super-teams

NA LCS: Are ‘super-teams’ a trap?

The 2018 NA LCS preseason has been one wild ride. For the past several weeks, roster announcements/leaks seem like a daily occurrence. Free agency and franchising brought a complete upheaval of many teams. Amidst the widespread changes, we can see the formation of a handful of super-teams such as Team SoloMid (TSM) and Team Liquid (TL). However, these star rosters do raise some flags for concern. After all, some super-teams have not worked in the past. So what makes the 2018 rosters different? Let’s take a look at the performance of NA super-teams in the past and how these new teams look to surpass their predecessors.

Spring 2016 TSM: Enter the Super-team

super-teams

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In the Spring of 2016, Team SoloMid owner, Andy “Reginald” Dinh assembled what many fans saw as the North American dream-team. Following Worlds 2015, and the retirements of Marcus “Dyrus” Hill and Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik, Reginald rebuilt the TSM roster around star mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Reginald managed to piece together a monster roster consisting of veteran AD-carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, rising top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, seasoned jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and legendary support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim.

Despite the staggering roster, this iteration of TSM struggled to find their footing for most of the spring split. Despite glaring synergy issues, the squad surged through playoffs. Ultimately falling to rivals, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) in the Finals. There were a number of reasons why Team SoloMid seemed to flounder in Spring 2016. Clearly, the bottom lane struggled to effectively complement one another’s playstyle. Against all expectations, TSM demonstrated why super-teams do not always pan out. An expensive mistake for Regi to be sure. Still, we did catch some glimpses of greatness from that TSM roster.

Many point to TSM‘s playoff upswing as a result of Regi’s decision to hire sports psychologist Weldon Green. The following summer, after YellOwStaR left TSM to return to Europe, the team performed outstandingly. With then rookie talent Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, TSM went on to have the organization’s most dominant split to date. In an interview with Blitz Esports, Weldon Green, reflecting on his time with TSM said, “they would build stellar teams … but they couldn’t maintain it.” Weldon went on to explain that after the 2016 season, Reginald showed incredible strides in fixing this internal issue. However, looking at 2018, Team SoloMid has already announced some serious changes to their roster.

The same Story in 2018?

super-teams

Credits: Team SoloMid

Coming into 2018, Regi has again acquired some superstar talents in rising rookie Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung and the famous western bottom duo Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez. Big roster changes like this clearly have not worked out for TSM in the past. So what makes this year different? Reginald made it a point to build on his existing coaching staff. By switching former coach Parth Naidu to General Manager, Regi announced Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, formerly of team Immortals (IMT), as TSM‘s new Head Coach. In addition to these changes, Regi also brought on Lustboy as a full-time Strategy Coach.

It’s clear that Regi is serious about building on the successes of 2017 Team SoloMid. Bjergsen, Hauntzer, Zven and Mithy have all worked with Weldon Green in the past. These players carry similar mindsets that can be complemented with the solid coaching staff Regi has established. It’s reasonable to think that Weldon’s emphasis on in-game mental resiliency is shared among these four players. Perhaps a shared mentality will give these players an edge in finding their synergy during the season. Now, the biggest question mark on TSM rests on MikeYeung’s shoulders.

As a rookie in 2017 summer, Mike demonstrated serious star potential. His affinity for carry-style junglers seems to clash with TSM‘s preference for control oriented tanks in that role. In that case, are TSM and MikeYeung a good fit for one another? In multiple interviews with MikeYeung, his composure and attitude certainly reflect that of a player open to learning and adapting to new playstyles. On top of that, Mike looks like he is hungry for serious competition. While TSM might look as though they are falling into the same ‘super-team’ trap as 2016, a second glance tells otherwise.

Liquid Doubles down

super-teams

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

While much of this article has centered around the example of Team SoloMid super-teams, it’s time to address the other huge threat in North America. Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet has steadily assembled a super-team of his own. The roster consists of some of NA’s top talents in Doublelift, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero. While the roster is certainly stacked, the first question that comes to mind is synergy. Will Spring 2018 TL be the next Spring 2016 TSM? In short, probably not.

As many already know, three of the five players on TL‘s new roster were stars on the 2017 Immortals roster that placed second in NA. On top of this, Pobelter, Xmithie and Doublelift were part of the 2015 CLG roster that won that year’s summer finals. These players have history both as teammates and competitors. This history will lend itself toward TL‘s synergy coming into the 2018 split. In terms of synergy, Impact stands out as a possible weak point. While his mechanical skill and laning are near-immaculate, Impact’s communication will certainly play a factor in the team’s success, or failure. However with Olleh on the team, and TL‘s newly announced Assistant Coach Kang “Dodo” Jun-hyeuk, Impact will have a much easier time communicating both in and out of game.

The 2018 preseason has already uprooted everything fans know about the NA LCS landscape. Standing on the horizon are two super-teams in Team Liquid and Team SoloMid. The hype has already begun long before the season’s start. With the massive changes to the NA LCS in the coming year, these super-teams will be put to the test. Will TSM and TL dominate? Or is this just another expensive lesson for North America?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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NA LCS Finals: The Old Guard shows that even Immortals bleed

Introduction: “This is where we make history.”

The elevators in TD Garden proudly proclaim, “This is where we make history,” with a Boston Bruins player, Boston’s storied hockey team, displayed. The NA LCS Finals, regardless of the actual results, was just that. Immortals, the first non-C9/TSM/CLG team to make it to the NA LCS Finals since Good Game University. Team SoloMid, the undisputed fan favorites, poised to make history with the first three-peat [edited: Thank you ProArsonist93] in NA LCS history, that would permanently place them as legends. There was no way that fans would be disappointed with either team winning.

With the pre-show done, the teams were brought in. To the excitement of music fans, and Boston locals too, “Shipping up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys was the pump up song of choice. The crowd went wild, and many followed along.

Immortals, going for the Green Lantern look here. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

Immortals are called first, the new kids on the block, hoping to upset the favorites in TSM and secure themselves a spot at the elite club of NA LCS winners. A mixture of faces new and old, with the legendary Lee “Flame” Ho-jong in the top lane, the longest tenured jungler in NA LCS Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, the 200 IQ Eugene “Pobelter” Park, their ADC who really likes his own name Cody “Cody Sun” Sun, and the NA LCS All Pro Team Support in Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.

Then it’s TSM’s turn to take to the stage, the obvious fan favorites, as they walk with confidence to a stage they’ve always found their way to, the NA LCS Finals. The all American top laner of Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, the Dane in the jungle, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, ace and MVP for the Summer Split Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, the trash talking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng flanked by his lane-mate and eventual MVP of the series, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.

Game 1 to 3: Ask me about my macro boys

Game one is, in a lot of ways, a testament to many about how the series will go. It can tilt players and entire teams, it can give confidence, or it can mean barely anything at all. The one theme for the rest of the series was the heavy showing of macro play from both teams, and this was on display throughout the series. When TSM made one great macro move, Immortals matched them in kind. Ultimately, Immortals’ draft lost them the game, as they had no damage to close things out, and TSM executed their win conditions exceptionally. The first game goes to TSM, and the excitement of the fans echoes throughout the stadium.

TSM, the fan favorites and NA LCS Finalists. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

Immortals, undaunted, go into game two with a bold direction: Kill the Bjerg. The total bans reach seven towards mid lane, five of which came directly from the Immortals side. For Doublelift and Biofrost, the Xayah and Rakan are the big takeaways from the draft phase. At the 15 minute mark in the game, both squads are even, but ultimately the ‘keep Bjergsen down’ strat works.

Overall, Immortals controls the tempo, with a tower advantage and a decisive Baron take. With the score evened out, Immortals eventually swing the game in their favor and close the game out off of not just strong macro play, but also understanding and reading the team fights well. Bjergsen wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do on Kassadin, which is scale and then jump on a target. By keeping TSM’s ace down they even up the score 1-1.

Game three brings in a mix up in ADCs for Cody Sun, rocking the Jinx; the game goes a whole 13 minutes before even a single kill is had. Immortals look to be in control of things, but never cementing a lead too crazily. But all it takes is one misstep, Cody Sun being evaporated by Bjergsen’s Oriana, or TSM to bring the fumbling Immortals down around the Elder Dragon. The unchecked Cho’Gath from Hauntzer, and Bjergsen’s strong Oriana, lead to Immortals’ Nexus falling. The pressure is on, as TSM stand at match point.

The series was, from this point on, basically two things: Immortals looking great in the early half of the game, and TSM pulling off the insane comebacks again and again. Immortals looked in control in the macro points of the early game, making the right moves to get ahead. However, TSM executed something important for Worlds: knowing exactly how to play when behind and how to take the fights to come back.

Game Four: The game that history won’t forget

Game four is one of the most insane games I’ve ever seen. I have to confess, half way through, I forgot to keep taking notes, so I had to review the VOD afterward to make sure I had remembered it right. For the first twenty minutes of that historic game, the map, and by all rights the victory itself, belonged to Immortals. They were 7-0, they had taken Baron practically as it spawned, and then proceeded to destroy an inhib moments after. It was all but locked up, we were going to game five… Right?

When you hit the Rakan engage just right and pull off the impossible comeback off of it. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

I have never been so wrong. TSM pulled off the impossible, they took a team fight from being massively behind. Biofrost, with the heroic play on Rakan, got the perfect engagement, and without any hint of hesitation, TSM jumps onto Immortals like a pack of wolves. It’s a slaughter, and TSM handily win the team fight. And then they took the next one. And the next one. Immortals went from being in the drivers seat to trying to look like a team with the advantage. TSM, fueled by the chants and energy of the crowd, kept pushing, kept pummeling. TSM somehow managed to overcome a massive disadvantage, making attack after attack in a tense tactical battle.

I managed to ask Biofrost what was going through his mind during the fated Rakan engage at the post game press conference. “Those engage timings, I didn’t really think about, ‘if I mess this up we’re going to lose the game,’… If I don’t do this right now, then we lose anyways, and this is the only shot we have. If I do, then we’re going to come back.”

As the final fight begins, the silence and tension of the crowd leading up to it is gone. Instead, the stadium practically shakes, as TSM do what seemed impossible merely minutes prior: win the game when they hadn’t even managed to get on the board with kills. The crowd, and even the relatively more modest and quiet press area is a clamor of cheers and roars. While the Immortal fans, or even those who just root for the underdogs, were crushed, the winning-est team in NA LCS history walks once again to their trophy. And they looked good doing it too.

So what now?: A new NA or the same old narrative?

TSM, the obvious victors of the night, have a lot to look forward to as they march onward to Worlds. The team looked tight, with clean macro play and a kind of trust that will go a long way. They fought when they could win the fight, even when behind 10K. Not only did they play smart, but methodical too. They looked, in a lot of ways, like a team that could be a real contender to make a decent run in Worlds.

But we say that every year. TSM, in the press conference, mentioned their hopes going forward into Worlds that they could shake that curse. Doublelift stated that Worlds last year, they went in overconfident, feeling like they already were a top four team. They weren’t. This year, they plan to go in humble and let their play speak for itself.

For Immortals, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Game four was heartbreaking, and while TSM made the insane comeback a reality, it’ll be in the back of their minds that they managed to lose a game where they were up 10K with one inhib down by 20 minutes.

But Immortals should still walk away with their heads held high. They looked strong throughout the series, and had some insane early game, with their macro play keeping them going toe to toe with TSM. That’s nothing to scoff at, too, for a team to reach Finals in any event. Many fans and pundits agree that TSM and Immortals look like the strongest teams NA could’ve sent. And their meeting had to be a titanic affair.

Battered, but not broken, Immortals next opponents will be the Worlds best. Can they step up to the plate? Courtesy of LoL Esports Flikr.

While the CLG vs. Dignitas game looked like a hyper aggressive, non stop action fest, TSM vs. Immortals turned out to be more like a chess game. Macro play was king, and ultimately both teams seemed to have answers to the other team’s plan. Execution of win conditions was the deciding factor in these games. With both teams guaranteed Worlds spots, the results only having implications for seeding, it was a pride match. But it wasn’t just for pride, or for who got to hang their banner amongst the teams who have won the NA LCS. It was to instill hope into NA fans. To show fans they are ready to face every League of Legends teams’ toughest challenge: showing up at international events.

 

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Rookie

Who Deserves NA LCS Rookie of the Split?

With the NA LCS summer split drawing to a close, all eyes are looking towards the playoffs and beyond. Many players battle for a position to claim the MVP trophy. However, there’s another award that needs to be given out: Rookie of the Split, and there are some interesting candidates.

This year, around mid-split, the choice seemed obvious. P1’s MikeYeung was tearing up the rift and was snatching victories for the winless team. He has been generating kills, map pressure, and bringing life back into the crestfallen squad. However, after returning from an extremely successful Rift Rivals, P1 has only had a single win as MikeYeung and company look lackluster.

On top of that, other rookies have entered the scene. NV’s midlaner Nisqy, who has shared time on the rift with Pirean looks solid. CLG brought in Omargod from their challenger squad replacing Dardoch. Now with P1 on another disastrous losing streak and two more potentials for the title, Rookie of the Split is again up in the air.

MikeYeung

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

One thing that cannot be denied is that winning or losing MikeYeung is fun to watch. His Nidalee is explosive and punishing. He has an 8.25 KDA while playing Nidalee and 7 wins to 1 loss. His jungle control on that champion and his ability to make plays is undeniable. The problem is recently MikeYeung has been put on other champions such as Gragas, Reksai, or Lee Sin. His second highest win rate champion is Elise with %40.

He also has %74 kill participation throughout his time on P1. This shows that he is definitely still generating plays on the map and creating kills for his team. This as well as how the games have turned out shows that P1 as a team struggles to close out games. MikeYeung plays a great early game and has good map play, but P1 struggles in the mid and late game. Though he was a shoe in for Rookie of the Split earlier on, he doesn’t seem as deserving of the title now. He did manage to edge out the win against CLG despite a tragic game 1. However, the long losing streak still stretches out behind him. In order to really make a push for the title he’ll have to really impress in the final week.

Nisqy

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

Nisqy has played a quiet season. Coming in around the midseason mark and splitting time in the midlane with Pirean. That said he has a 6.09 KDA on Syndra with 5 wins to 2 losses and an astounding 12.49 KDA on Tailyah with 3 wins to 3 losses. He plays a solid game, no outstanding plays, but also certainly not holding his team back.

As for highlights Nisqy lead NV alongside Lira to 2-0 win against Cloud 9, and NV look to play in the playoffs. Nisqy hasn’t quite made the impact on NV that MikeYueng made on P1, but he also hasn’t dropped off either. NV is still definitely the Lira show, but Nisqy knows his roll and plays it well. He has taken over the Mid position full time, but hasn’t elevated NV to the next level of play. He played well yesterday against Bjergsen, but still felt overshadowed by Lira.

If NV want to make a playoff run Nisqy is going to have to take it to another level. If he can show that in the last week of play, you better watch out.

Omargod

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

Omargod has stepped onto the NALCS stage late. His bid for Rookie of the Split was immediately considered after he came out with a perfect KDA in his first match against Flyquest. Though he struggled in his second game on stage he had a good showing against IMT. However, he looked lost against P1 in games two and three despite and outstanding performance in the first game.

Omargod shows a lot of promise and now a lot of pressure rests on his shoulders. He is the only jungler for CLG, who is in position to be first in the league. He has meshed well with the rest of the team and has already shown proficiency on both tank junglers and damage junglers.

The real test will be how he can perform against DIG and TSM in the final week. He’ll have to learn to play on stage and with the team in a very short period of time. If he can learn to be successful when the pressure is on, especially in a rivalry like CLG vs TSM with the bye seed on the line, he is more than qualified for Rookie of the Split.

Rookie of the Split

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

As of now it doesn’t feel like anyone deserves the title. In years past the rookie of the split has been incredibly impactful and has really made a positive difference on their team. For example last split C9 Contractz won Rookie of the Split. He was an incredibly aggressive and playmaking jungler that lead C9 to a lot of wins. Before him TSM Biofrost won Rookie of the Split. He had an incredible split, winning NALCS and going to worlds in his first split. Before him was Dardoch who had great mechanics and playmaking ability in the jungle.

Now it feels like none of the current rookies have nearly the same impact as any of the previous winners did. There may be an argument that none of the players deserve the title of Rookie of the Split.

Nisqy really needs to elevate his level of play to become more impactful for his team if he is to be considered worthy of Rookie of the Split. He is solid, but doesn’t show the level of initiative and ability to control the game as some other players have in the past. His stats are great, but NV wins and losses by Lira, and I think to take the Rookie of the Split a player should be more effective on the rift.

As for MikeYeung he looked true to form against CLG after game one, and even picked up his first win on Gragas. If he wants to reclaim his status of Mike “Rookie of the Split” Yeung then he will have to have impressive performances against TSM and Flyquest and continue to find success on champions other than Nidalee.

Omargod looked good before the final two games against P1. His Maokai was the key to CLG’s early game and he choked out MikeYeung. However, losing the set to his direct competitor definitely hurt his chances. He’s going to have to really impress against DIG and TSM next week if he wants a chance to claim the title. Omargod has high highs and low lows. If he can find some semblance of consistency in this last week there is a possibility he can take the title of Rookie of the Split.

Cover Photo Via lolesports

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