What if s1mple Actually Joined the Ninjas in Pyjamas?

On Wednesday NiP played their final ECS Season 3 matches with two stand-ins following Adam “friberg” Friberg and Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg’s absences. The Swedes managed to get hold of two Natus Vincere players in Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev and Egor “flamie” Vasilyev to cover them.

While qualification was near impossible, the move sparked discussion in the community with many saying that NiP shouldn’t have been allowed to use stand-ins from another top team with LAN qualification at stake. Although the team did not qualify, they looked good taking a game off of the ever-growing G2 Esports, which begs the question, what would happen if a player like s1mple actually joined NiP?

That Barrier

At face value many would argue that the language barrier would be too great of an issue to overcome to be a consistently top team. However, this stigma has been broken before. In fact, even both s1mple and NiP have been through this exact problem.

The latter was when Finnish AWPer Aleksi “allu” Jalli joined the Ninjas. The team stated that they used a mixture of Swedish and English to communicate which would work for s1mple as well. From NiP’s performances with allu, you can tell that the language barrier was no issue. The team still managed to make the major finals and the natural decline still occurred long after Aleksi had left.

Allu reached six LAN finals with NiP. [Source: nip.gl]

On the flip side, s1mple joined American side Team Liquid in January of 2016. The Ukrainian is responsible for some of NA’s greatest international results, such as reaching the final of ESL One Cologne and the semi-finals of MLG Columbus.

The move demonstrates what adding one fantastically skilled player to a roster can do. S1mple was a few rounds shy of taking down Luminosity, now SK Gaming, in the MLG Columbus semi-finals with Eric “adreN” Hoag on his team which speaks volumes about his level of performance. It is possible that if the Ninjas were to make a similar move their form could instantly increase.

Hybrid Players

Part of Liquid’s surge in success was because s1mple is one of few top draw hybrid players. These rarities are exceptional riflers who are also competent AWPers and are often found playing as the secondary AWP in double AWP setups. Other famous examples of hybrid players are Marcelo “coldzera” David and Richard “shox” Papillon. S1mple took on this role in Wednesday’s matches where you could see he felt comfortable.

S1mple took on rifling and AWPing while on Team Liquid. [Source: Dreamhack.]

Since NiP already has a primary AWPer in the form of William “draken” Sundin, s1mple would be the perfect fit as he could pick the sniper up when needed or when he’s feeling confident. This would mean that f0rest could focus on his rifling which is his greatest talent.

Potential Signings

The potential to actually sign s1mple is unclear. I don’t think s1mple himself would oppose the move if Na’Vi’s results don’t improve soon. In his Tweet regarding the drama surrounding his stand-in, he stated: “just want my favorite team that I always cheer for to win some points in @ecsleague.” It was well known in his rise to becoming one of the world’s best players that he held f0rest and GeT_RiGhT in high regard.

The greater issue would be between the organizations. It’s all speculation of course, but I would assume that Na’Vi has placed a very hefty buyout on the superstar which NiP may be unwilling to match despite having the resources.

Since they may not be able to overcome that issue, who else could the Ninjas pick up instead of s1mple? Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas of OpTic Gaming is another European who took the plunge to move to North American and garnered results. Similarly to s1mple, mixwell is a hybrid player who likes to switch between rifle and AWP depending on how he feels. He was the catalyst to OpTic’s success in their ELEAGUE win and their consistent playoff runs.

Mixwell plays a similar role to s1mple on OpTic Gaming. [Source: ESL]

Another highly publicized pick up would be Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså. Although he could not contribute as a secondary AWPer, his rifling is one of the best in the upcoming ranks and NiP could make up for the absence by retaining f0rest as the secondary AWPer.

My final option would be to re-acquire Mikail “Maikelele” Bill from Red Reserve. Although the team and Maikelele may be less willing to team due to their history, Maikelele proved he could AWP at the top level back in 2014. However, in my opinion, he would benefit greatly from only having to do it on certain maps and in certain scenarios. Maikelele could definitely fill in the gaps left by Draken.

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ELEAGUE Street FIghter V Playoff Preview

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ELEAGUE

The inaugural season for Street Fighter V in ELEAGUE has been more or less a success. Solid average ratings, interesting story lines and most importantly highly entertaining games that have led to an attention grabbing product on television.

ELEAGUE’s production values and entertainment quality have done wonders for the fighting game community in establishing a main stream audience. The shiny studio, hype crowds and professionalism displayed by the casters adds a legitimacy to it all. On top of the diehard fans watching, plenty of 18-49 year-olds have been tuning in to catch their favorite fighting game.

Additionally, the competition is fierce with names like Du “NuckleDu” Dang and Kun “Xian” Xian Ho both failing to make it to the playoffs. New and old names have emerged and each player in the playoffs has an actual shot of taking home the title.

The Favorite: Panda Global Punk
Victor “Punk” Woodley is on a mission from the heavens in 2017. He’s becoming a robot with the urge to kill. He’s separated himself as the best player in this current era and winning ELEAGUE would put a stamp on that.

However, his first matchup is against the dangerous Eduardo “PR_Balrog” Perez, but Punk does have a good number of strong Balrog’s in his region so he could be more prepared for that set specifically. If the last few months are any indication, Punk’s Karin will be hard to slow down.

The Underdog: BX3| Phenom
Interestingly enough, Arman “Phenom” Hanjanni always slides under the radar. He finished second in his group and then battled his way to a win over Zhoujun “Xiao Hai” Zeng, in a convincing 3-0, to win the group that featured NucleDu.

Necali, in my eyes, is still being slept on overall and Phenom has optimized his style from season one to season two. Starting in winners against an R. Mika player seems to work in his favor. If he can get that first win over Keita “Fuudo” Ai, watch out, because he can surprise some people.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ELEAGUE

The sleeper: Daigo Umehara
It’s even crazy to think Daigo actually made it to this point. After a lackluster group stage where he barely advanced through, he made a sudden a drastic change to Guile and once again squeaked past in the bracket stage.

Now it’s been three weeks, he’s had a lot of time to prepare with his new characters and make adjustments. He faces a familiar foe in the first round and could use Guile’s strengths to combat Yusuke “Momochi” Momochi’s Ken.

In turn, Daigo’s recent resurgence with a new character has seemingly given him more confidence. A focused and confident Daigo Umehara could be a different beast all together and now he’s playing with more matchup knowledge.

Bottom Feeder: Qanba Douyu Xiao Hai
No disrespect to Xiao Hai, but he’s not looking like the same player from season one. He did have a clutch win over NuckleDu and had grind out win over Chris “ChrisT” Tartarian, but he’s struggled in many instances this year.

Notably, he’s not having the same tournament success with Cammy despite her upgrades in season two. However, he showed his potential to make it this far and anything is possible, especially with a player like Xiao Hai.

In the end, there’s a chance any of these eight players make a deep run. The beauty of this league was its player depth and that’s being displayed this weekend. Someone is going home with a life changing win and will be remembered forever for winning ELEAGUE.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Space Soldiers’ Journey to ESL One Cologne

The Space Soldiers squad, hailing from Turkey, qualified for one of Counter-Strike’s most notorious tournaments by defeating Swedish side GODSENT in the closed qualifiers.

Space Soldiers sought redemption after faltering at the European minor, losing out on a spot at the PGL major. Despite that loss, they’ve been on a strong run of form. The team flew out to Lisbon to compete in the 4Gamers CS:GO Masters in which they took first place by defeating a number of Portuguese opposition. A confidence boost, no doubt, for the string of qualifiers that laid ahead.

European Minor

Unfortunately for the Turkish squad, they opened up their Major campaign with a close loss to Tricked and then a dominating defeat at the hands of Team Kinguin. Following those losses would be wins over North Academy and NiP. Although both sides had their flaws, Space Soldiers dictated the play leading to both victories. However, they would fall short to Dignitas in the next round, losing 16-2 on one of their worst maps, Inferno. Had the team not gotten off on the wrong foot, it’s likely we would have seen them pressing on to the main qualifier.

Cologne Qualifier

The ESL One Cologne qualifier was a chance at redemption for Space Soldiers. They easily defeated their first opponents, Bulgaria’s Outlaws, with score lines of 16-3 and 16-7 on Train and Cobblestone, respectively.

Their next series would be against Team EnVyUs, who as we know are a line up with potential thanks to the likes of Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom and Alexandre “xms” Forté. However, a strong team performance would earn Space Soldiers another 2-0 victory with Buğra “Calyx” Arkın performing in both games.

Engin “MAJ3R” Kupeli led the way in fragging against GODSENT. [Source: Liquipedia]

To secure their place at the infamous ESL One Cologne, Space Soldiers would have to defeat GODSENT, one of the many struggling Swedish teams. GODSENT got off to a bad start in the veto phase by allowing Space Soldiers to get their favorite map, Cobblestone, first. The Turkish were relentless in securing the victory (16-5).

In the second map, Space Soldiers would jump out to a commanding 14-4 lead before GODSENT started to build up an economy on the Counter-Terrorist side. However, in the twenty-fifth round, the Swedes would throw their chance away by losing to a TEC-9 force buy. Space Soldiers would win the map 16-10 and the prized tickets to ESL One Cologne.

It would be hard to pick a standout player for the qualifier. The entire team stepped up when needed, even stand in Engin “ngiN” Ko, however, Engin “MAJ3R” Kupeli led the way in terms of kills and damage across both maps in the final.

The Big Chance

Aside from their attendance at WESG in China, ESL One Cologne will be the first premiere LAN event for the Space Soldiers. The team has risen in popularity due to the incredibly skilled Can “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş and Buğra “Calyx” Arkın. Their journey to the top has been eagerly awaited and I’m sure many will be wanting them to upset the best of the best as they descend on the Lanxess Arena, Cologne in July.

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles. Feature image courtesy of hltv.org

Daigo’s Adjustments Push Him into ELEAGUE SFV Playoffs

The mark of a great player is having the ability to adjust after below average performances.

Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, only weeks after the unveiling of his new character Guile, was able to make the necessary adjustments to make it out of the Group B and into the ELEAGUE SFV playoffs.

Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/el/

Daigo’s only loss was at the hands of one of the most explosive players in SFV, Eduardo “PR_Balrog” Perez, who won group B. The top overall seed entering the day took care of business going 2-0 and 6-2 in games (faced Eita and Daigo). Against two of the premier Japanese players, he convincingly owned the neutral game with Balrog.

Aside from another strong performance from PR_Rog, the most unexpected result was Daigo essentially coming out of nowhere to get second in group B. Daigo is obviously a strong player, but after a sub-par finish at NCR and finishing sixth with a 3-4 record questions started to arise regarding Daigo’s play.

During SFV’s life cycle, Daigo’s had a harder time than usual adjusting to the new game. Ryu, his classic character from other Street Fighter games, wasn’t working for him this one around. He needed a character switch. Guile, a charged fireball character with excellent spacing tools, seemed to be the answer.

Despite bad losses in March and early April, Daigo proved this Friday at ELEAGUE that it was only a matter of time. Daigo ended with a 4-1 overall record with a 13-6 record in games. His defensive playstyle was a switch from weeks prior. It ended up working out.

Wins over Hiroyuki “Eita” Ngata (2x), Bruce “Gamerbee” Yu-Lin Hsiang (Necali), and Darryl “Snake Eyez” S. Lewis (Akuma) pushed him into the playoffs. Unfortunately for him, PR Rog’s relentless Balrog gave him fits, but he gained valuable information in that matchup.

Next Round Matchups

Group A and B winners will face off starting with PR Balrog up against Victor “Punk” Woodley, and Daigo will meet with one of his longtime Japanese rivals in Yusuke “Momochi” Momochi. First off, I’m already gleaming over these opening match-ups. Punk is quickly building a legend I. Street fighter V and PR Balrog looks fantastic with Balrog.

However, Daigo vs. Momochi to open as an elimination match will be intense. Daigo will have basically a month to build more Guile experience and prepare for Momochi’s Ken.

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Fighting Game Invitationals vs. Open Tournaments: Can the two coexist?

Fighting game tournaments are evolving. As the scene moves out of the basement, a plethora of opportunities have been presented. The world discovered there’s a market and dedicated audience that not only loves the games themselves but follows each top players tournament performances.

Enter the new era of fighting games. An era where potentially new players would rather sit back and watch the best players than invest the time into becoming a strong player themselves. Welcome to the age of fighting games as a spectator sport.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/el

In the Joseph “Mango” Marquez Cloud9 Melee documentary, he mentioned the fact that the growth of Melee’s player base has stalled but that viewership has risen considerably in the last three years. Yes, the Melee renaissance brought in plenty of new players but it also exposed the scene to potential investors and showed that there’s money to be made here.

Consider this: five years ago a tournament like the Smash Summit would have been nearly inconceivable to the Melee or fighting game community. Today, it’s accepted as one of the premiere events and most of the audience could care less because the Summit puts on an entertaining show for fans.

A tournament with no open bracket has been accepted by a community founded and based on the ability for anyone to compete. It’s a dramatic switch in philosophy.

Open tournaments are what separate fighting games from other esport titles. The fact that any random fighting game player can enter a major tournament, face the world’s best players, lose, and still get that entire tournament feel is unique and special. Most players, at the end of the day, could care less about their record. It’s more about the culture and tournament atmosphere that keeps bringing people out.

However, invitationals are going to have a strong presence moving forward. The benefits are the fact that payouts are typically higher at these events ($250k ELEAGUE prize pool, $100k for Smash Summit) and top players themselves love the events. The viewers still tune in despite the lack of a real tournament feel. Numbers don’t exceed the Evo’s and Genesis tournaments but get enough attention to justify these events to the community.

Regardless of how players feel about invitationals, they still watch to see the best players play the best players. Investors see a studio product like ELEAGUE as the next step and a chance to profit off the fighting game community. The actual community is not prepared to move away from open tournaments as some top players have projected.

Photo courtesy of twitter.com/ThatMikeRossGuy

Despite what top players might say, open tournaments aren’t going anywhere. Without them, it’s no longer the fighting game COMMUNITY anymore. As invitationals become more prevalent, it should, in turn, strengthen open tournaments as well. It’s not a situation where we, as a community, have to decide between the two. Both can coexist and strengthen the other.

Finally, invitationals are the only viable way to present fighting games to a national audience. Of course, Turner decided to display 32 of the best players rather than invest in actual tournaments. Studio tournaments are the only possible way for these networks taking an interest in fighting games to control their product and squeeze as much profit out as possible. But this will help legitimize the scene as a whole and if the two can coexist, it can create a better future for all fighting game players.

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ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Kicks Off With Unexpected Results

photo courtesy of twitch.tv/eleague

Fighting games have gone full blown esports. The preliminary round of ELEAGUE’s inaugural Street Fighter V tournament kicked off today with a strong slue of players competing in Group A. The matches were broadcasted live at the Atlanta studio and officially started the new era of fighting game tournaments.

Furthermore, it was the fighting game community’s first look at a new type of tournament. One with commercial breaks and invitation only. The broadcast lasted six hours, and only a small percentage was actual gameplay. This is not a critique, it’s just the facts. The best of three made for quicker games, making the host fill long periods of dead air time.

Regardless, the production value was outstanding, and the games overall provided some entertaining Street Fighter. Any criticism is met with the fact that it was their first attempt at a fighting game broadcast. All things considered, they did a great job. The lack of normalcy from a fighting game tournament was lost, but the overall event was a success.

1. Victor “Punk” Woodley, 6-1, Advances to Semifinals
Punk’s recent success is no mistake. His Karin play has pushed the Meta-game. Based off of today’s results, he is a serious contender to take the ELEAGUE title. His 6-1 record was impressive, with his one loss coming to Infiltration’s Juri. No one could consistently deal with his unrelenting corner pressure.

2. Yusuke “Momochi” Momochi, 5-2, Advances to Semifinals
Momochi hasn’t been as effective lately, but today his Ken came to play. He had wins over Infiltration’s Rashid, Smug’s Balrog, and only fell to Punk and surprisingly Marn. Momochi dealt with plenty of game three, last round situations, so it wasn’t an easy road. He did qualify for semifinals with his win over Infiltration.

3. Bryant “Smug” Huggins, 5-2, Advances to quarterfinals
After a disappointing season one, Smug is back in season two with Balrog and hitting harder than anyone. His punish game coupled with Balrog’s damage output is a perfect fit. One mistake and Smug would essentially end the game with his corner carry and use of EX-hits to extend combos to end rounds. It felt like he was back playing Dudley and styling on players.

4. Thomas “Brolynho” Proença, 4-3, Advanced to quarterfinals
Possibly the surprise of the day was Brolynho finishing fourth in the group. He was placed in a win-or-go-home scenario, and ended up winning two clutch sets against Marn and Julio. His mix-ups and recognition of the situation with Necali was impressive. Despite tough losses to Momochi, Smug, and Punk, he had strong wins over Infiltration to finish third.

5. Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee, 4-3, Advances to quarterfinals
The second real look at season two Infiltration gave us two new characters and mixed results. He had answers for Ken with Rashid, but struggled with his new main in Juri in some situations. It’s a work in progress for Infiltration, and that showed with his 4-3 record. He’s still a player to keep an eye on heading into the next round.

6. Julio Fuentes, 2-5, advances to quarterfinals
Julio had a rough day. He was having difficulties in neutral with his Ken and couldn’t build late damage combos consistently. He did have times were he excelled with insane comebacks with V-trigger. His two wins came over Ricki Ortiz and the must-win 2-1 over Marn to advance. He’ll have to make adjustments if he wants to advance to the semifinals.

7. Martin “Marn” Phan, 2-5, eliminated

Marn. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/eleague

Marn was undoubtedly the most entertaining part of day one. Despite being eliminated, Marn’s antics provided plenty of hard laughs. His Ibuki play was no joke. However, it feels as if he’ll need more time with Ibuki before he has success. In most of his losses, he kept it extremely close and barely got edged out in a few sets. Hopefully we see the newly sponsored Marn at more events.

8. Ricki Ortiz, 0-7, eliminated
Tier list matters, and that’s proven by the second place finisher at Capcom Cup going 0-7 at ELEAGUE. Cammy got nerfed to the ground, and after a disappointing 33rd place finish at Final Round and going 0-7 today, Ricki is questioning her character choices.

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NBA eLeague

The NBA and Take-Two Are Changing esports

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

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

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

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

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

How Will it work?

NBA eLeague

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

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

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

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

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

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

archetypes and badges

NBA eLeague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: YouTube)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

NBA eLeague

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

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

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

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

Why This Will Change eSports

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: Matthew Hagan)

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

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

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

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

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ELEAGUE Announces Street Fighter V League; Ushering Fighting Games into the Future

Street Fighter V is getting another major league, with the announcement that ELEAGUE is picking it up. The Turner owned league has recently had tremendous success with the Counter-Strike division, and will now move back into Street Fighter. It adds another $250k prize pool and could become the most important tournament, next to the Capcom Cup.

On March 27-30, 32 of the world’s best Street Fighter players will be invited to compete at the preliminary rounds. The top 16 players from last year’s Capcom Cup have already received an invitation, and the rest will be selected from Capcom (most likely based off Capcom points). From there, the top 24 will advance to the regular season, which will be broadcasted all the way through May on TBS and Twitch.

ELEAGUE will be the first time a network has committed to a long-term Street Fighter league. It’s an experiment to see if this type of structure can work within fighting games. It will undoubtedly expose the fighting game community to a market that has most likely never seen a fighting game tournament. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all upside for the Street Fighter V scene.

After the invitational has completed, the regular season will have four live broadcasts, with groups of six battling to make it into the playoffs. Each broadcast will be on Friday throughout April, with the playoffs starting on May 26th.

The future of fighting game tournaments

ELEAGUE’s interest is the first sign that the next wave of esports events is coming. Instead of a weekend long tournament, leagues similar to this one could be the next phase in fighting game development. EL’s focus on top players is the first step into a spectator dominated structure.

Now, as a player who regularly attends and competes at events, this is a little scary. There’s no question that ELEAGUE’s presence is good for the entire scene in terms of growth and legitimacy, but it takes the emphasis off grass-root events. Luckily, Capcom is still committed to tournament organizers through the Capcom Cup. This could be the start to more spectator focused events though.

The upside is exposure. More eyes on Street Fighter means more potential investors, player acquisitions, and better overall experiences. This will be the third time SFV has made it into a national stage. Fighting games are no longer apart of the niche market. Companies have noticed the growth and strength and have decided to invest in its future.

Regardless of your opinion on spectator events, ELEAGUE is good for players, fans, and the game itself. It’s the fighting game communities chance to reach an even wider audience and to keep building this into something great.

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Pokésports Crest

Pokésports: The Power of a Brand and One Fans Plea

The Year of eSports

One of the big showings this year at CES Conference is eSports. Being a relatively new phenomenon, eSports is experiencing a surge of growth. Reporting a 2016 revenue of 493 million dollars. On top of that analysts project annual revenue to surpass 1 billion dollars by 2019.

Customers enjoying food and eSports at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Image courtesy of youtube.com user sapphiRe

Furthermore, recent studies have shown eSports rise in popularity. Now they are rating as high as Baseball and Ice Hockey among American Millennial Males. Turner Broadcasting is even getting in on the action with ELEAGUE, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league. First being aired on TBS. Then picked up and shown in Buffalo Wild Wings throughout the United States.

Building a Brand

Half a billion dollars is still relatively small for a global industry. While poised for growth, eSports lacks a strong brand. That brings us to Pokémon. A 20 year old series revolving around Trainers capturing, raising, and battling monsters in the game world. Pokémon already has an existing competitive tournament series referred to as the Video Game Championships (VGC) with multiple tournaments each year culminating in a World Championship. However, Pokémon is generally not thought of as under the eSports umbrella. As an effect both Pokémon and eSports find themselves as somewhat of an odd couple. Both could benefit from being with the other, but neither will make a move.

The reason for the odd relationship between Pokémon and eSports comes down to marketing. The Pokémon Company International (TPCI) has not really worked to market the competitive aspect of the franchise. Even though Pokémon commands a massive following worldwide, competitive Pokémon still remains rather niche. While TPCI does little to nurture their growing competitive community.

Massive crowd cheering inside arena during Nintendo eSports tournament.

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo is showing signs of moving into eSports with the launch trailer debuting the new Nintendo Switch. The time has come for Nintendo, Game Freak, and TPCI to take a long and serious look at what they have with the Pokémon brand and its ability to translate into massive growth potential inside the eSports market. This would not only benefit the coffers of those companies, but serve as a springboard for the already fast growing eSport movement.

Perfect Match

The Pokémon brand carries a significant amount of weight. Generating 2.1 billion dollars annual revenue in 2015 and expected to report higher returns for 2016. Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game for Android and iPhone, launched in 2016. Going so far as to produce revenues of over 1 billion dollars in its first year. That’s right, a Free To Play app for smartphones generated double the revenue of the entire eSports industry, simply due to the Pokémon brand. Now consider an actual concerted effort to market Pokémon as the next big eSport.

I challenge you to imagine a world where Pokémon reaches its full potential as an eSport. A world where, just like football and basketball today, a kid can become a professional Trainer. Making a living mastering what is essentially a game of 3D chess, constructing teams out of 100’s of available Pokémon. The fanbase and brand power is undoubtedly there and I would hazard a guess that many corporations would get in bed with the Pokémon brand in the realm of sports. VGC Tournaments already look like what they show off in the Nintendo Switch trailer.

Large crowd gathers for competitive Pokémon tournament.

Image courtesy of Kotaku

This series I will dive into what it would take for Pokémon to become a respected eSports franchise, what that would look like, and the overall impact of such an event. Everything from the structure of the competitive community to the way matches are broadcast will be examined. With hope TPCI takes these points to heart and gifts the magic of Pokémon to future generations. A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!

Opening scene from G1 Pokémon games.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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America’s Top Farmer: Cloud9’s History of Counter-Strike Prospects

In professional baseball, each organization has a farm system where it trains up its draft picks before bringing them up to the big leagues. To make it into MLB play, a young recruit must first prove his chops against lesser opponents, working his way up through A, AA, and AAA, the 3 tiers of the minor leagues. It’s a logical and well-organized practice that trains rising stars, discovers role-players, and weeds out lesser performers.

North American Counter-Strike doesn’t have that system, though it could use it. Instead, it just has FPL, premier, and Cloud9.

The original coL lineup. Photo courtesy coLnews.

The original coL lineup, which would morph into C9 and that team’s many iterations. The only constant? n0thing. Photo courtesy coLnews.

Cloud9 occupies a unique position within the NA CS:GO scene. Since its inception, it has been a prestigious organization. And for just as long, it has been about the only top-level NA team to recruit unproven talents and introduce them to play among the upper echelons of CS:GO.  Starting with shroud and moving through ShahZaM, fREAKAZOID, Stewie2k, and Slemmy, whenever C9’s core needed a roster move, it almost always gambled on newcomers rather than old guard. In comparison, CLG in-bred players from within its clique, iBP took proven stars from compLexity/Cloud9, and Liquid played tap-dance with a string of otherwise-rejected pros.

This role of “elite farm team” has not been by choice for the most part. For such a deep scene, NA CS has been entrenched at its uppermost level for a long time. Veterans were skeptical of rising talents. I’m sure if circumstances permit, C9 would love to be the New York Yankees, letting stars prove themselves stars elsewhere and then buying them up. But such players are hard to come by, buy out, or otherwise persuade to leave a good team, as C9 has discovered time and time again. Instead, as history shows, C9 has foraged through the forests of tier 2 and 3 NA CS:GO and found young guns that are easier to snap up. And their track record in doing so is surprisingly, unwittingly good.

From coL to C9, swag to shroud

Cloud9’s first investment in little-known North American talent actually came from the compLexity lineup that would shortly become C9. CoL–seangares, SEMPHIS, Hiko, n0thing, and swag–was the best NA lineup of early CS:GO. They made it to the semifinals of the first major, Dreamhack Winter 2013, and then the quarterfinals of the second major, ESL One Katowice 2014. With a growing phenom like swag, top player like Hiko, and strat-caller like seangares, this established team seemed both powerful and full of room to grow.

Then swag left for iBuyPower, coL’s rivals in America. It was a spontaneous, strange, and fateful decision on swag’s part. (Imagine if he hadn’t left! At the least, he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to participate in the devestating iBP throw.) And it left coL with anger, an established player but one who wasn’t nearly as good as swag.

CoL struggled through the spring of 2014, and despite an impressive second-place finish at the ESEA finals, they pursued replacing anger. The team they looked at was named Manajuma, a lower-level invite team with promising potential and (to modern eyes) a surprisingly stacked lineup: Irukandji, dboorn, minikerr, desi, and a young Polish Canadian named shroud. At the beginning of July, coL kicked anger and brought in shroud and dboorn, an experienced player from 1.6 and Source, on a trial basis.

At this point in CS:GO history, NA’s scene looked closer to the scene of other countries, with one or two top teams and a sea of semi-pros floating beneath. It was a natural move for coL to cherry-pick the best players from another team not named iBP, even if that lineup was a promising one. Dboorn was a known entity, but it was shroud that was the untasted spice. Shroud was a true rookie, but he had been turning heads with his sick aim. Dustmoret had interviewed him for a show fittingly named The Hype, and famous fragmovie editor aThId had showcased a 1v5 clutch shroud won.

CoL in this instance could have been conservative and stuck with dboorn. But the coL players were impressed with shroud’s agreeable attitude and willingness to learn how to play with the team. They chose the young talent, and it was a good choice. Before the month of July had ended, Cloud9, a League of Legends organization that was branching out to other eSports, had arranged a deal with the lineup, whose contracts with compLexity were ending at the beginning of August.

Immediately, shroud played well (although not incredibly) at the major, ESL One Cologne, and at the FACEIT Season 2 finals. In Cologne, C9 pulled off dual upsets over Titan and dignitas to reach the quarters once again. All seemed on the up-and-up.

Between the lines, though, not all was well. SEMPHIS and seangares butted heads over shot-calling, n0thing regularly showed up late for or skipped practice, and shroud settled into a popular streaming personality that (some say) distracted from his competitive performance. The team began to tank in performance. In December, Hiko left C9 for the ill-fated superteam iBuyPower, criticizing his teammates’ commitment to winning and vowing never to return. Once again, the coL/C9 core would have to replace a star.

Looking back, the shroud pick-up introduced a new and convincing talent into top-level NA CS, and it was certainly a decent roster move. However, unlike similar CS:GO-only talents like device, coldzera, or flamie, shroud would never become the superstar rifler his aim and intelligence would seem to destine him for. The label “pug-star” will hang over shroud as long as he plays incredibly on Twitch and only decently on LAN.

ShahZaM: the move that didn’t work

The most obvious thing the coL/C9 roster lacked was a star sniper. Both SEMPHIS and seangares would take up the AWP as needed, but neither had sick skills with it; they were utilitarian with it at best. This led to perhaps the most logical and least successful of C9’s roster moves: picking up ShahZaM.

ShahZaM looked like he could become a good-to-great player. His AWP was quick, his rifles were decent, and as a part of his Denial lineup, he had put up good performances, including a star performance against C9 itself right before Hiko’s departure. Denial was an up-and-coming team, but once again, at this time in CS:GO, an offer from Cloud9 was too good to refuse. Perfect, right?

As it turned out, ShahZaM was inconsistent at best with Cloud9. He would make questionable decisions at times, and his jitters in big games were palpable, including a groan-inducing TK on SEMPHIS at the major, ESL One Katowice 2015. In part due to ShahZaM’s problems, in part due to the team’s accelerating implosion, the team failed to make it out of groups at that tournament. Steel, now banned and relegated to commentary, released a video that tore apart ShahZaM’s performance round by round. C9 couldn’t have been lower, and soon it would detonate its own lineup, kicking out both ShahZaM and SEMPHIS.

ShahZaM is a failed NA talent, failed in that he hasn’t ever shown us the ability to perform in big games like he does online or against lesser opponents. I think it is telling that ShahZaM left OpTic, his most recent team, and then OpTic (with successful Spanish talent mixwell) went from having the wheels fall off to driving to upsets over Tempo Storm (2 Bo3 wins), NiP (1 map), and Astralis (1 map). But let him prove me wrong with results. In any case, this is, surprisingly, the one roster gamble that never paid off for C9.

fREAKAZOID, Skadoodle, and the Glorious Run

With NA CS:GO at its lowest point ever, fielding no competitive international teams since the iBP ban, C9 rebuilt itself. Without SEMPHIS, seangares took total control of the team, and C9 made what must be considered its most intelligent and successful roster move ever. Picking up Skadoodle–teamless since the iBP ban–was a no-brainer. Skadoodle was clearly the best AWPer in NA, and looked to have the talent to challenge European AWPers if he could sort out his nagging communication issues and inconsistency. Under seangares, Ska would find an IGL who would provide him with some of the structure he had thrived under while playing with DaZeD. It was an obvious A+ acquisition.

The move that came out of left field, and which we now must call brilliant, was picking up fREAKAZOID as a pure entry-fragger.

The famous C9 lineup that went to three strait international finals. Freakazoid is 2nd from right. Photo courtesy fantasy esports.

The famous C9 lineup that went to three strait international finals. fREAKAZOID is 2nd from right. Photo courtesy fantasy esports.

Ska needed no introduction, but fREAKAZOID’s career in CS:GO was meager at best. A CS:Source player of some note, fREAKAZOID had been kicked from Team Dynamic (with adreN and AZK) way back in 2012 to make way for swag. He then played on Frost with moE, ry9n, and autimatic, which ultimately merged with a team called Homeless, with montE, frozt, and steel. When he and steel were kicked in March, steel went on to play with iBP, while freakazoid stepped away from the game. His resume was okay, but not particularly impressive; he as a player faded from our collective consciousness. Near when the C9 roster move was looming, rumors began going around that fREAKAZOID was training to play again; by this point, with all the updates and changes to the metagame, he would basically be a rookie all over again.

Several voices in the scene criticized C9 at first when they did acquire fREAKAZOID, including Thorin and DaZeD. FREAKAZOID was seen, to put it bluntly, as a washed-up nobody who would get swept under the rug by top-level pros. Thorin, though, noted that it would be a boon to seangares to have an entry fragger willing to obey his every command, something seangares had never had before. In a video review of the new roster’s early loss to EnVyUs on cache, DaZeD complimented fREAKAZOID’s timing with flashes while entering a bombsite, saying that he looked for this quality in an entry-fragger. Both were onto something.

During the famous three-tournament run of finals appearances for Cloud9, perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of any NA team, fREAKAZOID was the sole point of aggression on a team of naturally passive players. His entry-fragging for seangares made strategies work, despite the sometimes-atrocious scorelines freak would put up. And while seangares focused on tactics, fREAKAZOID became the spiritual leader of C9. A listen to his voice communications from the ESL ESEA finals, or to his interviews alongside n0thing, will convince anyone of this fact. His competitive smarts and energy motivated his lukewarm teammates to perform at their best level.

As C9’s level fell off, his teammates lost motivation, and seangares eventually left the team, fREAKAZOID continued to improve his play. Him leaving C9 was an inevitable move; with Stewie2k basically an entry-fragger himself, n0thing struggling to call strats, fREAKAZOID’s bullying controversy with s1mple, and the team clearly lacking both results and full dedication, the environment on C9 just wasn’t right for fREAKAZOID anymore. Standing-in for Splyce at DreamHack Austin, fREAKAZOID was the best player on the team by a mile, showing how much his gamesense and aim have developed from his experience on C9. Joining back with seangares in EchoFox, I can only presume he’ll continue to be a solid pro beyond what any observer would have expected a year and a quarter ago.

Freak was the true freaky roster move, the person snatched out of nowhere who was just right for the team. He was not a star, and probably never will be; but he was the perfect role-player for what C9 needed.

Stewie2k, disaster to star (feat. Slemmy on IGL)

Seangares quit C9 after devastating exits in groups at the majors in Cologne and Cluj-Napoca. The search for a replacement was a total mess. At this point, C9 was no longer clearly the team to be on. With CLG, Liquid, and a number of competitive tier 2 NA teams that were getting outsized sponsorship, there was more talent, but even more competition for that talent. And C9 would find the door closed to them wherever they looked for talent. The last person they were looking for was a barely-turned-18 pug-star with almost no pro experience.

As n0thing explained on his stream after Stewie2k joined the team, the team made its rounds almost everywhere. GeT_RiGhT was the first choice, but he turned the offer down; hiko and nitr0 both stuck with Liquid; gob b said no; and tarik and fugly were both considered and then rejected before young Stew. “All the veteran players we wanted to pick up from NA, we couldn’t really pick up,” n0thing complained. “Everyone had huge buyouts.” His exasperation is the quintessence of trying to assemble an internationally elite team in the current NA situation. It’s as frustrating as NA’s current international results.

Stewie2k was one from a laundry list of NA talents on the premier and FPL level that C9 investigated; the only other name n0thing mentioned was ryx. Thus far, the most notoriety Stewie2k had gotten was playing on a very suspect Splyce lineup (with Slemmy, please note) and a one-LAN Torqued mix with steel and moE. The team wanted an entry-fragger who could also throw smokes and be supportive, and Stewie2k’s knowledge of smokes and openness of criticism impressed n0thing. The team saw a foundation for better decision-making to build upon Stewie’s already impressive aim. “If he’s truly not fit for the role, we’ll find out,” n0thing concluded, somewhat defensively. We’ll strip some of the pug habits out of stewie and shroud, he promised.

Yet the idea that Stewie2k was the right man for the job was extremely questionable. Not only was he long down the list of C9’s candidates, and not only was he totally inexperienced, but he was not an in-game leader, leaving the shot-calling to the perpetual scatter-brain we know as n0thing. Many pounced on Stewie2k, whose overconfidence in himself didn’t aid matters.

Results were not good through the beginning of 2016, with C9 again failing to make the major playoffs (this time on home soil at Columbus). Freakazoid’s departure spelled yet another blow to C9; once again, they would have to scour the fallow fields premier to find a replacement for a veteran player. And this time, the name that they would turn up would be even more obscure: Slemmy.

Slemmy seems to have played CS:GO since its inception. He even has the least legit fragmovie ever, published by someone in June 2013! (Honestly: Who is he playing against? Is that a Negev? Is the person posting the video actually accusing him of cheating? But I had forgotten how sketchy early CS:GO spray technique was…and dat sensual jam soundtrack…8/8, no regets, best fragmovie ever! I kid, I kid.) From late 2014, he played on a revolving door of tier 4 and tier 3 NA teams, never staying long with one squad. Finally, he and his ex-Obey.Alliance teammates were beginning to make some waves under the name Without a Roof, when out of the blue, he receives an offer from Cloud9!

Slemmy’s skills hardly fit with an offer for a top NA org; even the generally generous moses was skeptical of the move. What was key to Cloud9’s decision, though, was Stewie2k’s enthusiasm for Slemmy. Stewie2k told his teammates that Slemmy was both a smart player and a good team player, and that he had the know-how to devote himself to the art of in-game leading. With Irukandji now coaching C9, this would make Slemmy’s burden less, and in theory, the firepower of the other four players ought to compensate for Slemmy dragging behind.

C9 once again struggled at first–at DreamHack Austin and at the ESL Pro League finals. And they may still struggle, as Slemmy’s scorelines are almost wholy dependent on his teammates and their performance. But ELEAGUE Group A has taught us that Slemmy’s inclusion has unlocked Stewie2k in the best way possible and allowed for n0thing to focus on fragging once again.

Picking up Slemmy was an investment in IGL development for North American Counter-Strike. But just like the Stewie2k deal, it was a near-unwilling investment, compelled by the circumstances of NA CS. That C9 has come out ahead as perhaps NA’s No. 1 team is a testament both to luck and to good scouting. But put within the history of C9, we see that time and again, C9 has opted to pursue the unproven potential over the known entity, whether by choice or not.

In the future, we may see organizations in NA conglomerate, with big NA orgs buying up smaller orgs and using them as farm teams. Until then, we’ll have to settle for risky acquisitions like those of Cloud9, the elite farm team of NA CS:GO.

The current C9 roster shake hands with Luminosity following their narrow defeat. Screenshot from ELEAGUE stream.

The current C9 roster shake hands with Luminosity following their narrow defeat. Screenshot from ELEAGUE stream.

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