Fnatic qualified for Group Stage from Play-in Stage

Fnatic’s possibilities for the rest of Worlds

The third seed from the EU LCS, Fnatic, has successfully qualified for the Group Stage of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. By placing first in their play-in group and defeating Hong Kong Attitude in the play-in knockout, Fnatic enters into the main event. They join G2 and Misfits as Europe’s international representatives.

Play-In Stage Recap

Fnatic beat HKA in play-ins knockout

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic’s play-in stage was not perfect. They dropped a best-of-one to Young Generation, second seed from the GPL. Young Generation was also able to build a 2,500 gold lead in their first match-up, although Fnatic did ultimately win.

Against Kaos Latin Gamers, representatives of LAS, Fnatic handily won both games. The European squad was able to accrue near-10,000 gold leads twice in less than 26 minutes. Fnatic fans should be proud of these performances.

Moving on to face Hong Kong Attitude, Fnatic showed a bit of both worlds. In game one, HKA held the advantage for about 29 minutes. Fnatic turned things around by scoring a pick-off of Godkwai and turning it into a Baron. Then, in Fnatic fashion, they continued pressing through the next five minutes to close the game.

Whether due to HKA tilting or Fnatic adaptation, the next two games stayed favorable for Fnatic all the way through. While Broxah and Soaz remained on tanky disruptors throughout the series, Fnatic’s bottom lane showed some variation. Rekkles and Jesiz executed Xayah-Janna, Xayah-Karma, and Sivir-Rakan. Caps excelled over the series on Cassiopeia and Taliyah. This combination, Rekkles and Caps as scaling AD and AP carries, Broxah and Soaz on hefty initiators and Jesiz abusing Ardent Censer supports, seems to be Fnatic’s sweet spot.

Fnatic’s best bet is to continue drafting towards these compositions. Putting Soaz on Cho’Gath or carries, such as Rumble, Jarvan IV, etc. is not ideal. Broxah has historically performed well on Elise, but when Fnatic does not close the game in less than 40 minutes the pick becomes useless. Jesiz is in a similar boat, where he can perform on Braum, Thresh, and even Camille support, but the meta strongly favors enchanter supports who can abuse the strength of Ardent Censer.

Possibility #1: Group A

Group A consists of EDG, SKT, and AHQ

Image from RiftHerald.com

Assuming Cloud9, Fnatic, Fenerbahce, and Team WE qualify for the Group Stage, Fnatic has two widely varying paths. In one scenario, Fnatic is drafted into Group A with EDG, SKT and AHQ. If that happens, then Fnatic might as well consider their 2017 Worlds run over, because the competition in this group is fierce.

AHQ

AHQ is most likely a reasonable opponent for Fnatic, based on their perceived power level over HKA as the LMS’ second seed. The LMS squad has been to the World Championship on multiple occasions, and they have essentially maintained their entire roster from last year. Westdoor is acting as the mid lane substitute, with Chawy on the starting line-up.

The worrying match-up against AHQ would be top lane. This LMS squad is more likely to draft a winning match-up for Ziv, mixed with a high-tempo jungler for Mountain. For example, it would not be surprising to see a Camille-Kha’Zix or Renekton-Elise. The trade-off, though, would be for bottom lane match-ups, which would benefit Fnatic. AN is put on Ashe or Caitlyn more than Tristana, Xayah, or Kog’Maw.

SKT

SKT is another second seed team in Group A. The Korean team’s reputation speaks for itself, and Fnatic should fear this opponent. Faker may just be the perfect veteran mid laner to shut down young Caps, and the Bang-Wolf bottom lane duo unquestionably matches Rekkles and Jesiz.

The big deciding factor in this match-up would be top lane. Huni is such a wildcard. It is hard to tell if he will be able to stomp Soaz and solo carry, or become a liability. SKT will also bring two junglers, so if Peanut or Blank fails to stuff Broxah, then they have a back-up. Fnatic’s top and jungle will be put to the test, yet again.

EDG

EDG is at the head of the table for Group A as China’s first seed. This is almost certain to be a jungle-mid contest. Clearlove is one of the most touted junglers appearing on the Worlds stage and Scout throws some serious fast balls. Both of these players enjoy similar champion pools to Caps and Broxah, as well.

Mouse and iBoy could be EDG’s weak points. Mouse was left on a supreme island at last year’s World Championship, and EDG’s opponents punished them for it. Fnatic could try to give Soaz a winning match-up, such as Gnar or Jayce, to hinder that position. While iBoy is a hot rookie, he is untested on such a pivotal stage. He will rely heavily on Meiko’s leadership for success.

If Fnatic is placed in Group A, it may be the greatest challenge they have faced all year. SKT and EDG should be tougher than Misfits and G2, Fnatic’s greatest competition in Europe. Every member of the team will be tested, unlike the Play-In stage. Hopefully they will avoid this scenario.

Scenario #2: Group B

Group B consists of Longzhu, IMT, and GAM

Image from RiftHerald.com

Since G2 is in Group C and Misfits is in Group D, then Fnatic’s only other possibility is Group B. These match-ups would most likely be more favorable for Fnatic making it to the next stage. Immortals, Longzhu and Gigabyte Marines would be their opponents.

Gigabyte Marines

Everyone remembers the Gigabyte Marines from their performance at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Their primary weapons are their jungler, Levi, and mid laner, Optimus. Levi generally opts into carrying from the jungle. Lee Sin, Nidalee, Kha’Zix, and Graves are right in his wheelhouse. Do not be surprised to see him draft an Ezreal. Optimus sometimes pairs with an assassin, such as Fizz or Leblanc, but he can also pull out Syndra, Taliyah, etc.

Fnatic should be able to match up against this team, but remember their time with Young Generation, GPL’s second seed. If Fnatic’s players come into this match-up without respect for their opponents, the Marines will gladly stifle Broxah from the jungle. The EU LCS third seed should play around Rekkles and bottom lane to win these matches with ease, but there is a world where GAM blows them out of the water.

Immortals

North America’s second seed showed up this summer, taking TSM to four games in the finals. They rely heavily on the dynamic support staff of Xmithie and Olleh, who love to show up in every lane and enable Flame, Pobelter, and Cody Sun. In the current meta, Cody Sun is Immortals’ highest ceiling damage dealer. Pobelter and Flame are consistent laners who slowly build leads over their opponents, only to use their advantages in teamfights.

It is hard to say which team has the advantage between Fnatic and Immortals. The deciding factor will probably be in the support position, actually. Olleh is exceptional on play-making supports, such as Rakan, Alistar, and Thresh. He is more likely to leave the bottom lane and impact other areas earlier and more frequently. Jesiz needs to strap on his Boots of Mobility to stand a chance.

Longzhu

Korea’s first seed, and the most hyped team coming into Worlds, is Fnatic’s trade-off for facing IMT and GAM in Group B. Longzhu is one of the only teams in the tournament that legitimately outclasses Fnatic in every role. Khan, Bdd and Pray are more apt to dominate lane than Soaz, Caps or Rekkles. Gorilla outclasses Jesiz, and Cuzz is the glue that holds it all together. As they say, jungling is easy when you have all three winning lanes.

Fnatic’s strategy could involve preparing much more for GAM and IMT than Longzhu. All they need to do is finish the Group Stage in second place to move on to the next round. If Fnatic is to beat Longzhu, it would need to be in the hands of veterans Soaz and Rekkles. They would need to draft winning match-ups for Broxah and Caps, then hold their own against some of the top League of Legends players currently in the game.

From there, the rest is too speculative to really analyze. Discussing the quarterfinals and beyond would involve lots of assumptions that would probably be wrong. At this point, we know Fnatic is in the Group Stage, and we know that they will slot in either Group A or Group B. Many already viewed Fnatic as an international contender, but their stumbling in the EU LCS playoffs and the Worlds Play-in leaves some with doubt. If they are able to be in Group B with GAM, IMT, and Longzhu, then they could be set up to make a deep run into the entire tournament.

2017 World Championships groups

Image from LoLesports.com


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, RiftHerald.com, LoLesports.com

Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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Worlds Group A

Worlds 2017 group A : The Clash of Titans

Introduction

Every year, as the post-seasons of the multiple leagues around the world come to a close, many fans set their eyes on Worlds and the meeting of the best of the best in the international throw down. While maybe not the exciting affair for some, the group stage draw signals the coming of Worlds in the hearts of fans and is the nostalgic feeling of ‘Worlds is around the corner’ again. The group draw is this series of events that will drastically shape which teams are slated to go forward, who has the easy group, who gets the dark horse team and who gets placed into the dreaded Group of Death™. With that each group has its own story lines that emerge, and for group A, the title I’d give it has to be the Clash of Titans.

Group A drew not only EDward Gaming (EDG), finalists for the LPL, but also Worlds’ favorite and defending champions in SKT T1. As if a more storied and titanic clash could exist, the group, for me at least, avoids the term Group of Death™ because, well, AHQ is there. With the fourth team still to be determined, we can’t comment too much there, but this group is definitely a dance of two. Will it be the resurgent LPL region’s EDG that walks away in first, or the fan favorite in SKT that manages again, even with questions hanging over their head, to prove themselves as the best in the world? Or can AHQ, against all odds, pull off a miracle and make it out of the group? Maybe the fourth team will add some unexpected spice that upsets the perfect balance of the two titans facing off for the first and second seed.

EDG 

With some of the most stylish jerseys out of the LPL, EDward Gaming hope to cement themselves as a force to be reckoned with internationally. Courtesy of EDward Gaming Facebook.

EDG come into Group A as the finalists from the scrappy LPL region, a region known for aggression that can start as early as level one. After reverse sweeping Royal Never Give Up to keep the team from winning an LPL Finals, to cement themselves, at least as far as standings go, to be the best in China, EDG come into Worlds roaring with confidence. However, EDG come into the group in an odd position; they match up against their titanic opponents, SKT, which draws concern.

Questions surround EDG’s top lane, Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao, and even Ming “Clearlove7” Kai, the on and off star jungler, abound. It’s the weaker side for the roster, that contains Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “meiko” Ye on the other half of the Rift. That being said, EDG’s draw in the group stage is a slight benefit, they face SKT, which for most would be a bad thing. But with SKT’s struggling top lane and jungler position too, EDG’s weaker sides may not be placed up against a stronger side. This means not only will EDG’s side not be exposed to a stronger lane match up, where the other team can focus and create a lead there, but also maybe EDG can manage to be the stronger side in the top half.

Their bot lane, with new kid on the block Hu “iBoy” Xianzhao, will be the true point of contest between the two titans. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan have not looked like the dominant force they once were, having been a key part in SKT’s slump mid split. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a formidable foe for a rookie ADC. EDG will have to prove themselves the stronger team even with the questions that surround them, but given their pedigree and history of strong performances, EDG look to be easy favorites for at least second place, if not first in the group.

 

The X Factor: iBoy and Scout

Rookie iBoy will have his skills and mettle tested severely against the veteran bot lane of Bang and Wolf. Can he come out ahead? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The two primary carries of EDG are the linchpin of the roster for me. Scout has to be performing at his top tier to dominate the group, and particularly to show up against old teammate Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. If it’s Scout at his ceiling, he can be the carry that EDG needs to maybe secure that first place in the group. If he’s at his floor, EDG will find trouble against possibly even AHQ.

The other big factor is iBoy, the newcomer to the LPL scene. A rookie by all accounts, he comes into Worlds only having played a total of 22 games over his entire professional career. To be thrown into a Worlds roster, let alone one that has SKT and Bang in its group, is one large task for the rookie. However, iBoy’s stats aren’t worrisome, and with the veteran lane mate of Meiko by his side, this could be a real time for the young player to shine. On the other hand, not performing will be costly for the team overall, so the pressure on iBoy is pretty damn high to at least go toe to toe with Bang.

SKT 

Ahh, SKT. They barely need introduction for fans of League of Legends, but the once completely unstoppable juggernauts have had a slightly less than glamorous recent showing. The notable slump in performance, and the question marks not only in top lane of who to start between Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Ui “Untara” Jin-Park, were concerns that many analysts brought up. Not just that, but also their jungler position too is up in the air, with Han “Peanut” Wang-hoand and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, being the two possibilities. For many on the outside looking in, this has put the organization in a bit of a tumultuous position.

SKT’s full roster will be tested as they go into Worlds. Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

Just as with EDG though, SKT lucked out slightly by placing in a group with similar question marks in the top side of the Rift. With the “Unkillable Demon King” of League in Faker playing on the team though, and the long standing relationship between Bang and Wolf in the bot lane, it’s hard to say SKT is weak, even through their struggling top and jungle positions. Untara looks to be the more stable top lane, and Blank slots in similarly, and that almost feels the stronger formation for SKT going into Worlds. SKT can win games off simply mid and bot lane, and a tank meta supports a more supportive top and jungler position, rather than the more carry-oriented play that one might expect out of Huni or Peanut.

SKT however is still not the guaranteed top squad. With the current draw, they should be able to squash struggling AHQ Esports Club, but will be faced against an equally formidable EDG. The more aggressive nature of LPL teams may be a challenge for the defending champions, but it’s difficult to say they’ll struggle. Sure, at Rift Rivals the LPL were the ultimate winners, but LCK is never a region to bat an eyelash at. And almost most importantly, this is still a team with Faker on it, and Bang and Wolf, who bring not only their experience, but synergy. It will depend on how the squads match up, if Faker can take on his once pupil, Scout and if synergy wins out over new kid and star iBoy in the bot lane and the veteran in Meiko.

 

The X Factor: Untara/Huni and Blank/Peanut

High risk, high reward, is what has always characterized both Huni and Peanut. But can SKT take the gamble at Worlds? Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

This may come off wrong, but I’m not worried about SKT’s bottom half of the map. Faker has rarely performed negatively, and the Bang and Wolf duo seem a lot more energized after their slump. It’s the top half that’s the tricky part for SKT, and ultimately something they’ll need to address if they plan to make any real statement at Worlds.

The Huni/Untara saga continues, as Huni, previously the star diamond in the rough player, has looked considerably disappointing in recent showings (like, recent for a while…) Untara, on the other hand, may not be as flashy as Huni in his hay day or the phenom in Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, but he gets the job done for SKT. If Huni can be assured to perform, he’s the obvious pick, as a strong top laner into a group with weaker top laners could be another weapon in the SKT arsenal. However, he’s a liability, and SKT may decide to go with Untara for the security in the top lane.

The next question mark is in the jungle. Peanut, the darling of the Rox Tigers that stormed onto the scene last year, is in doubt. He’s not the consistent jungler that SKT needs. Stats aren’t everything, but Blank, particularly in SKT’s playoff run, was the superior jungler in almost every category, having played six games to Peanut’s eight. That’s a decent sample size. With Blank’s solid performance, and the bigger question mark being in the top lane, SKT could very well leave Peanut out of the six man roster for Worlds in favor of a more diverse top lane option. Regardless, whoever fills in the jungle position for SKT will need to be able to get their carries in the position to succeed. 

 

AHQ

The LMS region has always been a dark horse region. Often times discounted, except when one remembers the miracle run of Tapai Assasins, or Flash Wolves’ constant ability to take down the tyrants of SKT, they tend to look to be the weakest region of the non-wild card regions. While expansion of LMS teams at Worlds has gone from two to three, a welcomed sign for the region, it’s not as bright a note given the current teams being fielded.

Can the weird… flying… unicorn… horse thing of AHQ carry the team to one of the biggest upsets of the year against the two titans in Group A? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Many pundits feel that AHQ is a fairly weak team, and particularly compared to Flash Wolves, is the easier opponent hailing from the LMS region. While an AHQ of yesterday, with a strong top lane in Chen “Ziv” Yi , might’ve posed a threat to the group of weak top side teams, it’s not as big a factor anymore. As the analysts noted, Ziv has not looked as strong as he has in the past. More importantly, the mid lane question mark for AHQ is whether to play weaker Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei who synergizes better with jungler Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong, or stronger mechanics but weaker synergy in Wong “Chawy” Xing. SKT and EDG are teams that play around their star mid laners, and to have a position of almost a lose-lose scenario of options to field in that vital role, it’s hard to see them coming out ahead.

While longtime Chou “AN” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei in the bot lane might bring some stability to the roster, it’s difficult to say whether they’d be able to make any real threats against the likes of Bang/Wolf or even iBoy/Meiko. AHQ look like a team that, truthfully, doesn’t have a real edge in any position over their (confirmed) group opponents. While that doesn’t mean they can’t win, their lack of clear, concise team play doesn’t assure a “team play > mechanics” style of winning either. It’s hard to see the team making a real dent in the gargantuan teams of SKT or EDG here, but we’ve seen before that the LMS region can pull some real dark horse prowess on opponents who may not give them the credit they are due.

 

The X factor: Chawy/Westdoor and Ziv

Ziv is one of the old faces of the LMS, and it’ll be on his shoulders to try and create an advantage for his team to work off of. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Group A is a group of strong mid laners, and that’s something that cannot be said for AHQ. The rotating mid lane of Westdoor, who has the weaker mechanics but better jungle synergy, and Chawy, the newer, stronger, but less synergized mid laner, is the biggest hurdle for AHQ. They need to make the proper decision, either trusting Mountain and Westdoor’s ability to work together, or Chawy’s individual prowess, when facing up against some of the strongest mids at Worlds. 

Ziv is the rare situation in the group up until now: he’s a steady top laner for a team. Another long term member of the club, his performance has not be the most impressive, and it’s questionable on whether he would even be able to match up well into either Mouse or Huni/Untara. But if he can, if he can become the strong point of AHQ, he’s in the group of his life to upset. While the mid lane is looking to be a fiery display of strong skill, the top lane is almost unanimously questionable on each roster. A strong showing from the top lane could be just the trick that AHQ needs to be memorable additions to Group A. Without it, there isn’t much in the way of hope for any particular position on the AHQ roster to have any clear advantage against their confirmed rivals of EDG and SKT. 

 

Overall story lines to follow

The big story line here is the mid lane, with Scout facing up against his old organization SKT, and Faker, looking across the rift to a player he once helped improve. Scout has improved considerably with EDG, and while a kind of High Ceiling Low Floor (i.e. can either do really well or really… not… well,) may be enough in a Bo1 series against SKT, it’ll still be questionable on whether he can truly make a god bleed. Faker, on the other hand, looks to reassert SKT’s position to the World, coming in with a lot of questions hanging over their head. If SKT can make quick work of a team like EDG and look comfortable doing so, they’ll remind everyone of why they are still one of the favorites to reclaim their title. If they struggle, if EDG instead are the ones standing atop the battle in the mid lane, SKT’s position in Worlds will be called further into question. And for EDG, the curse of performing not as hot in international tournaments can be fully put to rest. 

AHQ, on the other hand, are on the outside looking in for the group. They’re not really slated to do overly well, and it’s questionable if they can even make a dent against the two teams already pulled, let alone a possible third seed team. Their relevancy at the world stage will be tested, and while not even a gambling person would have them out to make it out of groups, taking a few wins will be imperative to give some sense of dignity going home for the team.

Overall comments

I know it sounds kind of lame, but I have to agree with the analysts on the group from the group draw. This is definitely EDG and SKT’s group to lose. What order that’ll be depends on which team can shore up their leaky top side, or which team can make enough plays around the mid to bottom half to make up for it. That’ll decide who takes the first seed, and while many would be safe in saying SKT has that all but locked up, I’d caution against counting EDG out of that contest.

However, AHQ are a team that many still feel shouldn’t even necessarily be here. The LMS region, while still upset-able, are not necessarily that strong of a region in recent times. EDG historically face up well against AHQ, and SKT, not facing Flash Wolves, should be able to dismantle the LMS representatives fairly easily.

The third spot, as discussed by Jatt, has the potential (note: this is highly speculative so keep that in mind) to have either Fnatic or Cloud 9 in it. While both teams, particularly Cloud 9, seem slightly more assured in the top lane, it’s hard to hold the rest of the roster as showing much potential to upset for a second place slot. They can each bring damage to the records of both, and honestly could be the decider for the top seed teams, but their shots to make it out of groups are thoroughly suspicious. It’s just hard to imagine the two titans in EDG and SKT falling victim to a third place team from the West. But crazier things have happened. 

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Courtesy of LoL Esports.

Unicorns of Love entered the EU LCS in 2015

A brief, heart-breaking history of Unicorns of Love

With the 2017 EU LCS Regional Qualifiers finished, Europe has chosen three teams to represent them at the League of Legends World Championships, and the Unicorns of Love is not one of them. This seems to be their destiny. UOL is always good enough to be a contender, but never good enough to be the champion. They have always had a shot at Worlds, but never reached it. They have made it into the gauntlet thrice, and lost out all three times. Here is a brief look at how the Unicorns got here, and why it is so heart-breaking.

2015

Unicorns of Love qualified for the EU LCS in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Unicorns of Love entered the LCS in 2015 by defeating Millenium in the 2015 Spring Promotion tournament. UOL was promoted, while Millenium was relegated. Their roster included Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás top, Berk “Gilius” Demir jungle, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage mid, Pontus “Vardags” Dahlblom AD carry and Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov support. After Millenium took a 2-0 lead, the Unicorns were able to reverse sweep the series, winning 3-2. This was the beginning of the Unicorns’ legacy as wildcards in the EU LCS.

Coming into the 2015 Spring Split, UOL replaced Gilius with a new jungler, Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek. Kikis was known for his pocket picks in the jungle, such as Sion, Gnar or Shaco. In their debut split, UOL finished with a 9-9 record to secure fifth place and qualify for playoffs. PowerOfEvil was the only player in the league to be the weekly MVP more than once (weeks four and eight).

In Spring Playoffs, the Unicorns had to face fourth place, Gambit Gaming. UOL took them down 3-1, moving them into semifinals against number one seed SK Gaming. In a massive upset, UOL won that best-of-five 3-2. This win brought them to their first playoff finals within their first split, facing second seed Fnatic. The Unicorns took it all the way to five games, but fell short to finish in second place and tally 70 championship points.

UOL came into the 2015 Summer Split carrying momentum. They swapped Gilius back into the jungle role, while Kikis went to G2 (then Gamers2). In almost identical fashion, the Unicorns finished the split 9-9, but placed fourth. Gilius left the team going into playoffs, leaving Cho “H0R0” Jae-hwan as their starting jungler.

Summer Playoffs put UOL against Roccat first, who they defeated 3-2. The victory pushed them into an even tougher semifinals match-up versus an undefeated Fnatic. Getting skunked 3-0, UOL was forced into the third place match with H2K. A win here would send UOL to Worlds as Europe’s second seed, assuming Fnatic won in the finals. However, H2K crushed UOL in another 3-0, and Fnatic won the finals, sending UOL to their first EU LCS gauntlet.

Luckily, UOL’s 110 total championship points entitled them to a full bye in the Regional Qualifiers. Giants, Roccat and Origen would have to fight each other before meeting UOL in the final. Origen, a line-up that would go on to finish top four at the 2015 World Championships, made it to the gauntlet finals and took down UOL in a final 3-0. The Unicorns’ 2015 season would end there.

2016

Unicorns of Love replaced three starters for 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Coming into 2016, Unicorns of Love decided to replace three of their five starters. Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov and Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi signed as their jungler and AD carry, previously of Gambit. Hampus “Fox” Myhre stepped into the mid lane from SK Gaming. Vizicsacsi and Hylissang remained UOL’s top and support.

UOL went through the 2016 Spring Split like past splits. They finished with a 10-8 record, showing strength against teams below them and weakness against teams above them. Most of their problems revolved around the jungle position. Starting in week three, Diamondprox had to leave Europe, due to visa issues. UOL borrowed Millenium’s jungler, Charly “Djoko” Guillard, as a temporary replacement. In week four UOL brought in Rudy “Rudy” Beltran, an unknown player, who was replaced in week seven by ex-H2K Jean-Victor “Loulex” Burgevin. These jungle player rotations hindered UOL’s ability to compete against more stable rosters.

This inconsistency came to a head in the Spring Playoffs when fourth seed Origen defeated the Unicorns 3-0 in the quarterfinals. UOL’s split ended in fifth-sixth, granting only 10 championship points. It was a disappointing placement that demanded change for the Summer Split.

In the mid-season, Unicorns of Love brought in two Korean imports to play jungle and AD carry. Kang “Move” Min-su came into the EU LCS after most recently playing for Gravity in North America. Kim “Veritas” Kyoung-min had played for Vortex, a North American Challenger team. UOL also signed Fabian “Exileh” Schubert, a mid laner with history on several European Challenger teams. Riot also changed the EU LCS regular season to a best-of-two format.

These changes did not seem to affect Unicorns’ consistency much. If anything, it hindered their performance. UOL finished the regular season Summer Split in sixth place with a 6-5-7 record. This line-up was clearly better than tenth through seventh places, but also a step below first through fifth. The Unicorns would go into playoffs as underdogs.

Once there, UOL was able to take down third seed Giants 3-1. Moving into semifinals, UOL had to face an undefeated G2. The Unicorns lost 3-1, which sent them into their second third place match against H2K. Winning 3-1, H2K pushed UOL into the Regional Qualifiers for the second year in a row.

With only 50 championship points, Unicorns of Love found themselves in a difficult position. Giants, Fnatic and Splyce stood in their way of going to Worlds. UOL defeated Giants and Fnatic 3-0, propelling them forward into the gauntlet finals again. 2016 looked like UOL’s redemption. Sadly, Splyce took the series 3-2, keeping the Unicorns out of Worlds for another year.

2017

Unicorns of Love signed Xerxe and Samux for 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This third year has been Unicorns of Love’s third opportunity to go to Worlds. In an off-season full of roster swaps, UOL made some questionable changes. Bringing in European veterans in Spring 2016 did not bring the success they wanted. Korean imports in Summer 2016 was not fruitful, either. For Spring 2017, the Unicorns brought in two low-profile Europeans, Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir and Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort. Xerxe had played for Dark Passage in the TCL, but could not participate in the International Wildcard Qualifiers, due to his age. Samux had played once in the LCS in 2012, but was quickly relegated. He only played in the Challenger Series after that.

Riot further changed the EU LCS format to have two groups that play best-of-threes each week. This format seemed to suit UOL, as they finished the Spring Split in first place for Group B with an 11-2 record. Topping their group afforded UOL a first round bye in the playoffs. They were met by Group A’s second seed, Misfits, who the Unicorns defeated 3-1 to qualify for the finals. This was their first playoff finals over five EU LCS splits. They met defending champions G2 and lost 3-1. UOL was granted 70 championship points.

For the first time since entering the LCS, Unicorns of Love did not change their roster between splits. The team seemed confident coming into the Summer Split with Vizicsacsi, Xerxe, Exileh, Samux and Hylissang. But the summer regular season was slightly worse than spring, mostly due to problems surrounding Exileh and the mid lane. UOL put up a 9-4 record, placing second in Group B behind H2K, based on game score.

Quarterfinals did not look to be much of a problem, as the Unicorns would face Group A’s third seed, Misfits. Unfortunately, UOL could not take a single game, and lost 0-3, ending their playoff run earlier than expected. UOL’s 90 total championship points put them behind Misfits and Fnatic. Unicorns would go to their third straight regional gauntlet.

The Unicorns sat in the second notch of the Regional Qualifiers, after H2K versus Splyce, but before Fnatic. H2K took the victory over Splyce, which meant they could face UOL in a critical moment, once again. In a nail-biter series, H2K secured the 3-2 win, spoiling the Unicorns’ chances of representing Europe at Worlds this year.

2018

 

What will Unicorns of Love do in 2018?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

What will Unicorns of Love do between now and the 2018 season? Every member of this roster has shown promise in 2017. Vizicsacsi and Hylissang have been with this team since their induction in 2015. Coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant and manager-mascot Romain Bigeard have been staples, as well. Xerxe and Samux have solidified themselves as LCS talents. Exileh may have had a rough Summer Split, but his high points are unquestionable.

Like splits past, Riot has already announced major changes to the EU LCS format for 2018. The LCS will be split into four domestic leagues with a greater league running parallel. UOL has claimed their slot in Berlin, as reported by ESPN, with Roccat and Schalke 04. The current two-group format has treated the Unicorns well during the regular season. Maybe this update will too.

Regardless, the pink-and-white have made their mark on the EU LCS since joining in 2015. Despite falling short of Worlds year after year, UOL has cemented itself as a top contender in the regular season, playoffs and the gauntlet. European teams fear this organization as a competitor, because they know that UOL is destined for greatness. 2015 may not have been their year. 2016 may have been rocky. 2017 may have been heart-breaking. But who knows what 2018 may bring? Will falling short remain Unicorns of Love’s legacy, or will Love finally conquer?


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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TSM is trending in Rift Rivals

Trending in Rift Rivals: NA v. EU

Rift Rivals is on in full force, as regions around the world battle for bragging rights. This new international event is clashing metas against each other, to surprising effect. The Atlantic rivalry, North America versus Europe, has been particularly exciting.

There was so much speculation coming into the event, regarding which teams would be strongest, which player match-ups would be most intense and which pocket picks might be locked in. Some of this guess-work has followed through on stage, but much of it has been turned on its head. Today, we will be looking at what is trending at Rift Rivals: NA v. EU.

TRENDING UP

These are the teams, players and gameplay factors that are on the upswing since playing at Rift Rivals. They may have won a key series against a tough opponent. A teammate may have put their team on their back to keep it together. Maybe a particular champion pick was able to shine.

C9 Jensen is trending in Rift Rivals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen

Even though Cloud9 has had a 50 percent win rate after three days at Rift Rivals, their mid laner has been putting up quite a performance. Jensen has the second highest overall KDA (10.4), the second lowest overall death share (7 percent), and the highest overall gold and CS leads at 10 minutes (427, 11.3). Critics in the NA LCS suggested Jensen’s performance may be inflated due to the wide mid lane talent pool within North America. Rift Rivals just may convince them otherwise, having withstood Rasmus “Caps” Winther, Luka “Perkz” Perković and Fabian “Exileh” Schubert.

Phoenix1

Heralded by many to be the weakest team coming into the event, P1 has been rocking the house in Berlin. The orange-and-black hold a 4-2 record after three days of competition, higher than Cloud9, Unicorns of Love, Fnatic and G2. P1 has been the dominant early game by far, averaging 1,272 gold ahead at 15 minutes. Maintaining the highest kill:death ratio, 1.87, P1 is also the team going for blood. Their matches have been invigorating for NA LCS fans hoping for a strong showing.

TSM

Analysts are beginning to shed more and more of their doubts about TSM. The defending champions of North America are on a tear, currently sitting 5-1 with the best record at Rift Rivals. The decisive, coordinated playstyle that allowed TSM to dominate the NA LCS in Spring 2016 has re-surged. They are averaging 1,438 gold ahead at 15 minutes against some of Europe’s strongest contenders. The biggest difference between TSM and other teams in the tournament, however, has been their neutral objective control. At 75 percent dragon control and 80 percent Baron control, they are among the highest of all teams.

Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung

Phoenix1’s jungler is making quite a name for himself in his first international performance. MikeYeung has become a playmaker that is not afraid to aggressively invade the enemy’s jungle or contest neutral objectives. His Lee Sin is very slippery, sporting a 9.8 KDA and 100 percent win rate over three games. Rift Rivals is furthering his claim for “Rookie of the Split” in the NA LCS (even if he is the only one currently eligible).

Top lane Gnar is trending in Rift Rivals

Image from Surrenderat20.net

Top lane Gnar

Gnar has seen plenty of professional gameplay around the world since his release. However, his pick-ban rate has been low for most of 2017: 2.3 percent in spring and 5.9 percent so far this summer. Rift Rivals is seeing a resurgence of the Missing Link in the top lane. Gnar has been picked in seven games, banned in five, equaling 66.6 percent of total games. Teams have won 71.4 percent of games with the champion. This probably signals an increased priority for Gnar for the foreseeable future in NA and EU LCS.

TRENDING DOWN

These are the teams, players and gameplay factors that are on the downswing at Rift Rivals: NA v. EU. They may have lost a series against an underdog. A teammate may have faltered over several games. Maybe the meta is shifting and a playstyle is being left in the past.

Fnatic is trending in Rift Rivals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic

Following an upward trend last week in the EU LCS, Fnatic have slipped up so far at Rift Rivals. Over two days, the number one European team is only 2-4 against TSM, C9 and P1. Doing a complete 180 from the EU LCS Summer Split so far, Fnatic are averaging 2,378 gold behind at 15 minutes, and they have only secured 10 percent of dragons. No one player can take the blame, though.

Jeon “Ray” Ji-won

Cloud9’s top laner is on the decline since competing at Rift Rivals. While Ray has not necessarily put up star performances in the NA LCS, his shortcomings are on full display at this tournament. The third lowest overall KDA (1.6), third lowest overall kill participation (50 percent), second highest overall death share (29.8 percent) and ninth overall lowest damage per minute (261). These all belong to Ray. 

Rek'Sai jungle is trending in Rift Rivals

Image from Surrenderat20.net

Rek’Sai jungle

Rek’Sai saw a sharp up-tick in gameplay last week in NA and EU LCS, since receiving a gameplay update. However, the Void Burrower has not been impactful so far at Rift Rivals. RekSai has only been picked or banned in four games, and only won one game. Zac, Elise, Gragas and Lee Sin have had significantly higher priority in drafts and performance in game.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports FlickrSurrenderat20.net

Champion Statistics: Games of Legends, Oracle’s Elixir

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Rek'Sai, the Void Burrower

Rek’Sai void rushes back into LCS

Rek’Sai, the Void Burrower, has returned to the meta within the NA and EU LCS. Junglers have begun to pick her up as an AD bruiser, following Riot’s small-scope rework. Until recently, Rek’Sai has had a firm presence in professional League of Legends over the last two and a half years.

Following Rek’Sai’s release in December 2014, teams around the world picked or banned her in over 70 percent of all games. Her overall presence dropped to around 25 percent in Spring 2016, only to bounce back up to 77 percent that summer. In Spring 2017, Rek’Sai’s pick-ban rate dropped to her lowest ever, just under 15 percent. But since Riot decided to alter her kit and balance her power, professionals have played her in 30 total games.

Eternum Rek'Sai skin splash

Image from LeagueSplash.com

Rek’Sai gameplay changes

The most extreme changes to Rek’Sai are her ultimate, Void Rush and her W, Un-burrow. Void Rush switched from a glorified teleport ability to an execute of sorts. The R now allows Rek’Sai to go unstoppable roughly one second, lunging at an enemy which she has recently attacked. This ability does attack damage based on the target’s missing health.

Rek’Sai’s Un-burrow ability no longer knocks up multiple opponents. The targeted prey is knocked up, while all surrounding enemies are slightly knocked back. These changes shift Rek’Sai’s overall gameplay from a tanky area-of-effect knock-up-bot into a single-target damage threat with execution potential. While this does not change her out-of-combat playstyle too much, it does change her impact in teamfights. Tremor Sense and Tunnels are still powerful abilities that allow Rek’Sai to see enemies effectively and exhibit pressure around the map. However, once she finds a target, she is able to output more damage than ever before.

For example, here are Rek’Sai gameplay highlights from Week 4 of the NA and EU LCS:

rek’sai’s lcs performance

Even though Rek’Sai’s pick and ban rates have increased, her win rates are still low. In NA LCS, she currently holds a 21.4 percent win rate, while in EU LCS she holds 25 percent. This puts the Void Burrower below eight to nine junglers in terms of success (with more than one game played in LCS). Players may still be learning how to effectively play her in a competitive environment.

Although most Rek’Sai players prioritize Mercury Treads for movement speed and tenacity, the rest of her build path varies between North America and Europe. In NA LCS, it has been just as common to build Skirmisher’s Sabre as building Tracker’s Knife. In EU LCS, Tracker’s Knife is almost universal. Europe also commonly builds Spirit Visage or Locket of the Iron Solari, while North America leans towards Black Cleaver and Deadman’s Plate. Tiamat into Titanic Hydra is essential on Rek’Sai in both regions.

Professional League of Legends will most likely continue to see Rek’Sai on the Rift. Despite her low win rates, junglers show a fondness for this champion. LCS players will need to continue practicing Rek’Sai in the current meta to fully develop her best strategies. Currently, her play rates and win rates do not align. Junglers should look to make her more worthwhile, or simply de-prioritize Rek’Sai in the draft.


Featured Image: Leaguepedia

Other Image: LeagueSplash

Video Highlights: Game Haus Vibby

Champion Statistics: Games of Legends, Oracle’s Elixir

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Where are the Fans? A Case for the EU LCS

Based on the results of Worlds and MSI, the EU versus NA debate is firmly in favor of EU. EU LCS has seen more semifinals and finals at major international events since 2015 than NA has since season 1. EU LCS is also shaping up to have a lot of exciting story lines this split. Group A will be a fight between the current kings of EU LCS, G2, and the old guard, Fnatic. Misfits also look strong and have a chance to take a top position in the group. Meanwhile group B will be a battle between H2K and the Unicorns of Love. Splyce is also in a position to make a bid for a top spot of that group. Even the bottom teams of each group could pull out some upsets if they find their rhythm. Roccat specifically being no strangers to slow starts.

The production value of EU LCS is very high, at least equal to that of the NA LCS. Sjokz commands the analyst desk with precision, invoking great conversation. The casters are top percentage, Deficio and Quickshot especially. There are exciting and entertaining players like H2K’s Jankos and G2’s PerkZ. The post-game interviews don’t take themselves too seriously and are still engaging as well.

The EU LCS seems to have everything going for it except for one thing. Where are the fans? The NA LCS has consistently outperformed the EU LCS in terms of viewership. Why does the EU LCS struggle with viewership so much? How does the EU LCS recover?

 

The Problems

 

One issue with the EU LCS in comparison to NA LCS is the top teams in NA have been around longer. TSM, CLG, and DIG (despite a brief hiatus) have all been around since the very first split, and were around before even the LCS. Cloud 9 joined in season three summer, missing only a single split of LCS. Team Liquid kept the Curse Gaming members when they took over, so essentially they have been around since the beginning of the LCS. NA has three teams that have been around since  the inception of the LCS and two that have essentially been around that long. The only team in the EU that has survived since the inception of LCS is Fnatic. The second oldest team is Team Roccat, joining the LCS in season four.

The long standing teams in NA have given rise to more storied rivalries and more long standing fans. Namely with TSM, CLG, and C9. CLG and TSM have been duking it out long before the LCS began. Cloud 9’s and TSM’s continued success has pitted them head to head in the NA LCS finals split after split. Each team consistently gunning for the top spot has created a rivalry between the two teams. This rivalry has only been exacerbated by the rivalry between the two midlaners, who are widely accepted to be the top two of their role in NA.

As for EU, they have largely lost any storied rivalries by way of relegations. The El Classico rivalry between SK gaming and FNC was lost to SK Gaming’s relegation. Gambit Gaming was a fan favorite team that sold their spot in the LCS after an 8th place finish in season 5 summer. Although there are some longer standing teams now, such as H2K and UoL, the teams just haven’t developed a history like that of the NA teams.

It’s also worth mentioning that EU has suffered scheduling conflicts since the beginning. The league was aired on Thursdays and Fridays during work and school hours, as opposed to NA LCS which was aired Saturday and Sunday, making it easier to watch. This made it easier for fans to keep up with their favorite NA teams, while making it harder to keep up with the EU teams.

 

Solutions

The scheduling conflicts have gotten a lot better. EU LCS airs Thursday-Sunday, before the NA LCS, making it easier to watch live for most people. So, the content is available. There has also been developing rivalries. FNC looks to dethrone G2 this season and has already taken their first win over them. UoL and H2K battled fiercely yesterday for control of group B. UoL came back from a rough early game in game 3 to take the win. Storylines are developing in EU, but slowly.

The EU LCS needs stability right now. It’s what will bring in more fans, more sponsors, and more talent. The obvious answer is to franchise. The NA LCS will be franchising next season, but the word came down from Riot that EU will not be. Although this doesn’t spell the death of the EU LCS it certainly doesn’t help. More stability in NA will only increase their viewership, and a lack of that stability in EU may hurt their popularity. It may also hurt their chances at sponsorships and investments. The idea of a stable franchised league is so enticing G2’s ocelote even entertained the idea of applying to join the NA LCS on an episode of Esports Salon. Though he said it would ultimately be unlikely given G2’s success in EU, it might not be a bad move for lower level teams.

As for Riot, they need to move to enfranchise EU if they want that region to grow like NA has. There has been no explanation from Riot as to why they don’t want to franchise EU. They have only said that there are no plans to franchise and they promise to give information on their plans for Europe “later this year”. Personally, I see no reason why EU shouldn’t franchise. It may be a bit challenging with the multiple country region, but no company as large as Riot should have an issue surmounting that. If Riot has a way to bring stability to the region other than franchising, hopefully they release it soon. EU LCS is an entertaining and talented region. Right now, it is the west’s chance to compete with the eastern teams. It deserves stability and it deserves the fandom that will come along with that stability.

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Photos Via Lolesports.

MSI Semifinals 2017: Team WE v. G2 Esports

MSI: Team WE vs. G2 Esports Preview

Saturday May 20, 2017, the second semifinals match of MSI will be underway. Team WE will face off against G2 Esports for a spot in the finals. Both teams have exhibited their fair share of stellar and underwhelming performances throughout the tournament. They will be doing their best to shore up the weak spots and study their opponents in order to reach peak performance. This best-of-five series will be all or nothing.

Team WE

The LPL representatives have made it through MSI with a 7-3 record, just below SKT. They dropped games to TSM, SKT, and GAM. Every player has had standout performances throughout the tournament. Team WE will be favored to win in this match-up, since they defeated G2 in both of their Group Stage bouts.

How They Win

WE outclasses G2 in almost every statistic. Gold difference at 15 minutes (+1,047/-342), first three turrets (80 percent/10 percent), dragon control (47 percent/30 percent) and baron control (54 percent/38 percent) all heavily favor the Chinese team.

In both of their victories against G2, WE drafted Ashe for Jin “Mystic” Sung-jun and Malzahar for Nam “Ben” Dong-hyun. WE’s jungler, Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie, massacred Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun in the early game. Su “Xiye” Han-Wei played AP diver-assassins LeBlanc and Kassadin. And Ke “957” Changyu has been most impactful on tanky disruptors, particularly Kled.

All of these pieces come together to form a bursty pick composition. Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen was most often caught out by Enchanted Crystal Arrow, Nether Grasp, Explosive Cask, or Chaaaaaaaarge!!! and deleted before he was able to output enough damage. Team WE should maintain this draft strategy and playstyle, because G2 does not seem to have an answer at the moment.

Both wins were secured between 28 and 31 minutes. Team WE took first turret in both matches, which led to the first three turrets in just under 20 minutes. They then proceeded to take baron between 21 and 25 minutes, which allowed WE to break G2’s base and win. In their first game, G2 secured one tower and one dragon. In the follow-up match, WE did not allow them to take any towers or dragons.

How They Lose

Karma and Nami are champion picks that stick out in Team WE’s losses. Xiye lost both games when taking Karma to the mid lane, and Ben lost both games when playing Nami support. 957 looked weak on top lane Jayce, as well. The individuals cannot be fully to blame, but it seems like a good idea to keep these picks on the bench for now.

All of WE’s losses came off the back of sub-30-minute barons secured by their opponent. Against TSM, the gold difference never rose to more than 2,000 until they took a baron. From there, TSM closed out the game, taking a second baron and only ceding 4 kills. Team WE was leading SKT by 2,100 gold at 22 minutes, but Han “Peanut” Wang-ho landed a baron steal. SKT broke their base, took a second baron and won. Team WE’s loss to GAM was mostly due to Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh’s Kha’Zix getting fed a triple kill around 10 minutes.

If WE gives over baron, their chances of losing are high. When viewing statistics for the four semifinal teams, their win rates align with their first baron rates. This objective is pivotal to their playstyle. Properly pressuring around baron was a main catalyst for drawing in G2 and picking off key carries. However, if WE is sloppy in clearing vision or shot-calling around Smite, then it could spell disaster.

Player To Watch

Team WE’s top laner, 957

Team WE’s victory will rely heavily on 957 in the top lane. They have won every game that he has drafted Kled, and he has maintained a 27.0 KDA with the champion. On the other hand, his single Jayce game fed TSM their first 5 kills. G2’s Ki “Expect” Dae-Han is not necessarily the same carry threat that SKT or TSM have. WE will rely on 957 to repeat the masterful disruption he exhibited against G2 in their prior match-ups.

G2 Esports

Making it into semifinals by the skin of its teeth is G2 Esports. The EU LCS representatives finished the Group Stage with a 4-6 record, only picking up wins against Flash Wolves (2), GIGABYTE Marines (1), and TSM (1). Seeing as they lost both matches against Team WE, they are the underdog in this best-of-five series.

How They Win

G2’s victories varied drastically from each other. Three of the four wins were secured 42 minutes or later, and allowed the enemy team to secure at least one baron. Two of those three late-game wins involved G2 falling behind 8,000-9,000 gold at some point. The only champions drafted in multiple wins were Caitlyn, Nunu, and Orianna.

In all of their wins, Zven had two or fewer deaths and had a gold lead on the enemy AD Carry. It is obvious that he is their primary carry threat. G2 lost both games that he drafted Ashe. Zven only has wins on Caitlyn, Twitch, and Kog’Maw thus, G2’s draft will need to revolve around these champions. Ivern, Lulu, Karma, and Orianna have at least 50 percent win rates for G2 thus far. Combining multiple enchanters into the draft may allow Zven to break even through the early game and fully carry in the mid-late game.

Luka “Perkz” Perković has also been a consistent source of damage throughout MSI. Mid lane is arguably the most stacked position at the tournament, and Perkz has been going toe-to-toe with some of the best in the world. He has been averaging 28.8 percent of G2’s damage, the highest among all mid laners (second highest overall behind Zven). Putting Perkz on a champion that can control side waves, particularly Fizz, could be a good back-up if Orianna is banned.

How They Lose

There are several situations that G2 should avoid. Keep Trick off of Lee Sin, he failed horribly twice on the champion. Also, they should not draft Ashe for Zven or Zyra for Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez. Zven needs to be able to output immense damage, and Mithy plays much better on protective champions. Even Tahm Kench or Braum are preferable to Zyra if Lulu or Karma are unavailable.

If Trick continues to have poor early games, then this will most surely be G2’s defeat. Trick has the second lowest KDA and the second highest death share of all players at the tournament. He also has the lowest average damage of all junglers at the event.

While their best strategy generally results in early deficits, G2 will need to play intelligently between 15 and 30 minutes. Team WE’s average game time is over 5 minutes shorter than G2’s, which means if they cede 4,000-6,000 gold leads, then it will be highly unlikely for G2 to win.

Player To Watch

G2 Esport’s top laner, Expect

Expect has been putting up some big games this tournament. He has maintained a 3.7 KDA while only contributing 11.9 percent of G2’s deaths. The top laner has secured wins on Jayce, Gragas, Shen, and Nautilus. G2 also released a video of the final shot-calling from their win over TSM, showing the team’s faith in Expect.

The flip side is that Expect has some of the lowest damage of the top laners at the tournament, and his kill participation is low compared to 957. G2 will need him to be more involved as a proactive member of the team, matching 957’s map movements. Perkz and Zven can pump out the damage. Mithy can shield and provide vision. And Trick is under-performing. Expect may be the biggest factor that could turn this match-up on its head.

Prediction

Unless the stars align, and G2 are able to draft a true “protect the ADC” composition, then Team WE will skunk them 3-0. Trick got steamrolled by Condi in both of their Group Stage games. Mystic and Ben have been performing well enough to keep up with Zven and Mithy. Expect and 957 will most likely be trying to execute similar strategies, but 957 has proven to be more successful up to this point. Perkz matches up against Xiye pretty well, but the synergy among the entire team is heavily in WE’s favor.


Player/Champion Statistics: Oracle’s Elixir

All Images: LoL Esports Photos

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Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

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

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

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

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

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

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

Mascots in LCS

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

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

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

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

What Could Go Wrong?

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

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

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

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

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

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

Conclusion

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

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


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Fnatic win quarterfinals over H2K

Fnatic Quarterfinals Highlights and the Road Ahead

Fnatic played a stellar series against H2K last weekend, finishing 3-0. While H2K looked out of sorts, Fnatic played calm, coordinated League of Legends. This was their best series so far in the 2017 EU LCS. Here is a compilation of their best plays from the quarterfinal match-up.

While Fnatic should be proud of this achievement, they have a challenging playoffs road ahead. Their next opponent will be G2, a squad which has suffered only one series loss thus far. Hypothetically, if Fnatic wins that match-up, they will still need to face the winner of Misfits vs. Unicorns of Love in the finals.

G2 does exhibit some playstyle similarities to H2K, but with fewer weaknesses. H2K’s biggest issue seemed to be communication in their quarterfinal loss. Shin “Nuclear” Jung-hyun and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho were not on the same page with each other or the rest of the team. Many of Fnatic’s advantages came from Nuclear and Chei’s poor positioning. Fnatic should not expect Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez to make the same mistakes.

Fnatic also surprised H2K, and spectators, with lower priority marksmen picks: Twitch, Vayne, and Kennen. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s Kennen pick is not surprising, but hardly any other bottom laners look as comfortable on the pick. Twitch and Vayne, though, came out of nowhere. Though these picks most likely threw H2K for a loop, G2 now have the advantage of knowing Fnatic is able to draft and win with such picks. The surprise is no longer a factor.

Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen and Paul “sOAZ” Boyer will need to continue to demonstrate high levels of pressure in the jungle and top lane. They will also need to remain coordinated with the rest of the team to properly rotate, pressure objectives, and counter-gank.

Jesse “Jesiz” Le should try to remain on support champions with strong engage potential. He stood out as a highly impactful player throughout the quarterfinals. If Fnatic are able to replicate the strategies they used against H2K, then their series against G2 this weekend should be a treat.

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EU LCS Group Draft format 2017

Thoughts on EU LCS Group Format

For 2017, the EU LCS adopted a new regular season format which involves two groups of five teams. These changes were put in place to resolve fans’ issues with the dual-stream and best-of-2 format. The new grouping would allow viewers to watch one best-of-3 stream at a time. But is it better?

Most LCS fans would agree that the best-of-3 format is vastly better than the best-of-2 last year. The murky nature of ties left many fans feeling unsatisfied. Having definite winners and losers in such a small league is much more appealing. It can also, theoretically, better prepare European teams for international competition by rewarding consistency and adaptation.

Best-of-3 seems to be the perfect balance between viewer satisfaction, player well-being, and proper preparation. In comparison, best-of-1s reward teams that can successfully cheese their opponents for one match, and do not necessarily allow EU to send its most consistent representatives to international competitions. Best-of-2’s and best-of-4’s create too many undesirable ties, and best-of-5’s can result in more fatigue for the players and an extended schedule that would strain the production crews and viewers.

Having a single stream is fairly beneficial, too. It is the most comfortable way to watch every scheduled series live, rather than choosing which to watch in a dual stream. There may be fewer match-ups to watch in a given weekend, but a viewer is able to see all of them without turning to VODs.

EU LCS weekly schedule format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

The sacrifice, it seems, is regular series quality. Of course, the group format should not take the whole blame for this. There are other contributing factors. However, splitting the teams into two groups has resulted in regularly lower quality match-ups.

This split, EU LCS teams were separated into Groups A and B. Teams within Group A play each other twice; teams within Group B play each other twice. But they only play across groups once. This sounds like a small difference in play-rate, but it has huge consequences on viewer experience. For example, G2 and MSF will only face H2K, UOL, and SPY once each, but FNC, ROC, and GIA twice before playoffs. Since the teams were drafted to split their overall abilities evenly, this schedule has created gradients within each group. The gap between the top teams and bottom teams is huge. And just as H2K will only play G2 once, GIA will only play OG once.

Week 9 of the LCS is representative of this unfortunate reality. Previewing the match-ups is not possible because every single one is one-sided. SPY should beat VIT, G2 should stomp GIA, MSF should destroy ROC, and down the list it goes. Most weeks have featured one to three quality match-ups, while the other three to five seem pre-determined.

EU LCS promotion and relegation format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

This group format, however, is sufficient for figuring out which teams should go to playoffs and relegation. The top six and the bottom two are extremely apparent. But week to week series are lower quality. There is less to analyze. There is less guessing or postulating.

If EU mirrored the NA LCS format, it may be a bit better. Sure, audiences would sacrifice the comfort of watching every match-up live, but they would receive much more frequent close match-ups. Teams would need to prepare and adapt against nine opponents, rather than four. And if they really wanted to allow viewers to see every stream live, then they would simply spread the series out over four days instead of three.

While this split’s scheduling and grouping format has been an upgrade over 2016’s, there are still issues that need to be addressed. The EU LCS could possibly allow for more teams in the league, such as 12 or 14 total teams (6-7 per group). This, again, leads to longer schedules over more days, but it may create more frequent close match-ups. As professional League of Legends becomes more and more popular, overall viewing experiences will need to be closely managed. Hopefully, moving forward, EU LCS tournament formatting will be able to strike the right balance between audience gratification, production value, player well-being, and quality competition.

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