Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Rookie Cloud 9 Jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia, looked far from any rookie we’ve seen in NALCS. In two games against the North American powerhouse, TSM, he ganked early and often. Both games he got first blood, and set the tempo for Cloud 9 to take the series 2-0. He started game two with a 5-0 kill score on Lee Sin, basically snowballing the early game before sealing the deal with an amazing ult onto Wildturtle in the final team fight.  

A lot of analysts were wondering whether they should believe in the hype for 17 year old Jungle prodigy. After a performance like that, it’s almost hard not to. In his post game interview he was extremely humble, saying, “This isn’t where I want to be yet, I want to be much better.” If this is only the beginning, everyone will be watching to see how far he can really go.

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham of Echo Fox had much less hype around him. Most people expected him to be average at best. In both games against Phoenix1, Akkadian was able to get Echo Fox off to an early lead with some aggressive ganks to the Mid and Top lane. Although, the team fell short with some late team-fighting failures, Akkadian was a standout player for me. Nobody was really talking about him before the NALCS Split, but it definitely looks like they should be.   

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

People will be quick to place the blame on replacement ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran for this loss, but TSM as a whole played poorly from what we’re used to seeing. Even the draft was questionable.  

What stood out the most was the poor shotcalling, specifically in Game 2. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen made an amazing Baron steal to keep TSM in the game. He died quickly after, and instead of TSM resetting with four members with Baron Buff they decided to try to make a pick on Cloud 9 support, Andy “Smoothie” Ta. The team takes a poor 4v5 fight and Cloud 9 takes an inhibitor for it. In the final team fight of Game 2, TSM tries to focus down a very tanky Nautilus which leads to them getting Aced, and Cloud 9 ending the game from there.  

This isn’t the first time they’ve had questionable decision making either. Poor decisions with Baron buff against Unicorns of Love also led to them losing 1-2 at IEM Oakland. That was a few months ago. It raises the discussion of how much they miss former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s contribution to shotcalling. If this team hasn’t fixed those issues yet, it will be a tough Split for them. Cloud 9 is a hard first opponent, but if TSM can’t fix their shotcalling issues, Doublelift may need to come back sooner than later. Reginald has made it clear that anything outside of first is a failed Split for TSM. 

P1’s abysmal early game vs. Echo Fox’s terrible late game

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 and Echo Fox came into the Spring Split with not too many expectations. Most people were ranking P1 as a middle tier team and Echo Fox near the bottom of the standings.  

Echo Fox surprised most spectators as they were able to take command of the early game for both games. Back to back ganks from Akaadian for Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen set him up to be able to carry on his Leblanc. That was not the case, as poor teamfighting allowed P1 back into the game. It was a back and forth clown fiesta for a bit before Phoenix1 eventually closed out Game 1 with a victory.

In Game 2, Akaadian aimed his ganks to the Top Lane for former World Champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok to  be able to carry on his signature champion, Singed. Echo Fox were ahead by as much as 3.1k at one point, and once again, threw their lead at a poor team fight around dragon. Shortly after, Phoenix1 took baron and ended the game in 24 minutes.  

Phoenix1 simply won’t be able to rely on poor mid-late game team fighting against stronger teams. Inori will need to be more active in the early game if this team really wants to contend. It may have been nerves, but most teams won’t throw away huge gold leads like Echo Fox did today.  

 

Echo Fox’s Jungler, Akaadian, looked better than what most people expected. Much of the early leads were off the ganks and pressure he was distributing among the map. Mid and late game shotcalling will need to improve if this team wants to make playoffs. Looper looked okay at best, but not nearly what we expect from a former World Champion. The language barrier may be more of an issue than they had suspected.  

One thing that may also develop is a rivalry between these two young junglers. In an interview before the match, Akaadian called spectators out for overrating Phoenix1 Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh last season. Akaadian also noted that if Inori isn’t able to “cheese” people, than he’s basically useless for the rest of the game. When David “Phreak” Turley asked Inori about it in the post game interview, he declined to fire any shots back towards Akaadian. He chose to let his play speak for him, but it will be interesting if this evolves into a mini-rivalry between these two young NALCS jungle talents.

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

In an interview in between Games 1 and 2 between C9 and TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh fired shots at other team owners, saying, “A lot of the team owners don’t know what they’re doing. They’re importing Korean talent over without knowing how to place them into their roster.”  A lot of NBA teams buying into the NALCS with no experience of the scene have been trying to acquire the biggest names possible and hoping it works without having the right infrastructure to support them  

He specifically aimed his comments towards Team Dignitas and Echo Fox, saying, “They’re going to place bottom half for sure.”  

It’s a bold prediction going into the Spring as most new North American teams have looked to Korea to import some of the best players in League of Legends. Reginald’s philosophy with TSM is to prioritize communication and synergy over individual skill. No one can really argue as his team finished first place in Summer 2016 for North America, only losing one series to Phoenix1. CLG, who won Spring last season, had five players who all spoke English as well.  

This Split will definitely prove Reginald right or wrong. Many of the newer teams entering the scene have imported a lot of Korean talents in an attempt to contend for an NALCS title. It will be interesting if more owners follow Reginald’s philosophy moving forward, or continue with the trend of importing high-profile Korean talent.

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Day 1 of NALCS is in the books and I look forward to the rest of the match-ups!

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NALCS Darkhorse Teams

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

Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Team Liquid 

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pokésports Pokemon esports logo

Pokésports IV: Pokémon Can Put The Everyone In eSports

The eSport For Everyone

Pokémon 20th anniversary logo

With the wide reach of its 20 year old brand, Pokémon not only attracts young and old alike, it gives them all places to play competitively. Currently, officially sanctioned Tournaments are divided into three groupings based on age. Due to this, all ages can compete against like minded fans for glory. Being able to entertain the entire family unit is very important. Just like kids have their favorite Quarterback or Goalie, kids being able to cling to a Pokémon or Trainer is crucial for future widespread success as an eSport.

Other eSports have also tried to reach out to a wider audience. League of Legends, most notably, is being played competitively in High School and College circuits. This type of forward thinking is fantastic! eSports are much more cost effective to pick up for a school then traditional sports. Building a venue and buying equipment can be very costly endeavors. However, eSports provide the same type of team building and competition, but in a much more feasible package. This can especially become appealing for schools such as charter schools and other private schools.

 

Accessible But Not Accessible

Pokémon finds itself in a unique position to exploit these facets of the new and emerging eSports market. One fatal flaw really stands in its way, accessibility. While the Pokémon franchise is totally accessible from a gameplay standpoint, it has a long way to go from a hardware standpoint.

Diagram showing steps to install a capture card into a 3DS

Image courtesy of 3DSHACKS

Fact is, the main series of Pokémon games can only be played on a 3DS, or one of the DS spinoff consoles. This alone means that anyone who is interested in playing Pokémon competitively must invest in a 3DS, even if they have no interest in any other game on the console. Furthermore, the 3DS prevents Trainers from being able to stream or compile otherwise interesting content related to the games without hacking or modding their console. Such restrictions really put a stranglehold on the competitive community.

Contrast that with the ease and openness of most of the popular eSports out there currently. DOTA and LOL both provide play with a free to play PC client, with modest minimum requirements. Pair that with the ease of streaming gameplay and hosting content such as Let’s Plays. Letting passionate fans share their experiences helps to spread the energy of the competitive community. This usually results in new people chasing a dream of playing in the top tier.

 

It All Comes Back To Money

Pokémon tournament trophies.

Image courtesy of Nintendo Life

Promoting a successful sport comes down to one thing, money. Providing enticing rewards provokes competition. This draws competitors, which can bring in viewership, which can then be marketed. Pokémon fails utterly and completely on this point, compared to DOTA’s million dollar prize pools. Such as the DOTA International 2016 where the winning team took home a prize of over nine million dollars. While Miguel Marti de la Torre, who took place at Pokémon’s European International, won a measly five thousand dollars.

That disparity in winnings just cannot stand if Pokémon is to be taken seriously as an eSport. There is no doubt that Pokémon is a lucrative brand, TPCI should open it up and share it with the fans. Maybe turn the World Champion into a figurehead of the Pokémon brand for a year. Let Trainers share their passion with their friends, and just make loving competitive Pokémon easier all around.

In the age of viral marketing, Pokémon’s place on such a restricted console really hurts it. Couple that with a lack of substantial rewards for the work it takes to compete and it is not hard to see why so many shun competitive Pokémon.

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Pokémon Squirtle giving a thumbs up

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Pokésports pokemon sports crest

Pokésports III: Pokémon Look to Sports, Turn to Teams

Pikachu and The Patriots

Pikachu and other Pokémon huddle during sports.

Everybody has heard of Pokémon. This single fact cannot be understated. Creating a cultural brand is something that requires time, hard work, and a lot of luck. Once a brand becomes a part of a culture though, its impact can be hard to measure. Think Coca-Cola, Google, and the major sports leagues. One thing these brands have in common is they all command tremendous strength in their respective markets.

The NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues are so successful due to the fact that they have managed to become ingrained into society. Kids play sports for their schools team, get scholarships to go to college, and eventually go to the pros. Billions of dollars in TV contracts and merchandising, as well as fans young and old chanting the names of local teams. This is the phenomenon of a cultural brand, and this is the exact thing Pokémon has at its disposal.

 

Money Money Money

Team Rocket's James pets a Persian while sitting surrounded by money.Sports are serious business. Year after year, the NFL Super Bowl brings in over 100,000 viewers, counting only home viewership, and in 2016 charged $5,000,000 per 30 second ad. In addition, the NFL’s 2015 revenue was 11.8 billion dollars, while the NBA’s was 4.7 billion dollars. Compare that to Pokémon’s 2015 revenue of 2.1 billion dollars. Using the sport model, TPCI could supercharge their money making potential and change generations to come.

A majority of sports revenue comes from TV contracts. Just look at the NFL, it is by far the most lucrative sports league in the world. Almost two thirds of its over 10 billion dollar income comes from TV revenue. That is around seven billion dollars from TV alone. Earning the rest from a variety of things, such as merchandising, ticket sales, and sponsorship deals. Pokémon’s TV show, on the other hand, has been falling in popularity. Like all markets, competition eventually comes along, and in the case of Pokémon, Yokai Watch has begun to slowly unravel its brand.

Unlike Pokémon, Yokai Watch has not established itself as a cultural brand. Pokémon can use this advantage. If it can pivot into eSports, TPCI could aim to achieve monetization similar to the NFL. Though unlike the NFL, Pokémon would be able to work on a global scale. Assuming Pokémon could achieve success as an eSport, it is safe to assume TV revenue alone would surpass anything TPCI has ever seen. Just imagine families across the world sitting down throughout the week to watch their favorite Trainers battle it out.

 

Generation Game

Think about it, a child throwing a baseball with their father, and that same family playing Pokémon GO together are practically interchangeable today. This is why Pokémon’s transition into a major eSport is a serious proposition. Just like traditional sports, parents are passing down a passion for Pokémon to their children. Due to the multi-generational connection of the brand, there are plenty of potential fans worldwide. A proverbial fire is ready to be started.

The spark that sets the blaze just needs to be created by TPCI. Between changes to gameplay and tournament structure, along with rethinking broadcasting and viewability, TPCI has some work to do in order to make Pokémon a successful eSport. However, Pokémon could achieve unparalleled competitive market advantage if they are up to the challenge. Memorable Pokémon and awesome Trainers won’t be enough though, one key component is needed to help turn Pokémon into an eSports success: Teams.

Pokémon Team Skull posing together

Pokémon could benefit from teams in a plethora of ways. Teams offer better opportunities for sponsorships, and visibility at professional events. Teams can also practice together and help each other get stronger. When 5 people enter a tournament as a team, if one of them wins, the team wins. This mentality could change the scope of competitive Pokémon. More buy-in could be expected from both players and sponsors. Hobby shops could set up competitive teams and act as local anchors of fandom. Maybe one day even schools and universities could employ their own competitive Pokémon Trainers.

There Can Only Be One

Pokémon Machoke and his Trainer practice together.

At the end of the day, as the eSports market grows, one or two brands will stand above the rest. Pokémon could be that brand. TPCI just needs to refine Pokémon’s model, while at the same time exploiting its place as a cultural brand. Many of the eSports brands, such as League, DOTA, and CS:GO, have a lot brand awareness building to do, but they are growing fast. TPCI does not have forever to act. Should Pokémon not make the move, it may slowly start to cede its market share to competitors such as Yokai Watch.

Pokémon could potentially become not only the most successful eSport, but the most successful sport in the world. Many of the factors needed for such a success are in Pokémon’s favor. The eSports market has many new brands blooming and Pokémon must be poised for battle, or be prepared for mediocrity.

 

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Team Rocket blasting off again.

All images courtesy of Game Freak

 

Can Mastermind Weldon solve G2’s International Woes?

Weldon’s Own Success

G2 Esports made an amazing addition to their League of Legends team with the official announcement of TSM’s former assistant coach, Weldon Green, joining their coaching staff. Weldon has been working vigorously within the Pro League of Legends scene with high-profile teams such as TSM, CLG, and Fnatic as a team psychologist. With his recent success with TSM, other teams have picked up on this trend and decided to hire their own team psychologists. They are meant to help deal with the mental grind that pros endure throughout the season, along with helping players deal with the jitters that may be related to playing on stage.

Weldon began on TSM in small sessions during the 2016 Spring Split, eventually landing a full-time position for the Summer. TSM finished the Summer Split with a phenomenal 17-1 record while also finishing first place in the NALCS, before failing to get out of their group at Worlds. Weldon was credited with playing a major role in their success last season. TSM decided that they wanted to part ways with Weldon for the upcoming season, noting that having his assistance may be better in sessions as opposed to full time.

Current State of G2

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Weldon enters a G2 team that has found much success, almost breezing through the EULCS competition last season. They have a talented roster that has failed to show up in international events since they’ve begun their LCS journey. Last season, G2 failed to make it out of groups at Riot’s Mid Seasonal Invitational, struggling against most of the teams there. They received a lot of hate and criticism from the community when they stated they decided to give their players a break coming into a very serious international tournament that would affect seeding for Worlds.

G2 hoped to redeem themselves at Worlds after being put into a group most agreed they would be able to get out of. That did not prove the case as Albus Nox Luna shocked the World, as they became the first Wildcard to make it out of groups. They beat out CLG and G2 for the second spot out of their group. G2 finished Worlds with a 1-5 record, only taking one game off of Albus Nox Luna. G2 as a whole received a lot of hate from the EU community for representing their region so poorly, coming in as the “best team” from Europe.

Building off Regular Season Success

Weldon comes in looking to improve off an overall successful regular season from G2, and improving on the international problems that have plagued them. In EU, Trick and Perkz have looked like two players with amazing synergy and individual talent. As we know, that hasn’t translated into international play just yet.  Meanwhile, Zven and Mithy, have proven to be one of the best bot lanes in the West, but even they didn’t look as good as most people expected at Worlds. Their top laner, Expect, for the most part, was a consistent performer, doing what his team needed. His miscommunication on Teleport, however, cost his team at times.

What is it about performing at international tournaments that hinder G2 so much?  In a twitlonger posted by Perkz after Worlds, he stated, “I was mostly sad that I disappointed myself because I had a lot higher expectations of myself after the whole Korean bootcamp where I felt like I had reached very high level and consistent performance in scrims and not being able to translate that on stage hit me really hard”. The bootcamp in Korea resulted in many rumors that G2 was one of the stronger teams at Worlds. When it came time to play week one, their showing was miserable. They went 0-3, while not looking competitive for basically every game, besides a strong early game vs. ROX in which some poor teamfighting led them to another hard loss.

Weldon has a tough task ahead of him. With a lot of new, young, revamped LCS teams coming into Europe, G2 will not have as easy of a path to Worlds as they did last season. Will he be able to show off the same success as TSM, or will G2’s nerves get the best of them?

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5 Rookies to Watch This Split

The North American and European LCS start in a few weeks, and I’ve decided to highlight some up-and-coming rookies who will be playing in their first seasons professionally in LCS. Last season was an exciting one as we got to see a lot of talented rookies come from both regions. These are some names to look out for as we head into Season 7:

Cody Sun  (Immortals ADC)

Formerly known as Massacre, Yi Lu “Cody Sun” Sun is a Chinese American player who has been playing ADC in challenger series since Spring 2015 when he played for Imagine in NACS. Most recently, he played in the NACS with Dream Team who was swept by C9 Challenger in the Summer playoffs. He sported a 9.33 KDA in the NACS Summer Split and was a huge part in many of their victories.  On a day and a half of full team practice before IEM Gyeonggi, Cody Sun was able to showcase an amazing 8-0 Ezreal game vs Korea’s Kongdoo Monster.  Outside of that game, he looked rather inconsistent, which is fair for a rookie playing against some tough international competition for the first time.  It will be thrilling to see what this ADC can show with more practice on the NALCS stage.

Caps (Fnatic Mid)

Picture Courtesy of CLICKon Esports

Rasmus “Caps” Winther is a 17 year old, hungry, Danish kid out to prove himself as Fnatic’s new mid laner. He will have huge shoes to fill, playing alongside a core of veteran LCS players in Soaz, Rekkles, and Amazing.  Caps made Reddit headlines a week after being introduced as Fnatic’s new mid laner, when a thread was made about him threatening a player in Challenger saying, “You have no idea how much impact I have on rosters. You can troll me all you want, but I will make sure you never get to join a CS nor LCS team.” This was a rather bold statement coming from someone who just got introduced as a starter on an LCS roster. Fnatic and Caps later released an apology statement for this event. In 6 games with Challenger team NRV, he showed off a subpar 1.9 KDA with a 76 kill participation, which was highest among EUCS Mids.  EU, and specifically Denmark, have been known to produce fantastic Mid laners such as Bjergsen, Froggen, and Jensen.  Caps will get a chance to add his name to this elite list of Mid laners as he enters his first EULCS season.

 

Contractz (C9 Jungler)

Replacing longtime C9 Jungler, Meteos, will be none other than the young and hungry C9 Challenger Team Jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. Contractz’ competitive career started in 2015 with Zenith esports, where his team placed 5-6th in the HTC Ascension Challenger invitational. He then played for team Ember in the 2016 NACS Spring season at only 17 years old, before being replaced by Santorin for playoffs. The following summer NACS season, he replaced Rush on the C9 Challenger squad after Riot implemented a new rule regarding residency. He was able to gain veteran mentor-ship playing along LCS veterans, Hai, Balls, LemonNation, and Altec. Contractz sported a 3.92 KDA in the NACS summer season with a 67% kill participation, mostly playing Graves and Reksai. He has been heralded as being a similar player to Dardoche as a young and talented NA Jungler, but with a much better attitude. He joins a very talented C9 roster looking to stay atop the standings and compete for their fifth straight appearance at Worlds.

Goldenglue (Team Liquid Mid)

Picture courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Greysen “Goldenglue” Gilmer is a well known name around the Pro League of Legends scene. He has made multiple appearances on the NALCS stage, subbing for teams such as Dignitas and T8. One could say he is a veteran of the Challenger series, playing professionally since 2013. He’s never held a starting position at the beginning of a season on an LCS roster, but will be given his first shot with Team Liquid this season. He replaces Fenix after a debacle of a season from Team Liquid as a whole. They had a team meltdown towards the end of the season, ultimately leading to a pathetic showing in the gauntlet in which they played with two challenger players as last minute subs. For the upcoming season, Team Liquid decided to bring back Piglet, while keeping former members Lourlo and Matt. They promoted Golenglue from Challenger Series and brought in All Star Jungler, Reignover to round out the roster. A lot of hate was brought upon social media when Team Liquid announced Goldenglue as their Mid laner, so he will be looking to prove himself coming into this season.

Xerxe (Unicorns of Love Jungler)

Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir is a 17 year old Romanian Jungler, who most recently played for Dark Passage in the Turkish Champions League(TCL). He showed off a phenomenal 7.98 KDA in 36 games, with a 70 percent kill participation in the Summer Split of TCL.  He showed an ability to perform well on a multitude of champions, pulling out seven different champions last season. The Jungler he will be replacing is Move. Unicorns of Love pulled off a stunning win at IEM Oakland, defeating TSM 2-1 in the semifinals en route to a 3-2 victory over LMS’ Flash Wolves. UOL was a win away from qualifying for Worlds last season, and return with their consistent duo, top laner Vizicsacsi, and support Hylissang. They look to be hitting their stride after being so close to attending Worlds and performing well at IEM.  Exileh, their Mid laner, looks like a strong EU talent, and seemed to get better as the Summer Split went on.  Xerxe is plugged into a team that looks to be on the rise. It will be up to him to make sure he plays up to his potential, helping UOL push for Worlds.

Let me know what you think of this list in the comments below, and as always, you can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and eSports articles from other great TGH writers along with Christian!

Why Imports Might not be the Solution to Competing at Worlds

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

Courtesy of lolgamepedia

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

Less than Expected Results

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

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

Should teams try to grow players within their region?

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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The Birth of the Korean Top Lane Era in NA

Home Grown Talent

Without a doubt, when it comes to fostering homegrown talent in North America (NA), the scarcest position seems to be none other than the Top lane.  Aside from Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, not much can be said about the remaining North American Top laners.  You have Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, from Counter Logic Gaming, who has been declining in recent splits. Next to him, you have the up and coming Samson “Lourlo” Jackson, of Team Liquid, who has shown the ability to perform at times, but hasn’t done it consistently enough just yet.  An “Balls” Le, the former starting top laner for Cloud 9, once considered the best in his role, saw a steady decline before losing his starting role to Korean import Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.

ssumdayKorean Imports

With the recent roster announcements, teams have imported some terrifying Top laners everyone will have to compete with for next split.  To begin, we have Dignitas bringing in KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-Ho, known to be one of the best Top laners in the world from his performances in these past two LCK seasons.  He had a tremendous showing at Worlds 2015 and it appears that the money Dignitas received from the 76ers has helped them bring in their star Top laner.  Than you have Echo Fox acquiring former Samsung White World Champion, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.  Looper is a seasoned veteran, competing at World’s last season with China’s Royal Never Give Up at an extremely high level. Cloud 9’s infamous “top die” laner we’ve all come to love, Impact, absolutely destroyed during playoffs once the meta shifted off of lane swaps and will look to continue that trend this season. He’s also a former World Champion with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3 Worlds and was a main carry for C9 during their run to Worlds last season.  Immortals made sure to keep up with the other top lane imports by bringing in none other than Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong a longtime name in pro League of Legends and known for the “Flame Horizon” (being ahead of your enemy top laner by 100+ cs).  

Why Top Lane?

With all these imports coming in, it amplifies the discussion of why top lane seems to be the hardest position to garner any talent within NA.  Attempting to think of upcoming challenger Top laners, names like Cris, Solo, and RF Legendary come to mind.   Cristian “Cris” Rosales has been a long time top laner “memed” as good enough to dominate in the challenger series but not good enough to find success on a top LCS roster.  Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta had a good run with team Renegades through the Challenger series qualifying for LCS but was simply not up to par with LCS level Top laners and has bounced around multiple challenger teams since.  Colin “Solo” Earnest has made appearances in team Ember, and most recently, Team Liquid Academy, but hasn’t been able to reach LCS just yet.  Beyond Hauntzer, Darshan and Lourlo, no NA resident Top laners have been given a shot at a starting position on an LCS team, aside from subbing a game or two due to visa issues with imports.

So what is it about Korean Top laners that make them so much better than all other regions?  In terms of champion pools, you don’t see a lot of champion picks from Korean Top laners be chosen in other regions.  High mechanical Top lane champions such as Riven or Yasuo rarely get touched in some regions as opposed to Korea, where players like Smeb and Huni have shown the ability to solo carry games on them.  Even Jeon “Ray” Ji-won former Apex Top laner (now C9 sub), had his signature full Attack Damage split push Jarvan he would pull out that allowed him to carry games.  You just don’t see the same carry potential coming out of NA Top laners.  Korean’s teleport (TP) usage has always been above par, and that has a lot to do with coaching in Korea.  Korean teams have always been heralded as the kings of macro play and it helps tremendously with setting up huge plays using TP.  It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in North America with the language barrier and possibility of inferior coaching.   

We are in store for an intriguing 2017 season of the NA LCS with all these new roster changes making the region look stronger than it’s ever been.  It’s safe to say fans are extremely excited to see the competition in Top lane be at an all time high with all these stars coming in.  We’ll have to wait and see whether these big names can live up to the hype, or flounder under their new organizations.

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immortals

Photo Courtesy of immortals.gg

Top 5 Big Plays of League of Legends’ All-Star Event

The League of Legends’ All-Star Event is an opportunity to highlight popular players from around the world. Esports fans nominate their favorite players in each position from each region, and the players with the most votes get to come together on a Fire or Ice themed all-star team. Playing a variety of game modes, including normal 5v5’s, 1v1’s, Tandem mode, and One-for-All, the competition focuses on showcasing the best international talents, as well as allowing players and viewers alike to have some light-hearted, no-pressure fun. However, the inconsequential nature of this tournament may turn off some fans from watching, so I have taken the liberty of compiling 5 top plays from the 2016 All-Star Event for anyone who may have missed out.

5. QTV’s Flash-Jukes

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

Day 3 of the tournament included an All-Assassin game. Players formed inter-regional Fire and Ice teams and selected their Assassin of choice for a 5v5. This mode made for a bloody series of teamfights full of mechanics and micro-play, but my favorite moments came from Team Fire’s Nguyễn “QTV” Trần Tường Vũ. He got to display just how slippery Akali can be.

At 1:56, Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan’s Rengar jumps from the bottom brush onto QTV for a chunk of damage. Văn “Optimus” Cường Trần retaliates with a couple of Orbs of Deception, bringing Karsa’s health pretty low. QTV get aggressive, dropping Akali’s Twilight Shroud. They trade Ignites, which takes down Karsa, but QTV stays alive. As Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang chases QTV he lands a Razor Shuriken from Zed. Fleeing towards the enemy jungle with dangerously low health, QTV uses Flash through the wall to dodge Maple’s shuriken and return to safety by Optimus.

Later in the same game, at 9:37, QTV finds himself stranded alone under tower with 3 members of Team Ice collapsing onto him: Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, Karsa, and Maple. Reacting to the projection of Zed’s Living Shadow, QTV drops his shroud to buy time. Jankos drops a Control Ward out of old habit (since the pre-season updates, they do not detect invisible champions). And as the three of them move in, QTV Shadow Dances to Rengar and immediately Flashes to safety under the inner turret. Anyone looking for tips on how to evade a turret dive: look no further.

4. NA All-Stars Wombo-Combo on LPL All-Stars

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

In the last game of Day 3, the NA LCS All-Stars represented Team Fire against Team Ice’s LPL All-Stars. This was a standard Summoner’s Rift 5v5 match. At 25:40, with a solid lead of 5 kills, 3,000 gold, and 2 Cloud Drakes over their opponents, Team Fire moves into the bot-side river to realize Team Ice have started taking the Ocean Drake. Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong on Nautilus immediately channels his Teleport onto a ward in the enemy jungle to block their escape. As Team Ice clump up and retreat directly towards him, Impact activates Depth Charge onto Wei “We1less” Zhen’s Orianna, knocking up two other members in the process. Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin unburrows Rek’Sai for a knock-up and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black catches all three in a Flash-Crescendo from Sona. If “wombo-combo” were in the dictionary, then this would be the definition.

3. Maple’s Ryze Ult Mind Games

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

One of the most novel pieces of Ryze’s reworked kit is the ultimate ability, Realm Warp, which teleports all allies within the circle (including minions) to a nearby location after a brief channel. Some pros have been able to leverage this ability in creative ways, and Maple of the LMS is is one of them.

Midway through Day 3, the LMS All-Stars of Ice took on the GPL All-Stars of Fire in a standard Summoner’s Rift 5v5. Karsa got pretty fed on Graves, but the true stand-out for me was Maple. There are several times where Maple utilizes Realm Warp to catch the GPL squad off-guard and make plays.

At 7:55, Maple activates his ultimate to zone Optimus’s Twisted Fate in towards his turret. He then walks forward to connect Rune Prison while Karsa’s Graves rounds the wall and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei’ Maokai takes the Realm Warp. A Twisted Advance, Overload, and End of the Line later, and Optimus is deleted.

Around 10 minutes, Maple pushes Optimus into turret. He roots with a Rune Prison and follows up with an Overload, but this time Optimus lands a Yellow Card stun while Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh flanks with Lee Sin. Maple quickly Cleanses the crowd control and runs away, but Levi Safeguards to a ward, Flashes behind the Ryze, and proceeds to use Dragon’s Rage to kick Maple towards Optimus. Levi chains Sonic Wave and Resonating Strike while the Realm Warp channels. Maple escapes with 1/4 health, but Optimus activates Destiny to cover the distance. Maple immediately procs Overload’s passive shield to absorb the incoming damage. Meanwhile, Karsa makes his way down to clean up and get a Double Kill.

The third play comes at 12:00. Karsa is waiting in the wings while Maple pushes Optimus under turret and continues to harass. Levi decides to try a similar flank as before, but does not realize Karsa is present for the counter-gank. The Lee Sin drops rather quickly. Karsa last-hits the turret and continues to pursue Optimus with Maple. QTV channels Teleport into the mid lane hoping to finish Karsa, but is too late. He instead begins attacking Maple with Fiora’s Grand Challenge. After the final Vital times out, QTV realizes he will not be able to finish the Ryze and Lunges into the jungle. Maple activates Realm Warp, zoning QTV to run towards his base, and Flashes the wall to land the finishing blows.

2. xPeke’s Double Kill on Faker and Bengi

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

Anyone who watches professional League of Legends knows that it is extremely rare to ever see a Garen picked in the top lane. But what about the mid lane? Strange things happen when the players have no pressure of losing, which must explain why Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez decided to answer the LCK All-Stars and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Galio pick with a mid lane Garen. Sure, the silence on Decisive Strike is able to interrupt Idol of Durand, but the overwhelming reaction of shoutcasters and viewers was a combination of “What?” and “That is awesome!”

But xPeke came out with a bang. In the fourth minute of the game, Faker and Bae “bengi” Seong-ung ventured through the bot-side river after turning around a gank on bot lane. In typical Garen fashion, xPeke waited in the brush to surprise Faker with a Decisive Strike-Judgment-Ignite combo. This prompted bengi to be the aggressor with Olaf, but with the help of his Flash and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez’s Zyra, xPeke was truly able to “spin to win” with a Double Kill.

1. Smebber Gets a Quadra Kill 

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

One of the most entertaining game modes of the All-Star Event is Tandem, which is where players pair up to split the duties of the game: one operates the mouse and the other operates the keyboard. This mode in particular devolves into quite the fiesta, but it can be impressive how coordinated the duos can be.

One fun fusion was Smebber–Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho and Reignover. While they play in different regions, both speak Korean, which becomes important for communicating each player’s intentions when sharing a champion. Smebber decided to go top lane with Darius. Dunkmaster Darius to be exact. I can think of no better champion for such a chaotic game mode, and no better skin to do it with.

10:15 into the match, Smebber engages onto Bebelove (Cheng “bebe” Bo-Wei and Ming “Clearlove” Kai) while they take Blue Buff. They easily get 5 stacks of Hemorrhage and execute with Decimate for the first kill. Meanwhile, QT Prime (QTV and Optimus), Celeb Life (Nguyễn “Celebrity” Phước Long Hiệp and Hong “MadLife” Min-gi), and Baker (Faker and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg) take out Kappa (Karsa and Maple) and are continuing the fight against Ruzi (Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao) and xMithie (Mithy and xPeke). Smebber ends Ruzi with 2 auto-attacks and Noxian Guillotine before unleashing a combo onto xMithie’s Nautilus before they are able to escape with a Blasting Cone. That’s the Triple Kill. Finally, he turns to The Miz (Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao and Chen “Ziv” Yi) and procs the full Hemorrhage. Just as The Miz seems to b escaping, Smebber Flash-Apprehends and Celeb Life lands a Thresh Death Sentence to set up one last Noxian Guillotine for the Quadra Kill.

Does Spring Split Really Matter?

The Effect of Doublelift Stepping Down

A month has passed since Team SoloMid (TSM) released the announcement video that their star AD carry, Yiliang, “Doublelift”, Peng would be stepping down for the Spring Split in an attempt to relieve some of the burnout of being a pro since season one of competitive League of Legends.  

For most spectators who follow the scene, they saw a move like this coming.  It’s fair to say that Doublelift has been a premiere star in North America since pro League of Legends started back in 2011. But playing the game for such a long time at a high level has worn him down.   

This sparks an interesting discussion of how relevant Spring Split is in comparison to the Summer.  It seems that for the most part, teams are content with “trying out” a roster in Spring Split with hopes of improving. They use a possible roster move or two to help themselves contend even harder in the Summer, similar to what we saw in Splyce this past season in the EU LCS.  

Many teams have been quoted in the Spring Split as being “Summer Split teams” aiming just to do well enough to avoid relegation. While hoping to fix team issues in time for a real run to worlds in the Summer.  In an interview with Travis Gafford from Yahoo Esports, Doublelift describes Spring Split as “being a huge waste of time as a pro”.  

He elaborates on this more touching on the fact that for most popular players, they end up losing a lot of money scrimming during the regular LCS split as opposed to streaming. Combining that loss of significant income with the health issues that come from practicing the game 10-12 hours a day for 10 months, it may slowly become appealing to see if some players want to follow suit.

From a fan’s perspective, could some of our favorite stars begin dropping out of Spring Split in hopes of coming back for a fiery summer?  Moves like this jeopardize the state of the LCS in that fans aren’t getting to see teams at their best and in the absence of some of some longtime fan favorites.  

It also hurts the competitive scene in a sense that teams aren’t facing the best that their region has to offer.  What if longtime pros in the scene such as Bjergsen, Sneaky, and Froggen all see this as a prime opportunity for them to take a much needed break?

They are earning much more money streaming as opposed to scrimming for some mere circuit points that may not even matter in terms of qualifying for Worlds. Could Spring Split be used as a much needed break physically for those who have brought attention to wrist injuries such as Bjergsen or Hai?

In terms of circuit points for Spring Split, a team is able to earn 90 points for first, 70 for second, 50 for third, 30 for fourth, and 10 for the remaining teams.  It’s evident to see how these points can go to waste as exemplified by Origen in the EU LCS when their 70 points went to waste in Summer when the team couldn’t stay above relegation standings.

Cloud 9 is a good example of showing how disappointing Spring results didn’t translate to Summer. They were able to secure a spot at Worlds to represent the NA LCS after a few small roster changes and bringing in coach Bok “Reapered” Han-Gyu for Summer Split.  With the want for teams to keep their star players healthy, could we see more teams possibly giving player’s breaks for Spring? Ultimately, if your team is strong enough, you can auto-qualify for Worlds through winning Summer Split or through the Gauntlet without the needed circuit points from Spring Split.  

sktvsssg

Picture courtesy of Riot Games Flickr

Options for a Spring Split Replacement

It allows one to question, what could be a good replacement for Spring Split if it were to be removed? Longtime fans of pro League of Legends and pros would benefit from having more international competitions given the opportunity.  

We witnessed Korea stomp on the rest of the world for another season. Pros are begging for more international competition vying that it could be the jump start needed for Western teams to be real contenders at Worlds.

Isolate the best region, and you will continue to see the same thing at Worlds every year.  It makes it really hard to improve when you spend 6-8 months(LCS) beating up on NA/EU teams that just aren’t up to par with what it takes to win a World Championship.

Cloud 9 in Season 3, Fnatic in Season 5, and TSM in Season 6 are all prime examples of teams that have dominated their LCS region/season only to be destroyed by the Korean powerhouses at Worlds.  It raises the question that if they were given more competitive games against Korean teams, would they be able to match their level?

Until that happens, we may have to continue to watch as Western teams try to import Korean solo que stars in hopes of having the individual talent to compete at a World Championship level.  It’s become evident though that having individual talent just isn’t enough to win anymore  

Results from TSM this Spring Split and Summer, will play a huge factor in seeing how a move like this will affect the scene.  Will Doublelift return as a reincarnated ADC God that dominates the Summer Split?  Or will he enjoy streaming too much to even reconsider wanting to go back to the grind of being a pro?  Could we see more stars in the future ask for a break for Spring?

All of those questions will need to be answered as we see this season unfold.

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