How franchising in North America might affect Europe

ESPN has reported that four teams have applied to the NA LCS in wake of franchising next year. Not just four average teams either. Four major esports organizations from the EU LCS in Fnatic, Misfits, G2 and Splyce. It seems that with franchising coming to North America next year, it would be a safer investment than staying in the EU LCS.

Franchising opens up the ability for investors to have a safer investment with no risk of teams being relegated. Teams will also have a lot more money to pay players than their European counterparts. This could lead to less investors heading to Europe with more money going into the NA LCS.

More Players Leaving Europe?

Photo via Riot Esports

It’s no secret that Europe has produced some very talented players that have come to the NA LCS. Names like Bjergsen, Jensen and Froggen come to mind. With more money coming to North America, could we see a migration of Europeans/Koreans to North America?

Some say money can’t buy everything. But with players typically having short career spans, wouldn’t you want to at least go where your money will be the greatest? Europe has somewhat been known for having less money than North American competitors. With franchising looming next split, could we see even more European stars head to North America in chase of higher pay?

The EULCS would inevitably become weaker if they can’t compete with the money that North American teams can offer. Even European teams have applied to franchise in North America. This would force teams to have to drop over half their roster to satisfy the import rules. This leads into the next topic of combining NA and EU LCS.

One Western League?

Instead of implementing the import rule for EU LCS teams coming over, could Riot think to combine both regions altogether? While it’s highly unlikely, if Europe’s top organizations were to get accepted, it would leave a huge void in Europe for talent and org experience.

Many European fans have discussed their negativity towards franchising in Europe. If all the best teams are already looking towards NA for franchising, it may be better to follow suit. This whole year has almost proved that the EU LCS is a top heavy league.

The difference between the bottom four and top six teams is quite apparent, especially with the results at Rift Rivals. With more money heading to North America, the competition can only grow stronger.

Changing the Format

It’s no secret Europe has become victim to Riot’s LCS experiments. First with the best of 2’s last year and now with the divided groups. The two group format has made EU more dissatisfying to watch as you see a lot less of the top teams going head to head. The bottom teams in each conference are almost auto-wins for the rest as well.

Having only two full days of games compared to three in NA definitely hurts from a sponsorship standpoint. With franchising also coming, EU needs to go to all teams playing each other twice in a best of three. No more groups splitting the league either. It almost feels like it hurt them competitively as well. This was evident at Rift Rivals when Phoenix1 who finished last place this summer was able to handily defeat the top teams from Europe.

The format isn’t the only thing holding Europe back, but it’s definitely an issue. Riot needs to give EU a full three days of games and the same format as North America.

It will be interesting to see what exactly happens next year with franchising coming to North America. Many talented EU players may look to North America in search of the money. This could be detrimental to EU LCS as we move forward.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

Should psychologists be required for LCS teams?

With the tweets of top laner Jeon “Ray” Ji-won coming to light recently, the discussion of the mental health of professional players returns. Many fans on social media can be harsh to their favorite players when they perform poorly. The criticism pro players can face added with the stress of performing well on stage can take a toll on these young minds.

You also have to factor in that many of the players are experiencing their first times being away from home in a brand new team environment. Not to mention a brand new country/culture for imported players. If players don’t perform up to their own standards, their own mental health can take a toll.

History of Mental Health Issues in LCS

Psychologists

Photo by Riot Games

It’s no secret that some players have seen the need to retire due to the stress of being a pro player. Legendary players such as Dyrus and Voyboy noted the mental stress during their time in LCS. Sport psychologists have slowly been making their way onto professional teams, but not all.

The most well known psychologist in pro League of Legends would have to be Weldon Green who made a name for himself on TSM last year, and now G2. Both teams saw significant upgrades to their team’s play after bringing Weldon in. Most of the teams have bought into hiring sports psychologists for their teams. The early days of LCS of eating whatever and only playing the games are gone.

Teams are training players to be physically and mentally fit in all aspects of life. CLG opted to train in a top sports facility during the offseason as opposed to bootcamping in Korea like some teams. The result has been a first place spot so far after five and a half weeks of LCS.

Should Psychologists be Required for LCS teams?

Not too long ago, Riot made coaches a requirement for LCS teams. Should psychologists become the next thing to join that list of required staff? It definitely could be if more players were to speak out about some of their mental issues. It’s almost certain that Ray isn’t the only player facing these types of mental hurdles.

Even a few sessions a week could help players with managing their stress. Every team could use the benefit of a psychologist. Not only for struggling players, but for team life in general. Many teams that have taken on Psychologists can see the effect it has had on team environments. Roccat last Spring struggled before a late surge almost netted them a playoff spot. They credited this to bringing on a sports psychologist to help with the team atmosphere.

What we can do as fans

As fans, it’s easy to criticize our favorite pros when they fail to meet our expectations. We also need to remember that they’re people just like us who are performing on some of the world’s biggest stages of professional LoL. Most of them haven’t been groomed to receive the hate that some of the community is bound to expel when they have a poor game.

We must not be quick to make remarks based off emotions. Everyone isn’t going to play perfectly, but flaming them over social media most certainly won’t help them play any better. Pro players for the most part, know when they’ve messed up. They know if they cost their team a match. There’s no need for fans to tag them in tweets raging or making angry posts on Reddit. Let them learn from their mistakes and prove themselves next time.

 

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Cover photo by Riot Games

NA vs. EU Rift Rivals power rankings/predictions

Rift Rivals is around the corner. We will get the chance to see some of the top teams from EU and NA face off in a regional battle for bragging rights. EU and NA has been a long time rivalry in professional League of Legends. They were two of the first big regions to produce pro teams during LoL’s early days.

The history of the NA vs. EU rivalry has been a bit lopsided as of late. EU comes in as heavy favorites with most of the top of NA looking inconsistent for most of the first half of the split. You never really know with international tournaments though. The two regions are used to playing to their own metas so it will be interesting to see how the teams match up. Here are my power rankings for the teams playing at Rift Rivals:

1. Fnatic

Photo via Riot Games

Fnatic come into Rift Rivals with a steady 6-1 record. After struggling last split, they found their groove towards the end. Fnatic have found a style that works for them and continue to show mastery on it. ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson has his pocket pick Kennen that teams must watch out for. If it’s not the Kennen, it’s his Tristana that can give teams trouble. Mid laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther gets his first shot at international competition. This is a great opportunity for him to face off against some of the best in the world in Bjergsen and Jensen at Rift Rivals. With Rekkles usually on more utility carries, Caps is heavily relied on to be the main damage dealer for the team. Caps currently leads the league for all mids in damage percentage and damage per minute.

Young jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen gets his chance to prove himself as one of the best junglers in the West. He’s been dominating the EULCS this split with a monster 11.3 KDA. He’s an aggressive jungler that has had phenomenal performances on early game junglers such as Elise and Kha’zix.

Fnatic are comprised of two veterans in SoaZ and Rekkles who should be able to lead this rising squad to a Rift Rivals victory.

2. Unicorns of Love

Unicorns of Love come into Rift Rivals with a 5-1 record, only dropping a series to Splyce. They are led by star top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás. Rookie of the split Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir will also be a player to watch as he’s come into his own in the EULCS. He has a deep champion pool, willing to pull out unique champion picks such as Warwick and Hecarim. With EU having some of the best junglers in this tournament, NA will need to step up.

Fabian “Exileh” Schubert may have a a rough time. In EU he’s currently dead last in CS difference@10. He’s also near the bottom for many mid lane stats. He will be up against the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen and Ryu. Teams will most likely look to exploit the mid and bot lane. ADC Samuel “Samux” Fernández has looked improved this split, he comes in facing the likes of Arrow, Doublelift and Sneaky. UoL have strong shot calling and have shown consistency to play well together. In just about every matchup against TSM they’ve handily defeated them. We’ll see if that changes this time around.

3. Cloud 9

Photo via Riot Games

Cloud 9 come in off a solid win over TSM, but a very deflating loss at the hands of CLG. Had they beaten CLG they may have been in a higher position. Cloud 9 are led by carries Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. Jensen has been having the best split of his career in the NALCS. He sits near the top in most statistical categories among NA mids.

In NA Cloud 9 has had some of the same issues from last split. Their early game play making still lacks a bit, but their laning phase is still pretty solid. They have a versatile roster with their interchangeable top laners of Jeon “Ray” Ji-won and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. Ray has slowly been taking the starting role from Impact showing the ability to be a carry top laner for the team.

In the jungle rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia has still shown some inconsistencies, but has turned it on as of late. He’ll be facing many good junglers from EU, so he’ll need to step it up if Cloud 9 have a chance. It will be his first international competition so he’ll look to prove himself. Cloud 9’s rivalry with Fnatic will be ignited once again as they get a chance to face off in this tournament. Cloud 9 took the battle of the Atlantic, but Fnatic has gotten the best of them at Worlds.

4. Team SoloMid

TSM are the reigning North American champions and had the chance to eliminate G2 from MSI. They failed to do so and were eliminated themselves. They get another shot in the EU rivalry this time with ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Doublelift vs. Rekkless and Zven will be matchups to watch here at Rift Rivals. Rekkless isn’t really known for his aggressive laning phase so we’ll need to see how he does against one of NA’s best.

Many thought TSM would retake the NA throne easily with the addition of Doublelift back onto the roster. That hasn’t been the case as TSM sit in 2nd place with a 7-3 record. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has looked phenomenal on Lee Sin. Anything outside of Lee, he has looked meh at best. He’ll be a huge crutch for TSM if he has a repeat of his performances at MSI.

TSM have been known to choke at international events. We’ll need to see if Rift Rivals will be another one added to that list.

5. G2

Photo via Riot Games

After a great run at MSI where they reached the finals before losing to SKT, G2 was expected to come back and destroy the EULCS scene. That hasn’t been the case as G2 seem to have taken a step back in terms of performance. They may be using the regular season to try out new things, but their old strategy of playing to the late game has not worked well for them. They currently sit at 3-3, third in their conference.

Their early game play making is lacking. While they can still try to play around star ADC Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, teams will look to punish them for their lack of early game play making. Support Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez has been a weak link this split getting caught out uncharacteristically. He will need to step it up or he’ll be punished by some of the better supports at the tournament.

6. Phoenix1

Phoenix1 will be heavy underdogs as the only team coming to rift rivals with a negative W-L. They currently sit in 8th place with a 3-7 record. They struggled heavily out the gates, but after bringing in new jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung and veteran support Alex “Xpecial” Chu the team has looked much more competitive.

MikeYeung brings in a signature Nidalee pick that teams will need to watch out for. Former MVP ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has not shown the same prowess he did last split. He’s currently last in CS differential@10 and near the bottom in other statistics.

The team has looked improved in recent weeks. Maybe Rift Rivals can be a spring board for turning their season around. Ryu, Arrow and Xpecial are the steady veterans who have played in international competition before. Ryu in particular should know his opponents very well. Phoenix1 could definitely take a game or two under the right circumstances.

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Cover photo by Rift Herald

Hooks in the LCS

Week Two of the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) has proven once again that NA pros are hooked on League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) picks. While Thresh has been a staple in competitive since release, the rise of Blitzcrank has recently rocketed in North America.

Thresh’s Big Moment

Perhaps the most consistent support pick, Thresh has become stronger than ever with the recent meta changes. Having a kit that is overloaded with the ability to create picks, peel, and reposition allies, it is no wonder that Thresh has been a staple in pro play. This being said, Thresh has reached his peak in both competitive and solo queue environments due to some recent changes.

Photo by: lolesports

Changes to support and laning items have made Thresh’s abusable laning phase easier to handle. Doran’s shield protects vulnerable AD carries from the harassment of the ever popular ranged mage supports. Poke based support champions are also hindered by having less mana regen on the Spellthief’s support item line. With poke supports doing less poking, tank supports running the Relic Shield line have been indirectly buffed, but they are again buffed through the power of the Relic Shield Quest which gives them a refreshing shield once it is completed.

Alongside the lack of health regen from the Ancient Coin line, and less mana regen from Spellthief’s, Relic Shield supports such as Thresh and Blitzcrank are at their strongest.

The Great Steam Golem

The Great Steam Golem has seen plenty of screen-time in the LCK, most notably from the likes of MVP MAX, whose signature Blitzcrank is a pick to be feared. With seven bans and five picks since the LCK started three weeks ago, Blitzcrank maintains a 60 percent win rate. Popularized by MVP Max during the Spring Split of the LCK, Blitzcrank is one of Max’s many play making supports. Currently, in the Summer Split of the LCK, MVP Max has only played two games on his claim to fame champion, winning one and losing the other; this shows that the pick has become popular amongst other supports in the LCK as well.

Throwback to Team Alternate versus Gambit (Moscow 5). Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has always been an unpopular pick in the competitive scene, with exception of the first two seasons of competitive. This is in large part due to the reliability of his one-dimensional kit. Blitzcrank is the quintessential Catcher. While being the best pick based support, Blitzcrank’s toolkit starts, stops and ends at his Rocket Grab. The basic combo, hook into knock-up and silence, can be used for peeling through a separation of the combo into its more basic components.

However, there are so many other better-peeling supports. Due to the nature of his one combo kit, Blitzcrank’s power is completely dependent on hitting the initial Rocket Grab. This is the primary reason why professional players have strayed away from Blitzcrank. While this champion is undeniably one of the most powerful supports in the game, consistently sitting in the top three highest win rate supports for the past few seasons, the lack of flexibility and reliability prevents the Steam Golem from being the most picked support.

Blitzcrank’s Fleshling Compatibility Services

Enter Xayah, the Rebel. Xayah has incredible late game scaling, laning phase damage, wave clear, and Crowd Control. Her popularity alongside her partner, Rakan, has soared in the competitive scene. While her go-to bottom lane partner is Rakan, Blitzcrank makes a potentially more powerful support. Much like the Kalista Blitzcrank combination of the past season, Xayah and Blitzcrank compensate for each other’s weaknesses perfectly. Xayah lacks in gap closers that allow for her to dump her insane amount of damage onto backline threats. Blitzcrank’s Rocket Grab allows for her to utilize her damage on threats that would otherwise be too far away. The Steam Golem lacks in reliability to initiate the Rocket Grab combo, but Xayah’s wave clear and root allow for Rocket Grab to become a point and click ability instead of a jukable skill shot.

EULCS Hylissang gets his hook on in time for a victory. Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has incredible play-making ability that was displayed in game three of CLG v Echo Fox. Alongside Xayah, Blitzcrank is a foe to be reckoned with. Regardless of whether or not Blitzcrank is laning with Xayah, the Steam Golem has seen a recent resurgence in both solo queue and competitive environments. Most recently in the EU LCS, Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov, proved the champion’s power supporting Twitch in the bottom lane. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s knack for play-making supports has translated well into his Blitzcrank play. While CLG would ultimately lose to TSM with Blitzcrank, this is in large part due to the unexpected performance by TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenkskeren” Johnsen.

As support itemization is once again being changed, expect to see both hook-heavy champions in the bottom lane. With Redemption being nerfed when not paired with other healing and shielding items, and Knight’s Vow being made more appropriate for supports to pick up, expect to see a new Blitzcrank and Thresh build path. This new itemization will compensate for Blitzcrank’s lack of peel by allowing him to effectively share a health pool with his marksmen.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

 

Will Super Teams Ever Be formed in the LCS?

For those who follow the NBA, it’s no doubt that the league has changed. Star players used to be much more loyal to the teams that drafted them. Nowadays if players want to compete for a title, they most likely need the help of fellow superstars to do so. Which brings an interesting topic to LCS. What would happen if some of the best players of the region all came together to form “super teams” to begin to seriously contend for worlds. One could only imagine the possibilities of rosters.

We have yet to really see any formation of super teams take place in LCS. In Europe, Alliance had their small run of success before flopping at Worlds. The transfer of Zven and Mithy to G2 was also a bold move for them as they saw the greatest chance for success in joining G2 esports. In the LMS you somewhat have the formation of two of the best rosters on AHQ and Flash Wolves. It’s an extremely top heavy region where Flash Wolves and AHQ are almost always bound to meet in the finals.

Why not?

Photo via Inven

One could see how the formation of “super teams” could greatly benefit a region. Could you imagine a super team of North American talent of Hauntzer, Dardoch, Bjergsen, Doublelift, and Aphromoo? Possibly the best players at their positions from the region all coming together to compete for a World championship.

Player loyalty is much higher in LCS than the NBA. Players are extremely loyal it seems to the teams that gave them their first real shot at playing professionally. Bjergsen will always be famous for the work he has put in on TSM. The same goes for Aphromoo on CLG. Even Froggen on Echo Fox. Despite having some poor splits so far in the NALCS, Froggen remains loyal to Echo Fox as an organization. It makes it difficult to see if either players would give up their loyalty for a shot at a professional title. In the NBA, a star player can only hope for so long that his GM can garner the right pieces for a championship team. Once they’ve hit their peak, they’re looking for a title contending team which usually means teaming up with other NBA superstars (i.e. Kevin Durant to GSW).

Would Super Teams Hurt the LCS?

The competition of LCS may become worse if all the best players of a region are stacked onto 1-3 teams. Looking at the NBA, we can almost expect the Cavs and Warriors to face off in every finals for the next few years until another super team can form to dethrone them. If super teams dominated LCS, and the gap between a middle tier and top tier team were to expand, the league could grow stale for some. Seeing super star heavy teams leaves less of a talent pool for other teams. Most teams would probably need to turn to imports to compete.

With no real player rivalries anymore in the NBA, more players seem to care more about winning a championship than anything. Player/team rivalries are huge in sports/esports, but if every good player just wants to team together, it sort of defeats the purpose of competing against the best.

Can Super Teams actually compete on the world stage?

Photo via Riot Esports

If super teams were to form in NA LCS, it’d be with one goal in mind: to finally contend for a world championship. For so long Korea has dominated professional League of Legends. Forming a sort of “all star” team could be one way to finally contend for a World title. We’ve seen teams like G2 and TSM do well domestically, but flop at Worlds. Could the solution just be superstar players joining up to form all star caliber teams?

It’s hard to say for sure. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward as North American fans grow frustrated with seeing Korea win every year and NA fail to make it out of groups. If the years continue on like this, I could definitely see some superstars look to join up as esport athletes don’t have the longest career spans. Searching for a World title may be one or two players away from forming a super team.

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Cover Photo by Riot Esports

Let me know what your super team would be in the comments below!

 

Flaws With Rift Rivals

Riot Games is finally introducing more chances for international play with their announcement of Rift Rivals yesterday. Rift Rivals will pit regional rivals against each other in a battle between the top three teams of their respective regions. Fans and teams have been begging for more international competitions and Riot looks to have been listening. Things aren’t perfect though and there are some flaws with how the tournament format is set up. Let’s take a look:

Photo via Gamespot

Bo1’s

Has Riot not learned anything from the past few seasons about best-of-one formats? One can see how it can be exciting for fans due to the unpredictability. With B01’s, you can have upsets, such as Albus Nox Luna at last Worlds and Wildcards upsetting highly ranked teams.

In any case, B01’s don’t allow much flexibility in drafts/strategies and can limit how creative a team can get. Most teams will want to just draft standard in a B01 because they only have one game to prove themselves. Having a best-of-three format would allow for more creative drafts, where teams can get risky in game one knowing that if things don’t work out they can go back to standard for game two.

It doesn’t feel like the winner of B01’s is definitively better than the other team. They were only better than them for one game. One mistake can cost a team a game.

Teams are locked in from standings based ON half a split ago

For those who don’t know, teams are already locked in based on the spring split standings for Rift Rivals. Announcing a type of tournament like this should open up more motivation for teams to do well to represent their region at this tournament.

Many things can change in half a split. A team can go from being a top three team to possibly a 4-6th place team. If that’s the case, fans get a lower quality play and may not be represented well. Hypothetically speaking, TSM, Cloud 9, and Phoenix1 could all be bottom tier teams next split and will still be able to play in this tournament. If you’re going to have an international event in July, teams should need to qualify for it as close to the date as possible for the best results.

Relay Format

The relay format basically starts with the 3rd place team of each region pitted against each other in a B01. Whatever team loses is eliminated and the winner stays on to face the next highest ranked team of that region.

The major issue with this is you could potentially never see the first place team of a region play. It’s all based on how well the third place team does. If the third place team were to win all three matches, you wouldn’t even see the other two teams play in this type of format.

Double elimination B03 matches would make the most sense to actually see how the teams stack up against each other. Limiting it to B01’s and this really weird relay format limits the chances of actually seeing who is a better region. Having a gauntlet style tournament would at least give every team a chance to play in a best-of series.

Future tournaments

It seems that with Riot introducing this new tournament, they’ll be looking at doing more in the future. With only four days in between the split to plan this out, time is quite limited for them, which may explain the B01 format. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, with more time, Riot can put on a better format for an international event.

Cover image via Riot Esports

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Buying LCS Spots: Ninjas Make Their Return

Players and fans alike have mixed opinions around the recent announcement of Ninjas in Pyjamas (NIP) purchasing the Fnatic Academy spot in the EU LCS.

The Fnatic Academy roster consists of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek at top lane, Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider as the jungler, Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer at mid, Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm as ADC and Johan “Klaj” Olsson at support. This team worked their way through the EU Challenger circuit only to be bought out earlier this week. This was all done without consent from the players and the bulk of them have tweeted their dismay after the announcement.

With NIP offering spots to three of the five “brothers” of EU’s Fnatic Academy, each being declined due to a desire to stay together as a team, the future of each of these players is still largely up in the air. For now they are choosing to stay with the Fnatic organization, however, they are also available for contracting.

Ninjas move in

The roster looking to replace Fnatic Academy under the NIP brand, consists of ex-SKT top laner, Kim “Profit” Jun-hyung, Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema in the jungle, former KT Rolster mid laner Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, Martin “HeaQ” Kordmaa at ADC, and Hampus “sprattel” Mikael Abrahamsson in support. This is an exceptionally confusing roster as only a few of these players carry the esteem and praise that the original Fnatic Academy line up achieved throughout their play in the Challenger scene. What is in question is whether or not this new line up would have made it through the EU Challenger series. If so, then the spot is deserved. However, if in this hypothetical they would not perform up to the par set by other EU teams, then a serious strike towards the integrity of competitive League of Legends has been made. 

What is especially worrying is that NIP sought to take three of the five Fnatic Academy players, implying that three players in their current line up are not as valued as those they are replacing. As to who those three are, we do not know. What is more likely than not is that NIP sought to replace both solo laners with imports, despite the solo laners of Fnatic Academy performing relatively well this past split.

How NIP performs in the upcoming split will either leave the ex-Fnatic Academy players vindicated or disdained. It will be hard to watch someone take over your role and flounder after being given a spot on an LCS squad. That being said, it may be more difficult to watch the same team triumph in the spot you worked so hard to carve out for them.

Gold Coin United leaves the stage after a close loss in a best of five against TL. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

This has happened before

Fans in an uproar must check themselves. Buying LCS spots is nothing new. 

Just a few months ago, the NA LCS Summer Promotion tournament held a fierce competition between four teams. These four teams, eUnited, Gold Coin United, Team Envy and Team Liquid, competed for only two LCS spots. While Team Envy secured their LCS spot with their original roster intact, Team Liquid made two temporary purchases during the season’s final weeks with both Adrian Ma and Peng “Doublelift” Yilang. These purchases were never meant to be long-term investments towards their permanent roster, but instead, they were made to prevent Team Liquid from being relegated.

Even with the “rental” of one of NA’s greatest ADC players, Team Liquid was pushed to all five games of a best of five against Gold Coin United. While Gold Coin United made some serious misplays in this best of five, fans of Team Liquid and competitive League of Legends alike must question the integrity of this “rental”. Is Team Liquid more deserving of this LCS spot than Gold Coin United? With DoubleLift in their roster, the obvious answer is yes, however without DoubleLift the picture shows a more skilled team, Gold Coin United, cheated out of an entire season of hard work. 

It must be exceptionally devastating to field a team through the Challenger series only to get to the final match and have the enemy team sub out their weakest link for one of the best players in the league.

League of meritocracy no longer

Amazing meditates after a hard fought victory. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

There is a lot of money in esports nowadays. And sadly, this can act as a corrupting agent for the integrity of the meritocracy competitive League of Legends once created. The times of five friends coming together to win a world championship is long expired, and I for one miss those times. Now the competitive League scene has too much money in it to allow a roster deserving of an LCS spot actually keep their LCS spot. Whether they win the promotion tournament and get bought out, or they lose due to a relegated team renting a roster that would have never been relegated, the sanctity of the LCS is a myth of the past.


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Featured image courtesy of lolesports flickr

Franchising in the World of Esports Part 1

According to multiple sources, Riot has decided to scrap the relegation model and move to franchising in 2018. The first taste of this will be in the LPL where they will officially move to the new model this summer. All of this came after Blizzard similarly announced that they would be franchising for 2018 as well. Now that we got the old news out of the way, let me tell you why franchising is the best thing for League of Legends and Esports as a whole.

Many people have given reactions and opinions to this news. In this three-part series, I will also be putting my opinion out there. I plan to tell you how I envision the new structure could work and some of the realities of it all.

Academy Teams…

To start, I have been asking for Riot to do this since around this time last year. After owning GameHausGG for a few months, I could already see the struggle of even attempting to get a team into Challenger, let alone LCS. The amount of money it would cost was unreasonable (unless you had a lot of backing), and players were and have always been extremely flaky. There is no set system or organization to the whole thing. Players, coaches, and even owners are still as unreliable as ever. (We wrote about the recent Blue Rose debacle)

Image by: Yahooesports.com

With all that in mind, I have personally found that there needs to be a real structure in place. Trying to get to Challenger is what every amateur team strives for, yet many of the best never reach it because of “Academy” teams, or as I like to call them, “ways for their mother teams to get more money by selling off their LCS spot.” Academy teams are a major reason why the Challenger league is not only boring, but also a waste of time.

Normally these teams consist of four reject vets and a rookie, Flyquest being the outlier. The mother teams take a chance because they know it wont cost them much, and it gives these players a chance. Then they normally win due to better backing and they are sold to the highest bidder.

For those of you who may argue that this is a common practice, please look at the closest comparison, the EPL. Relegation happens all the time, but teams do not create sister or ‘Academy’ teams and then sell their spots.

While I understand that many of the owners are losing money, this system will help them short term, but may hurt them long term. Luckily it is rumored that Riot has decided to ban Academy teams.

So far Overwatch has not had this problem, but they also have not been established as long. For now I think that Academy teams will not be something that plagues the new Overwatch league.

CHALLENGER TURNS INTO THE MINORS?

Luckily I believe franchising will end and fix all of these problems in Challenger.

Challenger is the perfect opportunity to develop League of Legends’ next stars. While it has done that to a certain degree, it needs to be an established minor league. They can model it after the minor leagues in baseball, or an even better comparison would be the D-League in the NBA.

Image by: http://faculty.de

This developmental league would allow for players to hone their skills. Every team could be associated with a pro team where they could call up or send down players.

It would be its own league that could be promoted as such. The players would get their chances to shine, and those of us who watch League of Legends religiously could have a new thing to complain about, teams not making certain call-ups and sending certain players down.

Overwatch could very easily institute a similar approach. A developmental league of some type for Overwatch would be extremely beneficial as we barely have any established players, teams, or even styles to the game yet.

So what would adding minor leagues solve?

To start, it would allow for the player pool to grow immensely. People could actually have a better chance of being picked up by orgs to be developed in the Minors just like they do in traditional sports. This could have a huge trickle down effect as well.

Colleges could groom the players thus adding another league, again similarly to traditional sports. Then teams could have scouting departments that could either pick players up or they could even do a developmental draft. That would be the dream. Tell me you wouldn’t watch a League of Legends or Overwatch developmental draft? Your favorite team could pick the next big star and the hype would be all too real. But, I must remind myself, one step at a time.

Also these minor leagues would give players more of a chance to go professional and build their own brand. For now it is all about players trying to grind in solo queue and hope that they get picked up. All the while they are still living at home with no guarantees of a potential career.

Lastly, this would give the players at all levels some real stability and organization. Signing with a team and being in their minor league system allows for these players to get a good contract and know that they could be called up at anytime. They would not have to wait and hope that their team would play into the main league. Also they would know that they are affiliated with an established brand. They would not have to create their own, the fan base would already be there for them.

The Fans

So why would you, as a fan, want this minor league or Challenger system?

Courtesy of: Polygon.com

I will start with the most obvious answer, more games and players for you to watch. There would be series of your favorite game being played more often. You could watch these lower leagues to try and see if your team has some good potential talent to bring up and help the roster, or if they need to bring in different talent. Also you could just watch good gaming all the time.

Another reason is that this system would help the established teams quite a bit. Sponsors would be way more likely to invest in this type of system. You know why? Because they have seen it work with traditional sports. Investors and sponsors are more likely to give their money and time if they know something works.

Lastly, this would also create the possibility of even more teams in the league. League of Legends for example, only has 10 teams in NA and EU. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they had more? With an established minor league system, more people would want to be owners. They would understand the organization better and feel better about establishing a new team. With that, they would establish more minor league teams.

Conclusion

I feel as though I have opened Pandora’s Box with all the possibilities of a minor league system. The new franchising could offer all of this and more.

It also could not solve anything with regards to Challenger and the amateur scene of esports.

Honestly, it will depend heavily on the owners and the companies like Riot and Blizzard.

I understand that many people want esports to be different than traditional sports and they are against the ideas of franchising. My only response is, who cares? They will model it after these traditional sports because that model works. In my opinion, doing it like this will ensure that esports is more than a fad. It can last for decades and people can feel comfortable growing up watching Bjerg or Faker and knowing their legend will continue like Babe Ruth’s or Michael Jordan’s.

Wow, this is only Part 1! Tomorrow I will be looking at how franchising will grow each esport and their individual leagues.

NALCS Darkhorse Teams

With the new season upon us, there’s always those teams that many don’t expect to contend, but come out of nowhere and turn the LCS on their heads. I’ve decided to highlight two of my favorite darkhorse contenders for the North American LCS Spring Split Title.

Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 rose from the ashes last split, after bringing on Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. They turned around a winless season to finish 5-13 for 8th place, and sweeping Echo Fox handily 3-0 in the relegation tournament. They also shocked TSM by handing them their only loss of the Summer Split.

This season, they’ve imported LCK veteran ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and former H2K mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook. If Arrow isn’t held back with the language barrier between him and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma, they can contend to be one of the best bot lanes in North America. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA of LCK summer, only behind SKT’s Bang. It’ll be up to him to prove that he is a top carry in his role and wasn’t being carried by the other stars of his old KT team. Ryu has always been a consistent performer, competing against some of the strongest Mids in Europe. I don’t think he’ll have much trouble transitioning over.  

The biggest question mark is if top laner, Derek “zig” Shao, can compete at high levels. He was underwhelming last season, but filling important slots in the carry roles lead to them bringing back their North American top laner. Zig had the worst CS differential @10 in the entire NALCS for Summer. If he can play the role of a good low-econ top laner I think this team can go far.  

Inori looks like a top North American Jungle talent, and outside of playoffs, Adrian has looked like an above average support. Adrian had the second highest KDA of Summer, only behind TSM’s Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.  Many people questioned his move from Immortals to P1 since Immortals had a more successful season overall. I don’t believe he’d make this move if he didn’t think this roster could contend for an LCS title.

Another move that has been underrated was bringing back former coach Kim “Fly” Sang-chul. Fly coached P1 back when they were Team Impulse. Most recently, he was the head coach of China’s Royal Never Give Up, who made it out of groups at Worlds. Fly is a respected head coach and has experience coaching mixed Korean/English teams. With this talented roster and the upgrade at head coach, Phoenix1 has the potential to go far.  

Team Liquid 

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

A lot of people predict Team Liquid to be a middle of the pack team, probably finishing fourth or below. Team Liquid released the documentary “Breaking Point” last fall that opened up the community to the team’s struggles during Summer Split. Former jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett and head coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon were often clashing with one another, having very different opinions on a multitude of areas. Team Liquid decided it was best to replace him with one of the best Junglers in the game in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Reignover has become a well-known name in the Jungle after back to back successful seasons with Fnatic and Immortals. Reignover had the second highest KDA among Junglers last Summer, and lead the League in CS differential@10.  

One member who may benefit the most from having Reignover as the new Jungler is Top Laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson. Lourlo looked good at times last season, but showed an inability to stay consistent. He was able to post the third highest KDA among North American Top Laners with a 3.6, but was middle of the pack when it came to CS differential@10. Looking at Reignover’s previous playstyle on Immortals, he liked to play around the top lane with Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. This allowed Huni to carry games and apply pressure while split pushing. If Reignover continues this playstyle, it may enable Lourlo to be an essential carry on this new Team Liquid.

Team Liquid also brings back star AD Carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin for their LCS lineup. Piglet requested to play on the Challenger squad after issues with Dardoch arose through the Summer Split. In nine games of LCS, he posted a 2.2 CS differential@10, third among all ADC’s in North America. Often times Team Liquid has tried to play around him as the main carry. They’ll need him to do it once again, now more than ever, with the inexperience in the mid lane.

Mid lane is the biggest question mark for Team Liquid. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer has been a lurker among the Challenger Scene. He’s done okay at best, but most people have agreed that he isn’t an LCS caliber Mid. Perhaps Fenix’s attitude issues spurred the roster change, but it will be a significant downgrade in terms of skill. Bringing in former CLG Mid Laner, Austin “Link” Shin, makes me suspect that they don’t have total faith in Goldenglue. My bold prediction is that Link eventually overtakes Goldenglue as the starting Mid and makes a successful return to  the LCS. I believe he’ll thrive under a better coaching staff than he ever did under CLG.

Team Liquid has promoted former Challenger coach David Lim, and released former coach Locodoco.  David Lim seems to be much more emotionally stable and overall a better fit for leading young players. They’ve also brought on Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco as a strategic coach. Saintvicious has become infamous as of late for coaching teams from Challenger to LCS. He has a ton of game knowledge as a former pro Jungler himself, so he knows what it takes to be successful. If Link or Goldenglue can establish themselves as a top tier mid, this team can contend for top three and break the curse of “forever fourth”.  

Every team honestly looks like they could be contenders. These two are my favorites to sneak in unexpected and be heavyweights to contend for the title.

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Why Imports Might not be the Solution to Competing at Worlds

After Samsung White shredded through the competition on their way to winning the World Championship in Season 4 of League of Legends, there was a “Korean Exodus” in the offseason. Multiple talented Korean LoL players were offered huge salaries to come over to China to play in the LPL. Analysts and fans thought this would mean the end of Korea’s reign on pro League of Legends, when their top talents decided to go elsewhere to chase the money. Multiple super teams formed in China, looking to contend for the World Championship. It’s now safe to say that the exodus was a failure for both sides. Korean players hoping to contend for a World Championship met the same defeat losing to newly bred Korean talent. A lot of Chinese players got lost in the shuffle and never looked quite as good as they had in the past.   

Courtesy of lolgamepedia

Once known as top tier players in the World, many of their careers dissipated in China. Former SSW jungler, Dandy, hailed as a jungle god when he won the World Championship. He then faded on Vici Gaming, even attempting to play top lane for a bit. He just never looked like the same jungler who dominated in Korea and at Worlds. Dade was another huge name who was once considered a top tier mid-laner in the World. He was soon forgotten as his play diminished in China. Even Chinese players, such as Gogoing and Cool, never looked the same after the imports came in and weren’t able to qualify for Worlds again. Some of them were eventually benched, and retired.

Less than Expected Results

It seems that for the most part, since importing became popular in the off season of seasons 4-5, the super teams formed have not been able to meet their expectations of contending for a World Championship. Edward Gaming hailing out of China’s LPL region has always looked dominant in their region. With new star Korean carries, Deft and Pawn, EDG always looked like strong favorites coming into Worlds. Just this previous season, many analysts hailed them as being the second best team competing at Worlds. Clearlove looked like an unstoppable jungler and Deft looked as good as he always had.  They were thoroughly disappointed to lose to Brazilian wildcard INTZ Gaming. They placed second in their group to Europe’s H2K, before being swept at the hands of Korean team ROX Tigers.  

Looking to the bottom of the LCS, a lot of low tier teams have given players from the Korean solo queue ladder a shot at playing just based on their ranked and team ladder performances. Teams like Coast and Roccat specifically, have been guilty of doing this, seeing less than stellar results. Coast decided to bring in two Korean players right before promotion series in an attempt to qualify. They were swept easily, and had looked worse than before they brought in the imports. Roccat failed to make playoffs when they imported Korean top laner, Parang, and support Raise, and eventually had to play through relegation to keep their spot in LCS. Before joining NA’s Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), Seraph was a top lane sub for Najin White Shield and had held a high spot on the Korean solo queue ladder for awhile. CLG found success for a time with Seraph, but eventually fell apart when communication and underlying internal issues became a major issue with the team. Teams also need to understand that rookies coming straight from solo queue don’t always translate to success in professional play.

Should teams try to grow players within their region?

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

It sparks an interesting discussion of whether or not Western and Chinese teams should be importing as much as they do.  It has almost become a necessity, rather than an option.  With the promotion of Goldenglue to Team Liquid’s starting mid laner, he joins Pobelter as the only North American mid laner playing in the region.  On the other hand, you have many North American teams importing Korean top lane talent, negating the growth for talent in that role for the region.  Since Cloud 9 entered the scene, there hasn’t been a team grown from Challenger Series to find success in the LCS. Teams just aren’t grown from Challenger the way they should anymore.  Challenger teams are importing veterans of Pro League, such as Madlife recently, to Gold Coin United, in an attempt to revive their careers and qualify for LCS.

It’s rare to find North American talent that finds instant success playing in the LCS. Most of the time, they aren’t given a shot on a big time LCS team like Biofrost was with TSM.  They’re usually forced to fill one of the three Region slots on a sub-par, low tier LCS or Challenger team, and given two imports who may or may not be great on the professional stage. It’s not the greatest environment to say the least, as communication may not be stellar, and coaching structure is not built for success. This is because most of the Challenger teams are new organizations trying to enter the scene with no prior knowledge of how to run a Pro League of Legends team. There are also many rumors of shady organizations not playing players/coaches, which would definitely hinder a player’s desire to continue pursuing a career like this.  

Should teams focus more towards growing talent in their own region?  Should the most talented NA players look to flood themselves into various NA super teams similar to Flash Wolves and AHQ in LMS?  Import slots, although useful, can be a double edged sword in making or breaking a team.  What if the language barrier is too much or they discover being out of the comforts of their home country isn’t what they had hoped for?  This NALCS season will be a huge measuring stick in looking at the effectiveness of imports, as every roster looks more dangerous than ever, bringing in players from every region to compete.

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