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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The Untapped Market for LaVar Ball’s Shoe

In the last three months, one could argue the most polarizing figure in sports is LaVar Ball. With the announcement of the Z02, LaVar and his Big Baller Brand are at the center of the media’s attention again.

Sadly, the media has directed all of its questions and concerns about the price of the shoe. Just in case you haven’t heard, the shoe is being listed at a staggering $495. People have expressed concerns about the shoe’s price, however, a market already exists for the Z02, China.

The Chinese Market

For many this might come as a shock. Why? Because at no point has LaVar Ball or a representative of his brand even mentioned the idea of overseas marketing. If LaVar Ball and his company are as smart and revolutionary as they claim to be, they have done this on purpose.

Let’s examine the Chinese consumer as it relates to culture. According to Santander, one of the largest areas of growth in China has been in the luxury goods and services market. This can be attributed to their collectivist societal belief. In China, more importance is placed on the group than the individual. Chinese consumers have a strong desire to belong to a group, specifically, the affluent.

This has been documented as one of the key factors in the rise of golf’s popularity in China over the last few years. While a specific timeframe isn’t provided, the number of Chinese consumers playing golf has a exploded. Santander reports “over one million taking up the sport in recent years.”

Aside from their collectivist belief, market research has revealed an even more important trend. Chinese consumers believe price to be strong indicator of quality. Price, along with sales services, are the most important selection criteria, according to McKinsey & Company. There has also been an incredible shift since 2011 in the willingness to purchase expensive apparel, as well as in other consumer goods.

So, there is clearly an opportunity in China for LaVar Ball and his Z02 among the general consumer. However, let’s examine the NBA popularity in China for a better understanding of the opportunity.

The NBA In China

In 2017, it’s no longer a stretch to say that basketball, specifically the NBA, has become part of the culture in China. This fact has become even more apparent as the NBA has started to play games in China. Fran Blinbury of NBA.com, outlined the connection the NBA and it’s stars have built with the Chinese consumer.

LaVar Ball

The success of the Z02 in China will no doubt be impacted by how early Lonzo Ball achieves success.

“The fans gather outside the team hotels seeking autographs, photos or just a glimpse of the players.”

“Harden is so handsome, was a phrase repeated by many over and over outside of the Ritz-Carlton.”

“But they are not just star-worshipers. They know everyone from the second-year Rocket Sam Dekker, who was injured and did not play as a rookie, to veteran center Nene.”

It may seem silly to talk about a player being handsome as proof of an NBA connection, but it’s relevant. Fans across the world are waiting outside of hotels just to get a glimpse of an NBA player; that is the epitome of a personal connection.

The NBA is also connecting with the consumer through the TV screen. According to CNN, close to 50 million people tuned into the Rockets and Pelicans preseason game. Once again, a preseason NBA game, drew almost 50 million viewers. The article also reported that over 760 million fans watched the NBA during the 2015-2016 season.

As the NBA continues to market its game and its stars in China, the opportunity will only grow larger. An opportunity, that in my opinion, LaVar Ball cannot overlook.

What LaVar Ball Can’t Control

It’s clear there’s an incredible opportunity for LaVar Ball and his brand. Sadly, there is one thing no analyst or market research can predict: the success of Lonzo Ball. The NBA, more so than any other league, is driven by it’s stars. The stars get commercials, apparel, and marketing campaigns.

If Lonzo Ball can break into the league and have success in his first two or three years, the sky is the limit for the Big Baller Brand.

This could be the perfect storm for Lavar Ball and his company. His product and brand are a great fit for the Chinese consumer. Hopefully, the Big Baller Brand will understand the opportunity in front them and capitalize.

If LaVar Ball wants to accomplish his dream of elevating his brand to the status of Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, China will have to be a vital part of his plan.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Mid Season Invitational Power Rankings

MSI will officially begin Wednesday as TSM, Flash Wolves, and Gigabyte Marines have earned their spots through the play-in stage. TSM looked shaky, needing a reverse sweep to take down Gigabyte Marines. It will definitely be interesting to see how the teams come out. Will G2 finally play well on the international stage? Can TSM bounce back from their poor performance? Can Gigabyte Marines make a Cinderella Run? Here are my power rankings of the teams heading into the Midseason Inviational.

1.SK Telecom T1 (Korea)

This should come to no surprise to fans and analysts. Korea as a region and SKT as a team have dominated the LoL scene for quite some time now. They’ll be looking to assert their dominance even more if they can go through MSI undefeated. SKT holds some of the best players in the world at each of their position.

Their most infamous has to be their mid laner, the GOAT, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As long as Faker is on this team, you can bet on them being World contenders for awhile. Alongside Faker, has been his head coach since the beginning Kim kkOma Jung-gyun. Kkoma has been praised for being the best coach in League of Legends, having led SKT to all their World Championships. He’ll look to add a back to back MSI title to that list.

2. Flash Wolves (Taiwan)

Photo by: Riot Games

Flash Wolves may play in a top heavy region, but despite this, they’ve showed consistently time and time again that they cannot be underestimated. Coming off a successful IEM win at Katowice, Flash Wolves will look to surprise spectators and continue their reign as the “Korean Slayers”.

Flash Wolves play an aggressive style, often making plays in the early game with jungler  Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie looking to make plays. Not only can they build big gold leads in the early game, they know how to properly finish games as well.

Flash Wolves came into the season sporting a new ADC in Lu “Betty” Yuhung who looks to get better and better every time we see him. Betty finished their series against SuperMassive with a monstrous KDA of 36, only dying once the whole series. Their longtime jungle/mid duo of Karsa and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang have not shown any signs of slowing down. They had a phenomenal performance against SuperMassive, dominating their opponents. Flash Wolves have the best shot at upsetting SKT here at MSI.

3. G2 Esports (Europe)

Despite G2 having not played a game at MSI yet, they definitely showed a dominant run in playoffs en route to their third European championship. Everyone from G2 are ready to finally prove that they can perform well on the international stage. Maybe with the help of sports psychologist, Weldon Green, they can finally get that monkey off their back of choking internationally.

Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković in particular will have lots of pressure as he’s become known for not playing well in international competitions. If he plays well, G2 can definitely make a decent MSI run. G2’s bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will be one of G2’s power positions. With the meta shifting back to “carry style” ADC’s, G2’s bot lane can definitely have a major impact in games.

What’s worrying is how long their games tend to go. Against some of the best teams in the world G2 will need to have the ability to close out games or risk failing in international play once again

4. Team we (China)

Team WE is a name that’s been around professional LoL for some time now. Once a powerhouse in their region, they’ve returned to take the throne as the number one team in China. After years of mixing rosters, they finally found success dropping only a single game en route to their 3-0 sweep of Royal Never Give Up in the LPL finals. They don’t play the stereotypical play style of all aggressive early game teams we’ve seen in the past from China.

WE plays much more controlled and teamfight well in the mid/late game. Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie is an absolute monster and will be essential in WE’s success. In the mid lane, Hanwei “xiye” Su, has a deep champion pool and has shown good performances on both control mages and assassins. He had the 2nd best KDA in the LPL for at 4.7.

China has since fallen off from being the heralded “2nd best region”, but WE will look to prove that they are still one of the best.

5. Team SoloMid (North America)

Photo By: Riot Games

TSM looked shaky in their play-in series vs. Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines. It felt like they were heavily disrespecting their opponents going for questionable invades and teamfights almost expecting the other team not to be prepared. This caused them to go down 2-0 in the series, before reverse sweeping their way to victory.

That series had many North American fans breathing sighs of relief. TSM will be heavy underdogs now at this point of the tournament if they struggled that heavily against a wild card region.

Even in the reverse sweep, their last two wins were not clean by any means. Gigabyte Marines showed the capability to gain early leads off some poor play out of TSM. Gigabyte Marines nearly had the series in game four, before overstaying in TSM’s base which ultimately led to TSM’s victory.

In particular TSM’s adc, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran had an awful series, dying in a winning 2v2 and often getting caught out of position while only having a 52.9 kill participation percentage. He’ll need to step up big time if TSM wants to finish in the top four of the group stage.

6. Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)

Although they are the wildcard representative of MSI, their play-in stage performance was amazing in terms of Wildcard performances in international tournaments. Gigabyte Marines gave North America’s TSM a run for their money, nearly taking the series. Maybe some nerves and lack of experience, forced a bad call to try to end the game that resulted in a throw, but nonetheless this team has impressed.

Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh has been an absolute monster this whole tournament. He’s currently 2nd in KDA and first in DMG% among junglers who have played at MSI so far. Gigabyte Marines rely heavily on him to setup plays in the early game to snowball leads. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the likes of SKT’s Peanut or Flash Wolves’ Karsa.

One of their weak points will definitely be in top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh. Stark showed some great performances on Gragas during their series against TSM, but was non existent if not on that particular champion. In game three, he was constantly solo killed by Hauntzer’s Gragas and never seemed to comeback from it throughout the series.

Despite losing a close series to TSM, the group stage will be best of 1. Don’t be surprised to find Gigabyte Marines apart of the top four once the group stages conclude at MSI.

Cover photo by: Riot Games

Tune in Wednesday for the opening ceremonies of MSI on May 10

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It’s on the Haus: Dirk Nowitzki Scores 30K, Gonzaga Basketball Wins, Bruce Chen’s Shoes and an Unruly Gorilla

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or going to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

It’s been a while. If you want a feel for how this series works, take in the last article in the wonderful world of sports news.

Dunking Deutschman Reaches 30K

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki scored his 30,000th career point in the most Dirk way possible in the Mavs’ 122-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers last night. Nowitzki becomes the sixth player in NBA history to reach the landmark and the first since Kobe Bryant did it in 2012.

Good for the Dunking Deutschman. He seems to be one of the more well-liked players in the association, even with a detrimental photoshoot to start his career.

LeBron James stopped his dinner to take a video congratulating Nowitzki. In my house, pulling out your phone during dinner is a cardinal sin, but apparently things work differently when your the most famous Sprite endorser in America.

Dirk has just one NBA Finals championship, which is criminal. It’s not fair for someone who changed the game, and maybe if Mark Cuban spent less time ridiculing potential entrepreneurs on television and more time not wasting one of the GOATs in NBA history, Dirk would have more rings.

I scored 21 points in a jayvee basketball game one time, so who’s the real basketball expert here, Mark? No further questions.

Zags Clinch Tourney Spot

The Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball team was already going to make the NCAA Tournament, but just for good measure, they won their conference tournament. The Bulldogs beat the St. Mary’s Gaels 74-56 last night, marking the third time the Zags have beaten St. Mary’s by double-digits this season.

Gonzaga is now 32-1 and in prime position to pursue its first ever national title. However, I’m not here to talk about basketball.

Now, what exactly is a Gael? Well, it’s hard to say. Even though I have the almighty power of Google at my disposal, I’m not going to look it up. Rather, brainstorm with me.

I know there’s such a thing called gale force winds. That has something to do with the bodies of water, and also isn’t spelled correctly. Gazelle sounds sort of like gael, but I figure it’s not the same thing.

I’ll have my intern look into interviewing all athletes on St. Mary’s various sports teams to see if they even know what it means, but I doubt they do. But hey, not knowing is all the fun, right?

What Are Those?

Dirk Nowitzki Gonzaga Basketball Bruce Chen's Shoes Phoenix Suns Mascot

Bruce Chen’s kicks, courtesy of Cespedes Family BBQ’s Twitter account.

Remember the year 2015, when the phrase “what are those” was made into a annoying teen’s favorite meme? Neither do I. That’s not the point. The point is that Bruce Chen, an MLB pitcher and member of China’s World Baseball Classic team, wore some killer shoes in his appearance yesterday in the WBC.

I commend Chen for making this bold fashion statement. When you’re 39 years old and you don’t need traction, you choose to wear comfortable shoes. Who are we as common nonathletic citizens to judge?

Chen tossed 2 and 2/3 innings in the game, but China lost the game 6-0. Maybe if the entire roster chose to wear business casual footwear to the game, the Chinese would’ve earned the dub.

 

Gorilla Makes a Scene, Avenges Harambe’s Death

The Phoenix Suns’ matchup with the Washington Wizards was full of fireworks, most notably being the Suns’ mascot’s shenanigans during the fourth quarter.

My apologies on the terrible cheesy music that was coupled with the video. The piece of media comes from CBS Sports, so please direct your complaints to them.

At first glance, it seems as though the man inside the gorilla is high as a kite. However, upon further review, it appears as though the gorilla actually saved a player from potential injury, as the friendly animal picked up some kind of object off the floor.

All I’m saying is this guy better watch his back. Remember the last time a gorilla tried to save an innocent person from certain implosion? Yeah, that gorilla, known as Harambe by locals, is deader than Jokim Noah’s jumper.

I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’. I see symbolism here, and I see the world getting this gorilla situation right.

 

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World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

With the World Baseball Classic rosters being released last night, we are now able to review the remaining teams with their full rosters. After analyzing Pool A, we can now move on to Pool B.

Australia

After making their WBC debut in 2013, manager Jon Deeble will lead a much more talented squad in this year’s tournament. They went winless in 2013, but with a more talented roster to draw upon, Australia is poised to make some noise.

Australia boasts a deep pitching staff with two current major league pitchers on their roster. Oakland reliever Liam Hendriks and Detroit reliever Warwick Saupold. They will be joined by Travis Blackley and Ryan Rowland-Smith, both of whom have had experience pitching in the majors. Pitching may be the only advantage Australia has.

Only one notable position player will represent the land down under: outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Across parts of three major league seasons, the native Aussie hit five homers and batted .220. While these may not be eye-popping stats, Oeltjen certainly has some talent.

Australia will have to rely on their deep pitching staff to carry them in the tournament. The lack of talent off the mound is concerning, but nothing that can’t overcome.

China

Chen will return to the mound after retiring from MLB in 2015 (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America).

With two victories in the past two WBC’s, China will be looking to get out of the first round in 2017. There is just one player with major league experience on the roster. Manager and current Phillies bullpen coach John McLaren has been tasked with a difficult job.

Don’t tell that to pitcher Bruce Chen. He has 17 years of major league experience to draw on, and will certainly be a boon for a young Chinese team. China has never been known for its baseball heritage, but that could change soon.

Catcher Wei Wang and infielder Guiyuan Xu both spent the 2016 season in the minor leagues. They represent the future of Chinese baseball, and will join Chen in international play. Another player to watch for is career minor leaguer Joey Wong. He spent eight years in the minors and batted .241, proving to have some ability.

While China is certainly at a disadvantage, don’t sleep on them. McLauren will be sure to have his team ready to play when the tournament starts, and just might be able to catch some teams off guard. They certainly have some good players on the roster, but the talent isn’t there for them to be competitive.

Cuba

Cuba is one of the most storied nations in baseball history. The island nation has produced multiple big league players, like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig. That legacy in the majors may come back to haunt Cuba.

After a player defects from the communist country to the United States, they become ineligible to represent Cuba in the WBC. Even with no major league players on their roster, Cuba will still have plenty of talent to draw upon. The Serie Nacional de Beisbol, Cuba’s professional baseball league, will provide a number of talented players.

One of those will be Yoelkis Cespedes, the half brother of Mets’ star Yoenis Cespedes. At 19 years old, the younger Cespedes is considered a five-tool talent. He will need all of those tools and then some if he wants to bring Cuba out of the first round. He won’t have to do it alone.

The star of Cuba’s 2013 team, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, is returning to team Cuba. He hit an astounding .389/.522/.944 with three home runs and eight RBIs in six games for Cuba in the 2013 WBC. He also won Pool A’s MVP award.

With their own professional league and vast baseball history to draw upon, team Cuba is a good bet to make it back into round two of tournament play.

Japan

World Baseball Classic

Aoki brings a WBC championship pedigree to team Japan, winning the WBC championship in 2009 (Brad Mangin).

Just like Cuba, Japan will be reliant on its professional league to guide them back to the WBC championship. Unlike Cuba, Japan has a major league star up its sleeve.

Astros outfielder Nori Aoki is easily the most accomplished position player in Pool B, batting .286/.353/.387 in five major league seasons. He also provides plenty of speed with 88 career stolen bases. Aoki is an excellent addition, but don’t underestimate the rest of Japan’s roster.

There will be plenty of representation from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Japan’s professional league. Pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano has dominated Nipponese hitting in his time there, posting a career 2.34 ERA. He will be the ace of a deep staff, accompanied by young stud pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.

After missing out on major leaguers like Kenta Maeda and Masahiro Tanaka, Japan is still in position to make a run in this year’s WBC. With Aoki and plenty of NPBL stars, Japan is one of the most dangerous teams in the whole tournament.

Verdict

With a two-time WBC champion in Pool B, it is not hard to pick a favorite.

Japan won the inaugural WBC championship in 2006 and again in 2009. Even though they will not have nearly as many major league players on this year’s roster, they are still a legitimate threat. As the stars of the NPBL compete in this year’s WBC, they will be put up against some of the best baseball players outside of the United States.

Pool B is sorely lacking in major league talent, with Australia having the most players with major league experience. Even that doesn’t make them a favorite, given the strength of Japan’s NPBL and Cuba’s Serie Nacional De Beisbol. Japan and Cuba will slug it out for the top spot in Pool B, with Australia having dark horse potential and China looking to grow in international play.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Why Imports Might not be the Solution to Competing at Worlds

After Samsung White shredded through the competition on their way to winning the World Championship in Season 4 of League of Legends, there was a “Korean Exodus” in the offseason. Multiple talented Korean LoL players were offered huge salaries to come over to China to play in the LPL. Analysts and fans thought this would mean the end of Korea’s reign on pro League of Legends, when their top talents decided to go elsewhere to chase the money. Multiple super teams formed in China, looking to contend for the World Championship. It’s now safe to say that the exodus was a failure for both sides. Korean players hoping to contend for a World Championship met the same defeat losing to newly bred Korean talent. A lot of Chinese players got lost in the shuffle and never looked quite as good as they had in the past.   

Courtesy of lolgamepedia

Once known as top tier players in the World, many of their careers dissipated in China. Former SSW jungler, Dandy, hailed as a jungle god when he won the World Championship. He then faded on Vici Gaming, even attempting to play top lane for a bit. He just never looked like the same jungler who dominated in Korea and at Worlds. Dade was another huge name who was once considered a top tier mid-laner in the World. He was soon forgotten as his play diminished in China. Even Chinese players, such as Gogoing and Cool, never looked the same after the imports came in and weren’t able to qualify for Worlds again. Some of them were eventually benched, and retired.

Less than Expected Results

It seems that for the most part, since importing became popular in the off season of seasons 4-5, the super teams formed have not been able to meet their expectations of contending for a World Championship. Edward Gaming hailing out of China’s LPL region has always looked dominant in their region. With new star Korean carries, Deft and Pawn, EDG always looked like strong favorites coming into Worlds. Just this previous season, many analysts hailed them as being the second best team competing at Worlds. Clearlove looked like an unstoppable jungler and Deft looked as good as he always had.  They were thoroughly disappointed to lose to Brazilian wildcard INTZ Gaming. They placed second in their group to Europe’s H2K, before being swept at the hands of Korean team ROX Tigers.  

Looking to the bottom of the LCS, a lot of low tier teams have given players from the Korean solo queue ladder a shot at playing just based on their ranked and team ladder performances. Teams like Coast and Roccat specifically, have been guilty of doing this, seeing less than stellar results. Coast decided to bring in two Korean players right before promotion series in an attempt to qualify. They were swept easily, and had looked worse than before they brought in the imports. Roccat failed to make playoffs when they imported Korean top laner, Parang, and support Raise, and eventually had to play through relegation to keep their spot in LCS. Before joining NA’s Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), Seraph was a top lane sub for Najin White Shield and had held a high spot on the Korean solo queue ladder for awhile. CLG found success for a time with Seraph, but eventually fell apart when communication and underlying internal issues became a major issue with the team. Teams also need to understand that rookies coming straight from solo queue don’t always translate to success in professional play.

Should teams try to grow players within their region?

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

It sparks an interesting discussion of whether or not Western and Chinese teams should be importing as much as they do.  It has almost become a necessity, rather than an option.  With the promotion of Goldenglue to Team Liquid’s starting mid laner, he joins Pobelter as the only North American mid laner playing in the region.  On the other hand, you have many North American teams importing Korean top lane talent, negating the growth for talent in that role for the region.  Since Cloud 9 entered the scene, there hasn’t been a team grown from Challenger Series to find success in the LCS. Teams just aren’t grown from Challenger the way they should anymore.  Challenger teams are importing veterans of Pro League, such as Madlife recently, to Gold Coin United, in an attempt to revive their careers and qualify for LCS.

It’s rare to find North American talent that finds instant success playing in the LCS. Most of the time, they aren’t given a shot on a big time LCS team like Biofrost was with TSM.  They’re usually forced to fill one of the three Region slots on a sub-par, low tier LCS or Challenger team, and given two imports who may or may not be great on the professional stage. It’s not the greatest environment to say the least, as communication may not be stellar, and coaching structure is not built for success. This is because most of the Challenger teams are new organizations trying to enter the scene with no prior knowledge of how to run a Pro League of Legends team. There are also many rumors of shady organizations not playing players/coaches, which would definitely hinder a player’s desire to continue pursuing a career like this.  

Should teams focus more towards growing talent in their own region?  Should the most talented NA players look to flood themselves into various NA super teams similar to Flash Wolves and AHQ in LMS?  Import slots, although useful, can be a double edged sword in making or breaking a team.  What if the language barrier is too much or they discover being out of the comforts of their home country isn’t what they had hoped for?  This NALCS season will be a huge measuring stick in looking at the effectiveness of imports, as every roster looks more dangerous than ever, bringing in players from every region to compete.

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LPL Quarterfinals Team WE vs. Vici Gaming.

Last night in the wee hours of the morning, the first round of the LPL Quarterfinals began with a clash between WE and VG.

Image result for Team WE vs Vici Gaming

WE came in as the favorite with a marginally better season than VG, though personally I was leaning in VG’s favor. Easyhoon and DanDy have both made me pay for betting against them, and WE hasn’t been playing massively better

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Game 1’s draft was fairly balanced. WE picked up Ekko, Kindred, Karma, Lucian, and Trundle and VG ran Poppy, Nidalee, Lissandra, Sivir, and Braum. Both teams elected to play standard lanes and Farmville 2k16 began. The game was pretty quiet until about 3 minutes in when DanDy and Easyhoon took an easy kill from Xiye’s Karma. There wouldn’t be any more action until a little after 5 minutes when DanDy landed a max range spear on Condi and managed to get the kill with a little help from Easyhoon

DanDy roamed top next where Loong’s Poppy had 957’s Ekko fairy low. DanDy connected with a spear, but on the dive, 957 managed to pick up a kill on Loong before going down to Easyhoon.

 

At 7 minutes VG was more than 1000 gold ahead of their opponent with noticeable superiority of the map.

VG continued to have complete control of the game and at 30 minutes they found themselves with a 10-1 Kill Advantage, a 11,000 gold lead, and a Baron buff. VG continued to snowball to a win at 36 minutes in what was almost a perfect game from Vici.

 

In Game 2, I feel VG left the draft with a slight advantage. Ekko, Kindred, Lulu, Lucian, Braum for VG and Lissandra, Graves, Karma, Sivir, and Bard for WE. Neither team has a massive advantage, but I feel VG had a minor advantage.

 

This time, WE chose to send Sivir and Bard to the top lane, but VG managed to react fairly efficiently. They took the bot tower before WE could take the top. Managed to go about even on the opposite tier 1’s, and then managed to snag Rift Herald in time to stay even on towers by getting a tier 2. 8 minutes in with the lane swap WE’s only advantage was forcing Loong’s TP. The gold and objectives were almost completely even.

 

At 12 minutes, WE started the second Rift Herald of the game, but VG easily contested 4v5 and pushed WE out of the pit, managing to snag the herald with no casualties.

First blood didn’t come until around 16 minutes in when WE contested at Dragon. VG took the Dragon in no time at all, but a well placed Bard ultimate put WE in position to take an easy 4 for 0. (and its worth knowing that Zero’s Bard went off in this fight and took 2 of these 4 kills)

at 18:30, Loong gets caught in WE’s blue side jungle and slaughtered.

 

WE continued to snowball, and at 30 minutes started a Baron. In VG managed to kill 2 of WE, but WE managed to take the Baron and get Condi a penta-kill for a 5 for 2 and a 10,000 gold lead. With Baron empowerment, WE managed to push through VG’s base and take game 2.

Game 3 showed nearly the same team compositions, only DanDy and Condi swapped Graves and Kindred. I definitely felt this was more of a boost to VG seeing as DanDy’s Graves is one of the best in the world.

The game started almost identital to game two with the WE lane swap and VG’s Rift Herald response. The difference came at only 8 minutes when VG managed to catch Zero’s Bard out and snag the first blood. Things turned around at 10 minutes when WE managed to grab a 3 for 1 in a fight that VG had no reason being in in the first place.

The “1” in that fight would be the last real kill VG got in the game (I don’t count last second fountain dives). With a little less than 30 minutes on the clock and 13 kills on the board, WE took game 3, and a 1 game lead in the series. WE showed complete ownership of the game, turning every fight around on VG for a resounding victory.

 

Game 4’s draft finally showed some different champions. Vici elected to play Maokai, Kindred, Lissandra, Sivir and Bard and WE took Poppy, Graves, Corki, Ezreal, and Thresh. I definitely think the draft favored WE. They built a powerful triple ADC comp with 2 very powerful peeling champions to back up the damage. As much as I’d like to think that Meowkai has the power to change games, I just don’t think he’s a solid enough answer to WE’s insane damage.

 

Game 4 finally gave us some real action with legitimate fighting happening within the first 5 minutes. VG started off looking a bit stronger with an early two kills and managing to take a 4-2 lead in the first 6 minutes.

VG lost their lead on a bad play where Loong was caught out and DanDy died trying to save him. The game remained almost entirely even until 25 when a kill on DanDy allowed to WE to start a Baron, which helped WE to another 3 kills in the contest. This was the beginning of the end for VG. With the Baron, WE’s ability to push was nearly impossible for VG to stop. In an attempt to stop the push, VG went all in, and went 1 for 5. With the ace WE easily managed to push in and take the win, and the series.

You can check out the whole series here courtesy of LoL Esports TV – Tournaments

All photos courtesy of lol.gamepedia.com