ECS the Proving Ground

The playoffs of FACEIT’s Esports Championship Series kicks off today. The tournament returns to Wembley Arena for its third season. There are eight teams in attendance, with the entire top four on show, three of them being in group A. This one has all the makings to be a tournament never to be forgotten as a number of storylines look to develop over the coming weekend. Here is a look at just a few of them.

SK needs to cement their number one spot

SK Gaming’s most recent win was at Dreamhack Summer against Fnatic. [Source: Dreamhack]

Although SK is currently ranked as the number one team and has won three out of their last four big tournaments, there are still many reservations to be had. The Brazilians took the spot from major champions Astralis despite not playing them in a best of three series on LAN this year. It’s a series that has been eagerly awaited and hopefully, ECS can oblige.

SK has had an easier ride than most after beating Gambit to win cs_summit and Fnatic, who was outside the top ten before the tournament, to win DreamHack Summer. Their only notable win was against FaZe at IEM Sydney, but have since lost to G2, so it is unknown how they will fare against that caliber of team this time. Their map pool has taken a hit with some of their best maps like Mirage and Overpass becoming some of their worst statistically.

However, map pool can mean very little if Marcelo “coldzera” David and/or Fernando “fer” Alvarenga shows up in form. The two have been running rampant when SK pick up victories, with Coldzera looking like the best player in the world again.

ECS will be the proving ground for Coldzera and company to prove that their victories weren’t a result of playing poorer opposition.

G2 could reach their monumental peak

G2 Esports have been on an upward trend for some time. They took a momentum boost after winning DreamHack Tours on home soil and used that to better their performance at the ESL Pro League Finals.

Kenny “kennyS” Schrub picked up another MVP award in Dallas boasting an ADR of eighty and overall rating of 1.20. It was an absolute pleasure to see the Frenchman in Titan form. However, the work could not be done without the immense fragging G2’s support players have been doing. Both Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro and Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt have surprised fans by topping the board in a number of games.

If the trend is to continue how it should, G2 looks poised to take one of the most talent-packed tournaments of the year and net the lion’s share of the $660,000 on offer.

Astralis and FaZe’s chance to regain dominance

The former one-two punch can regain that title if they play against each other in another final. Astralis should have an easier time getting there since they have by far an easier group. Meanwhile, FaZe will have to take down either G2 or SK to reach the playoffs.

Astralis held the number one spot for a number of months. [Source: astralis.gg]

Their last LAN appearances, barring Clash for Cash, was IEM Sydney in which FaZe defeated Astralis in a closely fought semi-final. This might be one of the issues with the two heading into ECS, in that SK and G2 are in LAN form. Although skipping tournaments might be seen as a positive in order to prepare strategically, it could be argued that it might be hard for FaZe or Astralis to match the two in raw firepower. Particularly the former, whose game relies almost entirely on that aspect.

The only way to find out is to wait and see whether 2017 is heading in a new direction or if the old kings will return to reclaim their throne.

Finally, there’s Fnatic, oh and NA

At ECS, Fnatic will be out to prove that their DreamHack Summer finish wasn’t a one-off performance. The team looked revitalized with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson playing close to his older self, while Jesper “JW” Wecksell was also a sharpshooter.

One of the problems with the Fnatic roster is that they are still unsettled on letting JW full-time AWP with both olofmeister and even Robin “flusha” Rönnquist picking it up at times during DreamHack.

There are also three NA teams in attendance with Cloud9, Liquid and OpTic making the trip to London. However, it is unlikely any of these teams will make the playoffs due not only to their issues but the sheer weight of their opposition.

OpTic have had to turn to coach Hazed for a second time. [Source: ESL]

OpTic is the least likely as they look to coach James “hazed” Cobb to stand in for the second time whilst also being stuck in a deathly group with SK, G2 and FaZe.

There is potential for Cloud9 or Liquid to make the playoffs by beating out Fnatic in group B. The latter seems more likely with Josh “jdm64” Marzano reaching a good level in Dallas, paired with the growth of Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken. On the flip-side, Cloud9 continue to make the same mistakes from tournament to tournament, so some serious work must’ve been put in to fix their problems. ECS, however, will be the place to air those changes if they have been made.

 

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Summer 2017 over/under (part 1): LCS players below expectations

The EU and NA LCS Summer Splits are part-way through week three. Every team has played at least four series, and most starting players have played six or more games on stage. The beginning-of-split grace period is coming to an end, and excuses, such as team synergy or a new meta, are no longer acceptable.

Mid-season roster changes and substitutions are shaking up the standings compared to the 2017 Spring Splits. Most of the mix-ups can be attributed to team and player improvements, but just like every split, some players are standing out as weak links. No player can take full responsibility for an under-performing team, but the players below definitely have some work cut out for them if their teams are to reach their maximum potential.

Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong/Jeon “Ray” Ji-won

Cloud9, Top laners

D%:    26.9%/23.5%   (2nd-3rd highest overall)

CSD10:        -8.5/-11           (lowest top laners)

Something is obviously wrong with Cloud9’s top lane. Ray and Impact have both had their lulling periods in the past, but fans hoped those issues might be gone. Ray has had a full split to assimilate into the team, and Impact has been on the team a full year. Cloud9’s other members seem to be playing well, making this top lane duo a liability. Ray and Impact fall far behind in the early game and do not have the KDAs or damage per minute to justify such high death shares.

C9 Ray is underperforming after 3 weeks of LCS

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Phoenix1's Inori is underperforming after three weeks of LCS Summer Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

William “Meteos” Hartman/Rami “Inori” Charagh

Phoenix1, Junglers

KDA:    1.5/3.0   (lowest and 8th junglers)

DPM:    223/187 (9th and lowest junglers)

Another substituting duo that is struggling, Meteos and Inori, has uprooted P1’s entire team. Neither of these junglers has looked well-rounded. Inori brings fewer deaths, but also less damage and lower kill participation. Meteos has higher damage per minute and kill participation, but sacrifices a lot of deaths. In week three, P1 has decided to start Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung, indicating that he may be a better option right now.

Luka “Perkz” Perković

G2, Mid laner

XPD10:    -507   (2nd lowest overall)

DPM:    511      (7th mid laner)

G2’s slow start is a bit of a conundrum. Despite minimal roster changes in Group A, Perkz has fallen in rank in almost every statistic. His KDA, damage, death share, and laning differentials are significantly worse than Spring Split. This is surprising considering how well Perkz performed at the Mid Season Invitational. Mid lane has some of the highest parity among EU LCS positions, so weakness here can inhibit G2’s success.

G2 Perkz is underperforming after three weeks of Summer Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

P1 Arrow has been underperforming after three weeks of Summer Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon

Phoenix1, Bot laner

DPM:    464   (3rd lowest bot laner)

CSD10:    -5.8      (lowest bot laner)

Arrow has fallen far from MVP of the NA LCS Spring Split. While P1 has issues greater than just Arrow, the bot laner has not looked remotely close to form. KDAs are always lower on losing teams, but laning statistics such as gold differential, experience differential, and CS differential are mostly on the individual. Arrow’s laning statistics are significantly lower than last spring, and his overall damage has dropped off, which is strange considering hyper-carries are playable in the current meta.

Austin “Gate” Yu

Echo Fox, Support

KP%:   58.6%  (lowest support)

XPD10:  -119   (2nd lowest support)

Echo Fox has had a stalwart start to the split, but almost none of it can be attributed to Gate. While most other supports are drafting playmakers such as Rakan, Thresh, Blitzcrank, and Zyra, Gate has locked in Karma four games, and Sejuani three. FOX only won one of the three Sejuani games, and Gate did not seem to impact the series at all. For Echo Fox to reach the next level, Gate will need to contribute more meaningfully and consistently.

 

FOX Gate has been underperforming three weeks into Summer Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Each of these players has shown high points in the past, and should be able to bounce back from these first few weeks of competition. However, if they wish to remain contenders for playoffs, then they will need to improve as efficiently as possible. It is not uncommon for professional players to slump here or there. It happens every split. Getting out of it will require change. Trying new champion picks, setting different goals during practice, and working on communication within the team are all ways in which these LCS pros can overcome the criticism thrown their way.

Tune in next week for Summer 2017 Over/Under (Part 2): LCS Players Above Expectations.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Champion Statistics: Oracle’s Elixir

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Where are the Fans? A Case for the EU LCS

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

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

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

 

The Problems

 

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

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

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

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

 

Solutions

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

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

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

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Photos Via Lolesports.

Five Things We Learned From The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals

With the ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals ending on Sunday, we saw G2 Esports take the title. This achievement is the first $250k+ tournament win for the team, and a huge one at that.

But with the tournament ending, we learned plenty of things about teams and the tournament itself. Here are five things that we learned over the course of the last week:

ESL have finally stepped up their game

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

ESL have been under a lot of criticism lately, and fairly so. The company calling themselves industry leaders, have only led the company into a pile of mud. With that being said, with their last two tournaments, they’ve started digging themselves out of the pile.

With the conclusion of the tournament came a lot of players saying that the tournament happened to be the best by ESL. From a viewer’s perspective, the tournament wasn’t the greatest. With a couple hiccups here and there along with the organizer moving to YouTube, they weren’t at the top for production. But from the perspective of the players, the tournament was well hosted, and having the best intentions for the players is always a great thing to see.

North’s problems lie beyond inconsistent players

While you can say that making the finals of EPL is a step forward for the team, aside from newfound confidence in the team, they haven’t made much of a step forward.

Starting from the ELEAGUE Major in January, North have struggled in playoffs. Making quarterfinals, or semifinals in some cases, and bombing out. As a Bo3 team, they’re not the best. While they can be considered some of the best on maps such as Overpass or Nuke, one of which happens to be a permanent ban for many teams, they’re generally weaker than most teams on the rest of the map pool.

Tactically it seems that most teams are able to read into what Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen is planning for a match. Being called one of the best in-game leaders at one point, ended up being his downfall. Teams learned what he was doing pretty quickly, an issue that Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and his team faced when reaching their prime at the same time as the former Dignitas lineup did.

Photo by: hltv.org

While yes, you can say that inconsistency in their roster and having a heavily underperforming Philip “aizy” Aistrup is a huge issue, it doesn’t paint the full picture. The team seems to have issues outside and deep inside of the game that isn’t shown by statistics. Cockiness, shown by a trash talking Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke, seems to be a huge issue in the team. Having your star player being overconfident doesn’t help anyone, especially not the team.

Another issue, highlighted here by Richard “shox” Papillon, is their behaviour in practice which shows that the team is only practicing to their strengths rather than to strengthen their weaknesses.

Timothy “autimatic” Ta as the IGL was not the solution

Since their win at EPL Season 4 finals, Cloud9 have been plagued with issues. Stemming from a very readable Stewie and two players in huge downfalls from what they once were. Cloud9 are only a shadow of themselves from last October. Fielding the same lineup, seemingly the same map pool, and the same style. Much like NiP, Cloud9 seem unwilling to change anything. Although changing IGLs from Stewie to autimatic was interesting, in the end they changed back.

Cloud9 don’t have the firepower they had back during their win at EPL. They had four reliable fraggers and a Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham finding his groove. Since then, Skadoodle and Mike “shroud” Grzesiek have been in slumps of their own. One, unfortunately, worse than the other. Skadoodle has found some sort of consistency although it’s consistent at a lower level than what we expect from him. On the other side, shroud, unfortunately, is unable to find an impact on an international level, and with the problems spreading to domestic competition.

Cloud9’s problems lie with the players and possibly management of the team. From the outside perspective, it’s quite obvious that it’s time to change the players. From an inside point of view, it could be very much different.

G2 are the superteam we expected

With the resurrection of a godlike Kenny “KennyS” Schrub, a returning Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, and a rising Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro, G2 are finally the team they were expected to be. Going from 1-8 in the regular season to winning the finals, the rise in the team’s performance was well documented.

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

Being put into the toughest group and possibly the hardest route in the playoffs, G2 still came out on top. Even while suffering bad losses against Cloud9 and Immortals, they were able to keep the confidence high and persevere. An impressive feat we don’t see from a lot of teams.

MR3 tiebreakers are not the way to go and need to go

In Group A we saw a tiebreaker between SK, EnVyUs, and fnatic battling for the second and third spot. Unfortunately, there were issues that were immediately visible from the start.

EnVyUs took the three-way tie-breaker 2-0, getting the second seed. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to do, but seeing a team such as nV come out on top over the likes of fnatic and SK raised eyebrows, but not in a good way. It showed a massive flaw in the system. Only needing to win at least four rounds to make the playoffs is a problem.

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

Teams like SK Gaming aren’t teams that rely on brute force like fnatic and nV. They are a team that needs time to set up, and going against teams like the two against them doesn’t allow for them to do that. Pushes from Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom were very frequent on nV’s CT Side and allowed a very broken CT side to allow nV to take the tiebreaker.

You can make the argument that the teams know that this would happen if the matches leading up to it go the wrong way. With that being said, the fact that a situation like this is allowed to happen in the way that it does is very unfair for teams involved. Especially fnatic, who had an overall decent group stage.

 

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A Series of Unfortunate Events – Maikelele

Maikel “Maikelele” Bill is a long-time professional Counter-Strike player. The storied pro comes from one of the Esport’s many homes in Sweden, and has recently joined rising stars and fellow countrymen on Red Reserve. For newer viewers unfamiliar with Maikelele, he has had a number of ups and downs throughout his career, finding himself in tough situations on multiple occasions. This article retells the Maikelele story.

NiP Era

After strong performances both offline and online with Team Orbit in early 2014, the Swede landed himself on the world-famous Ninjas in Pyjamas team. With the legendary lineup, he would open up with second place finishes at the major Dreamhack Winter as well as the X-Games. The team would go on to win their next event at ASUS Rog Winter before bombing out of the Pantamera Challenge. However, it came as a shock to many when Maikelele was cut from the team despite being a top performer at many of the events they attended.

Kinguin Era

Kinguin earned top 8 at ESL One Cologne. [Source: ESL]

Maikelele had nowhere to go. With the other top Swedish side Fnatic starting to garner results, it looked as if it was back to square one, but he had other ideas.

Teaming up with fellow castaway Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom of Belgium, the two decided to form one of CS:GO’s first memorable international teams. Backed by the organization Kinguin, the team originally acquired Alexander “SKYTTEN” Carlsson, Ricardo “fox” Pacheco and Håvard “rain” Nygaard. Before quickly switching out SKYTTEN in favor of Dennis “Dennis” Edman for added firepower. The team saw instant results and earned legend status by reaching the quarter-finals of ESL One Cologne 2015.

Following the achievement, they won a tournament called Gaming Paradise. The irony is that the event turned out to be a total disaster. Plagued with player illnesses, delays and lack of funds to pay winning players. However, despite that, the international team still made a statement beating out Natus Vincere in the final. It was saddening for Maikelele that the win was rarely recognized due to the overshadowing issues.

 G2/FaZe Era

During their time together, the squad had accumulated a large following. This had caught the attention of the G2 owner who subsequently decided to pick the team up. They played the Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca major and had perhaps their best ever performance. The team was just a few rounds short of defeating eventual winners Team EnVyUs in the semi-finals. A heart-breaking loss but nonetheless a tournament to remember.

The continued rise to success attracted further attention, this time by Call of Duty titans FaZe Clan. It is rumored that the group of YouTubers paid big bucks for the CSGO team. The initial results weren’t great with the team finishing joint last at both IEM Katowice and MLG Columbus. This led to Maikelele’s second removal, this time from the team he had created from the ground up.

NiP/Dignitas

With his future uncertain, Maikelele decided to help out his former team NiP during their fifth, Jacob “pyth” Mourujärvi, absence. During this time the Ninjas gave Maikelele what they never could before. A premiere tournament win, they beat the French iteration of G2 convincingly in the grand final. He played three more events with the team and earned one more top four finish. However, the spot was only temporary and Pyth returned a month later.

After becoming a free agent again, Maikelele again created an international lineup, this time under Team Dignitas. Joining him for the second time would be Fox and Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, alongside former NiP coach Faruk “Pita” Pita, and North player Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel. But thunder would strike twice. After just five competitive matches together, the team would drop him and Pita from the squad.

Current Stance

This brings us to the current moment in which Maikelele has found himself on up and coming Swedish lineup Red Reserve. The organization recently made its foray into esports with a European Call of Duty team. Originally signed as a substitute, Maikelele quickly improved results, winning them a small online tournament and helping them take second place at the GeForce Cup. Following the results, the team decided to sign him permanently.

Maikelele has had such a tumultuous career, however, I believe that he plays his best Counter-Strike when he’s having fun. Back in the loose style of NiP, he had the freedom to take the shots he wanted to play. He had fun making top eight at a major with the first successful international lineup in CSGO. And now he’ll have fun nurturing young Swedish stars.

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Predictions for ESL’s Pro League Group Stages

Undeterred by the grey cloud of FaZe and Astralis’ absence, the fifth season of ESL’s Pro League gets underway. There are a number of strong teams in attendance, including IEM Sydney winners, SK Gaming. While Group B will be a battle of consistency, Group A holds the majority of the title contenders. The groups for the tournament can be found here. Three teams from each group qualify for the playoffs. The number one seed automatically advances to the semi-final while the others will endure the quarter-finals. Here are my predictions for the group stages.

Group A

This group hosts a number of major champions who will all be competing for that first round bye. I predict SK to top the group. At IEM, Marcelo “coldzera” David’s top performances continued while the rest of the squad rallied around Fernando “fer” Alvarenga. It is expected that these two will shine again throughout the group stage.

SK Gaming won Australia’s first premiere tournament. [Source: ESL]

Finishing second I have G2 Esports; they similarly are entering the tournament following their win at Dreamhack Tours. In France, G2’s more supportive players in Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt and Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro outperformed their star players. If that continues it’s unlikely anyone will beat them through raw skill in groups.

Joining them in the playoffs from Group A I have Cloud 9. The Americans recently topped SK Gaming in Subaru’s online invitational. The reigning EPL champions are known to struggle with translating online results onto the stage. However, this could be the weekend to do it with their title on the line.

Of course, there is a chance for an upset through any of Immortals, fnatic or EnVyUs. Fnatic still doesn’t look fully polished, although, they have been trading maps online with the likes of Astralis and FaZe whilst handily beating the easier opposition. Fnatic is a team known for their offline performances, so they can definitely steal third place. Immortals are heading into the event with Vito “kNg” Giuseppe who is making his first LAN appearance for them. Meanwhile, EnVyUs are on the decline after losing to Space Soldiers in the ESL One Cologne qualifiers, so I see little chance of these two qualifying.

Group B

The second of the groups is much harder to predict. The top two on face value would be Natus Vincere and North, although both have faltered as of late. Biting at their heels will be the challengers in OpTic, Liquid, and Mousesports.

Advancing in first place, I still have Na’Vi. Despite their horrific performance at Dreamhack Tours, I’m banking on the fact that the world class talent they possess will not collapse again. Since the opposition in this group is highly inconsistent, it should provide easier games than Tours did. The team hasn’t played many competitive matches since that loss, hopefully meaning the CIS team has some tricks up their sleeve.

Na’Vi have struggled since winning ESL One New York. [Source: Redbull]

OpTic used coach Hazed at IEM Sydney [Source: HLTV]

Taking the second seed I have North. Similar to Na’Vi, they exited IEM Sydney following a loss to local Aussie’s Chiefs. After a week long boot camp prior to the event, and with their opening games being against Mousesports and NRG, I believe they will pick up some early momentum. A strong tactical presence from Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen should be enough to see off Mousesports and the Americans. Top tier performances from Emil “Magisk” Reif or Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke may be needed to best OpTic and Na’Vi.

My last quarter-finalist will be OpTic Gaming. Although the team suffered humiliating losses to SK in the semi-finals of IEM Sydney, the team is slowly creeping back to the top. At this event, they will be able to play with in-game leader Jason “jasonR” Ruchelski, as opposed to their coach which should boost their chances of advancing. I don’t see them losing to either NRG or Mousesports, while they have the potential to take down Na’Vi or North. The game against Team Liquid may be crucial if they both happen to defeat the lower opposition while taking hits from the top two.

Mousesports definitely have the firepower to take third place with fan favorite Robin “ropz” Kool at the helm. However, my personal opinion is that OpTic’s core chemistry will help them reach the playoffs. Furthermore, Liquid are in the same position as Mousesports, meaning the games between each other will determine the winner or whoever can take down North or Na’Vi will get a shot at first place in the $750,000 tournament.

The ESL Pro League Finals kicks off today at the Verizon Theatre in Dallas, Texas.

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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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Post MSI Thoughts: Team SoloMid

Once again, North America’s Team SoloMid failed to get out of groups at an international event. This is the second time we’ve seen them do poorly at MSI. This was somewhat expected of them coming in; Most people had them ranked 5th coming in after struggling to defeat Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines in the play-in stage.

Problems

It’s hard to know exactly why TSM tends to play worse internationally. Domestically, TSM is usually somewhat proactive and aren’t afraid to pull the trigger on plays.

Photo by: Riot Esports

During MSI, TSM was often playing scared, not willing to make any plays to finish the game. They built up early game leads, but time and time again they didn’t know how to snowball them to victory.

 

It could be an issue of needing to bring in more analysts or coaches. Too many issues have plagued TSM for literally the whole season with little improvement. These issues arose once again during the Mid Season Invitational and ultimately cost them a spot in the bracket stage.

Their drafts may not have been the issue – even though they were heavily criticized for them. A lack of being able to play the meta was.

It seemed that mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg could not play Syndra counters such as Fizz and Ekko. Syndra was one of the strongest mid lane champions at MSI. Fizz was also a very valuable flex pick if teams could pull it off, but TSM refused to show the ability to play it in their comps. “Protect the ADC” was also a huge strategy that TSM failed to execute in the first game of group stages against Gigabyte Marines. They would go on the rest of the tournament not attempting to play a similar comp again.

Player Performance

Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran were some of the most criticized members during the group stage of MSI. Svenskeren once again was often getting caught out on greedy invades without proper lane pressure. This had been a constant issue in North America, and it continued here. Individually, it felt like Svenskeren was out-classed by most of the junglers at this tournament aside from G2’s Trick. Svenskeren finished the tournament with a 1.9 KDA and most deaths for junglers.

Many were quick to jump on the Wildturtle hate train after he face checked baron with both summs up against WE during a vital part of the game. Wildturtle statistically did not have a great showing; He was basically near the bottom for most categories among ADC’s. In mid-late game team fights outside of that WE face check, he wasn’t terrible. Wildturtle was never a main carry threat for the team and was usually put on something like Ashe or Varus that could help with locking someone down.

Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had a somewhat underwhelming performance after being named MVP of the LCS finals. There were games where his split pushing on Kennen won them games, but there were also times where he got solo killed out of nowhere or got caught out. In the G2 game, Hauntzer was caught out split pushing in the bot lane, which helped G2 stall the game even more and led to TSM’s defeat.

Bjergsen and Hauntzer’s shotcalling seemed pretty off for most of the tournament. TSM seemed lost in what to do with their early game leads and had some of the longest games of the tournament. Even when they did win, it usually wasn’t very convincing.

Looking Ahead

It will be interesting to see if TSM can bounce back from their MSI performance. Taking North America hasn’t been a tough task for them, but translating it over to international success has been a struggle. With star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng coming back into the mix, we have to wait to see how the team adjusts. Doublelift has the capabilities to be a consistent main carry for the team, along with being a major part of the shot calling last Summer.

Most would expect TSM to add another analyst possibly or another head coach into the mix. Parth has been with TSM for awhile now, but some of their problems are still lingering. After Svenskeren’s performance last split and at MSI, he’ll definitely be a player to watch coming in. If he continues to struggle, TSM could look to replace him for Worlds. One bad tournament shouldn’t justify benching him though.


Cover photo by Riot Esports

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2017 MSI: TSM's AD Carry, WildTurtle

TSM WildTurtle’s Ups and Downs at MSI

TSM had a poor performance at the 2017 Mid Season Invitational. The North American team finished with a 4-7 record – good enough for 5th place. Every member of the team should accept some responsibility for the losses and wins. None of these players had an outstanding tournament presence.

Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg seemed to be most consistent. While playing against some of the highest caliber individuals, Bjergsen never seemed to fall behind or become obsolete. His presence is felt throughout every game. Vincent “Biofrost” Wang was a bit less consistent. He timed key ultimate abilities, healing and shielding his allies effectively.

Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen were the least consistent players on TSM at this tournament. Some games they meshed well and flashed the brilliance that allowed them to win the NA LCS Spring Split, but other times they looked outclassed by their opponents. Poor play in the top lane and jungle heavily contributed to the early game losses for TSM.

Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, however, had consistently mediocre gameplay. There were very few moments in TSM’s games where WildTurtle seemed to pop off like the other AD carries. His map movements, his positioning, and his damage output were lackluster. Just watching most of the games, he flies under the radar. Here are examples of WildTurtle’s early game:

As you can see, it is not all that bad. There are a few instances where Biofrost and WildTurtle properly execute against enemy bot laners and ganks. Other times they are not so lucky. But there are fewer early game errors than one might expect.

TSM averaged 894 gold behind their opponents at 15 minutes. WildTurtle actually averaged 20 gold ahead at 15 minutes, compared to Bjergsen’s +59, Hauntzer’s -10, Biofrost’s -17, and Svenskeren’s -73. He and Biofrost were also ahead in experience on average. On Caitlyn, Varus, and Ezreal, WildTurtle averaged over 200 gold ahead at 10 minutes.

The inconsistency starts to crop up in the mid game when TSM needs WildTurtle to dispense as much damage as possible. Here are examples of WildTurtle’s mid game positioning and decision-making:

Just watching some of these highlights, there are clear highs and lows with Turtle. He is able to properly time his abilities, auto-attacks and movement in most fights. But other times he gets caught alone in a side lane or he gets caught in crowd control and picked while baron is available. These are the positioning errors that everyone is going to remember far clearer than the other dozen successful teamfights.

While they were middle-of-the-pack with their early game rating, TSM’s mid-late game rating is the lowest among all six teams in the Group Stage of MSI. They also have the longest average game time. These two factors point to a problematic mid-game that turns over any early advantages TSM secures. These errors would bleed into the late game:

This is where WildTurtle’s mistakes really shine. In these tense teamfight situations, a single death can swing favor into either team’s hand. More often than not, WildTurtle gets assassinated, crowd controlled or zoned completely out of a fight. It is impossible for TSM to win with this issue, and it was a huge advantage for all opponents.

TSM only got first baron in 27% of games, and only secured 28% of all barons. WildTurtle contributed a 2.7 KDA,61.9% kill participation, and 450 damage per minute – all bottom two among AD carries. While SKT’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and G2’s Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen are two of the best AD carries in the world, WildTurtle should reasonably be at or above the level of the other three marksmen.

Luckily for TSM, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng will be returning for the NA LCS Summer Split. The addition of Doublelift reunites the TSM roster that won the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split and represented North America at the World Championship last year. While the announcement reads “they will be expected to focus on different playstyles and will be fielded according to the strategy the team plans to use,” WildTurtle will need to exhibit higher level gameplay before starting for TSM this summer.


MSI Team and Player Statistics: Oracle’s Elixir

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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The Return of Dust2 Could Be The Change CS:GO Needs

In February of this year, Valve made the decision to remove Counter-Strike’s most iconic map from the competitive map pool, dust2. The map was replaced by another fan favorite and classic Inferno which had recently undergone its own rework. With the current map pool lacking exciting and competitive maps could Dust2 make a timely return?

Available for competitive play at the moment is Mirage, Train, Nuke, Cache, Cobblestone, Overpass and Inferno. However, many of the map pool problems lie with the two most recently updated maps Cobblestone and Nuke.

Issues with Cobblestone

The former has undergone many changes since its inception in CSGO. Cobblestone went from heavily Counter-Terrorist sided to Terrorist sided faster than a chicken running from Ronald McDonald. The changes to the B bombsite created the one-dimensional style of play it has become known for. Terrorists can simply steam into the B bombsite with an army of flashbangs and so long as one catches a Counter-Terrorist, you can have that bomb down and the round secured. Even after Ninjas in Pyjamas’ coach Björn “THREAT” Pers innovated new smokes for both bomb sites, rushing B still prevailed as the most effective strategy.

Threat was the mastermind behind NiP’s smoke strategies on Cobblestone. [Source: Dreamhack]

An underlying problem is that the economy for Counter-Terrorists can already be detrimental. The ability Terrorists have to dominate the B bombsite only further punishes that economy since there is a high percentage of success whether the Terrorists have rifles, UMPs or pistols at their disposal all with little damage to their own economy.

A recent example that highlights the imbalance of the map was at Dreamhack Austin in which G2 Esports played the map three times. The results were two wins at 16-13 and 16-12 and a loss of 16-14. The fact that Cloud9 and Liquid can amass nearly as many terrorist rounds as G2 and Gambit speaks to its disparity. It shows that there is little difference between a mediocre cobblestone team and high-level ones such as G2 who have known to be specialists on it in the past.

Issues with Nuke

Cobblestone, in fact, is a great map in comparison to the next, Nuke. The rework is simply a re-skinned version of its predecessor and still, holds many of the core problems people had with the original. Directional sound is a core problem within Counter-Strike itself. Although, Nuke heightens the severity of the issue because of its layout. Nuke is the only map in the pool that has multiple levels of height making sound essential to figuring out where the opposition is. However, the sound in CSGO is so bad that more often than not players are led to believe that their enemies are in one place when they are in fact somewhere completely different. Not only that, but Terrorists are particularly disadvantaged since Counter-Terrorists can use the silenced M4 making it even harder to pinpoint where enemies are.

Another core problem was the tight openings and corridors that allowed very little Terrorist movement. This made it easy for CTs to shut down oncoming attacks. In the update, the doorway into the A bombsite was widened in an attempt to counter this issue. Despite their intentions, Valve, in fact, made it easier for Counter-Terrorists to see into hut and lobby making it just as hard as it was before.

They also made the addition of the catwalk around the roof of the A bombsite. In my opinion, this is a legitimately pointless area for Terrorists. Again, in their ultimate wisdom, Valve has more so added another option for Counter-Terrorists as now, they can push up outside while maintaining a height advantage. Even if the Terrorists manage to succeed in getting outer control, a player using the catwalk has the same impact on the round as if he self-boosted on the roof or walked up the ladder.

The new catwalk can be seen running from silo all the way to CT heaven.

Nuke’s inclusion in the map pool also triggered outrage amongst the professionals due to the map it replaced, Inferno. A popular choice among all teams, Inferno was heralded for its ability to produce competitive games. There were many top inferno teams such as Fnatic and EnvyUs whom could garner large numbers of T rounds while the likes of Virtus.pro and Dignitas were known for locking down the CT side. It allowed specialists on each side of the map a chance to shine. No teams are even vaguely interested in becoming a specialist on Nuke, which can be told from how infrequently the map is played.

What could Dust2 do?

Dust2’s impact on the map pool would entirely depend on the outcome of the rework. It was removed due to its stagnation in play, with the same strategies being repeated over and over again. If there are new ways for Terrorists to engage bomb sites and more ways for Counter-Terrorists to defend them I see the rework being successful.

There have been many suggestions as to what changes should be made. One of the most popular ones is opening up the skyboxes around the map. Doing this would allow teams to be more creative with strategy as opposed to the same two or three seen before its eventual demise.

Dust2 had its sixteenth birthday this year, almost as old as me.

Another suggestion has been to utilize the area before Terrorists enter B halls since it is unused space. It could be used as a foundation for B site attacks or maybe the bomb site could be moved forward so that it is more evenly distanced between Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists.

Due to the maps history, it is likely that teams will be interested in adding it to their map pool when construction is eventually finished. It was prominently used in North America against Europeans where they could demonstrate their in-game talent. If tactical depth is created as a result of the rework it will be a refreshing change to play and watch. Hopefully it retains some of its run and gun aspects while also promoting more strategical play.

No matter what happens fans will rejoice when Dust2 is eventually re-added to active duty. So long as it’s in favor of either Cobblestone or Nuke, I’m an advocate. The CSGO scene has been long awaiting another shake up and Dust2 could be the map to do it.

 

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