MSI: Group A Preview

The first stage of the Mid Season Invitational is just a few days away, and there’s a lot to be excited about. For the first time ever, MSI will have a play-in stage where wildcard regions will play for a chance at a best of five series with either TSM or Flash Wolves. Group A may be nicknamed “group of death” in terms of the talent in this group. Many of these regions have been known for stellar play in Wildcard tournaments.

Red Canids

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Red Canids will have the home field advantage playing in Brazil. They handily swept Keyd Stars 3-0 in the CBLOL en route to qualifying for MSI. On that Keyd Stars team were fan favorites from last worlds, jungler Gabriel “Revolta” Henud, and top laner Felipe “Yang” Zhao, who shocked EDG at last worlds.

They made a key addition to the head coach position, adding on longtime League personality/coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal. His latest stint ended with his North American Challenger team, EUnited, falling to Team Liquid in the LCS qualifier.

They come in with one of the strongest bot lanes in Brazil.  At ADC they sport one of the most famous Brazilian superstars in Felipe “brTT” Goncalves. They have the French support, Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau. Dioud who has shown much success in the region.

Mid laner Gabriel “tockers” Claumann also got to strut his ability on the World stage last year. He was a great addition to this roster, allowing them to finally find success in the region.  Their second mid laner is infamous twitch streamer, Felipe “Yoda” Noronha. Yoda is a master of playing assassins. He’s most infamous for his Katarina which has drawn bans in competitive play.

Brazil has been known to have some of the best international success among Wildcard regions. With the home field advantage, everyone in Brazil will be rooting for them to advance to represent their region well.

Super Massive eSports

Courtesy:Riot Esports

Super Massive Esports return to MSI, where they took a game off of NA’s CLG the last time they were here. Statistically, Super Massive has the best players at every role. Each player is a top player in the region. They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Crew esports.

Much of their roster from last MSI are returning. Many will remember their star support, Mustafa Kemal “Dumbledoge” Gökseloğlu. In their first match vs. SKT, they did a clever roam to the mid lane to first blood Faker. Jungler Furkan “Stomaged” Güngör and mid laner Koray “Naru” Bıçak also return to the MSI stage.

Top laner Asım “fabFabulous” Cihat Karakaya had one of his best splits earning the TCL MVP award. He had a perfect win rate on Camille so look for it to draw bans possibly.

Turkey has had a very good record in Wildcard play. They’ve had some of the best success in Wildcard tournaments, so they’ll definitely be favorites to get out of group A.

Rampage

Courtesy: lolesports

Rampage is one of the newest Wildcard regions in Japan, qualifying for MSI after barely beating Unsold Stuff Gaming 3-2, en route to sweeping a 3-0 final against Detonation gaming.

At the support and jungle positions, they have Korean imports Jeon “Dara” Jeong-Hoon and Moonyong “Tussel” Lee. Dara has quickly risen to stardom in Japan, being voted to represent the region for the International Wildcard Qualifier two years in a row. He’s been known for playing tanky bruiser supports, but has shown great skill on Lulu as of late.

Dara has shown skill on very high pressure junglers, such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll look to pressure the map early for them to see success in this group A. The pro scene is definitely growing in Japan, and Rampage will look to prove how much they’re growing as a region.

LG Dire Wolves

Courtesy: OPL lolesports

Last, but not least, we have LG Dire Wolves out of the OPL region of Australia.They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Legacy eSports. After a few splits of barely missing success, the Dire Wolves were able to take the OPL championship.

The Dire Wolves are led by star ADC Calivin “k1ng” Truong, who showed great play on some of the early lethality champions, such as Jhin and Varus. He’ll be vital in their team’s success in this group. Mid laner Richard “Phanatiks” Su is an aggressive player, known to play assassin champions when he can, such as Zed, Fizz, or Kassadin.

For the past few IWQ events, the OPL have fallen just short of qualifying for international events. The Dire Wolves will want to come in and prove that they can be the first team to do so. Their first step will be qualifying out of group A.

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Cloud9’s Playoff Profile: The Quest to Body Their Way Back to the Top

Cloud9 finished the season as the second best team to TeamSoloMid, again. Most expected this split to be Cloud9’s with TSM’s starting ADC Yiiang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break from the team. Although Cloud9 surged to a phenomenal 8-0 record, they’ve still struggled to solve their early game issues while other teams have improved. If they want to reclaim the NALCS title, they’ll need to show the ability to make plays in the early game.

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud9 has three extremely strong lanes. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen has had an MVP-like split, ending second in KDA and CSD@10 among mids.

The top lane Korean duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won gives them a diverse range of champions. Ray looked iffy in the beginning of the split, but has shown steady improvement towards the end. It will be interesting to see how C9 utilize each of them in a best of five format.

Cloud9 excels in mid game team fighting and shot calling. They’re great at knowing each other’s power spikes and knowing how to capitalize on their enemy’s mistakes. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Weaknesses

It’s no secret Cloud9’s weakness this whole split has been their lackluster early game. They’re not ones to make big plays in the early game despite having some of the most talented players. Jensen is often criticized for his lack of roaming and his selfishness to only gain an advantage in his lane.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia is often used as a tracker for the enemy jungler. It’s worrisome that they usually opt to farm it out till mid game to make plays. Against more aggressive playmaking teams such as TSM, we’ve seen that C9 can be punished for it. Despite Cloud9 being the second best team in the league, they are a mediocre 7th in GD@15.

If C9 want to reclaim the North American throne, they’ll need to show that they can make plays in the early game.

Player to Watch: Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Contractz is a huge X-Factor for this team. As a rookie playing in his first playoffs series, he’ll need to step up big time.

Contractz has shown glimpses of stardom, but he’s also had his share of rookie blunders. Furthermore, when he’s confident and being a nuisance to the enemy jungler, he looks his best. If he gets caught out during crucial objectives and doesn’t have an early game impact, we could see an early upset. With how dominant Phoenix1 looked against Dignitas, it will be a close series.

 

Prediction

While Phoenix1 will give Cloud9 a run for their money, I believe C9 will reach the NALCS finals again to face off in a close series against TSM.

Cloud9 3-2 over Phoenix1 in the semifinals

TSM 3-2 over Cloud9 in the Finals

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Power Rankings: #3 western team

Flyquest’s Playoff Profile: Live and Die by the Cheese

Exceeding Expectations

After being pegged as a relegation team in preseason, Flyquest surged to an amazing 5-1 start. They quickly became fan favorites, pulling out some of the most unique champions of the season, from Mordekaiser ADC to Shaco jungle. As teams around them began to build synergy, Flyquest began to crumble. They finished the season 9-9 just barely making playoffs.

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest is great at pushing advantages. You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Having a legendary shotcaller in Hai “Hai” Lam helps. You’ll often see Flyquest try to pull off Baron as soon as possible to help them finish games as efficiently as possible.

Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate has had an amazing split compared to last year when he looked extremely lost as a rookie on NRG and TL. Moon looked great in the first few weeks, putting up insane kill numbers in the first few games of the split. He has since sizzled out a bit, but still remains one of the better players on this roster.

Lemonnation’s drafting is still extremely unpredictable to say the least. You never know what unique champions they might pull out.

Hai is one of the most selfless mid laners in NALCS. He will often roam to try and get kills for his teammates, even if it means sacrificing resources in the mid lane. As a team, An “Balls” Le, Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart, and Hai have all been playing together since their Cloud 9 days. Hai is amazing at getting everyone to listen to a call and either living or dying by that call.

Weaknesses

They tend to play an eccentric style, taking any fight they can. This can be a weakness for them as most teams have been punishing their over aggressive play style towards the end of the season.

Their attempts at cheesing opponents with their unique champion picks also hasn’t worked much for them. As much as fans love seeing unique champion picks, other teams can just outright beat them with what’s strong in the meta.

They also don’t have the best early game laning. Hai, Balls, and ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru have some of the worst CSD@10 numbers at their respective positions. Flyquest tends to try and go even through laning phase and win through mid game rotations and team fights. If they fall too far behind, they are often punished for trying to fight without the right advantages.

Living and dying by Hai’s shotcalling is a double edged sword. Sometimes it’s the right call, and other times it leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why they decided to fight there.

Player to Watch: Hai

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Mid laner and shotcaller Hai will be essential in how far Flyquest can go in playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ve improved over the last few weeks in preparation for their playoff match against CLG. Hai has always been tasked with guiding his team to victory no matter what team he is on. He’ll need to be at his best for Flyquest to go deep into playoffs.

Prediction

With how they looked near the end of the split, Flyquest will be heavy underdogs coming into their match with CLG. Hai’s shotcalling and some unique champion picks may net them a win, but I don’t see CLG losing this one.

Lose 1-3 to CLG

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Possible Roster Moves For EnVyUs and Team Liquid

Relegations are over, and EnVyUs and Team Liquid have earned their way back into the LCS. It wasn’t a domination by any means though. Both of these teams will need to make some changes for next split if they don’t want to finish bottom two again. Here are some possible roster moves I could see for both teams going into next split:

EnvYus

Courtesy: Riot Esports

EnVyUs began to pick up its play towards the end of the split. Their jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo developed into one of the best junglers in NALCS. Team EnVyUs will need to build around their star jungler going forward. Where they can look to improve is in their solo laners. Top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo looked close to mediocre in their roles last split. It’s questionable how Ninja is still worth an import slot at this point.

Envy’s bot lane was heavily underrated last split. Apollo “Apollo” Price and Nikolas “Hakuho” Surgent held their own against some of the best, and have shown they can compete at an LCS level. They also serve as valuable assets as they don’t take import slots.

Possible Roster Moves:

Looking at possible imports and challenger players available, they may look to the team that they had to defeat to get back into LCS. Gold Coin United’s solo laners may be adequate replacements. Mid laner Kim “Fenix” Jae-hun has has also proven to be a mechanically skilled mid laner that’s able to compete with some of the best in North America.

If Seraph doesn’t play next split, they could look to either Colin “Solo” Earnest or Eric “Licorice” Ritchie. Solo has been bouncing around the challenger scene for awhile now, but looked to hold his own during the promotion tournament. Licorice also had some impressive games during the promotion tournament that could see him being looked at for an LCS team soon.

Another notable import could be EU Giants’ Na “NighT” Gun-woo. NighT made quite the impact during his rookie split last season. He was a lone star on a struggling Giants roster this split. He has shown the ability to be able to play against some of the best mids in Europe.

Team Liquid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team Liquid has quite the dilemma going forward. With Yiliang “Doubelift” going back to TSM, they’ll need to decide whether they keep Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin at Mid or move him back to his former role. Piglet has quite a while to prepare to become a better mid laner for Summer, but whether he’ll want to come back is the question. Piglet may have reached his breaking point, having failed to bring Team Liquid to Worlds in multiple consecutive splits now.

Support Matt “Matt” Elento has struggled since his phenomenal rookie split. Matt said in interviews that the pressure was beginning to affect his play. With the announcement of Adrian “Adrian” Ma’s departure from the team, Matt will be the support going forward.

The only sure roster locks that I see Team Liquid keeping are top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Lourlo was still inconsistent last split, but I don’t think he did bad enough to be benched, and still showed glimpses of a star top laner. Reignover certainly struggled last split, but he returned to star form near the end of the split.

The mid and ADC positions have the biggest question marks heading into Summer.

Possible Roster Moves:

Like team Envy, NighT is a definite option for them. Piglet wasn’t the worst mid laner, but you could tell he didn’t know his lane matchups quite well enough yet. NighT is an adequate option as he has experience communicating in English. Team Liquid has experience integrating Korean Imports into their lineup as well. NighT has shown that he can be a force in the mid lane. Bringing Piglet back to the ADC role would also not be the worst thing with recent patches making them much more powerful than before.

Looking at the ADC role, Eunited’s ADC Matthew “Deftly” Chen showed some good games in the promotion tournament. He had a tremendous score line in game one against TL. He’s an up and coming NA talent to watch after having a feature on his Scouting Grounds experience.

 

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NALCS: Grading the Newest Imports

This season, in particular, we got the chance to see some big names imported into the NALCS scene. With the split coming to a close soon, I thought I’d review some of the bigger pickups by teams. It will always be an ongoing debate of whether having an all English speaking team is better than having to integrate international players.

This was evident this split, as teams with big name imports, such as Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals stumbled out of the gate. Their team synergy seemed off with top lane imports, especially when using teleport and team fighting.

Phoenix 1’s Arrow and RYu

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has stormed onto the NALCS scene. After playing the last few seasons on KT, Arrow made the move to North America with Phoenix1. Many questioned how much Arrow was being carried by a talented KT roster. Nobody really knew how well Arrow was going to perform, as he’d have to learn English for the first time.

Arrow has heavily exceeded expectations as he’s developed into one of the best ADC’s in North America. His skill shot accuracy on utility carries such as Varus and Jhin has made him one of P1’s most valuable players. He currently leads all ADC’s in KDA, DMG%, and DPM. All key stats for an ADC. He has undoubtedly taken the role of best ADC in North America.

Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, on the other hand, had the advantage of playing in Europe. With his experience on H2K, he’d become accustomed to communicating in English. Ryu hasn’t skipped a beat since coming to NA. He is a solid mid laner for his team and is definitely able to keep up with the talent in the region. He currently has the fourth highest KDA and CSD@10.

Phoenix1 has been able to surge from being a relegation team last split, to title contenders. Ryu and Arrow have been key pickups, and Phoenx1 deserve praise for being able to integrate these two talented imports.

Grade: A+

Echo Fox’s Looper

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was brought into Echo Fox after a last place finish in Summer. Looper was brought in as someone who knew what it took to win a championship. Some say he benefited from having a world class shot caller in support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.

Looper’s tank play has been disjointed from his team at times. His teleport plays may seem a bit off, but it may also be Echo Fox as a team being a bit indecisive. He still has pretty strong laning as he’s fourth in CSD@10, but is near the bottom in KDA.

Looper hasn’t necessarily been a weakness on this team, but he’s certainly not one of the main carries either. Echo Fox as a whole has struggled with mid game shot calling. Their early game is pretty decent, but they usually have no idea how to translate it into a victory.

Grade: B-

Dignitas’ Ssumday and Chaser

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho was arguably one of the biggest names to enter the NALCS in recent history. From his time with KT, he had become heralded as one of the best top laners in the world. Dignitas as a team struggled out of the gate making plays as a team. Bringing in former Apex coach David “Cop” Roberson has seemed to help immensely.

Ssumday individually has played quite well. He has had a few games where he just straight up carried Dignitas on a high skill champion, such as Fiora. With the meta shifting somewhat off of tanks, we may see Ssumday start to do more work. He currently leads the league in CSD@10 and is tied for first in DMG%.

Dignitas’ jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun maybe wasn’t as hyped up as Ssumday, but was still expected to do well. Chaser struggled in his first few weeks of LCS. In a carry jungle meta, he wasn’t making the sort of impact his team needed. Dignitas seemed to struggle with pulling the trigger on engages, but have gotten much better.

Chaser has stepped up most recently. He currently holds the second highest kill participation and had a dominant series in a crucial win over Team Liquid this week.

With Dignitas beginning to look like the possible fourth best team, Ssumday and Chaser have been key contributors. Individually, Chaser may have struggled to start out the split, but he has been getting better each week.

Grade: A

Immortals’ Flame and Olleh

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong came onto Immortals with high expectations. After spending time as a sub in China, he came to North America looking to takeover the North American scene. Many questioned if he’d be able to work with jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Both players were infamous for having attitude issues on previous teams.

As with most of the teams that had imports, Flame struggled out of the gate. His teleport plays always seemed way out of sync with the rest of his team. He would often times get caught out split pushing or engaging without the help of his team. In recent weeks, Immortals have fixed some of the issues plaguing them, and look to be contenders for a playoff spot. Flame is second in CSD@10, but still holds one of the worst KDA’s among top laners.

Support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung was a lesser known import to most spectators. He had spent some time on Brazil’s Pain Gaming and LMS’ Hong Kong Esports. Olleh hasn’t necessarily stuck out as a big play-maker support, but that could be due to playing with a rookie ADC in Cody Sun. He’s currently middle of the pack in KDA, but does lead the league in Wards per minute.

Immortals haven’t necessarily been winning off their imports’ play. It’s mostly been heavily reliant on how well jungler Dardoch plays. If he doesn’t do well, there usually isn’t someone else left to help carry the game.

 

Grade: C

Team Envyus’ Lira

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Despite not playing the first week due to visa issues, jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo has looked like a good player on a bad team. Often times when Envyus gets upset wins, it is due to the early activity of Lira. He currently has the fourth best first blood percentage and KDA among junglers.

It’s hard to grade Lira due to where Envyus is in the standings. Without him, they might be winless and headed for relegation. With him, though, I don’t see them losing their LCS spot, especially with the junglers currently playing the Challenger Series.

I’d love to see how he does with a better mid laner, perhaps. Lira has definitely been one of the more effective imports. It seems like Envyus could do well if they got a better player at mid. Other teams may look to seek his services in the off season as he seems to be adapting well.

Grade: B+

 

 

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Loaning Players: Good or Bad for the Scene?

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This split, we’ve gotten the chance to see the first instances of “loaning” players in the NALCS. Phoenix1 with jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and Team Liquid with Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. It sparks the discussion, is “loaning” players good or bad for the scene? If a top tier organization is able to acquire a big name like Doublelift when they’re sinking fast, what does it mean for the newer organizations who may not have those types of connections?

Mainly looking at Doublelift’s loan for the rest of the split. It feels like team owners who have been there since the beginning may be willing to help each other more than most. I doubt TSM’s owner, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, would loan Doublelift to Envy or Immortals had they asked. The owners of Team Liquid, CLG, TSM, and C9 seem to have a special connection, having been there in the early birth of NALCS.

The Good

The real winners in each deal here are the players. Doublelift has stated that his break made him realize that competitive play was where he wanted to be. Getting the chance to get back into the swing of things in a few weeks with Team Liquid allows him to ready himself to be in prime form for a summer return with TSM. Doublelift made it clear that he would only be with Liquid until the end of the split.

Team Liquid gets a great deal in this as well. Doublelift is the best non-import slot that you could attain. If their only goal at this point is to avoid relegations, Doublelift gives them the chance to do so.

TSM are also winners in this deal. Unless Team Liquid has a miracle run and some luck, it’s unlikely they’d meet in playoffs down the road. TSM earns big bucks for loaning out a sub who is in need of LCS time before returning.

The Bad

Courtesy:Riot Esports

It becomes an interesting discussion of whether this is fair to the rest of the league. Team Liquid could even bail TSM out of a bad situation in the future through offering a sub. It can only really benefit the two teams involved.

It becomes a problem when the rest of the bottom tier teams may not have that same luxury. In all honesty, it’s not an even playing field if a move like this can occur whenever one of the top organizations is having a rough split. This may be temporary though as most organizations are desperate to stay in LCS with the rumors of franchising the NALCS.

Moves like this ensure the original LCS teams don’t go away anytime soon. Team Curse was one of the first LCS teams in its young career, and it’s unlikely we’ll see them be relegated anytime soon. Should Riot continue to allow teams to loan their subs?

Team Liquid’s case may be extremely rare, but could be totally possible in the future. With more veteran players, it may become intriguing to rest star players in the Spring. Burnout is a serious issue among pros, and if more stars decide to take breaks in the Spring, a situation like this could occur in the future.

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Looking at Team Liquid’s Future

When Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng announced his “break” to focus on streaming, many were hopeful for his return to TSM in Summer. In a surprising turn of events, he has returned in the middle of the Spring Split on Team Liquid. On a sort of “loan” for the rest of the split, Team Liquid attains one of the best players in NALCS history at his position.

Former ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin role swapped to mid in an attempt to be more of a carry for the team. He had a very good showing last week in their victory against Immortals. His replacement ADC, Young-bin “Youngbin” Jung, struggled to have much of an impact on the team. Youngbin looks to be staying on as an in-house sub, learning from Doublelift as the split comes to a close.

This appears to be a win-win for Team Liquid as they have the ability to allow a young ADC to learn from one of the best.

Team Liquid is looking at the big picture in attempting to stay in the LCS. They are currently tied for last place with Envy, with a 3-8 record. They’re attempting to save their season with some drastic roster changes.

With the announcement of the transfer of Phoenix1 support Adrian “Adrian” Ma to Team Liquid, it begins to make Liquid look like a strong contender on paper. Current support Matt “Matt” Elento has struggled, to say the least. He currently sits at dead last in KDA among NALCS supports. Adrian has been a solid support on every team he’s played on. He may not make a ton of flashy plays, but he’s consistent.

Best Case Scenario

Courtesy:Riot Esports

Looking ahead, Team Liquid still have a shot at playoffs. It may be extremely slim, but there’s a chance.

No one can deny Doublelift’s individual talent. Being able to bring in a player of his stature to this roster gives them a high chance of avoiding relegation. The only concern could be how well the team is able to synergize.

On paper, this roster looks like they could be top 4-5. No one can deny that jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin was once the best jungler in the region a year ago. He has shown glimpses of his old self this split, but maybe with a stronger roster around him he can start to succeed once again.

Samson “Lourlo” Jackson has had games where he looked phenomenal. He’s also had games where he looked tilted off the earth. With Doublelift and Adrian joining the team, this may be the most talent he’s ever played with. There will be no excuses for not playing up to his full potential.

Allowing Adrian to play over Matt would be the best for both parties. It’s extremely demotivating feeling like your job is just waiting to be taken from you with time. Think back to G2’s top lane situation last split.

In a perfect world, Doublelift can become a vocal leader on TL and lead them into being one of the strongest teams in NALCS. Although their 3-8 record is quite a hole to dig out of, it’s not impossible. At best they can avoid relegation and earn the 7th spot. In summer, Youngbin can step in after being a protege under Doublelift for a few weeks and be a formidable ADC. Team Liquid takes off and finishes atop of summer, finally breaking the curse of forever fourth. Once again, this is a best case scenario, right?  Let’s take a look at the other side.

Worst Case Scenario

Courtesy: Riot Esports

We’ve seen it before. A dream roster on paper, but synergy lacks. Doublelift and Piglet have been known to have egocentric personalities. If these personalities begin to clash, this team could fail harder than they were before.

Adrian literally is coming from Phoenix1 due to refusing to play with his starting jungler. Adrian may have a somewhat different lane style than Doublelift. He has often favored supports like Nami and Soraka, as opposed to more aggressive supports. If things go sour quick, we could see a clash of personalities on the team.

Team Liquid has become infamous with player management after their debacle last Summer. Their documentary “Rebirth” allowed fans into the world of toxicity that was TL’s team environment a season ago. Could we see a repeat with this roster?

If these five talented individuals do not mesh well, we could see things go downhill very quickly.

Team Liquid have noting to lose, but have garnered some heavy talent to save their season. It’ll be a huge question if they can come together in a short amount of time. If they make a Cinderella run through the split, owner Steve “LiQuiD112” Arhancet will be hailed for making the needed changes to accomplish it.

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

We’re halfway through the NALCS spring split, and I’ll be handing out grades for each team so far. My basis for grading: expectations coming into this split, if they’ve met/under performed those expectations, and their current standing. Every team has played each other once now, so we have a good feel for how each team matches up against one another. Things can definitely change in the second half of the split, so it’ll be interesting to see where these teams end.

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Nobody expected us to be halfway through the split with Team Liquid sitting at the bottom, even below Envyus. They acquired supposedly one of the best junglers in the region in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, but it hasn’t been enough. One thing that has changed this split is the meta shift to utility style AD carries, in which star Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has struggled on. In the past, Team Liquid relied on Piglet to be a main carry for the team. That has not been the case this split as Piglet currently sits dead last in KDA and leads all AD’s in deaths.

Team Liquid has obviously hit the panic button with the announcement of possible roster changes during the IEM break. The most notable rumor being Piglet switching to mid. If that doesn’t spell desperation, I don’t know what does. There aren’t many ADC’s in challenger willing to thrust themselves into a sinking ship and be apart of the downfall.

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

In all honesty, everyone expected Envyus to be a low tier team, possibly similar to Echo Fox last summer. The fact that they have two wins, one coming off a talented Echo Fox team, tells me they’re not as bad as people think. They’ve shown the ability to take teams to close matches even when they do lose.

Their laners are able to gain significant CS differences in games. Looking at top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu Yeong and ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price, they’re both near the top in their positions in CS diff@10. They may lack the team fighting needed to really compete on the LCS level, but that’s to be expected when only your bot lane speaks English as their first language.

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

With the big name imports of Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas was expected to be towards the top of the standings. They were off to a slow start, but things have finally picked up for them, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. I’ll admit two of those wins were against Team Envyus and Team Liquid, two teams at the bottom of the standings, but they needed those wins. They also looked impressive in a 2-0 victory against Flyquest, who were tied for second heading into the week.

Their schedule doesn’t get any easier heading into the second half, as they half Phoenix1 and TSM as their first opponents. Maybe this IEM break will give them the needed time to finally come together as the top tier team many had hoped for.

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

Echo Fox has to be the most inconsistent team in LCS. At least with bottom tier teams you can expect how they’re going to play. With Echo Fox, one week they’re 2-0 sweeping TSM, the next they’re getting 0-2’d by Envyus. This team seems to have trouble playing to the level of their competition. Against the good teams, they play their best, but against the worse ones, they’ll allow themselves to play down to their level. This is just about where people were placing them in terms of standings heading into the split, if not lower.

It is surprising to see a team this low still hold the highest Gold difference@15 among NALCS teams. Their early game isn’t their weak point by any means. Jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham has shown to be the best jungler so far, despite a poor showing last weekend. His early game aggression has allowed Echo Fox to jump to their early leads. It’s been in the mid-late game where Echo Fox has struggled in not knowing how to translate their leads into victories.

If they can fix their macro-play, this team can definitely be a “Cinderella” team heading into playoffs.

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

For the most part, people pegged Immortals as being around this 5th-8th place team. Immortals was expected to play mostly through star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. For the most part, Dardoch has had to solo carry the team, with Pobelter playing uncharacteristically poor. Pobelter has improved as the weeks have gone on, but he’s still currently last in KDA and CS diff@10 among mids.

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong looks to have fixed some of the communication issues that he was having. In the beginning of the split, his teleports and team fighting seemed off from the team. In a meta where tank play was very important, Immortals struggled to gain any wins to start out. They have gone 3-1 in their past two weeks, but most of those victories came off teams below them in the standings.

They’ll need to show some competitiveness against some of the better teams before we can list them as a definite playoff team.

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) was somewhat expected to thrive to begin the split. Most teams were brand new rosters with absolutely no synergy built up yet, as was evident in the first few weeks. CLG would have the advantage of not having any roster changes and knowing how to play with one another. They struggled to use this to their advantage, as they had a slow start due to not having a great grasp on the meta. CLG have noted that they’ve always been a bit slow on picking up on the meta. As a top tier organization, you’d expect this problem to be fixed by now.

Star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black looked lost in the meta of carry style supports, often being caught out of position. Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has looked as okay as he always has, but with the rise of jungle talent in a meta of carries, it hasn’t been enough.

They’ve recently began to look like they’re returning to top form, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. They took a much needed victory against Immortals last week that put them ahead of them in the standings.

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

Phoenix1 were my darkhorse favorite heading into the split, and they haven’t disappointed.  Most people ranked P1 as a middle-lower half team heading in, but they’ve shown the ability to compete with the best, after sweeping C9 2-0 with a substitute jungler. No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has been the best ADC in NA “by far” and a candidate for MVP.

Nobody really knows what exactly is happening with Rami “Inori” Charagh. Before he departed the team, he was looking to be struggling on any champion that wasn’t Rengar or Kha’zix. In recent interviews with substitute jungler Will “Meteos” Hartman, he made it sound like P1 may just be looking for a long term replacement. Meteos is no slouch as a replacement, although he doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to commit long term. If P1 continue with Meteos, I don’t see why this team can’t finish in the upper echelon of the standings.

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest have developed into fan favorites as the “C9 White”. No one can really count out any team with prolific shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on it. Having three out of five members who have played together for so many years also has to help. Everyone, including myself, wanted to cheer for this team, but honestly expected them to be in the bottom tier.

This was reinforced with the announcement of Galen “Moon” Holgate as their new jungler just days before the LCS start. The last time we saw Moon, he looked scared and out of his element on stage. This split, he’s become one of the most improved players we’ve ever seen in LCS. This may be due to playing with some LCS veterans this time, but Moon himself has been looking like an absolute steal from free agency.

Hai’s effectiveness as a shotcaller will never be able to be measured statistically, but if Flyquest finish top two, I’d peg him as a favorite for MVP.

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

Cloud 9 came into the split as heavy favorites, as their only roster change was bringing in rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. They also have top tier players in just about every position. They definitely started the split as the strongest looking team, with an 8-0 record. Before this week, Cloud 9 was the lone wolf atop the NALCS. After an abysmal 0-2 week, they’re now tied with TSM at 8-2.

It’s questionable how Cloud 9 went undefeated through the first half of the split. Other teams may have just needed more time to build synergy. Cloud 9’s early game still isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a top team. They’re currently ranked seventh in CS diff@15. They’re not nearly as proactive as they could be in the early game and often take wins from team fighting in the mid game.

Star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has played the worst I’ve ever seen. He seemed out matched against TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in their last series. Cloud 9 seems to live and die by how well Impact does. If Impact isn’t playing, they tend to look much more disorganized as well.

For the most part, they’ve played up to expectations, but losing to Phoenix1 with a sub jungler is unacceptable. They’ll need to bounce back strong to prove that they deserve the NALCS title.

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid had a rough beginning, as the absence of ADC Yiliang “Doubelelift” Peng hindered their play more than expected. Doublelift held a very strong vocal leadership role in game that was missing after he left.

Solo laners Hauntzer and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg have adapted to take more vocal roles on the team. It was slow at first, but the team has finally looked to be peaking at the right time. They 2-0’ed the two teams ahead of them in the standings, in C9 and Flyquest. Hauntzer and Bjergsen have also been playing extremely well individually. In a meta where tank play is extremely important, Hauntzer has played near perfect in what his team has needed.

TSM will need to continue this trend of improvement as they head into the second half of the split.

Grade: A

 

There’s still much League of Legends to be played. Playoffs will ultimately be decided by who comes out strong for the second half of the split. Can Cloud 9 bounce back from a rough week? Can TSM continue to improve and be the top team in North America? Will Echo Fox break the curse of their odd week struggles? These are only a few questions that will need to be answered before we crown a North American champion.

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Evaluating Team Liquid’s Roster Options

Team Liquid has announced, as of February 21, 2016, that they will be doing tryouts during the two week IEM break. They currently sit at 2-8 and tied for last place in the NALCS. Team owner Steve Arhancet commented in an on stream AMA, “We really wanted to have a carry kind of bot lane… We also saw jungle as a very important role, so we went with our two import slots for [Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin] and [Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin].”  With the ADC role shifting to a more utility role, a rumor has spread that Piglet may move to the mid position. Arhancet declined to comment on what roles specifically they’d be trying out, but said all options are possible at this point.

In this piece I’ll look at some of the options Team Liquid have in improving over this two week break in an attempt to make a comeback out of last place.

Piglet at Mid and Find a New ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This sounds more of a “CLG move” having a player switch positions like this halfway through a split. We’ve seen it previously on other teams like CLG and XDG, and it hasn’t been successful. Making a position change is more of an off season thing, not a mid split decision. Piglet did formerly play mid and switch to ADC in the past though.

Looking at who could replace him at ADC, there’s very few viable options. Austin “Link” Shin has apparently been duoing with support Matt “Matt” Elento. Link was a former mid laner, but with the ADC switching to a utility position, the transition may be easier than what Piglet is trying to accomplish.

Allen “xFSN Saber” Chen may be someone to look out for. He’s currently a sub for the challenger team Tempo Storm. He has some decent montages and has expressed interest in getting into the LCS. The real question is, what challenger ADC is willing to join a team that’s most likely going to crash and burn? It may hinder their young careers and give them bad publicity being on a low tier LCS team.

Team Liquid not having a challenger team this split makes it rough to look at any Challenger talent at the moment. Most ADC’s that are looking to get into LCS are already on established Challenger Series teams. The free agent pool isn’t very experienced or vast. There’s also no time to import talent either.

Could we see the return of the king himself, Michael “imaqtpie” Santana to the LCS? This is more of a troll pick honestly. At least he’s a popular streamer that would be great publicity for Team Liquid.

 

Bring back Arcsecond and Piglet stays at ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Lyonel “Arcsecond” Pfaender is a mid lane streamer who also subbed formerly for Team Liquid as a jungler during the gauntlet last summer. He had a decent performance in a role that he didn’t main. He’s also known for putting out decent educational LoL content on YouTube and Twitch.

Scrims will need to make sure that Arcsecond is fit for the starting mid position. Having mained mid since he has been in challenger,  most would have to give him the edge over Piglet. Arhancet also commented that scrim results proved that Goldenglue was a better mid laner for the team than Link was. Link needed time to develop back into the mid he once was, but Liquid is short on time right now.

Finding a new face in challenger that will need to lane against the likes of Jensen or Bjergesen is a tall task for any amateur player. Trying to find an import halfway through the split may be a more daunting task though. Visas take a long time, on top of needing to mesh with the team. Arcsecond is familiar with the Team Liquid organization, so at least he’ll have that going for him.

ShipHtur in Mid and Piglet Stays at ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Danny “Shiphtur” Le was last seen in LCS on Team Dignitas before they were relegated. He was often labeled as a passive player who was only good at Ahri. His stream highlights are undoubtedly some of the best mechanical outplays in League of Legends.

When asked about Shiphtur during Liquid’s AMA, owner Steve Arhancet said they hadn’t contacted him. Maybe he’ll come into consideration after the AMA. Most people were surprised to see that no teams had contacted Shiphtur during the offseason. Both LCS and Challenger Series decided to not recruit him for a roster spot.

He still shows up on Reddit every now and than with an insane outplay. With the free agent pool not looking too vast at the moment, Shiphtur definitely wouldn’t be a bad choice to look towards.

This team will have nothing to lose sitting at 2-8 and basically out of the playoff picture. They’ll be looking to save themselves from relegation heading into the second half of the split. Arhancet has made it clear that any roster options are possible at this point.

 

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NALCS Mid Season Awards

We’re halfway through the split, and the competition is heating up. Some players have come out and performed above expectations, while others have failed to meet them. I will be highlighting my picks for mid season awards. Along with the traditional MVP, rookie, and coach of the split, I’ll also be looking at the top import player and most improved player as well as an All-LCS first and second team.

MVP of the Mid season: Hauntzer

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This may come as a surprise to many, but my pick for mid season MVP is Team SoloMid’s top laner, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell. In a split where many teams imported star top laners, Hauntzer has held his own, if not better. After a rocky week one, he’s been looking better each week as the split has progressed. He consistently outplayed Cloud 9’s star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong this past week and even solo-killed him a few times.  

In a meta, where tank play is very important, Hauntzer has had great teleport plays and good teamfight presence as an annoying front liner for his team.  He currently leads all top laners in KDA and damage per minute.  

What makes him stand out as my MVP is he’s also taken a new role as a shotcaller for the team. Many were made aware of how vocal former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng was after his departure this split. It left a hole in TSM’s shot calling and was evident throughout the first few weeks. Hauntzer took it upon himself to fulfill the hole left by Doublelift and TSM has looked much improved throughout the split aside from a bad series against Echo Fox.

Along with becoming a new vocal leader for the team in game, his play has been essential in TSM’s success. For these reasons, he earns my mid season MVP nod.  

Had Cloud 9 and Flyquest not looked so horrendous this week, Impact or Hai were two of my favorites for MVP.

Honorable mentions: Impact, Hai, Jensen, Arrow, Moon

  

Rookie of the Mid season: Akaadian

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Aside from this past week, Echo Fox jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham had been playing like the best jungler in North America. His aggressive play style has helped him take the scene by storm, often elevating an early gold lead for his team.  

Most analysts hadn’t heard much about Akaadian outside of seeing him play on Team Liquid Academy in the challenger series. Many assumed he wasn’t much of an upgrade from their former jungler Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev. Akaadian has proved his doubters wrong as he leads all junglers in kills and is slowly becoming the “NA first blood king”. He currently holds the best first blood percentage among junglers. His early proactivity often gains his team wide gold leads that set them up for success.

Echo Fox have been the kings of inconsistency. One week they’ll look like a top playoff team, the next they’re losing to bottom competition. Hopefully, this past week was just a hiccup for Echo Fox as a team and we can see them back to their previous form where they were able to 2-0 sweep TSM.

Honorable mention: Contractz

Coach of the Mid season: Reapered

Courtesy: Riot Esports

No one can deny how much Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has affected Cloud 9 since he became their head coach last summer. Without former mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam, the team looked lost in what do in the macro game. Reapered described them as five talented members playing solo queue when he first took the helm as head coach. With his work on the team, Cloud 9 has finally learned to play without Hai successfully. Each member is attributing in communication and it has been evident this split. Other teams around the LCS with new imports have struggled to do anything with leads, while Cloud 9 have been able to steamroll games off team fighting in the mid game.

Reapered has been praised by members of Cloud 9, as well as other team management for his effectiveness as a coach. As a team that never really had an authoritative figure before, he is exactly what this team needs. In C9’s YouTube series, it shows he’s not afraid to call out the team for playing poorly and will scold them for mistakes. This type of coaching is what North America as a whole needs to finally be a able to compete on the world stage.

Although they went 0-2 this week, I’m sure Reapered will whip them back into form. It’s better for them to have these mistakes show earlier than later so they can get them fixed in time for playoffs.

Honorable mention: Fly, Parth

Best Import of the Mid season: Arrow

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Phoenix1 ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon honestly wasn’t hyped up much heading into the split. He came from a KT team of stars where some thought he was being carried. On Phoenix1, he’s one, if not the best performing player on the team.

He currently leads the league in KDA, damage per minute, and damage percentage among ADC’s. He has out performed every ADC in North America so far showing masterful play on meta picks, such as Varus and Jhin. His skill shot accuracy has been insane in a lot of the games he’s played on those champions.

Moving forward, Arrow will play a huge part in how far P1 really goes. For now, he’s the reason for most of his teams’ wins. If other areas of P1 improve, this team could be top contenders in playoffs.

Honroable mentions: Ssumday, Ryu

Most Improved Player of the Mid season: Moon

Courtesy: Riot Esports

The last time we saw Flyquest jungler, Galen “Moon” Holgate, he looked like a forgotten prospect. He was once heralded as the next up and coming jungle talent, but stints with Team Liquid and NRG never really showed us that. He struggled in his first few splits and was demoted back to challenger after a few rough games.  

When Flyquest announced Moon as their starting jungler, most analysts thought we’d see the same passive jungler that we had seen before. That has not been the case this split. Moon has looked like a revitalized jungle star in a meta where carry junglers are thriving. He’s also shown the ability to perform well on Eve, a champion we haven’t seen from any other team.  

Many have credited Moon’s success to playing with a seasoned shotcaller in Hai and other veterans, but Moon just looks so much more comfortable than we saw previously. His early game plays are usually what helps Flyquest snowball their leads into the mid game where Hai can guide them to victory. Moon leads all junglers in KDA and is second in total kills to Akaadian.  

Moon is having an MVP-esque season and is a huge reason Flyquest are near the top of the standings. If we see them go back to some standard picks, I believe they’ll return to top form.

Honorable mentions: Smoothie, Altec, Huhi

All-LCS 1st Team

Top: Team SoloMid Hauntzer

Jungle: Echo Fox Akaadian

Mid: Cloud 9 Jensen

ADC: Phoenix1 Arrow

Support: Cloud 9 Smoothie

All-LCS 2nd Team

Top: Cloud 9 Impact

Jungle: Flyquest Moon

Mid: TSM Bjergsen

ADC: Cloud 9 Sneaky

Support: Phoenix1 Adrian

The last half of the split will be a heated battle for playoff positioning. Before this week, Cloud 9 were obvious favorites to take the crown. They now sit tied for first with TSM, while everyone else look to be improving. Dignitas and CLG are steadily improving and could make a late surge into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Echo Fox and Immortals will need to gain some consistency if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. I’m excited to see how the rest of the split unfolds.

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