NALCS: Grading the Newest Imports

This season, in particular, we got the chance to see some big names imported into the NALCS scene. With the split coming to a close soon, I thought I’d review some of the bigger pickups by teams. It will always be an ongoing debate of whether having an all English speaking team is better than having to integrate international players.

This was evident this split, as teams with big name imports, such as Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals stumbled out of the gate. Their team synergy seemed off with top lane imports, especially when using teleport and team fighting.

Phoenix 1’s Arrow and RYu

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has stormed onto the NALCS scene. After playing the last few seasons on KT, Arrow made the move to North America with Phoenix1. Many questioned how much Arrow was being carried by a talented KT roster. Nobody really knew how well Arrow was going to perform, as he’d have to learn English for the first time.

Arrow has heavily exceeded expectations as he’s developed into one of the best ADC’s in North America. His skill shot accuracy on utility carries such as Varus and Jhin has made him one of P1’s most valuable players. He currently leads all ADC’s in KDA, DMG%, and DPM. All key stats for an ADC. He has undoubtedly taken the role of best ADC in North America.

Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, on the other hand, had the advantage of playing in Europe. With his experience on H2K, he’d become accustomed to communicating in English. Ryu hasn’t skipped a beat since coming to NA. He is a solid mid laner for his team and is definitely able to keep up with the talent in the region. He currently has the fourth highest KDA and CSD@10.

Phoenix1 has been able to surge from being a relegation team last split, to title contenders. Ryu and Arrow have been key pickups, and Phoenx1 deserve praise for being able to integrate these two talented imports.

Grade: A+

Echo Fox’s Looper

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was brought into Echo Fox after a last place finish in Summer. Looper was brought in as someone who knew what it took to win a championship. Some say he benefited from having a world class shot caller in support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.

Looper’s tank play has been disjointed from his team at times. His teleport plays may seem a bit off, but it may also be Echo Fox as a team being a bit indecisive. He still has pretty strong laning as he’s fourth in CSD@10, but is near the bottom in KDA.

Looper hasn’t necessarily been a weakness on this team, but he’s certainly not one of the main carries either. Echo Fox as a whole has struggled with mid game shot calling. Their early game is pretty decent, but they usually have no idea how to translate it into a victory.

Grade: B-

Dignitas’ Ssumday and Chaser

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho was arguably one of the biggest names to enter the NALCS in recent history. From his time with KT, he had become heralded as one of the best top laners in the world. Dignitas as a team struggled out of the gate making plays as a team. Bringing in former Apex coach David “Cop” Roberson has seemed to help immensely.

Ssumday individually has played quite well. He has had a few games where he just straight up carried Dignitas on a high skill champion, such as Fiora. With the meta shifting somewhat off of tanks, we may see Ssumday start to do more work. He currently leads the league in CSD@10 and is tied for first in DMG%.

Dignitas’ jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun maybe wasn’t as hyped up as Ssumday, but was still expected to do well. Chaser struggled in his first few weeks of LCS. In a carry jungle meta, he wasn’t making the sort of impact his team needed. Dignitas seemed to struggle with pulling the trigger on engages, but have gotten much better.

Chaser has stepped up most recently. He currently holds the second highest kill participation and had a dominant series in a crucial win over Team Liquid this week.

With Dignitas beginning to look like the possible fourth best team, Ssumday and Chaser have been key contributors. Individually, Chaser may have struggled to start out the split, but he has been getting better each week.

Grade: A

Immortals’ Flame and Olleh

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong came onto Immortals with high expectations. After spending time as a sub in China, he came to North America looking to takeover the North American scene. Many questioned if he’d be able to work with jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Both players were infamous for having attitude issues on previous teams.

As with most of the teams that had imports, Flame struggled out of the gate. His teleport plays always seemed way out of sync with the rest of his team. He would often times get caught out split pushing or engaging without the help of his team. In recent weeks, Immortals have fixed some of the issues plaguing them, and look to be contenders for a playoff spot. Flame is second in CSD@10, but still holds one of the worst KDA’s among top laners.

Support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung was a lesser known import to most spectators. He had spent some time on Brazil’s Pain Gaming and LMS’ Hong Kong Esports. Olleh hasn’t necessarily stuck out as a big play-maker support, but that could be due to playing with a rookie ADC in Cody Sun. He’s currently middle of the pack in KDA, but does lead the league in Wards per minute.

Immortals haven’t necessarily been winning off their imports’ play. It’s mostly been heavily reliant on how well jungler Dardoch plays. If he doesn’t do well, there usually isn’t someone else left to help carry the game.

 

Grade: C

Team Envyus’ Lira

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Despite not playing the first week due to visa issues, jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo has looked like a good player on a bad team. Often times when Envyus gets upset wins, it is due to the early activity of Lira. He currently has the fourth best first blood percentage and KDA among junglers.

It’s hard to grade Lira due to where Envyus is in the standings. Without him, they might be winless and headed for relegation. With him, though, I don’t see them losing their LCS spot, especially with the junglers currently playing the Challenger Series.

I’d love to see how he does with a better mid laner, perhaps. Lira has definitely been one of the more effective imports. It seems like Envyus could do well if they got a better player at mid. Other teams may look to seek his services in the off season as he seems to be adapting well.

Grade: B+

 

 

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Notable Role Swaps in NALCS History

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

CLG’s Role Swaps (Seasons 2-3)

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

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

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

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

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

Xmithie and Zuna Roleswap (XDG Spring season 4)

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

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

Altec to Support (Winterfox Spring Season 5)

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

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

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

Voyboy from Top to Mid (Team Curse)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Saintvicious Jungle to Support (Team Curse)

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

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

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

KiWiKiD Top Lane to Support (Team Dignitas Season 4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Hopes for Team Liquid

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

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

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

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

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

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

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

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

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

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

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

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

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

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

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

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

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

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: A

 

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

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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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NALCS Teams On the Hot Seat

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

Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

 

Immortals

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Team Dignitas

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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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North American LCS Pre-Season Power Rankings

With the North American LCS just days away, I’ve decided to give my take on how I rank the teams coming into the season. My rankings are based off how I believe the teams will finish at the end of Spring Split, based on their roster and coaching. I’m going to judge players based on their most recent performances and the region they were competing in. Some teams may struggle to find their synergy, but in the end this is how I believe the teams will play out.

10. EnVyUs

EnVyUs returns three out of five members that made playoffs last Summer. With most teams improving around them, I can’t see this team really contending for playoffs again. Nam “LiRa” Tae-yoo is an upgrade in the Jungle. Keeping Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo as an import slot and downgrading in ADC from Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, to Apollo “Apollo” Price will hurt them though. They’re both average at best for their carry roles, and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent hasn’t really shown much from Support. Top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and Lira may be able to carry a few games, but the Top lane talent in NA is so much stronger this year with Ssumday and Looper being added to the mix. I just don’t see this team coming together unless Ninja significantly improves from last split. I think it’s also a bit troubling that the bot lane has a language barrier with the rest of the map.

9. Echo Fox

Henrik “Froggen” Hansen leads the way once again this Split, this time alongside former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok in the Top lane. Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham steps in to replace Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev as a rookie Jungle talent. He has made appearances on Challenger teams before, so he’s not completely new to competitive Jungling. Playing on stage could be a huge adjustment for him though. Yuri “Keith” Jew and Austin “Gate” Yu round out the Bot lane as subpar talents at best. Keith showed glimpses of how good he could become on TL and from his own SoloQue time in Korea. Maybe playing with a better support could help him, but he may have already hit his ceiling. Echo Fox might need to improve in other areas of the roster outside of their solo lanes to be able to contend.

8. Flyquest

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

The original C9 returns to the LCS with a few new faces joining them, and having one of the worst team names I’ve ever seen. Galen “Moon” Holgate joins the team replacing Juan “Contractz” Garcia in the Jungle. Daerek “LemonNation” Hart will have a chance to experiment with the new 10 ban system, as he was one of the first innovators for really mind-gaming pick-ban in pro League of Legends. The last time we saw An “Balls” Le his play had been on the decline, so he’ll need to show he can still play at a high level for this team to avoid relegations. Hai “Hai” Lam will always be a strong shot caller, but the individual talent around him may not be strong enough for them to really contend. Moon and Johnny “Altec” Ru once looked like promising young prospects, but never developed into the stars many teams hoped for. Lemonnation’s pick-ban and Hai’s shotcalling may win them a few games, but mechanically most of the roster looks like washed up veterans and young talent that never reached their potential.  

7. Immortals

Immortals nearly lost all of their roster from last Split, but have brought on some big names to replace them. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett steps into the jungle after a rocky ending with Team Liquid, where ego issues were an obvious problem. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong, a longtime star Top laner, comes in after spending some time in Korea and China. Former wildcard All-star Support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, joins rookie, Li Yu “Cody Sun” Sun, in the bot lane. Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Flame, and Dardoch are all individually very talented players, but I think if this team doesn’t find success early, attitude issues may arise. We’ve seen how Dardoch can tilt in games from TL’s Breaking Point, and I think those same issues will hinder them with a fairly new Bot lane in their first Split in LCS.    

6. Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 is my darkhorse team for this season.  They bring back rising star Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh, who basically solo-carried them to give TSM their only loss of Summer Split. They bring in star import carries Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon who looked very good in their respective regions. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA in LCK, only behind SKT’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik. Ryu was also regarded as one of the better Mid laners in EU, and comes in already having learned English playing with H2K. Adrian “Adrian” Ma is definitely an upgrade at support, but we’ll need to see if he can finally perform well in playoffs if P1 make it that far. Derek “zig” Shao will need to build off his rookie split for this team to have some real success with all the top lane talent entering the region.  They also brought back Coach Fly who coached when they were Team Impulse. Kim “Fly” Sang-chul is highly respected as a coach, coming off a Worlds run with Royal Never Give Up. If communication issues don’t hinder them, I could see this team contending for top four.  

5. Team Liquid

Team Liquid comes in as the only known six man roster, rotating their Mid between Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.  They have two of the best players in the world at their positions in Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. It will be interesting to see if Reignover is able to show off the same success without Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo by his side. Top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson looks to build off a good IEM Gyeonggi performance, where he looked like he could be a main carry for the team. Support Matt “Matt” Elento looked to have the most confidence playing with Piglet last season, so I think he returns to the big playmaker we saw before the switch. Along with the new coaching staff, this team looks strong. The only big question mark is in Mid lane. Bringing in LiNK makes me think that the team doesn’t fully believe Goldenglue is ready to be a starting LCS Mid laner. With that sort of uncertainty, it makes me question how consistent a North American team can be with two Mid laners since we’ve really only seen it work in other regions.  

4. Counter Logic Gaming

The five best friends all return for CLG and look to prove synergy can trump individual talent once again. You can never count these guys out, with superstar Support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, leading the way. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes comes in as probably the best AD in North America with Doublelift stepping down for the Split. Jake “Xmithie” Puchero is always that steady, consistent Jungler who does what the team needs. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha had his inconsistencies at times, but he showed up quite well for them at Worlds. Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun will need to step up his champion pool with Riot’s 10 ban system coming in. If he replicates the same issue with being only able to perform godly on one or two champions, this team will have problems and likely see a roster change for Summer if they really want to compete at Worlds.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

3. Dignitas

Dignitas looks to try to replicate the success Fnatic had, bringing in Korean talents in the Top lane and Jungle. The difference with Dignitas is that these aren’t two rookie subs with no stage experience. These are two well known players, regarded as some of the best in the World. Top laner, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, has been one of the best in LCK for the last two seasons and had a monstrous showing at Worlds two seasons ago. Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun comes from Jungling against some of the best in LCK, into a rather weak NA scene, Jungler wise. He held one of the highest kill participation ratings in LCK, so he’ll be active around the map. Benjamin “LOD” deMunck is a significant upgrade to Apollo “Apollo” Price since he matches Xpecial’s aggressive style much better. Lae-Young “Keane” Jang is heavily underrated, and the 10 ban system won’t hinder him as much as other players since we’ve seen what his champion ocean holds. With Korean coaches assisting the team, communication issues may not be as bad as people may think. If things come together as well as they look on paper, we could see this team contend for a North American title.

 

2. TSM

TSM comes in with only one roster change: bringing in former ADC Jason “WildTurtle” Tran to replace superstar Doublelift. A lot of people consider this a tremendous downgrade in terms of skill, but I personally believe they’ll be able to adapt without having too much trouble. Wildturtle matches the aggression that TSM like to play with, so I don’t think that should be an issue. However, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang and Wildturtle looked outclassed by UOL’s bot lane at IEM Oakland. Wildturtle is also not known for being a strong laner, and I see TSM struggling to continue gaining huge early game leads because of that. I understand that they hadn’t practiced much before that tournament, but it has to worry you a bit looking forward. Having one of the best Mid-Jungle duos in the World will always keep you at the top of the standings. We can’t forget this team only dropped one game after the change to best of three’s. TSM has a very good drafting phase and coaching structure. They’re also known to work harder than any other team in North America, so I don’t see them dropping out of the top two just yet. I do want to make a bold prediction that Doublelift will need to return at some point in the Split if the team struggles.

1.Cloud 9
Cloud 9 is in a similar situation to TSM in having only one roster change. Most people would say William “Meteos” Hartman stepping down from the jungle, and Juan “Contractz” Garcia coming in would be a significant upgrade. Meteos seemed to have hit his ceiling as a pro, and bringing in a young hungry talent into the Jungle may be the jump start this team needs to start competing on the World Stage. Andy “Smoothie” Ta looks to build off a poor showing at Worlds and get back to the greatness he showed in Summer. Jensen will need to become more consistent if this team wants to really contend for Worlds. Cloud 9 loves this meta as they have top talents in just about every lane. It will be up to Contractz to make sure he can keep up. With the help of head coach Reapered, I think his adjustment into LCS should go smoothly and C9 take the reign as North America’s top team. 

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NA LCS Spring Split Story lines to follow: Preseason Edition

It’s a new year and a new season with the NA LCS Spring Split just around the corner! To welcome in the hype of a new year, I’ll be bringing you the top four story lines to follow going into this NA LCS Split! Also, a quick TL;DR is at the bottom for those in a rush!

The Rebuilds: New players, same placements?

Two of NA’s more troubled franchises, Team Liquid and Immortals, went into what could only be called a ‘rebuilding’ phase over the off season. Immortals, dominating during their regular split showings, always seemed to struggle in their playoff runs. Liquid, on the other hand, seemed to always have mediocre placings during the regular splits, while meeting similar middle of the road results during their postseason matches.

Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Immortals’ rebuild wasn’t much by choice, as the majority of their roster left for greener pastures elsewhere. Retaining Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, the Immortals side cobbled together a team that is hard to argue as, on paper, more talented than their previous.

Acquiring polarizing talent in Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is a good core to build around, but given it was a replacement for Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin it’s hard to view it as a clear upgrade. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong is another solid pick up for the team. Again though, observers are left wondering whether he will be better than Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Whether rookie Li “Cody” Yu Sun and Korean import Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung will be a strong bot lane is another question hanging over the roster.

Can one time world Champ Piglet bring help Liquid ascend? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Liquid seemed to have a lot more agency in their rebuilding choices, looking towards internal problems and needing a change of scenery to make it further.  The team constantly fell just outside of relevancy internationally, so it seems like it was time to change the core of the roster. Keeping rookie talents in Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and Matt “Matt” Elento bring a sense of stability to the roster, with Matt being a particularly strong retention.

Promoting Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin back to the starting five was another wise choice from the team, who will hopefully bring pressure from the botlane that seemed lacking in S6. Joining him from Korea is star studded Reignover, a product of the Liquid-Immortals Jungle shuffle. His tactical mind and presence in the Jungle will need to make up for the downgrade in the Mid lane, with the departure of Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun and the rotating North American Mid laners of Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.

Either the rebuilds for these teams will go according to plan, or they’ll continue to be haunted by their postseason woes (Immortals) or stagnating mediocrity (Liquid). Their skill will truly be tested on the rift. This is something that fans will want to keep an eye on. It’s a mix of talented players, Flame/Dardoch/Pobelter for Immortals and Reignover/Piglet/Matt for Liquid, mixed with some questionable players whose skill ceilings may not be as high as fans hope. Still, super teams have failed historically and we’ve seen some incredible splits from teams that ‘shouldn’t have done well,’ like CLG in the NA LCS Spring Split in 2016. Can Immortals pull off another almost perfect split? Will Liquid rise above their middle of the pack status?

Steady as she goes: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

While our previous story line followed teams who thought a change in players was the answer, these teams have chosen (almost) the exact opposite approach. Both Cloud 9 and TSM only have a single player change in their lineups, with Juan “Contractz” Garcia replacing struggling William “Meteos” Hartman in the jungle for Cloud 9, and familiar face Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replacing the hiatus taking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the ADC role for TSM. CLG, on the other hand, did the unthinkable in the craziness of the off season; they didn’t change a single thing about their roster, retaining all five starters without bringing on any ‘backups.’

Can the CLG Fam have a repeat of last Spring Split? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

So what’s the story here? Well, it’ll be whether the stability of these rosters holds out against the crop of new, fresh talent. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell will truly be tested in the Top lane against the recent influx of Korean imports, like Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.

Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong will also be under new pressure to remain the unkillable sponge we saw in Cloud 9’s playoff run. Was struggling Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun the best choice for CLG, and not another, more talented import Mid laner? Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s reign of top NA Mid laners is also up in the air now.

Overall the real questions here is whether these were the right choices. I don’t feel like, outside of CLG, there was much room for growth in acquiring new talent for these rosters. It’s also questionable whether it will be a case of ‘synergy trumps new talent’ or if ‘stagnating water will fail.’ Truth be told, I am more supportive of the first. There is a lot to be said for team synergy and players all ‘clicking’ naturally. For the NA LCS Spring Split? I think these rosters will remain in the top four of the league. During the Summer Split? It will depend on how the other teams in the middle of the pack settle.

The return of the boys in gold and black: Dignitas’ interesting return to the LCS

Dig hold a special place in my heart like a lot of the ‘legacy’ teams do. They were there when I started getting into the scene, and it was not without a bit of sadness that I saw them relegated and dissolve their League operations. It’s great to see the team back, if for no other reason than to see another old team back on the stage.

But Dig also were the talk of the scene when they acquired Top lane talent in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and potentially scary Jungler in Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. While the team Dig bought out to return to the LCS, Apex, seemed to meander around the middle of the pack, the addition of a tried and true pattern of Top-Jungle Korea imports, alongside acquiring Benjamin “LOD” deMunck to fill the hole left by Apollo “Apollo” Price has many pundits torn on exactly where to put Dig.

The Terror in the Top Lane? Courtesy of Inven.

The big story line to follow here is whether Dig will actually make an impact in the league or not. Signing big name talent isn’t the sure fired solution to a winning team, and while it is obviously better than signing bad talent, there’s been a few examples of that failing (read Alliance and other super team failures).

But Dig isn’t just a ‘super team in the making’ kind of deal either. They’ve got serious backing from NBA franchise Philadelphia 76er’s, something Ssumday cited as a reason for joining the NA side. It’ll not be just a simple question of whether the team will click, but how the newly moneyed Dig can use those funds to make the integration of their two Korean imports as painless as possible. If they can do that and make the team mesh, we could be looking at a new top four contender. If not? Well, back to the middle of the pack for the Dig boys and hopefully avoiding relegation.

Just call me the Underdog: Can the bottom of the pack make a real move upwards?

Ahhh, the scrappy, loveable underdogs at the bottom of the heap, these teams have seen troubled splits that didn’t turn out like they probably wished. Phoenix 1, Echo Fox, EnVyUs, and newcomers FlyQuest (god awful name) are all slotted pretty low in most pundits minds. P1 struggled last split to a non-memorable split had not been for a miraculous Rengar filled win against (until then) undefeated TSM in the NA LCS Summer Split.

Echo Fox just never seemed to get much momentum going forward, with Henrik “Froggen” Hansen finding himself again in 7th place in the NA LCS Spring Split 2016 and an abysmal, single win showing in the Summer. NV, on the other hand, exploded onto the scene and hyped up many to be the next top flight team, but ultimately petered out as their Summer split continued, ultimately ending with an unsatisfying 6th place in the regular split and an early bow out from the playoffs, falling to Cloud 9. FlyQuest are newcomers to the scene, having climbed into the League from the Challenger Series under Cloud 9 Challenger and are a mix of old Cloud 9 members attempting another foray into the scene.

Can the Foxes double their wins from last split? (Surely two wins isn’t too hard…) Courtesy of Gamepedia.

The big question marks here is whether these sides will make any real waves in the scene. FlyQuest have the luxury of having no real history, so they’ll be coming in with a clean slate, but one that’s questionable as to if it’ll hold up against top flights like TSM and Cloud 9. NV will look to newcomers Nam “lira” Tae-yoo and Apollo “Apollo” Price can carry the team into the top half, but it’s questionable whether they’re even upgrades to the members they’re replacing.

It’s not a daring prediction here, but I think Echo Fox can at least improve on their one win split this time round. The real question is if they can become contenders based on how fast Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok integrates into his English speaking team? Also whether Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Austin “Gate” Yu are the answers the Foxes needed to make a dent in the scene. I’m still skeptical of this roster making any real contact with the top tier teams in the league, but I’ve been wrong before.

P1 are the only team I have serious hope for going into this split. Acquisitions of the Boss Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook from European side H2k and KT veteran ADC in No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon add depth and talent to a roster that, once finally figuring out how VISAs work, really looked to be on the up and up. Not just an upset win against TSM last split, but also starting to pick up wins against teams in tiers above them showed improvement to the remaining core of the team.

Can the Boss whip another team into a Worlds team? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

As with any prediction, it’s quite possible that I’ll be shown to be completely wrong. But I don’t think that any of the bottom tier teams outside of P1 hold much of a chance against the top half of the league. FlyQuest is untested (ironically, given the veteran status of their players) in the new competitive league, NV is a bit of a wild card on whether they’ll show up enough, and Echo Fox seems to just not have it in them to really make it far.

P1 showed themselves to be a decent team last split, with clear upgrades in Korean duo of Ryu and Arrow alongside new Support Adrian “Adrian” Ma. they seem to be the best suited to break into the middle of the pack. But, nobody predicted them to be the team to take down the undefeated TSM, so anything is possible for any of the teams at the bottom here. There’s only up to go from the bottom, right? Right? (Ohh wait, relegation exists…)

TL;DR

The Rebuilds: Liquid and Immortals enter the NA LCS Spring Split with a fresh new roster, so the question here is whether this’ll be what the doctor ordered, or whether the teams will find themselves worse for wear? Can Immortals pull off another nearly flawless split? Will Liquid finally find themselves at the top?

Steady As She Goes: TSM and C9 only changed one player on their roster, WildTurtle for Doublelift Contractz for Meteos respectively, in the off season, while CLG vouched to retain all of their starters. The question here is whether this was the right move for the teams, and whether they can continue their placements consistently being in the top four of the League.

The Return of the Boys in Gold and Black: Dignitas’ return to the LCS is met with baited hype, as the team acquired big names in Ssumday and Chaser for their top and jungler positions. Whether this will translate to a team that can challenge for top of the league will depend on how well the team meshes this split.

Just Call me the Underdog: P1, Echo Fox, NV, and newcomer FlyQuest are slated to find themselves again at the bottom of the pecking order. Some interesting off season roster changes, particularly for P1, raise questions as to whether these teams can make a real run for middle of the pack or beyond. P1 holds the highest chance in my opinion, adding depth to a roster that managed to take down TSM, but only time will tell whether this holds any truth now.

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The Birth of the Korean Top Lane Era in NA

Home Grown Talent

Without a doubt, when it comes to fostering homegrown talent in North America (NA), the scarcest position seems to be none other than the Top lane.  Aside from Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, not much can be said about the remaining North American Top laners.  You have Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, from Counter Logic Gaming, who has been declining in recent splits. Next to him, you have the up and coming Samson “Lourlo” Jackson, of Team Liquid, who has shown the ability to perform at times, but hasn’t done it consistently enough just yet.  An “Balls” Le, the former starting top laner for Cloud 9, once considered the best in his role, saw a steady decline before losing his starting role to Korean import Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.

ssumdayKorean Imports

With the recent roster announcements, teams have imported some terrifying Top laners everyone will have to compete with for next split.  To begin, we have Dignitas bringing in KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-Ho, known to be one of the best Top laners in the world from his performances in these past two LCK seasons.  He had a tremendous showing at Worlds 2015 and it appears that the money Dignitas received from the 76ers has helped them bring in their star Top laner.  Than you have Echo Fox acquiring former Samsung White World Champion, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.  Looper is a seasoned veteran, competing at World’s last season with China’s Royal Never Give Up at an extremely high level. Cloud 9’s infamous “top die” laner we’ve all come to love, Impact, absolutely destroyed during playoffs once the meta shifted off of lane swaps and will look to continue that trend this season. He’s also a former World Champion with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3 Worlds and was a main carry for C9 during their run to Worlds last season.  Immortals made sure to keep up with the other top lane imports by bringing in none other than Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong a longtime name in pro League of Legends and known for the “Flame Horizon” (being ahead of your enemy top laner by 100+ cs).  

Why Top Lane?

With all these imports coming in, it amplifies the discussion of why top lane seems to be the hardest position to garner any talent within NA.  Attempting to think of upcoming challenger Top laners, names like Cris, Solo, and RF Legendary come to mind.   Cristian “Cris” Rosales has been a long time top laner “memed” as good enough to dominate in the challenger series but not good enough to find success on a top LCS roster.  Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta had a good run with team Renegades through the Challenger series qualifying for LCS but was simply not up to par with LCS level Top laners and has bounced around multiple challenger teams since.  Colin “Solo” Earnest has made appearances in team Ember, and most recently, Team Liquid Academy, but hasn’t been able to reach LCS just yet.  Beyond Hauntzer, Darshan and Lourlo, no NA resident Top laners have been given a shot at a starting position on an LCS team, aside from subbing a game or two due to visa issues with imports.

So what is it about Korean Top laners that make them so much better than all other regions?  In terms of champion pools, you don’t see a lot of champion picks from Korean Top laners be chosen in other regions.  High mechanical Top lane champions such as Riven or Yasuo rarely get touched in some regions as opposed to Korea, where players like Smeb and Huni have shown the ability to solo carry games on them.  Even Jeon “Ray” Ji-won former Apex Top laner (now C9 sub), had his signature full Attack Damage split push Jarvan he would pull out that allowed him to carry games.  You just don’t see the same carry potential coming out of NA Top laners.  Korean’s teleport (TP) usage has always been above par, and that has a lot to do with coaching in Korea.  Korean teams have always been heralded as the kings of macro play and it helps tremendously with setting up huge plays using TP.  It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in North America with the language barrier and possibility of inferior coaching.   

We are in store for an intriguing 2017 season of the NA LCS with all these new roster changes making the region look stronger than it’s ever been.  It’s safe to say fans are extremely excited to see the competition in Top lane be at an all time high with all these stars coming in.  We’ll have to wait and see whether these big names can live up to the hype, or flounder under their new organizations.

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immortals

Photo Courtesy of immortals.gg

Next-Best Bell-Weather: Looking Back at ESL One Cologne

The 2016 ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier was the best qualifier for a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major in history. It had the best format. It had the best competition. As a tournament, it was the best gauge of competition for tier 2 and tier 3 teams we’ve ever had.ESLOne_Cologne_Tournament_QualifierNEW

I hope all major qualifiers after this one pick up the Swiss system. It provided a variety of well-paired and interesting match-ups. And overall, this structure feel more fair than even a double-elimination bracket, since a good team can get two unlucky matchups and still qualify. Just win three out of five, and you qualify, simple as that.

The Cologne qualifier was also a testament to how much CS:GO is growing beneath the elite level. One might think CS:GO’s competition is becoming deeper, but “broader” is more a accurate word. Why? Because the number of championship-caliber teams is lower now than it was a year ago, but the number of good teams is much larger. Many a desperate squad is jockeying for a chance in the limelight, and this made quality of play at Cologne much better than previous qualifiers. It was tough to say that any roster was a shoo-in to qualify; even G2 had to sweat to reach Cologne. In the end, some promising sides like Cloud9, Immortals (ex-Tempo Storm), and TyLoo were eliminated, while others like Gambit, FaZe, and mousesports qualified with strength we didn’t expect. Most importantly, no true clunker teams qualified for the major.

Since I’m a perfectionist, and this tournament was too full of juicy plotlines, I will not refrain. I will paint my thoughts, brief but earnest, on every team in attendance, focusing your eye on the must-learns and tracing with the lightest strokes the must-remembers. 

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What we have learned from each team in the NA LCS

(Courtesy of rankedboost.com)

(Courtesy of rankedboost.com)

1) Immortals:
They are for real, they are here to stay, and they might actually become immortals if they have a perfect split

2) NRG:
They are probably the second best team right now. The meta has not been established and the results have shown that they have a good grasp of the meta champions at the micro level. Although, they lost to Immortals, they are definitely a team to watch in the coming weeks.

3) CLG:
I am still very skeptical of their ability to close out games. Their ability to extend leads and force the enemy team to make mistakes and capitalize on them seems to be lacking. Their level 1 and early game strategies seem to be polished. With unconvincing wins against TSM and last place Liquid, I do not know if they are a top three team in NA.
CLG performed the best team-fight that I have seen in a very long time. They did so in the 27th minute against Liquid, showing the potential they have.

4) TIP:
Probably the most surprising team of the first couple of weeks. After winning both games in the second week, we learned a lot from TIP, but it seems that we learned more from the teams they beat, than from TIP.
Their players are highly motivated to be in the position they are in. Which is not what I predicted since they are under a management that was not planning to continue in the LCS. TIP does not look like a last place team, much less than the 0-18 team some people were predicting. It seems like TIP has the best approach to the game, and that is, focus on what you can do now. It seems to have worked in the second week.

5) Dignitas:
With losses against top contenders TSM and NRG, Dignitas seems to be a middle of the pack team. They have good wins against CLG and Renegades. As the season progresses I expect them to do slightly worse than they have been doing because their team does not possess the raw talent that other teams do. When the meta is well-established I expect the more talented teams to improve more.

6)C9:
I think C9 is the team we learned the most from. If you have watched NA LCS for a while now, you have probably figured that Hai is an essential component on that roster. Sneaky once said that without Hai they ran like headless chickens around the map, not knowing what to do. When I first heard it, I thought it was a little excessive, but now I am starting to believe that.
Bunnyfufu is almost undoubtedly a better mechanical player than Hai is. Hai just moved to the support role over the offseason, Bunnyfufu has been playing the role for years. Yet, Hai steps in and they win both games. Whereas, C9 could not get a win against TIP with Bunnyfufu. Maybe C9 fans just have to realize that Hai cannot retire otherwise C9 will get relegated.
It seems that Hai is indeed a world-class shotcaller, or maybe the rest of the C9 members are not on the same page.

7) TSM:
The stacked roster TSM has, did not show up big in the first two weeks. Although they were in control of the game against first-place Immortals, they have not shown that they can play as a cohesive unit. I expect them to improve considerably as they understand the meta better, but so far it has not been the TSM most people expected. I think they will finish third place, but they are not looking like a third place team right now.

8)Renegades:
RF Legendary seems to have too many issues in the top lane. They have put him on all kinds of champions fulfilling different roles, but he has been far from impressive. Although, this roster is definitely not looking to win the LCS, it seems that last place is not where they will end up either.
With losses against TIP and Dignitas, and their only win coming against Liquid, Renegades has had one of the easiest schedules so far. Yet, they have not been able to capitalize on it. Renegades is looking like a last place at the moment. Hopefully Monte can teach them how to rotate around the map and maybe they will not be relegated.

9) Liquid:
The 10 man roster they released before the season started might be useful. With a 1-3 start, coming back from a 12k gold deficit in their last game, it is safe to say that Team Liquid could easily be 0-4 today. Replacements and substitutes must be done immediately in the organization. Since Piglet came into the team, Liquid has never performed like a top-team in North America, if they want to claim such a spot, they better spice things up.

10) Echo Fox:
We learned that forfeiting games typically results in a loss.

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