North American LCS Pre-Season Power Rankings

With the North American LCS just days away, I’ve decided to give my take on how I rank the teams coming into the season. My rankings are based off how I believe the teams will finish at the end of Spring Split, based on their roster and coaching. I’m going to judge players based on their most recent performances and the region they were competing in. Some teams may struggle to find their synergy, but in the end this is how I believe the teams will play out.

10. EnVyUs

EnVyUs returns three out of five members that made playoffs last Summer. With most teams improving around them, I can’t see this team really contending for playoffs again. Nam “LiRa” Tae-yoo is an upgrade in the Jungle. Keeping Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo as an import slot and downgrading in ADC from Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, to Apollo “Apollo” Price will hurt them though. They’re both average at best for their carry roles, and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent hasn’t really shown much from Support. Top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and Lira may be able to carry a few games, but the Top lane talent in NA is so much stronger this year with Ssumday and Looper being added to the mix. I just don’t see this team coming together unless Ninja significantly improves from last split. I think it’s also a bit troubling that the bot lane has a language barrier with the rest of the map.

9. Echo Fox

Henrik “Froggen” Hansen leads the way once again this Split, this time alongside former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok in the Top lane. Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham steps in to replace Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev as a rookie Jungle talent. He has made appearances on Challenger teams before, so he’s not completely new to competitive Jungling. Playing on stage could be a huge adjustment for him though. Yuri “Keith” Jew and Austin “Gate” Yu round out the Bot lane as subpar talents at best. Keith showed glimpses of how good he could become on TL and from his own SoloQue time in Korea. Maybe playing with a better support could help him, but he may have already hit his ceiling. Echo Fox might need to improve in other areas of the roster outside of their solo lanes to be able to contend.

8. Flyquest

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

The original C9 returns to the LCS with a few new faces joining them, and having one of the worst team names I’ve ever seen. Galen “Moon” Holgate joins the team replacing Juan “Contractz” Garcia in the Jungle. Daerek “LemonNation” Hart will have a chance to experiment with the new 10 ban system, as he was one of the first innovators for really mind-gaming pick-ban in pro League of Legends. The last time we saw An “Balls” Le his play had been on the decline, so he’ll need to show he can still play at a high level for this team to avoid relegations. Hai “Hai” Lam will always be a strong shot caller, but the individual talent around him may not be strong enough for them to really contend. Moon and Johnny “Altec” Ru once looked like promising young prospects, but never developed into the stars many teams hoped for. Lemonnation’s pick-ban and Hai’s shotcalling may win them a few games, but mechanically most of the roster looks like washed up veterans and young talent that never reached their potential.  

7. Immortals

Immortals nearly lost all of their roster from last Split, but have brought on some big names to replace them. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett steps into the jungle after a rocky ending with Team Liquid, where ego issues were an obvious problem. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong, a longtime star Top laner, comes in after spending some time in Korea and China. Former wildcard All-star Support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, joins rookie, Li Yu “Cody Sun” Sun, in the bot lane. Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Flame, and Dardoch are all individually very talented players, but I think if this team doesn’t find success early, attitude issues may arise. We’ve seen how Dardoch can tilt in games from TL’s Breaking Point, and I think those same issues will hinder them with a fairly new Bot lane in their first Split in LCS.    

6. Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 is my darkhorse team for this season.  They bring back rising star Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh, who basically solo-carried them to give TSM their only loss of Summer Split. They bring in star import carries Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon who looked very good in their respective regions. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA in LCK, only behind SKT’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik. Ryu was also regarded as one of the better Mid laners in EU, and comes in already having learned English playing with H2K. Adrian “Adrian” Ma is definitely an upgrade at support, but we’ll need to see if he can finally perform well in playoffs if P1 make it that far. Derek “zig” Shao will need to build off his rookie split for this team to have some real success with all the top lane talent entering the region.  They also brought back Coach Fly who coached when they were Team Impulse. Kim “Fly” Sang-chul is highly respected as a coach, coming off a Worlds run with Royal Never Give Up. If communication issues don’t hinder them, I could see this team contending for top four.  

5. Team Liquid

Team Liquid comes in as the only known six man roster, rotating their Mid between Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.  They have two of the best players in the world at their positions in Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. It will be interesting to see if Reignover is able to show off the same success without Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo by his side. Top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson looks to build off a good IEM Gyeonggi performance, where he looked like he could be a main carry for the team. Support Matt “Matt” Elento looked to have the most confidence playing with Piglet last season, so I think he returns to the big playmaker we saw before the switch. Along with the new coaching staff, this team looks strong. The only big question mark is in Mid lane. Bringing in LiNK makes me think that the team doesn’t fully believe Goldenglue is ready to be a starting LCS Mid laner. With that sort of uncertainty, it makes me question how consistent a North American team can be with two Mid laners since we’ve really only seen it work in other regions.  

4. Counter Logic Gaming

The five best friends all return for CLG and look to prove synergy can trump individual talent once again. You can never count these guys out, with superstar Support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, leading the way. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes comes in as probably the best AD in North America with Doublelift stepping down for the Split. Jake “Xmithie” Puchero is always that steady, consistent Jungler who does what the team needs. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha had his inconsistencies at times, but he showed up quite well for them at Worlds. Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun will need to step up his champion pool with Riot’s 10 ban system coming in. If he replicates the same issue with being only able to perform godly on one or two champions, this team will have problems and likely see a roster change for Summer if they really want to compete at Worlds.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

3. Dignitas

Dignitas looks to try to replicate the success Fnatic had, bringing in Korean talents in the Top lane and Jungle. The difference with Dignitas is that these aren’t two rookie subs with no stage experience. These are two well known players, regarded as some of the best in the World. Top laner, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, has been one of the best in LCK for the last two seasons and had a monstrous showing at Worlds two seasons ago. Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun comes from Jungling against some of the best in LCK, into a rather weak NA scene, Jungler wise. He held one of the highest kill participation ratings in LCK, so he’ll be active around the map. Benjamin “LOD” deMunck is a significant upgrade to Apollo “Apollo” Price since he matches Xpecial’s aggressive style much better. Lae-Young “Keane” Jang is heavily underrated, and the 10 ban system won’t hinder him as much as other players since we’ve seen what his champion ocean holds. With Korean coaches assisting the team, communication issues may not be as bad as people may think. If things come together as well as they look on paper, we could see this team contend for a North American title.

 

2. TSM

TSM comes in with only one roster change: bringing in former ADC Jason “WildTurtle” Tran to replace superstar Doublelift. A lot of people consider this a tremendous downgrade in terms of skill, but I personally believe they’ll be able to adapt without having too much trouble. Wildturtle matches the aggression that TSM like to play with, so I don’t think that should be an issue. However, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang and Wildturtle looked outclassed by UOL’s bot lane at IEM Oakland. Wildturtle is also not known for being a strong laner, and I see TSM struggling to continue gaining huge early game leads because of that. I understand that they hadn’t practiced much before that tournament, but it has to worry you a bit looking forward. Having one of the best Mid-Jungle duos in the World will always keep you at the top of the standings. We can’t forget this team only dropped one game after the change to best of three’s. TSM has a very good drafting phase and coaching structure. They’re also known to work harder than any other team in North America, so I don’t see them dropping out of the top two just yet. I do want to make a bold prediction that Doublelift will need to return at some point in the Split if the team struggles.

1.Cloud 9
Cloud 9 is in a similar situation to TSM in having only one roster change. Most people would say William “Meteos” Hartman stepping down from the jungle, and Juan “Contractz” Garcia coming in would be a significant upgrade. Meteos seemed to have hit his ceiling as a pro, and bringing in a young hungry talent into the Jungle may be the jump start this team needs to start competing on the World Stage. Andy “Smoothie” Ta looks to build off a poor showing at Worlds and get back to the greatness he showed in Summer. Jensen will need to become more consistent if this team wants to really contend for Worlds. Cloud 9 loves this meta as they have top talents in just about every lane. It will be up to Contractz to make sure he can keep up. With the help of head coach Reapered, I think his adjustment into LCS should go smoothly and C9 take the reign as North America’s top team. 

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NA LCS Spring Split Story lines to follow: Preseason Edition

It’s a new year and a new season with the NA LCS Spring Split just around the corner! To welcome in the hype of a new year, I’ll be bringing you the top four story lines to follow going into this NA LCS Split! Also, a quick TL;DR is at the bottom for those in a rush!

The Rebuilds: New players, same placements?

Two of NA’s more troubled franchises, Team Liquid and Immortals, went into what could only be called a ‘rebuilding’ phase over the off season. Immortals, dominating during their regular split showings, always seemed to struggle in their playoff runs. Liquid, on the other hand, seemed to always have mediocre placings during the regular splits, while meeting similar middle of the road results during their postseason matches.

Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Immortals’ rebuild wasn’t much by choice, as the majority of their roster left for greener pastures elsewhere. Retaining Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, the Immortals side cobbled together a team that is hard to argue as, on paper, more talented than their previous.

Acquiring polarizing talent in Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is a good core to build around, but given it was a replacement for Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin it’s hard to view it as a clear upgrade. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong is another solid pick up for the team. Again though, observers are left wondering whether he will be better than Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Whether rookie Li “Cody” Yu Sun and Korean import Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung will be a strong bot lane is another question hanging over the roster.

Can one time world Champ Piglet bring help Liquid ascend? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Liquid seemed to have a lot more agency in their rebuilding choices, looking towards internal problems and needing a change of scenery to make it further.  The team constantly fell just outside of relevancy internationally, so it seems like it was time to change the core of the roster. Keeping rookie talents in Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and Matt “Matt” Elento bring a sense of stability to the roster, with Matt being a particularly strong retention.

Promoting Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin back to the starting five was another wise choice from the team, who will hopefully bring pressure from the botlane that seemed lacking in S6. Joining him from Korea is star studded Reignover, a product of the Liquid-Immortals Jungle shuffle. His tactical mind and presence in the Jungle will need to make up for the downgrade in the Mid lane, with the departure of Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun and the rotating North American Mid laners of Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.

Either the rebuilds for these teams will go according to plan, or they’ll continue to be haunted by their postseason woes (Immortals) or stagnating mediocrity (Liquid). Their skill will truly be tested on the rift. This is something that fans will want to keep an eye on. It’s a mix of talented players, Flame/Dardoch/Pobelter for Immortals and Reignover/Piglet/Matt for Liquid, mixed with some questionable players whose skill ceilings may not be as high as fans hope. Still, super teams have failed historically and we’ve seen some incredible splits from teams that ‘shouldn’t have done well,’ like CLG in the NA LCS Spring Split in 2016. Can Immortals pull off another almost perfect split? Will Liquid rise above their middle of the pack status?

Steady as she goes: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

While our previous story line followed teams who thought a change in players was the answer, these teams have chosen (almost) the exact opposite approach. Both Cloud 9 and TSM only have a single player change in their lineups, with Juan “Contractz” Garcia replacing struggling William “Meteos” Hartman in the jungle for Cloud 9, and familiar face Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replacing the hiatus taking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the ADC role for TSM. CLG, on the other hand, did the unthinkable in the craziness of the off season; they didn’t change a single thing about their roster, retaining all five starters without bringing on any ‘backups.’

Can the CLG Fam have a repeat of last Spring Split? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

So what’s the story here? Well, it’ll be whether the stability of these rosters holds out against the crop of new, fresh talent. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell will truly be tested in the Top lane against the recent influx of Korean imports, like Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.

Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong will also be under new pressure to remain the unkillable sponge we saw in Cloud 9’s playoff run. Was struggling Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun the best choice for CLG, and not another, more talented import Mid laner? Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s reign of top NA Mid laners is also up in the air now.

Overall the real questions here is whether these were the right choices. I don’t feel like, outside of CLG, there was much room for growth in acquiring new talent for these rosters. It’s also questionable whether it will be a case of ‘synergy trumps new talent’ or if ‘stagnating water will fail.’ Truth be told, I am more supportive of the first. There is a lot to be said for team synergy and players all ‘clicking’ naturally. For the NA LCS Spring Split? I think these rosters will remain in the top four of the league. During the Summer Split? It will depend on how the other teams in the middle of the pack settle.

The return of the boys in gold and black: Dignitas’ interesting return to the LCS

Dig hold a special place in my heart like a lot of the ‘legacy’ teams do. They were there when I started getting into the scene, and it was not without a bit of sadness that I saw them relegated and dissolve their League operations. It’s great to see the team back, if for no other reason than to see another old team back on the stage.

But Dig also were the talk of the scene when they acquired Top lane talent in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and potentially scary Jungler in Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. While the team Dig bought out to return to the LCS, Apex, seemed to meander around the middle of the pack, the addition of a tried and true pattern of Top-Jungle Korea imports, alongside acquiring Benjamin “LOD” deMunck to fill the hole left by Apollo “Apollo” Price has many pundits torn on exactly where to put Dig.

The Terror in the Top Lane? Courtesy of Inven.

The big story line to follow here is whether Dig will actually make an impact in the league or not. Signing big name talent isn’t the sure fired solution to a winning team, and while it is obviously better than signing bad talent, there’s been a few examples of that failing (read Alliance and other super team failures).

But Dig isn’t just a ‘super team in the making’ kind of deal either. They’ve got serious backing from NBA franchise Philadelphia 76er’s, something Ssumday cited as a reason for joining the NA side. It’ll not be just a simple question of whether the team will click, but how the newly moneyed Dig can use those funds to make the integration of their two Korean imports as painless as possible. If they can do that and make the team mesh, we could be looking at a new top four contender. If not? Well, back to the middle of the pack for the Dig boys and hopefully avoiding relegation.

Just call me the Underdog: Can the bottom of the pack make a real move upwards?

Ahhh, the scrappy, loveable underdogs at the bottom of the heap, these teams have seen troubled splits that didn’t turn out like they probably wished. Phoenix 1, Echo Fox, EnVyUs, and newcomers FlyQuest (god awful name) are all slotted pretty low in most pundits minds. P1 struggled last split to a non-memorable split had not been for a miraculous Rengar filled win against (until then) undefeated TSM in the NA LCS Summer Split.

Echo Fox just never seemed to get much momentum going forward, with Henrik “Froggen” Hansen finding himself again in 7th place in the NA LCS Spring Split 2016 and an abysmal, single win showing in the Summer. NV, on the other hand, exploded onto the scene and hyped up many to be the next top flight team, but ultimately petered out as their Summer split continued, ultimately ending with an unsatisfying 6th place in the regular split and an early bow out from the playoffs, falling to Cloud 9. FlyQuest are newcomers to the scene, having climbed into the League from the Challenger Series under Cloud 9 Challenger and are a mix of old Cloud 9 members attempting another foray into the scene.

Can the Foxes double their wins from last split? (Surely two wins isn’t too hard…) Courtesy of Gamepedia.

The big question marks here is whether these sides will make any real waves in the scene. FlyQuest have the luxury of having no real history, so they’ll be coming in with a clean slate, but one that’s questionable as to if it’ll hold up against top flights like TSM and Cloud 9. NV will look to newcomers Nam “lira” Tae-yoo and Apollo “Apollo” Price can carry the team into the top half, but it’s questionable whether they’re even upgrades to the members they’re replacing.

It’s not a daring prediction here, but I think Echo Fox can at least improve on their one win split this time round. The real question is if they can become contenders based on how fast Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok integrates into his English speaking team? Also whether Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Austin “Gate” Yu are the answers the Foxes needed to make a dent in the scene. I’m still skeptical of this roster making any real contact with the top tier teams in the league, but I’ve been wrong before.

P1 are the only team I have serious hope for going into this split. Acquisitions of the Boss Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook from European side H2k and KT veteran ADC in No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon add depth and talent to a roster that, once finally figuring out how VISAs work, really looked to be on the up and up. Not just an upset win against TSM last split, but also starting to pick up wins against teams in tiers above them showed improvement to the remaining core of the team.

Can the Boss whip another team into a Worlds team? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

As with any prediction, it’s quite possible that I’ll be shown to be completely wrong. But I don’t think that any of the bottom tier teams outside of P1 hold much of a chance against the top half of the league. FlyQuest is untested (ironically, given the veteran status of their players) in the new competitive league, NV is a bit of a wild card on whether they’ll show up enough, and Echo Fox seems to just not have it in them to really make it far.

P1 showed themselves to be a decent team last split, with clear upgrades in Korean duo of Ryu and Arrow alongside new Support Adrian “Adrian” Ma. they seem to be the best suited to break into the middle of the pack. But, nobody predicted them to be the team to take down the undefeated TSM, so anything is possible for any of the teams at the bottom here. There’s only up to go from the bottom, right? Right? (Ohh wait, relegation exists…)

TL;DR

The Rebuilds: Liquid and Immortals enter the NA LCS Spring Split with a fresh new roster, so the question here is whether this’ll be what the doctor ordered, or whether the teams will find themselves worse for wear? Can Immortals pull off another nearly flawless split? Will Liquid finally find themselves at the top?

Steady As She Goes: TSM and C9 only changed one player on their roster, WildTurtle for Doublelift Contractz for Meteos respectively, in the off season, while CLG vouched to retain all of their starters. The question here is whether this was the right move for the teams, and whether they can continue their placements consistently being in the top four of the League.

The Return of the Boys in Gold and Black: Dignitas’ return to the LCS is met with baited hype, as the team acquired big names in Ssumday and Chaser for their top and jungler positions. Whether this will translate to a team that can challenge for top of the league will depend on how well the team meshes this split.

Just Call me the Underdog: P1, Echo Fox, NV, and newcomer FlyQuest are slated to find themselves again at the bottom of the pecking order. Some interesting off season roster changes, particularly for P1, raise questions as to whether these teams can make a real run for middle of the pack or beyond. P1 holds the highest chance in my opinion, adding depth to a roster that managed to take down TSM, but only time will tell whether this holds any truth now.

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Can Mastermind Weldon solve G2’s International Woes?

Weldon’s Own Success

G2 Esports made an amazing addition to their League of Legends team with the official announcement of TSM’s former assistant coach, Weldon Green, joining their coaching staff. Weldon has been working vigorously within the Pro League of Legends scene with high-profile teams such as TSM, CLG, and Fnatic as a team psychologist. With his recent success with TSM, other teams have picked up on this trend and decided to hire their own team psychologists. They are meant to help deal with the mental grind that pros endure throughout the season, along with helping players deal with the jitters that may be related to playing on stage.

Weldon began on TSM in small sessions during the 2016 Spring Split, eventually landing a full-time position for the Summer. TSM finished the Summer Split with a phenomenal 17-1 record while also finishing first place in the NALCS, before failing to get out of their group at Worlds. Weldon was credited with playing a major role in their success last season. TSM decided that they wanted to part ways with Weldon for the upcoming season, noting that having his assistance may be better in sessions as opposed to full time.

Current State of G2

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Weldon enters a G2 team that has found much success, almost breezing through the EULCS competition last season. They have a talented roster that has failed to show up in international events since they’ve begun their LCS journey. Last season, G2 failed to make it out of groups at Riot’s Mid Seasonal Invitational, struggling against most of the teams there. They received a lot of hate and criticism from the community when they stated they decided to give their players a break coming into a very serious international tournament that would affect seeding for Worlds.

G2 hoped to redeem themselves at Worlds after being put into a group most agreed they would be able to get out of. That did not prove the case as Albus Nox Luna shocked the World, as they became the first Wildcard to make it out of groups. They beat out CLG and G2 for the second spot out of their group. G2 finished Worlds with a 1-5 record, only taking one game off of Albus Nox Luna. G2 as a whole received a lot of hate from the EU community for representing their region so poorly, coming in as the “best team” from Europe.

Building off Regular Season Success

Weldon comes in looking to improve off an overall successful regular season from G2, and improving on the international problems that have plagued them. In EU, Trick and Perkz have looked like two players with amazing synergy and individual talent. As we know, that hasn’t translated into international play just yet.  Meanwhile, Zven and Mithy, have proven to be one of the best bot lanes in the West, but even they didn’t look as good as most people expected at Worlds. Their top laner, Expect, for the most part, was a consistent performer, doing what his team needed. His miscommunication on Teleport, however, cost his team at times.

What is it about performing at international tournaments that hinder G2 so much?  In a twitlonger posted by Perkz after Worlds, he stated, “I was mostly sad that I disappointed myself because I had a lot higher expectations of myself after the whole Korean bootcamp where I felt like I had reached very high level and consistent performance in scrims and not being able to translate that on stage hit me really hard”. The bootcamp in Korea resulted in many rumors that G2 was one of the stronger teams at Worlds. When it came time to play week one, their showing was miserable. They went 0-3, while not looking competitive for basically every game, besides a strong early game vs. ROX in which some poor teamfighting led them to another hard loss.

Weldon has a tough task ahead of him. With a lot of new, young, revamped LCS teams coming into Europe, G2 will not have as easy of a path to Worlds as they did last season. Will he be able to show off the same success as TSM, or will G2’s nerves get the best of them?

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Link’s Return to LCS

Welcome “Back” To Summoner’s Rift

In an unexpected move, Team Liquid has signed CLG’s former Mid laner, Austin “Link” Shin, as a substitute. They announced that they intend to play both Link and starter, Goldenglue, throughout the split.

The last time we saw Link it was with CLG Spring Split 2015, coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Team Liquid in the first round of the playoffs.

Shortly after Link announced his retirement with the “donezo manifesto”, in which he brought out CLG’s team environment to light. Most infamously, he called out star AD Carry Doublelift, for being a selfish and poor teammate and mainly blaming him for the failure of CLG.

Link, himself, received a lot of hate from the community when Machinima’s video series, “Chasing the Cup” seemed to show his inability to mesh as a teammate. In the series you witness everyone’s tempers flare, as the team seemed to be regressing from its hot start.

Link refused to duo que with his own Jungler, Dexter. This seemed to translate to a lack of team chemistry on the LCS stage. His own work ethic was questioned even by the community. It seemed like Link was playing more Hearthstone than League of Legends outside of scrims.

During his time in the NALCS, most people would have rated Link as a subpar LCS Mid Laner. He was never known as a flashy playmaker or a main carry, but he was a consistent performer. He played what his team needed and was the main shot caller for CLG.

When C9’s Hai went down with a collapsed lung, they called upon Link to sub for them in the All Stars tournament. He held his own against legendary Mid laners like Faker and xPeke. For the most part, he played the role of shot caller well. Thanks in part to him, C9 was able to take games off of OMG, Fnatic, and TPA. This allowed them to get to the semifinals of the tournament. He praised C9’s team environment in his donezo manifesto, in compasrison to CLG’s.

Second Chances

Link gets a second chance with a fresh roster and under a new organization. Team Liquid has been around for awhile but just hasn’t found the right formula for success just yet. Obviously, he’s still been playing the game at a high enough level to be picked up by a new team.

Others on social media have noted that he had been playing Dota 2 at high level as well. It does raise the question of if being away from the professional scene for such a long time will be more beneficial or hinder his play starting out.

Photo courtesy of Gamurs.com

It seems Team Liquid is emphasizing a better team environment this split, parting ways with Dardoche. They also let go of head coach Locodoco and every player on the team seems hungry to improve off of last split.

They look to be modeling CLG in having five players that are all friends outside of game. Will they truly utilize the six man roster or will it be more like C9’s support situation last season?

If Link is able to play better with the other four members than Goldenglue, I don’t see why they wouldn’t eventually make him the starter. It will be up to Link to prove he belongs in LCS once again.  

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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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Cloud 9 Signs Tafokints to Coach; Liquid Crunch on the Importance of Coaching In Smash

Smash is trending towards the influx of personal coaches for top players. The recent signing of Daniel “Tafokints” Lee to Cloud 9 to coach one of the most experienced players in Melee, Joseph “Mango” Marquez, was the second significant player to sign on a coach.

Photo Courtesy of Liquipedia Smash http://wiki.teamliquid.net/smash/Tafokints

I talked to the first player to ever sign with a team as a Melee coach, not as a player. Luis “Crunch” Rosias was signed by Team Liquid back in July, 2016, to be a coach to one of the world’s best players in Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma. Crunch spoke to the effectiveness of Melee coaches and the impact it could have on a player’s success.

“Yeah, I think coaching is really effective. Juan never dreamed of winning Evo a few years ago when I started coaching him,” said Crunch, “It’s good to have a second set of eyes and to help boot camp before events.”

The results since Crunch signed on as a coach are undeniable. Hungrybox is having his best year as a professional, and it’s safe to say Crunch has had a serious impact on maintaining his level of play. Crunch’s main focus is analysis prior to events.

“Juan’s not great at analysis,” said Crunch, “I try to focus specifically on analysis. He needs someone to look over everything in more detail. It’s different for every player.”

Crunch talked about working through a players weaknesses inside and outside of tournaments. He pointed out Hungrybox’s match and player analysis needed some work, but that he excelled in other areas and didn’t have to work as hard on the mental approach. Each player has different needs that a coach has to work through.

“Mango talked about having someone to help him get to sleep on time,” Crunch continued, “M2k (Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman) needs a player he’ll listen to. He can play for hours with random players but could be getting better practice.”

Crunch went deeper into his approach to coaching in Melee. He spoke about the three main aspects he tries to focus on: “It comes down to three different types of roles as a coach. Sports psychology, as in keeping him warm and prepared mentally during a tournament. The second is analysis, and the third is having a practice partner near the same level who can help practice any situation,” said Crunch.

Coaches are the future of Smash. It might seem farfetched from an outsider’s perspective, but having a reliable person to help with all the aspects of being a professional Smash player can’t go understated. The Crunch and Tafokints’ signings are just the start.

“CLG was looking” said Crunch, “there’s definitely interest from some of the other larger teams.”

As a result, more Smash players will get signed on as coaches, as this niche role will soon turn into a necessity. Teams clearly see the value in coaching. This might make them more inclined to bring in coaches, to help keep players motivated and work through the struggles of being a professional Smash player. With two of the larger organizations in esports already signing Smash coaches, expect more top players to seek out a personal coach.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

The Birth of the Korean Top Lane Era in NA

Home Grown Talent

Without a doubt, when it comes to fostering homegrown talent in North America (NA), the scarcest position seems to be none other than the Top lane.  Aside from Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, not much can be said about the remaining North American Top laners.  You have Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, from Counter Logic Gaming, who has been declining in recent splits. Next to him, you have the up and coming Samson “Lourlo” Jackson, of Team Liquid, who has shown the ability to perform at times, but hasn’t done it consistently enough just yet.  An “Balls” Le, the former starting top laner for Cloud 9, once considered the best in his role, saw a steady decline before losing his starting role to Korean import Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.

ssumdayKorean Imports

With the recent roster announcements, teams have imported some terrifying Top laners everyone will have to compete with for next split.  To begin, we have Dignitas bringing in KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-Ho, known to be one of the best Top laners in the world from his performances in these past two LCK seasons.  He had a tremendous showing at Worlds 2015 and it appears that the money Dignitas received from the 76ers has helped them bring in their star Top laner.  Than you have Echo Fox acquiring former Samsung White World Champion, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.  Looper is a seasoned veteran, competing at World’s last season with China’s Royal Never Give Up at an extremely high level. Cloud 9’s infamous “top die” laner we’ve all come to love, Impact, absolutely destroyed during playoffs once the meta shifted off of lane swaps and will look to continue that trend this season. He’s also a former World Champion with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3 Worlds and was a main carry for C9 during their run to Worlds last season.  Immortals made sure to keep up with the other top lane imports by bringing in none other than Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong a longtime name in pro League of Legends and known for the “Flame Horizon” (being ahead of your enemy top laner by 100+ cs).  

Why Top Lane?

With all these imports coming in, it amplifies the discussion of why top lane seems to be the hardest position to garner any talent within NA.  Attempting to think of upcoming challenger Top laners, names like Cris, Solo, and RF Legendary come to mind.   Cristian “Cris” Rosales has been a long time top laner “memed” as good enough to dominate in the challenger series but not good enough to find success on a top LCS roster.  Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta had a good run with team Renegades through the Challenger series qualifying for LCS but was simply not up to par with LCS level Top laners and has bounced around multiple challenger teams since.  Colin “Solo” Earnest has made appearances in team Ember, and most recently, Team Liquid Academy, but hasn’t been able to reach LCS just yet.  Beyond Hauntzer, Darshan and Lourlo, no NA resident Top laners have been given a shot at a starting position on an LCS team, aside from subbing a game or two due to visa issues with imports.

So what is it about Korean Top laners that make them so much better than all other regions?  In terms of champion pools, you don’t see a lot of champion picks from Korean Top laners be chosen in other regions.  High mechanical Top lane champions such as Riven or Yasuo rarely get touched in some regions as opposed to Korea, where players like Smeb and Huni have shown the ability to solo carry games on them.  Even Jeon “Ray” Ji-won former Apex Top laner (now C9 sub), had his signature full Attack Damage split push Jarvan he would pull out that allowed him to carry games.  You just don’t see the same carry potential coming out of NA Top laners.  Korean’s teleport (TP) usage has always been above par, and that has a lot to do with coaching in Korea.  Korean teams have always been heralded as the kings of macro play and it helps tremendously with setting up huge plays using TP.  It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in North America with the language barrier and possibility of inferior coaching.   

We are in store for an intriguing 2017 season of the NA LCS with all these new roster changes making the region look stronger than it’s ever been.  It’s safe to say fans are extremely excited to see the competition in Top lane be at an all time high with all these stars coming in.  We’ll have to wait and see whether these big names can live up to the hype, or flounder under their new organizations.

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immortals

Photo Courtesy of immortals.gg

LoL Worlds: Analyzing NA’s Three Teams

NA prodigies, a Gnar one trick, and MSI sweethearts are heading into Worlds representing the best three teams in North America. For some, this iteration of NA talent showcases the best set of competitive teams the region has ever seen. But before these teams take to the group stage in San Francisco, lets recap their origin stories (of the summer split) and re-visit how they got here.


TSM

After a strange love affair with Yellowstar, TSM fully eloped with rookie Vincent “Biofrost” Wang to emerge as the new coming of NA Jesus. But really, how did this team get so good so fast? Everyone predicted that buying the best mid laner and ADC in Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Yilian “Doublelift” Peng would lead to a super giant. However, it was not until summer 2016 that TSM raised the bar for how good an NA team can be.

What led to this success?

For starters, Sven showed up. A ton of shade was thrown at the imported Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen’s way regarding whether or not he would be able to live up to the TSM title. Also, a ton of shade was thrown his way when memes started flying, calling him Bjergsen’s personal assistant (Blue Buff Giver). But somewhere down the split Sven decided that Graves can carry a game or two after killing some jungle camps and invading. Through in-game aggression, backed up by an intimidating winning streak, Sven became a routine jungle invader. This tactic resembled TSM’s over-aggressive approach that propelled them to one-sided victories across the board all season; all enabled by their laners’ superior control to back up any invades should something go awry.

Outside of the Inori mishap halfway through the season, Sven’s invades kept working. Through this success, TSM showcased the power of communication and future planning in the strategy oriented game that is League of Legends. Most of TSM’s victories in the regular season resembled a strategic dismantling of the enemy team, with on point objective control. No longer did we see the infamous Doublelift bottom lane overextension. We started to see more buff invades on spawn, and immediate follow ups from all five members, making plays as a cohesive unit.

Of course, it helps that the rest of the team are individual stars; Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, Bjergsen and Doublelift put up some of the best results of their careers, not to mention Biofrost starting off his career in a formidable fashion. The decisiveness of Team SoloMid, however, shone brightest across all teams during both season and playoffs. It was through their commitment and confidence that they were able to raise the bar as a team, instead of individual players.

 

 

CLOUD 9

If you follow our Shotcallers podcast, which you should, you’ll know that I have been advocating for C9 as a team for the whole summer split, and now they’ve qualified for Worlds via winning the gauntlet.

How did the team get so good?

Here are some reasons I can pinpoint: C9 was not afraid to experiment during the regular season. The team tried everything under the sun, from Bunny FuFuu to BF Swords on Gragas. While a lot of teams dealt with roster changes throughout the split, C9 managed to maximize their efficiency in finding the perfect team composition to bring to playoffs, both on and off the rift. What I mean by this is they ended up going with Andy “Smoothie” Ta as the support in the bot lane, who proved to be quite the duo with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. They even took down Biofrost/Doublelift in a 2 v 2 in the Summer split finals.

  1. 6.15. The patch that changed it all. Yamato Cannon said it best when he explained how the changes to turret first blood revolutionized the way League of Legends would be played on a competitive scale. A lot has been said about the obvious benefit of earning the first blood gold, but in the efforts of creating a more exciting early game for spectators, 6.15 removed the game-within-a-game aspect of early competitive League and propelled aggressive players to the top of the standings. Cue C9 Eon-Young “Impact” Jeong.
  2. Impact was quoted, saying he is performing better right now on C9 than he ever did on SKT. He won Worlds on SKT. Let that one sink in. Not only has Impact become a terrifying Gnar one-trick on stage, but Impact’s mechanics and 1 v 1 talents have burst the door wide open for C9. It also helps that lane swaps no longer delay his entrance into the game.

 

In addition to going without lane swaps, Riot inadvertently removed the “They Could Be Anywhere” period of the early game; the enemy team would be missing on the map, threatening an early game invade. A huge amount of pressure was placed on the mid lane during this period, as the laners would fear playing aggressively. They could be surprised by a stun from fog of war at any point, given they don’t have vision control. Minimizing the uncertainty of where the enemy team could be at any given time relieves the pressure of the mid lane to play conservatively, and therefore enables aggressive laners such as Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to show what they are all about. Take a look at Jensen’s performances after standard lanes were institutionalized and you will find stellar KDA’s, gold per minute, and even record-breaking kills in the quarterfinals of playoffs.

TLDR; Standard lanes = winning C9.

 

COUNTER LOGIC GAMING

 

CLG, CLG, CLG. Counter Logic Gaming locked in their Worlds spot through earning the most championship points out of any North American team, as a result of their second place finish at MSI. However, after their success in spring, CLG suffered a rough summer split, mostly attributed to their time off between MSI and the beginning of last split.

While it may seem natural for a team to take a couple of days off following such an intense tournament, losing one day of training for League of Legends (or any eSport) sometimes translates to a lot more time. In a game where how many actions you can execute per minute determines life or death, where the best players practice upwards of 16 hours a day, a couple of days is more than enough to bring anyone down from the top of the ladder.

It should also be noted that, unlike C9, CLG suffered perhaps the most out of any NA team in response to the 6.15 changes. Traditionally, CLG never relied on the strength or mechanics of one talented player (of which they have had many) to win games. Instead, CLG has consistently demonstrated superior macro play and awareness over other teams in NA in regards to lane swaps. It’s no surprise that in their first LCS game with the new patch, CLG still tried to pull of a cheeky lane swap with rotating their bot lane top after the five minute increased turret armor wore off. But in the face of a new League of Legends iteration forcing players to battle it out in standard lanes, CLG will have to reinvent their strengths and weaknesses in their boot camp heading into the Group Stage in two short weeks.

With that recap out of the way, let me close this off by looking at the groups these teams will compete in and predict the outcome of each bracket (for those of you who follow me, you know that I am either a savant or completely wrong with these things – never in the middle – so if you’re a betting man, listen up!):

GROUP A
ROX TIGERS

G2 ESPORTS

COUNTER LOGIC GAMING

ALBUS NOX LUNA

 

ROX Tigers will come out of this group in first with G2 following in second.

 

GROUP B
FLASH WOLVES

SK TELECOM

IMAY

CLOUD9

 

SK Telecom will come out of this group in first with Cloud9 following in second.

 

GROUP D

TEAM SOLOMID

ROYAL NEVER GIVE UP

SAMSUNG

SPLYCE

 

Royal Never Give Up will come out of this group in first with Team SoloMid following in second.

What are your predictions? Think I’m wrong? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!

Mew2King Wins First Major in 2016, SFAT Takes Out Mango

Courtesy of twitch.tv/tourneylocater

Courtesy of twitch.tv/tourneylocater

It’s been a long time coming for Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, who has been on the brink of taking major tournaments over the last couple years, but unfortunately struggled with certain top players that prevented him from winning the big prize. However, M2K’s luck changed this weekend in Houston, Texas at Clutch City Clash.

The event was host to 22 ranked Melee players, including four top eight finishers at Evo and the fan favorite Joseph “Mango” Marquez. The event had 270 unique entrants for Melee and 618 total players (that includes Smash 4 and Melee) making it a fairly large event with a $2,000 prize pool.

The script, as it usually plays out, reads that Mango tears through a bracket with no Hungrybox, Leffen, or Armada, beats M2K in a close set and takes home the top prize. The predictable became unpredictable when Zac “SFAT” Cordoni, a rising star in the Melee scene, was able to double-eliminate Mango. SFAT’s overall set count against Mango was 6-2, winning both sets 3-1, 3-1.

SFAT’s dominating performance in the top 8 is extremely rare in today’s tournament scene. Mango rarely ever struggles against SFAT, with an overwhelming lead in games over the Northern California Fox main. But this has been no ordinary summer for SFAT, who has had his best average placings at majors in his career in 2016. He’s also starting to consistently beat players in the top six.

Even with the huge momentum gaining win over Mango, SFAT struggled against M2K’s Marth in both winners and Grand finals. The overall set count was 6-3 in favor of M2K, but SFAT did push M2K to a game five in winner’s finals. M2K managed to win on 100% of his counter picks with having Final Destination in his back pocket and being so proficient on Yoshi’s Island with Marth’s ability to get players off stage and gimp on the small stage.

The final sequence in game 5 of Winners Finals collectively brought up the blood pressure of anyone watching. SFAT nearly had a gimp (killing your opponent by  taking away their recovery) by teching the side of Yoshi’s Island stage and hitting M2K out of Marth’s dolphin slash recovery, but M2K being as smart as he is, dolphin slashed again and stage spiked SFAT off the bottom.

M2K barely advanced, sending SFAT to face Mango once again in Losers final. Mango switched back to Fox, after losing two games with Falco and one with Marth in the first set against SFAT. However, the result stayed the same. SFAT was better off-stage with his edge guarding, and showed off his strong grab-combo game.

SFAT’s composure throughout his top eight run was impressive, even in games he was down he never seemed nervous. He was down in three of his six wins against Mango, but made in-game adjustments to take the set.

Unfortunately, M2K’s play style doesn’t allow for on the fly adjustments as much as Mango. His methodical, optimal play means you have to come into the game with a strong game plan and SFAT didn’t necessarily have that in Grand Finals. M2K took the set 3-1, with three two-stock victories. The only win for SFAT coming off a full stock comeback on Pokemon stadium in game three, giving M2K a chance to counter pick Final Destination.

It was M2K’s first major win since PAX Prime back in August of last year (the famous Leffen 6-0). M2K didn’t have to face his worse matchups like Hungrybox or Armada, but the fact that he got a major win under his belt heading into Super Smash Con is a good sign for the Marth main for Cinnaminson. We might get to see the “return of the king” once again in 2016.

07_clutchcity

TOP 8 Placings:

1. Echo Fox/ MVG/ Mew2King (Marth, Sheik)

2. CLG SFAT (Fox)

3. C9 Mango (Falco, Fox, Marth)

4. G2 Westballz (Falco)

5. Tempo S2J (Captain Falcon)

5. mYi Ice (Fox)

7. Kingsmen The Moon (Marth)

7. Arc (Marth)

The Myth of the Honeymoon Period

There is a myth that plagues the mindset of the North American Counter-Strike scene. It’s a falsity that has infected players, casters and leaders of the scene. It’s a bronze idol that has contributed to the instability of the scene’s teams and perhaps reduced its level of results. And it’s a lie so insidious, I’ve even heard European casters and players repeat it, unaware of the poison in their own words.

This is the Myth of the Honeymoon Period.

No, not that sort of honeymoon--though the PGL KeSPA Asia Minor seems like quite the destination...Photo courtesy scoopnest.

No, not that sort of honeymoon–though the PGL KeSPA Asia Minor seems like quite the destination…Photo courtesy scoopnest.

Whenever I see a recently changed NA lineup play an online match and put up rounds, someone casting the game (I’m looking at you, Dustin “dustmouret” Mouret) invariably mentions something along the lines of: “In this honeymoon period, the team is going to have a special synergy unique to newly-formed teammates. They’re getting new looks, they’re feeling excited about the possibilities, and they’ll play better now.”

When I was first getting into CS:GO, this was an alluring idea to me. The sudden connection of a new lineup propels them to unexpected conquest! On some level, it is connected to the Cinderella story, or the band-of-brothers movie trope, where success appears spontaneous and magical, rather than from hard work and training.

I am still a believer in the magic of a victorious team. I think that championship CS:GO sides do have something unique working for them: a special understanding of the game, irreplaceable synergies between certain players, inimitable team-play, a gestalt that produces victory.

But now, whenever I hear it, this “honeymoon” idea, it makes me sick. It’s just wrong.

When a new team forms, its members may be understandably excited about the new team. It’s a blank slate, an untested hypothesis that could lead to any conclusion. Our optimistic minds often jump to the loftiest possibilities. This may lead to its members playing on better-than-average form.

But at the same time, there will be many kinks with a new lineup that need to be ironed out. More likely than not, each teammate’s positions will need to be rehashed, with one or more players needing to learn how to play new CT spots so that the team can have reasonable defaults. The team’s shot-calling will be erratic at first, as a team’s in-game leader will need to learn his player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. And while excitement about the new lineup might smooth over mistakes that come from the poor communication that is natural to a new lineup, those mistakes can only be resolved by the training and learned camaraderie that comes from sticking to the team, not first joining it.

If we extend this idea to the marriage metaphor, we might see how problematic the Myth of the Honeymoon Period is to CS players. If a person enters a marriage expecting that marriage’s success to be founded on the first month’s torrent of rabid and passionate sex, we’d laugh at their expectations. If a person enters a marriage conscious of the negotiation and teamwork that will come after the honeymoon—finding income, fixing dinner, taking out the trash, raising children—we would expect their marriage to be more successful.

A CS:GO player from any scene should not look to jump from team to team, looking for that “perfect match” and constantly striving after the honeymoon feeling of a new team. This will NOT produce his or her best Counter-Strike. That player should look for a lineup that might work, then stick with it, hammering out problems as they arise and devoting practice time to developing strategies, coordination and communication. This will make that player far more successful than any amount of honeymoon high.

A simple look at the history of successful CS:GO teams will show that there are very few instances of a sudden and short-lived burst of championship form from a new team. Teams are either successful after a period of trial and tribulation, or they are successful for an extended period of time at the beginning of a lineup too long to be called a “honeymoon.” I’ll pay special attention to the most successful NA lineups and to famous international examples of hot starts to teams.

The original masters of CS:GO had a long-lived run of form. Courtesy HLTV.

The original masters of CS:GO had a long-lived run of form. Courtesy HLTV.

NiP

This team famously started out 87-0 in the beginning of CS:GO. This was not a honeymoon period, though. This was a group of talented fraggers outclassing everyone else in the scene. Furthermore, the team went on to two years of sustained success after that streak was ended. In a simple sign of their longevity, the current NiP, which has surged back into an elite or near-elite form, has four members of that original dominating lineup. That’s commitment.

Virtus.pro

This lineup burst onto the scene following a big roster move (picking up Snax and byali) by winning ESL One Katowice 2014, the second major. Honeymoon? No, the team has gone on to be the longest-standing lineup in CS history, returning to world-beating form multiple times. The Virtus.pro may come and go, but this lineup lasts forever–or two plus years and going, which feels like forever in CS.

envyus major winners

The closest thing we’ve had to honeymoon winners was EnVyUs with kennyS and apex, a talent-laden exception to the rule. Photo courtesy Daily Dot.

EnVyUs, with apex and KennyS

This lineup is the closest thing to a honeymoon period in CS:GO. Immediately after forming, the lineup became a world-beater, reaching the finals to two straight majors and numerous international finals in between, only to fall of significantly after that. However, a couple things should be noted. First off, this was a true celebrity marriage, perhaps the most talented lineup that CS:GO has ever seen assembled; in this sense, it was a perfect storm for a honeymoon team to assemble. Second, we must note that their plummet in form, was as severe as their start was strong. It was clear the team did not have the tools to establish long-lasting success.

Cloud9 (Summer 2015)

NA lineups always seem to be searching for that magical mix, but the most powerful NA team of all time (three straight international final appearances, all within three weeks–I think that qualifies) showed that such a blend requires hard work, coordination, and leadership. This lineup actually struggled mightily on its first couple international LANs, drawing ire from several voices in the community. It seems like poetic justice that the first map win that sparked their rare NA run of success came on cache versus EnVyUs, a team that had beat them soundly on that same map just a couple weeks ago. C9’s synergy was the result of both clever roster moves and hard work–something other NA teams have barely repeated.

CLG

While other top-achieving NA teams (like Cloud9) have come and gone, CLG has been notable as the one team that sticks with its players for long periods, focusing on teamplay and strategy to improve rather than roster shuffles. This faith has forestalled its progress at times by sticking with an inferior player like FNS, but it has also reaped its rewards. Sticking with tarik has seen him grow from an onliner and FPL star to an impact fragger in the last major. And when jdm was first incorporated into the team, DaZeD called the AWPer the worst player on the team; within a few months, jdm had grown into CLG’s first star and perhaps the best player in NA. Whoever takes Fugly’s place can take some comfort in the fact that his teammates will give him adequate time to incorporate and grow.

Team Liquid with s1mple

This team’s story was not that of a honeymoon. It was that of an NA lineup struggling to incorporate a fiery Ukrainian star—and briefly succeeding in doing so, against the lesser feelings of division that we now know were brooding within the team. This team actually struggled at first, barely managing to qualify for the major and with s1mple performing below expectations. Their run at the major was a minor feat of perseverance as much as it was a momentary self-discovery for a team that had roster, communication, and firepower issues leading up to the major. If only s1mple had the perseverance to stick with Liquid, they might have been able to sort out their issues and become a true threat.

 

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