Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

As the world of esports grows, analysts, fans, and sponsors will be looking towards examples from traditional sports for inspiration. They will draw comparisons between the two to figure out where exactly esports are heading. Franchising in the LCS, for example, is one such move towards traditional sports, away from the relegation model League of Legends has become accustomed to.

A somewhat less important, yet interesting topic, is that of mascots. Do teams need mascots? Do mascots belong in the LCS? Will this be part of the scene in the near future? What would their purpose be?

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Mascots are generally symbolic representations of the teams they tout. From the Phillie Phanatic to Benny the Bull to Big Red, most sports teams have a mascot. These mascots are a physical representation of the team’s name or logo. They are responsible for hyping up the crowd throughout a competition, during slow times, scores, or wins.

It is commonplace for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey teams to have mascots. They are out in the crowd. Part of the live audience experience usually includes getting a hug from or pictures with the team mascot. They sign autographs, and they provide immense brand recognition.

Merchandising around mascots is prominent. Slapping the mascot’s picture or logo onto items makes them collectibles. For example, many NBA fans can recognize Boston Celtics merchandise if it features “Boston” in green letters, shamrocks, Lucky the Leprechaun, or some combination of the three.

Mascots in LCS

The closest example of a mascot in the LCS is Unicorns of Love’s manager, Romain Bigeard. He generally wears a unicorn costume and dyes his hair and beard bright pink to support the team as they compete. Romain is an iconic member of the Unicorns’ team and brand, instantly recognizable.

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to create mascots. Between North America and Europe, there are Phoenixes (Phoenix1), Immortals, Foxes, Aliens (Dignitas), Horses (Team Liquid), Ninjas (G2), Rabbits, Cats (Roccat), Giants, and Snakes (Splyce). The other teams’ mascots would be less straightforward, but something like “TSM Titans,” or “Fnatic Falcons” could be a cool way to expand their brand. The mascot can also be incorporated into creating new logos, jerseys, champion skins, and collectible merchandise.

Mascots could also help solidify a team’s fanbase. Many LCS fans get attached to players, rather than the organizations they play for. And since so many players switch teams in between splits and in between seasons, organizations have a hard time keeping a consistent base. For example, Immortals probably gained some fans when they signed their most recent jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and probably lost some fans when Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin left. Introducing a mascot onto the scene may be a small way to retain a fanbase by providing a consistent symbol to rally behind, rather than just a simple logo.

What Could Go Wrong?

Individuals who do not closely follow specific sports or teams may find mascots to be cheesy. It may seem immature to grow an attachment to some guy in a costume who peps people up at sporting events, like a Disney World character. Does esports really want to go there?

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

Another consideration is the fact that League of Legends is a game packed with fantasy characters anyway. Would it make sense to introduce a G2 Samurai mascot onto the scene when similar characters already exist in the game? This could create some awkwardness or show that it is unnecessary for the LCS scene.

Cosplay, where fans dress in elaborate costumes of their favorite characters, is already a huge part of the competitive League of Legends experience. Bringing in mascots could be confusing or over-doing it. Cosplayers already act as League of Legends mascots, in a way.

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

These mascots could also need to span over several esports. For example, Cloud9 has teams in League of Legends, Counter Strike, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, DOTA 2, and a few others. How can they create a mascot that makes sense in all of those venues? What if the organization has competitions for different games at the same time? Traditional sports do not run into this issue. Los Angeles is home to several sports teams, but they all have different mascots.

Conclusion

Mascots may not help a team win, and introducing them to the LCS scene may present some complications. But, overall, it could be an interesting experiment. Romain and the Unicorns of Love have proven that it can be done. Other LCS teams have straightforward opportunities to bring on their respective hype men.

A mascot could greatly help organizations solidify their brands by opening up new merchandising opportunities and retaining fans that may otherwise leave the team with a traded or lost player. Possibly the greatest gain from a mascot, though, is pure fun. Imagine the broadcast cutting to a video of a fox mascot hyping up the Echo Fox fans after Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham secures a First Blood. That could be pretty cool.


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Tournament Preview: Cs_Summit

From April 20th – 23rd, Cs_Summit is being hosted by Beyond the Summit.

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament is set up as a quarter-final knockout stage with a loser’s bracket. Essentially it’s an eight-team double elimination tournament with best-of-three matches. The quarterfinal matchups are as follows:

  • SK Gaming vs. Team EnVyUs
  • Gambit E-Sports vs. GODSENT
  • OpTic Gaming Vs Cloud9
  • Ninjas in Pyjamas vs Team Liquid

Some of the strongest teams in the world will duke it out to see who walks away victorious. Here’s a look at some of the teams and match-ups.

Teams to Watch:

GODSENT

GODSENT

Courtesy of BeyondtheSummit.tv

GODSENT may not be the strongest roster coming into the tournament, but I think the legendary ex-Fnatic in-game Leader Markus “pronax” Wallsten has some tricks up his sleeve. After the Fnatic roster swap fiascos ended, pronax saw himself leading his team of riflers into the fray. Hopefully the Swedish international can make a strong appearance at Cs_Summit, and GODSENT can take home some prize money.

Many people may turn their heads at this pick, but I think GODSENT has what it takes to seriously win this tournament. They are playing Gambit in the first round and they are no pushover. It will be a tough fought game against the Russian side, but GODSENT could have what it takes.

Cloud9

Cloud 9

Courtesy of media.wwg.com

Cloud9 are among the stronger teams in North America, so it is no surprise I’m picking them to be one of the favorites. Unfortunately, Cloud9 will be short their world class AWPer Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. However, their stand in is one of the best the game has ever seen. Braxton “swag” Pierce, having previously been banned for match-fixing, has served his time away from professional play as an analyst, now making a return. Recently, he has returned as a stand in for Cloud9, and will hopefully be able to show that he’s still got it in this tournament.

SK Gaming

SK_Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

SK has had a less than stellar season. They are struggling to find the dominant form they showed at MLG Columbus. After taking a sudden exit in the playoff stages to FaZe at Starladder, SK Gaming has really been missing out on deep tournament play. Cs_Summit might be the turn around they need.

They are facing off against Team EnVyUs in the first round and it will not be easy for Gabriel “fallen” Toledo’s team to take a victory. With the strong players that EnVyUs have, we will see if fallen has made the correct adjustments before gametime.

OpTic Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

OpTic Gaming has a mix-mash of good aimers and good shot callers that somehow became one of the best teams in the world in under a year. One of OpTic’s key players, Tarik “Tarik” Celik, fled the barebones CLG squad in hopes of a better future with OpTic and it has paid off for him.

However, Tarik and OpTic have been struggling to find their strong form in 2017. OpTic seems to be making a little bit of comeback, showing life at the IBuyPower Invitational just last weekend where they took home second place. I think that OpTic has turned a corner with their play, but they will be tested in their matchup against Cloud9.

Featured Matchup: Optic vs Cloud 9

OpTic and Cloud9 are two of the best teams in North America and this matchup has always been fiery. Cloud9 seems to have them on most CT sided maps, controlling the long areas with Skadoodle’s AWP. However, it will be very interesting to see how Cloud9 adapts to their new five man lineup.

OpTic has always displayed resilience in their match-ups, being able to persevere in the longer mental battles. They stand a good chance against C9 and this matchup, in particular, seems to be the most balanced and the one to watch. If you can only catch one series from these playoff stages, I would highly recommend this match up.


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An in Depth Analysis of the Build-Up of FaZe and Allu’s Contribution to the Starladder Victory

There’s really no debate that FaZe deserved to win Starladder. After narrowly losing to Astralis at IEM Masters, Starladder became their sanctuary of strong play. They are a relatively new squad, and it was surprising to see them all playing so cohesively. So, here is an in depth look at how FaZe managed to transition from no roster last year, to having one of the best rosters this year.

The Build-Up

A lot of what went into FaZe’s performance was the product of months and months of player swaps and testing out rosters. FaZe seemed to have blundered their way through 2016, not managing to have any noteworthy victories. The two player swaps to this roster that were imperative to FaZe’s success are the addition of their shot caller and in-game leader (IGL), Finn “Karrigan” Anderson, and the addition of one of the best CS players in current play, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac.

Karrigan

Karrigan Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Karrigan came to FaZe in December after his previous team, Astralis, benched him. He departed shortly after and found that FaZe were looking for an IGL. This would be the first time in two years he wouldn’t be with the Astralis core of Danish players, and it was a real test for him. In IEM Masters right before Starladder, Karrigan faced off against his old team in the grand finals, and couldn’t quite beat them. It was still an impressive finish for how newly cemented the roster was though. Karrigan showed the strong command of his team and really helped to create a team mentality for FaZe.

NiKo finally left his death-trap team, Mousesports, for FaZe in February, and hasn’t looked back. He has always been noted by his peers as one of the best in the world, and last year he broke into the HLTV’s top 20 rankings of 2016, coming in at #11. NiKo only had three days to bootcamp for IEM Masters and was still able to help his team to the grand finals in his first tournament with them. NiKo instantly became one of the super stars for the team in terms of individual skill.

Both of these players will be pivotal in contributing to FaZe’s forward momentum.

Allu

Allu

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Aleksi “allu” Jalli had an incredible tournament performance, and was a huge contribution to FaZe’s victory. Allu is a player that has a seen a lot of strife over his career. He has always been a world-class awper and player, but his team environments haven’t been the best. After his departure from Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), he played on the Finnish team, ENCE, as he was hoping to bring life to the Finnish Counter-Strike scene.

After he determined that it was not a worthwhile use of his talents, he made the change to FaZe, where he has been impressive. At Starladder, in particular, he looked extremely strong. His play on Inferno may have single-handedly secured the tournament for FaZe in the grand finals.

The Map Pressure

inferno

Map: Inferno, Courtesy of CSGO database

The pressure he applies on the map is very noticeable. At the beginning of a map, he will let you know which angle he is holding by killing anyone who peaks. Other teams will learn to play around the angles he likes, and they will show him respect by not recklessly peaking.

This is huge, and can generally go unnoticed. The pressure on the map that allu provides gives so much more freedom to his teammates. While he can cover large areas with the AWP, it gives his teammates much less responsibility around the map. On Inferno, for example, when allu covers mid, all it leaves for his teammates to cover is apartments and banana. This leaves two different two-man teams to cover two choke points.

That strategy is what allowed FaZe to run their CT-side on Inferno. With this setup, NiKo has the freedom he needs to set aggressive picks on B, and for Karrigan to delegate more players to more important situations on the map. FaZe’s map movement, as well as individual play, helped them win, creating momentum moving towards the upcoming Counter-Strike Summit.

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Starladder

StarLadder Season 3 Finals 2017: The Winners and The Losers

The Starladder i-league invitational was hosted this weekend in Kiev. There was a lot of good Counter-Strike competition between some of the top teams in the world. There were definitely some good highlights. Here I want to highlight the winners and losers coming out of the tournament.

Winners:

FaZe Clan

Faze Clan at IEM Masters, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

FaZe Clan (The Actual winners)

FaZe went into StarLadder with decent expectations. This would be one of the first tournaments with their new squad cemented. After being the runner-up in the last tournament against Astralis in the grand finals, FaZe was ready to take Starladder by storm. They barely made it out of groups, having to beat SK Gaming in a one map tiebreaker to get to the quarter-finals. Once they got there, FaZe narrowly beat out G2 to get to the semi-finals.

Faze Clan faced off against HellRaisers in the semi-finals. HellRaisers making it to the semi-finals may have surprised some, but they definitely earned respect. Finn “Karrigan” Andersen evidently did his homework, and he led FaZe to a confident 2-0 victory.

After making their way to the grand finals, they were faced with Astralis for the second grand final in a row. Even though I’m sure it is intimidating to play against a team that you just lost to a month ago, FaZe played very well. One of the most important parts of their play was that they dominated the pistol rounds. It was unreal how well Faze seemed to manipulate each round in their favor. In my opinion, with this tournament win, they became the best pistol team out there.

 

"<yoastmark

Photo Courtesy: dotesports.com

HellRaisers

HellRaisers started off well in the Starladder groups, beating FaZe and CLG fairly comfortably. They still lost to G2, however. Where they really shone was the quarter-final matchup against North. North is a very strong team, and things were looking dire for HellRaisers after they dropped the first map to them. HellRaisers showed off their ability to keep themselves composed.

As the competitive scene in Counter-Strike continues to evolve, team mentality and resolve are becoming extremely important. The higher up the team is, the better the mentality. When you get to the top flight of Counter-Strike, the players are the best of the best and it is less about individual skill and more about team play/dynamics. This is what separates the low quality teams from the high quality teams. HellRaisers made some positive strides in this tournament.

Losers:

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Photo courtesy: hltv.com

G2 Esports

G2 came into the Starladder finals looking like they were going to pick up this trophy easier than a European team in North America. In group stages, they went undefeated. Though this lineup hadn’t been truly tested in a best of three yet, their individual and team play in the group stages were unparalleled.

They went into the quarter-finals against FaZe Clan and saw a disappointing exit after losing 2-1. Making the quarter-finals is nothing to scoff at, but with the big names and talent on G2, it was a very disappointing performance. Their group phase dominance seemed to vanish into thin air after FaZe won the first map.

The series was extremely sloppy from both sides. Countless times a team would be on full buys, and lose to full ecos. G2 and FaZe had a strong amount of back and forth between them, but FaZe ended up edging G2 out of the tournament by just a few rounds. It was very weak from G2, and they will be looking to improve their form heading into the next tournament.

Virtus Pro funny

Photo courtesy: wwg.com

Virtus Pro (VP)

Starladder was really a sucker punch for VP. They came out extremely timid in group stages. VP was stomped in all three of their matches, and did not even manage to secure more than five rounds in any of their games. I don’t have any explanation for their poor play other than they got caught on the wrong day. VP coming into this tournament looked to be in contention for the trophy. However, with their swift exit after the group stages, it seemed to be a poor sign of what’s in store in 2017.

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Support Players: The Unsung Heroes of Counter-Strike

A huge problem among top level teams is that they find themselves with too many players who want to be bigshots. The difficulty lies in the fact that there are only five players on a team, and only so many kills to go around. Naturally, not all players on the team will perform equally. When five different player’s egos come into play, it makes it very difficult to find balance and that’s where the frustration begins. So, the support role is the solution to this problem.

The support is someone who steps up and supports the team with flashbangs and smoke grenades. They usually work to get trade kills with their teammates and stay back to keep the number advantages on their side. Supports won’t typically make risky plays and will stick near other players to help wherever they can. Their contributions won’t show up on the scoreboard, but they make all the difference in high-level matches.

The Angry Fans

The dynamics here are much more subtle from a spectators perspective. When you see players under-preforming on the scoreboard, it becomes easy to point them out as the problem for their team. A lot of support players catch a lot of heat for their performances, but they are essential to the team.

C9 Shroud, Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

One of North America’s finest, Cloud9’s Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, has been catching a huge amount of criticism in the community in the last 6 months for his transition to more of a support role. When Shroud originally came to Cloud9, he was supposed to be a rifler. He has some of the best aim and game sense in North America, and so many are questioning why his scoreboard tallies have been so low.

Shroud began his transition after the addition of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta as rifler mains. Shroud said himself on his stream that he is “no longer the all-star” and that “his job now is to make [Stewie2k and autimatic] look good… I’ll die for them, I’ll flash for them, I’ll do anything for those guys”.

Some of the Best

 

Xyp9x

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Astralis’ Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth

The current support player for Astralis, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth, is world renowned for his skill. Xyp9x has been outstanding for Astralis in 2017 and was essential in their completion of their quest for a major trophy. Back in January, when Astralis took their victory over Virtus Pro, he was able to step up and get key kills on the second and third map which massively helped them secure the series.

NBK

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

G2’s Nathan “NBK” Schmitt

Nathan “NBK” Schmitt is a strong rifler and support player for G2 E-sports. Having spent the entirety of his career on French CS:GO teams, he has been able to master the support role for his team. He just recently switched to G2 back in February, but his support skill was on a strong display for the two years he spent on Team EnVyUs.

C9 Shroud

Courtesy of Shroud’s youtube channel

Cloud 9’s Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek

Some might find this pick questionable. Shroud is still widely regarded as an aggressive fragger and not so much a support player. But be assured, Shroud is the real deal for supports. He has already proven that he is an amazing rifler and one of the best in North America. He will definitely take some more time to fully adjust to his role, but even he himself said it’s time for this change.

Why Supports Deserve More Respect

A lot of people will look at Xyp9x’s, NBK’s and Shroud’s scores and become disappointed with their results. However, all the hard work they are putting in to help the team is going unrecognized. It’s the contributions outside of the scoreboard that really make the difference in the top tier teams. It’s not so much the number of kills a player has, but when and where they got the kills as well as what they mean for the game. Support players put their egos aside and play with confidence for their team, which deserves more recognition.


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ELEAGUE Being Nominated for an Emmy and What It Means for Esports

OpTic Gaming at the ELEAGUE Road to Vegas Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship, courtesy of Interantional Business Times

The Nomination

Counter-Strike may have the oldest competitive esports scene. It dates all the way back to 2001 with Counter-Strike 1.6. The Professional circuit has taken many forms over the years. The most typical being online tournaments and offline LAN’s. Among the most popular online gaming tournaments is ELEAGUE.

VP’s PashaBiceps, courtesy of Gfinity.com

If you were keeping a close eye on professional Counter-Strike, you will remember that earlier last year, Counter-Strike made huge leaps for esports. ELEAGUE made a deal with TBS, where TBS agreed to broadcast ELEAGUE matches.

It raised a lot of eye-brows when CS:GO finally made its way to television. In the beginning, many network executives were speculative of the interest and profitability in esports, and they saw taking this chance as an easy, low-risk way to text out the model.

I’m sure none of the executives would have expected in their wildest dreams to have the show nominated for an Emmy. The title they are being nominated for is: Outstanding Studio Design/Art Direction. Not necessarily for anything of huge importance, but the recognition alone is huge.

 

What It Means for Esports

Ever since competitive gaming has come around, it has seen small amounts of discrimination from typical forms of entertainment. Almost as if gaming was frowned upon as a “lower” form of entertainment associated with basement dwellers. What is amazing about this nomination is that it shows that people are ready to change and see esports in a better light.

nV’s KennyS, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Not only will people begin to respect it more, but it encourages more esports television deals. ELEAGUE’s deal with TBS was mutually successful. This can be an example to look back on for future networks signing deals. More networks will begin to see the profitability in esports, signing more deals to get more games on the air.

Big companies are already beginning to see the profitability of esports and video gaming in general. Amazon recently purchased Twitch.tv (a popular video game streaming website) and have already begun monetizing the viewership with a new subscription service.

As time moves on, more and more organizations will begin to pick up on this source of income and will want to get in on it before it’s too late. These steps are huge for esports and can help cultivate a better community by helping it grow.

 

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Virtus Pro

Virtus Pro’s Ascension from the Ashes

Virtus Pro (VP) are somewhat of a Unicorn in esports. Since the formation of their new CS:GO team in 2014, VP has had the same original five man roster. This is a feat that very few organization can claim. The Polish team currently find themselves among the top flight in Europe, and are considered to be in the top five teams in the world in terms of team play.

Virtus Pro funny

Virtus Pro team photo, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

2016

Virtus Pro heading into 2016 looked to be among the stronger teams in Europe. They were always known as a team that couldn’t be counted out in tournaments, and always had a good chance due to their resilience. However, for 2016, Virtus Pro found themselves with a string of lackluster finishes.

VP started off 2016 slowly, taking five months to snag their first tournament title of the year. Not only that, but the first five months were spent with agonizing finishes, as the team was not performing up to standards. Their team play was lacking, and whenever they needed someone to step up for a key round, they always ended up falling short.

Virtus Pro picked up their form in the middle of 2016. They managed to take first place at the E-League Season 1 finals, and VP later went on to win Dreamhack Bucharest against Cloud 9. Both of them were confident 2-0 wins. In these matches, they showcased great ability to control their emotions and play with a level head.

However, as 2016 went on, so did VP’s decline. At the end of 2016, Virtus Pro found themselves having a series of bad finishes. In November, VP were in the ECS Season 2 tournament and had a disappointing 9th place finish. In the tournament, their play was unrecognizable. They were sloppy and looked like someone had taken five silver players and gave them VP jerseys.

Things were looking grim for VP, and they were even considering roster changes.

Pasha

Virtus Pro Pashabiceps showing off his CS skill, courtesy of Devianart

2017

When 2017 rolled around, VP finally decided to wake up. The team put their mind to it and really put in the hours to make a tournament run. Virtus Pro started off very strong with a second place finish in the E-League major. However, they lost to Astralis in the Grand finals. Their progress as a team was never more obvious than here.

It was beginning to look like a new era of play for Virtus Pro. Granted, they did exit to Astralis and did not take home a Major. Virtus Pro still reasserted their prowess as a top team in Europe. They looked in command of every game they played against Astralis.

Nerves were going crazy while watching the finals, as it was potentially the first time the Danes would win a Major. It was an extremely back and forth series, and neither team looked definitively ahead. Even though VP lost, they were able to carry their momentum into the next tournament. Dreamhack Las Vegas was next, and the Polish Plow was in full effect, wiping out every team in their path, ending in a first place finish.

Not only were they able to accomplish that, but they were also able to get promoted back into the main league for ECS, after their 9th place exit last year. So far, Virtus Pro has been taking 2017 by storm, and I anticipate them to be a huge threat going into the next Major.

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Cloud 9

The Lack of Competition in North American CS:GO

Disappointment

Counter-Strike at the highest level of play is consistently dominated by European teams. Looking at the top 10 teams, it is difficult to make an argument that any North American teams deserve to be on that list. The only names that come to mind are Cloud 9, Team Liquid, and SK Gaming. While Immortals and Optic are both looking strong domestically, they always seem to fall short in international play.

Look comparatively at just the ESL Pro-League tables, for example. When you look at the European table, the team skill differential between teams in NA and EU is immense. Teams such as Astralis, Virtus Pro (VP), Ninjas in Pajamas (NiP), and NA’VI, to name a few, show which region is on a higher level of play. Even the lower teams in EU can beat out the competition in NA on occasion.

Pasha

Pasha raising his trophy, courtesy of Reddit (/u/JustCallMeEric)]

This is painfully obvious whenever North American teams are obliterated during international competition. It took until ESL One: Cologne 2016 for North America to even have a first place finish. Cloud 9’s Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek comments on the dominance of European teams, saying that Virtus Pro are especially notorious as being the NA killer. He later explains that VP are extremely strong at exploiting the weaknesses of NA teams.

What’s the Problem?

Aside from individual skill, strong tempo shifts seem to stun and disrupt a lot of North American teams. Whereas with European teams, they seem to be more comfortable with odd plays and are much harder to throw off. Teams such as VP and Astralis are notorious for being extremely good at controlling momentum shifts.

EU teams seem to hold onto their composure more. After losing big rounds, they don’t let it get in their heads and they continue to play at the top level. Astralis have been especially strong at this and showcase their amazing ability to control buy rounds and even take back crucial eco rounds.

Astralis did so masterfully in the E-League Major 2017 Grand Finals against VP. If you have not checked out that series yet, I highly recommend it. It has to be one of the best grand finals of all-time.

The Future Looks Bright

nV's "happy"

nV’s “Happy” looking sad after a devastating loss, courtesy of esports-edition

Even though, historically, North American Teams perform poorly on the intercontinental stage, NA still has hope. Looking back at SK gaming and Cloud 9, they both have a fair amount of skill between the two of them. Cloud 9 was able to secure a huge win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, beating out SK Gaming in the grand finals. While Fnatic (the tournament favorite) was not able to make it to the tournament due to their roster difficulties, it was still impressive nonetheless for an NA team to take the tournament.

SK Gaming is a particularly strong hope for NA in Professional Counter-Strike. SK took their first major trophy back at ESL cologne 2017, and are hoping to add to the collection this year. They recently swapped Lincoln “Fnx” Lau for João “Felps” Vasconcellos with another Brazilian outfit, Immortals, back in January. The change is still new and unfolding, but could be very beneficial for both teams. 

These changes and accomplishments may not be indicative of actual change in quality of play. However, I believe if any teams are ready to show up the European CS scene, it’s these two.

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The NIP Swedish Swap: Pyth Out, Draken In

 

 

NIP at dreamhack back in 2015 with allu still on the squad, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

Working towards a solution

Roster swaps can be sudden and out of nowhere, but after a long period of disappointing finishes, Ninjas in Pajamas (NIP) find themselves making a change of their own. NIP are one of (if not the) most historically significant teams in professional Counter-Strike. NIP created their first roster back in 2000. Since then they often been strong contenders for the top teams in CS:GO.

As of late, NIP have been struggling to find any success in pro play. They seem to display the qualities of professional players, but their team play is extremely lacking. The Organization has become understandably frustrated with the poor results, with their only noteworthy accomplishment being IEM Oakland in 2016.

The team found themselves ousting Jacob “Pyth” Mourujärvi as the weak link after a a lot of thought. In their defense, Pyth has been abysmal for NIP, having an average rating of 0.87 in his last 11 matches. Not an ideal performance from your team’s fifth. These poor performances include their inability to even qualify for the knockout stages of IEM Masters, not even two weeks ago.

Richard “Xist” Landström, in a recent interview, said that the NIP teammates were all still good friends, but they felt that in tight situations the communication was not up to par, so they made a change.

The Savior?

draken

Draken at a recent LAN event with Epsilon, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

After deciding to bench Pyth, NIP hope to be moving towards greener pastures. They have recently picked up William “draken” Sundin from Epsilon’s squad. Draken may be untested, but the young Swede has plenty of time to perform on this new squad. His time at Epsilon was a little lackluster, due to the team’s overall performance. However, he has been praised by other pro’s as the up and coming Swedish star to watch.

Astralis’ Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz revealed that he thought draken would be the next up and coming player to break into 2017’s “top 20 CS:GO players” list. He goes on to elaborate that if roster swaps were to happen, that he could see the Swede playing on a top team.

Draken’s transition onto the squad will be very interesting to follow. NIP are hungry for success, yet seem to only out the players that aren’t apart of their core four. With the original four members of NIP having been on the squad for over five years together, their voices reign supreme when it comes to team decisions.

First rotating through Aleksi “allu” Jalli as their awper replacement, and then going through Pyth with their most recent move. It does not bode well for NIP going through another roster change, but hopefully with this time they can see themselves finally returning to the top.

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NBA eLeague

The NBA and Take-Two Are Changing esports

The NBA and Take-Two (Makers of NBA 2K) are teaming up to change esports in a major way starting in 2018. The NBA and Take-Two have partnered to create a professional, competitive NBA eLeague.

Traditional sports games have fallen behind in the world of esports. Games like League of Legends, Pokemon, Halo, Counter-Strike and Dota2 have had been dominating competitive gaming and are already paying gamers million of dollars.

The NBA is trying to take a piece of that pie. There is so much money to be made from gaming that traditional sports need to innovate before they get left behind.

The NBA and Take-Two are trying to set the trend for these traditional sports. This bold leap could change the gaming industry like never seen before.

So what exactly will this NBA eLeague be and how will it run?

How Will it work?

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: https://geekiversedotcom.com)

The eLeague, as Adam Silver has called it, will be a professional gaming league run by the NBA and its franchises. Each NBA team will be in control of their own 2K virtual basketball team.

For example, the Chicago Bulls will have the eBulls and the team will manage its roster just as they do for the on-court basketball team. There will be general managers and a salary cap.

All 30 NBA teams will be involved and this season will mirror the real season. Gamers will be paid a salary to practice, train and compete for their respective teams and the only difference is they will be training with a controller instead of their body.

These teams will be through a real draft, similar to the traditional NBA draft. Each team will have five professional gamers on its roster. They won’t be playing with LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant but instead they will play with their custom created avatars that they work on to improve.

One area of concern most people come up with is how can they do this if everyone is going to just be a 99 overall player who can do everything? NBA2K has already fixed this issue in their latest version of the game.

archetypes and badges

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:https://www.youtube.com)

NBA 2K17 really wanted to make sure that each player had their own specialty. In previous years a player could make a point guard who could be 6-foot-7 and earn all badges to become the most unstoppable player of all-time.

There are three solutions they came up with to halt this.

The first is with archetypes. For all examples in how this works, we will stick to looking at point guards.

When you create your player you can pick a position. Once you select the position you wish to play, you must pick an archetype. The archetypes for point guard are the following: playmaker, sharpshooter, lockdown defender, shot creator and slasher.

Depending on the type of point guard you decide to become, you will have only five badges you can upgrade. That is the second part of the solution: the number of badges one can upgrade. In NBA 2K there are dozens of badges a player can get that makes them better.

One of those badges is the pickpocket badge. To unlock the pickpocket badge, a player must get a certain amount of steals within a season. The pickpocket badge makes a player more effective at stealing the ball.

As you can see in the picture with the sharpshooter, pickpocket is not one of these upgradeable badges for that archetype. What that means is that the pickpocket badge must stay at the bronze level.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: YouTube)

If the sharpshooter archetype gamer unlocked the limitless range badge then they could upgrade it from bronze to silver then to gold. Once a player has a gold badge they can upgrade it to the hall of fame level. Hall of fame badges allow a player to be great at that skill.

By allowing gamers to only have five upgradeable badges, they have stopped people from becoming players that are great at everything and 99 overall.

The third way NBA 2K17 has made it difficult to become 99 overall is by including park reputation.

Park reputation is a tier system in which can only be aquired by playing at MyPark. There are five levels to each tier. The tiers are as follows: rookie, pro, all-star, superstar and legend.

A player can only get to 95 overall before the game will not let them upgrade anymore. To earn more upgrades, one must reach levels one, three and five of the superstar tier at MyPark. The amount of games and time it takes to reach those tiers is extremely straining and does not come easily.

These three additions have really helped NBA 2K level the playing field and made a game that requires multiple different skill sets, rather than just a bunch of players who can do all. This is something NBA teams will have to look at when constructing teams for their NBA eLeague.

2K HAS ALREADY TESTED THIS

There is a mode in NBA 2K called Pro-Am that allows all these different gamers to take their custom players play in five on five games similar to an NBA contest. These teams become really competitive and are an example of how an NBA eLeague team would look. NBA 2K have already held two major tournaments over the past two years to test how this would work in a legitimate format.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:http://www.usatoday.com/sports/)

The first one was called the Road to the Finals which took place in 2016. This year NBA 2K held the All Star Tournament which would gave 250 thousand dollars to the winning team Still Trill.

Over two million people streamed the final game, according to NBA 2K, proving that there is a market for competitive traditional sports games. The tournament showed is that these skilled players are capable of drawing a lot of viewers.

There are over 110,000 teams on Xbox alone in the Pro-Am game mode. The teams and players are already around waiting to be picked up by NBA franchises.

Why This Will Change eSports

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: Matthew Hagan)

The potential of this idea is unlimited. Currently, getting the NBA to be involved is monumental for the growth of NBA 2K as an esport. The NBA is the first professional league in the United States to create their own esports league.

The success with the two tournaments that NBA 2K have already run proves that there is huge interest in this game. Eventually the NBA eLeague could expand to more teams than just 30. There could be hundreds of teams in each region of the world. Eventually there could be regional championships that lead to a world championship.

An eLeague allows people who could never play in the NBA a chance to become NBA stars. This includes people who have disabilities and are unable physically play the sport. It doesn’t matter your size, weight, or gender, anybody who is good enough on the sticks can end up being drafted to an NBA eLeague team. That is something that no other professional sport can offer.

This is just the beginning for the NBA and Take-Two. Once the money begins to flow they will realize they need to expand the field. Before you know it there will be an NBA2K Hall of Fame and a list of new NBA eChampions.

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Matthew!

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