Dignitas Playoff Profile: The One Man Ssumday Army or the Unsung Duo to Victory?

 Setting the Stage


The return of the gold and black of Dignitas this split was a welcomed sign by some. Even more welcomed was their highly touted Korean imports. Bringing across the Pacific Top lane phenom, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, and high flying (get it cause he played in Jin Air… sorry) Jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas looked to come back in a big way. Of course, alongside this was the big news of financial backing from the Philadelphia 76ers. This was reportedly the swaying reason why Ssumday joined the team. Integrating these two talents would not only take time, but effort from the organization.

Will Dignitas’ games be another case of Ssumday and co., or will the rest of Dignitas pull their own weight? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The rest of the Dignitas roster was flushed out with Apex Gaming’s Mid laner, Lae-Young “Keane” Jang, Canadian up and comer, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, and the 2000 assist man himself, Alex “Xpecial” Chu. Many pundits at the beginning of the split described Dignitas accurately: the Ssumday and friends show, with the heavyweight Top laner often carrying his teammates. Dignitas won and lost games on whether their opponents could contain Ssumday or not.

But that was for the first half of the split. “Trust the process” seems to be the name of the game for Dignitas. After bringing in coach, David “Cop” Roberson, it seemed the process really took off. The team play between the Korean and NA players seemed to pick up too. Dignitas overall matured into a strong team, and while Ssumday was still easily the ace for the squad, games were won on the backs of other teammates. LOD, in particular, stepped up as a player, while Keane earned an insane nine Player of the Games, one behind Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. 


The Players in the Jerseys


Probably the most hyped player to be imported in the off season, everyone’s eyes were on Ssumday, a staple for the KT organization in LCK for many years. He didn’t fail to deliver, having a dominant opening season in NA. There’s not much more you could ask for in a Top laner. Strong in lane, impact felt outside of lane, and someone who can carry the team on his own back if needed. Ssumday is definitely still the star of this Dignitas roster and should be showing up to prove it this weekend.

There’s an almost cliche team composition of picking a Korean Top laner and Jungler and it working well (see Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin for examples). With Ssumday and Chaser, that pattern continues to be effective. Junglers excel at getting their laners ahead, and Chaser will need to be on point to guarantee that Ssumday can be the tyrant of the top half of the map. Bot lane is another possible target for Chaser, with ganks on P1’s bot lane having possible massive gains if they can keep No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon down. Chaser will need to not only play smart, but creatively, and pick up on the opportunities to get his teammates ahead. If not, Dignitas may look worse for ware.

Maybe not the strongest Mid laner in the league, Keane is still a player you should never count out. Can he shore up his weaknesses for the playoff run or will inconsistencies haunt him? Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

Mid lane, as always, dictates much of the team fighting prowess of a team. Keane will need to show his more consistent side, or possibly bring some pocket picks or off meta choices to catch his opponents off guard. While I think many wouldn’t place Keane as the linchpin that Dignitas rotates around, both Phoneix 1 and Cloud 9 do place their mid as top priorities. Keeping the opposing Mid laner in check will be vital, as will be Keane stepping up his performance overall. His stats have him solidly in a middling position for KDA, Damage Per Minute, and Damage Percentages of his team.

The silent pickup from Dignitas was trading Apex’s Apollo “Apollo” Price for EnVyUs’s LOD. I say silent because the signing of two big name Korean imports generally overshadows a domestic swap of two lower tier ADCs. LOD, however, has come up big for Dig and has shined as a contender for best player on Dignitas. He’s stepped up in big ways for Dignitas in a meta that was hard on ADCs, but looks to carry that on into the playoffs. His partner, Xpecial, clocked his 2000th assist with Dignitas, and has also had a noticeable uptick in the latter half of the split. The duo look to show that this isn’t just a Korean team as the two North Americans have put up good performances.


The X Factor


What’s the X factor for Dignitas to pull off a deep drive into the playoffs? Their botlane duo of LOD and Xpecial. While it may seem like their star in Ssumday would have to pull off the big plays, I actually feel that the duo in the botlane can have more of an impact if they can manage to get ahead of their lane opponents. Arrow has been an absolute monster for P1, but their listed support of Jordan “Shady” Robison has me thinking Arrow may not play up to his potential. If the synergy of LOD and Xpecial can step up to the plate and best Arrow and Shady, Dignitas have a decent shot at defeating their first opponent on their way to the Semis against Cloud 9.

Can LOD and Xpecial show that they’re one of NA’s top duos? Or will they fail to make a dent against the monster, Arrow? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

If LOD and Xpecial can show up against Arrow, then they stand a chance against Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta too. ADCs have come back into a more carry based position, and a strong bot lane coming out of lane can sway the tides in the mid game. Ssumday should be solid in the Top lane against Derek “zig” Shao. Even against fellow Korean, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, he stands a good chance of holding out. Chaser can possibly gain an advantage from the Jungle, being a more seasoned veteran than both Juan “Contractz” Garcia and Rami “Inori” Charagh. While Keane will also need to be strong or at least keep even with his opposite sides, it’s the duo in the bot lane that will have the biggest impact on their performance. If they step up, they can pull off a great run. If not, I don’t feel they’ll go deeper than Semis.


Predictions: 3-1 Dignitas over P1, 3-1 loss against Cloud 9

I’m skeptical of P1’s roster decision going into the Playoffs, and that’s why I give Dignitas the edge here. Starting Inori over William “Meteos” Hartman seems questionable. The team has galvanized around Meteos, but Inori is nothing to scoff at. Regardless though, Chaser should have the edge here, having trust and experience with his teammates. Ssumday against Zig should favour Dignitas, while Keane should be able to hold his own against Ryu. The big question is whether Dignitas’s bot lane can find advantages over P1’s. If yes, Dignitas should win their games cleanly. If they can’t, any win will be hard fought against a well positioned Arrow.

Dignitas will face a much stronger opponent if they move on and face Cloud 9. Cloud 9 retained all of their Worlds attending roster, except Meteos. They picked up Contractz, who seems streaky, but is still a strong Jungler. That means Cloud 9 should easily be the favourites here. Against some of the best laners in the league, Dignitas will be hard pressed to find advantages in the laning phase. While they have looked better recently, mid game should favour the C9 side with experience and communication. If Cloud 9 show up looking like a team that can take first place, Dignitas won’t stand much of a chance. If they show up looking like the roster that loses to Immortals, Dignitas might stand a chance at taking a few wins. Ultimately, C9 should take the series in either scenario.

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.



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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Ember’s Flame Snuffed


It’s not often that a Challenger Series forming makes headlines, let alone one without any real ‘star’ talent or famous faces on it, but Ember managed that when they gathered together their ambitious project. In particular, it was Ember’s public declaration of all their player’s salaries that really ‘made their mark.’ By releasing their salaries, at least for a few weeks, Ember became the talk of the town. Should other orgs do this? Some thought against it, and experts in the field were skeptical at the market value of the players for the salaries they were getting. But we’re focusing here on the current implosion of Ember. For more on that, read Luke’s Article at: http://thegamehaus.com/2015/12/29/david-vs-goliath-are-player-salaries-worth-it/

Salaries for references

Ember Money

Gleeb — $57,500 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $72,500

Contractz — $60,000 base, $10,000 in bonuses, total comp $70,000

Goldenglue — $65,000 base, $27,000 in bonuses, total comp $92,000

Solo — $65,000 base, $21,000 in bonuses, total comp $86,000

Benjamin— $60,000 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $75,000

(Signed later) Santorin — $80,000 base, $25,000 in bonuses, total comp $105,000


What we’re more interesting in here is what in the heck happened to Ember. If you’re a fan of the Challenger Series, which is much smaller in viewership than the LCS, you’ll be well aware of the strength of Ember and the other NA CS teams going into the split. Ember were favorites going into the split, alongside Apex, to make it into the promotion tournament, which recently changed to only allow the top two teams into its competition. That’s why it was such an upset when Team Dragon Knights, who engaged in a multi-player trade with LCS side Renegades, took them down 3-1, making it into the finals and into the promotion tournament.

It seemed that a lot of Ember’s dreams had been crushed. They purposefully choose to buy a Challenger Series spot rather than an LCS spot, hoping to work their way up from the bottom into the big leagues. But still, it wasn’t like they were out completely. It was only their first Challenger Series split, and not every team has to go from Challenger formation to LCS in a single split to be successful. Even a single split in the LCS doesn’t do that, just ask CLG (who had multiple seasons… ahem…) But it seemed to be the case for Ember’s investors, who pulled out all financial support for the team upon learning the news.

What’s most striking, though, is that the players seem to be at the less desirable end of this stick, as is usual. Those juicy contracts and salaries? Well, they’re all but gone up in flames. Ember’s organization itself seems to be just as ill-effected too. It’s a sad day overall, and as Thorin rightfully pointed out, the only positivity that could come of this is some repercussions against the investors who left the team high and dry after committing that kind of money. But it’s questionable as to whether that’ll even happen.

What else can we take away from the sad fall of Ember? Well, another point is that organizations need to be realistic, not only in their finances, but also in their aspirations. A slow burn cooks better than a flash in the pan. While it’s an admirable goal to start from Challenger to LCS, if you had the option to buy into LCS, why bother with the stress of going through Challenger? Build the team in the LCS environment, heck, even going 10th place. That still puts you in the same position as if you had gotten second place in the Challenger Series playoffs. It’s a questionable decision on a pragmatic level, which is vital in the early stages of not only a developing scene but also in business in general.

Santorin is mostly known for his time with TSM, winning Rookie of the Split in his debut Spring Split back in Season 5. Courtesy of Dailydot.

Santorin is mostly known for his time with TSM, winning Rookie of the Split in his debut Spring Split back in Season 5. Courtesy of Dailydot.

The player salaries, while admirable and something I desire all players to make, seemed slightly insane for the market value of those players. Santorin, in particular, and Goldenglue seemed quite inflated. While both players with LCS experience, it just seems a little much for a Challenger Series squad to be forking over six digits for their Jungler. While it doesn’t seem that that was the reason Ember fell apart, but more from lack of living up to investors’ expectations, one has to wonder if those salaries were more reasonable if investors might’ve seen the longer road as easier to swallow? It’s hard, too, because outside of the signing bonuses, it seems that the players won’t see half of their contracted money anyways.

This also is a harrowing sign for other start up organizations: it’s do or die. I do not think it’s a healthy, sustainable process, but that seems to be the vision that is promoted in esports currently. Short term goals, big showings, flashy plays, lots of Likes and Followers, and other quantifiable gains are more important than the long haul. Ember branded themselves as changing that approach, and while the actual org might believe so, it seems the investors had little faith in that. Money is fickle, and if it does fizzle out that Ember’s investors walk away completely clean, they’re names haven’t even been released to warn fellow teams, it signals that esports is ripe for exploitation by big money.

You beautiful Canadian-born esport supporting man you. Courtesy of Rick Fox's Twitter.

You beautiful Canadian-born esport supporting man you. Courtesy of Rick Fox’s Twitter.

With the success of NRG, Immortals, Splyce and Echo Fox, I do not think we need to sound the town bells in alarm. But it does point to possibly some gaps in Riot’s dealings with Challenger Series teams. We saw this problem in cases where Challenger Series teams would constantly be picked apart for players by LCS teams, who could bring not only bigger money but also a shot at what every Challenger player dreams of. Riot, hopefully, will move towards action on this situation too, but it’s difficult to see a way to enforce contracts if people with more money can get away without any repercussions. But it is a startling thing, given the (seemingly) wonderful roles that these other start up teams have shown in their regions.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the League of Legends scene owes a lot to these two. Courtesy of Leaguepedia and Dialydot.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the League of Legends scene owes a lot to these two. Courtesy of Leaguepedia and Dialydot.

But it’s important to note, too, that some of esports more recognizable franchises, TSM, CLG, and Cloud 9, all started very much from small, ‘grass-root-like’ operations. They grew slowly, and while there were times in all of their histories that were dark, where financial ruin seemed to be just around the bend, they have endured. But that’s over a span of years. The fact that investors were looking for just under half a year for returns on their initial investment? Imagine how that would look for CLG? How many splits of disappointment and heartbreak did I—I mean, did fans, have to endure before they finally got that sweet, sweet moment of victory over long-time rivals TSM. It’s events like that that solidify a team, and while CLG lost ‘fans’ over the Doublelift/Pobelter moves, they’ve come back seemingly just as strong. But this all takes time. Something Ember were not allowed. The recent success of Immortals is one story of instant success, but both NRG and Echo Fox were marred by problems throughout the split.

Hai has not only been a part of forming Cloud 9, it seems he's an intricate part of their success on and outside the rift. That takes luck and a certain talent, but also time. Something Ember were not given. Courtesy of Linkedin.

Hai has not only been a part of forming Cloud 9, it seems he’s an intricate part of their success on and outside the rift. That takes luck and a certain talent, but also time. Something Ember were not given. Courtesy of Linkedin.

Ultimately, esports in general is a big experiment, and so many of the problems that traditional sports experienced in their growth, which took decades to become legitimatized, are happening almost back to back in our increasingly faster world. Scandals like this would not happen in traditional sports now, but it very well might have in the early years of certain sports. It’s an important point to make, as Riot, and other developers, need to not only be proactive in their approaches, but reactive to situations like this. How they go about navigating the increasingly murky legal waters may very well make or break the scene. If nothing else, it also sets the stage for how big money and interact with the scene.