The Telecom Wars continue: LCK at its most competitive

The telecom wars, SK Telecom T1 versus kt Rolster, are always the highlight games of the League Championship Korea. This most recent telecom war decided who would be the current captor of first place in the LCK. Before this telecom war occurred, the LCK held a very rare three-way tie for first place between kt Rolster, Samsung Galaxy and SKT T1. The three-way tie in a league where first place (SKT T1) is typically vastly distanced from second place is telling of this season’s fierce competition.

With the winner of the Telecom Wars deciding what phone company LCK caster, Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo, goes with, SKT T1 v kt Rolster is much more than your average professional League of Legends game. The Telecom Wars are typically a preview of who will win worlds. However with the current competition in the LCK, there are definitely more variables than just the two telecom companies.

Game 1: kt Rolster Victory 24:57

Kt Rolster decimated SKT T1 in the first game of their best of three. SKT failed to take a single tower the entire game, lost every single neutral objective (two Drakes, Rift Herald, and a Baron) and only managed to secure three kills in the sub 25-minute game. If you want to see some clean and controlled League of Legends to the point of near boredom, this is the game to watch. Kt Rolster created the team composition to snowball an early victory against SKT T1, drafting early game power with Renekton, Elise, Corki, Kalista and Thresh.

The top lane combination of Renekton stun into Elise cocoon sealed Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon’s fate in game one. Back to back kills on Huni put him so far behind that he was unable to complete his Cull until the twelve-minute mark. While compared to his opposing laner, kt Rolster’s Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Huni led in CS at twelve minutes, Smeb was already up two kills and an assist. Smeb went off. Up until the 18-minute mark, Smeb held 100 percent kill participation, proving that he is one of, if not, the best top laner in the world.

Despite Smeb’s performance, it was not entirely his show. Cho “Mata “Se-hyeong showed that his Thresh was a must ban for the next game. Mata was able to show up to every fight and have significant impact regardless of where the fight started. He seemed miles ahead of SKT T1 and was able to aid almost every play around the map as soon as he was able to roam. After game one, it appeared that kt Rolster was the new team to beat. With such a clean and decisive victory, kt Rolster illustrated that Renekton and Elise are a disgusting top and jungle combination that must be separated.

Kt delivers a swift defeat to SKT with an excellent draft that SKT would have to adapt against. Courtesy of loleventvods

Game 2: SKT T1 Victory 44:31

SKT T1 starts off game two by removing Thresh from Mata’s hands and once again banning kt’s signature Galio flex. The draft phase that SKT pulled off showed that they had learned from their mistakes in game one. Karma was once again picked early on for flex purposes, but this time was moved down to support, while the combination of Renekton and Elise was removed. In addition to this, Huni was subbed out in favor of Park “Untara” Ui-jin most likely as an answer to Huni’s tilting teleports and laning phase in game one. Untara was also able to get a soft counter to Renekton by securing Gnar in the second part of the draft phase.

While Smeb was still able to tear the game apart on Renekton, Untara was able to stop the bleeding by only giving up one kill during laning phase to the crocodile. Untara then drew pressure with his split pushing Gnar playstyle, resulting in a baron for SKT T1 as two kt players killed Gnar. Unfortunately for SKT, they were immediately aced after Faker took the Baron with his Orianna Shockwave. Had the Baron been stolen by kt, that would have undoubtedly been game once again at 25 minutes.

With a very similar early game composition, kt Rolster needed to secure a victory or an early Baron by the 25-minute mark. Unfortunately for them, SKT T1 was able to hold out. At 25 minutes into the game, the score was 2-11 in kills, kt’s lead, but with both SKT solo laners out scaling their counterparts; the game was not yet over. At the 30 minute mark, the score was still 2-11 in kills. By 35 minutes kt Rolster had only managed to acquire two more kills in their favor. Looking to secure the next Baron, kt traded two for one and then went for Elder. With two minutes of Elder buff and Baron buff combined and two open inhibitors, kt Rolster was poised to take out SKT for a clean 2-0.

How a turn around happens; one late game SKT team fight. Courtesy of loleventvods.

But not all went as planned for kt Rolster. They took both open inhibitors, but then stayed to topple the final inhibitor tower. While kt stayed at SKT’s base, their Elder and Baron buffs did not stay. SKT T1 took this moment, their only moment as super minions began pushing down both top and middle lane, to take a momentum-breaking team fight. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s Ashe was able to free fire the entire team fight allowing Untara to defend the remains of the base as the inhibitors respawned.

With SKT T1 6k gold and one baron buff down, they somehow managed to clean ace kt Rolster near the Baron pit putting SKT in a position to secure the victory with one dramatic push. While 6k gold is a lot to be down, SKT T1 had reached their individual item power spikes as a team, effectively out scaling kt Rolster’s composition.

Game 3: SKT T1 Victory 44:30

With an incredible upset in game two, SKT T1 looked to continue their late game momentum into the next match. With an early pause due to “Chair Issues”, this game already was off the rocker. An early counter gank made by kt Rolster after seeing Kang “Blank” Sun-gu on Gragas looping on kt’s bot lane left kt Rolster with an early lead once again at 2-0. At 20 minutes kt were 4k gold ahead, however, drakes were in SKT’s favor as they were in prior games. Once again, SKT’s draft for the late game allowed for some of these gold deficits to be nullified by the time thirty minutes came along. At 25 minutes, the score was 7-1 in kills as well as a Baron in kt’s favor. Things were looking grim for SKT, but Untara’s Fiora was just coming online.

Don’t bother looking at the Fiora taking all of your base. Coutesy of loleventvods.

SKT bought more time by catching out  Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu first through a face check into a Thresh and second from an attempt at some untimely vision control. Faker then turned onto Smeb’s Rumble for a solo kill after sneaking through vision gaps of kt Rolster. Things started cascading out of control after this, with Untara’s Fiora taking an inhibitor tower and an inhibitor in one push all while his team was able to get a Baron. This clumsy scramble to address Fiora’s split push sealed kt’s fate. The Untara win condition was too much for kt and they were unable to close out the game before SKT’s composition came online.

The Future of the Telecom Wars

Being the first round of the telecom wars for the Summer split, the matchup between kt Rolster and SKT T1 is and has always been a preview of the highest caliber of League of Legends play. If you do not watch the LCK regularly but are interested in top tier League of Legends play, give this series a watch. Both teams played incredibly well, and games two and three were very close. SKT T1 proved that if you cannot beat them by 25 minutes you will not beat them. Typically drafting towards late game team fights, SKT is the pinnacle of team fight coordination in competitive League of Legends. Pay special attention to how each player rotates their attention to deal with appropriate threats and to stack Crowd Control. SKT makes late game team fights look scripted, even against other top tier teams in the LCK.

Yes, SKT T1 is a team that encapsulates perfection. However, the LCK is as close in skill as it has been in quite some time. Only one victory separates first place from a tie for second place, and fourth place is only two victories behind first; the LCK hosts heated competition. Expect to see the competition grow as, by the time you are reading this, Samsung Galaxy will be playing Longzhu Gaming to see if they can once again tie SKT T1 for first place.

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Featured image courtesy of LOLeventvods

The evolution of coaching in LCS

Around two years ago head coaches became a necessity for teams in the LCS. In the younger years of professional League of Legends most teams didn’t have the money to support having a head coach. Due to how young the professional scene still was, there wasn’t much availability for people looking to coach. Even if there was a coach, he was mostly just an analyst that helped bounce ideas off the players.

The scene has evolved, making a coach a necessity now. Not just an in-house analyst either. A coach must be able to lead these young players in their professional career. They must be able to give out criticism properly, while also demanding the respect of the players.

Over the past years we’ve seen what having a good coach can do for a team. We’ve also seen the other side of things when a coach can have a negative impact on a team.

Early LCS

When professional LoL started there wasn’t much structure among teams. For the most part you had five players living together with maybe a team manager that helped with scheduling and making sure they were taken care of. Coaching hadn’t really become a necessity yet until Korea began their reign over all the other regions. The West seemed way behind and needed help to catch up.

In the early days of LCS not many coaches had come about yet. Most of the coaches we see today are former players themselves. Teams maybe had an analyst at best, but nothing like a head coach that would need to solve internal issues along with having game knowledge.

Korean coaching

Photo via Riot Games

It’s no secret that Korea has taken over as the best region in terms of competing in professional League of Legends. Korea has taken home the title for four straight years now. SKT head coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun has been apart of every SKT championship and is heralded as the best coach in professional LoL.

North America followed suit hiring several Korean coaches over the past few splits. Most notably Cloud 9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and Immortals Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo have found much success with their teams after coming over.

 

Before Reapered became coach, Cloud 9 seemed lost without former captain/shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on the roster. Immortals were in the same boat before SSONG joined the team this summer. With SSONG coaching, Immortals has jumped from 7th place to 1st place taking wins off many of the top teams from last split. Their macro play has also improved immensely from last split. 

Korean coaches seem to know how to get the most out of their players. They also demand more as an authoritative figure, while also knowing how to deal with internal issues. SSONG and Reapered are accredited with much of their teams’ success since they’ve been brought on.

Western Players’ Mindsets

One could argue that coaching players in the West is much different than their eastern counterparts, or at least in Korea. In Korea, kids are brought up respecting their elders, while in the West kids are brought up more loose. Korean players have also stated that after coming to NA they think it’s much more relaxed compared to training in Korea.

The West seems to lack many good coaches. With some veterans retiring throughout the years, some have stepped up to become decent coaches such as Dignitas’ Cop and Saintvicious. We’ve also seen different personalities, such as Scarra and Lemonnation, not have much success as a coach. CLG’s head coach, Zikz, has received much praise for his coaching. TSM’s anlayst, Parth, has also been around the scene for awhile now.

We’ve also seen in EU with Origen a few splits back not really feeling the need for a coach. It feels that many Western players didn’t see the need for a coach a few seasons ago. That mindset has changed a bit, but some players are still reluctant on just how effective a coach can really be.

The present

Coaches today can’t just be analysts. They must be able to have an authoritative role over their players while also being able to deal with internal issues amongst the teams. Coaches have to know how to effectively get the most out of each practice and also know how to do pick/bans. Coaches have slowly developed into becoming vital in a team’s success.

Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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Picks you bet NA will take from the LCK

With the North American League Championship Series Summer Split dropping in just one day, here’s a list of the top three picks to see in each role. The League Championship Korea Summer Split has already been underway and it’d be a surprise for NA teams to not adopt the freshest Korean picks. So here it is, the top three picks in each role to be picked or banned in the NALCS.

Top Lane

Kennen is the most contested top laner due to his versatility and OP on-hit build. Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

Kennen– Sure this champion has yet to be seen in-game in the LCK, but that’s just because the Heart of the Tempest has had a 100 percent ban rate. This is in large part due to the on-hit Kennen build that has become popular the past few months. With this build shredding through tanks like an electric woodchipper, Kennen fits perfectly in the current meta. The on-hit build makes building resistances difficult into Kennen’s mixed damaged, making laning against him just as painful as team fighting against his AOE ultimate.

Jayce– Also a tank buster, Jayce continues to be the Swiss Army Knife of champions. Jayce brings resistance shredding, max health percentage damage, hard CC, soft CC, artillery, gap closers, utility, and a whole lot of swagger to the Rift. Tank busters are pretty strong in the top lane right now, but Jayce is all that and more.

Galio– It’s no wonder how strong tank busters are right now, given the state of tanks in the top lane. It was a tough choice deciding who of the big three tanks – Galio, Gragas, Sejuani – to put in this list, but Galio smashes in at number one of these tanks with his dominant crowd control and game changing abilities. Galio makes it into this list, because like the other OP top laners, he brings percentage max health damage with his Winds of War. Watch out for Galio top and mid lane as the NA LCS dawns because the Colossus is as fun to watch as he is strong.

Honorable Mention: Sejuani– The Fury of the North has seen some considerable playtime in the LCK, but her laning phase brings with it too many bad matchups to include in the top three. This alongside some horrible Sejuani performances by the likes of Kang “ADD” Gun-mo of MVP has pushed her into the honorable mentions section of the top laners rising out of Korea. Still, it would be surprising not to see her charging into the NA LCS in the hands of players like C9’s Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, an expert tank player.

Jungle

Lee Sin– I don’t see this guy ever leaving the top three competitive junglers in the LCK. It seems that almost every jungler in the LCK is a Lee Sin one trick, constantly pushing this champion to a whole new level of play. Whether it is Han “Peanut” Wang-ho on SKT T1 during MSI, or recently, Longzhu’s  Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan showing that move speed nerfs mean little in the LCK, everyone seems to be prioritizing the Blind Monk.

Both Lee Sin and Orianna are making a return from their MSI conquest in the LCK. Expect to see them in the NALCS. courtesy of lolesports

Zac– Zaun’s Secret Weapon is going to have to stay secret a bit longer, unfortunately. Zac, like Kennen, has seen the ban list each and every game and with good reason. Zac’s Elastic Slingshot into Let’s Bounce combo has carries seen on that back of milk carton’s since his release, but it seems players are just now mastering Zac as his win rate has skyrocketed as of late. Expect NA to follow in the blob steps of the LCK with a perma-banned Flubber cosplay.

Elise– The Spider Queen has returned as the Queen of the Jungle. Elise, also known as AP Lee Sin, is an early game playmaker with enough hops to rival the blind monk. The terrifying spider tears through the jungle without taking much damage, while also being one of the only viable sources of magic damage from the jungle. With her hard hitting early game damage and that sweet percentage health damage, Elise has rappeled her way into the top three.

Honorable Mention: Graves– The Outlaw has been hit hard ever since the return of his smoking habit. With no more slick combos on his ultimate and a lack of MR coming out of one of his ten passives, Graves seems to be falling out of favor. However, Raptors are keeping this smoker on the Rift. With Raptor control as such a priority in the LCK, Graves has found his calling as one of the best champions that can clear the Raptor camp. This allows for him to dominate both his jungle and the enemy’s, and while this is important for the jungle meta, Graves seems to be lacking in some of the game-changing abilities his peers have.

Mid Lane

Syndra– “Press R to Outplay.” Syndra has come back into the LCK with sovereignty. While she has been seen on the ban list more often than she has been picked, it is without a doubt that NA will assimilate her playstyle with ease. Like many of the popular mid laners, Syndra can set up ganks with ease via her semi-reliable CC, but more than that, she can capitalize on her allies CC by getting in range to press R and seal the deal. Just ask SSG’s Lee “Crown” Min-ho how easy it was to 2-0 SKT with Syndra.

Orianna– We saw Faker play Orianna to perfection at MSI, but have you seen Longzhu’s ‎Kwak “Bdd” Bo-seong on Orianna? Longzhu 2-0’d kt on the back of Bdd’s Orianna in both games, where his Ultimates created tragically one-sided games for kt. Orianna has always been a staple of competitive League of Legends, but now more than ever has she risen to the top.

LeBlanc– While assassins seem to be falling out of favor in the LCK, LeBlanc consistently survives as one of the most valuable picks. There’s not much to say about the Deceiver that hasn’t already been said before, she is frustrating to lock down and packs a ton of single target damage. While Orianna seems to be able to survive the matchup pretty well, LeBlanc can dominate other popular picks in the LCK from Fizz to Karma.

Honorable Mention: Galio– Not only is Galio a top tier top laner, but he is doing pretty well as a flex pick in the mid lane. It is true that Faker lost lane using this pick, but Galio’s ability to freely itemize MR in a lane ruled by AP carries allows him to survive handily as a top value flex pick. With magic damage coming out of top laners and supports alike, don’t be surprised to see Galio smashing his way into the NA LCS mid lane.

ADC

Pray leads team to victory against kt via his jaw-dropping Ashe ultimates. Courtesy of lolesports

Ashe– If you haven’t seen Kim “PraY” Jong-in’s Enchanted Crystal Arrows, you haven’t been watching LCK. The pro’s use the high-value Ashe ultimate on cooldown, while also itemizing cooldown reduction through an early Essence Reaver. For Ashe in competitive play, it really is about the ultimate, but this is not to say that her early lane is weak. Ashe can force a level two fight bot lane with her early pushing power, and when this is paired with some of the more meta supports like Karma and Zyra, Ashe lanes can be kill lanes.

Varus– With a high value ultimate and a kit the shreds tanks, Varus is one of the top two ADC’s alongside Ashe. Both of these top-tier AD’s utilize Blade of the Ruined King to the maximum of the item’s ability. They both have game changing ultimate abilities that provide for pick potential as well as peel on a relatively short cooldown as well as AOE damage with their preferred build paths. Ashe and Varus are near one and the same, so it comes as no surprise that they are the two most valued picks in the AD role. Other champions such as Caitlin, Twitch, and Xayah seem to be the go to backups in the LCK.

Support

Thresh– The Chain Warden is back, and that’s great for spectators wanting to see big plays coming out of the support role. With relic shield item line buffs and a rather disappointing coin rework, Thresh is stronger than ever. Over this past spring split, it seems like every viable support has been nerfed except Thresh, making this split his time to shine. However, it is worth noting that Thresh has a very bad laning phase into Zyra, who seems to be prominent as well.

Zyra– The Thresh counter is back at it. Zyra is the classic mid laner gone wrong, as she dominates the game with very few items and a very cheap overall core build. While she peaks damage charts in solo queue environments she seems to be doing the same in the LCK. Except to see the rise of the thorns in NA as a solid counter pick to not only Thresh, but hard engage in general.

Lulu– As Zyra counters Thresh, Lulu counters Zyra. Lulu has seen some play since her whimsey was nerfed a few patches ago, allowing her to be lifted from the perma-ban list. That being said, she is still very strong especially in protect the carry comps that are oh-so-good right now. Not only does she excel late game as an ADC steroid machine, but she also does very well in lane and can get rid of the pesky Zyra plants with her Pix passive.

MVP Max flashes, then predicts Zyra’s flash with a beautiful hook. Courtesy of LCK

Honorable Mention: Max’s Blitzcrank– MVP Max has always been a support player that pushes the meta. His claim to fame Sion Quadra Kill has been followed by his extensive playmaking champion pool. As the support player to watch in the LCK, his most recent success on Blitzcrank has given professional players in the LCK flashbacks to solo queue nightmares. While I don’t exactly expect him to be picked in NA, I would guess Cloud9 to pick him up first as they already have last split.


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Featured image courtesy of lolesports

Are Six Man Rosters Ideal for Professional LoL?

Six man rosters have slowly been rising in popularity among professional League of Legends teams in recent years. Long time pros of the scene have expressed concerns of burn out, and having a viable sub for the team is slowly becoming more enticing for teams. One of the most successful teams in the world, SK Telecom T1, have used this strategy in utilizing different strengths of certain players. There are definitely some strengths in having an extra player to split scrims with and bounce ideas off of. There can also be flaws in splitting scrim time as well.

With ADC, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran, heading to Flyquest, TSM is still looking to field a six man roster for the summer. Fans are a bit confused as TSM has one of the best ADCs in the World in Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.

Player burn out

Photo by: Riot Games

It’s no doubt that player burn out is a concern for some of the long time veterans of the scene. TSM’s Doublelift took the Spring Split off to take a rest from the fatigue that sets in from being a pro player. Practicing 12+ hours a day, plus the stress of competing at a high level can be a grueling process for some players.

Pro players have begun to develop wrist injuries to the point of playing more than a few hours a day can be painful. Having someone there to split practice time with could be beneficial for both parties in preserving the longevity of one’s career.

Different Playstyles

Another perk of having an extra roster member is the ability to show off different play styles. Most notably, Cloud 9 did this last split with top laners Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Impact was known more for his stellar tank play, while Ray handled playing the split push/carry top laners. Ray described it as a “sword and shield” relationship among the two. Cloud 9 hopes that Ray will be able to learn more from Impact and develop into his replacement one day. This also gives the players a chance to bounce ideas off one another. Having another person who masters the same role as you gives way to more ideas for improvement and discussions.

SK Telecom T1 also did this quite well back in Season 5 when they’d go on to take their second World championship. They utilized two mid laners in Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon. Easyhoon became famous for his Azir play, while Faker dominated on Ryze. SKT continues to use multiple players at different positions among the roster. They’ve been one of the most successful teams in utilizing subs.

Is splitting scrim time bad?

Photo by: Riot Games

It raises the question if splitting scrim time is bad for players. On one end, the team has to adjust to a different player for half the scrims. Some say Impact fell off a bit last season from his phenomenal playoff and Worlds performance of last summer. This could be a result of him needing to split scrim time with Ray and not getting the necessary amount of practice needed to play at that high level we’re used to seeing. Less practice means your competitor could be getting double the practice than the person they’re facing.

EU has yet to really look into fielding a six man roster. In NA it’s slowly becoming an upward trend for teams with star veterans of the pro scene. LCK has begun to utilize it more as well after seeing how much success SKT has had with it. Developing young players under star veterans gives them a chance to reach their ceiling much quicker than if they were thrown into pro play right away. This may explain why LCK is known for developing the best players into League of Legend stars.

Six man rosters are slowly becoming the norm for professional League of Legends. This could slowly develop into ten man rosters so that each position has a sort of “position coach” to bounce ideas off of and learn from. It will be interesting to see if teams begin to follow this upward trend.

Cover Photo by Riot Games

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Bleeding Gods: The Inevitable Fall of SKT

SKT has always been the team to beat. Even in season four, one of the biggest upsets in competitive League up to that point was SKT’s loss to Najin White Shield. This prevented SKT from returning to Worlds. Beyond that SKT, dominated season five and six, and continues to dominate in season seven. They are the first team to win multiple, and the first to win consecutive, Worlds Championships. During this time, they also took second in the first MSI and won the past two. Ask anyone, SKT’s reign is unprecedented and will likely never be repeated in any similar likeness.

That said, their reign will surely end. Their fall is inevitable; no team in the history of any sport has dominated for forever. Teams rise and fall, and suffer defeats as well as achieve victory. SKT, while having been dominant for some considerable amount of time, will eventually lose.

Roster Swap

Photo Via Lolesports

A likely cause of this will be the result of a roster change. Despite roster changes throughout their reign, the team’s center remains Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. The original line-up of SKT T1 K was built around the god himself. Even when the team combined with their sister team, Faker was still looked to as the star.

Faker, ADC Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, and support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan make up the core of the current iteration of the team. They have all been on the team since season three. They bring skill, stability, and experience to SKT and are irreplaceable.

What will happen when that stability and experience decide to take an offer in China or retire? It’s unlikely that any of the three, especially Faker who has been lauded as the greatest of all time, will have any adequate replacement to continue to propel the team to the height they currently enjoy. The likely outcome of a roster swap in the bot or mid lane will be a dip in performance from the team. But SKT has more than great players – they also have great coaches. These coaches could help to overcome the loss of any skill, stability, or experience that would come with a roster swap.

Coaching Staff

Photo Via Lolesports

That being said, another likely cause for SKT’s reign to end would be SKT’s coaching staff to undergo a major change. Choi “cCarter” Byeong-hoon, Kim “KkOma” Jeong-gyun, and Jung “RapidStar” Min-sung make up the current coaching staff of SKT with KkOma and cCarter having been around since 2013. The coaches have the ability to lead, scout, and create an atmosphere of hard work and dedication. The team’s results speak to their abilities as coaches as well as their ability to continue dominance, despite roster swaps in the top lane and jungle. The most recent example being the acquisition of Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, who looks even better now than he did in his Fnatic days. It also doesn’t hurt that KkOma’s pick and ban is one of the best in the world.

Thus, it would be no small thing to lose any of the coaches, especially cCarter or KkOma. Losing either one would change the entire dynamic of the team and likely result in a less qualified replacement, leading to losses.  A change in that staff could signal the end of the SKT dominance, and it could also cause some players to leave the org. Considering Faker has never played for anyone but Kkoma, if he leaves Faker might also consider leaving.

All this goes to show the precarious place that SKT finds themselves in. So many of the organization’s members are irreplaceable. If any of them leave, the delicate balance of SKT could falter and the team will start suffering some meaningful defeats.

Challengers

Photo Via Lolesports

A third and perhaps the most likely reason for SKT’s reign to end is that another team will rise to the challenge and dethrone the current kings of League. This has already happened before; SKT didn’t even make it to season four Worlds. Faker even suffered his first ever professional Leblanc loss to EDG in the 2015 MSI finals. Eventually, SKT will just lose. In fact, what makes SKT’s reign so unprecedented is that they did lose, but they came back swiftly and with more force than was thought possible. However, it’s quite unlikely that they can continue to comeback from sustained defeats without a roster swap of some kind.

There is no doubt that SKT will eventually fall. Though it doesn’t seem likely that they will lose anytime soon, it’s inevitable that eventually, something will shake up the roster or some team will rise to the occasion and defeat the gods.


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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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MSI: SK Telecom T1 vs. Flash Wolves Preview

In the first round of the knockout stage of MSI, SK Telecom T1 is poised to take revenge upon the only team that has taken a win from them during groups. What may be the most competitive game in this tournament, SKT vs. Flash Wolves will be the game to tune into on May 19th at 11 am PST.

SK Telecom T1

 

Peanut and Huni share a moment while leaving the stage. Courtesy of Riot flickr

Coming into MSI as the most highly favored team in the history of League of Legends is SKT, three-time League of Legends World Champions.

 

SKT’s six-man roster starts with their top laner, Seung-Hoon  “Huni” Heo, a player who currently holds the highest CS per minute in the MSI.

Jumping out of the jungle, Wangho “Peanut” Han holds the most kills at 52 in groups. Known most for his Lee Sin, Peanut is known to be the most aggressive jungler in Korea, with the ability to get 15 kills in a single game.

No introduction is needed for Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. Faker is simply the best.  

SKT’s bot lane, Junsik “Bang” Bae and Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, are looking better than ever. The two are typically found taking laners that complement each other with  Wolf picking champions that can bail out the immobile carries that Bang has frequently utilized to great success. Wolf has the second most assists throughout Groups, trailing Shou-Chieh “SwordArT” Hu, who also used one more game to have Wolf beat 93 to 90.

 

How SKT Wins

Peanut shares a lot in common with his opponent Karsa. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

SKT wins by having Peanut play Lee Sin and picking their bot lane comfort picks before the Flash Wolves take them out in the draft. With Bang’s adept performance on Twitch, aided greatly by the peeling supports Wolf is often seen on, expect the bot lane picks to come through in the first round of the draft phase. SKT is greatly favored in this matchup. Their chances of failure are minimal as long as they do not lose too much ground early game. SKT can win late game team fights with great ease given their opponents are not too far ahead.

Flash Wolves

The Flash Wolves have proven to be a mixed bag this tournament, showing that they have the skill to beat SKT while simultaneously dropping games to almost every team in the tournament. As the underdog team in the fourth versus first place match, their performance in this best of five will likely decide who takes first place at this year’s MSI. If they can beat SKT, they can beat anyone. Right? Maybe, but this is not guaranteed with the Flash Wolves. However, they are the strongest contender for taking down SKT alongside Team WE.

Playing top lane for the Wolves is Li-Hong “MMD” Yu, a player known for his aggression and carry style, but also able to play supportive tanks by the likes of Nautilus and Shen.

Tearing through the jungle for the Wolves, Hao-Xuan “Karsa” Hong, has the same champion pool and play style as Peanut. He also has 41 kills to his name during groups. He may have what it takes to deny Peanut through a well-executed draft.

Laning against God himself, Yi-Tang “Maple” Huang ties Peanut for the highest KDA throughout groups at 6.1.

Perhaps the Flash Wolves greatest strength lies in their bot lane, where Yu-Huang “Betty” Lu and SwordArT dominate the bottom half of the map. SwordArt is a veteran shot caller, playing supports that can influence more than just the bottom lane. Expect to see Lulu and Tahm Kench as high priority champions for both teams. Meanwhile, Betty has the most kills to his name out of all the ADCs at MSI, and he’s looking to continue this streak. Betty plays many ADC’s, but his Ashe is a staple for the Flash Wolves. Betty may have to branch into other ADC’s in order to take away Bang’s Twitch and secure a victory for the Wolves.

How Flash Wolves Win

They have done it once before, but can they do it again? To win, Flash Wolves need to stifle Huni in the draft much like they did in their only victory over SKT. Because banning out Faker is impossible, their bans must be directed to the top lane carries that Huni plays, and the Marksmen that Bang feels most comfortable on. The optimal top lane draft will have MMD on his signature Kled and Huni on a tank, allowing Flash Wolves to take the game from the top lane.

As for the Jungle, it goes without saying that Peanut’s Lee Sin must be denied in order for the Wolves to have a fighting chance. Taking Lee Sin on the side of the Flash Wolves will also

SwordArT is not the cool, calm, and collected shot caller you may be used to. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

greatly aid Karsa, as he is adept on the champion. In the middle lane, Maple’s utility orientated champion pool must be able to survive the likes of Faker’s assassins. If Maple can avoid giving a lead to Faker, he may be able to turn some mid game team fights into a victory for the Wolves with his excellent Weaver’s Walls and Realm Warps.

 

Taking a lead in the bottom lane is most important for the Flash Wolves. Giving SwordArT the opportunity to roam and snowball his team’s lead alongside Karsa, will be the win condition the Wolves need. However, the lanes go, if the Wolves do not start with leads, it is unlikely they will ever bounce back to take a lead.


Featured image courtesy of Riot Flickr

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Six Takeaways from the MSI Group Stage

The Mid Season Invitational concluded on Sunday, with SKT, WE, G2, and Flash Wolves all advancing to the bracket stage of the tournament. It was a close competition as there were a ton of surprises and close games throughout the tournament. Outside of SKT and maybe WE, every team had its shares of ups and downs throughout the tournament. It’s always interesting to have the top teams from around the world compete. It gives a glimpse at how each region stacks up to one another and gets us more excited for Worlds. Here are some key takeaways from the tournament:

Is the gap closing?

Photo by: Riot Esports

As we’ve come to expect, Korea’s SKT Telecom T1 finished atop the standings.

They did drop two games during the group stage. Once, to the Korean slayers, Flash Wolves, and another to WE. Despite this, SKT still looked quite dominant throughout the tournament. Even when they’re behind, they don’t look the part. Their strength is definitely in the mid-late game shot calling where they almost always know exactly what to do to earn the victory.

SKT could fall behind one thousand gold or so in the early game, but take one big team fight to retake the lead in the mid game. Once the tournament goes to best of 5’s, I’m honestly not sure if they’ll drop a game. They’ve had a chance to scout the competition now. Head coach Kim kkOma Jung-gyun will have a week to prepare SKT which will be more than enough to get his team ready to take another MSI title.

TSM’s International Struggles Continue

North America’s champs, TSM, took a heavy defeat Sunday as they lost out on NA’s chance at a number one seed for Worlds. Failing to make it out of the group stage of MSI just adds to the TSM legacy of under performing at international events. The team had a poor start to the tournament, just barely edging out Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines in the play-in stage.

Most of the blame was shifted to jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen for getting caught out multiple times on aggressive invades throughout the tournament. ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran also received much of the criticism, specifically costing his team a game against WE face-checking at baron with both summoner spells up. Head coach, Parth Naidu, also received a lot of criticism from the community for his drafts. In their tiebreaker match, he banned Kog’maw and Twitch when FW hadn’t played either of those champions the whole tournament.

Overall, it felt like TSM were scared to make plays. In both their matches against G2, they failed to snowball their leads and let G2 back into both games. Game one would have been lost, had it not been for some small misplays by G2. TSM had no idea how to properly close out games, ultimately being the biggest reason for their failure to get out of groups.

Gigabyte Marines Are Fun To Watch

Nobody was really talking about these guys coming in, but Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines can hold their heads up high. They played phenomenal for a wildcard region and showed that the GPL has some tough competition. From the beginning of the play-ins, Gigabyte Marines’ aggressive early game has given teams troubles and they were able to take some games off some of the top teams, finishing 3-7.

Jungler, Đỗ “Levi” Duy, Khánh made a name for himself this tournament. He was a major part of his team’s success, and analysts even said that he should be imported into a major region for summer. His Lee Sin and Kha’zix were a treat to watch and everyone is hoping to see more of him in the future.

If Gigabyte Marines can keep this momentum going, we can definitely expect to seem them again at Worlds 2017.

G2 Redeems themselves

Photo by: Riot Esports

After a whole year of international tournament stumbles, G2 esports was finally able to play well and earn a spot in the knockout stage for MSI. This has to be relieving for all members, after much of the hate that ensued after their last MSI and Worlds performances.

Their mid laner, Luka “PerkZ” Perković, had a phenomenal tournament, finally getting to showcase his skill on the international stage. Star ADC, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, also had a great tournament. G2 often built their comps around him to allow him to carry in the mid/late game.

Jungler Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun didn’t have the greatest performances. He was often reactive to many of the aggressive junglers in the tournament. G2 has shifted to putting him on supportive junglers such as Nunu and Ivern to allow for Zven to carry. It’ll be interesting to see if G2 decides to keep with Trick after many of his international struggles.

G2 can finally breathe a bit as they earned a number one seed for EU at Worlds 2017.

Flash wolves overrated?

Taiwan’s Flash Wolves came into MSI as most people’s 2nd best team to SKT. Most thought they’d take second easily after a dominant showing at IEM and in their championship run. That was not the case as Flash Wolves struggled heavily early in the tournament.

Specifically, it seemed like other teams were exploiting top laner, Yau “MMD” Li-Hung, one of Flash Wolves’ weaker members. Early in the tournament, he struggled to make an impact on the team, often falling behind. As the tournament went on though, MMD’s confidence seemed to come back as Flash Wolves was able to do just enough to beat out TSM for the last spot in the knockout stage.

Flash Wolves are an explosive early game team. Sometimes this can also be their downfall though. The “Korean Slayers” will get a chance to take down SKT in a bo5.

WE Surprises

Photo by: Riot Esports

Maybe team WE wasn’t expected to do that bad, but many people didn’t expect them to do this well. WE was getting ranked around 4-5th position due to many people just not really knowing what to expect.

Team WE doesn’t adhere to the Chinese stereotype of chaotic games. Their macro is solid and they know how to push their leads well. They’ve shown the ability to play a number of unique champions, such as mid laner Su “Xiye” Han-Wei pulling out Lucian in their victory against SKT.

Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie showed he can compete with some of the best. He was 2nd in KDA among junglers and was first in kill participation percentage with a whopping 70 percent. His early game plays helped setup his team to snowball leads.

Top laner Ke “957” Changyu had some great performances on carry split pushers like Fizz and Kled. He was a nuisance for the enemy team, pressuring side lanes and getting picks in team fights.

WE look like big contenders to contest SKT for the MSI title. They’ll need to get through EU’s G2 first though.

Cover photo by: Riot Esports

Tune into the MSI Knockout Stage this Friday, Saturday, and Finals Sunday

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Why MSI should transition to a gauntlet tournament

The 2017 Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) is a League of Legends tournament attended by 13 teams from 13 various regions. This year’s MSI consisted of three stages ultimately ending in a grand final between the best two teams. Taking place in Rio de Janeiro, this event took seeding based upon the past two years of Worlds and MSI performances to have a few teams automatically place into group stage (South Korea, China, and Europe) while the rest of the 10 teams battled it out through the play-in stage.

Group stage consists of a double round robin via best of one matches. The top four teams from this double round robin move on to the knockout stage which consists of best of five games with single elimination. It is this knockout stage that does not make the most sense for this international tournament.

The Gauntlet

SKT T1 Huni leaves the stage with team. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

The LCK currently runs a gauntlet-styled tournament that MSI should adopt. The first place team does not play until the final round, receiving a bye for their performance throughout the normal split. The playoffs consist of the third place team playing against the fourth place team, then the winner of that team plays the second place team, ultimately leaving one team to play against the first place team. This style of competition puts much more weight upon the group stages of the tournament, making each and every group stage game bring with it more impactful consequences.

Skating By Groups

Examining the current four teams in groups can lead one to believe that some teams have just “skated by” while other teams have just had a poor performance in the group stage.

After the Flash Wolves controlled performance in play-ins, most fans and even Faker, believed that they were going to be the biggest threat to SKT T1’s empire. The Flash Wolves then managed to beat SKT in a decisive manner during the group stages, further showing their skill and prowess. However, the Flash Wolves later received a few too many losses in groups, ultimately leaving what should be the second best team in the tournament in fourth place during the knockout stages. This being said, expect the most heated competition and the highest skill caliber League of Legends has ever known not in the grand finals, but instead in the first match of the knockout stage.

With the second best team playing against SKT on Friday, May 19th, what should be a game for third and fourth place will be between G2 Esports and Team WE. Potentially, any of the teams that made it into groups has what it takes to make the match that will occur this Saturday, May 20th, a fiercely close competition. That being said, the match between G2 Esports and Team WE will still be one of close competition. However, it is unlikely that either of these two teams will stand a chance against the winner of SKT versus Flash Wolves.

A Better Tournament Style Means Better Games

A gauntlet-style competition not only makes each game of groups much more intense, as each team mus

TSM and Flash Wolves shake hands after their game. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

t compete for standings during the gauntlet-style knockout stages, but it also provides a more accurate way for each team to garner the appropriate rewards from the prize pool. With third and fourth place getting significantly less money than second place, a gauntlet-style competition would more accurately reassign this prize pool based upon how close one can get to taking down SKT T1, a team that has proven to be well and above the rest of the competition. Until then, variables such as TSM taking down Flash Wolves will prevent the most accurate portrayal of skill and will doom each team that enters the knockout stages in fourth place, regardless of their skill, relative to the second and third place teams.

 

Featured image courtesy of Riot Flickr

Top Ten Players at MSI

The Mid Season Invitational opening ceremony is a day away, and I’ll be looking at the top players from every region playing this week. Many of these players have been around the pro scene for a while and have made a name for themselves as being some of the best in the world at their positions. Let’s take a look:

10. Swordart (Flashwolves Support)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie has been in the pro scene since season three. He’s been an integral part of Flash Wolves’ success, often roaming with their jungler, Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in the early game. This season has been no different. SwordArt has shown excellent performances on meta picks, such as Karma. He ended the LMS spring split atop his position with a massive 11.5 KDA, well above any other support in the region.

In their series against Supermassive, he finished with a KDA of 43, only dying once in the entire series. SwordArt is one of the best supports at setting up plays for his team in the early game. He’ll be vital in Flash Wolves’ success in this tournament.

9. Zven (G2 esports ADC)

Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen has slowly developed into one of the best ADC’s in the world. With the ADC meta shifting back to more traditional style carries, Zven will have a chance to prove why he’s one of the best at his position. Despite his support, Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez dipping in performance a bit this season, Zven has still been able to dish out damage in mid game team fights. Most of G2’s success comes in the mid game, often waiting for power spikes to hit before breaking the game wide open with a mid game team fight. Zven’s positioning in team fights is excellent, knowing where he can dish out the most damage from a safe distance.

Zven also has some of the strongest laning of all ADC’s at the tournament. He leads EU in CSdiff@10 with a massive 8.0. Him and Mithy can still compete with the best, and will be up against some World class bot lanes.

8. Hauntzer (TSM Top Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had one of his best splits on TSM in Spring 2017. With star Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break for the split, Hauntzer stepped up from the top lane to help be the decisive voice for his team. Despite taking on shot calling responsibilities, Hauntzer’s play did not hinder, it actually got better. With all the talent imported into NA for top laners, Hauntzer held his own and took the title of NA’s best top laner. Hauntzer topped NALCS top laners in DMG% and KDA. He showed excellent performances on a variety of champions as well.

Many believed he deserved the MVP award for the split, but he barely lost out to Phoenix1’s Arrow. He’ll be looking to prove himself on the World stage once again, after struggling to make an impact during their Worlds run last season.

 7. Peanut (SKT Jungler)

Han “Peanut” Wang-ho made a name for himself last season as the starter for ROX tigers. After barely losing to SKT in the semifinals of Worlds last season, Peanut decided to join his rivals this season. Peanut has struggled a bit this season, sometimes getting caught and subbed out for Blank, but he’s still a force in the jungle.

His Lee Sin play has been heralded as some of the best in the world. He has also shown great play on other meta picks, such as Rengar, Graves, and Elise. Along with this, Peanut has had some of the best Dragon/Baron steals anyone has ever seen in pro League of Legends. It’s insane the plays he’s able to pull off.

Peanut will have a chance to win his first international event. With SKT coming in as heavy favorites, anything outside of first will be a failure.

6. Huni (SKT Top laner)

Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo has been a fan favorite for his loving personality and his high play making ability. After spending two seasons playing in Europe and North America, Huni got the chance to play with the best team in the world. He was formerly known for playing hard carry top laners, such as Riven, Fiora, and Gnar, often being criticized for not playing into tank metas.

Many wondered how he’d do under the Korean structure of coaching. On past teams, coaches allowed him to play carry champions, even pulling out Lucian in the top lane in playoffs. He has shown the ability to play tanks, while also still being able to pull out the carry tops when needed for his team. Even when on tanks, Huni has a very strong impact on the game with his teleports and team fighting. He lead the LCK in DMG% for top laners and total KDA.

Playing for SKT has helped Huni become elevated to a World class top laner. He’s more versatile in his champion picks and a huge reason why SKT are favorites to go undefeated here at MSI.

5. Maple (Flash Wolves Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang has been a long time mid laner in the LMS region. He’s shown phenomenal performances in previous international events, such as Flash Wolves’ IEM Katowice victory. In their victory over SKT at Worlds last year, his Aurelion Sol was vital in setting Flash Wolves up with an early lead to snowball. Maple has a deep champion pool, being able to play control mages such as Syndra, or assassins like Zed or Leblanc.

Maple had another great season in the LMS region, posting a 7.1 KDA to top the league. Him and jungler, Karsa, have excellent mid/jung synergy that can often net Flash Wolves huge early game leads. They are also excellent at knowing exactly how to finish games with these heavy leads.

Flash Wolves will be looking to Maple once again, as they are heavy favorites to be the ones to slay Korea once again.

4. Karsa (Flash Wolves Jungler)

Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan is one of many talented junglers at this tournament. His early game play making is huge in Flash Wolves’ success. He loves playing high skill early game champions such as Lee Sin, and Elise. He finished the LMS season top in DMG% and KDA for junglers.

In their series against SuperMassive, Karsa jungled circles around Stomaged, gaining huge CS leads and tracking him quite well. Him and SwordArt have excellent jung/supp synergy, usually setting up vision to do aggressive invades or tower dives. Karsa will be vital in his team’s success, with jungle being one of the most talented positions in the whole tournament.

 3. Bjergsen (TSM Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has been the star mid laner for Team SoloMid since taking over for owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh in season four. Bjergsen has been a vital part of TSM’s organization, being the only stable member in the past seasons. TSM has literally built the team around him, as he’s slowly just become the best player in the West. His spring season started off a bit slow, as TSM was adjusting not playing with Doublelift, but since then he’s regained his MVP form. He finished the NALCS spring split as leader in total KDA and CSdiff@10.

Bjergsen has slowly taken the title of the Western GOAT for pro League of Legends. He’s become the face for esports talent in North America, and continues to play the game at an extremely high level. The only knock on him is international success. TSM as a whole have one IEM Katowice title in terms of international success. MSI gives them the chance to prove that North America is a region to be on the lookout for.

2. Bang (SKt ADC)

Bae “Bang” Jun-sik has been the starting ADC for their past two Worlds titles. It sometimes feels Bang is underappreciated on a roster full of stars and goofy personalities. Bang has been a consistent carry for SKT, always dishing out damage from a safe distance while also being one of the best laning ADC’s.

He lead the LCK in total KDA for ADC’s while also averaging the highest CSdiff@10 with 8.2. Bang also dished out the highest damage per min among ADC’s. He has shown phenomenal performances on high skill carries such as Ezreal, and even pulled out some amazing Twitch performances in the LCK finals. Bang will look to add another MSI title to his belt as he looks to dominate the bot lane once again.

1. Faker (SKT Mid laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok will forever be known as one of the best League of Legends players of all time. He has become known as the best mechanically skilled pro player, while also having the awards and team achievements to back them up. Three world titles, multiple MVPs, along with many Korean esports awards to boast. Since season three, Faker has consistently been the star player of SKT. When they decided to roster change, only him and Bengi were left from the original championship roster. Faker often draws a ton of jungle pressure due to people just knowing how good he is. It opens up a lot of options for the rest of this talented roster.

His impact on the game is unmatched. Faker has become the face of professional esports. When others ask who’s the best player in League of Legends, people will say Faker. His legacy is continually growing, as SKT dominated KT in the LCK finals. He’ll look to add another MSI title to his legacy.

Cover photo by: Riot Esports

MSI kicks off Wednesday!

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