2017 Scouting Grounds draft and the future of NA LCS

The 2017 NA Scouting Grounds draft took place this weekend at Riot’s Los Angeles studio. Amidst the crowd of players and press, we witnessed a historic step for the NA LCS. While the players involved in the draft will likely join the 2018 season Academy teams, their significance lies in the future of esports. The 2017 Scouting Grounds draft is one way for Riot to show fans that they mean business. And Riot are not the only ones stepping up. Cloud 9 (C9) and Clutch Gaming (CG) were the only two teams to buy out another org’s draft positions. So what does this draft tell us beyond 10 new faces to Academy teams?

North America’s Development Problem

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

For years, North America as a region has been criticized for its lack of homegrown talent. While many NA fans are quick to throw up names like Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Eugene “Pobelter” Kim or Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, there are undeniable problems with North America’s talent pool. In an interview with Travis Gafford, Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, said “we have a third of the player-base as much as Europe and a third of the ranked players as Korea so they have a lot more options to choose from.” Clearly this is an issue that North America cannot fix overnight. There is no waking up tomorrow morning and suddenly the player-base triples to match Europe.

This is precisely why the Scouting Grounds draft is such an important marker for the future. North America’s only option is to capitalize on and develop its existing talent. Enter the Academy league. Unlike the former Challenger Series, the upcoming Academy system emphasizes development over LCS promotion. It’s important to understand that LCS promotion and regional development are not the same in the old CS system. Admittedly, Challenger Series has given us players like Jae “Huhi” Choi and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes on Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). However, over the course of its inception, Challenger Series became a place for relegated pros and teams to try and regain a spot in the LCS.

This became a huge problem for North America. In addition to favoring already established pros, many teams even opted for imports over fresh talent. This is precisely why Scouting Grounds plays such an important role for the future of NA. It gives a chance for players like Ziqing “League” Zhao and Ming “Spica” Lu to gain recognition outside of solo queue.

Why scouting grounds draft matters

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the Scouting Grounds event this past weekend, we saw both Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming invest in higher draft positions. Cloud 9 bought out two positions to pick up League, Ash, and Blaberfish2 for exclusive negotiating rights. When talking about C9‘s CEO, Jack Etienne, Riot commentator Aidan “Zirene” Moon said, “this guy is serious about growing talent that hasn’t been completely in the spotlight yet.” Zirene highlighted that Jack’s ability to identify and develop early talents like now European stars, Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. As a CEO, Jack has a proven track record in bringing out the best of new players.

Alternatively, new team Clutch Gaming does not share this history. At least as far as esports goes. CG picked up two promising players in support Vulcan and mid laner Palafox. But, a single additional draft pick does not exactly scream hype. The fact that Houston Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey attended the small event, does however speak volumes to how seriously the Rockets are about their new team. In an insightful interview with Travis Gafford, Morey emphasized that the Rockets and Clutch Gaming are “in this for the long haul.” He explained that the 2018 season will be a steady learning experience for the CG organization.

Obviously, Clutch Gaming does not share experience that Jack Etienne has developed in his time with C9. However, Daryl Morey’s reputation as a general manager in the NBA is nothing short of incredible. His approach to team investment and growth led the Houston Rockets to major successes over the years. Clutch Gaming made it clear this weekend. They are dead serious about developing North America. It is extremely exciting to see a new org that is hungry and willing to invest in growing NA regionally.

The future of NA LCS

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

To say the sky is the limit is an understatement. Riot NA’s move to franchise the league has already brought about dozens of roster changes and player opportunities. The Scouting Grounds draft is a preliminary step for North America to grow holistically. Meaning, not only should fans pay attention to NA LCS, but also to how teams work on their upcoming Academy rosters. An organization’s success should reflect both LCS and Academy standings. As a whole, teams with the proper infrastructure, coaching staff and player relationships will shine in 2018.

On paper, Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming have taken the lead in terms of their dedication to player development in NA. Surely, it will not be long before other teams and coaches start to pick up on these trends. And if these team owners take development seriously, we may see a revitalized pool of NA talent in coming years. “This is where winning traditions can start being grown,” analyst, Mark Zimmerman said when discussing the 2017 Scouting Grounds draft. There is perhaps no better way to word the future of NA LCS.

The 2018 season marks a turning point for North American League. What teams choose to do now will set the precedent for years to come.

Featured Image: LoL Esports

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scouting grounds

Standouts at 2017 North America Scouting Grounds

The 2017 North America Scouting Grounds event took place this weekend. 20 of NA’s top challenger players worked alongside four NA LCS organizations to test their mettle in the Riot LA studio. OpTic Gaming (OPT), Team SoloMid (TSM), Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) and Cloud 9 (C9) were the four teams to participate at this year’s scouting event. After a series of placement matches on day one, the players headed into the third and first place matches. Let’s highlight some standout players in their respective teams.

Fighting tooth and nail

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

Coming in at fourth place overall, Team Cloud Drake (CLD), led by C9, struggled to find their footing in their third place match against Team Mountain Drake (MTN). Despite the tough series, two of CLD‘s players managed to show resolve in their play. First off, League in the top lane showed up despite being counter-picked in both games. In game one, League’s Cho’Gath not only stayed toe-to-toe with Rodov‘s Gnar during the laning phase, but even managed to earn a solo kill. At 17 minutes, League’s superior timing at a teamfight bottom turned the fight in CLD‘s favor. In his second game, League demonstrated several heads-up plays using his Teleport to flank and engage teamfights. Although CLD failed to capitalize on some of these plays, League’s proactive playstyle stood out respectably.

Another player on CLD who performed on-stage was Fanatik. Although Fanatik fell behind his veteran counter-part “Nintendudex” pressure early on, he adapted quickly in game one. After recognizing the mid-jungle focus for Team Mountain Drake, Fanatik countered a dive to secure a clean 2-0 fight. In his second game, Fanatik capitalized on a crucial team MTN mistake and stole the Baron to keep his team alive. At 26 minutes, Fanatik’s Jarvan found a four man “Cataclysm” to lock down multiple enemies and win his team the fight. As the youngest player at the 2017 Scouting Grounds, it will be interesting to see how he develops as a player.

A team of duos

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

For Team Mountain Drake, led by Counter Logic Gaming, their duos stood out more than individual play. First, no stranger to the NA LCS, Nintendudex showed serious synergy with Ablazeolive, one of the foremost challenger mid laners in North America. The communication between the two was on clear display during a fight in game one of the series. After Ablazeolive used his Teleport to return to lane, CLD‘s Linsanity saw an opportunity to get a pick. But, Ablazeolive turned on the enemy mid laner, locking him down using Malzahar’s “Nether Grasp” to buy Nintendudex time to join the fight and finish the kill. Ablaze’s teamfight ability shined in game two where he hit multiple key “Shockwave’s” on Orianna to seal CLD‘s fate.

The second pair to come through was MTN‘s bottom lane. Support Winter and AD-carry Value stood out as remarkable players in their roles. Winter’s aggressive style transitioned to key roams on Alistar to tip early skirmishes. In game one, Winter’s awareness on Alistar punished a poorly set up flank by CLD‘s mid and jungle, deleting the enemy Ryze from the ensuing teamfight. In game two, his engages on Rakan set up multiple fights for his mid laner to land game-winning ultimates. Winter’s AD-carry, Value also had his fair share of star play. In game one, an over-ambitious engage from CLD, Value landed a four-man “Featherstorm” + “Bladecaller” combo to clean up the fight. By layering his ultimates with his team’s engages, Value pumped out 927 damage per minute in game two. He earned himself player of the series with a combined 18/3/15 KDA across two games.

Live and die by the flames

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

Team Infernal Drake (INF), led by TSM, gave viewers some heated highlight plays to live up to their team name. In game one of the finals match, INF found themselves pushed in heavily. Their opponents, Team Ocean Drake (OCN), had remarkable vision superiority in INF‘s jungle, making it difficult for them to find fights on favorable terms. But their support Teesum on Rakan was able to find a three man engage with his “Grand Entrance.” This catch gave room for his carries to unload their damage before the enemy team could respond. However, Teesum’s performance in game two was largely lacking. Despite being the team’s main tank on Braum, several flubbed shields using his “Unbreakable” led to multiple teamfight deaths.

Game two was where two of INF‘s carries stepped up. After a rough game one, INF funneled resources into their AD-carry, NoahMost. Although his teamfight presence was weak throughout the early game, Noah was able to capitalize on an overzealous rush by Team Ocean Drake. With five members barreling toward his Xayah, Noah released a “Featherstorm” + “Bladecaller” combo that rooted five members. After locking down the entire enemy team, Noah’s Xayah mowed down the opposition for the only Pentakill at the 2017 Scouting Grounds.

The third player on INF to showcase his star potential was PieCakeLord in the top lane. Although his team was behind for much of the second game, PieCakeLord on Fiora was able to exert tremendous side-lane pressure that often brought multiple OCN members to stop him. Still, he managed to out-pressure the enemy Shen throughout most of the game. After the enemy Azir wiped his team at the Baron pit, PieCakeLord outplayed the enemy mid and top to keep his team in the game.

Stomping the Scouting Grounds

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

After drafting possibly the strongest team at Scouting Grounds, eyes were on OpTic Gaming’s coaching staff to make that roster shine. And boy did they shine. First, Vulcan‘s Taric was able to turn an early gank into a kill on the enemy AD-carry, setting a serious tempo advantage for team OCN. In the late game, Taric’s damage negation with “Cosmic Radiance” allowed his team to stampede over teamfights. In game two, Vulcan’s engages on Rakan practically spoon fed kills to his mid laner, Palafox.

Palafox had questions circling about his potential after being drafted as the 20th pick. But he brought the heat. Playing as Malzahar in game one, Palafox found an aggressive pick onto the enemy Orianna. After Orianna seemingly flashed to safety, Palafox landed an instant over the wall “Call of the Void” to secure the kill. Palafox’s Azir was the single greatest game-deciding factor in game two. A gigantic “Emperor’s Divide” knocked up four members of INF, completely shifting the momentum mid-game. Again at 46 minutes, Palafox earned a quadrakill at the Baron pit to push OCN‘s advantages over the edge.

Third, OCN‘s top laner Kaizen came into his own in game two. His Shen managed to outplay an early 2v1 dive by INF‘s top-jungle duo, earning himself a kill on his lane opponent on the way out. Although the enemy Fiora’s split push pressure was strong, ultimately, Kaizen’s teamfight utility became a winning factor for his team. Across the board, Team OCN performed spectacularly at this year’s Scouting Grounds. It will be exciting to see these players develop on future academy rosters. And, a win here shows good signs for OpTic Gaming who hope to make a definitive statement in their first season in the NA LCS.

Featured Image: LoL Esports

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Winners and Losers of the Off-season: NALCS

Franchising has definitely brought a different level of spiciness this off-season that has had many fans alike excited for the upcoming season. It almost feels that anyone and everyone has been on the move with every team having money to spend this off-season. While not everything is confirmed yet, most of the rumors have come to fruition.

Some teams have made big splashes recruiting big names this off-season. Others seemed to have been late to the party. This piece we’ll be looking at the winners and losers of the off-season so far. Let’s take a look:

Winners

Team Liquid

While “Paid by Steve” has become a meme, it became a reality as Team Liquid struck fast in the off-season. They were able to obtain most of the Immortals roster who qualified for Worlds last year and added two veteran stars to go along with them. Their starting roster consists of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.

Being able to obtain three players who previously worked together is definitely a win right off the bat will bring some needed synergy for a new team. Pobelter, Doublelift, and Xmithie are all longtime NALCS vets who can bring a lot of leadership to this team. Impact has been a star for the past few seasons on Cloud 9 and had another great Worlds performance. Having played in NA for the past two years, his English has gotten a lot better. He’s often been heralded for his communication and which is a great trait to have as an import. He also has the experience of having been a world champion with SKT in season 3.

Olleh is an aggressive laning support who should do well with star ADC Doublelift. Doublelift comes to Team Liquid after being replaced on TSM by European star, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. Doublelift is hungry to be the best and get revenge on his former team. He’s been arguably one of the best ADC’s in the West since becoming a pro. While domestically he’s been great, it’s internationally where he’ll need to show up. His past few Worlds performances have been average at best so he’ll want to get to Worlds again to finally prove himself.

Xmithie and Pobelter come off a summer split where they both revitalized their careers on Immortals. Both players looked to be on the decline after rough Spring Splits. Xmithie had an MVP like split in which the meta leaned towards tank-control junglers. His play was vital in Immortals making it to Summer finals.

Team Liquid without a doubt had a lot of money to spend, and this time spent it in the right places.

TSM’s Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung

Photo by: Riot Esports

Mikeyeung went from playing on a 9th place Phoenix1 team to one of the most successful franchises in NALCS history. While the pressure will be on to perform, he’ll be surrounded by star veterans in every lane. Opportunity arose with TSM importing the European bot lane duo of Zven and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez. With TSM needing a North American talent in the jungle, Mikeyeung’s opportunity was there.

Mikeyeung had one of the most surprising rookie splits this past summer. He came into a flailing Phoenix1 team that went from 3rd to last place and tried to salvage as much as he could. He showed great aggression on champs such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll have every chance to succeed with TSM being the kings of domestic success. He’ll also have a chance to learn under the leadership of former Immortals coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo. Any team Ssong has coach, he’s been praised for improving the team drastically.

TSM has the reputation of turning aggressive junglers into ward bots so we’ll need to see what Mikeyeung becomes. If he stays the aggressive, play making jungler, it may be just what TSM needs.

100 Thieves

Of all the new teams entering the league, 100 thieves have the build of a prominent roster if things pan out. As one of the only teams who hasn’t announced their bot lane yet, all signs point to star support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black heading their way. The confirmed players look to all be individually really good. They are top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook. It’s also good to note that they’ll be coached by Neil “pr0lly” Hammad who showed great success in EU with H2K.

If Aphromoo is heading to 100 thieves as their support it will most likely be a North American rookie at ADC. Aphromoo has shown the ability to mold great ADC’s in the bot lane with Stixxay on CLG so it won’t be new for him. This team could be a major sleeper to storm into the league as legit contenders right away.

 

Losers

 Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming took a major hit this off-season losing long time veteran leader Aphromoo. Aphromoo has always been associated as CLG’s main leader inside and outside of game. His leadership qualities will be missed. He was always seen as the mediator when things got rough and with how inconsistent this roster can be, his absence will be felt.

Taking his place will be TSM’s former support, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. While mechanically Biofrost has showed to be really good, his communication seems to be lacking as Doublelift and Bjergsen were more of the shot callers on the team. He’s still young, but this roster isn’t too talented on paper. Everyone else imported big names, while CLG looked to stay mostly the same. They picked up jungler in Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin who had a horrific season on Team Liquid. Individually he did okay, but he’ll be looking to bounce back big this year.

The returning members  of the team, mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya have had their share of inconsistencies. Without the leadership of aphromoo this team may crumble if they don’t perform well early.

CLoud 9

Photo by: Riot Esports

In a shocking turn of events rising star Juan “Contractz” Garcia and top laner Impact both left the team for brighter pastures. While one could see Impact leaving as a possibility, the fact that Contractz left meant Cloud 9 needed to either import a jungler or top laner. Cloud 9 seemed to be late to the party as most of the North American junglers had already found new homes.

They found their replacement in former TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen who is an EU talent. This means Svenskeren will be taking an import slot. This most likely means that rookie Eric “Licorice” Ritchie will be the starting top laner for Cloud 9. Svenskeren has had his troubles with inconsistencies. He was a huge scapegoat in TSM’s performance at Worlds in which their early game play making was lacking.

While Svenskeren isn’t necessarily a steep downgrade to Contractz, replacing Impact with a rookie will definitely be felt. Licorice spent his time in the challenger series on EUnited last split. He’s been a top player in the challenger scene for the past few splits. He’ll have big shoes to fill if they plan to start him right away. With many of the top teams looking even better, Cloud 9 may have taken a step back. Only time will tell if this was the right move for them.

EuLCS

An exodus was bound to happen with franchising heading to North America. With EU having some big name talents who can proficiently speak English, North America was bound to try to recruit them to cross the Atlantic. Europe loses the G2 bot lane of Zven and Mithy, along with mid laners Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The off-season isn’t even over yet. There’s definitely still room for more players to head over.

This is a major hit for EU. Misfits in particular almost knocked off former champions, SKT. Most of these rosters did not choose to stick together and EU will have to look to garner new talent to replace the ones that left.

With franchising not coming until 2019, many of the EU organizations can’t compete with the salaries being offered in North America. This will most likely result in EU being top heavy. Players are looking to team up with the best in EU while younger orgs will have to fight for scraps.

 

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Worlds

Impact denying SKT T1 offer has several meanings

Free agency is here for those involved with League of Legends and along with that comes plenty of news about who will be on what team in 2018. One of those free agents is Eonyoung “Impact” Jeong, the former top laner for Cloud 9 and reportedly the newest member of Team Liquid. Before any reports came out about which team he signed with, there was another report stating he denied an offer from SK telecom T1. While it’s not weird to deny an offer from any team, this is one of the best teams in the world that we’re talking about. There are several reasons why he might have denied their offer, one of them being money.

more money, less stress

impact

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

According to the ESPN podcast, Impact stands to make around $1 million with his new contract which would keep him in the North American League. While he could probably make that much and more if he went back to South Korea, it wouldn’t be without a lot of stress. SKT has just lost in the World Championship and lost in the final of the Summer Split. They are coming back next year with something to prove and that is going to be a lot of stress placed on the team as they chase glory. That might not sound so appealing to someone who is a World Champion already, is one year away from becoming a resident player and is placed in North America where franchising has begun.

Samsung galaxy

Samsung Galaxy, Impact

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Not only Samsung Galaxy, but Longzhu Gaming proved that you don’t need to be part of SKT to win anymore. While it might help immensely going by their past record, we live in an era where other teams have a good shot at winning. It’ll probably help a lot more to be part of the LCK to do so and even then the other teams that might beat SKT are slim pickings, that’s still a lot more than in the past. When a team known for constantly being the best go in a rebuilding year that’s when other teams get to shine. League of Legends will see another time where SKT rules over, but that’s not what is currently happening.

faker

Faker, Impact

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

As mentioned before, Impact has already won Worlds, he has the title forever attached to his name. He still has plenty of things to do now that North America has started to franchise. It wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t want his name and his legacy always attached to Faker. It might seem like a trivial problem because who wouldn’t want the best player to have ever played League attached to their legacy, but fans have seen it time and time again. SKT does well in their region and crushes at Worlds, some players on SKT along with Faker get a lot of praise and then usually someone leaves to another team or region to strike out of their own. It’s one thing to be considered the best with Faker by your side and it’s another when you realize how far you can go without him.

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

graduated junglers

Preseason: NA’s graduated junglers

After joining the NA LCS in 2017, three former rookies mount their return as NA’s newly graduated junglers. Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung, Omar “Omargod” Amin and Juan “Contractz” Garcia exploded onto the scene in season 7. After an exciting freshman year, these three junglers look to stake their claim on the newly franchised NA LCS. Looking back at their performances the past year, who is poised for even greater breakout performances in 2018? Let’s take a look at North America’s graduated jungler trio as they plot their return.

MikeYeung: From the Ashes

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

MikeYeung made his NA LCS debut in the Summer Split as the jungler for Phoenix1 (P1). Previously a highly rated solo-queue player, MikeYeung erupted onto the NA scene with an arsenal of carry junglers. His signature pick in “Nidalee” stunned the NA crowd and crushed his opponents. Boasting an insane 80% overall winrate on “Nidalee” in summer, this pocket pick was no joke. Following an already impressive debut, MikeYeung travelled to Germany with Phoenix1 to participate in the Rift Rivals tournament, his first international event. Mike shocked his EU opponents with some flashy plays on his patented “Nidalee,” earning himself the Group Stage MVP distinction.

After returning from a strong showing at Rift Rivals, the MikeYeung hype train was in full gear. However, with the jungle meta shifting to control-oriented tank picks, Mike’s champion pool struggled. His star champions, “Kha’Zix,” “Lee Sin” and “Nidalee” could not snowball enough advantages against more useful utility tanks. Due to these meta changes, fans did not see the dominant MikeYeung that most expected. Phoenix1 suffered a steady decline that saw them forced into the summer Promotion tournament.

After ending their summer season early, news surrounding P1’s failure to earn a spot in the new NA LCS began to leak. The question now: where will P1’s rookie sensation go to reclaim his former glory? With the recent runes overhaul in patch 7.22, carry junglers look to make a serious comeback. MikeYeung has an opportunity to showcase his improvement since the Promotion tournament at the upcoming 2017 All-Stars event. For MikeYeung, the sky is the limit. Can the graduated rookie can reclaim his spot atop NA’s jungle hierarchy?

Omargod: Breaking the Chains

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Omargod made his professional debut as a substitute jungler for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). After internal issues involving starting jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett surfaced, Omar became the team’s starter. For Omargod, the road to NA LCS was a long climb. He first appeared on CLG’s radar at the 2016 Scouting Grounds event. Impressed by his carry performances, coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and veteran support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black first-picked Omar as the jungler for Team Cloud Drake. After several fantastic games on carry picks like “Hecarim,” Omargod proved why he belonged on the LCS stage.

After Dardoch parted ways with CLG, Omargod had a huge gap to fill. Dardoch established a name for himself by consistently dominating enemy junglers. But, because of meta shifts in the summer split, Omar found himself mainly on utility tanks. Criticism poured in as CLG struggled to regain their footing in the latter half of the split. Analysts pointed to the recent jungle swap as the obvious reason for CLG’s decline. After falling to Cloud 9 (C9) in the NA LCS regional qualifiers, CLG and Omargod found themselves stuck at home, instead of attending Worlds.

Because of Omar’s shaky performances during the Summer Split, fans have mixed expectations for the upcoming season. However, Counter Logic Gaming is an organization known for the coaching staff’s dedication and loyalty to players. If any coach can bring out the best in Omargod, Zikz is second to none. Now is the time for Omar to free himself of the criticism from last split and prove himself on CLG. Perhaps the preseason meta changes will encourage Omargod to dip into his champion pool and show North America the carry potential that CLG witnessed at Scouting Grounds. After all, rumor has it “Predator Hecarim” is rampaging through preseason.

Contractz: A Carry’s DNA

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike the other graduated junglers, Contractz began his journey with Cloud 9 in the spring of 2017. After earning spring Rookie of the Split, Contractz stumbled a bit in summer. In the Summer Playoffs, Cloud 9 dropped out in quarterfinals against a surging Dignitas (DIG). So, C9 spent their time preparing for the regional qualifier gauntlet. There, the squad overcame CLG in a solid 3-1 finish and booked a ticket for China.

At Worlds, Contractz battled the likes of SKT Peanut, EDG Clearlove7 and WE Condi. His peerage became a group of elite, international junglers. Still, the rookie performed fantastically on the world stage. Contractz won over many fans, pulling out picks like “Ezreal” and “Graves” in the group stage. While the other NA junglers struggled against international competition, Contractz held his own against the best. After being the only North American representative to advance past group stages, all hope rested with Cloud 9. Although C9 fell to Team WE in quarterfinals, the roster made a definitive statement to the fans back home. “We are the best NA team here.”

With a great Worlds performance behind him, Contractz looks to dominate in the upcoming split. As carry junglers rise both in power and viability in preseason, is this the split for Contractz to stamp his name as the best jungler in NA? A Top 8 finish at Worlds means the onus is on C9 to reclaim their former glory at the top of North America. With changes coming to NA LCS, Cloud 9 look poised to gun for first place. Of the three former rookie junglers, Contractz may be the one to surpass them all. Still, only time will tell which graduated jungler will break ahead of the pack.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Michael!

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Despite losing, the West can be hopeful

The Worlds quarterfinals have concluded and we have our final four contenders. People may be disappointed to see that once again it is a Chinese and Korean-only semifinals, but the West did impress more compared to recent years. We had some very close series that could’ve seen some of the teams moving forward; Unlike other years, the West looked competitive. Here are a few reasons why fans can be hopeful that the “gap is closing” between the West and East.

Photo by: Riot Esports

Breaking the meta

It only took a few years, but the West finally showed that they can adapt..at least when they reach quarterfinals. Misfits and Cloud 9 showed unique picks that brought out chaotic games and helped with their near-upsets. This Worlds definitely showed us that you absolutely cannot play to Koreans’ meta game. You must have your own strategies and come up with some unique picks if you want to beat them.

Misfits’ support picks of Blitzcrank and Leona caused absolute chaos in their series against SKT in which they were one game away from being the first team to ever beat SKT in a best of five at Worlds. Cloud 9’s Singed pick was absolutely a brilliant pairing with the cataclysm of Jarvan who we saw Contractz pull out for the first time in the tournament. And Fnatic pulled out some unique ADC picks in Vayne and Sivir that saw them barely lose to RNG.

This is what the West needed to learn – that you need to be able to play to your own style and trust your players on executing.

Exceeding Expectations

Of all the Western teams, Misfits had drawn the hardest matchup, having to face off against defending champions, SKT of Korea. After a game 1 in which they got destroyed, many believed the series was heading to a 3-0 sweep. Misfits showed resiliency to come back with their own support picks to get ahead of SKT 2-1. No one expected anything of them heading into the tournament, but they showed the most improvement throughout.

Cloud 9 nearly became the first North American team to ever reach the semifinals of Worlds. Many expected it to be close, but their brilliant drafting was puzzling WE early. Had they not thrown game 1, they may have been on track to sweep the Chinese team after dominating the early part of the first three games. They had every chance to make it to semifinals, but just barely fell short.

Fnatic faced almost impossible odds after a disastrous week 1 which saw them 0-3 and last place. With the odds stacked against them, they fought their way to a three-way tie-breaker to earn second place out of their group. Against RNG they showed glimpses of just how talented they are. It was a slight lack of experience and shot calling that ended up being their downfall. Despite this, they showed grit and determination in making a very strong comeback from week 1.

What’s Next?

Photo by: Riot Esports

With North America heading to franchising, it will be interesting to see if the influx of money helps to actually improve the talent of the region. More money means more room to import and experiment with rosters, and every team will be looking to be competitive.

Franchising will also open up more talent for teams to have “Academy” teams in the Challenger scene. This will mean more opportunity for homegrown talent to make it into the pro scene if they wish to do so. This will hopefully stop the flood of importing and bring more of a focus to growing the talent in the states and making the region stronger overall.

For EU, rumors are still alive that they may be splitting the region into four groups. Most are not too happy about this as talent is already quite scarce across the region. With franchising heading to NA, we could see more talented European players crossing over for the big money investors.

After the success at this year’s Worlds, one has to wonder if Riot should focus on growing the region more. EU has shown that they can be a top performing region in the World. They earned a lot of new fans with how they performed this year, so hopefully Riot can look to helping them improve even more and improving the West overall.


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Can Cloud 9 carry NA to semi-finals?

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

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

How C9 Wins

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

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

Matchup to Watch: Contractz vs Condi (jungle)

Photo by: Riot Games

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

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

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

Adjustments

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

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

Prediction

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

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

Edward Gaming: Pressure on China’s hometown heroes

Edward Gaming (EDG) struggles to find success at the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, rounding week one of the group stage with an 0-3 match record. Despite coming in as heavy favorites to advance to quarterfinals alongside defending champions SK telecom T1, China’s first seed cannot seem to find their footing. Let’s dive into EDG’s games and look at what they must do to claw out of Group A.

Game 1: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Edward Gaming controlled the tempo for the majority of a 54-minute brawl, ultimately crumbling to AHQ’s superior teamfighting. To start the game, EDG locked star mid-laner Lee “Scout” Ye-chan on a comfort pick in Lucian. EDG looked to dominate mid-lane and that advantage across the map. Scout executed, earning a staggering +30 CS differential at 15 minutes.

Despite this aggressive lead in the mid-lane, AHQ found multiple advantageous teamfight opportunities in the mid-game. An extended five on five fight at 20-minutes resulted in a quadra-kill for AHQ’s AD-carry Chun-An “AN” Chou. Taking these small victories, AHQ dragged the game into a plus fifty minute slug fest, ultimately overpowering the Chinese representatives.

What internal factors led to EDG’s loss in their first match of Worlds 2017? Crucially, EDG failed to capitalize on their Shen counter-pick for top-laner Yuhao “Mouse” Chen. As a team, EDG should have prioritized mid-game skirmishes and early Drake control using their Teleport advantage with Shen’s “Stand United” to out-rotate AHQ. Naturally, Cho’Gath stood to outscale Mouse‘s Shen in both teamfight effectiveness, objective control and raw tank stats. EDG had to recognize this weakness in their composition and close out the game early. However, because of Mouse‘s weak lane performance against the enemy Cho’Gath and EDG’s lack of proactive rotations, AHQ secured early objectives that paid dividends in the late-game.

Game 2: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs SK telecom t1 (SKT)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

EDG had no time to lick their wounds before facing off against long-time rivals, the defending world champions, SK Telecom T1. With the force of an entire arena in Wuhan cheering on their hometown favorites, Edward Gaming stormed into game two with blood in their eyes. Led by Wuhan native, Kai “Clearlove7” Ming, EDG coordinated plays to shut down living legend, Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. Unlike the day before, EDG did not relent. The Chinese squad continued to wreak havoc on multiple SKT members, ballooning their lead to over 9.1k gold at 25-minutes.

Then, at 29-minutes, SKT finds a single teamfight that swings the entire momentum of the game. In rapid succession, SKT’s support, Jaewan “Wolf” Lee and jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han layer double knock-ups onto EDG’s carries. Faker lands a picture-perfect “Command Shockwave” on four members of Edward Gaming, decimating the opposition and turning the game on its head. EDG are never able to regain control of the game.

One fight. One crystal initiation by SKT’s play-makers leveled Edward Gaming’s seemingly insurmountable lead. It is difficult to find many faults with EDG’s play in this particular game. After successfully neutralizing Faker‘s Orianna, EDG exposed several mid-game vulnerabilities in SKT’s playstyle. However, a single positioning mistake at the height of their gold lead cost EDG their second game. Still, we can find many positives for Edward Gaming. They successfully shut down Faker, whose ability to absorb and outplay enemy pressure is perhaps the best in the world. EDG then took that mid-lane pressure and earned leads across the board, securing three Mountain Drakes, Rift Herald and a Baron.

Game 3: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs Cloud 9 (C9)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Coming into Game 3, Edward Gaming looked like they had a chip on their shoulder. C9’s rookie jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia invaded Clearlove7‘s side of the jungle, stifling EDG’s ability to gain vision control and snowball lanes. Meanwhile, EDG’s top laner Mouse found himself suffocating under early pressure from C9’s top-laner Eonyoung “Impact” Jeong.

Feeling the need to pull his team from the trenches, Scout tried to pressure Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s Syndra pick. However, without his team to back him up, Scout found himself on the receiving end of multiple three-man ganks. Edward Gaming cracked under the pressure to perform on their home turf as the North American representatives led them into their third consecutive loss at Worlds 2017.

Taking a look at this game, it is clear EDG is off-center. In an attempt to slow down Contractz‘s aggressive playstyle, EDG banned Ezreal. However, after Contractz locked in Graves, EDG failed to adapt their strategy. The result: Cloud 9 methodically dismantled Edward Gaming, executing clean initiations and trades to put the game away.

Looking at Week Two

edward gaming

Credit: LoL Esports Photos

Despite the odds, an 0-3 match record does not mean Edward Gaming is out of the running. In games one and two, EDG earned sizable leads and control through mid and jungle control. Their crutch was a failure to close out these games. In the days leading up to week two, EDG must work on fixing issues with their macro-play and teamfighting.

The road to quarterfinals will be exceedingly difficult, but EDG is no stranger to being behind. This roster secured China’s first seed by reverse-sweeping regional rivals Royal Never Give Up (RNG) 3-2 at the LPL Summer Finals. Most of EDG’s members are repeat Worlds competitors, veterans even. In times like these, leadership and composure on the world stage will define EDG’s legacy. Team captain, Clearlove7 will look to lead his team surging into week two.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Standout players from the Play-in Group Stages

With the first ever “play-in” stage of Worlds concluded, we had the chance to see some exciting matches. We had upsets, stomps and everything in between this past weekend. It’s crazy to see how far some of the Wildcard regions have come. The play-in stage has added some needed experience for the lesser known regions while adding the chance for some exciting upsets as well.

The play-in stage gave some star players from the Wildcard regions a chance to show how good they really are on the international stage. Some players stepped up to the challenge, while others disappointed. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts from this weekend’s play-in stage:

Matías “WhiteLotus” Musso (Lyon gaming adc)

Whitelotus has been a staple name for the LAS region for the past few years. His team, Lyon Gaming, have been known to be mechanically good, but have been unable to show up in Wildcard tournaments in the past. Whitelotus was huge this weekend in his team being able to earn second place out of Group A. He was often on hyper-carries like Kog’maw and Xayah dishing out huge damage for his team.

In their match against WE, he was a huge part of the reason why they were able to keep up with them in the early game. Up against one of China’s best in Jin “Mystic” Sung-jun, Whitelotus held his own, and some. He put up massive stats over four games, leading all ADC’s in KDA with a massive 9.5. He also was able to dish out a high damage percentage with a whopping 35 percent. He also earned the first penta kill of Worlds against Gambit Gaming.

He has the tall task of facing Cloud 9 in a best of five. He’ll need to duplicate his performance once again for Lyon Gaming to have any chance.

Ali “Seiya” Bracamontes (Lyon Gaming mid)

Photo by: Riot Esports

The other carry from Lyon Gaming, Seiya, had quite the performance during the play-in stage as well. Him and Whitelotus made some massive plays to help carry their team to second place in Group A. He finished the play-in stage having only died twice over four games. Seiya definitely made a name for himself as he showed great performances on Syndra.

He posted an incredible 20.0 KDA to lead all mid laners while also participating in 78 percent of his team’s kills. Seiya was instrumental in their close matches against WE. He’ll need to step up even more as he faces off against Cloud 9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen in their best of five.

Võ “Naul” Thành Luân (Young Generation mid)

Naul from Young Generation had quite the showing this past weekend. Personally, I hadn’t heard much of this guy coming into the tournament, but solo-killing Fnatic’s “baby Faker” is a good way to show up at an international event. Vietnam first gave us Levi and Gigabyte Marines, but they now also have Young Generation who looked quite competitive against EU’s Fnatic. This was due to the pressure provided in the made lane from Naul.

In his first match against Fnatic, he was able to put mid laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther behind as he solo-killed him while being ahead 20 cs in the lane. Naul had the second highest damage percentage for mid laners with a 34.3. He was vital in their defeat of Fnatic as he “Xpeke’d” their Nexus in the last few moments.

Juan “Contractz” Garcia (Cloud 9 Jungler)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Contractz looked like one of the best junglers in the play-in stages. This young rookie strutted his stuff during Cloud 9’s 4-0 dominance of Group B. He showed a plethora of different picks/styles bringing out the Ezreal and Nidalee. His early game playmaking helped Cloud 9 snowball into the mid-late game.

He showed no nerves up against Team One and Dire Wolves. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to assist his team. He finished the weekend leading junglers in total KDA with an astounding 16 while also leading in kill participation at 80 percent.

Contractz will look to ride this momentum as they take on Lyon Gaming in their best of five. If he can duplicate his last showing, there’s no reason Cloud 9 shouldn’t get a clean 3-0 sweep.

 Ege “padden” Acar Koparal (1907 Fenerbahce adc)

Photo by: Riot Esports

The ADC from 1907 Fenerbahce was huge in their team’s first place finish in Group D. His Tristana positioning was vital in his team upsetting Hong Kong Attitude in their tiebreaker match. Early he was destroyed by the Varus/Blitz combo of HKA, but when it came down to team fighting, he was there to clean up.

His team often relied on him as he dealt 36.9 percent of his team’s damage. His aggressiveness of knowing when to jump in and get resets was crucial in the late game. Fenerbahce got possibly the best group draw up against Brazil’s Team One who didn’t look impressive at all in their group. It will be interesting to see if Padden’s Tristana will draw bans going forward, because he’s looked phenomenal on her.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Who will win the Gauntlet for North America?

With the first two seeds locked in for North America, there is one more that will earn their spot at Worlds through the Gauntlet. This may be the tightest race ever for the final Worlds spot. Every team in the Gauntlet have a chance to possibly make it out. Let’s take a look:

Flyquest

While Flyquest just barely avoided having to play in the relegation tournament this split, they did earn enough points from last split for a Gauntlet spot. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for them as 3/5 members were on the Cloud9 team that had to play through the Gauntlet in season five to qualify for Worlds. Not only did they qualify, they did it off back to back reverse sweeps like we’ve never seen before. There’s just something about mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam that makes you never want to count a team with him on the roster out. His leadership and shot calling ability can make even the worst rosters look like contenders.

Flyquest also has the luxury of having not played on stage in quite a while since they missed playoffs; Nobody knows what to expect from them outside of scrims. Nobody has seen them play on this patch, so they’ll have the surprise factor heading into their first game of the Gauntlet. What they choose to do with it will be the real mystery. Expect some interesting cheese picks to come out from them.

Dignitas

Photo by: Riot Esports

Dignitas heads into the Gauntlet after a nice playoff run where they upset Cloud9 in the first round before losing to TSM 3-1. They made the mid season move of taking on the bot lane of Adrian and Altec. The move has paid dividends as the team has looked much improved from their mid slump. In their series against Cloud9, they looked like the better team with Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho leading the way. Ssumday has been the solid rock for this team all year.

In their next two series of the playoffs, it looked like the team may have peaked. TSM and CLG seemed to dismantle the team effortlessly in the early game. Mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang seemed to fall behind without jungle pressure. He was a weak link for the team. Without an early game lead, Dignitas looked lost on how to come back from such large deficits.

Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming go from zero to hero over a playoff series. On one hand, they looked shaky against EnVy and Immortals. On another, they dominated Dignitas in their third place match. It was almost a night/day performance for rookie jungler Omar “OmarGod” Amin. In their previous series he was one of the more inconsistent performers for the team, but in their third place match, he looked very comfortable. He was making plays and looked to be synergizing well with the team. Maybe they just needed time, but CLG looks to be the favorites heading into the regional qualifier for now.

Cloud9

Cloud9 had one of the easiest routes of the all the teams looking to qualify for Worlds. As long as they made it past the first round of playoffs, they’d auto qualify with circuit points if things went as expected. They did quite the opposite and now have created a much harder path to Worlds for themselves.

It’s no doubt they were clear favorites at the beginning of the year to be top contenders once again, but questionable drafts during their Dignitas series and under performing members makes us question if they can actually qualify for Worlds.

They’ve had the same issues all year it seems. No early game playmaking and relying heavily on the mid game to snowball. Even with an early lead, Cloud9 squandered their leads in their series against Dignitas.

They’ve had time to practice so hopefully they’ve figured out their issues. This hasn’t been a new trend though, it’s been the same issue all year. This team heavily relies on Jensen to carry a lot of the load. If he doesn’t snowball his lead, the team seems to struggle to find production else where.


Photo by: Riot Esports

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