NALCS: The Good and Bad of Franchising

TheScore esports released an article Friday regarding franchising becoming a real thing in NALCS. Franchising has been a trending topic in terms of LCS since last year. Franchising LCS means that ten teams will be locked in from season to season, not being relegated. Riot would get rid of the relegation system altogether, and most likely opt for something similar to minor league, for teams to scout upcoming talent. New teams would not enter the LCS unless teams voted to expand the number of teams.

The Good

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Owners can rejoice with the announcement of franchising. Franchising in LCS will be amazing for teams already in LCS, and investors. With no risk of relegation, sponsors can freely pour money into teams without the risk of teams dropping out of the LCS. Under the relegation model, bottom tier teams struggle more to garner sponsors with the risk of losing their LCS spot.

More opportunities for players to enter the scene could possibly open up. If each team has a sort of “farm” team in the minor leagues, we could see more talent brought into struggling teams. With most of the best young talent playing in the challenger series during the regular season, there isn’t much room for roster adaptations during the regular split. Teams can feel comfortable doing roster changes in the middle of the split with no threat of losing their spot.

Fans also don’t have to worry about their favorite team being relegated from LCS. CLG and TL fans can assure you that relegation is a terrifying possibility. Franchising will pave the way for more money, continuing the rapid growth we’ve seen in esports recently.

The Bad

Franchising prevents any new organizations from entering the LCS. We may never get to witness a team like Origen or old school Cloud 9 grow from Challenger into Worlds contenders. Franchising will prevent the “underdog” story of LCS with no new organizations being able to play their way into the league.

Player contract security may also be hindered with Franchising. There would be a lot more on the line for players. Underperforming teams could be more open to adapting during the split. Players may not have a secure spot on the team if their team struggles.

Furthermore, competitiveness of the league could also dip. With no fear of relegation, some teams can be complacent with being a bottom tier organization. Without the fear of relegation, teams can be okay with having a bad split.

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Power Rankings: #3 western team

Flyquest’s Playoff Profile: Live and Die by the Cheese

Exceeding Expectations

After being pegged as a relegation team in preseason, Flyquest surged to an amazing 5-1 start. They quickly became fan favorites, pulling out some of the most unique champions of the season, from Mordekaiser ADC to Shaco jungle. As teams around them began to build synergy, Flyquest began to crumble. They finished the season 9-9 just barely making playoffs.

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest is great at pushing advantages. You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Having a legendary shotcaller in Hai “Hai” Lam helps. You’ll often see Flyquest try to pull off Baron as soon as possible to help them finish games as efficiently as possible.

Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate has had an amazing split compared to last year when he looked extremely lost as a rookie on NRG and TL. Moon looked great in the first few weeks, putting up insane kill numbers in the first few games of the split. He has since sizzled out a bit, but still remains one of the better players on this roster.

Lemonnation’s drafting is still extremely unpredictable to say the least. You never know what unique champions they might pull out.

Hai is one of the most selfless mid laners in NALCS. He will often roam to try and get kills for his teammates, even if it means sacrificing resources in the mid lane. As a team, An “Balls” Le, Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart, and Hai have all been playing together since their Cloud 9 days. Hai is amazing at getting everyone to listen to a call and either living or dying by that call.

Weaknesses

They tend to play an eccentric style, taking any fight they can. This can be a weakness for them as most teams have been punishing their over aggressive play style towards the end of the season.

Their attempts at cheesing opponents with their unique champion picks also hasn’t worked much for them. As much as fans love seeing unique champion picks, other teams can just outright beat them with what’s strong in the meta.

They also don’t have the best early game laning. Hai, Balls, and ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru have some of the worst CSD@10 numbers at their respective positions. Flyquest tends to try and go even through laning phase and win through mid game rotations and team fights. If they fall too far behind, they are often punished for trying to fight without the right advantages.

Living and dying by Hai’s shotcalling is a double edged sword. Sometimes it’s the right call, and other times it leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why they decided to fight there.

Player to Watch: Hai

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Mid laner and shotcaller Hai will be essential in how far Flyquest can go in playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ve improved over the last few weeks in preparation for their playoff match against CLG. Hai has always been tasked with guiding his team to victory no matter what team he is on. He’ll need to be at his best for Flyquest to go deep into playoffs.

Prediction

With how they looked near the end of the split, Flyquest will be heavy underdogs coming into their match with CLG. Hai’s shotcalling and some unique champion picks may net them a win, but I don’t see CLG losing this one.

Lose 1-3 to CLG

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CLG’s Playoff Profile: United They Stand, Or Divided They Will Fall

Setting the Stage

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the perennial contenders (or pretenders) of the NA LCS. They’re (almost) always in contention for playoffs every split. There is always some kind of hype behind them, but they often do the exact opposite of what everyone expects. They were the only NA LCS roster to leave the off season intact, retaining all the same five starters from over a year ago. Top lane held down by the one called Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, veteran long time LCS Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, hot and cold Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, zero to hero ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and team captain on and off the Rift, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. It’s the same squad that brought North America some pride at MSI, and then proceeded to lose both games against Wildcard Cinderella story Albus NoX Luna.

Even his teachers call him… Darshan? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s path to the playoffs was one that could’ve (or should’ve), gone very differently. They had a rough start to the split, where other teams could draw on new players as an excuse. A strong surge in the middle and a wonky, long game three against EnVy make this CLG roster very… CLGesque. But they’re in the playoffs, and up against the hot and cold Flyquest. The record between these two doesn’t really help us in favouring a side. Both have beat each other in a 2-0 series. While CLG’s win was more recent, Flyquest looked stronger in their last week of games.

 

The Players in the Jerseys

What about the players themselves? Darshan hasn’t had quite the split he had last year, often winning his lane and split pushing CLG to victory. Oftentimes he looks as if he’s trying too hard to be too much for the team. Whether it’s the increased skill in the Top lane, a decline in mechanics, or a massive meta shift (the last one being quite likely), Darshan doesn’t seem to be as solid of a rock for CLG as he used to be. The bright side? Darshan has looked a lot more comfortable in the recent meta than in the first half of the split. If he can temper his aggression, become slightly more calculated in his 1 vs 1’s, or contribute otherwise, he can still be the Top laner CLG need. But that’s quite a few ifs.

Xmithie, the constantly underrated Jungler to the point of being overratedly underrated, has looked… uninspiring this split. Statistically speaking, his KDA is the lowest in the league for Junglers at a startling 2.4 (relative to, say, the highest being 3.8 on Galen “Moon” Holgate). He also ranks at the bottom for Kill Particpation, a vital stat for Junglers at a measly 63.1%. It could be the reason that CLG started so slow. Rookies like Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Juan “Contractz” Garcia were on hot streaks, single handedly taking their teams to wins; but as these rookies have cooled down, and the meta shifts away from carry Junglers, we may see the steadier Xmithie return.

Stats aren’t everything, though, and Xmithie is still a strong player for CLG. He has experience and always seems to be where he needs to be. If it makes any CLG fan feel better, Svenskeren ranks only one place above Xmithie. That’s saying something. A Jungler’s role in League of Legends is one of tacticians, making plays to get your teammates ahead and out-thinking the other Jungler. This is something Xmithie has had multiple seasons of practice with.

There are a lot of stats to look at when thinking about Mid laners. Huhi is one of those players that isn’t necessarily understood through his stats. He often looks unstoppable on certain champs, and utterly lost on others. His stats are interesting, though. When you think of Mid laners, you want two things: damage output and CS difference at 15. On the first point, Huhi does pretty well. He places fourth among starting Mid laners with a Damage Per Minute of 559 (28.1% of CLG’s overall damage), putting him third overall for Mid laners.

On the second part, Huhi was dead last, only higher than the much maligned changing Liquid Mid laners of Goldenglue and Piglet. You can never count him out though. He can come up big for the team on certain champions, like Syndra and Aurlieon Sol. His damage output, even while behind in lane, is impressive. He also will play a vital role against Flyquest in (trying) to shut down Hai and possibly get inside the head of the veteran shotcaller.

From zero to hero, Stixxay’s journey with CLG has gone from fans criticizing him to praising him. Can he lead them into another Spring finals? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s botlane duo seems to be almost always the stable foundation for the whole roster. This is the case now more than ever. While the rest of the team fell flat some games, or looked completely bewildered, Stixxay and Aphromoo found consistency. It has put Stixxay in the spotlight. From a harshly criticized player, to challenging Aphromoo as CLG’s strongest laner, Stixxay has come alive this split. He is tied with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi for second in Damage Per Minute at 546, and third in Damage percent at 26.9%. Remember, that’s all coming out of a split that was half dominated by Utility Ult ADC’s, too.

On the other hand, Aphromoo’s contribution to the team isn’t just on the Rift. Stats for Supports are always hard to read. His presence is known inside and out of the Rift, as a team leader and cool head for the squad overall. There’s a lot to be said for that, and a lot to be said about a Support’s ability to bring out the best in their ADC. Stixxay is performing up there among the greats of the league, like newcomer No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and long time staple, Sneaky.

 

The X Factor

So what does all this mean for CLG? Well, pretty much the same as always. CLG aren’t expected to take it all, and a deep drive into the playoffs will give some hope to the Faithful. It’s a position they’re all too accustomed to, though. So what needs to happen for CLG here? What’s their X factor? Well, as lame as it sounds, they need to stand as a team again. That was this roster’s strength last year. Stixxay didn’t out-mechanic any ADC in NA of note. Darshan was great for splitpushing, yes, and Aphromoo was always Aphromoo, but it was the team that won that playoff. The X factor is for that team to reappear in this playoff run. Not just the strong talent that each player has shown off at times, but for them as a team to move and work together again.

This is a different CLG than last Spring though. Stixxay, as many have pointed out, has grown into one of the strongest ADCs in the region. Aphromoo is still hailed for his strength as a player and a leader. When Huhi is playing his best, he’s an absolute monster. Darshan can still pull off some insane plays. Xmithie still shows up and performs for his team. It was the roster that looked good as a whole, not as individual units. Some part of me wonders if that is for better or worse.

Can Huhi step up to the plate for CLG when they need him? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

As Piltover’s Sherrif says, “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” CLG fans will need to see that team play again. The macro and teamwork-oriented style of play, while picking each other up. CLG seems too much like a team trying to always make a play. From greedy 1 vs 1’s for Darshan to awkward engages in the bot lane, CLG needs to get themselves back to their position of working as a team and thinking rather than just hoping the plan of attack works. While the obvious players to watch are Stixxay and Huhi, CLG haven’t relied on solo carries since the Doublelift days. They will win as a team.

 

Predictions

3-2 CLG over Flyquest, 3-1 loss against TSM.

I’m not convinced that Flyquest is back to winning. I wonder more if it was the similar phenomena where teams just can’t seem to handle the ‘new kids on the block’ or not. That being said, you can’t bat an eyelash at Hai “Hai” Du Lam and his boys. They’re a strong roster, and whether that’s more off the back of Hai’s magic touch at shotcalling or as a genuine threat, they’re still tough and always a team that can show up and take the win. CLG seemed to play to the level of their opponents this split though, which might mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders against the mind of Hai.

Nonetheless, I think CLG will pull it out in the end. I just think they have it in them to take down Flyquest, but it really depends which CLG and which Flyquest show up. Hence my 3-2 win. I highly doubt we’d see a complete blow out either way. However, if either team comes to these games playing at their lowest, we might. If each team comes performing at their best, it’ll be a back and forth series. Both teams are underdogs to make it deep into the playoffs and will have that underdog identity hanging over their heads. For CLG, this will be old news. For the new (old?) Flyquest boys, this may be a new feeling.

TSM, on the other hand, I don’t see CLG standing much of a chance against. They looked absolutely horrendous against TSM (I would know, I had Huhi, Aphro, and Xmithie on my Fantasy team…). They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight in their most recent meeting. TSM had control the entire time, and with that in mind, I really can’t see this series going CLG’s way. I’m generous and thinking, hey, maybe they can squeeze one game out. If they do manage to pull out a win, it would possibly be an even bigger upset than their past two wins in playoffs against TSM.

NALCS: Players to Watch as We Near the End of the Split

There are only two weeks left in the split, and each game will be important in playoff positioning. TSM and Cloud 9 are the obvious top two teams, but Phoenix1 has been on a tear recently. The middle of the pack has been a toss up every week. It seems that every week a different team decides to show up or collapse. In this piece, we’ll take a look at key players to watch who will be vital in their team’s success as we near the end of the split.

Dardoch (IMT Jungler)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett  has been the MVP of Immortals up to this point. He is often the decider in whether or not his team comes out on top. There are times where we see Dardoch play like the jungle God we’ve come to know from his time on Liquid. Other times he’ll make questionable aggressive plays that make us shake our head. In their series last week against TSM, he showed up with a phenomenal Rengar in Game 1, but failed to make enough of an impact in the next two games of the series.

Immortals are currently tied with Dignitas for 6th place at 6-8. In order for Immortals to solidify their playoff position, they’ll need Dardoch at his best.

Hai and Moon (Flyquest Mid and Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This one could go out to Flyquest as a whole honestly. Their drafting seems to have focused heavily on cheesing opponents. While it brings out unique champions for fans, their in game success has fallen off since the mid way point. It may be a mix of other teams around them getting better, but Flyquest will need Hai “Hai” Lam and Galen “Moon” Holgate to get back to where they were at the start of the split. During their first three weeks, Flyquest were winning off the backs of their strategic drafts and Hai’s shotcalling. Moon was also putting up phenomenal stats, but has struggled as of late.

Flyquest have fallen from being a top three team to tied for fourth with CLG. Their playoff spot isn’t even guaranteed anymore. They may need to go back to playing more standard picks and what worked for them. Morde and Shaco were fine for a game or two, but the rest of the LCS continues to get better, and cheesing opponents just isn’t enough anymore.

Stixxay (CLG ADC)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC’s have quietly shifted from being ult-bots to now being able to carry a game. We saw evidence of this from CLG’s last series with Cloud 9. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes showed the ability to be able to carry with his Ezreal and Caitlyn play. With the changes to Botrk going live this week, Ezreal may become a top tier ADC pick. This is good news for CLG as they’re used to playing around their star bot lane duo.

CLG seems to always pick it up during this time of the season. Their win against Cloud 9 was much needed, and they’ll need to take that momentum with them into playoffs.

Keith and gate(Echo Fox ADC and support)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

It’s no doubt Echo Fox’s bot lane has been their weak spot. ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew and Austin “Gate” Yu are often the X factor in many of their games. If they don’t get caught and play with confidence, it’s a team that can clean sweep TSM. When they’re constantly getting caught out of position though, the rest of the team struggles to find consistency. Gate and Keith are both near the bottom in KDA at their positions.

Echo Fox are currently 8th place, sitting a game behind Immortals and Dignitas. With the bot lane shifting away from just being ult-bots, Echo Fox’s bot lane will need to step up immensely. They’ve shown the ability to hand TSM one of their only two losses of the split, so we know they’re capable.

Contractz (Cloud 9 Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Some may have been quick to praise Cloud 9 jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia, the next best jungler of North America. Contractz debuted with some phenomenal performances to begin his young LCS career. As teams around him have gotten better, we haven’t seen the same progression from him. His Rengar against CLG was unimpressive as he struggled to find effective ults onto anyone. His mis-click onto Jayce in Game 3 gave C9 an awkward team comp to say the least. Small rookie mistakes cost his team at times where he is caught out before big objectives. Contractz will play a huge part in whether Cloud 9 can dethrone TSM as king of NALCS.

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Loaning Players: Good or Bad for the Scene?

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This split, we’ve gotten the chance to see the first instances of “loaning” players in the NALCS. Phoenix1 with jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and Team Liquid with Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. It sparks the discussion, is “loaning” players good or bad for the scene? If a top tier organization is able to acquire a big name like Doublelift when they’re sinking fast, what does it mean for the newer organizations who may not have those types of connections?

Mainly looking at Doublelift’s loan for the rest of the split. It feels like team owners who have been there since the beginning may be willing to help each other more than most. I doubt TSM’s owner, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, would loan Doublelift to Envy or Immortals had they asked. The owners of Team Liquid, CLG, TSM, and C9 seem to have a special connection, having been there in the early birth of NALCS.

The Good

The real winners in each deal here are the players. Doublelift has stated that his break made him realize that competitive play was where he wanted to be. Getting the chance to get back into the swing of things in a few weeks with Team Liquid allows him to ready himself to be in prime form for a summer return with TSM. Doublelift made it clear that he would only be with Liquid until the end of the split.

Team Liquid gets a great deal in this as well. Doublelift is the best non-import slot that you could attain. If their only goal at this point is to avoid relegations, Doublelift gives them the chance to do so.

TSM are also winners in this deal. Unless Team Liquid has a miracle run and some luck, it’s unlikely they’d meet in playoffs down the road. TSM earns big bucks for loaning out a sub who is in need of LCS time before returning.

The Bad

Courtesy:Riot Esports

It becomes an interesting discussion of whether this is fair to the rest of the league. Team Liquid could even bail TSM out of a bad situation in the future through offering a sub. It can only really benefit the two teams involved.

It becomes a problem when the rest of the bottom tier teams may not have that same luxury. In all honesty, it’s not an even playing field if a move like this can occur whenever one of the top organizations is having a rough split. This may be temporary though as most organizations are desperate to stay in LCS with the rumors of franchising the NALCS.

Moves like this ensure the original LCS teams don’t go away anytime soon. Team Curse was one of the first LCS teams in its young career, and it’s unlikely we’ll see them be relegated anytime soon. Should Riot continue to allow teams to loan their subs?

Team Liquid’s case may be extremely rare, but could be totally possible in the future. With more veteran players, it may become intriguing to rest star players in the Spring. Burnout is a serious issue among pros, and if more stars decide to take breaks in the Spring, a situation like this could occur in the future.

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Notable Role Swaps in NALCS History

With the recent announcement of Team Liquid moving their star AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin to the mid lane, I thought I’d highlight some notable role swaps to come out of the NALCS.  Some were worked out and some were down right atrocious. Most would believe that role swapping mid-split would be one of the worst times to make such a move. Team Liquid has made it clear that they have nothing to lose. Role swaps aren’t very common, as learning a new role brings many different responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how this one unfolds. Without further ado, here are some of the most notable role swaps in NALCS history:

CLG’s Role Swaps (Seasons 2-3)

One of North America’s longtime organizations, Counter Logic Gaming, basically made a name for themselves early on role swapping. It almost became a meme how many times they attempted to just out right role swap once talented players into new roles on the team. It basically birthed the meme “truly counter logic” to attempt to move around struggling talented players in an attempt to see if things could work.

One of the most iconic players in LCS history, Steve “Chauster” Chau became known for role swapping, having played every role during his competitive career. Chauster also became infamous for molding star AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift Peng” into the player he is today. Chauster was praised for being one of the most intelligent players in the pro scene. For the most part, Chauster succeeded in just about every role he played, with support maybe being his peak, playing alongside Doublelift.

CLG’s owner, George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis, made a name for himself as one of the best early LoL streamers at the time. He was also considered one of the best professional players during early LoL. Internal issues with former jungler Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco led to HotshotGG taking over in the jungle. The team suffered as HotshottGG’s jungle style didn’t fit the team, as they fought to not place last in the season 2 World Championship. Once Chauster was moved to the jungle, HotshotGG returned to the top lane, but was never the same star he once was. He was forced into supporting Doublelift and never really having the carry impact he once had.

CLG once again tried to role swap Chauster back into the support role by bringing in former mid, Michael “bigfatlp” Tang, to jungle for summer of season 3. He would become the third member role swapped into jungle after Saintvicious’ departure. He was quite underwhelming compared to those before him. CLG would fail in the first round of playoffs, and bigfatlp would be replaced by EU jungler Marcel “Dexter” Feldkamp.

Possibly one of the best role swaps was bringing in a former ADC Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black to the starting support role. Aphromoo did not see success right away. He struggled with what seemed like stage jitters to begin with. Eventually Aphro and Doublelift would become the best bot lane in NA, known as “Rush Hour”.  His aggressiveness in lane matched perfectly with Doublelift’s, and having mained ADC before, he credited his success to knowing what an AD wants from the support role.

Xmithie and Zuna Roleswap (XDG Spring season 4)

XDG (formerly Vulcan) had just qualified for Worlds in season 3 and had a decent showing. Despite not getting out of groups, they took a game off Fnatic and looked to be a team on the rise in NALCS. In a puzzling move, they role swapped their ADC, Christopher “Zuna” Buechter, and jungler, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero upon returning from the World Championship for season 4. The team would fail to find the same success with this new roster change, and they eventually switched back.

It was too late, as Xmithie didn’t look like the same jungler who was heralded as “Dandy lite” at the last World Championship. XDG would eventually be relegated by LMQ and Xmithie would eventually be picked up by CLG to find much success.

Altec to Support (Winterfox Spring Season 5)

Johnny “Altec” Ru was once heralded as a rising NA talent. He had just been picked up by Evil Geniuses (rebranded to Winterfox) and looked to be on the rise. Halfway through the split, Winterfox was struggling mightily. Altec was one of the few English speakers on the roster, and thought going to the support role may help him have a bigger impact.

In a bizarre move, their head coach at the time, Choi “Paragon” Hyun-il stepped in to start as the new ADC, while Altec moved to support. This team had many other issues outside of bot lane, and after going 0-2, they reverted the move.

Winterfox went on to get relegated that summer, and Altec would find success on Gravity (formerly Curse Academy). He now plays for Flyquest, where he holds the 2nd highest KDA.

Voyboy from Top to Mid (Team Curse)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Voyboy was an iconic top laner in early pro LoL. He was an innovator for the most part who had a great mind for the game. He made picks like Akali, tank Katarina, and AP Tryndamere popular during his time.

Season 4 came, and Curse announced the move of Voyboy over to the mid lane. With this decision, many people questioned how innovative he could really be.  In the spring split, Curse would finish the regular season 11-17, and finish in their memed “forever fourth place”.

His mid lane never really matched what we saw from him in top lane. He was decent at best, but he never really became “World Class”. Team Curse would come close to qualifying for Worlds in season 4 before being reverse swept by LMQ. Shortly after Voyboy announced his retirement, he became a big streamer.

Saintvicious Jungle to Support (Team Curse)

Saintvicious was one of the best junglers in early League of Legends. Having spent time on CLG and Curse, he’d decided he wanted to step away to pursue coaching. During the first few weeks, Curse went 3-5. The team decided to insert Saintvicious into the starting support role.

He was heralded as a shotcaller during his time in the jungle, and dealt with many of their strategies as a coach. What could go wrong? The team didn’t find much success, going 2-6 while still sitting at the bottom of the standings.

Saintvicious would eventually move to Curses Academy team, where he’d lead a young roster back into LCS. He eventually retired after an okay season with the rebranded Gravity, and is now an analyst for Team Liquid.

KiWiKiD Top Lane to Support (Team Dignitas Season 4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen started off in the top lane to begin his pro career during season 3. KiWiKiD had shown some ability to carry games, but as the meta shifted he struggled to stay afloat. He eventually took the title for most deaths in NALCS history.

The next season he joined Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana, to support him in the bot lane. Their previous support, Jordan “Patoy” Blackburn, was a mechanically gifted support. Patoy and Imaqtpie were not known to be good friends outside of the game. The opposite was the case for KiWiKiD and Imaqtpie. They were great friends inside and out of the game.

KiWiKiD would never be able to become a top tier support. Dignitas would look like serious contenders for Worlds mid way through season 4 summer before eventually losing to TSM in the first round of playoffs.

Dignitas eventually got relegated from NALCS the following season. KiWiKiD spent a disastrous season on NRG before they got relegated as well. His work ethic has been questioned by former teammates on NRG. Mostly his Korean teammates for playing Overwatch in between scrims.

Hopes for Team Liquid

Numbers have shown role swaps are extremely risky and usually don’t grant much reward. Having a player compete against players who have mastered their roles since they started their careers is a daunting task for anyone. Role swaps during the middle of the split may be considered even riskier. Piglet showcased yesterday just how good of a player he is. We may need to wait longer to see how well he does against the likes of C9 and TSM. If his Immortals series is a sneak peak of what to expect, then this may be one of the best role swaps in history.

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

We’re halfway through the NALCS spring split, and I’ll be handing out grades for each team so far. My basis for grading: expectations coming into this split, if they’ve met/under performed those expectations, and their current standing. Every team has played each other once now, so we have a good feel for how each team matches up against one another. Things can definitely change in the second half of the split, so it’ll be interesting to see where these teams end.

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Nobody expected us to be halfway through the split with Team Liquid sitting at the bottom, even below Envyus. They acquired supposedly one of the best junglers in the region in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, but it hasn’t been enough. One thing that has changed this split is the meta shift to utility style AD carries, in which star Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has struggled on. In the past, Team Liquid relied on Piglet to be a main carry for the team. That has not been the case this split as Piglet currently sits dead last in KDA and leads all AD’s in deaths.

Team Liquid has obviously hit the panic button with the announcement of possible roster changes during the IEM break. The most notable rumor being Piglet switching to mid. If that doesn’t spell desperation, I don’t know what does. There aren’t many ADC’s in challenger willing to thrust themselves into a sinking ship and be apart of the downfall.

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

In all honesty, everyone expected Envyus to be a low tier team, possibly similar to Echo Fox last summer. The fact that they have two wins, one coming off a talented Echo Fox team, tells me they’re not as bad as people think. They’ve shown the ability to take teams to close matches even when they do lose.

Their laners are able to gain significant CS differences in games. Looking at top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu Yeong and ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price, they’re both near the top in their positions in CS diff@10. They may lack the team fighting needed to really compete on the LCS level, but that’s to be expected when only your bot lane speaks English as their first language.

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

With the big name imports of Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas was expected to be towards the top of the standings. They were off to a slow start, but things have finally picked up for them, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. I’ll admit two of those wins were against Team Envyus and Team Liquid, two teams at the bottom of the standings, but they needed those wins. They also looked impressive in a 2-0 victory against Flyquest, who were tied for second heading into the week.

Their schedule doesn’t get any easier heading into the second half, as they half Phoenix1 and TSM as their first opponents. Maybe this IEM break will give them the needed time to finally come together as the top tier team many had hoped for.

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

Echo Fox has to be the most inconsistent team in LCS. At least with bottom tier teams you can expect how they’re going to play. With Echo Fox, one week they’re 2-0 sweeping TSM, the next they’re getting 0-2’d by Envyus. This team seems to have trouble playing to the level of their competition. Against the good teams, they play their best, but against the worse ones, they’ll allow themselves to play down to their level. This is just about where people were placing them in terms of standings heading into the split, if not lower.

It is surprising to see a team this low still hold the highest Gold difference@15 among NALCS teams. Their early game isn’t their weak point by any means. Jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham has shown to be the best jungler so far, despite a poor showing last weekend. His early game aggression has allowed Echo Fox to jump to their early leads. It’s been in the mid-late game where Echo Fox has struggled in not knowing how to translate their leads into victories.

If they can fix their macro-play, this team can definitely be a “Cinderella” team heading into playoffs.

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

For the most part, people pegged Immortals as being around this 5th-8th place team. Immortals was expected to play mostly through star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. For the most part, Dardoch has had to solo carry the team, with Pobelter playing uncharacteristically poor. Pobelter has improved as the weeks have gone on, but he’s still currently last in KDA and CS diff@10 among mids.

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong looks to have fixed some of the communication issues that he was having. In the beginning of the split, his teleports and team fighting seemed off from the team. In a meta where tank play was very important, Immortals struggled to gain any wins to start out. They have gone 3-1 in their past two weeks, but most of those victories came off teams below them in the standings.

They’ll need to show some competitiveness against some of the better teams before we can list them as a definite playoff team.

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) was somewhat expected to thrive to begin the split. Most teams were brand new rosters with absolutely no synergy built up yet, as was evident in the first few weeks. CLG would have the advantage of not having any roster changes and knowing how to play with one another. They struggled to use this to their advantage, as they had a slow start due to not having a great grasp on the meta. CLG have noted that they’ve always been a bit slow on picking up on the meta. As a top tier organization, you’d expect this problem to be fixed by now.

Star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black looked lost in the meta of carry style supports, often being caught out of position. Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has looked as okay as he always has, but with the rise of jungle talent in a meta of carries, it hasn’t been enough.

They’ve recently began to look like they’re returning to top form, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. They took a much needed victory against Immortals last week that put them ahead of them in the standings.

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

Phoenix1 were my darkhorse favorite heading into the split, and they haven’t disappointed.  Most people ranked P1 as a middle-lower half team heading in, but they’ve shown the ability to compete with the best, after sweeping C9 2-0 with a substitute jungler. No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has been the best ADC in NA “by far” and a candidate for MVP.

Nobody really knows what exactly is happening with Rami “Inori” Charagh. Before he departed the team, he was looking to be struggling on any champion that wasn’t Rengar or Kha’zix. In recent interviews with substitute jungler Will “Meteos” Hartman, he made it sound like P1 may just be looking for a long term replacement. Meteos is no slouch as a replacement, although he doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to commit long term. If P1 continue with Meteos, I don’t see why this team can’t finish in the upper echelon of the standings.

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest have developed into fan favorites as the “C9 White”. No one can really count out any team with prolific shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on it. Having three out of five members who have played together for so many years also has to help. Everyone, including myself, wanted to cheer for this team, but honestly expected them to be in the bottom tier.

This was reinforced with the announcement of Galen “Moon” Holgate as their new jungler just days before the LCS start. The last time we saw Moon, he looked scared and out of his element on stage. This split, he’s become one of the most improved players we’ve ever seen in LCS. This may be due to playing with some LCS veterans this time, but Moon himself has been looking like an absolute steal from free agency.

Hai’s effectiveness as a shotcaller will never be able to be measured statistically, but if Flyquest finish top two, I’d peg him as a favorite for MVP.

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

Cloud 9 came into the split as heavy favorites, as their only roster change was bringing in rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. They also have top tier players in just about every position. They definitely started the split as the strongest looking team, with an 8-0 record. Before this week, Cloud 9 was the lone wolf atop the NALCS. After an abysmal 0-2 week, they’re now tied with TSM at 8-2.

It’s questionable how Cloud 9 went undefeated through the first half of the split. Other teams may have just needed more time to build synergy. Cloud 9’s early game still isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a top team. They’re currently ranked seventh in CS diff@15. They’re not nearly as proactive as they could be in the early game and often take wins from team fighting in the mid game.

Star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has played the worst I’ve ever seen. He seemed out matched against TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in their last series. Cloud 9 seems to live and die by how well Impact does. If Impact isn’t playing, they tend to look much more disorganized as well.

For the most part, they’ve played up to expectations, but losing to Phoenix1 with a sub jungler is unacceptable. They’ll need to bounce back strong to prove that they deserve the NALCS title.

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid had a rough beginning, as the absence of ADC Yiliang “Doubelelift” Peng hindered their play more than expected. Doublelift held a very strong vocal leadership role in game that was missing after he left.

Solo laners Hauntzer and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg have adapted to take more vocal roles on the team. It was slow at first, but the team has finally looked to be peaking at the right time. They 2-0’ed the two teams ahead of them in the standings, in C9 and Flyquest. Hauntzer and Bjergsen have also been playing extremely well individually. In a meta where tank play is extremely important, Hauntzer has played near perfect in what his team has needed.

TSM will need to continue this trend of improvement as they head into the second half of the split.

Grade: A

 

There’s still much League of Legends to be played. Playoffs will ultimately be decided by who comes out strong for the second half of the split. Can Cloud 9 bounce back from a rough week? Can TSM continue to improve and be the top team in North America? Will Echo Fox break the curse of their odd week struggles? These are only a few questions that will need to be answered before we crown a North American champion.

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Counter Logic Gaming support, Aphromoo

Over/Under (Part 2): LCS Players Below Expectations

Last week, I highlighted NA and EU LCS players who have been performing above preseason expectations. This week, I am highlighting the other end of the spectrum: athletes playing below expectations. These are players who came into the Spring Split with a reputation that they have failed to live up to in the first three weeks. These members will play a key role in the improvement of their respective teams; if they fail to do so, they may not make the playoffs.

Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet

 KDA: 3.6 (Tied 4th Top)

Team Vitality top laner, Cabochard

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Vitality, Top Laner

DPM: 383 (8th Top)

Some of Cabochard’s numbers seem decent, but his damage is below expectations. Taking into account Cabochard has played five out of nine games on skirmish-oriented split-pushers (and a sixth on Poppy), 383 damage per minute is too low. He averages ahead in CS at 10 minutes, has an okay KDA, and middling Kill Participation. He receives the largest share of his team’s gold out of any top laner (23.9%), but only contributes 21.1% of his team’s damage (tied 8th Top). Cabochard will need to transition his lane leads into successful teamfights if Vitality are to make it to playoffs.

Jonas “Trashy” Andersen

KDA: 2.6 (7th Jungle)

Splyce jungle, Trashy

courtesy of Riot esports

Splyce, Jungle

KP: 60.5% (Lowest Jungle)

After three weeks, Trashy is averaging the lowest Kill Participation of all EU junglers. He also occupies a high share of his team’s deaths–25.2% (6th highest of all players). This is below expectations for Trashy. Splyce depends on him to work the jungle efficiently and enable their superior macro-play. Thus far, Splyce has a 56% win-rate in Group B. They only secure first dragon in 33% of games (2nd lowest of all teams), and first baron in 22% of games (lowest of all teams). Trashy will need to pull this team together to stand a chance in the long run.

Eugene “Pobelter” Park

 KDA: 1.4 (Lowest Overall)

Immortals mid lane, Pobelter

courtesy of Riot esports

Immortals, Mid Laner

D%: 27.2% (Highest Overall)

Immortals replaced every player except Pobelter in the offseason. He is supposed to be the solid foundation for bringing on imported players and rookies. So far his performances have been below expectations. Pobelter has the most deaths in the NA LCS, averaging 4.6 per game. He also averages 6.1 CS behind his opponents at 10 minutes. In a league with strong mid laners, Pobelter will need to step up if Immortals want to make playoffs. 

Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin

 KDA: 2.6 (8th ADC)

Team Liquid AD carry, Piglet

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Liquid, AD Carry

D%: 23.4% (8th Overall)

The utility marksman meta has not been kind to Piglet. The world champion has looked below expectations. Unlike years past, he has only averaged 0.3 CS ahead at 10 minutes. Piglet is also averaging only 2.3 kills per game. While there are others on Team Liquid who are underperforming, Piglet has no excuse. He was benched last Split and needs to prove himself worthy of the starting slot. For Team Liquid to get wins and make it into playoffs, Piglet will need to reinvigorate himself. 

Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black

 KDA: 2.6 (5th Support)

CLG support, Aphromoo

courtesy of Riot esports

Counter Logic Gaming, Support

D%: 22.4% (14th Highest Overall)

He has the highest death share on CLG, averaging 3.8 per game. Aphromoo may still be adjusting to playing squishier, damage-oriented support champions, but, as a veteran, it is below expectations. CLG retained their entire roster coming into 2017, but they currently sit in a four-way tie for fifth place. Since Aphromoo is their shot-caller team captain, he deserves most of the blame. To be fair, three of their losses came from the top teams of the league. If CLG want to make it into playoffs though, Aphromoo will need to play more safe and coordinated.

(DIS)Honorable Mention

Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan

 KDA: 1.4 (Tied 2nd lowest)

Team Vitality's support, Hachani

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Vitality, Support

D%: 34.1% (Lowest Overall)

Although Hachani did not have exceptionally high expectations coming onto Vitality this Split, his performance has been unacceptable. His death rate is a joke in the league (4.8 deaths per game). Hachani’s aggression and over-extensions are a liability for this team. Vitality will not be able to move up the standings until his leash is shortened. These free kills have to stop.

Each of these players will need to reflect on these first few weeks and improve. We are only three weeks in, and a lot can change before playoffs. Most LCS teams thrive on momentum. A single win can turn into a won series or a winstreak. On the other hand, a loss can tilt teams into giving away a series. All of the players mentioned are veterans who need to re-center themselves for the sake of their teams. Their next few matches will most likely define the rest of the Split.

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NALCS Week 3 Key Matchups To Watch

Week 3 of LCS kicks off Friday. Heading into the week we have some under-performing teams looking to turn their season around. Then we have teams looking to build momentum to show that they aren’t flukes. These are some key matchups to look out for.

Photo Courtesy of Youtube

Team Solo Mid vs CLG

The rivalry is rekindled once again this weekend, as CLG and TSM face off for the first time this split. The teams sit in opposite spectrums of the standings after two weeks. TSM is 3-1, tied for second place, but their wins have not been as clean as we’re used to. CLG sits near the bottom at 1-3, but a close series against the league’s best in Cloud 9 showed that they’re not down and out just yet.  

TSM has looked like a much different team compared to the one we saw in Summer. The induction of AD carry Jason “Wildturtle” Tran to the starting lineup has been quite noticeable. Members of TSM have discussed in interviews of how vocal Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng was in game compared to Wildturtle. The team did bounce back well last week and looked a lot better than week 1.

CLG looked outmatched against Flyquest. Specifically, star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black has been heavily under-performing. In a meta where control mages are dominating at support, he hasn’t looked comfortable. We’ve come to know CLG as a team centered around bot lane; but that hasn’t been the case lately.

Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun has surprisingly been one of the best performers this split. Meanwhile top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha has looked bad on anything that isn’t a split pusher. Darshan has been prone to ganks and overextending without proper vision.

TSM and CLG is one of those historic rivalries we’ve come to look forward to. Everyone recalls the old school CLG owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis against Andy “Reginald” Dinh in the younger era of pro League of Legends. This series will look to not disappoint. TSM looks to build off a successful 2-0 week, while CLG looks to turn their season around after a disappointing start.

Flyquest vs Dignitas

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Two of the “newer” LCS teams get their first looks at each other in this weekend’s matchup. Most expected these teams to be reversed in the standings, as Dignitas sits near the bottom with Flyquest contending for the top.

Dignitas were pegged as a top three team on paper, but the roster has not come together the way they had hoped. Their early game dominance has been evident, but their mid/late game is where they’ve lost games. When top lane star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho isn’t on a split push carry top, the team has struggled to find production from their other roles. Against better teams, they’re often playing reactive, as opposed to setting up their own plays.

Flyquest, on the other hand, have exceeded expectations ten fold. Most analysts pegged them as a bottom tier team on paper. Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate looks reincarnated from his previous stints on other LCS teams. Many are crediting mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam for Moon’s success, but individually he looks more confident.  

As always, many underrated Hai’s shotcalling abilities. The team is often just looking to hold even coming out of lane phase and out-pace their opponents in the mid/late game. On paper, the roster doesn’t look that great mechanically, but as a team they synergize perfectly. They’ll look to prove that synergy can beat raw talent in this matchup.

After a close series loss to Echo Fox last week, Flyquest look to take a win off a struggling Dignitas. It’s a huge question mark if Flyquest can continue their early season success, or if it’s just a matter of other teams around them adjusting to the start of the split. Dignitas want to prove that the roster moves were worth it and they’re ready to finally contend in NALCS.

Phoenix1 vs. Team Solo Mid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

TSM faces off against another great opponent in Phoenix1 on Sunday. P1 and TSM have identical records at 3-1 heading into this week. Phoenix1 and TSM looked much improved from their week 1 performances. Not many expected this start from P1, but for TSM this has become the norm for them.

P1 will have a lot to prove as they’ve had the easiest schedule of all three teams tied for second. They also struggled against Dignitas during their week 1 matchup; it will be a huge question mark if top laner Derek “zig” Shao can compete with Hauntzer. He has been fulfilling his role as a low econ tank top laner quite well. Phoenix1 have been winning games off the play of their other carry roles.

Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh, has thrived in this high damage carry jungler meta. In their week 2 series against Team Liquid, Inori showed why teams need to ban Rengar against him.

No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and Adrian “Adrian” Ma have also developed into one of the strongest bot lanes in NA. Arrow currently leads the NALCS in KDA and damage per minute. Many thought communication issues may plague this bot lane, but they seem to have synergized quite nicely.

TSM will look to build off a nice 2-0 week. TSM still has the raw talent to not fall too far behind, but still need to work on pulling the trigger in making decisive calls. They’re working on slowly improving to be back in form to where they were in Summer.

ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang will need to not fall too far behind against Arrow and Adrian. Wildturtle is currently second to last among ADC’s in CS differential@10.

If both of these teams win their first matchups of the week, this matchup will be key in seeing exactly where the top teams stack up against each other. Phoenix1 want to prove they belong at the top, while TSM will want to prove they’re getting back to where we saw them in summer.

Echo Fox vs. Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

On one hand you have Echo Fox who is coming off a shocking 2-0 week. With the recent news of LCS teams denying them scrims, this makes this matchup even spicier.

Echo Fox had a much better mid/late game this past week. In week 1 they showed the ability to gain large gold leads from the aggressiveness of jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, but struggled in late game team-fights. They convincingly beat Dignitas, a team most expected to be a top tier team on paper.

In their second matchup they handed Flyquest their first loss of the Split with a cheese Camille support pick to snowball game one. After being caught many times during week 1, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew took a lot of criticism from the community for his play. His week 2 looked much better and he finished the week off with the highest kills among ADC’s with 26.

Team Liquid seems to be struggling in their drafts and inside the game. In their games against TSM and P1 they allowed Rengar to go through the draft, when teams are perma-banning Rengar on red side. P1’s Inori made a name playing as Rengar, and he exemplified why when Team Liquid left it open to him.

Jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin has not been able to perform adequately on any of the meta junglers so far. Many expected him to be a key addition to the roster after successful seasons on Immortals and Fnatic. He’s currently second to last among junglers in total KDA and has not played up to par lately.

Their ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has also struggled to adjust to the utility carry style meta. Piglet was known for his Caitlyn, Vayne, and Twitch picks. With the meta shifting to supportive/utility ADC’s, Piglet has not looked nearly as good. He’s currently last in KDA among ADC’s.

Team Liquid has yet to utilize their sub mid laner Austin “Link” Shin. Although starter Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer hasn’t looked terrible; a roster change may be necessary to see if they can improve. My bold prediction for the week is that we see Link play for the first time sometime this week to help save Team Liquid’s season.

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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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