EU Super Regionals: The favourites

Super Regionals this year on the EU side has got to be the most stacked Smite LAN we have ever seen. This year EU has been far and away the dominant region. Combined with how competitive the SPL has gotten on both sides of the Atlantic, this has got to be the strongest roster. When you think about NRG having to go through Gauntlet and being the lowest seeded team in this LAN, it shows you how good the competition is. Despite all this there are two teams who have slightly separated themselves from the pack this Season. That is Dignitas and Obey and they are probably the favourites to take Super Regional’s and World’s at the moment.

Obey

Obey came second last season at SWC, and have only gone from strength to strength since then. In the Summer Split Obey were hands down the best team in the SPL; this was despite having what many people would have called their star player, Harry ‘Variety’ Cumming, leave to form his own roster.

Super Regionals

Image courtesy of smite.esportswikis.com

This has been a theme of Obey, Solo laner’s considered among some of the top in the world keep leaving Obey on the basis that they want to join a team they think is capable of winning SWC. To prove how solid Obey as a squad look, at no point has this seemed to hinder them. In fact in the Summer Split after they lost Variety they won the EU SPL. This Split after losing João ‘Maniakk’ Ferreira they have done the same again. This Season they have had Maniakk and Jeroen ‘Xaliea’ Klaver return to the Pro League and have looked in better shape than when they left. Although Obey have lost two world class Solo Laners since last SWC they apparently always seem to have another one waiting in the wings. After coming second at SWC last year and being so impressive this year, you do have to wonder what Obey would have to do to convince their solo laners to stay.

Obey have the two things needed to create a top level team: top level talent and great synergy. In every role their players must be considered in the top five in the world and with the potential to be unplayable if they are on form. They also work very well together, and are all extremely innovative. Nate ‘Ataraxia’ Mark, Emil ‘Emilzy’ Nielsen and Ben ‘CaptainTwig’ Knight are all known as extremely experimental. Ataraxia has always been the ADC making new builds and is famously the creator of the Unicorn build. Emilzy is well known for his theory crafting and was the first player to bring out the Amaterasu support. Twig was one of the first people to bring out the warrior jungles on a regular basis and the full tank assassins. Obey’s ability to innovate and stay ahead of the meta is a huge weapon in their arsenal.

 

Dignitas

Dignitas, formerly known as Variety’s New Team, were a super team created at the beginning of the year with one purpose in mind, winning SWC. From the start they looked good, although in the Summer Split it was a story of Obey and then everyone else.

In the Spring Split however Dignitas were the dominant team and it looked like they were firmly on the way to accomplishing their goal of winning World’s. However, this Split they have been just behind Obey in terms of performance and results.

Super Regionals

Image courtesy of team-dignitas.net

Players like Jeppe ‘Trixtank’ Gylling and Anders ‘Qvofred’ Korsbo are desperate to relive the success they had at Launch Tournament and win the final LAN of the year. They have been near the top of the pro scene since its inception and have been consistently on teams viewed as capable of winning SWC. They are both also players who at certain points throughout their careers have been seen as the best player in the world.

 

 

It is this sort of pedigree and experience that Dignitas will hope to capatalise on, to win Super Regional’s and propel themselves to World’s in good form and high on confidence.

 

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H2K played below expectations in summer split

Reflecting on mid-season EU LCS expectations for Summer Split

On June 1, 2017, the first day of the EU LCS Summer Split, I articulated my expectations heading into the second half of the year. There were a lot of roster changes in between splits, which led to speculation about what shake-ups might occur before Worlds. I called out four of the ten teams that I thought had the best chance to define the landscape of the EU LCS. These would be the variables that shape their groups, depending on how they adapt to their new rosters and build off of Spring Split.

Like every split past, some teams performed to expectations, others did not. Some played up to a higher level, while other teams further fell. The big picture of the EU LCS remained fairly similar to spring, with the same top six teams qualifying for playoffs. However, the intra-group dynamics and individual team results are fairly different compared to expectations coming into this split.

G2

G2 played to expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: G2 dominated Spring Split: they only lost one best-of-three series out of thirteen. The Samurai went on to finish second place at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational. No other team in Europe looked to be on par with G2 before the tournament, but MSI certainly quieted any dissent. With no roster or staff changes to speak of, G2 looks to remain at the top of the ranks. Their eyes will be on the world stage.

Recency bias will paint G2 as the undoubted best team in Europe. They added another LCS victory to their trophy case. The Samurai will be EU’s first seed representative at Worlds. By the end of playoffs it was clear that no one in the EU LCS could challenge G2 in a best-of-five.

But Summer Split was rocky at the start. G2 was 3-3 after five weeks, beating Roccat, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Mysterious Monkeys, but losing to Fnatic, Misfits and Unicorns of Love. Their game score was 9-7, far from dominant. G2 sat in third place in Group A. It was a trying time for fans who were hoping that the G2 from MSI would be back in Europe.

They did eventually ramp up to finish second in Group A, push through quarter and semifinals and take the finals. Perkz returned closer to his MSI form earlier in the year. Mithy stepped up to become a primary initiator for the team. Trick began to rise towards his past level, as well. While all of these players had low points during summer, the G2 line-up did eventually reinvigorate to pre-split expectations. No one could have predicted their early fumbles after a dominant Spring Split, MSI and no major changes to the roster and staff.

Fnatic and Misfits

FNC played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Fnatic ultimately beat Misfits for third place in playoffs, beating them 3-0 in the best-of-five. Fnatic picked up a new coach, Dylan Falco. Misfits released their jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, and acquired Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian. The effects of these changes do not appear to be drastic on the surface. Fnatic should be able to retain second place within Group A, putting Misfits third.

Both of these teams surprised analysts, but in different ways. Fnatic and Misfits followed slightly different trajectories throughout the Summer Split. Fnatic tore through the European competition, finishing the regular season 11-2, but faltered in the playoff semifinals. They pressed on by winning third place against H2K, and went on to win the EU LCS Regional Qualifier to make it to Worlds.

Misfits had strong showings during the LCS regular season, but never fully convinced the fans that they were a top contender. They finished with a 1-6 record against the top six teams and a 5-1 record against the bottom four teams. However, Misfits shifted gears in playoffs, knocking out Unicorns of Love and Fnatic to make it into the finals. They are the surprise second seed to represent Europe at this year’s World Championship.

Fnatic’s surge is not entirely surprising, but it could not necessarily be predicted. This is the same roster that tied Roccat for third place in Group A just a few months ago. Bringing on Dylan Falco, previously of Team Envy in North America, was the only major change to the roster, which was seen as questionable, at best. The veterans of the team, Soaz, Rekkles and Jesiz, approached their top performance levels. The sophomores, Broxah and Caps, showed their own prowess at various points in the split. Most of all, the synergy among these members was much more apparent than any other team in the league.

Misfits’ growth could be a bit more conceivable coming into the Summer Split. They did make a name for themselves in their inaugural Spring Split by placing fourth. Time in the mid-season should allow this new squad to build synergies and come back to the LCS even stronger. However, by switching out KaKAO for Maxlore, it was unclear how this might affect things. The team did cite communication issues as the primary purpose for the replacement, but Maxlore’s actual skill as a jungler did not appear to be much better or worse than KaKAO. Would Misfits’ communication improve enough to offset the synergy and possible skill loss of trading at all?

In the end, the answer must be “yes.” Ignar and Maxlore did develop a strong jungle-support relationship in the playoffs. Alphari and PowerofEvil were better at using laning advantages to rotate, split-push and teleport around the map. Hans sama proved his worth as an AD carry against Samux and Rekkles, both All-Pro this split. Viewers will have to wait and see how this team holds up against international competition at Worlds. Hopefully, Misfits’ peak is yet to come.

Unicorns of Love

UOL played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Following a similar trajectory to G2, UOL finished the regular season 11-2. They did not drop a series to other members of Group B. UOL went on to finish second in the playoffs. Seeing as the top teams in Group B did not have any major roster updates in the off-season, the Unicorns should easily maintain their top position.

“Should” was the key word above. Just like G2, Unicorns finished at the top of their group and made it to the finals in Spring Split. They did not make any roster changes in the mid-season. Intuitively, UOL would continue to build off of their strengths coming into Summer Split and continue to be a dominant team in Europe.

But that did not necessarily happen. UOL began the season 6-1, including victories over G2, H2K and Misfits. They finished the last four weeks 3-3, including defeats to Roccat, Fnatic and Vitality. This fall-out culminated in UOL’s 3-0 loss to Misfits in the quarterfinals, and their 3-2 loss to H2K in the gauntlet.

Most critics would point to faulty draft strategies, mid lane instability, and failure to adapt to meta changes as UOL’s biggest problems. Exileh fell from third team All-Pro to seventh on Caps’ mid lane tier list. His performance issues, combined with Xerxe’s curve ball jungle picks, caused UOL to have difficulties drafting to be competitive. Exileh’s reliance on Talon and Vladmir shoehorned Vizicsacsi into a lot of AP top laners, instead of Jarvan IV, Gnar or Renekton.

Summer Split is a huge disappointment for the Unicorns. They continue their legacy of missing Worlds by losing in the gauntlet. All of these players have shown excellence on the Rift, but the limited in-game strategies and individual inconsistencies make it hard for this team to reach the next level. It will be interesting to see what changes happen in the off-season for UOL, if any.

H2K

H2K played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Although playoffs were not pleasant for H2K, their regular season went well. They finished 10-3, losing twice to UOL and once to G2. H2K had not lost to any other team until Fnatic beat them 3-0 in the quarterfinals of playoffs. Only earning 10 Championship Points, H2K will need to perform at a much higher level to re-qualify for the World Championships.

H2K played about where most people expected them this season. They did finish at the top of Group B, but that was more due to Unicorns faltering than H2K scaling higher skill-wise. Febiven looked more refined than Spring Split, but the bottom lane, Nuclear in particular, proved less dominant in the new meta. Odoamne and Jankos showed glimpses of their top-tier play, but could not exhibit such talent consistently against other top teams.

Playoffs was almost more heart-breaking this split for H2K. G2 skunked the squad 3-0 in the semifinals, sending H2K into the gauntlet. Once there, they made it all the way to the finals, but lost 2-3 to Fnatic to miss the World Championship. The expectation was for H2K to grow in the mid-season to stand a chance of making it to Worlds. Unfortunately for them, that did not happen.

Mysterious Monkeys

MM played to expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While EU Challenger teams have historically performed well in their first split of LCS, this roster’s talent is questionable compared to the others. They even lost their starting jungler. The Monkeys come into the split with low expectations, most likely ending the regular season in fifth for Group B.

As expected, Mysterious Monkeys did not have a successful Summer Split. They lost 23 of 28 regular season games, finishing with a 2-11 record. Ninjas in Pyjamas and Roccat were the only two teams they were able to take series from. Even after signing Kikis and Amazing as a top-jungle duo in week four, the Monkeys struggled to make much of an impact on the EU LCS. They did finish last in Group B, which forced them into the promotion tournament.

Although it is unclear how the reported LCS restructuring will affect European teams in 2018, Mysterious Monkeys did get “relegated” in the promotion tournament. They lost 2-3 to Schalke 04 in round one, and 0-3 to Ninjas in Pyjamas in round two. That is the ultimate proof that a team is not ready for the professional league. The Monkeys’ organization will most likely rebuild the roster in the off-season and come back next year with more experience.

Splyce

SPY played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: It is unclear what Gevous will add to Splyce. It is possible that a new coaching style may help bring Splyce’s members up to a new level. The players know they can play up to the same level as Unicorns or H2K. The anticipated meta shifts will probably help Splyce, as well. Tankier junglers with fast clears and impactful kits suit ‎Jonas “Trashy” Andersen, and  Martin “Wunder” Hansen generally looks more influential with damage-dealing split-pushers.

Firstly, Splyce let Gevous go around two months ago, with two weeks of the regular season, playoffs and the gauntlet remaining. He has yet to be replaced. That being said, it is difficult as a viewer to understand how much of an effect a coach has on a team. How much of Splyce’s shortcomings can be blamed on a lack of chemistry between the coach and the players? It is hard to parse apart.

It should be safe to say that Splyce will be disappointed when reflecting on this split. The organization’s power level in the LCS has effectively plateaued this year. Of course, Splyce has not had the same falling off as Origen. Splyce is still a playoff team, and they are clearly a step above Roccat and Vitality. They took G2 to an edgy five games in quarterfinals of playoffs. However, it has felt like a long time since fans and analysts held Splyce to the same esteem as their LCS debut.

Nothing about Splyce’s gameplay is horrible. Each lane is able to hold its own in the laning phase. They are able to contest objectives and commit to rotations. They are able to team-fight in the mid and late game. Splyce just is not the best at any of these gameplay elements. H2K and Fnatic will almost always get larger early game leads and close the game before Splyce can team-fight them. Unicorns of Love and G2 will almost always beat Splyce in a beefy brawl. The Serpents are the undoing of bottom four teams, just like Misfits, but they have been unable to break through the upper echelon of Europe.

Like Unicorns of Love, it will be interesting to see what happens to this roster in the off-season. Trashy seemed to be the most up-and-down player on the roster, thriving on Gragas and Ivern, but struggling on Elise and Rek’Sai. Mikyx was overshadowed by more proactive support players, but Wunder, Sencux and Kobbe have proven they can carry when needed. Each of Splyce’s players are capable of playing up to the best of Europe, and this roster has played together for two years. The coaching position will obviously need to be filled with someone who can unlock the potential of this squad, or who can make needed adjustments for the future.

Team Vitality

VIT played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: This is another team that looks to benefit from the upcoming metagame. Top laner, Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, looked best as a split-pusher when Vitality finished the regular season in third place in Spring 2016. A more anchored bottom lane and pressured top lane could open Charly “Djoko” Guillard up to have more options in the jungle. Vitality could look to move up in Group B if they mesh properly and other teams show weakness.

Bringing on Vander was supposed to shore up Vitality’s glaring weaknesses in the support position in Spring Split. It did not. Vitality looked roughly the same as last split. Nukeduck put the team on his back almost every game. Cabochard did look a bit more like his former self while laning, but Vitality’s bottom lane and jungler could not hold up against the rest of the LCS. To make matters worse, H2K, Unicorns of Love and Splyce all showed serious weaknesses this split, which Vitality was unable to punish. It is no coincidence that three members of Group A are attending Worlds as Europe’s representatives.

Vitality finished with a 12-17 game score. They only took one point off of a top six team (UOL), but won all series against MM, NiP and Roccat. Vitality will need to make serious changes coming into the LCS in 2018. They are simply not an exciting team. Replacing one player in one role does not seem to be sufficient. Looking at jungle and bottom lane is a start, but even top lane is not out of the question. A roster overhaul will be necessary before Vitality lives up to the expectations of European fans.

Roccat

ROC played below expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Roccat will come into summer an underdog, yet again. But if they can build off of their gameplay, synergy, and growth from spring, then they can definitely take games off of other Group A teams. Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren, in particular, should be able to continue drafting lane bullies such as Gnar, Fizz, and Renekton, which he played well in the final weeks of last split.

Roccat’s spring momentum did not carry over much into Summer Split. This team continues its arc as the most inconsistent performer in the EU LCS. Roccat finished the Summer Split with 1-1 records against every team in Group A, the only one to do so. The Cats also lost every cross-group match-up, except Unicorns of Love. It is strange that the same team that is taking series off of Fnatic, G2 and UOL is also dropping series to NiP, MM and Vitality.

Pridestalker actually pressed himself into the EU LCS in his debut split. Generally starting ahead in CS and gold at 15 minutes, Roccat’s jungler was one of the only players happy to draft Warwick and Kha’Zix over tank junglers throughout the split. Pridestalker also participated in First Blood in 27.3 percent of games.

Phaxi and Betsy were highly inconsistent this summer. The solo laners could never seem to hold pressure in their lanes against other European teams. Meanwhile, Roccat’s bottom lane was solidly top five in the LCS (in my opinion, Wadid deserved recognition as an All-Pro support). Like Vitality, a roster overhaul will be necessary if Roccat wants to reach the next level of competition. While no one would necessarily expect Roccat to suddenly become a title contender, many analysts were probably hoping for more from them after their end-of-split streak in spring.

Ninjas in Pyjamas

NIP played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While this team will most likely be the Spring 2017 Origen of Summer Split, it could also come together as an unexpected surprise. If Shook can manage to find synergy with Profit and Nagne, and HeaQ and Sprattel can grow together, then they could find upsets in Group A. This could also be Coach Nicholas “NicoThePico” Korsgård’s shot at redemption, as well. If they can all put aside their past failures, then they just may find success.

It’s safe to say Ninjas in Pyjamas was better this summer than Origen was in spring. They had a stiff early game, often gaining large gold leads by 15 minutes. NiP showed some signs of strength, such as their win over Fnatic in week 10. As expected, the Ninjas finished last in Group A with a 2-11 record. The team never seemed to synergize in the mid-late game, often missing opportunities to pressure turrets or neutral objectives. Sprattel and Shook were unable to engage or peel effectively for Nagne and HeaQ to carry, which made Profit’s split-push strategies fall flat.

At the end of the day, NiP was not ready for the LCS. This team did get relegated in the promotion tournament by losing to Giants and Schalke 04, but reported 2018 changes may make that insignificant. Like Mysterious Monkeys, NiP may return to the domestic leagues of the EU LCS. If so, they will need to take a hard look in the mirror and make adjustments. NicoThePico did not add much to his resume on this one, but, again, it is hard to tell how many of NiP’s issues were from the roster or the staff. 

Overall

MSF played above expectations in summer split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While hardly any of the teams in the EU LCS played to pre-split expectations, the on-paper breakdown of the split was fairly usual. Splyce, Misfits, H2K, UOL, Fnatic and G2 qualified for playoffs. Mysterious Monkeys and NiP fought, and lost, in the promotion tournament. Vitality and Roccat were somewhere in the middle. G2 took home another domestic victory. Fnatic is attending Worlds. Rekkles was voted Europe’s MVP.

This Summer Split will be remembered as the last one with two groups and one professional-level league. If the reported changes for the EU LCS come through in 2018, then we will be looking at an entirely different ecosystem. It will be home to 24 total teams with 24 rosters and 24 different dynamics to keep up with. The lines between S tier, A tier, and so on will become more blurred, and placements between organizations should become more nuanced.

Expectations going into Spring Split next year will be so up in the air it may not even be worth writing about. So as we move into the 2017 World Championships, take some time to reflect on your experience with the EU LCS. As you cheer for G2, Misfits and Fnatic through the event, preserve these Summer Split memories so we can talk more in 2018 about the future of League of Legends in Europe.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Unicorns of Love entered the EU LCS in 2015

A brief, heart-breaking history of Unicorns of Love

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

2015

Unicorns of Love qualified for the EU LCS in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016

Unicorns of Love replaced three starters for 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

Unicorns of Love signed Xerxe and Samux for 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

2018

 

What will Unicorns of Love do in 2018?

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

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

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

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


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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Who will win the Gauntlet for North America?

With the first two seeds locked in for North America, there is one more that will earn their spot at Worlds through the Gauntlet. This may be the tightest race ever for the final Worlds spot. Every team in the Gauntlet have a chance to possibly make it out. Let’s take a look:

Flyquest

While Flyquest just barely avoided having to play in the relegation tournament this split, they did earn enough points from last split for a Gauntlet spot. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for them as 3/5 members were on the Cloud9 team that had to play through the Gauntlet in season five to qualify for Worlds. Not only did they qualify, they did it off back to back reverse sweeps like we’ve never seen before. There’s just something about mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam that makes you never want to count a team with him on the roster out. His leadership and shot calling ability can make even the worst rosters look like contenders.

Flyquest also has the luxury of having not played on stage in quite a while since they missed playoffs; Nobody knows what to expect from them outside of scrims. Nobody has seen them play on this patch, so they’ll have the surprise factor heading into their first game of the Gauntlet. What they choose to do with it will be the real mystery. Expect some interesting cheese picks to come out from them.

Dignitas

Photo by: Riot Esports

Dignitas heads into the Gauntlet after a nice playoff run where they upset Cloud9 in the first round before losing to TSM 3-1. They made the mid season move of taking on the bot lane of Adrian and Altec. The move has paid dividends as the team has looked much improved from their mid slump. In their series against Cloud9, they looked like the better team with Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho leading the way. Ssumday has been the solid rock for this team all year.

In their next two series of the playoffs, it looked like the team may have peaked. TSM and CLG seemed to dismantle the team effortlessly in the early game. Mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang seemed to fall behind without jungle pressure. He was a weak link for the team. Without an early game lead, Dignitas looked lost on how to come back from such large deficits.

Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming go from zero to hero over a playoff series. On one hand, they looked shaky against EnVy and Immortals. On another, they dominated Dignitas in their third place match. It was almost a night/day performance for rookie jungler Omar “OmarGod” Amin. In their previous series he was one of the more inconsistent performers for the team, but in their third place match, he looked very comfortable. He was making plays and looked to be synergizing well with the team. Maybe they just needed time, but CLG looks to be the favorites heading into the regional qualifier for now.

Cloud9

Cloud9 had one of the easiest routes of the all the teams looking to qualify for Worlds. As long as they made it past the first round of playoffs, they’d auto qualify with circuit points if things went as expected. They did quite the opposite and now have created a much harder path to Worlds for themselves.

It’s no doubt they were clear favorites at the beginning of the year to be top contenders once again, but questionable drafts during their Dignitas series and under performing members makes us question if they can actually qualify for Worlds.

They’ve had the same issues all year it seems. No early game playmaking and relying heavily on the mid game to snowball. Even with an early lead, Cloud9 squandered their leads in their series against Dignitas.

They’ve had time to practice so hopefully they’ve figured out their issues. This hasn’t been a new trend though, it’s been the same issue all year. This team heavily relies on Jensen to carry a lot of the load. If he doesn’t snowball his lead, the team seems to struggle to find production else where.


Photo by: Riot Esports

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Fnatic may qualify for Worlds

Prediction: Fnatic, G2 and H2K will represent the EU LCS at Worlds

While four weeks of Summer Split, playoffs and the regional gauntlet remain for the EU LCS, Worlds is just around the corner. The window for qualifying is quickly closing, and every match counts. The teams have four to six series left to prove themselves and solidify their spot in the World Championships to represent Europe.

Keeping that in mind, I believe Fnatic (FNC), G2 and H2K will be the qualifying teams. Below, I outline the various different circumstances of these three teams. There are spectrums of results that these squads can fall into. There is enough parity within the league that any of these teams could miss out on Worlds, but they can also win the split and be Europe’s top seed. Here are the ways in which FNC, G2 and H2K can finish out their split.

fnatic

How they miss Worlds: Let’s say Fnatic loses its upcoming series against Unicorns of Love (UOL), Misfits (MSF) and G2. They would end the split with a 9-4 record. MSF or G2 would need to win five out of six of their remaining games to overtake FNC for first place in Group A. Therefore, they are most likely going to end first in their group.

Fnatic may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

First place gives FNC a first round bye in playoffs. If they lose in the semifinals, FNC would end the split in third or fourth place. Third gives them 70 championship points; fourth gives 40 points. Since they finished Spring Split with 50 points, FNC’s total championship points would come to 120 or 90.

If playoffs played out in this way, then G2 and UOL would both most likely finish with more championship points, pushing FNC into the regional qualifiers. If we are assuming MSF beat FNC in week eight, then they may very well beat them in the gauntlet to qualify. This would be FNC’s lowest probable outcome, in my opinion.

Realistic expectations: FNC should reasonably win three of their last five series. Their record would end at 10-3, meaning MSF or G2 would need to win all of their remaining series (including those against FNC) to overtake first place in Group A.

Again, first place gives FNC a first round bye in playoffs. Realistically, FNC will end up playing against UOL or H2K in the semifinals. They can beat either of those opponents to make it into the finals and auto-qualify via first place in Summer Split or highest total championship points.

H2K or UOL winning playoffs to auto-qualify would be the only possibilities that would rule out these qualifications. FNC would then be competing with G2 and UOL for highest championship points. For example, if UOL finishes first, FNC second and G2 third, then G2 would total 160 points. FNC would have 140, forced into the gauntlet. If G2 instead finishes fourth, then they would total 130 points.

Fnatic may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Finally, if the playoff standings end with H2K-FNC-UOL-G2 in first through fourth, then FNC and UOL will tie with 140 total championship points. According to lolesports.com, FNC would qualify for Worlds, because they accrued more points in the Summer Split.

Best case scenario: FNC can realistically win the entire Summer Split. They currently sit at 7-1, and it is likely they will finish first in Group A. Therefore, they are likely to have a bye in the first round of playoffs. H2K or UOL are FNC’s most likely semi-finals opponent. FNC could definitely beat them to qualify for the finals.

Once there, FNC will most likely face H2K, UOL or G2. Again, they can conceivably beat any of these opponents in a best-of-five series to win the Summer Split and auto-qualify for Worlds as Europe’s first seed.

G2

How they miss Worlds: G2 are second in Group A with a 5-3 record. They have five series left to solidify their spot in the standings. Assuming G2 beats all teams below them and loses to FNC and MSF, they would end the regular season with an 8-5 record. This may put them at third in their group.

G2 may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

They would likely face UOL or H2K in the quarterfinals. Either of those teams could eliminate G2 from playoffs immediately. They would finish in fifth-sixth, gaining only 20 championship points. G2’s total would be 110 points. If UOL finishes second, third or fourth, FNC finishes second or third, or MSF finishes second, then G2 would be forced into the regional qualifiers.

Within the gauntlet, G2 would most likely auto-qualify for the semifinals or finals. They could reasonably win into Worlds, but they could also fall flat. It would be hard to imagine the 2017 World Championships without G2 in attendance, but that is not out of the realm of possibility.

Realistic expectations: Suppose G2 beats Vitality (VIT), Ninjas in Pyjamas, MSF and Roccat (ROC) in their last four weeks of the Summer Split. G2 would finish the split with a 9-4 record, second in Group A. This could completely change their likelihood for qualifying into Worlds. Splyce (SPY) would be the most likely opponent from Group B.

If G2 were to win that quarterfinals match, then they would automatically finish in the top four in the EU LCS. Fourth place would give G2 130 championship points. UOL would have to get second or third, or FNC would need to get second, to push G2 into the gauntlet. Under those circumstances, G2 would most likely bye into the finals of the Regional Qualifiers, putting them one best-of-five away from Worlds.

G2 may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

If G2 finish in third, that would put them at 160 points. UOL would have to get second place to knock G2 into the gauntlet. Any other circumstance would allow G2 to qualify for Worlds as Europe’s second seed.

Best case scenario: Most EU LCS fans know that G2 are completely capable of making it into the playoff finals. Even if they lose, G2 would finish the year with 180 championship points. It would be impossible for another team to surpass.

It is not inconceivable for G2 to win the entire Summer Split. They have won three splits in a row, and performed highly at Mid-Season Invitational. G2 would love to go to Worlds as Europe’s top seed to set themselves up for international success.

H2K

How they miss Worlds: H2K do not have an easy road to Worlds this year. Spring Split really set them back compared to other top teams. They currently sit towards the top of Group B with a 6-3 record. They are battling UOL for the first place spot. SPY is two wins behind H2K with four weeks to go.

H2K may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

If H2K drops series to SPY and UOL, and SPY is able to overtake them for second place in Group B, then H2K will most likely face G2 or MSF in the quarterfinals. MSF will be a decent match-up, but losing to G2 would mean ending fifth-sixth again. H2K would finish the year with 30 championship points and be forced into the gauntlet, where they would likely lose.

Even if H2K makes it into semifinals from quarterfinals, they would have to then face FNC or G2. Either of these teams could knock H2K into the third place match. If H2K finish fourth, they would have accumulated 50 total points, and most likely need several Regional Qualifier wins to get to Worlds. If they finish third, they would have 80 points, and still most likely need to win two series for Worlds.

At H2K’s lowest, they will not make Worlds. Their Spring Split playoffs performance has set them back so far that every single series win could be the difference for them to qualify. Losses now mean a lower playoff seed. Losing early in playoffs means a longer gauntlet run. A loss in the gauntlet means another team is representing Europe at Worlds.

Realistic expectations: H2K is fully capable of beating every single opponent in the league. It is just a matter of which team is playing well that day. They can beat UOL. SPY, VIT and Mysterious Monkeys should be easier wins. UOL faltering against ROC this week proves that H2K can finish first in Group B.

A first round bye for playoffs would be a boon for H2K. It would solidify a top four finish in the Summer Split, essentially guaranteeing they are included in the Regional Qualifiers. If they finish third in playoffs, then H2K most likely has to beat SPY or MSF and face UOL to qualify for Worlds. In this hypothetical, H2K finished at the top of their group by beating UOL, so they could then beat them in the gauntlet and qualify as Europe’s third seed team.

H2K may qualify for Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Best case scenario: At H2K’s peak, they win the whole Summer Split. FNC, G2 and UOL had troubles at Rift Rivals, but it is not necessarily going to be easy. H2K could finish the split in first place for Group B. They could go on to beat MSF or G2 in the semifinals, then win the finals against UOL or FNC.

This is H2K’s best scenario. Of course, winning Summer Split is everyone’s best scenario, but this is especially true of H2K when compared to FNC, G2 and UOL. Points-wise, those three teams are contenders for Europe’s second seed if they don’t win playoffs. Because of H2K’s fifth-sixth finish in the Spring Split, they do not have this luxury. If H2K finish first in Group B, then they only need to win two best-of-five series to go to Worlds. If they do not finish first in their group, then H2K will have to win four to six series to qualify.

Prediction

My actual predictions are a hodge podge of the hypotheticals described above. I expect Group A will see FNC in first, G2 in second and MSF third. Group B will have H2K finish first, UOL second and SPY third. FNC and H2K will go into playoffs with a bye.

In that scenario, UOL would face MSF in the quarterfinals. G2 would match with SPY. Both of the second place teams would win those best-of-fives. UOL will go on to face FNC, while G2 goes up against H2K.

The “Kings of Europe” really should reign supreme at this point. FNC and G2 have impressive histories of winning European best-of-fives. UOL and H2K, on the other hand, have faltered on many occasions when it truly mattered. FNC and G2 should meet in the finals.

It may end up being a close series, but it is hard to bet against G2 at this point in the EU LCS. Sure, they looked rough at Rift Rivals against the NA LCS teams, but this is not Rift Rivals. This is the EU LCS. G2 has won the last three splits in a row, and they seem to always do better in longer series. I expect them to take Europe’s first seed spot for Worlds this year.

FNC would finish the year with 140 championship points, taking Europe’s second seed qualifier. UOL would have 110, H2K would have 80, MSF would have 50 and SPY would have 30. It is hard to imagine this gauntlet final facing off anyone besides H2K and UOL. These Group B rivals will be exciting to watch. Following their week 10 match-up, I expect H2K to follow through and qualify as Europe’s third seed to Worlds.

Regardless of what happens over the last few weeks of the EU LCS, it is going to be riveting. The standings are much closer than many expected coming into the split. The parity within Groups A and B is shaping up to come down to the wire. Series losses now can have Worlds-qualifying consequences. Every match counts.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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Team Allegiance: A Rising Force In NA

Spring Split Woes

Team Allegiance did not have the strongest of Spring Splits. They won five games, lost nine, and were the last team to be 2-0ed in a crazy run by Oxygen Supremacy in the Gauntlet. To put it simply, it was not the sort of split players of that caliber would be hoping for.

Team Allegiance has high caliber players, there should be no doubt of that. At the start of the split, the Allegiance roster looked like it had the potential to go far. They had rising stars such as Aleksandr ‘Oceans’ Brudnyi and veterans of the scene such as Kurt ‘Weak3n’ Schray and Jarod ‘Cyclonespin’ Nguyen. Not to forget Mike ‘PolarBearMike’ Heiss and Michael ‘Metyankey’ Fasciano. You have a group of players there who would not look out of place in pretty much any roster in the league. There also seemed to be a strong and vocal shot-calling component, having both Weak3n and PolarBearMike on the team.

The promise of the team did not materialize though throughout the Spring Split. The results were not there. Apart from eUnited, their performances against the top end of the league were not impressive. This led to PolarBearMike benching himself and while he did say there where other real world factors, he specifically notes that under-performing wasn’t the problem but “the way we handled it”.

It is worth noting at this point that Weak3n had already said early on in the split that the Spring Split didn’t mean much. The thrust of his argument was that the start of the season would be largely people adjusting to meta but most importantly teams would still be building synergy. He said this is the split where you would get a much better idea of the teams and how they are going to do throughout the rest of the season. Whatever you think of Weak3n (he is a very good player btw, despite what twitch chat has to say), you are undeniably wrong if you don’t think he has a very firm understanding of how the SPL works and how to build a successful team.

Summer Split Resurgence

Allegiance has looked great this split; they look like they are definitely a top three team in NA. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, four out of their five players have had a full season to get synergy.

Second, Neil ‘Neirumah’ Mah seems like a very strong pickup. James ‘ViviaNx3’ Murphy didn’t really get a huge opportunity so cannot speak on his level, but the team seems to think Neirumah is an upgrade.

Another of the big reasons for their current upswing in form is their objective control. In a recent interview with TGH, Weak3n explained that NA was behind because EU was “experimenting” much more. The most obvious way you can see Allegiance experimenting is by how frequently they run the Isis in mid lane.

Image courtesy of smite.gamepedia.com

 

The Isis has worked incredibly well for them. She gives them great early pressure in mid. Early pressure in mid is vitally important, especially in this meta. She is also an incredible teamfighter. The spirit ball is great burst and CC and can set up great engages and peel.  The silence and protection shred is one of the most underrated CCs in Smite. Her ultimate is ridiculous, probably one of the best if not the best tools in the game to deal with hard engage. It creates a massive area which is just far too dangerous to stand in because at full charge is one of the highest damaging abilities in the game, as well as giving significant damage reduction and a burst heal meaning that not just does the floor become lava, that carry you were trying to burst down is now incredibly safe.

What the ult is famous for though, and what Allegiance are using it for extremely effectively, is objective control. Another thing that has been lauded as being behind the EU supremacy recently. Allegiance has been using the Isis ult just to take the Gold Fury on cooldown. An example of this is in their win against Luminosity in 30 minutes Allegiance had four Gold Furies and a Fire Giant to their name. This is while being down two kills, once again proving kills<objectives.

Another reason behind Allegiance’s great results this split is the dominance of the right side of the map. Weak3n and Cyclone are running games like the old AFK days. The perfect example of this is the set they just played against eUnited. There is, of course, the now infamous pick of Arachne for eUnited. However, the performance by Weak3n, in particular, was impressive. Afterall, you can only play what is put in front of you. This great objective control they now have with a dominance of the right side of the map is driving them to success this split.

Allegiance look like they could become a real force to be reckoned with this season. They have it all, talent, veteran leadership and importantly at the moment what seems like a willingness to adapt. There is also the fact that within in NA one of the best teams in Eager looks a lot weaker than last split. Not only have they lost the synergy they had developed over the previous seasons, the players they have got in seem to be of a lesser caliber.


Top Image Courtesy of esports.smitegame.com

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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

Smite Gauntlet: What Did We Learn?

Bellona’s Back!

Bellona, in the online portion of this split, was nothing to scream and shout about. She had a pick/ban rate of 16.36%, a win rate of 50%, and a relatively low KDA of 1.8. Bellona, however, returned to take a prominent place within the Gauntlet meta over the weekend. With a pick/ban rate of 42.42% and a staggering win rate of 88.89%, it was a bit of a surprise as she is not one of these typical LAN monsters, such as the Anhur, who gains a lot from the 0 ping environment. Her abilities are easy to hit regardless of ping (barring the exceptional). She has been seen lately as a bit of a counter pick, as the disarm on her 3 can really hinder basic attack based gods. However, AA gods were not the story of the Gauntlet.

The favoured Hunter, Skadi, is the most ability-based Hunter Smite has ever seen. With power and penetration being the preferred build with very little, if any, attack speed being picked up. Ability based Junglers dominate the meta and the Kali pick we did see was far from expected. It is worth noting that the Bellona was also drafted in that game, perhaps in an attempt to protect the Kali from that disarm, although that is hard to say considering Adrian ‘Deathwalker’ Benko’s tendency to pick the Bellona this LAN anyway.

Image courtesy of SmiteFire

One criticism of Bellona is that she can be low impact. Her burst damage is easily interrupted, a disarm is all well and good but there is better CC, and the ultimate is rather telegraphed. But at the Gauntlet, any claims about low impact and the ult have been dismissed by Deathwalker. Look to game two against NRG when they were fighting for their life being down 0-1. He gets a great ultimate at the left Phoenix setting up the defence against a Fire Giant team, setting Rival up to not lose a Phoenix in that push.

Then the coup de grâce when Deathwalker single-handedly wins his team the game. Left Phoenix down, tank dead and you’re facing a full Fire Giant back to back World Champion team. I mean the game should be over, but in steps Deathwalker with a three-man Eagle’s rally right to the dome of the Support, ADC and Mage. GG Rival and then we all know what happens next.

One thing to point out here is that while that ultimate was great, it should never have been allowed to happen. This is clear from when we hear the NRG comms in their games against eUnited and them screaming ‘safe way!’ repeatedly, when they are making that same rotation to mid Phoenix.

One reason why Bellona showed her potential this LAN is that she is great in every part of the game. Her laning phase is great, and even if you can interrupt her Bludgeon it is still amazing. One reason for this is because of the Season 4 Death’s Toll. The loss of power for increased sustain is great for solo laners with AOE autos. If you go to interrupt the Bellona you will get hit, meaning she can group the minions. Then, Bellona is healing for 48-56 health per auto depending on whether or not she is hitting you, as well as the wave. That means over a wave she has nearly got a full health pot worth of healing. Considering most solo laners will start 4 health pot 4 multi pot early on she is gonna out clear you anyway and doesn’t need to worry about tanking the wave that much.

With that sort of laning phase, it is easy to get Bellona ahead or at the very least stay even. Once that happens, you have a Warrior with strong autos, a decent amount of burst from Bludgeon (serious burst if you are ahead), who is also incredibly tanky when you consider the blocks on her dash and the ability to stop the highest damage characters in the late game from doing their damage thanks to Scourge.

There is also the incredible zoning potential of her ult. You are not going to want to take a team fight down 35 protections from the other team! Let’s not forget her passive giving her movement speed and protections from being hit or hitting you! Bellona has been slept on recently, but with the recent performances in the Gauntlet, most notably on Deathwalker and Peter ‘Dimi’ Dimitrov, do not expect that to be the case going into Masters and the Summer Split.

 

Itemisation

The biggest point of note in Itemisation is how much Spear of Desolation was picked up in the Gauntlet compared to the online section of this Split. Spear of Desolation is a great item for Mages. It has so many of the stats you want giving a decent chunk of power at 90, CDR, and penetration.

Image courtesy of Smite Wiki

Item’s do this occasionally when they are new, they don’t get picked up during the online phase as all scrims are dedicated to the game they are playing that week and they want to get their builds right. As much as the pro’s play the game, they know what works and it will take some time to oust their preferred items from the build. Especially more than the average player, builds are made around timings and pros have a better understanding of how a change in one part of the build effects another. When we have these breaks between the season and LANs it gives the pros time to experiment more in scrims as they aren’t worried about the set in two days. The big bonus of Spear of Desolation is being able to build CDR and Penetration at the same time.

The big bonus of Spear of Desolation is being able to build CDR and Penetration at the same time. The drawback was always the expense of the item, with other pen items being 450 gold cheaper in Spear of the Magus and Obsidian Shard being 300 gold cheaper. Never mind it’s not giving as much pen. However, it seems the pros have decided it is worth the investment. Most are building Spear of Desolation in the third item slot. This means that by your third item as a Mage you have 20 pen due to the 10 also on boots, 10% CDR, and a large power base, especially as a lot of people are building it with Bancroft’s Talon an item which is coming back into favour with recent buffs.

This is also a reason for Spear of Desolation’s entrance into the meta. The low cost of Bancroft’s allows your third item to be slightly more expensive. Most people are building another pen item on top of this later in the game, meaning you end up with more pen overall. Although Alexandru ‘Wlfy’ Lefterică showed this is not necessary, starting Book of Thoth and going a fourth item Rod of Tahuti in Rival’s second game against Eanix. He went top damage with the same build on Thoth as well as in the second game vs Soar. Pulling top damage numbers twice shows that he wasn’t hurting from the lack of pen. It is worth noting there weren’t many dedicated magical defense items built by Eanix that game.

Bancroft’s has seen a resurgence and is worth a quick mention as well. I say quick, because the reasons are obvious: the item is great. At its max effectiveness, you get 200 power 40% Lifesteal and you only pay 2300 gold for it. Also, now you don’t need to be dead to get max effect of the item. Being capped at 25% means you get a lot more use out of this item as the passive is strong when you are healthy enough to still fight.

EU Stronger than Ever

Team Rival

Rival looked very strong at Gauntlet and obviously not the biggest upset of the week considering Oxygen Supremacy’s incredible run. They were however not many people’s favourites to face off against NRG. Then to take that a step further by beating NRG! Although as I have alluded to and will go into more detail later they shouldn’t have. Smite like life, however, is about seeing an opportunity and taking it, something Deathwalker definitely showed in their game two against NRG.

What was probably the most impressive was the way in which they dispatched Soar. I was not expecting their victory, if they got one, to be so comprehensive. The first game, while not always leading in term of kills, they always led in the more important stats of gold and experience. Of the 70 players at the Gauntlet only 17 managed a KDA of above 3 barring their support the remaining four players of Rival all managed this showing this was definitely a team performance.

Stand-Out Performers

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Aleksandar ‘iceicebaby’ Zahariev, apart from having a great IGN, was also the MVP of the Gauntlet. I don’t think I am being unfair when I say nobody saw that coming. He more than tripled his Spring Split KDA of 1.31 with a KDA of 4.5 at Gauntlet. The Bulgarian Jungler looked dominant on his three main picks of Susano, Thor, and Serqet. Particularly the Susano where he has a combined slash line of 26/6/21. While Susano was definitely the most successful Jungler at Gauntlet with a win rate of 76.92 iceicebaby piloted the God incredibly well. His K/D on the God of 4.33 compared to the Gauntlet average of 2.27 proves this point. Look out for him at Masters we may have a new superstar from the Jungle to talk about.

DeathWalker had a great Gauntlet and is one of the major reasons behind the Bellona resurgence the first part of this article was dedicated too. I have made clear how I think without Deathwalker, Rival do not win this Gauntlet. He also has the most interesting pick of the Gauntlet. A solo Ah Puch – nobody who hadn’t been scrimming Rival or is very close to the scene would have been expecting that pick. That is something which would be met with hails of ‘report!’ In most ranked games! Yet, while they lost the game, it wasn’t the Ah Puch which was to blame. The way Deathwalker navigated the early game on one of the easiest Mages to kill in the game is something worth taking note of. This begs the question what else is he likely to pull out at Masters?

NRG

There has been a lot of talk about NRG being knocked off their perch. It is a little too early to be saying that as far as I am concerned. They should have 2-0ed Rival and they only didn’t due to a pathing error. An error as I said earlier, their comms suggests they are not likely to repeat again. Then considering what Rival did to Soar it is more than probable that NRG would have also walked away from that set victorious. The eUnited set was not just NRG booking their place at Masters it was a statement. From one man in particular Kennet ‘Adapting’ Ros. Who decided he wanted to remind us all why for the past two years he has been considered the best player in the world!

eUnited Set

The first game was even through 20 minutes with eUnited actually slightly ahead. Then it just became the Adapting and Dimi show, going 11/0/12 and 8/0/14 respectively with Adapting doing 26k damage. To put that in perspective, the Zhong Kui did 16k. That is another thing often overlooked about NRG during their drafts.

That draft was beautiful at shutting down a Zhong Kui. The Nemesis pick is obvious and its benefits have been espoused numerous times. What was drafted around it was what made it so great. The Scylla Nemesis combo makes it impossible for a Zhong to get a decent ult off. After the Judgement from Nemesis, you have the root chunking 20-30 percent of a Zhong’s health and then the unmissable damage in the Crush which takes off the same or more again. So without even needing to ult the Zhong is on his heels.

Admittedly, the Bellona pick came before the Zhong and it just happened to work out very well for eUnited. The Hou-Yi also zones the Zhong out as he isn’t walking through that and living to tell the tale. This made it nearly impossible for Zhong Kui to be Zhong Kui as he was relegated to a back-line mage.

The second game had NRG dominate the kills throughout although eUnited did a good job utilizing the map to keep it even. That is until the 20 minute mark. Then again, NRG just blew the game open. From minute 20 to 24 they turned a 3k gold lead into a 8 k gold lead. There were impressive performances from multiple players from NRG this game Dimi with top damage on the Erlang Shen going 1/2/17 doing everything you could ask of your solo laner, as well as André ‘Yammin’ Brännvall going 7/1/12 and the ADC Emil ‘Emilitoo’ Stärnman putting in a solid 4/1/8.

However, the main man was Adapting going 13/4/10, not participating in two of his teams kills for an overall kill participation of 92%. Adapting is unreal when he plays at his best. He also shot calls for his team which shows that there is more to this Jungler than mechanical prowess. If I was going to be facing NRG at Masters that set against eUnited is the last thing I would have wanted to see. Not only will NRG have a chip on their shoulder, but they will be the bottom seed from the two major regions in the game. The King is back and has got to be feeling himself after those performances in the final two games they played. This really should have been their 7th straight LAN victory and I wouldn’t be surprised for them to take number 7 when they get to the main event.

Looking to Masters!

Considering the last SWC finals was an entirely European affair, and this LAN, made up of the mid-lower tier teams, was dominated by Europe, the question of the stronger region seems to be pretty self-evident at the moment. Eager and Luminosity will have to play incredibly and put in a great performance to upset the European dominance. Bare in mind that Obey beat Eager in the Semi-Finals of Worlds to go through, and since then have only gotten better. Although, the Anubis pick which went 1-2 in games won in that set for Eager probably hampered them. As I reckon they had a better than 50 percent chance in a straight up game, especially as the first game went horribly for the Anubis. Putting yourself behind in such a pressure cooker of a set is more impactful than normal. LG and Eager are both great teams who could very easily walk away from Masters with a win. My money though is on EU to bring another trophy back across the Atlantic with them.


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Are NRG No Longer the Masters LAN Favorites?

Two years. That’s how long it has been since the boys from NRG Esports didn’t win a LAN in which they were competing. Absolutely incredible when you sit back and think about it. For a team to put in the work needed day in and day out to play with the sort of consistency NRG has been playing with for the past two years is just remarkable. So why all of a sudden did the streak come to an end? What happened that led to Team Rival winning the Gauntlet instead of NRG?

The Grind of The Smite Pro League

The grind of the SPL is pretty taxing on the body and mind. And you may be saying to yourself that it’s just playing video games, but it’s more than that.

Brandon “Venenu” Casale of Oxygen Supremacy walked us through a day in his life over the weekend at the Gauntlet. He referred to his day typically consisting of school, homework, and then hours of Smite. Many other players have mentioned similar scenarios in their own lives. As Team Eager fans know, Cody “djpernicus” Tyson is currently pursuing med school. This is unbelievable for a professional gamer of any kind knowing how much time needs to be dedicated to the game. Then you have the likes of Kurt “Weak3n” Schray, John “BaRRaCCuDDa” Salter, and Riley “Incon” Unzelman, among others who stream for hours and hours on end almost daily. They do all of this while continuing to spend hours scrimmaging and practicing with their teams.

So what does this have to do with NRG exactly? Well, a lot of this stuff applies to them. They have streamers, they have students, and each player on the roster has a life outside of Smite. The amount of dedication to the game that they have put in to remain such a dominant force in the SPL is a tremendous accomplishment. Unfortunately, a streak like that comes with a price. The players themselves have mentioned being burned out from playing the game, but still want to be able to compete at a high level. We’ve heard multiple times that they took a break this spring split, scrimming and practicing less so they can remain fresh and ready for the LAN tournaments that mean so much. This type of burnout is exactly what Mark Cuban was referring to when he said he didn’t want to invest in esports.

So looking back on the Spring Split, maybe there’s a reason why NRG started so slow, and then finished strong at the end. They were taking their break, and as it got closer to the Masters LAN, they picked up their play and made a push. Although they technically made it to Masters LAN, you could argue this wasn’t exactly worth while for NRG, as they finished 3rd in EU and were forced to compete in the Gauntlet, where again they finished 3rd. If their goal was to qualify with minimal effort, they certainly didn’t do that, playing five games more then they would have if they qualified in one of the top two spots in Europe.

Photo Courtesy of Hi-Rez Studios

The Competition is Just Flat Out Better

Let’s not take away from what Team Rival did this past weekend. They put on an absolute show and proved they can hang with the top teams. It is just simple fact that the SPL teams in EU have improved immensely. There’s proof that the gap between NRG and their competition has diminished, if not vanished entirely. Let’s face it, the NA teams didn’t exactly prove they could beat the EU teams at the Gauntlet. Eager and Luminosity proved they could compete with the EU teams last season at the Smite World Championship, but that’s been it so far. In Europe however, you have Obey and Dignitas who played phenomenal all split. Team Rival just showed us that they aren’t to be overlooked. Eanix took Rival to three games, and so did Elevate.

Just to be clear here, I’m not saying that the competition is better than NRG. What I’m saying is that the competition is better then they have been over the past two years while NRG was on their streak. Everyone on their team finished top four in KDA this weekend, which included Kennet “Adapting” Ros going 11-0-12 on Nemesis and 13-4-10 on Susano in his last two matches securing the Wild Card spot. The team also had the highest collective KDA on the weekend at 3.47 while Craig “iRaffer” Rathbone and Peter “Dimi” Dimitrov finished first and second in assists per game with 14.2 and 13.6 respectively.

NRG Lost its Touch

So personally I think saying NRG lost its touch is a stretch, but hey, it’s a lot easier to make this argument then if they had won the Gauntlet.

Look at the facts: They dropped games against nearly everyone they’ve played this year outside of the bottom three in Europe, and eUnited. They claim that they took it easy this split so they didn’t get burned out. That’s fine and dandy, but were they that cocky? Did they actually think they were so far ahead of the other teams that they didn’t need to put in as much work as the rest of the SPL?

James “Duck3y” Heseltine from Lion Guard Esports stated during the Gauntlet that he thinks NRG has trouble adjusting to the meta, that they take longer than the other teams. Maybe this is true, and it would explain why they played better towards the end of the split. What it doesn’t explain is why they weren’t able to come into the Gauntlet and be the NRG that everyone expected to see.

Photo Courtesy of NRG Esports

The Real Explanation

To be honest, it’s probably a little bit of everything. Say what you will, at the end of the day this is still the two-time defending World Champions we’re talking about. They got beat by Team Rival, a team that showed up and played their hearts out. One more triple bounce in the Jungle and maybe NRG walks away with the Gauntlet and this isn’t even in question. They still dominated their games against eUnited.

The Smite Pro League is filled with strong players and teams, and that stretches all the way through the league. If I had to put any sort of money that mattered to me on it, I’d end up picking NRG before most, if not all of the SPL teams. They’ve earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. Sure, there’s always going to be teams making claims and gunning for the top spot. Quite frankly, that should make it all the sweeter when NRG prove the haters wrong and come out on top once again.


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League Champions Korea: Spring 2017 Playoffs So Far

All you need to know to get up to date on League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK)

With LCK’s semifinals for the Spring Split coming soon, now is the optimal time for a brief update before the League’s premier games. In this article, the logistics of the League’s gauntlet style tournament as well as a short recap of how playoffs have been will be discussed.

How it Works: LCK Gauntlet

LCK, like its western counterpart, LCS, has ten teams facing each other twice throughout the split; fighting for their place in the standings that will inevitably result in promotion/relegation tournaments for the bottom two teams, and playoffs for the top four. Tiebreakers occur when two teams have the same game record and head to head record. This occurred between MVP and Afreeca Freecs this season. While this tiebreaker did not hold much weight, as the two teams would then replay each other in the first round of playoffs, it did decide who gets side selection for the next round.

The LCK playoffs operate very differently than their western counterparts. In the LCK, 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 manner of competition puts much more weight on the individual split, as there are more games where a bye can be achieved. Overall, this is very healthy for LCK, as teams must go through a gauntlet of playoff games before playing against the first place team. This format rewards dominant performances in the regular split, which have become all too typical in the LCK.

 

MVP Jeong “Max” Jong-bin, two kills into his quadra kill on support Sion. Courtesy of OGN.

Playoffs So Far

With Afreeca Freecs (AF) taking the tiebreaker, they were poised to win their next best of five against MVP, in order to play against the third place, kt Rolster. While this was the expected result, AF was subdued by underdog team MVP, a team that just pushed into LCK through the promotion tournament this time last year with a mostly rookie roster. This was in large part due to the momentum MVP took off of a play around baron. Kt Rolster expended too many resources stealing the baron during game one of the series. One over-extension led to MVP taking the first game, which quickly translated into a follow-up victory, securing the series with a zero death MVP bot lane.

After sweeping AF, MVP went on to get swept by kt Rolster. This allowed kt Rolster to play against second place team, Samsung Galaxy, in a best of five that ended much like the previous series (3-0). Kt Rolster flaunted their obvious strengths in both sweeps, with solo laners Wonseok “Pawn” Heo mid, and Kyungho “Smeb” Song top. Renowned 2014 world championship MVP from Samsung White, Sehyoung “Mata” Cho, had a huge impact on Malzahar in kt Rolster’s game against MVP, with pick after pick. Neither MVP nor Samsung Galaxy had a chance to truly challenge kt Rolster, both being 3-0s.

The mistakes they did show played into their commonly criticized characteristics. When kt Rolster is criticized, it is for their lack of team play. Kt Rolster is known largely as a team of Super-Star players, and less known for their meta gameplay and map movement. While their sweep against Samsung Galaxy showed that they can play as a team, albeit a bit messy, their true strengths lie in the power of their individual players as expected.

 

Kt Rolster’s Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. Courtesy of OGN

The Finals to Come: Kt Rolster vs SK Telecom T1

So far, playoffs have been composed entirely of 3-0 sweeps. I’m sure all League of Legends fans are looking for a closer series between Kt Rolster and SK Telecom T1 (SKT). That being said, what can we expect to see between these two powerhouse teams? SK Telecom T1 is looking as strong as ever. Kt Rolster with their most recent roster seem to be gaining steam, as they have plowed through Samsung Galaxy 3-0.

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