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

CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 2

Welcome to Part two of our CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS. For the first part looking at the build up and protagonists of our CLG story, check out my article here.

 

The Split

Not many fans of CLG were expecting much from the Spring Split. Eyes were glued to how the new rookies would integrate into the squad, whether the veterans could teach the new kids how to play the Rift in the LCS, and truthfully if they’d manage to scrap their way into Playoffs. First was the surprise win over long time rival and new home of star ADC Doublelift, TSM. Then, the honor of being the only team in the Spring Split to actually take a win off of the (almost) undefeated Immortals squad (with a cheeky baron steal into Darshan backdoor win). CLG surprised everyone with a 13-5 split, narrowly passing Cloud 9 in Week 9 with Team Liquid being… Team Liquid… and securing fourth place.

Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was the split that even the most faithful were cautious in hoping for. The team meshed together as a unit, and countless interviews with CLG players highlighted this. The story line was never about one star player winning games. Rather, it revolved around which player would the team elect to carry them this game. We saw stellar performances obviously from the likely culprits: Darshan with the split pushes that the other team could not answer, Xmithie with the Smite wars and overall map control, and Aphromoo leading his lane to dominance.

But it wasn’t just the vets. Viewers caught glimpses of greatness with Huhi, as he broke out the Aurelion Sol to great effect, still drawing bans against that pocket pick. And Stixxay came up huge when the team needed him most. His triple kill in the final fight between the long time rivals took the Finals for CLG and sent them to MSI. In many fans’ minds, it was clear that the CLG management knew what they were doing, maybe even better than they thought.

But back to the story lines. What a roller coaster of a split. While some looked to CLG’s playoff as a result of other teams failing expectations, that shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment at hand. They didn’t take it because Huhi or Stixxay were amazing diamonds in the rough. It wasn’t the steadfast veterans, the grizzled familiar faces after the roster shuffle, that carried the CLG banner to victory. No. It was the team. They came together, they held each other up, and most importantly, they never stopped believing in each other. The rag band team of veterans and rookies took the split, and ultimately the finals, to propel them further than even they had hoped for: representing their region at the second most important Riot tournament besides Worlds.

Sweet, sweet victory. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

From “Unlikely” to “Runner-ups”

The now (in)famous power rankings going into MSI 2016 didn’t have CLG doing much. At their brightest, CLG were a dark horse roster, one that could make some upsets and maybe see themselves get into Playoffs. But they weren’t expected to do much. If they showed up, it would be mildly surprising. If they flopped, it also wouldn’t be too shocking a revelation. They weren’t the dominant (domestically) G2, the juggernaut SKT T1, or the stacked Royal Never Give Up. Heck, they weren’t even as hyped as the LMS’ representatives Flash Wolves. The Flash Wolves didn’t mince words with their expectations of CLG, with SwordArt’s comment towards them simply being, “We don’t actually have any preparation. Because CLG is the worst team besides IWC teams.” Ohh the irony.

Worse than an International Wildcard Team you say? Well that’s awkward for you. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In true CLG fashion, they did the exact opposite of what the pundits and critiques expected them to do: they thrived. I’m not one for taking phrases from others, but man did ESPN writer Tyler Erzberger put it perfectly for CLG’s mantra, “Respect all, fear none.” This was a roster that didn’t claim to not prepare for an opponent they felt was weaker, because they knew they had to do that to every opponent they would meet. Their record tells the story of group stage well. They had a 2-0 record against Flash Wolves and G2, and a 1-1 record against SKT, RNG, and BAU Supermassive (I mean, it is CLG, Wildcards are pretty much confirmed their kryptonite…).

Of course, in a perfect kind of story line, the team that looked down on CLG were the ones facing them in the Semis. The Wolves had to look across the Rift at the team they felt was as strong as an IWC team. Still, even with their group stage performances, many were timid to cast their vote in favor of CLG. Sure, they had bested the Flash Wolves, but that didn’t paint them as clear favorites going into their confrontation. Keen observers would’ve had the two as neck and neck, equal parties, and that the battle would most likely be a back and forth series.

It was, in a lot of ways, a clash of styles, and a clash of ways to play League of Legends. Flash Wolves brought strong talent and mechanics in their games. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in particular found many advantages in his laning phases that put the Wolves ahead. Of course, CLG, on the other side of the spectrum, trusted in each other, in their own style: teamwork and macro plays. CLG played the maps out like an ebb and flow of a tide, and ultimately came out on top of the Wolves in a 3-1 series. The under-looked team, practically spit upon by SwordArt’s comments, came out convincingly on top to move onto the Finals of MSI, the first time any North American squad had done so at a Riot International tournament.

To Face a God

It was only a befitting ending. Sports animes aren’t Mary Sues. It’s about learning, about hardships and about trying to take those lessons and bringing them into the next competition. So when CLG lost 3-0 to SKT, not many were surprised. It’s the narrative any time a team faces SKT, whether it’s in region rivals like KT Rolster or pre-exodus Rox Tigers, or the latest crop of non-Korean teams hoping to make a dent in the armor that is SKT’s record internationally.

Heads held high to face the gods. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was a bit of a miracle run overall, and while they did lose it all in the end, CLG weren’t completely outmatched. Like any good team, they had their shining moments against SKT. In the first game, far behind SKT and ultimately completely outplayed for the first half of the game, CLG almost made the comeback against the Gods. Through smart play and a cheeky hide-and-then-five-man-dive-poor-Faker-and-Wolf, they almost mounted a convincing lead, but ultimately lost to the superior skill and experience of SKT.

On the back of a strong comeback that ultimately fell short, CLG started game two strong, with a 3K gold lead on the Korean giants at the 14 minute mark. The rest of the game was a back and forth, punch for punch game where both teams matched each others plays, with the game being swung in SKT’s favour during a decisive team fight victory. For all the hype and near moments of excellence, CLG eventually dropped the game, unable to withstand the onslaught.

Game three was probably the finale of the series everyone expected, but no NA fan hoped for. It was a lashing, as SKT showed masterfully how to rotate the map and pick off CLG members who seemed completely caught off guard. Outside of a prolonged fight that showcased a lot of CLG’s strength at the 32 minute mark, it was hard to say they stood much of a chance. Ultimately the bloodiest game of the set, and really the most one sided, SKT walked away heads held high, sitting on top of the world of League of Legends.

Murica. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG, on the other hand, walked away beaten but not broken. They still stood toe to toe against the team favored to take it all, the team who ultimately would take Worlds again, and then would end up taking MSI again too. It’s hard to imagine a world where the rag tag team, compiled of a couple of rookies, would be able to take down that dynastic of a team.

But it’s not the victory that makes the story line. It’s the sheer run of it all, a team from NA, going up against multiple opponents who not only were touted to outclass them as a team, but were supposed to outclass even their region. It was the first time an NA team made it into the finals of a Riot international tournament. What an amazing run from a team whose only talent was in working together, in picking up where their teammates faltered.

It wasn’t big roster moves and long time rivals TSM. It wasn’t storied Cloud 9, the wunderkids of the NA LCS, with their opening split of dominance in their minds. No, it was the roster that had every single NA LCS fan, even the most faithful of CLG fans, scratching their heads at the off season. They took it to the finals of MSI and brought recognition back to their region. While the ‘best’ story line is highly subjective and up for debate, the Spring Time of Dreams CLG are at least in the top five for League of Legends esports. And it’d be a damn good sports anime plot line too.

 

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CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 1

When people say what draws them to esports and sports, you’ll often hear two philosophies: to watch the best of the best play their game at the peak level of competition, or for the story lines that weave themselves on and off the playing fields.

This piece is for the second group. This article started in my mind as a joke, as I was looking back with a friend on past NA LCS splits playoffs and remembered just how insanely storybook like Counter Logic Gaming’s (CLG) run to win the Spring Split in 2016 and their performance at MSI was. In my mind, it was the greatest sports anime style narrative we’ve yet to see. (Rivaled by Cloud 9’s Cinderella story to Worlds in S6, mind you.)

I mean, THIS happened so anything is possible folks…

What do I mean by this? Well, think about it. Long time team, they had just come off a big win but now were thrown into question, lots of pressure on the roster, and a bunch of faces old and new, veterans and no name rookies, who managed to stick it to the pundits and win it all.

Hell, even the archetypes are there: the Leader (Aphro), the Cutesy dopey one (Huhi), the Downplayed ace (Stixxay), the Steady and silent one (Xmithie), the Pretty one (Darshan), and the Mr. Serious Coach Guy (Zikz… kind of).

The narrative practically writes itself folks. There were ups and downs, moments it looked bleak and others where they shined as a team, not as individuals. They coalesced, they backed each other up on and off the rift, and they showed that team work meant more than flashy players and big transfers. They also lost in heart breakers, they had to buffer themselves to the community’s constant criticisms, and ultimately to have faith in each other.

With MSI behind us, and the NA LCS ultimately losing their top seed at the next Worlds, lets take a look back a brighter time for North America, a time where, funny enough, the team representing the region was not seen as the best team there. They were criticized harshly going into it, and many felt that perhaps they would not be the best showing for the NA LCS internationally. It turned out, they were. This is the first part of a two part series, so be sure to check in tomorrow for our dramatic conclusion!

The Set Up

I still remember the shock of the off season between Worlds 2015 and the NA LCS Spring Split 2016. Losing  Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemed like a blow enough. Pob was, as I always said, a solid, if not uninspiring, Mid laner. The perfect fit for CLG, who often had… on and off Mid laners. That was fine. Maybe the team had some crazy import in mind, right? After all, Faith has always been part of the CLG fandom. But that wasn’t all.

Then the unthinkable happened. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng traded in the blue and gray for the black and white of long time rivals TSM. Why not top it all off with picking up two almost unheard of rookies in Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, and CLG pulled a full CLG and went counter to everyone’s expectations. They finally found the solution, the team that got them that coveted NA LCS Finals and Worlds appearance. It was supposed to be the Golden Age. Then they decided to remove two key players and replace them with untested rookies.

The rag tag team of dreams, NA’s hope at MSI. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The scene was left scratching their heads, as eternal rivals TSM looked to rebound after an off performance during their last Summer’s playoff showing, having gotten arguably the strongest ADC in the West from the very team that beat them. TSM’s rivals, of course, were left with two rookies, Stixxay having been promoted from CLG Black, while Huhi was reportedly scouted in Korea for his talent. But they both had big shoes to fill, and while being surrounded by some of the most storied veterans in Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, CLG fans felt that maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to pull out a playoff win in Summer.

Alongside the player changes, CLG brought on a new head coach by the name of Tony “Zikzlol” Gray, now a household name as arguably one of the best coaches in North America, there was a lot of new faces and questions mixed with hopes.

Nobody expected that the team would amount to much in Spring. Even CLG didn’t. A win on domestic soil seemed a great showing, but the impressive showings didn’t end there: they also went on to place second at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational, after showing up against international teams and only falling short against Korean juggernauts SKT. Then again, what would a good sports anime be without the unlikely happening?

Our protagonists

Archetypes in Anime aren’t really set in stone. Sure, there are tropes and there’s kind of constant themes throughout, but archetypes are always kind of murky grounds. Some will disagree with the ones I find almost ever present. Some will say I forgot some. Hell, it’s even likely you’ll disagree with my identification of the players in their archetypes. That’s fine, I’m not claiming objectivity here. But if I were writing the show, this is how I’d envision the players.

Darshan: Even his teacher calls him Zionspartan… but fans now call him Darshan, and arguably last Spring was some of the best times for the one they call Darshan.

He was a monster in the Top lane, eloquent in the lane swap meta, and a menace when left to split push to victory. If fans of the NA LCS had a dime for every time Darshan would split push to win with Fiora or similar split pushers, they’d have a lot of dimes. It wasn’t quite the Flame Horizon in the Top lane, but it was pretty damn close, and many of the W’s in CLG’s Spring Split could be chalked up to the dashing Darshan.

Darshan, probably thinking about how to style his hair or like the next song to cover… Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

Of course, it’s not just about how the players played, but their place in our overall story, right? Darshan could’ve been the kind of Clutch Player, the one who shows up when the team needs him the most and somehow pulls off the victory. But I think the other side of Darshan plays out more in my mind: He seriously was the pretty boy of the group. Amazing facial hair and style aside, he also sings amazingly. If he were to walk onto stage, I feel like he would have to have a flower background and a close up zoom in, as his eye sparkled or something. Next to Huhi, Darshan would probably have the most fanart of himself if we’re being totally honest.

Xmithie: Xmithie has been a staple in the NA LCS since his time way back in Season 3 with Team FeaR and Team Vulcun. He’s been a stable force in the scene, never quite as strong as some of his flashier compatriots in the Jungle, yet Xmithie never failed though to remain a rock and foundational piece for many a team. Hell, he was the unchallenged Best Lee Sin NA for a while folks…

Over the shoulder eye brow raising smoulder. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

But more than that, Xmithie fit into the CLG story line as that Steady and Silent one. For the entirety of the Spring split and into MSI, Xmithie put in production for the team, helping his lane mates get ahead and maintaining overall map control.

He was there where and when the team needed him and read the game to know who to set up and get ahead. In some ways he was like a tactician for the squad, if not for Aphro’s obvious influence in that department. He was, however, always the quietest member it felt like. He wouldn’t be the player dominating a scene in the show, but he would show up at the right time to help a fellow player. The strong, silent type that always held a place in your heart for his sincere concern for his fellows.

 

Huhi: Huhi came in as a heavily scrutinized player, always at the center of criticism for the team and seemingly always the one that had to go. Still, through all of this, it seemed like the bubbly personality of Huhi persisted on. While notorious for his pocket picks like Aurelion Sol, Huhi’s performance on the rift has always been polarizing. He’s either the one surprisingly carrying his whole team on his giant space dragon back, or the one that’s the anchor for the early game of the team. Huhi was always a polarizing player, but he was never a negative player.

If you don’t find this image heart warming and wholesome, I ask you kindly, but firmly, to leave. Courtesy of Yahoo Esports.

It was his off the rift presence that was the perfect fit for somewhere between the comedic relief and the adorable one of the group. Just check his Twitter, and see the beauty that is the HuhixHaru.

It was, however, I think Huhi’s defining feature in my mind of his overall positive attitude in the face of adversity. He always seemed happy, always ready to try and prove himself again, and never daunted by opponents or critics. He would keep the team cheery and would offer his positive attitude to the team atmosphere.

Stixxay: Fans of CLG may have forgotten this, but Stixxay was considered once one of the weakest members of CLG for a time. Not many should be surprised by this, as stepping into the shoes of ace ADC and Best in the West Doublelift is definitely a tall task. But Stixxay never seemed fazed by those who didn’t believe in him. He was always stepping up, and I think the shinning moment of his Spring career was the Tristana play that propelled them to their victory over TSM and onto the MSI tournament.

From Zero to Hero in no time flat. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In a lot of ways, Stixxay would seem our protagonist for this show. The young kid, stepping into the ace role for a team, under heavy scrutiny by fans and pundits, and with a kind of self confidence in himself and his team that felt slightly above what one might feel was warranted. He and Aphromoo set out to prove everyone wrong, the young gun under the mentorship of the leader and brain in the botlane duo of Rush Hour.

Interviews with Stixxay showed this side time and time again: he felt he was good, damn good, but not in a pretentious way, not by putting others down or overstating his point. He felt he had the mechanics and just needed the time to ripen and he could match Doublelift’s legacy. Well, as a spoiler, it seemed he wasn’t too far off, and while a discussion of whether he’s ‘better than’ Doublelift or not would be a hotly contested debate, it’s safe to say that the rookie has proved himself, long before gaining the moniker of Big Dixxay.

Aphromoo: If ever there was a franchise player to match the level of Doublelift, it could be argued that it would be Aphromoo. Support, as a position, occupies a unique role within League of Legends: they’re both the ones to set up the plays and their lane mates success, while also generally tasked with the shotcalling role. In short, the best Supports are often the ultimate altruistic leaders. Aphromoo is no exception to this role either, often being praised as the driving force behind CLG’s success, being the leader the team needs on and off the rift.

There are certain players whose reputation transcends their on the Rift abilities. Aphromoo is one such player. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

It’s the perfect plot line too. The mentor, the veteran, the one left behind the famous departure of lanemate Doublelift. Aphromoo had to prove himself not only mechanically as a player, but to prove himself to the team captain and mentor everyone believed he could be. He was given the untested, gifted, and highly coachable player that was Stixxay, and their role in the team ultimately became the lynch pin for their success.

While Darshan was known for his split pushing, Huhi his pocket picks and Xmithie for his selfless jungling style, it was the Bot lane duo that often was tasked to face some of the best and strongest opponents and carry. If it’s not a saying, it should be, that behind every God ADC is a Support who whipped them into shape, and look no further for proof of this then the Lethal Weapon duo that is Stixxay and Aphromoo.

Zikz: An untested team needs a leader, but it also needs a coach. Zikz stepped into the role of Head Coach before the roster was finalized, replacing William “scarra” Li and being promoted from Head Analyst position. Fans will remember Zikz for his simple, elegant style, a classy suit and non-distracting hair gave him the appearance of a largely non-menacing coach. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Zikz has established himself in the coaching role, holding one of the longest tenures as such, in a position that largely has seen more revolving doors than an European Super Team.

“Ok guys, if we destroy their Nexus first we win. Break!” Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

So how does Zikz play into this story? Well, he’s the behind the scene coach, the one who propels his team, prepares them to the best he can, and then sits there and watches as his work and tactics unfold before his eyes. Zikz was always there with his team, laughing, encouraging, being one on one with many of the players, and arguably a lot of CLG’s success can be placed as a fact of his impressive coaching. He was a strong Runner Up for the Coach of the Spring Split in 2016, and is a constant contender for the best coach each split.

He also plays the role of the coach who not much is known about. He’s been a relative silent force in CLG’s presence, and while this fits that narrative well of the behind the scenes coach who is stronger than he comes off, it also gave him the kind of mysterious aspect to him. All he needs is some glasses to push up his nose menacing when a team falls into his well laid trap and he’d be perfect.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 everyone!

Is That a Jojo Reference? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr and bad MS Paint skills.

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Power Rankings: #3 western team

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

Exceeding Expectations

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

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Weaknesses

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Hai

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

Prediction

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

Lose 1-3 to CLG

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

 

The Players in the Jerseys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The X Factor

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

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

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

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

 

Predictions

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

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

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

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

NALCS Week 3 Key Matchups To Watch

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

Photo Courtesy of Youtube

Team Solo Mid vs CLG

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

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

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

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

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

Flyquest vs Dignitas

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Phoenix1 vs. Team Solo Mid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Echo Fox vs. Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

A Tale of Two Team Managements: Post NA LCS Finals Discussion

 

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

While a lot of the story lines being covered center around the games themselves and what laid up to them, it’s another thing to note the actual development philosophy of the two teams that actually made it to the finals: CLG and TSM. As we’ll get to in the article, these two teams took very different approaches to forming their squads in the post-Worlds off season, and it is definitely clear that neither approach could be said to be superior to the other currently. For CLG it was a more ‘Ember-esque’ approach, one that focused on the team, its environment, and fostering teamwork and cooperation in and off the rift. For TSM, not saying these previous factors weren’t involved, it was about the star power, about the raw, mechanical skill that makes a team do crazy good things. It was about getting the best in the West together and making the strongest team for raw star power that NA has ever seen. Both team styles showed to be viable in the finals, and it’ll be great to see if both are able to keep up their performances going forward.

I’d like it to be on record that I actually predicted the results from the right half of the bracket correct: I saw Liquid easily moving past NRG, falling to CLG in a tight five game series, with CLG moving onto the finals where they would win that in another close five game series. I just thought that’d be against Immortals or Cloud 9. It was an absolutely insane showing by fan favourite TSM, the 6th seed, to make it to the finals, and not because they got placed against ‘easy opponents.’ They overcame both Cloud 9 and Immortals, the two teams slated to possibly even meet in the finals. The left half of the bracket was a completely unpredictable beast that had all the TSM doubters quickly silenced.

In a lot of ways I think this is probably the greatest way for the finals to go: The new guard, the upstarts, the hyped Titan killers in Immortals and Liquid ultimately falling to the veteran organizations, the time trialed and well-worn path of the old guards in the two oldest teams in the league: TSM and CLG. I also think it should be a humbling experience for those new guard teams, and a need for the organization to make sure their infrastructure is properly in place for the teams to at once not take this too badly, but also to understand where things went wrong.

 

CLG: The Big Ember that Could

 

Wow. What an absolute roller coaster CLG has been in the past year. We saw the suffering Faith Age turn into the Golden Age, with an NA LCS title in the Summer, a strange showing at Worlds (hey, that’s an accomplishment for the team, being at Worlds that is,) and what seemed to be further sunny ways as rivals TSM, the fierce rival of the org, looked to have to rebuild their roster. Then the Dark Age came, CLG dropped both Doublelift and Pobelter, and the fans were torn apart. Doublelift, particularly, was seen as the team’s longest player, but also their strongest and the star power. He also was a main reason for fans of CLG to stick around. The Rush Hour lane was an absolute tyrant in lane and team fights, it’s hard to really see any reason to drop that. Pobelter, too, is a good mid laner, who eventually moved to the newly minted Immortals side to much success there in the Regular season. And then the absolutely unforeseeable happened to Doublelift: he turned in the Blue and Gray of CLG for the Gray and Black of TSM, CLG’s rivals.

The Dark Age seemed to only get worse: CLG brought secondary Mid laner in Huhi to the starting roster, and promoted Stixxay, a relatively unheard of ADC, from their Challenger squad to the starting roster. What an absolutely insane roster move, the fans decried. Most weren’t even calling it a roster move but a full on roster downgrade, purposefully shooting themselves in the foot after such a great showing from the team. It wasn’t a talent upgrade by any stretch of the imagination, that can’t be denied. While CLG went on to say that Stixxay, particularly Aphromoo his fellow bot laner and Support, was on par with Doublelift mechanically, it was a questionable statement to begin with. Was this new rookie really a contender against the fabled Doublelift?

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Well, if he wasn’t the team was able to pick up the slack. They beat Korean side Jin Air Green Wings in a best of three at IEM San Jose, an impressive feat for any NA side, they went 13-5 in the Regular split, getting the oh so coveted semi-finals berth, and a tough road ahead of them to defend their NA LCS title as more than just a fluke in the system. Many doubted them along the whole way: they questioned whether the squad was talented enough, saying they were one dimensional in a split push style, their wins were too cheesy for a best of five series style, they’d crumble and choke once it came down to it, you name it, people probably said it about the team. Some slated the CLG Age to have turned to the Silver Age: a second place showing would be a win for the organization, and many fans shot for just that in their aspirations. Nobody really thought CLG could pull off another Title.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

Many analysts rightly identified that CLG was an experiment of a very different breed of team management: the long-term, rebuilding mindset. Bring on new talent, rookies with prospective futures, ride out a few bad seasons until they’ve been polished enough to truly shine. It’s an age-old process in traditional sports: as your star talents start to falter, get old, demanding too much money or being emotionally disruptive, a team has to look to rebuild itself around new, young talent. Doublelift wasn’t old (I hope not, he’s only 22!) but his mentality has been hinted at multiple times by current CLG players as having a negative effect on the atmosphere. Talent only gets you so far before your team mates start not feeling comfortable beside you, and that seems to have been what happened in the CLG camp.

They also moved towards what could maybe be called an ‘Ember approach’ to team management, alluding to the current (past? Now defunct? Who really knows…) Challenger Series squad of Ember. Many NA fans will remember their desires to build ‘better humans’ to make better athletes, working on the emotional side of their players just as much as their in-game skills. Fostering talent, too, was a big feature, and what better way to do that then to promote from within the organizations ‘farm team’ and their back bench? Rather than looking abroad for international talent, the team made the conscientious decision to stick within themselves and work as a team. And my gods, what a beautiful team that was when it worked.

 

TSM: The Best of the Best

 

TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM. Sorry, sometimes Twitch chat comes out when I think of TSM. The easily NA fan favourite squad is none other than TSM. The team is just as storied and Legacy as Counter Logic Gaming, just with a lot more success until most recent times. TSM has been much like the European side of Fnatic: always showing up in the playoffs, making it to the finals and either claiming it for themselves or falling but still walking away with the glittering Silver. The team’s practically synonymous for most with NA League, and deservedly so, and they’ve been in a situation unlike CLG where they’ve been able to validate their fans time and time again. But the team’s showings last year, from their regular season shakiness back in Summer 2015, to their falling out of Worlds like much of NA, and mediocre international results, caused this old guard team to do a radical roster shake up: they dropped every player outside of star mid laner Bjergsen. I doubt any League fan will ever forget the Dyrus good bye speech, but outside of that much of the roster faded away without much ceremony. Wildturtle went to Immortals, Lustboy has all but disappeared like John Cena, and Santorin was shipped around to multiple Challenger Series teams trying to make an name for himself.

Spoiler: TSM's roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

Spoiler: TSM’s roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

But who would fill out the legendary squad that is TSM? Well, nothing below legendary players, it would seem. Hauntzer was recruited from NA side Gravity, easily the strongest player on the Gravity side and probably one of the top three NA top laners around. Svenskeren was brought over from the now defunct SK Gaming side to fill the Jungler position, replacing fellow Dane Santroin, which seemed to be another easy upgrade. Sven’s aggressive play style fits well with the TSM identity of heavy team fight focus. Doublelift, as we said above, was brought in from rivals CLG and was seen to be another clear upgrade. Doublelift was one of the few NA ADCs able to compete internationally, and so he seemed a clear pick. Yellowstar was tapped on the shoulder to replace Lustboy, probably the second biggest player to fill out the new TSM 2.0. Yellowstar’s tenure with Fnatic is legendary, and particularly his role as crucial Team captain in the rebuilding of Fnatic after the xPeke exit was arguably the reason Fnatic were able to do their perfect split. There wasn’t much to say about this roster but “wow.” It was the most star studded, international, NA team ever. And fans were hyped, until it just seemed to fail time and time again.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

TSM came into the playoffs as the 6th seed after a pretty atrocious regular season that had many TSM fans bemoaning a decline that just didn’t make sense. But there was a silent murmur in the NA LCS fandom and abroad even, whispers muttered in the dark of the time-tested truth: TSM shows up in Playoffs. Worry mounted as Cloud 9 easily dismantled TSM in the first game of the best of 5, but the next three games were absolutely dominated by the fan favourite in TSM. An upset of note, yes, but Cloud 9 was another team that seemed to be all over the place at times. It was an understandable possibility. But surely TSM would fall in their next endeavour: a best of five against the only other team other than Fnatic to almost make it to a perfect split in Immortals. Immortals looked absolutely disgusting throughout the regular split, but again murmurs were heard, as the Immortal side looked very, very, weak against Renegades and Dignitas, being bullied outright by the former. The side wasn’t the same as it had been earlier.

TSM breezed past the faltering Immortals to blaze their way to the finals against long-time rivals CLG and a repeat of last year’s Summer Split finals. Many had said it would be an easy victory for the TSM boys, and what looked to be the most unlikely story line to ever unfold almost seemed to be within grasp. But the games were back and forth evenly, CLG claiming the first, TSM the second, etc. It came down to a 2-2 record with the last game being the decider. And it was only befitting that the came was a nail biter of tension that was palpable, with teams making great plays (CLG’s grabbing baron) that were only meet with setbacks (TSM all but wiping CLG afterwards.) CLG eventually came out on top, after a crazy close teamfight that eventually saw the team pushing into TSM’s base to claim the second NA LCS trophy for the CLG side.

 

The Take Away

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I do not think in any way shape or form TSM fans should be too deeply saddened by their team’s performance. From 6th seed to second place is one helleva trip, and the team looked better than ever. If this is the TSM of Summer split, then the TSM of old may very well be back. That can only mean great things for NA overall. TSM need to make sure they keep up whatever they did during the playoffs, which’ll be aided by the move to Bo3’s for the Summer split. I think TSM have a good chance moving ahead, and I highly doubt any roster changes will happen for the team now. They’ll need to look within, work on their own form, clear up some of their internal infrastructure, and try to keep whatever spirit possessed them to bring them to where they were just a few short days ago: the Finals of the NA LCS.

CLG, too, doesn’t look like they’ll be resting on their laurels anytime soon. The squad, who almost unanimously everyone doubted and trash talked, shut up doubters (well, the ones who aren’t stubborn,) who doubted whether they were even a top-tier NA team, let alone the ‘best.’ Nobody will ever agree on who is really the best, but winning two LCS finals sure does help. The team looks to be moving in the right direction with their rookies, and fans can only hope that they’ve yet to reach their skill ceiling, and with further nourishing they’ll grow even stronger. CLG’s staff will need to make sure to patch up the holes and problems the squad experienced, and maybe attempt to deepen those champion pools and drafting process for the squad. But CLG looks strong, very strong, coming into the Summer split. They’ve shown that they’re not a one trick pony either, and as much as fans of the other teams will still use it against them, it does make a statement that they won their final game off a decisive team fight and not just a split pushing Darshan.

What C9 vs CLG Taught us

1) Rush is a God:
Little else needs to be said here. Rush was last’s splits MVP, and he has translated his individual skills to C9. With his super aggressive style of counterjungling, and his carry mentality, Rush has managed to carry C9 multiple times. Although they lost against CLG, he pulled many clutch Insect Kicks on priority targets that gave hope to C9 fans. Jensen put his hands on Le Blanc, a play making champion. However, it seems that all the highlights came from Rush, who made possible a C9 comeback.

c9 rush
2) C9 is an incredible entertaining team to watch:
C9 has been the most entertaining team to watch this season. With few decisive victories, and few decisive defeats, C9 has made every game they played very entertaining to watch. Coupled with the fact that their games are usually close, C9 has many individual talented players who like to play champions with outplay potential.
C9 probably participated in the top three most exciting games to watch this season, making them an all around great team to watch.

hhai
3) Hai’s shotcalling is not world-class anymore:

Hai was considered a strong individual player early in his career, it has been a long time since he has been considered a carry player or a strong individual player. It seems Bunnyfufu is much stronger individually than Hai is. Nonetheless, C9 necessitates Hai’s shotcalling, he has played three roles and has been unsuccessful individually in all of them.
In the game against CLG, Hai got caught a few times costing precious gold and time to his team. It is unfair to say it was his fault since Darshan was so far ahead of Balls, but one wonders how good Hai could be if he had better knowledge of the role. He has been playing the role for only ten weeks and is already showing that his shotcalling alone is enough to give him the starting position. Hai is a player to keep an eye on as he gets more comfortable in the role.
4) Split push is not as good as the other strategies:
It has been since season 3 where Jax was a split push monster and the strategy was widely used. With the addition of new objectives and fast-paced games, it seems that splitpush is a strategy that has not been strong for a long time now.
Darshan, whom was using Jax, was 2.5k gold ahead of Lulu, yet he had trouble getting any towers. My problem with split push strategies is that it is almost impossible to crack inhibitor towers split pushing alone in competitive gaming. Jax only cracked the inhibitor tower by dying to Le Blanc who recalled as Jax was getting the tower. As Jax died, Lulu teleported to the Baron pit and C9 got the Baron. Even though Jax managed to get the inhibitor tower it seems they gave more than what they got.
In my view, whenever there is a split push it seems that whoever wins the 4v4 wins the game, and that is why in my opinion splitpush strategies are not as strong unless a splitpush champion is OP, like Fiora is now.
5) C9 looks better with Hai:
Hai said in the post-game interview that he had made mistakes in the shotcalling. In the past, Hai barely ever made serious mistakes shotcalling. He was never the God of mid-lane, but his shotcalling was definitely world-class. His shot-calling is still one of the best, but changes in meta and role swaps made have altered his view on the game. His shotcalling form support role has not been as impressive, but as he adapts and learns the role, one can only expect good things to come .

Hai is still an essential piece in the C9 puzzle. That shows that C9 has a high skill-cap and they should continue to rapidly improve in the coming weeks as Hai gets more confortable in the support role.

 

courtesy of snsgamers.com and lolesports.com