NA LCS Finals preview

As the NA LCS summer split finishes, we have our final two competitors: Immortals and Team SoloMid. You have Immortals who saw much success during the regular season in their first four seasons, but always failed in playoffs. Then you have the consistent veterans of TSM who are adding another NA LCS finals appearance to their legacy.

Immortals

Photo by: Riot Games

What a story it’s been for Immortals. Most people around the league had written them off as a bottom tier team. Most people saw the trade of star Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and veteran Jake “Xmithie” Puchero as a down grade in terms of skill. Xmithie has been the perfect fit for this team. He’s not afraid to sacrifice for his carries and his stats can often be overlooked.

Meanwhile, in the bot lane Cody Sun and Olleh have developed into arguably the best bot lane in North America. After a rough beginning in their first split together, they seem to have found their synergy.

The signing of head coach, Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, has possibly been the best move of the off season. In past seasons Immortals was able to win off raw talent and skill. This led to them having tremendous regular season success, yet choking in playoffs. SSONG has come in and been an invaluable asset to the team. They finally look like they know how to translate their early game success into victories. They’re also playing much more proactive this split before making plays instead of being reactive.

Team SoloMid

Photo by: Riot Games

North America’s favorites, TSM, once again make it to another NA LCS finals. Their playoff buff is on once again as they were able to defeat Dignitas 3-1 in the semi-finals. They had some rough beginnings to start off the split, but seemed to be using the regular season to test out new playstyles.

Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is having another MVP-like split leading TSM to another final. Bjergsen will want to continue to add to his legacy with another NA LCS championship. He was constantly building massive leads in lane against Dignitas’ Keane in their semifinal match. Bjergsen finished the series with an average CSdiff@10 of 17.3. He has a much tougher opponent in Immortals’ Pobelter.

TSM have possibly two of the best carries in the west in Bjergsen and Doublelift. Doublelift returned this summer after a much needed break from professional play. The bot lane matchup will definitely be interesting to watch as Doublelift and Biofrost have become known for their strong laning phase.

 

Matchup to watch: Bot lane

Look for the bot lane to be explosive with Doublelift and Biofrost facing off against Cody Sun and Olleh. This is most definitely going to be a battle of the best two bot lanes in North America. Olleh and Biofrost have somewhat similar champion pools. Look for thresh to be a priority pick for both teams. Biofrost and Olleh have shown the ability to carry if thresh is left open.

Doublelift and Cody Sun also match up quite nicely. They’ve both been major carries for their teams. Look for some close skirmishes and 3v3’s with jungler help in the bot lane.

Prediction

Although the results don’t matter much here as both teams have qualified for Worlds as pool two seeds, they will still look to give a good showing for the fans. Prize title money and adding to their org’s legacy will also be on the line.

Based off regular season and semi finals performances, Immortals have honestly looked like the better team. This will be the first time for some of them playing in a finals match on a big stage. I think TSM’s experience gives them the edge they need, taking a close 3-2 finals and earning another NA LCS Summer Split title en route to Worlds.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Can a new team break into Worlds for North America?

Over the past two seasons we’ve seen North America represented by the same three teams at Worlds: Team SoloMid, Cloud 9 and Counter Logic Gaming. These organizations have become fan favorites for most, but some new challengers have risen this split to possibly take their shot on the World stage for North America. The North American scene seems to be looking better and better. TSM has continued their dominance, while CLG and C9 have had their share of inconsistencies. Cloud 9 have almost guaranteed their spot at Worlds as long as they do well enough in playoffs. Second place for Spring granted them a massive amount of circuit points. With 3rd/4th place teams Phoenix1 and Flyquest looking close out of the playoff race, CLG will need to play well to ensure their spot at Worlds.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the teams that could contend for a spot:

Immortals

Due to Immortals finishing 7th place last split, they have zero circuit points to help with contention. This almost guarantees that they’ll need to earn their spot either by winning Summer or qualifying through the gauntlet. The latter will be the most likely scenario.

Immortals have become known for having great regular seasons, aside from last spring. This split came as a bit of a surprise to most. People expected the jungle swap of Dardoch and Xmithie to favor CLG, but both teams have benefited greatly. Not only the jungle swap, but the hiring of former ROX tiger coach, Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, has given them the knowledge to properly out-macro opponents.

Every lane seems to have come into their own. Young rookie, Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun has developed into a top tier ADC this split along with support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. Cody Sun is near the top for DPM and DMG percentage among ADC’s. Olleh has shown great performances on playmaking champions such as Thresh.

Immortals is currently tied for first with TSM and CLG. They’ll need to prove that they can finally perform when it matters, not just the regular season if they want to make it to Worlds.

Dignitas

Worlds

Photo via Riot Games

Dignitas stormed out the gates this split, contending for first place for a few weeks before going on a losing streak. They still have their inconsistencies at times. Last week against CLG they flashed the potential to be able to dominate some of the best teams in the league. Other times, they play to the level of their inferior opponents and drop matches.

With jungler Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon taking the reigns as the full time starter now, Dignitas can maybe gain some consistency for a Worlds run. Shrimp has the second highest kill participation percentage among junglers. In the bot lane, they’ve added two veterans of the LCS in Altec and Adrian. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes the full time bot lane for the team moving forward.

What’s worrisome is how average of a mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang can be. Keane has middle of the pack stats in comparison to the rest of the NA mids. If he can play up to the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen, Pobelter and Huhi, then maybe Dignitas can make it.

Dignitas has 10 championship points from last split which likely means they’ll be battling in the gauntlet for a Worlds spot. If the team can find some consistency, don’t be surprised to see them as real contenders for a Worlds spot.

Phoenix1

Despite Phoenix1 not being far from the playoff race at the moment, and tied for last place, they still have a ton of circuit points that can help them qualify. A third place finish from Spring granted them 50 circuit points, more than a lot of the teams outside of C9/TSM. Even if they don’t qualify for playoffs they still have a shot in the gauntlet based on circuit points.

Rift Rivals was seen as a stepping stone for the team after a rough start to summer split. They had a good performance and were looking to carry that momentum into the second half of the split. That hasn’t been the case as they’ve stumbled coming back. Star rookie jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung hasn’t looked as dominant since he’s returned. The tank jungler meta hasn’t allowed him to show the same carry performances we saw at Rift Rivals.

Mid laner, Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, stepping down certainly doesn’t help their cause either. Ryu was an integral part of the team, and it’s hard to say that Pirean can come in and perform up to veteran Ryu standards. If Ryu does return after a needed break, Phoenix1 can definitely make a C9 Cinderella run in the gauntlet.

Worlds

Photo via Riot Games

With only two and a half weeks left in the split, any team can make a late run for Worlds. Will it be CLG, Cloud 9 and TSM at Worlds once again for North America? Or will a new team emerge from the ashes?

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Cover photo by Riot Games

 

 

The rise of North American junglers

With the phenomenal performance of Phoenix1’s rookie jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung, it seems that NA junglers are the easiest role to fill with homegrown talent, while EU has become known for producing some of the most talented mid laners. Over the past few splits, we’ve seen several junglers come from challenger to the pro scene and do quite well. Names like Contractz, Akaadian, and Dardoch all come to mind.

Dardoch and Contractz were well known names in the amateur scene. Some pros predicted their success into the pro scene. Akaadian and MikeYeung, on the other hand, were very unknown to most and surprised spectators with how well they performed starting out.

Photo by: Riot Esports

Why jungle?

It’s interesting to note how few jungle imports there are in the NALCS. Jungle seems to be one of those vital roles where communication is key to overall team success, and the language barrier may be the reason why. Support/jungle communication is very important in roaming and making plays in the early/mid game.

Solo que junglers also seem to have the most influence when thinking about ranked play. As a jungler, your decisions in the early/mid game can set your team up for the most success. Doing well on the challenger ladder would be the first step to being recognized for pro play.

What’s surprising is that jungle is one of hardest roles to transition from solo que to pro play. Jungling solo que and in a professional setting is much different with all members being able to communicate. Your decisions are much more impactful in the game as they’re not going to be nearly as kill heavy as ranked play. Teams also ward much better so jungle routes have to be efficient. It’s hard to pin point exactly why rookie junglers seem to have the most success right away.

Lack of NA talent in other roles

Although NA rookie junglers seem to find a lot of success, other roles don’t seem to have the same effect. ESPN recently came out with an article discussing the lack of NA mid talent. It’s no doubt that more teams have gone to importing talent from elsewhere for their solo lanes. Just last split, many teams brought over talented Korean top laners instead of trying to recruit within North America.

Rookie junglers such as Contractz, Dardoch, Akaadian, and MikeYeung also seem to find success very early as well. Akaadian stormed onto the scene last split, showing some phenomenal performances on carry junglers. MikeYeung has been able to duplicate that success this split, helping P1 earn their first win of the split off his aggressive Nidalee play.

Immortals rookie ADC Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun struggled his first few matches, but has slowly developed into one of the better ADCs in North America. Most of the times we’ve seen rookies in other roles, they haven’t been able to stand out nearly as much as junglers have.

Looking toward the future

With franchising coming soon to the NALCS, we could see more development of homegrown talent. With each team being able to foster a “minor league” sister team, NA talent will have more chances than ever to be able to make their way into LCS.

With the relegation system, fear losing their spot in the pro league. If teams take a chance on a rookie and it doesn’t work out, their spot could be in danger fast. With franchising, bottom tier teams can experiment with different rosters if they struggle to start out the split.

With most of the successful NA teams fostering veteran junglers at Worlds, these rookies haven’t gotten much of a chance to see international play. That could change this split with Cloud 9 having Contractz and CLG with Dardoch. Mikeyeung potentially will have a chance to represent NA at rift rivals as some of the best teams from EU and NA square off. It’ll be interesting to see how these young junglers do against international competition. One can only hope that they can show that North America also has talent worth importing.


Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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Why Dardoch and Xmithie are perfect fits for their teams

It’s only been one week into the Summer Split of the NALCS, but Immortals and CLG look impressive. During the off-season, the two teams agreed to swap junglers Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

Most people only saw CLG as the clear winners of this trade. With Xmithie looking to have peaked as a jungler, few expected Immortals to have much success after the transfer. Immortals had different plans, though, as they were able to take a commanding 2-0 week after sweeping last split’s champions, TSM. Both junglers seem to be perfect fits on their new rosters.

Photo via Riot Esports

Mid/Jungle Synergy

Before the split, mid laners Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Eugene “Pobelter” Park were heading in opposite directions. Huhi was often criticized at the weak link of CLG in his first split, but looked much improved in the spring. Meanwhile, Pobelter was known as being one of the only NA mid talents, had one of his worst splits in spring. Statistically, he was near the bottom when comparing stats among other mids.

Xmithie and Pobelter had previous experience playing together on CLG back when they took the 2015 NALCS finals. The support of Xmithie has helped him and Immortals as a team. Pobelter finished the week with a massive 10 KDA and looked like his former star self.

Huhi benefited from having a more aggressive jungler as he was able to help with roams and pressure his lane more with Dardoch behind him. Huhi did work this week doing 33 percent of his team’s damage while also having the third highest KDA among mids.

Jungle Styles

Stylistically, Dardoch and Xmithie are night and day in comparison. Dardoch is extremely aggressive and loves to make big plays. Xmithie is an efficient pather and likes to play more supportive in tracking the enemy jungler while helping his laners.

On Immortals, Dardoch was a huge voice on the team. On a team of very passive personalities, his ego took over and he basically did whatever he wanted. Immortals staff even acknowledged this in their offseason video where they highlighted some of the team’s issues. On CLG, Dardoch plays with the presence of other strong vocal players such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. With veteran leadership already in place on CLG, Dardoch isn’t required to do as much of the heavy lifting as he was on Immortals.

With Immortals, Xmithie is willing to sacrifice resources to allow his team to gain leads. Immortals players have rather passive personalities that could easily be run over by someone like Dardoch. But with Xmithie, they have someone willing to help the team by all means necessary. As the meta shifted back to carry tops and tank/support jungles, Xmithie fits perfectly. Xmithie does not try to make flashy plays that will make himself good, rather he tries to allow his carries to do what they need to do.

Team Environments

Photo via Riot Esports

It almost feels that this is the strongest roster and management staff Dardoch has ever played on. With strong veteran presence leading the way on CLG, he can worry about his own play rather than his teammates. CLG has experience dealing with egocentric players having dealt with star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Dardoch also isn’t relied upon to be the sole shot caller. It’s been known that Darshan and Aphromoo are very vocal in game and help a ton with the macro play.

The Immortals roster felt like it needed a fresh start after playing with Dardoch for a split. In the video going over Spring Split, the roster members felt that because of Dardoch a lot of the relationships amongst team members felt very “artificial”. With that type of team environment, you can’t expect young players to be at their best. Xmithie comes from an environment where team bonding and friendship were a strong vocal point in success. Xmithie doesn’t have near the ego of Dardoch, so you can expect Immortals are riding this honeymoon phase all the way into Week Two.


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Cover Photo by Riot Games

Can Dardoch finally find success on CLG?

Star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett will be transferred to Counter Logic Gaming. Counter Logic Gaming has stressed how important friendship is amongst their successes, but failing to get out of the first round of playoffs last split was the last straw.

Photo by: CLG

 

Risk vs. Reward

It’s no doubt Dardoch is one of the most talented junglers in North America. He’s always been one of the more consistent carries of every roster he’s been on. For CLG, his aggressive jungle style is a complete 360-degree change from Xmithie’s jungle style.

Since his time on Team Liquid, Dardoch became known around the community as an extremely talented player with a poor attitude. When Team Liquid released their documentary Breaking Point, Dardoch was at the forefront of a lot of team issues. He’s a player who’s not afraid to speak his mind and can be extremely blunt with his criticism of his teammates in-game. He was also quick to clash with head coaches, most notably TL’s former coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-sub.

When Immortals took on Dardoch, they sought an extremely talented jungler who could replace the void left by former jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Dardoch was a star on the Immortals roster, but his teammates around him struggled to match his talent level. When the losses started to pile on, Dardoch’s toxic attitude came back again. In Immortals most recent video, you can see that Dardoch’s attitude had not changed since his time on Team Liquid. Immortals players noted how they really never felt like friends and that their relationship was “artificial”.

Dardoch, individually, is one of the most talented players in the region. He literally felt like he had Immortals on his back in some of their games during the regular season.

Moving Forward

Without a doubt, CLG’s roster will be the best one Dardoch’s every played on. If he can continue his stellar play, I don’t see why CLG can’t contend for an NALCS title.

The weakest points of the roster will most likely be in the solo lanes. Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun have been extremely inconsistent on CLG. HuHi did look much improved last split, so there is hope. Darshan can show phenomenal performances one game and then get over aggressive split pushing the next. He’ll need to become more consistent and return to the form he had when he was a contender for best top laner in the region.

With Dardoch coming in as the new jungler, stylistically this will be the first time CLG has had an aggressive early game jungler. Xmithie was more known for tracking the enemy jungler and counter ganking. Dardoch looks to make aggressive plays in the early game.

CLG has been known to start splits very slow, usually not adjusting well to the meta. If CLG struggles early, we could see internal issues arise among players. CLG, in particular, is quite experienced in handling egocentric players having star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng on the roster for several years. Aphromoo should be able to handle any tension that arises amongst the team, but even Doublelift wasn’t at the same level of Dardoch in terms of toxicity. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

CLG has stressed friendship among players over the past few years. If Dardoch can come in and mesh well early, they can contend with the best. If they struggle to adapt to the meta once again, internal team issues could arise.


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Cover photo by: Riot Games

 

NALCS: Grading this Split’s Rookies

In my last piece I took a look at some of newest imports of the North American LCS. This week I’ll take a look at the rookies and how they’ve made an impact to their team this split. There are only four this split, but nonetheless every rookie has come onto their team and made an impact. Grading will be based on expectations heading in and how they’ve met them. Lets take a look:

Phoenix1 Stunt (Support)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

William “Stunt” Chen began this split as a sub on Dignitas. He also spent some time last summer on Team Liquid Academy playing alongside Piglet.  Little was known about Stunt heading in, as most didn’t even know he was a sub on Dignitas untill he subbed for a series against Envy.

He finally got his shot at LCS as a starter when Phoenix1 acquired him before the trade deadline. Their former support Adrian “Adrian” Ma was transferred to Team Liquid in wake of internal issues with jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. Stunt came in as a brand new support who had never really had a starting role on an LCS team. Phoenix1 has not been phased by this at all, if anything, they’ve looked to have grown even stronger.

In the 8 games he’s played, Phoenix1 is undefeated and look to be catching up to Cloud 9 as the second best team in North America. Stunt himself has been performing quite well in this support meta. His champion pool is diverse, having played seven champions already in his short time on P1. Stunt currently has the highest KDA of supports at 5.5 and a spectacular 80 percent kill participation.

Phoenix1 seemed to have done a great job integrating Stunt into the team. Phoenix1 look like top contenders heading into playoffs.

Grade: A-

Cloud 9 Contractz (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Juan “Contractz” Garcia came in as the next hyped upcoming challenger talent. He spent time on Cloud 9 Challenger and helped them qualify for the LCS. Many praised him as a solo que star being bred to take the NA LCS by storm. After a phenomenal week 1 performance many thought Contractz would pop off and propel Cloud 9 to the top team once again. That hasn’t really been the case as Cloud 9 have regressed as other teams around them have improved.

Contractz in particular has had his fair share of rookie mistakes that have cost his team. Sometimes getting caught out before big objectives or invading without the aid of his team behind him. Even a minor accidental slip up in champion select may have cost his team a close series against CLG.

Nonetheless, Contractz has played pretty well for a rookie Jungler in his first split. Expectations may have hindered how well he’s actually played this split. Contractz came in molded to be a somewhat supportive style Jungler helping his talented laners get ahead. He gets deep vision for the team and tracks the enemy Jungler.  He currently has the 2nd highest KDA among Junglers.

What’s worrisome is how much Cloud 9 struggles to make plays in the early game.  With so many talented players, their early game is still one of their biggest weaknesses. Contractz has the worst First Blood percentages among Junglers which speaks to the lack of C9’s play making in the early game. Often times their wins come off mid game fights.

 

Grade: B

Echo Fox Akaadian (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham came into the LCS with little to no expectations of him. Most expected him to be average at best and not make much of an impact. That was not the case as he stormed onto the scene in the first weeks as an extremely talented and aggressive Jungler.

As the split has gone on, some teams may have figured out his style. With teams around them getting better, Echo Fox has struggled to stay afloat. Akaadian went from having one of the best KDA’s in the league, to having one of the worst at 2.7.  Nonetheless, Akaadian has been one of, if not the best player on his team this split. His early game play making has often netted his team huge gold leads. It’s more of the team as a whole not being able to transition those leads into victories.

It will be interesting if he garners interest from other teams during the off-season. Any North American talent is crucial as it allows for imports in other parts of the roster.

Grade: A

Immortals Cody Sun (ADC)

Li “Cody” Yu Sun was an up and coming ADC fresh out of the challenger scene. He spent time on Dream Team last split where he stood out as a top performer. As a rookie, not much was expected from him and his lane partner Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. People expected Immortals to play mostly through their talented solo laners and Jungle.

It took awhile, but Cody Sun and Olleh are quietly becoming a bot lane force. Their first few weeks were a bit rough. As a rookie ADC being thrown into a meta where ADC’s were basically ult bots was a tall task.

As the ADC meta is slowly shifting back to meta carries Cody Sun has shown some great performances on Ezreal and Cait. He’s one of the underrated pickups during the off season as a North American talent who doesn’t take up an import slot. Moving forward, he’ll need to continue his growth for Immortals to perform at their highest level.

Grade: B-

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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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NALCS Teams on the Rise: Echo Fox and Immortals

We’re almost halfway through the NA LCS split. NA LCS teams look all over the place in terms of standings. Cloud 9 stand above the rest undefeated at 8-0. Other than C9, the rest of the standings appear up in the air. This will be the first of a two part piece where I’ll be highlighting teams hitting their stride halfway into the split. This week I’ll start with Echo Fox and Immortals.

Echo Fox

Courtesy: Riot Games

 

Echo Fox may just be the definition of inconsistency. One week they throw enormous leads, another week they’re dominating their games. Echo Fox is coming off an impressive 2-0 week where they swept some big name teams in CLG and TSM.

Jungler Matt “Akaadian” Higginbotham has erupted in his rookie split. He has shown to be an extremely aggressive jungler who’s not afraid to make the big play. Often times rookies are not aggressive due to the jitters related to playing on stage for the first time. He has developed into the “NA First Blood King” holding the highest first blood percentage among junglers at 70%.  

Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen has been the leader for this team since its inception into the NA LCS. Frogen holds the 2nd highest KDA among mids with 4.6 while also leading the league in damage percentage at 30.7%.  He’s also been one of the most flexible mids, having played seven champions. Having that wide champion pool makes it impossible for enemy teams to ban him out.

After being the scapegoat of many of Echo Fox’s early losses, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew has looked better week by week. In a meta where ADC’s are seen more for their utility, Keith hasn’t needed to carry teamfights. He’s had some good Jhin/Ashe ults and has been working on getting caught less.

Echo Fox seem to finally be figuring out how to transition their early leads to victories. It’s surprising to see they hold the highest gold difference@15 in the NA LCS at 1,530. Akaadian has been a major contributor in getting his team ahead. If this team can build off their momentum, they can begin to show the league that they’re real contenders.

Immortals

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Immortals are another team coming off an impressive 2-0 week after looking like a bottom tier team for most of the split. The slow start could have been due to communication issues within the team, but they looked much better.  

Rookie ADC Cody “Cody Sun” Sun looks to have found his pocket pick in Miss Fortune. After looking rocky for most of the split, he posted an eye-popping 19.5 KDA on Miss Fortune. Immortals won all three games that Cody Sun played her in. If teams start banning her moving forward, it will open up more champion choices for his team.

It’s been no secret that mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park has looked suspect for most of the split. This past week he posted an 8.2 KDA in the four games Immortals played. Hopefully this propels him back to form as the best NA resident mid laner we’ve been used to seeing from him. 

Finally, Immortals look to have finally resolved some of their communication issues. Their schedule gifted them with some bottom tier competition in Team Liquid and Dignitas. With some other teams beginning to struggle, they may be able to use their newfound momentum to creep into a playoff slot.

After Cloud 9, just about every NA LCS team looks even in skill and competition. Every team has different strengths that allow them to win games. In my next piece, I’ll be looking at some teams heading downwards in the standings.

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NALCS Teams On the Hot Seat

We’re two weeks into the split and there are a few teams on the hot seat, fighting against relegations soon if they don’t turn their play around. These teams were expected to be real contenders heading into the split, but have not met expectations.

Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Team Liquid was thought to be real contenders. Most spectators were placing them around 4th-6th in terms of rankings before the split. They’ve come out flat, as it seems jungler, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, and AD Carry, Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin have struggled. 

Reignover has a lot to prove as this is his first season playing without Top Laner Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Reignover’s playstyle often revolved around ganking Huni a few times to allow him to carry the game as a split pushing threat. Without Huni, Reignover has struggled so far. His 58.6% kill participation is last among NA junglers. Often times this season we’ve seen Reignover make basic mistakes, such as jumping in too aggressive ahead of his team or failing a flash. He just doesn’t look comfortable in this carry jungle meta so far.

Piglet also seems to be in a slump. Team Liquid has dedicated the last few seasons revolving their team comps around Piglet, using him as the main carry. Time and time again, playing around Piglet has not worked for this team. At this point, the individual play of Piglet doesn’t show any signs of him being able to be a top carry in this league anymore. He is middle of the pack in CS differential@10 and dead last in KDA among ADC’s. This may seem blown up since ADC’s tend to look worse on bad teams, but the synergy of Team Liquid looks very worrisome.

They have yet to incorporate sub Mid Laner Austin “Link” Shin. Subbing Link into the starting role could produce better results. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer hasn’t looked terrible, but sometimes a minor roster change can yield a “honeymoon” effect that we’ve seen from teams in the past. If their play doesn’t turn around soon, I’d expect a change.

 

Immortals

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Looking at their record of 2-2, Immortals is in the middle of the standings; but one of their wins was against Team Envy. Most spectators put Envy as a last place team. They did almost take down TSM during week one, but it wasn’t clean by any means on either side. Against Cloud 9, they looked terrible as a team and individually.

Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park in particular has struggled to start the season. Usually heralded as the best resident NA mid, he has not looked up to form. He’s currently dead last in total KDA among mids and second to last in CS diff@10. Many have been quick to point out being on a worse team, but individually he needs to step up.

Top lane import Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong has done little to show that he can replace Huni. Flame has consistently been caught out or misplaying ganks when jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett tries to get him ahead. Communication also seems like a big issue. Flame is too early on engages or late for teleport plays. He currently has the worst KDA among tops and is near the bottom for CS diff@10. We have yet to see his infamous “flame horizon” (being ahead 100+CS) in a match yet.

The bottom lane of Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung has looked decent in lane. Cody Sun currently has the second best CS diff@10 among ADCs. Cody Sun has been caught out of position too many times to count. As a rookie, it was to be expected though. Their bot lane wasn’t expected to be the best coming into the season. The under performance of the roles around them is what is giving this team the most trouble.

Dardoch is still a steady jungler who can carry the game, but he has also had some really bad misplays that have cost his team. We know how emotions control how he plays the game, so it will be interesting going forward to see how the chemistry unfolds. Dardoch does not like losing, so if this trend continues, we may see this team continue to fall.

Team Dignitas

Dignitas were praised for the roster haul of top lane star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. Most people pegged this team as a top three team on paper. After two weeks, this team is 1-3, towards the bottom of the standings.

If Ssumday gets banned out of playing a carry/split-pusher, the team doesn’t play nearly as well. Carry junglers are strong right now, so top revolves more around the tank role. Chaser has one of the worse Damage%’s among jungler, with a measly 13.5%. With the emergence of the North American jungle talents, Chaser will need to step up. Dignitas has yet to show the ability to really have carries elsewhere, other than Ssumday.

Reginald may have been right when he called out teams for importing without knowing how to properly mesh them into the team. While Dignitas have been great at getting early game leads just from laning, their mid/late game have looked mediocre. They’re often reacting to their opponents and not looking to set up their own plays to win.  

Support, Alex “Xpecial” Chu, has been the main shot-caller for the team. He has experience doing this on his previous teams. It begs to differ how much the language barrier is really affecting how they’re performing. For most teams, they’ve pointed out that having one shot-caller isn’t the best way to play the game. If this team wants to succeed, every member will need to be able to communicate effectively.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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NA LCS 2017: Players to Watch

Any NA LCS fan that has been following the off-season knows that the past few months have been crazy with roster swaps, imported talent, and a sweep of new players hitting the scene for 2017. One might have found themselves asking “How much of Immortals’ roster will stay?” “Who will be Team Solo Mid’s new AD Carry?” or “What will Echo Fox and Phoenix1 do to improve for next Spring?” It was apparent that this season would bring about much change, but it was uncertain which teams and which players would be shuffled around.

The 2016 season was filled with surprises and disappointments. New esports organizations were formed from the ashes of old with big names and big money, while endemic organizations continued to field stable rosters. Veteran players came out of retirement. Korean and European summoners were imported to completely rebuild certain rosters. Rookies were put under pressure to perform on the big stage.

Looking into 2017, most of the dust has settled. The buyouts have gone through and many of the starting line-ups have been submitted to Riot. With so much changing it can be difficult to realistically make predictions of how the Spring Split will turn out. We will find out if their is more power in maintaining a stable roster, like Counter Logic Gaming, Team Solo Mid, or Cloud9. We will find out if drastic roster changes can still perform at top level with a high-quality support system behind them, such as Immortals. We will find out if the new imported talent can carry under-performing teams, Phoenix1, Echo Fox, Dignitas, to greatness. We will also see if newcomers to the scene will be able to step up and handle the heat. Taking all of this into account, here are some players to watch out for in the 2017 NA LCS.

VETERANS

Being a veteran in the NA LCS is a blessing and a curse. Sure, the player now has several splits under his belt. He should be able to execute under the pressure of being on stage. He should be able to help call the shots for his team. He should be a leader in and out of the game. He is a mentor for the younger players around him, and he is the bridge between coaches, rookies, and non-English speakers. For this article, I chose 3 players who will be remaining on their same team from 2016 and need to step up for victory.

PLAYER: Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin 

TEAM: Team Liquid

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of Riot eSports

Piglet spent a solid portion of the Summer Split playing for Team Liquid Academy in the NA Challenger Series. Despite playing on a top 6 team, Piglet averaged a 2.33 KDA while playing the first part of the LCS, putting him in 10th of 12 starting ADC’s. When he swapped into TLA for the remainder of Summer, that boosted to 6.44.
In order for Liquid to have a successful 2017, Piglet will need to translate his dominance into the LCS. We all know Piglet is capable of being a fearful force in the bot lane; he was a Season 3 World Champion, after all.
Now that the Jungle role has been filled with an experienced, veteran Jungler, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, hopefully Team Liquid’s performance will be more stable. Top, Mid, and Support are all being filled by sophomore players who will rely heavily on Piglet to remain consistent and powerful. IEM Gyeonggi was not the best showing for Piglet, but if Team Liquid can get in some practice they should be solid contenders this year.

PLAYER: Eugene “Pobelter” Park

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: Mid Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Pobelter is the only member remaining on Immortals for 2017 from the 2016 season. This is somewhat surprising considering Immortals had stellar regular season performances in Spring and Summer Split, only falling short in the Playoffs and Regional Qualifiers. Nonetheless, a complete overhaul of the roster can be scary.
Pobelter is one of 2 North American Mid laners for the 2017 Spring Split. This makes him incredibly valuable in his position. Combine that with the fact that Immortals is fielding a rookie AD Carry, a sophomore Jungler with a history of disciplinary issues, and Korean players for Top and Support, and you begin to see the pressure that will be placed on Pobelter.
It will be up to him to be consistent against staunch opponents, to be a mentor to the younger players, and to help orient the imported talent. These various cogs will need to brought together cohesively for Immortals to succeed this year, and Pobelter will be a huge asset in that project. If he crumbles under the pressure, the entire team will fall with him.

PLAYER: Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha

TEAM: Counter Logic Gaming

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Counter Logic Gaming had a rollercoaster 2016. Never quite considered the #1 team, yet never being counted out against NA’s best, it is difficult to figure out what was holding them back from greatness. Their teamwork is undoubtedly great, so then we look at individual performances and come upon a weak spot: Darshan.
His play last year seemed to peak in the Spring Playoffs (4.08 KDA, 79% Kill Participation), hit a pretty low floor in the Summer Split (2.31 KDA, 55% Kill Participation), and was passable at the World Championships (3.92 KDA, 53% Kill Participation). Darshan’s split-pushing was a prominent part of CLG’s wheelhouse during the Spring Split and Mid-Season Invitational, but once the meta shifted in the off-season leading into Summer Split he never really seemed to pick back up.
Considering CLG kept their entire roster for 2017, it is expected that they have shored up any weaknesses in the Top lane. Still, many teams have imported proven Korean Top laners, meaning Darshan will need to push beyond his past capabilities if CLG are to have a successful season.

ROOKIES

With each new Split and each new organization comes new players. They could be picked up as Solo Queue stars or previous participants in the Challenger Series. But regardless of where they were found, there is always a risk involved in bringing rookies onto the scene. Limited experience on stage generally leads to inconsistent play under pressure. And individual play in Solo Queue does not always easily translate to more coordinated, practiced opponents. But sometimes with the right teammates and the right support system behind them, rookies are able to shine and become the stars of tomorrow. Here are 3 rookies who were picked up in the off-season to start in the NA LCS 2017.

PLAYER: Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham

TEAM: Echo Fox

ROLE: Jungle

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

Picked up by Echo Fox from the Challenger Series, Akaadian is looking to put his mark on the Jungle role this year. After placing 3rd-4th in the NA CS last Spring he moved from Team Liquid Academy to Dream Team, where he went on to place 3rd-4th again in the Summer series.
The Jungle role is particularly important in the current League of Legends meta. A lack of early pressure, or limited communication, can be detrimental to teams hoping to gain a lead or stop the opposing team from snowballing.
Akaadian will need to build synergy with Mid laner, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, and incoming Top laner, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, if Echo Fox are to stand a chance this year. In my opinion, Echo Fox’s weakest link last year was then-Jungler, Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev. Ideally, Echo Fox has figured out how to play better around this role.

PLAYER: Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia

TEAM: Cloud9

ROLE: Jungle

courtesy of Riot eSports

Another rookie Jungler coming out of the NA CS, Contractz helped Cloud9 Challenger qualify for the LCS in the Summer Playoffs last year. He was the only player from that squad that was not included in the buyout by FlyQuest. Contractz is listed on the starting roster for Cloud9, taking the place of William “Meteos” Hartman.
Cloud9 historically does not adapt to roster changes well. The retirement-unretirement meme of Hai “Hai” Du Lam is not easily forgotten. Now Meteos has retired, come back from retirement, and seems to be ready to retire yet again. Hopefully, Cloud9 has learned enough from these experiences to be able to seamlessly bring Contractz onto the starting squad without too much of a set-back.
As mentioned above, Jungle is a crucial role for the success of a professional League of Legends team. Control of the Jungle and neutral objectives can allow a leading team to strangle their opponents into losing, and lack of control can cause a leading team to throw the whole game. Playing against the likes of Reignover, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun will truly be a test.

PLAYER: Cody “Cody Sun” Sun

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

Cody Sun joins Immortals from after playing as AD Carry for Dream Team in the NA Challenger Series under the moniker “Massacre”. He will be one of four new members joining the re-built roster after all but Pobelter left to play for other teams.
Cody Sun finished the NA CS Summer Season with the second highest KDA of all players with more than 2 games played, averaging 9.3. His Kill Participation was 6th out of all players with more than 2 games played, but his CS and Gold Differences at 10 minutes were middling. Another interesting statistic is that he only had 9 total Deaths over 11 games played, fewest among players with more than 4 games played, and second fewest among players with more than 2 games. These numbers indicate he plays conservatively: giving over lane pressure and getting kills during team fights while remaining as safe as possible.
It is difficult enough bringing a rookie onto an established roster. Once you factor in that 3 other players will be brand new to each other, that the Jungler has a history of disciplinary issues, and the other two are Korean imports, you can start to see where things could go wrong. Cody Sun will need to play a bit more aggressively with his support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, to exert pressure in lane. IEM Gyeonggi was not pretty for this Bot lane, and a lot of it was due to AD Carry passivity.

IMPORTS

Professional League of Legends has consistently involved the importation of players from outside North America. The NA LCS includes European and Korean summoners of all positions. However, due to Riot rules, a team may have no more than 2 non-NA starters at a time. This rule has created some dynamic off-season roster changes. If Cloud9 start an imported Jungler, then they have to have a native Top or Mid laner. Since Team Liquid have solidified native Top and Support players, then they can experiment with imports in the Jungle, Mid, or AD Carry role. Regardless of the team or position, though, importing players can cause headaches for a variety of reasons, whether they be visa issues, higher salaries, or disappointing performances due to language barriers and adapting to life in North America. They can resuscitate a dying organization or be a mortal reminder to an established squad. Here are 3 players who were imported in the off-season that will need to execute at their highest level for their teams to succeed.

PLAYER: Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon

TEAM: Phoenix1

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

One of Phoenix1’s two imported players for 2017, Arrow is an AD Carry who previously played for KT Rolster in the LCK. While holding down the Bot lane, Arrow helped KT Rolster finish third in the Spring Playoffs and second in the Summer Playoffs in 2016.
Arrow will be replacing Brandon “Mash” Phan, who ranked 7th of 10 AD Carries (who played more than 9 games) in KDA, but also 3rd out of 10 in Kill Participation and 5th of 10 in CS Difference at 10 minutes. Since Phoenix1 finished 8th of 10 teams last Summer Split, changes needed to be made to this roster.
Arrow’s veteran experience in the LCK should be a vital asset in 2017. And with 5 of 10 AD Carries in the 2017 LCS having 1 or fewer years of professional experience, Arrow should be able to hold his own. He will need to ensure that their are no communication issues with his North American Support, Adrian “Adrian” Ma, which would be the only potential issue.

PLAYER: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok

TEAM: Echo Fox

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Looper joins as the new Top laner for Echo Fox, replacing Park “kfo” Jeong-hun, who ranked last in the NA LCS Summer Split among Top laners for KDA and Kill Participation, and second to last in Gold Difference at 10 minutes. Looper previously played for LPL’s Royal Never Give Up, who finished 5th-8th in the 2016 World Championships.
This will be a 180 degree turnaround for Echo Fox’s Top lane. Looper’s KDA was middle-of-the-pack at Worlds, and his CS Difference at 10 minutes was on the low side, -10.4. But his Kill Participation was second highest of all Top laners. If he can effectively communicate with the rest of the team for smart uses of Teleport and split-pushing, then he will work out well for Echo Fox.
A major factor in the success of this team will be the Jungle-Top synergy. As mentioned above, Akaadian is a rookie Jungler, and there will be a language barrier between Looper and his teammates. Echo Fox will need to focus resources on making sure these pieces come together to form the proper puzzle.

PLAYER: Lee “Flame” Ho-jong

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of immortals.gg

Immortals’s Top laner for 2017 is Flame, previously of Longzhu Gaming in the LCK. After having a middling performance during Spring Split, Longzhu benched Flame in favor of Gu “Expession” Bon-taek, so Flame did not play competitively during Summer Split.
He will be filling a void in the roster left by Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo, who left the team on short notice. Huni was an aggressive player for Immortals, securing the most Kills out of all Top laners in the NA LCS Summer Split, and sixth most out of all players. However, he also tied for the second most Deaths out of all players, and had significantly more than any of his teammates.
Hopefully, Flame can produce more stable results. It is no small feat to bring together a Korean Top and Support, a rookie AD Carry, a sophomore Jungler with a history of disciplinary issues, and a single player from the original roster. IEM Gyeonggi should have pointed to some clear strengths and weaknesses in Immortals’ gameplay. Flame will be a key player in forging this roster.