NALCS Teams on the Rise: Echo Fox and Immortals

We’re almost halfway through the NA LCS split. NA LCS teams look all over the place in terms of standings. Cloud 9 stand above the rest undefeated at 8-0. Other than C9, the rest of the standings appear up in the air. This will be the first of a two part piece where I’ll be highlighting teams hitting their stride halfway into the split. This week I’ll start with Echo Fox and Immortals.

Echo Fox

Courtesy: Riot Games

 

Echo Fox may just be the definition of inconsistency. One week they throw enormous leads, another week they’re dominating their games. Echo Fox is coming off an impressive 2-0 week where they swept some big name teams in CLG and TSM.

Jungler Matt “Akaadian” Higginbotham has erupted in his rookie split. He has shown to be an extremely aggressive jungler who’s not afraid to make the big play. Often times rookies are not aggressive due to the jitters related to playing on stage for the first time. He has developed into the “NA First Blood King” holding the highest first blood percentage among junglers at 70%.  

Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen has been the leader for this team since its inception into the NA LCS. Frogen holds the 2nd highest KDA among mids with 4.6 while also leading the league in damage percentage at 30.7%.  He’s also been one of the most flexible mids, having played seven champions. Having that wide champion pool makes it impossible for enemy teams to ban him out.

After being the scapegoat of many of Echo Fox’s early losses, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew has looked better week by week. In a meta where ADC’s are seen more for their utility, Keith hasn’t needed to carry teamfights. He’s had some good Jhin/Ashe ults and has been working on getting caught less.

Echo Fox seem to finally be figuring out how to transition their early leads to victories. It’s surprising to see they hold the highest gold difference@15 in the NA LCS at 1,530. Akaadian has been a major contributor in getting his team ahead. If this team can build off their momentum, they can begin to show the league that they’re real contenders.

Immortals

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Immortals are another team coming off an impressive 2-0 week after looking like a bottom tier team for most of the split. The slow start could have been due to communication issues within the team, but they looked much better.  

Rookie ADC Cody “Cody Sun” Sun looks to have found his pocket pick in Miss Fortune. After looking rocky for most of the split, he posted an eye-popping 19.5 KDA on Miss Fortune. Immortals won all three games that Cody Sun played her in. If teams start banning her moving forward, it will open up more champion choices for his team.

It’s been no secret that mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park has looked suspect for most of the split. This past week he posted an 8.2 KDA in the four games Immortals played. Hopefully this propels him back to form as the best NA resident mid laner we’ve been used to seeing from him. 

Finally, Immortals look to have finally resolved some of their communication issues. Their schedule gifted them with some bottom tier competition in Team Liquid and Dignitas. With some other teams beginning to struggle, they may be able to use their newfound momentum to creep into a playoff slot.

After Cloud 9, just about every NA LCS team looks even in skill and competition. Every team has different strengths that allow them to win games. In my next piece, I’ll be looking at some teams heading downwards in the standings.

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Cloud 9 vs. Flyquest Preview

The matchup we’ve all been anticipating since the start of the LCS, “Cloud 9 White against Cloud 9 Blue.” For obvious reasons, this is the highlight match of the week for most viewers. Current Cloud 9 were heralded as the top dogs heading into the split, so it’s no surprise that they sit atop the standings at 6-0.

The old school veterans of Cloud 9 now have a chance to prove that they’re better than the members who replaced them. Flyquest were coming in as “washed up” former pros that everyone expected to be fighting towards the bottom. With a 5-1 record, Flyquest will have a lot to prove this week as they face some of their toughest opponents so far in Phoenix1 and Cloud 9.

Solo Laners and Macro Play

Cloud 9 have been winning games through their mid-game team fighting abilities and superior shotcalling. Along with that, Cloud 9 have top talent in just about every position. Similarly for Flyquest, they’re often looking to just go even in laning phase before exploding for early baron calls and immaculate shot calling we’ve come to expect from mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam.

The difference between the two is that Flyquest doesn’t exactly have top talent in their roles. Individually, they don’t do phenomenal in lane as opposed to Cloud 9. C9 have some of the best solo laners in Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen.  

For Flyquest, An ”Balls” Le and Hai have never been known as strong mechanical laners, but do what their team needs. Despite having the worst CS differential@10 among tops, Balls has the third highest KDA. Hai currently has the most kills of all mids along with the highest damage percentage. Hai’s shotcalling has also reminded us that you can never truly count any roster out as long as he’s there.

We witnessed this firsthand when Hai retired and was brought back to salvage a struggling Cloud 9 team. Through the leadership of Hai, Cloud 9 turned around a seventh place finish into a magical run through the gauntlet to qualify for Worlds.

Hai and Balls will be looking to take revenge on the players that replaced them. Meanwhile, Jensen and Impact will look to prove that Cloud 9 made the right choices in doing so.

Jungle Matchup

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

In the Jungle, Cloud 9 rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia is facing off against Flyquest’s Galen “Moon” Holgate. Contractz had been praised as being the next up and coming rookie talent from North America. He has not disappointed so far, and looks to be improving every week.

For Moon, not many expected this kind of performance from him. He was once in Contractz’ shoes, seen as an up and coming talent, but never really developed into what many had hoped. Under the veteran leadership of Flyquest, Moon has been able to finally show the NALCS that he is a top jungler in this league.

Moon and Contractz currently hold the top KDA’s among junglers at 6.5 and 4.8 respectively. It will be exciting to see just how well these two do against each other. They both look to be contenders for the best jungler in North America.

 

 

Sneaky vs. Lemonnation

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

One of the best bot lanes to ever play in North America face each other for the first time in competitive play. C9 ADC Zachery “Sneaky” Scuderi and Flyquest support Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart were infamous innovators during their time together in competitive LoL.  

Lemonnation was one of the first innovators of really breaking down drafts strategically. With Ashe and Zyra returning to the meta, it reminds us that Sneaky and Lemonnation were one of the first bot lanes to use those champions successfully in competitive.  

Sneaky now lanes with current C9 support Andy “Smoothie” Ta who has looked like one of the most improved players from last split. Lemonnation joins Johnny “Altec” Ru who isn’t exactly a carry style AD, but he’s definitely not someone you can sleep on. Smoothie has developed into arguably the best support of the NALCS. He currently holds the highest KDA among supports at 6.0. Altec currently holds the highest KDA among ADC’s at 6.2.

 

 

Prediction

Cloud 9 and Flyquest both have special places in my heart as I’ve been a C9 fan since I began watching competitive. I’ll never forget the undefeated LCS playoff title runs or the magical Worlds performance against Najin White Shield. This split has been a treat for C9 fans, as we’ve basically gotten to witness essentially “two C9’s” do extremely well to start off the split.

Cloud 9 have the edge, but Flyquest will not go down easy. Cloud 9 will take it in a close 2-1 series with a lot of bloody fights. As long as Impact is starting, I don’t see any team being able to take them down. Cloud 9 without Impact look completely different. With him, they look unstoppable.

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NALCS Teams On the Hot Seat

We’re two weeks into the split and there are a few teams on the hot seat, fighting against relegations soon if they don’t turn their play around. These teams were expected to be real contenders heading into the split, but have not met expectations.

Team Liquid

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Team Liquid was thought to be real contenders. Most spectators were placing them around 4th-6th in terms of rankings before the split. They’ve come out flat, as it seems jungler, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, and AD Carry, Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin have struggled. 

Reignover has a lot to prove as this is his first season playing without Top Laner Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Reignover’s playstyle often revolved around ganking Huni a few times to allow him to carry the game as a split pushing threat. Without Huni, Reignover has struggled so far. His 58.6% kill participation is last among NA junglers. Often times this season we’ve seen Reignover make basic mistakes, such as jumping in too aggressive ahead of his team or failing a flash. He just doesn’t look comfortable in this carry jungle meta so far.

Piglet also seems to be in a slump. Team Liquid has dedicated the last few seasons revolving their team comps around Piglet, using him as the main carry. Time and time again, playing around Piglet has not worked for this team. At this point, the individual play of Piglet doesn’t show any signs of him being able to be a top carry in this league anymore. He is middle of the pack in CS differential@10 and dead last in KDA among ADC’s. This may seem blown up since ADC’s tend to look worse on bad teams, but the synergy of Team Liquid looks very worrisome.

They have yet to incorporate sub Mid Laner Austin “Link” Shin. Subbing Link into the starting role could produce better results. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer hasn’t looked terrible, but sometimes a minor roster change can yield a “honeymoon” effect that we’ve seen from teams in the past. If their play doesn’t turn around soon, I’d expect a change.

 

Immortals

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Looking at their record of 2-2, Immortals is in the middle of the standings; but one of their wins was against Team Envy. Most spectators put Envy as a last place team. They did almost take down TSM during week one, but it wasn’t clean by any means on either side. Against Cloud 9, they looked terrible as a team and individually.

Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park in particular has struggled to start the season. Usually heralded as the best resident NA mid, he has not looked up to form. He’s currently dead last in total KDA among mids and second to last in CS diff@10. Many have been quick to point out being on a worse team, but individually he needs to step up.

Top lane import Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong has done little to show that he can replace Huni. Flame has consistently been caught out or misplaying ganks when jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett tries to get him ahead. Communication also seems like a big issue. Flame is too early on engages or late for teleport plays. He currently has the worst KDA among tops and is near the bottom for CS diff@10. We have yet to see his infamous “flame horizon” (being ahead 100+CS) in a match yet.

The bottom lane of Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung has looked decent in lane. Cody Sun currently has the second best CS diff@10 among ADCs. Cody Sun has been caught out of position too many times to count. As a rookie, it was to be expected though. Their bot lane wasn’t expected to be the best coming into the season. The under performance of the roles around them is what is giving this team the most trouble.

Dardoch is still a steady jungler who can carry the game, but he has also had some really bad misplays that have cost his team. We know how emotions control how he plays the game, so it will be interesting going forward to see how the chemistry unfolds. Dardoch does not like losing, so if this trend continues, we may see this team continue to fall.

Team Dignitas

Dignitas were praised for the roster haul of top lane star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. Most people pegged this team as a top three team on paper. After two weeks, this team is 1-3, towards the bottom of the standings.

If Ssumday gets banned out of playing a carry/split-pusher, the team doesn’t play nearly as well. Carry junglers are strong right now, so top revolves more around the tank role. Chaser has one of the worse Damage%’s among jungler, with a measly 13.5%. With the emergence of the North American jungle talents, Chaser will need to step up. Dignitas has yet to show the ability to really have carries elsewhere, other than Ssumday.

Reginald may have been right when he called out teams for importing without knowing how to properly mesh them into the team. While Dignitas have been great at getting early game leads just from laning, their mid/late game have looked mediocre. They’re often reacting to their opponents and not looking to set up their own plays to win.  

Support, Alex “Xpecial” Chu, has been the main shot-caller for the team. He has experience doing this on his previous teams. It begs to differ how much the language barrier is really affecting how they’re performing. For most teams, they’ve pointed out that having one shot-caller isn’t the best way to play the game. If this team wants to succeed, every member will need to be able to communicate effectively.

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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IEM Gyeonggi: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This season’s third leg of Intel Extreme Masters, taking place in Gyeonggi, was one of ups and downs. “Uncertainty” is a word that comes to mind; there was uncertainty in which League of Legends teams would compete after several qualifiers declined to participate. The quality of each roster after many teams underwent massive overhauls in the off-season, and the players’ individual skill level coming back from vacations into a somewhat new meta is unclear.

The announcement of Samsung Galaxy, Immortals, Team Liquid, Kongdoo Monster, Giants Gaming, J Team, Vega Squadron, and Dark Passage left many fans wondering how these teams would match up. Will Samsung be able to show, yet again, that they truly are a top international team? Have Immortals’ and Team Liquid’s roster changes better prepared them to face non-North American competition? Can Kongdoo Monster follow up on their showing at the KeSPA cup?

Of course, fans and analysts alike knew that the teams coming into this tournament would look a bit unrefined due to new players having limited practice with one another and a lack of preparation time since most pros are coming off of a break. Setting these variables aside, as the matches progressed, there were clear strengths and weaknesses visible within all of the organizations. Here are the players who truly stood out, for better or for worse, at IEM Gyeonggi 2016.

The Good

courtesy of Riot eSports

Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett

Although his KDA was middling, Dardoch had the highest Kill Participation of all Junglers at the event: 77.2%. It was apparent during Immortals’ games that he was calling the shots. He visited lanes frequently, taking advantage of enemy blind spots and over-aggression. The high points that come to mind are games 1 and 2 of the Semifinals versus Kongdoo Monster. In the first game, Dardoch locked in a surprise Gragas pick. He enabled kills in all three lanes and Immortals took the Infernal Drake within the first 10 minutes. Kongdoo did come back to win, but there was nothing more to ask for from a Jungler. In game 2, Immortals put Dardoch on Hecarim and he proceeded to go on a rampage. A 5.33 KDA, 5.68 CS/minute, and 88.9% Kill Participation — I would award him the MVP of that game, and of Immortals’ roster at IEM Gyeonggi.

Jin-sol “Ssol” Seo

The only ADC that stood out to me at the tournament, Ssol put on an Ezreal clinic. Overlooking his one silly over-aggression of the entire showing, the Kongdoo Monster marksman showed strong mechanics and understanding of his damage. His overall KDA for the tournament was 4.54, but when only focusing on the seven out of ten games he played on Ezreal, that KDA goes up to 5.77. Pair that with a win-rate of 71%, I am surprised this pick did not get banned away from him more. Although, he did go 17-2-8 against Giants in the Group B Winners match while playing Jhin. I am looking forward to watching Ssol play against other LCK bot lanes this Spring after his performance at Gyeonggi.

Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong

The most impressive player at IEM Gyeonggi was Ambition. It is no coincidence that Samsung Galaxy was able to take home the trophy at the end of the day. This squad proved to be dominant in their games and a lot of it had to do with Ambition’s veteran experience and true control of the map. I cannot find any stellar statistics to back up my claim, so I guess you will have to just go watch the games. He went five for five on his Lee Sin, and put up a 5.67 KDA on a pocket Kha’Zix for Game 2 of the Finals. The Samsung Jungler did not skip a beat in matches against Dardoch, Son “Punch” Min-hyuk of Kongdoo, and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin of Liquid. Ambition allowed his laners, especially Lee “Crown” Min-ho, to truly shine against their opponents.

The Bad

courtesy of Riot eSports

Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin

Piglet looked mediocre at this tournament. A 4.2 KDA is not bad; it is middling. 62% Kill Participation is a similar statistic. But his CS Difference at 10 minutes averaged -5.4. That ranks him tenth worst out of all players at IEM Gyeonggi and second worst among the ADC’s, specifically. In Team Liquid’s series against Dark Passage, Piglet finished his games 7-1-8 and 14-1-4. He made those games look easy. Giants’ bot lane, however, seemed like a more even match-up. The preliminary Best-of-1 and the later Best-of-3 showed Piglet’s inconsistency: 1-5-5, 8-4-6, and 7-0-13. I would even argue the third match-up was completely enabled by Matt “Matt” Elento’s aggressive Thresh plays. Finally, Piglet seemed completely out-matched against Samsung Galaxy, going 3-3-5 and 0-6-2, which knocked Liquid out of the tournament. I don’t think many expected such dissonance from this veteran AD Carry.

Olof “Flaxxish” Medin

Honestly, all of Giants Gaming did not look too hot at this tournament. But, of all the players on Giants, Flaxxish looked the worst, especially when compared to Na “NighT” Gun-woo and Elias “Upset” Lipp. Leaving IEM Gyeonggi with a 1.8 KDA, 44.4% Kill Participation, and 7.4 CS behind on average is pretty bad. Add to that the several solo deaths he had in the top lane and it does not paint a pretty picture. Part of the blame should be put on Kim “Mightybear” Min-su, but he was only playing these few games on loan from Team Vitality. Hopefully, the Jungle-Top synergy gets better when Giants sign someone else. Either way, Flaxxish needs to do better if the team is going to find success in the 2017 EU LCS.

Cody “Cody Sun” Sun

You know how I said Piglet had the second worst CS Difference at 10 minutes among ADCs at IEM Gyeonggi? Well, Cody Sun was the worst–an appalling -6.8, or 7th lowest of all players in the tournament. Formerly known as “Massacre,” Cody Sun came into Gyeonggi with the rest of Immortals’ new roster. To be fair, this was his first international competition, but it just was not there for him. His Support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, did seem to over-extend regularly and did not seem to be on the same page, but Cody Sun looked afraid to fight at all. This bot lane was a glaring weak spot for the Immortals’ roster. Hopefully, more time, practice, and experience brings these players together in a more cohesive way.

The Ugly

courtesy of NListe.com

Evgeniy “Drobovik” Belousov

Although neither Wild Card team won a single game, Vega Squadron did have the more difficult group. Regardless, Drobovik had a tough time in the mid lane. He finished with a 1.0 KDA, -9.3 CS Difference at 10 minutes, and 26.2% Death Share over 3 games. Seemingly out-classed by Crown, Pobelter, and Chieh “FoFo” Li, there are no highlights from Drobovik at this tournament. J Team even gifted the 100% pick-ban Syndra to the Russian mid laner, but FoFo was still able to go 5-0-8 on Ekko. If this team wants to stand a chance in the LCL in 2017, then they will certainly need to shore up their play around Mid.

Furkan “Immortoru” Tekeş

If Drobovik stood a chance against any mid laner at IEM Gyeonggi it would be Immortoru of Dark Passage. Viewers could not help but feel sorry for this guy. Playing Mid for the Turkish squad, he finished at the bottom of the barrel with a KDA of 0.4 and averaged 450 gold behind his opponents at 10 minutes. Competition within Mid in Group B was not easy. Lee “Edge” Ho-seong of Kongdoo Monster, Team Liquid’s Goldenglue, and Giants’ NighT all had solid performances at various points in the tournament. But this was another case of a player looking a tier below the rest of the field. Dark Passage better hope the other teams in Turkey sport lesser mid laners or there will be a tough road ahead.

Anıl “HolyPhoenix” Işık

Rounding out the “Ugly” portion of IEM Gyeonggi is HolyPhoenix, also of Dark Passage. The ADC finished the tournament with the lowest KDA, 0.5, and Kill Particiption, 56.3%. Compared to his stats from the 2016 TCL Summer Split, the Turkish marksman struggled against the international competitors. This was particularly apparent in their two games against Team Liquid in the Group B Losers bracket. Piglet, who looked shaky against other opponents, popped off in both games by dominating HolyPhoenix and Rogue in bot lane. Finishing 0-6-0 and 2-7-3, HolyPhoenix’s performance was devastating for his team at this event.

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Is Flyquest the Real Deal?

Flyquest became the newest addition to the NALCS teams this split after qualifying as the Cloud 9 Challenger squad. Their members are far from being inexperienced though.  

Mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam was the longtime Cloud 9 mid laner before stepping down due to medical/performance issues. Support Daerek “LemonNation” Hart thought he was wanting to retire and go into coaching, but his path lead him back into LCS. Top Laner An “Balls” Le was replaced on Cloud 9 by former SKT World Champion Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong once his play began to decline. ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru and Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate were once heralded as upcoming young talents, but had failed to live up to those expectations on past teams.  

Many analysts predicted Flyquest to be a bottom tier (7-10) team coming into the Spring Split. After their week one performance, nobody can call them down and out just yet. They convincingly finished the week 2-0 after sweeping Envyus and taking a close series against Team Liquid. Individually they may not look that strong, but Hai just has a way of being able to micromanage a team to victory like no one we’ve ever seen.  

Photos courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

After stints on NRG and Team Liquid, it appeared Moon may never become the prospect many had hoped. He was heralded as being the next upcoming North American Jungle prospect, but never quite lived up to that title and was forced back into the challenger series. Flyquest decided to give him a shot, and he has come back stronger than ever. He finished the first week second in KDA and First blood percentage among NALCS Junglers. Maybe playing with Hai has given him the confidence he needs to perform well on stage.

While previous synergy does help, most of Flyquest’s victories have looked cool, calm, and collected. When they’re behind, they wait to scale, and take picks when they can. When they’re ahead, they know what to do to end the game efficiently. Hai gets his team to commit to baron calls and team-fights. Their wave management and control of the pace of the game looks superior to many of the teams right now.  

We’ll need to wait and see if the NALCS teams with imports are able to cleanup their communication. Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals have all shown the raw ability to gain huge early leads off strong individual talent. We’ve also seen how it has affected them in the mid to late game, especially for Echo Fox. It seemed that NALCS teams in the first week were struggling with how to finish games. Teams were constantly throwing leads throughout their games

Communication is key in being a top team in League of Legends. All members must fully commit to the call being made or the game can be lost in that instant. Hai is one of the most brilliant and decisive shot-callers in Pro League of Legends. People will still doubt how far Hai’s shot calling can really take this team, but they’ve started off on the right foot. Flyquest will look to pull the “original Cloud 9” by taking the LCS by storm heading into their first Split, with Hai leading the way once again.

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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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Need to catch up on a previous issue?

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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