less than one football team, and it’s around 5 NBA teams.

There are great players out there who aren’t in the LCS. There is no possible way that the gap between the stars of the LCS and the stars of Challenger is that big. Not when the LCS has so few players. Plus, the players are all split up into defined roles. You’re telling me that the top ten jungle players on the North America server are the ten junglers in the LCS right now? That could not possibly be true, one of them is Crumbz. It is not unreasonable to think that the best player on the server in a certain role is in Challenger. This gives that player the fast track to the LCS.

Sorry Crumbz (Image taken from Worlds Season 5 VOD on lolesports.com)

Sorry Crumbz (Image taken from Worlds Season 5 VOD on lolesports.com)

Also, they are not geographically based, as much as I would love a world where the Cleveland Browns are in the minor leagues where they belong, robbing Cleveland of an NFL franchise would have too much of an impact on the city as a whole. However, the only thing an LCS team being demoted affects is that team. They all play in the same building, they all play on the same days. There are no home or away teams. This is truly the only sporting league in the United States where this could happen.

It’s amazing. I love every second of it. It is my favorite part of the LCS. Plus, once a team is 0-5 or 1-7, this will be the hardest game they play all split. Once they throw in the towel for the regular season, they’ll start scouting the top Challenger teams and begin preparing for this event. Will they have another chance in the LCS? Or will they have to go down to Challenger and climb back up? The revisions to the Promotion tournament have proven to keep the LCS teams in the LCS in Europe, we will have to wait and see what effect this has on the North American server.

Storylines going into the EU Promotion Tournament

Well folks, it’s that time of year, everyone’s second favourite tournament: Promotion tournament. This is the chance for squads coming out of the Challenger Series to make their mark, enter the LCS and prove to the world that they deserve a place in the most prestigious of leagues. On the flipside of this are the defending teams, the bottom three teams from the Split, who must defend their claim against the newcomers. Almost every time they’re upset, teams that people thought for sure were going to make it and don’t, and times teams that didn’t stand a chance to most analysts pulling it off. It’s always exciting, if not a bit scrappier and filled with more errors, and it’s coming up this Thursday!

 

The format works a bit different this year too. Rather than three Challenger Series teams against three LCS teams, only two Challenger Series teams are in. Also, the way the seeding works is different. The 8th and 9th seed have a bigger advantage, with 8th having two cracks at making it back into the LCS, 9th having two as well but in much tighter contentions, while 10th has to fight through the second seed from Challenger and then win again before making it into the LCS. It’s all a bit complicated, so here’s a  helpful diagram Riot put together to describe it further:

 

Diagrams are fun kids! Courtesy of lolesports.

Diagrams are fun kids! Courtesy of lolesports.

The promotion tournament is a great improvement on prior years, giving a higher chance to the LCS side team to make it back in, while removing Auto-relegation for 10th place and yet still punishing teams for doing so poorly. It favors those who placed higher in the regular split quite heavily, while also putting pressure on the Challenger side to do well in the playoffs. 1st place Huma has a much easier time ahead of them than 2nd place Copenhagen Wolves. Still, it’s anyone’s game currently, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the new format takes shape.

Giants come into the promotion after the most disappointing split of their careers. Can the new roster turn things around for the slumping Giants? Or will they be be back into the Challenger Series to figure out what happened? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Giants come into the promotion after the most disappointing split of their careers. Can the new roster turn things around for the slumping Giants? Or will they be be back into the Challenger Series to figure out what happened? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

So what are the stories to watch going in? Well, the first set between Giants and Copenhagen Wolves seems to have the most going on. Giants have recently swapped out four of their five members for new players, two Koreans of note, and are hoping to prove that last splits horrible showing was a fluke in their overall history. And proving is definitely the name of the game for this Giants team, as a lot hinges on this first battle. If Giants manages to succeed, they’re back in the running for an LCS spot. If they lose, they’re out, and will have to be reconsidering their Challenger Series team’s name from Underdoges to Giants gaming. Again.

The Wolves are pretty much a staple of the Promotion Tournament, so it's great to see them back at it. Can they repeat their upset victory against Millennium here and make it through the toughest running into the LCS? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The Wolves are pretty much a staple of the Promotion Tournament, so it’s great to see them back at it. Can they repeat their upset victory against Millennium here and make it through the toughest running into the LCS? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Copenhagen Wolves, on the other end, are no stranger to the promotion tournament. They’ve appeared in every single one of them since they were a team in the Challenger Series. They’ve always, against all odds, managed to claw their way back in, until they were auto-relegated to the Challenger Series after a 10th place showing. If the Wolves manage to again qualify, it’ll be quite a story. Nobody expected the Wolves to take down Millennium, the clear favourite in the EU CS, let alone to do it in a 3-0 fashion. A worrying sign, though, was their inability to close out a series against Huma which they had a 2-0 start in. Still, Copenhagen Wolves are not a team to count out ever when it comes to relegation/promotion tournaments, and it’ll be quite the story if they manage to overcome all those odds to make it back in.

Our next pairing is that between Challenger side Huma and LCS side Roccat. Huma have, in a lot of ways, looked quite all over the place in their play. Sometimes they seem unstoppable, an absolute terror squad of death, with solid plays out of star Holyphoenix and a familiar Danish face in GodBro. Other times nothing seems to stick. Still, the mental composure to come back from a 2 win deficit against the Wolves is promising for this squad. If they can manage to get one of those games where it all just clicks, they might have a shot into the LCS. But if they crumble and look disorganized like they have before, I’m hard pressed to see them in the LCS.

Financial troubles and questionable practices aside, Huma looks like one of the strongest teams coming out of Challenger. But at other times, they look just like a Challenger squad, disorganized and out rotated. Which Huma will show will determine their fate in the tournament. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Financial troubles and questionable practices aside, Huma looks like one of the strongest teams coming out of Challenger. But at other times, they look just like a Challenger squad, disorganized and out rotated. Which Huma will show will determine their fate in the tournament. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Roccat, too, have some proving to do. The team just… seems lackluster. They simply weren’t able to really manage to close anything out for the longest time. The team’s looking a lot better, with some solid team management choices to bring in Tabzz and Noxiak in the botlane, hoping to solidify the squad. But it’s a question of whether this is too little too late. Huma are a strong team, and Roccat hasn’t necessarily looked that strong this split. They need to look inside themselves, find their identity, and use it to win their way back in to the LCS. Otherwise, they’ll have to do it from the outside looking in, either in the Challenger Series or by dissolving.

Roccat look about as shakey as they have all split going into the tournament. Still, a surprise upset against Vitality might have given this squad the confidence they so sorely have been lacking. They'll need to prove that to hold onto their LCS spot, that's for sure. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Roccat look about as shakey as they have all split going into the tournament. Still, a surprise upset against Vitality might have given this squad the confidence they so sorely have been lacking. They’ll need to prove that to hold onto their LCS spot, that’s for sure. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Splyce is our last contender, and it seems like they’re also the most likely to make it out of the whole ordeal, if for no other reason than their seeding in the tournament. Splyce were locked for most of the split with Elements for that 7th place safe ground, missing it by one game, and had a very similar story to much of the bottom half of Europe: inconsistency, with a side of ‘Holy crap that was a good play.’ Some games Sencux would go completely insane. Other games, he’d at best go even. The top lane for Splyce seemed a difficult thing their whole split, and it’ll remain a question whether they can hold onto their LCS spot, and if they do, whether they’ll keep the same roster.

Notice how Splyce is the only one with an accurate team roster photo...? Will this be the advantage of the team, or their hindrance? The Danish boys will need to show up against possibly their brethren, or a radically new Giants team, but they probably still have the best shot at Summer going into the tournament. But this is promotion: anything can happen. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Notice how Splyce is the only one with an accurate team roster photo…? Will this be the advantage of the team, or their hindrance? The Danish boys will need to show up against possibly their brethren, or a radically new Giants team, but they probably still have the best shot at Summer going into the tournament. But this is promotion: anything can happen. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Still, Splyce did have the most success of any team, and are the only LCS team who has not made any roster swaps. This kind of consistent team building for the team might prove just what they need to move on and back into the LCS. Or it might be what holds them back and loses their LCS spot. They face the winner of either Giants or fellow Nordic squad in Copenhagen Wolves, arguably the easier path, and a single series won will allow them to rest on their LCS laurels.

As with every promotion tournament, it’s an exciting and stressful time for both sides. As recent events (Ember) have shown, too, the pressure on Challenger series teams to make their way into the LCS is higher than ever, and in Europe, too, with a weakening of the bottom half, there has never been a better time for Challenger teams to ‘break in.’ Still, they have to prove themselves here, and for some teams they have to prove themselves again and again, before they can see that beautiful stage of the LCS regular split. We’ll see which banners rise and which fall this week into the weekend, with the tournament ultimately being decided by Sunday.

Ember’s Flame Snuffed

 

It’s not often that a Challenger Series forming makes headlines, let alone one without any real ‘star’ talent or famous faces on it, but Ember managed that when they gathered together their ambitious project. In particular, it was Ember’s public declaration of all their player’s salaries that really ‘made their mark.’ By releasing their salaries, at least for a few weeks, Ember became the talk of the town. Should other orgs do this? Some thought against it, and experts in the field were skeptical at the market value of the players for the salaries they were getting. But we’re focusing here on the current implosion of Ember. For more on that, read Luke’s Article at: http://thegamehaus.com/2015/12/29/david-vs-goliath-are-player-salaries-worth-it/

Salaries for references

Ember Money

Gleeb — $57,500 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $72,500

Contractz — $60,000 base, $10,000 in bonuses, total comp $70,000

Goldenglue — $65,000 base, $27,000 in bonuses, total comp $92,000

Solo — $65,000 base, $21,000 in bonuses, total comp $86,000

Benjamin— $60,000 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $75,000

(Signed later) Santorin — $80,000 base, $25,000 in bonuses, total comp $105,000

 

What we’re more interesting in here is what in the heck happened to Ember. If you’re a fan of the Challenger Series, which is much smaller in viewership than the LCS, you’ll be well aware of the strength of Ember and the other NA CS teams going into the split. Ember were favorites going into the split, alongside Apex, to make it into the promotion tournament, which recently changed to only allow the top two teams into its competition. That’s why it was such an upset when Team Dragon Knights, who engaged in a multi-player trade with LCS side Renegades, took them down 3-1, making it into the finals and into the promotion tournament.

It seemed that a lot of Ember’s dreams had been crushed. They purposefully choose to buy a Challenger Series spot rather than an LCS spot, hoping to work their way up from the bottom into the big leagues. But still, it wasn’t like they were out completely. It was only their first Challenger Series split, and not every team has to go from Challenger formation to LCS in a single split to be successful. Even a single split in the LCS doesn’t do that, just ask CLG (who had multiple seasons… ahem…) But it seemed to be the case for Ember’s investors, who pulled out all financial support for the team upon learning the news.

What’s most striking, though, is that the players seem to be at the less desirable end of this stick, as is usual. Those juicy contracts and salaries? Well, they’re all but gone up in flames. Ember’s organization itself seems to be just as ill-effected too. It’s a sad day overall, and as Thorin rightfully pointed out, the only positivity that could come of this is some repercussions against the investors who left the team high and dry after committing that kind of money. But it’s questionable as to whether that’ll even happen.

What else can we take away from the sad fall of Ember? Well, another point is that organizations need to be realistic, not only in their finances, but also in their aspirations. A slow burn cooks better than a flash in the pan. While it’s an admirable goal to start from Challenger to LCS, if you had the option to buy into LCS, why bother with the stress of going through Challenger? Build the team in the LCS environment, heck, even going 10th place. That still puts you in the same position as if you had gotten second place in the Challenger Series playoffs. It’s a questionable decision on a pragmatic level, which is vital in the early stages of not only a developing scene but also in business in general.

Santorin is mostly known for his time with TSM, winning Rookie of the Split in his debut Spring Split back in Season 5. Courtesy of Dailydot.

Santorin is mostly known for his time with TSM, winning Rookie of the Split in his debut Spring Split back in Season 5. Courtesy of Dailydot.

The player salaries, while admirable and something I desire all players to make, seemed slightly insane for the market value of those players. Santorin, in particular, and Goldenglue seemed quite inflated. While both players with LCS experience, it just seems a little much for a Challenger Series squad to be forking over six digits for their Jungler. While it doesn’t seem that that was the reason Ember fell apart, but more from lack of living up to investors’ expectations, one has to wonder if those salaries were more reasonable if investors might’ve seen the longer road as easier to swallow? It’s hard, too, because outside of the signing bonuses, it seems that the players won’t see half of their contracted money anyways.

This also is a harrowing sign for other start up organizations: it’s do or die. I do not think it’s a healthy, sustainable process, but that seems to be the vision that is promoted in esports currently. Short term goals, big showings, flashy plays, lots of Likes and Followers, and other quantifiable gains are more important than the long haul. Ember branded themselves as changing that approach, and while the actual org might believe so, it seems the investors had little faith in that. Money is fickle, and if it does fizzle out that Ember’s investors walk away completely clean, they’re names haven’t even been released to warn fellow teams, it signals that esports is ripe for exploitation by big money.

You beautiful Canadian-born esport supporting man you. Courtesy of Rick Fox's Twitter.

You beautiful Canadian-born esport supporting man you. Courtesy of Rick Fox’s Twitter.

With the success of NRG, Immortals, Splyce and Echo Fox, I do not think we need to sound the town bells in alarm. But it does point to possibly some gaps in Riot’s dealings with Challenger Series teams. We saw this problem in cases where Challenger Series teams would constantly be picked apart for players by LCS teams, who could bring not only bigger money but also a shot at what every Challenger player dreams of. Riot, hopefully, will move towards action on this situation too, but it’s difficult to see a way to enforce contracts if people with more money can get away without any repercussions. But it is a startling thing, given the (seemingly) wonderful roles that these other start up teams have shown in their regions.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the League of Legends scene owes a lot to these two. Courtesy of Leaguepedia and Dialydot.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the League of Legends scene owes a lot to these two. Courtesy of Leaguepedia and Dialydot.

But it’s important to note, too, that some of esports more recognizable franchises, TSM, CLG, and Cloud 9, all started very much from small, ‘grass-root-like’ operations. They grew slowly, and while there were times in all of their histories that were dark, where financial ruin seemed to be just around the bend, they have endured. But that’s over a span of years. The fact that investors were looking for just under half a year for returns on their initial investment? Imagine how that would look for CLG? How many splits of disappointment and heartbreak did I—I mean, did fans, have to endure before they finally got that sweet, sweet moment of victory over long-time rivals TSM. It’s events like that that solidify a team, and while CLG lost ‘fans’ over the Doublelift/Pobelter moves, they’ve come back seemingly just as strong. But this all takes time. Something Ember were not allowed. The recent success of Immortals is one story of instant success, but both NRG and Echo Fox were marred by problems throughout the split.

Hai has not only been a part of forming Cloud 9, it seems he's an intricate part of their success on and outside the rift. That takes luck and a certain talent, but also time. Something Ember were not given. Courtesy of Linkedin.

Hai has not only been a part of forming Cloud 9, it seems he’s an intricate part of their success on and outside the rift. That takes luck and a certain talent, but also time. Something Ember were not given. Courtesy of Linkedin.

Ultimately, esports in general is a big experiment, and so many of the problems that traditional sports experienced in their growth, which took decades to become legitimatized, are happening almost back to back in our increasingly faster world. Scandals like this would not happen in traditional sports now, but it very well might have in the early years of certain sports. It’s an important point to make, as Riot, and other developers, need to not only be proactive in their approaches, but reactive to situations like this. How they go about navigating the increasingly murky legal waters may very well make or break the scene. If nothing else, it also sets the stage for how big money and interact with the scene.