graduated junglers

Preseason: NA’s graduated junglers

After joining the NA LCS in 2017, three former rookies mount their return as NA’s newly graduated junglers. Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung, Omar “Omargod” Amin and Juan “Contractz” Garcia exploded onto the scene in season 7. After an exciting freshman year, these three junglers look to stake their claim on the newly franchised NA LCS. Looking back at their performances the past year, who is poised for even greater breakout performances in 2018? Let’s take a look at North America’s graduated jungler trio as they plot their return.

MikeYeung: From the Ashes

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

MikeYeung made his NA LCS debut in the Summer Split as the jungler for Phoenix1 (P1). Previously a highly rated solo-queue player, MikeYeung erupted onto the NA scene with an arsenal of carry junglers. His signature pick in “Nidalee” stunned the NA crowd and crushed his opponents. Boasting an insane 80% overall winrate on “Nidalee” in summer, this pocket pick was no joke. Following an already impressive debut, MikeYeung travelled to Germany with Phoenix1 to participate in the Rift Rivals tournament, his first international event. Mike shocked his EU opponents with some flashy plays on his patented “Nidalee,” earning himself the Group Stage MVP distinction.

After returning from a strong showing at Rift Rivals, the MikeYeung hype train was in full gear. However, with the jungle meta shifting to control-oriented tank picks, Mike’s champion pool struggled. His star champions, “Kha’Zix,” “Lee Sin” and “Nidalee” could not snowball enough advantages against more useful utility tanks. Due to these meta changes, fans did not see the dominant MikeYeung that most expected. Phoenix1 suffered a steady decline that saw them forced into the summer Promotion tournament.

After ending their summer season early, news surrounding P1’s failure to earn a spot in the new NA LCS began to leak. The question now: where will P1’s rookie sensation go to reclaim his former glory? With the recent runes overhaul in patch 7.22, carry junglers look to make a serious comeback. MikeYeung has an opportunity to showcase his improvement since the Promotion tournament at the upcoming 2017 All-Stars event. For MikeYeung, the sky is the limit. Can the graduated rookie can reclaim his spot atop NA’s jungle hierarchy?

Omargod: Breaking the Chains

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Omargod made his professional debut as a substitute jungler for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). After internal issues involving starting jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett surfaced, Omar became the team’s starter. For Omargod, the road to NA LCS was a long climb. He first appeared on CLG’s radar at the 2016 Scouting Grounds event. Impressed by his carry performances, coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and veteran support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black first-picked Omar as the jungler for Team Cloud Drake. After several fantastic games on carry picks like “Hecarim,” Omargod proved why he belonged on the LCS stage.

After Dardoch parted ways with CLG, Omargod had a huge gap to fill. Dardoch established a name for himself by consistently dominating enemy junglers. But, because of meta shifts in the summer split, Omar found himself mainly on utility tanks. Criticism poured in as CLG struggled to regain their footing in the latter half of the split. Analysts pointed to the recent jungle swap as the obvious reason for CLG’s decline. After falling to Cloud 9 (C9) in the NA LCS regional qualifiers, CLG and Omargod found themselves stuck at home, instead of attending Worlds.

Because of Omar’s shaky performances during the Summer Split, fans have mixed expectations for the upcoming season. However, Counter Logic Gaming is an organization known for the coaching staff’s dedication and loyalty to players. If any coach can bring out the best in Omargod, Zikz is second to none. Now is the time for Omar to free himself of the criticism from last split and prove himself on CLG. Perhaps the preseason meta changes will encourage Omargod to dip into his champion pool and show North America the carry potential that CLG witnessed at Scouting Grounds. After all, rumor has it “Predator Hecarim” is rampaging through preseason.

Contractz: A Carry’s DNA

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike the other graduated junglers, Contractz began his journey with Cloud 9 in the spring of 2017. After earning spring Rookie of the Split, Contractz stumbled a bit in summer. In the Summer Playoffs, Cloud 9 dropped out in quarterfinals against a surging Dignitas (DIG). So, C9 spent their time preparing for the regional qualifier gauntlet. There, the squad overcame CLG in a solid 3-1 finish and booked a ticket for China.

At Worlds, Contractz battled the likes of SKT Peanut, EDG Clearlove7 and WE Condi. His peerage became a group of elite, international junglers. Still, the rookie performed fantastically on the world stage. Contractz won over many fans, pulling out picks like “Ezreal” and “Graves” in the group stage. While the other NA junglers struggled against international competition, Contractz held his own against the best. After being the only North American representative to advance past group stages, all hope rested with Cloud 9. Although C9 fell to Team WE in quarterfinals, the roster made a definitive statement to the fans back home. “We are the best NA team here.”

With a great Worlds performance behind him, Contractz looks to dominate in the upcoming split. As carry junglers rise both in power and viability in preseason, is this the split for Contractz to stamp his name as the best jungler in NA? A Top 8 finish at Worlds means the onus is on C9 to reclaim their former glory at the top of North America. With changes coming to NA LCS, Cloud 9 look poised to gun for first place. Of the three former rookie junglers, Contractz may be the one to surpass them all. Still, only time will tell which graduated jungler will break ahead of the pack.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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map

What the Season 5 map changes mean for Smite

A lot has been said about Smite’s map and most of it has not been positive. It appears that Hi-Rez have listened and for Season 5 we are going to have a new map. From the little we already know, it looks like a lot of the community’s gripes have been addressed.

What we know already

The biggest complaint about the map has always been that it’s too small. One of the problems this creates is that it makes rotations go unpunished as you are not sacrificing farm going from lane to lane. As it currently stands it takes less time to clear and get to another lane than it does for new lanes to meet.

This creates multiple problems, but one of the most apparent is the lack of identity junglers have in Smite. A recurring complaint is that compared to other MOBA’s, junglers feel like a second mid rather than an actual jungler. For a while now we have known Smite as having two genuine laners in an ADC and solo, and then the core centered around mid lane of jungle, support and mid. They spend so much time together that instead of feeling like their own roles, it more feels like a combined role which plays different parts in a fight.

map

Image courtesy of Reddit.com/r/Smite /u/Gehlen_

The larger map should help solve this problem to some degree, as rotating around will now be more likely to cost farm on the map, simply due to travel time. As of right now, there is just so much farm clustered around the mid lane which is available without cost that the tri-lane is inevitable. In competitive play we keep hearing that ADC’s are pretty much being left alone, this is one of the reasons why. Warriors from solo can impact and get to the farm around mid quicker and are much better at contesting it early.

The larger map should also help junglers because if people are naturally more spread out, ganks become a more powerful tool. Anyone who plays a lot of Assassins knows that they really thrive when they can isolate people. Turning a 1v1 into a 2v1 is more impactful that turning a 3v3 into a 4v3. Also Assassins for the most part are burst damage, close range squishy targets. So it becomes a lot harder to do what they want to when there are multiple people peeling and there is enough damage to blow them up. If there are more ganks the SPL should also become even more fun to watch.

Another reason for the lack of identity junglers face is that they have no way of being stealthy. How can a jungler hide what side of the map they’re on when they have to constantly dip into waves for XP and all the entrances to the jungle are in the sight of the other team. At least part of this has been addressed as now there are entrances into the jungle which are completely hidden.

What we don’t know

As of now all we have really been given are the dimensions of the map, so there is a lot to still be addressed. We have been told that there will be at the very least new jungle paths and gameplay changes.

What can new jungle paths offer us? Firstly, we could no longer have straight line paths directly from lane to lane. The effect of this would be to artificially make the map bigger, as rotations will take longer. Secondly, they could make the jungle feel more dangerous. The jungle in Smite at the moment is not a particularly dangerous place if warded correctly. The jungle lanes are massive, and there is not a huge amount of mystery in them. By that I mean with decent wards, it’s incredibly easy to have all the major pathways and entrances covered. You know where everybody is or could be, making the jungle a less punishing place than it should be. Especially with how much space there is in them and numerous escape routes.

Other gameplay changes they could make have to do with farm and how it functions. Clear is king in smite, with how the map currently functions early pressure in mid is just far too important. To emphasize that point we are currently in a late game meta, but still the priority is early pressure. Look at the resurgence of Raijin. He is regarded as one of, if not the strongest mid right now. What is the single best thing about Raijin, his early clear. We have also seen ADC’s and mid laners starting together in mid while supports solo duo in Season 4. If that doesn’t highlight the value of mid clear I don’t know what else will.

There are a few things which make the mid clear so important. One of them is how much farm there is around mid and how quickly you can get to it. Another is that the mid wave meets five seconds before any other wave, so not only is it closer but you have a head start. A lot of the stress over mid lane pressure comes from these two reasons. So with the new jungle paths and gameplay changes maybe we will see camps take longer to get to from mid and waves meeting at the same time.

Another big gameplay change we could potentially be seeing is how splitting camps works. As it currently stands splitting a camp actually generates farm out of thin air. This is another reason why you want the mid lane pressure so you can go split all the valuable camps around it. It is also one of the reasons why junglers are attached at the hip to their mid laner. In a competitive setting you just can’t give up the 33 percent extra farm gained from splitting a camp. It’s like trying to play without last hitting, you are just going to fall behind. If you are splitting every camp, you need to also be getting waves, otherwise you are just going to get massively behind in the jungle.

Conclusion

What we know so far about the new map looks good. One of the things holding Smite back for a long time has been the map, both in competitive and casual play. So it is great that it looks like Hi-Rez are really doing something different with the Season 5 map.

If you want to know more about the problems the map creates and have some insight into upcoming changes check out Michael “PolarBearMike” Heiss’ great video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIdjaukI-54

It really is the best resource out there at the moment to understand how and why the map is played as it is currently. Also all the changes we have seen so far are ones that PBM suggests in this video, so if you want a feel for what else might be coming this video is great for that too.

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Top image courtesy of Playstation.com

Why Dardoch and Xmithie are perfect fits for their teams

It’s only been one week into the Summer Split of the NALCS, but Immortals and CLG look impressive. During the off-season, the two teams agreed to swap junglers Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

Most people only saw CLG as the clear winners of this trade. With Xmithie looking to have peaked as a jungler, few expected Immortals to have much success after the transfer. Immortals had different plans, though, as they were able to take a commanding 2-0 week after sweeping last split’s champions, TSM. Both junglers seem to be perfect fits on their new rosters.

Photo via Riot Esports

Mid/Jungle Synergy

Before the split, mid laners Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Eugene “Pobelter” Park were heading in opposite directions. Huhi was often criticized at the weak link of CLG in his first split, but looked much improved in the spring. Meanwhile, Pobelter was known as being one of the only NA mid talents, had one of his worst splits in spring. Statistically, he was near the bottom when comparing stats among other mids.

Xmithie and Pobelter had previous experience playing together on CLG back when they took the 2015 NALCS finals. The support of Xmithie has helped him and Immortals as a team. Pobelter finished the week with a massive 10 KDA and looked like his former star self.

Huhi benefited from having a more aggressive jungler as he was able to help with roams and pressure his lane more with Dardoch behind him. Huhi did work this week doing 33 percent of his team’s damage while also having the third highest KDA among mids.

Jungle Styles

Stylistically, Dardoch and Xmithie are night and day in comparison. Dardoch is extremely aggressive and loves to make big plays. Xmithie is an efficient pather and likes to play more supportive in tracking the enemy jungler while helping his laners.

On Immortals, Dardoch was a huge voice on the team. On a team of very passive personalities, his ego took over and he basically did whatever he wanted. Immortals staff even acknowledged this in their offseason video where they highlighted some of the team’s issues. On CLG, Dardoch plays with the presence of other strong vocal players such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. With veteran leadership already in place on CLG, Dardoch isn’t required to do as much of the heavy lifting as he was on Immortals.

With Immortals, Xmithie is willing to sacrifice resources to allow his team to gain leads. Immortals players have rather passive personalities that could easily be run over by someone like Dardoch. But with Xmithie, they have someone willing to help the team by all means necessary. As the meta shifted back to carry tops and tank/support jungles, Xmithie fits perfectly. Xmithie does not try to make flashy plays that will make himself good, rather he tries to allow his carries to do what they need to do.

Team Environments

Photo via Riot Esports

It almost feels that this is the strongest roster and management staff Dardoch has ever played on. With strong veteran presence leading the way on CLG, he can worry about his own play rather than his teammates. CLG has experience dealing with egocentric players having dealt with star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Dardoch also isn’t relied upon to be the sole shot caller. It’s been known that Darshan and Aphromoo are very vocal in game and help a ton with the macro play.

The Immortals roster felt like it needed a fresh start after playing with Dardoch for a split. In the video going over Spring Split, the roster members felt that because of Dardoch a lot of the relationships amongst team members felt very “artificial”. With that type of team environment, you can’t expect young players to be at their best. Xmithie comes from an environment where team bonding and friendship were a strong vocal point in success. Xmithie doesn’t have near the ego of Dardoch, so you can expect Immortals are riding this honeymoon phase all the way into Week Two.


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Cover Photo by Riot Games