Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

As the world of esports grows, analysts, fans, and sponsors will be looking towards examples from traditional sports for inspiration. They will draw comparisons between the two to figure out where exactly esports are heading. Franchising in the LCS, for example, is one such move towards traditional sports, away from the relegation model League of Legends has become accustomed to.

A somewhat less important, yet interesting topic, is that of mascots. Do teams need mascots? Do mascots belong in the LCS? Will this be part of the scene in the near future? What would their purpose be?

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Mascots are generally symbolic representations of the teams they tout. From the Phillie Phanatic to Benny the Bull to Big Red, most sports teams have a mascot. These mascots are a physical representation of the team’s name or logo. They are responsible for hyping up the crowd throughout a competition, during slow times, scores, or wins.

It is commonplace for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey teams to have mascots. They are out in the crowd. Part of the live audience experience usually includes getting a hug from or pictures with the team mascot. They sign autographs, and they provide immense brand recognition.

Merchandising around mascots is prominent. Slapping the mascot’s picture or logo onto items makes them collectibles. For example, many NBA fans can recognize Boston Celtics merchandise if it features “Boston” in green letters, shamrocks, Lucky the Leprechaun, or some combination of the three.

Mascots in LCS

The closest example of a mascot in the LCS is Unicorns of Love’s manager, Romain Bigeard. He generally wears a unicorn costume and dyes his hair and beard bright pink to support the team as they compete. Romain is an iconic member of the Unicorns’ team and brand, instantly recognizable.

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to create mascots. Between North America and Europe, there are Phoenixes (Phoenix1), Immortals, Foxes, Aliens (Dignitas), Horses (Team Liquid), Ninjas (G2), Rabbits, Cats (Roccat), Giants, and Snakes (Splyce). The other teams’ mascots would be less straightforward, but something like “TSM Titans,” or “Fnatic Falcons” could be a cool way to expand their brand. The mascot can also be incorporated into creating new logos, jerseys, champion skins, and collectible merchandise.

Mascots could also help solidify a team’s fanbase. Many LCS fans get attached to players, rather than the organizations they play for. And since so many players switch teams in between splits and in between seasons, organizations have a hard time keeping a consistent base. For example, Immortals probably gained some fans when they signed their most recent jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and probably lost some fans when Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin left. Introducing a mascot onto the scene may be a small way to retain a fanbase by providing a consistent symbol to rally behind, rather than just a simple logo.

What Could Go Wrong?

Individuals who do not closely follow specific sports or teams may find mascots to be cheesy. It may seem immature to grow an attachment to some guy in a costume who peps people up at sporting events, like a Disney World character. Does esports really want to go there?

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

Another consideration is the fact that League of Legends is a game packed with fantasy characters anyway. Would it make sense to introduce a G2 Samurai mascot onto the scene when similar characters already exist in the game? This could create some awkwardness or show that it is unnecessary for the LCS scene.

Cosplay, where fans dress in elaborate costumes of their favorite characters, is already a huge part of the competitive League of Legends experience. Bringing in mascots could be confusing or over-doing it. Cosplayers already act as League of Legends mascots, in a way.

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

These mascots could also need to span over several esports. For example, Cloud9 has teams in League of Legends, Counter Strike, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, DOTA 2, and a few others. How can they create a mascot that makes sense in all of those venues? What if the organization has competitions for different games at the same time? Traditional sports do not run into this issue. Los Angeles is home to several sports teams, but they all have different mascots.

Conclusion

Mascots may not help a team win, and introducing them to the LCS scene may present some complications. But, overall, it could be an interesting experiment. Romain and the Unicorns of Love have proven that it can be done. Other LCS teams have straightforward opportunities to bring on their respective hype men.

A mascot could greatly help organizations solidify their brands by opening up new merchandising opportunities and retaining fans that may otherwise leave the team with a traded or lost player. Possibly the greatest gain from a mascot, though, is pure fun. Imagine the broadcast cutting to a video of a fox mascot hyping up the Echo Fox fans after Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham secures a First Blood. That could be pretty cool.


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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.

CLG’s Playoff Profile: United They Stand, Or Divided They Will Fall

Setting the Stage

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the perennial contenders (or pretenders) of the NA LCS. They’re (almost) always in contention for playoffs every split. There is always some kind of hype behind them, but they often do the exact opposite of what everyone expects. They were the only NA LCS roster to leave the off season intact, retaining all the same five starters from over a year ago. Top lane held down by the one called Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, veteran long time LCS Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, hot and cold Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, zero to hero ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and team captain on and off the Rift, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. It’s the same squad that brought North America some pride at MSI, and then proceeded to lose both games against Wildcard Cinderella story Albus NoX Luna.

Even his teachers call him… Darshan? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s path to the playoffs was one that could’ve (or should’ve), gone very differently. They had a rough start to the split, where other teams could draw on new players as an excuse. A strong surge in the middle and a wonky, long game three against EnVy make this CLG roster very… CLGesque. But they’re in the playoffs, and up against the hot and cold Flyquest. The record between these two doesn’t really help us in favouring a side. Both have beat each other in a 2-0 series. While CLG’s win was more recent, Flyquest looked stronger in their last week of games.

 

The Players in the Jerseys

What about the players themselves? Darshan hasn’t had quite the split he had last year, often winning his lane and split pushing CLG to victory. Oftentimes he looks as if he’s trying too hard to be too much for the team. Whether it’s the increased skill in the Top lane, a decline in mechanics, or a massive meta shift (the last one being quite likely), Darshan doesn’t seem to be as solid of a rock for CLG as he used to be. The bright side? Darshan has looked a lot more comfortable in the recent meta than in the first half of the split. If he can temper his aggression, become slightly more calculated in his 1 vs 1’s, or contribute otherwise, he can still be the Top laner CLG need. But that’s quite a few ifs.

Xmithie, the constantly underrated Jungler to the point of being overratedly underrated, has looked… uninspiring this split. Statistically speaking, his KDA is the lowest in the league for Junglers at a startling 2.4 (relative to, say, the highest being 3.8 on Galen “Moon” Holgate). He also ranks at the bottom for Kill Particpation, a vital stat for Junglers at a measly 63.1%. It could be the reason that CLG started so slow. Rookies like Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Juan “Contractz” Garcia were on hot streaks, single handedly taking their teams to wins; but as these rookies have cooled down, and the meta shifts away from carry Junglers, we may see the steadier Xmithie return.

Stats aren’t everything, though, and Xmithie is still a strong player for CLG. He has experience and always seems to be where he needs to be. If it makes any CLG fan feel better, Svenskeren ranks only one place above Xmithie. That’s saying something. A Jungler’s role in League of Legends is one of tacticians, making plays to get your teammates ahead and out-thinking the other Jungler. This is something Xmithie has had multiple seasons of practice with.

There are a lot of stats to look at when thinking about Mid laners. Huhi is one of those players that isn’t necessarily understood through his stats. He often looks unstoppable on certain champs, and utterly lost on others. His stats are interesting, though. When you think of Mid laners, you want two things: damage output and CS difference at 15. On the first point, Huhi does pretty well. He places fourth among starting Mid laners with a Damage Per Minute of 559 (28.1% of CLG’s overall damage), putting him third overall for Mid laners.

On the second part, Huhi was dead last, only higher than the much maligned changing Liquid Mid laners of Goldenglue and Piglet. You can never count him out though. He can come up big for the team on certain champions, like Syndra and Aurlieon Sol. His damage output, even while behind in lane, is impressive. He also will play a vital role against Flyquest in (trying) to shut down Hai and possibly get inside the head of the veteran shotcaller.

From zero to hero, Stixxay’s journey with CLG has gone from fans criticizing him to praising him. Can he lead them into another Spring finals? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s botlane duo seems to be almost always the stable foundation for the whole roster. This is the case now more than ever. While the rest of the team fell flat some games, or looked completely bewildered, Stixxay and Aphromoo found consistency. It has put Stixxay in the spotlight. From a harshly criticized player, to challenging Aphromoo as CLG’s strongest laner, Stixxay has come alive this split. He is tied with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi for second in Damage Per Minute at 546, and third in Damage percent at 26.9%. Remember, that’s all coming out of a split that was half dominated by Utility Ult ADC’s, too.

On the other hand, Aphromoo’s contribution to the team isn’t just on the Rift. Stats for Supports are always hard to read. His presence is known inside and out of the Rift, as a team leader and cool head for the squad overall. There’s a lot to be said for that, and a lot to be said about a Support’s ability to bring out the best in their ADC. Stixxay is performing up there among the greats of the league, like newcomer No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and long time staple, Sneaky.

 

The X Factor

So what does all this mean for CLG? Well, pretty much the same as always. CLG aren’t expected to take it all, and a deep drive into the playoffs will give some hope to the Faithful. It’s a position they’re all too accustomed to, though. So what needs to happen for CLG here? What’s their X factor? Well, as lame as it sounds, they need to stand as a team again. That was this roster’s strength last year. Stixxay didn’t out-mechanic any ADC in NA of note. Darshan was great for splitpushing, yes, and Aphromoo was always Aphromoo, but it was the team that won that playoff. The X factor is for that team to reappear in this playoff run. Not just the strong talent that each player has shown off at times, but for them as a team to move and work together again.

This is a different CLG than last Spring though. Stixxay, as many have pointed out, has grown into one of the strongest ADCs in the region. Aphromoo is still hailed for his strength as a player and a leader. When Huhi is playing his best, he’s an absolute monster. Darshan can still pull off some insane plays. Xmithie still shows up and performs for his team. It was the roster that looked good as a whole, not as individual units. Some part of me wonders if that is for better or worse.

Can Huhi step up to the plate for CLG when they need him? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

As Piltover’s Sherrif says, “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” CLG fans will need to see that team play again. The macro and teamwork-oriented style of play, while picking each other up. CLG seems too much like a team trying to always make a play. From greedy 1 vs 1’s for Darshan to awkward engages in the bot lane, CLG needs to get themselves back to their position of working as a team and thinking rather than just hoping the plan of attack works. While the obvious players to watch are Stixxay and Huhi, CLG haven’t relied on solo carries since the Doublelift days. They will win as a team.

 

Predictions

3-2 CLG over Flyquest, 3-1 loss against TSM.

I’m not convinced that Flyquest is back to winning. I wonder more if it was the similar phenomena where teams just can’t seem to handle the ‘new kids on the block’ or not. That being said, you can’t bat an eyelash at Hai “Hai” Du Lam and his boys. They’re a strong roster, and whether that’s more off the back of Hai’s magic touch at shotcalling or as a genuine threat, they’re still tough and always a team that can show up and take the win. CLG seemed to play to the level of their opponents this split though, which might mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders against the mind of Hai.

Nonetheless, I think CLG will pull it out in the end. I just think they have it in them to take down Flyquest, but it really depends which CLG and which Flyquest show up. Hence my 3-2 win. I highly doubt we’d see a complete blow out either way. However, if either team comes to these games playing at their lowest, we might. If each team comes performing at their best, it’ll be a back and forth series. Both teams are underdogs to make it deep into the playoffs and will have that underdog identity hanging over their heads. For CLG, this will be old news. For the new (old?) Flyquest boys, this may be a new feeling.

TSM, on the other hand, I don’t see CLG standing much of a chance against. They looked absolutely horrendous against TSM (I would know, I had Huhi, Aphro, and Xmithie on my Fantasy team…). They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight in their most recent meeting. TSM had control the entire time, and with that in mind, I really can’t see this series going CLG’s way. I’m generous and thinking, hey, maybe they can squeeze one game out. If they do manage to pull out a win, it would possibly be an even bigger upset than their past two wins in playoffs against TSM.

EU LCS Group Draft format 2017

Thoughts on EU LCS Group Format

For 2017, the EU LCS adopted a new regular season format which involves two groups of five teams. These changes were put in place to resolve fans’ issues with the dual-stream and best-of-2 format. The new grouping would allow viewers to watch one best-of-3 stream at a time. But is it better?

Most LCS fans would agree that the best-of-3 format is vastly better than the best-of-2 last year. The murky nature of ties left many fans feeling unsatisfied. Having definite winners and losers in such a small league is much more appealing. It can also, theoretically, better prepare European teams for international competition by rewarding consistency and adaptation.

Best-of-3 seems to be the perfect balance between viewer satisfaction, player well-being, and proper preparation. In comparison, best-of-1s reward teams that can successfully cheese their opponents for one match, and do not necessarily allow EU to send its most consistent representatives to international competitions. Best-of-2’s and best-of-4’s create too many undesirable ties, and best-of-5’s can result in more fatigue for the players and an extended schedule that would strain the production crews and viewers.

Having a single stream is fairly beneficial, too. It is the most comfortable way to watch every scheduled series live, rather than choosing which to watch in a dual stream. There may be fewer match-ups to watch in a given weekend, but a viewer is able to see all of them without turning to VODs.

EU LCS weekly schedule format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

The sacrifice, it seems, is regular series quality. Of course, the group format should not take the whole blame for this. There are other contributing factors. However, splitting the teams into two groups has resulted in regularly lower quality match-ups.

This split, EU LCS teams were separated into Groups A and B. Teams within Group A play each other twice; teams within Group B play each other twice. But they only play across groups once. This sounds like a small difference in play-rate, but it has huge consequences on viewer experience. For example, G2 and MSF will only face H2K, UOL, and SPY once each, but FNC, ROC, and GIA twice before playoffs. Since the teams were drafted to split their overall abilities evenly, this schedule has created gradients within each group. The gap between the top teams and bottom teams is huge. And just as H2K will only play G2 once, GIA will only play OG once.

Week 9 of the LCS is representative of this unfortunate reality. Previewing the match-ups is not possible because every single one is one-sided. SPY should beat VIT, G2 should stomp GIA, MSF should destroy ROC, and down the list it goes. Most weeks have featured one to three quality match-ups, while the other three to five seem pre-determined.

EU LCS promotion and relegation format 2017

courtesy of eu.lolesports.com

This group format, however, is sufficient for figuring out which teams should go to playoffs and relegation. The top six and the bottom two are extremely apparent. But week to week series are lower quality. There is less to analyze. There is less guessing or postulating.

If EU mirrored the NA LCS format, it may be a bit better. Sure, audiences would sacrifice the comfort of watching every match-up live, but they would receive much more frequent close match-ups. Teams would need to prepare and adapt against nine opponents, rather than four. And if they really wanted to allow viewers to see every stream live, then they would simply spread the series out over four days instead of three.

While this split’s scheduling and grouping format has been an upgrade over 2016’s, there are still issues that need to be addressed. The EU LCS could possibly allow for more teams in the league, such as 12 or 14 total teams (6-7 per group). This, again, leads to longer schedules over more days, but it may create more frequent close match-ups. As professional League of Legends becomes more and more popular, overall viewing experiences will need to be closely managed. Hopefully, moving forward, EU LCS tournament formatting will be able to strike the right balance between audience gratification, production value, player well-being, and quality competition.

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Power Rankings: G2, #1 western team

Best in the West: NA vs. EU Power Rankings

Other than the few teams that compete at international events, audiences hardly get to see how North American and European LCS teams match up against one another. Nonetheless, it is a constant source of debate. Fans around the world tout their favorite teams as being “The Best in the West,” comparing the 20 teams from both leagues.

It can be difficult to compare teams from different leagues. Anyone who watches international competitions, such as Mid Season Invitational or the World Championships, knows this. With different playstyles and champion preferences, it is impossible to truly know how things would play out before teams actually compete. However, since it is a fun and controversial topic, here are current power rankings for the top 10 teams between the NA and EU LCS.

  1. FNC
Power Rankings: #10 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Fnatic are serving as a litmus test for the EU LCS. Their overall kill-death ratio is 1.08, meaning Fnatic barely gets more kills than deaths. They average only 429 gold ahead at 15 minutes. 50% of the time, Fnatic secures first blood or first Baron, and they only take first turret 43% of the time. The one metric where they skew towards the top of the league is first three turrets rate (79%).

The Fnatic-Splyce match-up this week will either prove or disprove this team’s placement. If Splyce win, then they deserve the tenth slot in these rankings. Fnatic have yet to win a series 2-0, but they also have not lost 2-0. Taking G2 to three games in Week 1 is the main criteria keeping Fnatic ahead at this point. Hopefully they will shore up weaknesses in the jungle with Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen starting. If so, then Fnatic will solidify themselves as a playoff team.

  1. P1
Power Rankings: Phoenix1, #9 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Phoenix1 is tied for fourth place in the NA LCS with a record of 4-4. Prior to Week 4 they would be higher in the power rankings, but losing 0-2 to FlyQuest and 1-2 to CLG has many questioning their consistency. P1 averages 117 gold ahead at 15 minutes and have the highest first Dragon rate (84%). Paired with the second highest Baron control rate, 61%, they show strength playing around neutral objectives.

This squad has exhibited a high skill ceiling in almost every position, but last week showed their low floor. P1 is also the only team in the league who has not faced off against Cloud9. If they can take a game, or the series, then they will solidify themselves in the top of the standings. But, if they lose both games, then they may have a tougher time staying in contention for playoffs. Up to this point they only take first turret and the first three turrets 47% of games. Nonetheless, they seem stronger than any of the bottom six EU LCS teams.

  1. FOX
Power Rankings: Echo Fox, #8 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Echo Fox’s early game is unmatched thus far in the NA LCS. They average 1,530 gold ahead at 15 minutes. Thanks to star rookie jungler, Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, Echo Fox has secured first blood in 75% of games and first Baron in 68%. The third fastest average game time (just under 38 minutes) implies that they close games well. However, they only have an even 50% winrate over 20 games played, which means they lose just as quickly as they win.

The main issue holding FOX back from being A-tier is their overall Baron control rate, 49%. While they generally take the first Baron of the game, there are usually multiple per game and the enemy teams are getting any that spawn subsequently. Echo Fox also only secures Elder Dragon 25% of the time. While FOX has won series against TSM and FlyQuest, they have also lost series to Phoenix1, Team Liquid, and Immortals. Consistency will be the key moving forward.

  1. TSM
Power Rankings: TSM, #7 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Solo Mid sits tied for second place with FlyQuest. However, FLY is the only team they have not matched up against. TSM would be ranked higher were it not for the fact that they have played the most total games in the NA LCS. They have dropped a game to every team ranked beneath them except Envy, and Echo Fox beat them last week 2-0. TSM’s average game time (38:24), gold difference at 15 minutes (-5), and Dragon control rate (52%), are all middle-of-the-pack.

Where this team thrives is in taking turrets. TSM takes first turret in 62% of games (second in the league) and the first three turrets in 71% (first in the league). The primary difference between this squad and C9 and FLY is the K:D ratio. C9 and FLY average 1.45 and 1.49, respectively. TSM averages 1.09. Moving forward, they will need to trade fewer deaths and/or more kills while maintaining proper map pressure. This week’s series with FlyQuest will solidify second place.

  1. MSF
Power Rankings: Misfits, #6 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Misfits average the highest kill-death ratio in the EU LCS and the lowest combined kills per minute. They average 860 gold ahead at 15 minutes, secure the first dragon 67% of the time, and kill 70% of all dragons. This means Misfits plays a clean game, gaining early gold leads from creeps and neutral monsters. A major factor separating this squad from others ranked above them is their first turret rate (50%) and first Baron rate (58%).

If Misfits want to move up in these power rankings, they will need to translate their early game leads into taking down the first three turrets and securing Baron. They took G2 to three games and beat both Fnatic and Splyce 2-0, but the Week 6 match-up with Unicorns of Love will be key. If Misfits take the series, it will establish Group A, and Misfits as a team as much stronger than Group B.

  1. H2K
Power Rankings: H2K, #5 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Staying true to Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski’s moniker as “First Blood King,” H2K secure the first kill in 73% of their games. They also average the highest first turret, first three turrets, and first dragon rates. All of this combines for the highest 15-minute gold difference in the EU LCS (1,160). However, H2K’s average game time is middling (just over 37 minutes). Even though they match up well with Unicorns of Love’s early game statistics, H2K has a harder time actually closing games.

Taking G2 to three games in Week 4 is a good sign for this squad. H2K’s Korean bot lane has appeared more comfortable communicating with the rest of the team. The key for this team to climb to the top of the league is fewer deaths. H2K average 12.4 per game. Unicorns of Love, G2, and Misfits average 11.5, 8.8, and 8.1, respectively. Week 5 should provide an easy win, but H2K will need to secure convincing wins against Fnatic and Misfits before their Week 8 rematch against UOL.

  1. UOL
Power Rankings: UOL, #4 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Many spectators have been surprised by Unicorns’ dominance in the first four weeks. Sporting the highest combined kills per minute (team kills plus enemy team kills) and the shortest average game time, Unicorns of Love play bloody games. They average 1,072 gold ahead of their opponents after 15 minutes. This translates into the highest first Baron rate, 91%, and highest overall Baron control rate of 88%.

Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás is among the most consistent top laners. Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir and Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort have stepped into their roles cleanly as rookies. This team thrives on chaotic teamfights, often pursuing several skirmishes across the map at the same time. Teams ranked below Unicorns are unable to dissect this playstyle and effectively punish it. Teams ranked above them theoretically could. While they have not suffered a series loss up to this point, Unicorns of Love will face G2 in Week 5, their toughest test yet.

  1. FLY
Power Rankings: #3 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Week 4 saw FlyQuest put in their place just below Cloud9. Although it was a back-and-forth series, C9 came out on top. The only other team to beat FlyQuest so far is Echo Fox. Nonetheless, FLY have looked monstrous so far this split. They top the NA LCS in K:D ratio, first turret rate, Dragon control, Elder Dragon control, first Baron, and Baron control. They also hold second for gold difference at 15, first Dragon, first three turrets, and First Blood. There are very few weaknesses on this roster.

However, they have lost two series. Three of those losses had An “Balls” Le on Poppy. Maybe that is an uncomfortable champion for him? In Game 3 against Cloud9, Hai “Hai” Du Lam locked in a blind pick Zed. That may have been a bit arrogant. Nonetheless, FlyQuest should be able to match almost any team in the West, starting with TSM this week.

  1. C9
Power Rankings: C9, #2 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

The last undefeated team in North America is Cloud9. They have only dropped four out of 20 games so far, and two of those were lost while starting substitute top laner, Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Other than their high K:D ratio and Elder Dragon control rates, C9 do not appear that impressive on paper. They have the lowest first turret rate in the league, average 7 gold behind their opponents at 15 minutes, and only take first Baron or Dragon in 47% of games.

Cloud9’s roster is strong in all positions. Whether it is Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen securing solo kills in the mid lane, or Juan “Contractz” Garcia sacrificing early farm to gank lanes, each player contributes in meaningful ways to the team’s overall goal: winning series. Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu should be given credit for generally superior drafting, as well. There is no doubt this Cloud9 squad could go toe-to-toe with any team in NA or EU.

  1. G2
Power Rankings: G2, #1 western team

courtesy of Riot esports

Finishing four weeks 6-0, G2 have the best record in Europe. Even in a stronger group, G2 have appeared a tier above the rest. They have won 12 of 15 games played. Even though G2 have the longest average game time (just over 39 minutes), they secure first turret 67% of games and first Baron 79% of games. G2 is ranked first overall because they have demonstrated the early game proactivity of FlyQuest, Unicorns of Love, and H2K, as well as the mid/late game teamfighting of Cloud9 and Misfits.

All of G2’s individual players are a force to reckon with. Every single one has demonstrated a high ceiling. Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez has made a habit of over-extending recently, but the rest of the team makes up for it. G2 averages ahead 742 gold at 15 minutes, which sets them up to comfortably make plays across the map. A win in their series against Unicorns of Love this week will solidify their claim to the throne; a loss might reveal a chink in the armor.

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Over/Under (Part 1): LCS Players Above Expectations

With two weeks of gameplay under our belts, it is becoming more and more clear which players are carrying their teams, and which players have become burdensome. Most pre-season predictions regarding individual players have come to be true. However, there are several examples of players who have gone a tier above expectations, and others who have gone a tier below.

This week I want to recognize an LCS player from each position that has exceeded expectations. These are individuals who have contributed to their team in a note-worthy way. Some players we thought might have a tough time against strong lane opponents. Others we thought might not be ready for the LCS. Still others we expected to simply be unknown factors coming into the Split. Regardless, these five players have been crucial to the success of their respective teams.  

Samson “Lourlo” Jackson

Team Liquid, Top Laner

KDA:    7.7   (1st Overall)

D%:    6.9% (1st Overall)

While Team Liquid has not looked great as a team, Lourlo has been performing above expectations. He averages almost even with his lane opponents. He averages one death per game (only 10 total deaths so far). This allows Lourlo to constantly engage, playing champions such as Nautilus and Poppy. Lourlo is reliable to survive ganks and remain even with tough lane opponents.

Team Liquid Top laner, Lourlo

courtesy of Riot eSports

FlyQuest Jungler, Moon

courtesy of Riot eSports

 

 

Galen “Moon” Holgate

FlyQuest, Jungle

KDA:  5.0   (7th Overall)

FB:   60%   (3rd Overall)

Moon’s statistics paint him to be an aggressive early-game Jungler far above expectations. He offers a high KDA, high damage throughout the game, and high rates of securing First Blood. Moon is generally behind in CS at 10 minutes; but by then he has most likely allowed his team to create pressure around the map. Moon has even pulled out surprise picks like Evelynn and Kindred.

Hai “Hai” Du Lam

FlyQuest, Mid Laner

DPM:  670    (1st Overall)

EGPM: 284.5 (3rd Overall)

Hai has a middling KDA and averages even in CS at 10 minutes. What he is known for is play-making and decisive shot-calling. Hai has the highest damage to champions of all players, far above expectations. He also has the third highest earned gold per minute. Hai is always making the most of every second of the game. This translates to FlyQuest’s 70% first Dragon rate and 75% first Baron rate.

FlyQuest's Mid laner, Hai

courtesy of Riot eSports

Unicorns of Love AD Carry, Samux

courtesy of Riot eSports

Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort

Unicorns of Love, AD Carry

KDA:      6.4 (4th Overall)

CSD10: +6.7 (6th Overall)

There have been several games where Samux holds lane 1v2 while his Support roams to create pressure around the map. The fact that Samux can come out ahead in CS is even more impressive. With an average of 21.9% of his team’s gold (lowest ADC), he serves as a low-economy player that enables his Top, Mid, and Jungler to get fed. Samux’s instant meshing with Unicorns of Love has been above expectations.

Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun

Misfits, Support

KDA: 7.9    (2nd Overall)

KP:   78%   (4th Overall)

Playing champions such as Thresh and Taric, IgNar is not afraid to play the map. While he already demonstrated his reliability in the Challenger Series, his transition to the EU LCS has been above expectations. IgNar sets up kills for all of his teammates while maintaining very low death rates. He also averages 1.52 wards per minute (2nd highest among all players), which is quintessential for successful roaming and intelligent ganking.

Misfits' Support, IgNar, and Jungler, KaKAO

courtesy of Riot eSports

Each of these players will need to continue exhibiting excellent play to maintain, or improve, their teams’ standings. We are only two weeks in, and as teams begin adapting to one another’s play-style, we could see changes. Whether it is a change in competition, a change within the meta, or a change in League of Legends itself, these players will need to continue to adapt if they want to succeed.

Keep an eye out next week for my list of under-performers. Just as some players have exceeded expectations, others have fallen short. I will acknowledge five more players on that list that will need to improve in order for their team to move up in the standings.

Correction(s): This article previously provided an image of Misfits’ Jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, instead of IgNar. Also, Moon was incorrectly labeled as the Jungler for Team Liquid instead of FlyQuest.

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NA LCS Spring Split Story lines to follow: Preseason Edition

It’s a new year and a new season with the NA LCS Spring Split just around the corner! To welcome in the hype of a new year, I’ll be bringing you the top four story lines to follow going into this NA LCS Split! Also, a quick TL;DR is at the bottom for those in a rush!

The Rebuilds: New players, same placements?

Two of NA’s more troubled franchises, Team Liquid and Immortals, went into what could only be called a ‘rebuilding’ phase over the off season. Immortals, dominating during their regular split showings, always seemed to struggle in their playoff runs. Liquid, on the other hand, seemed to always have mediocre placings during the regular splits, while meeting similar middle of the road results during their postseason matches.

Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Immortals’ rebuild wasn’t much by choice, as the majority of their roster left for greener pastures elsewhere. Retaining Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, the Immortals side cobbled together a team that is hard to argue as, on paper, more talented than their previous.

Acquiring polarizing talent in Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is a good core to build around, but given it was a replacement for Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin it’s hard to view it as a clear upgrade. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong is another solid pick up for the team. Again though, observers are left wondering whether he will be better than Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Whether rookie Li “Cody” Yu Sun and Korean import Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung will be a strong bot lane is another question hanging over the roster.

Can one time world Champ Piglet bring help Liquid ascend? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Liquid seemed to have a lot more agency in their rebuilding choices, looking towards internal problems and needing a change of scenery to make it further.  The team constantly fell just outside of relevancy internationally, so it seems like it was time to change the core of the roster. Keeping rookie talents in Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and Matt “Matt” Elento bring a sense of stability to the roster, with Matt being a particularly strong retention.

Promoting Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin back to the starting five was another wise choice from the team, who will hopefully bring pressure from the botlane that seemed lacking in S6. Joining him from Korea is star studded Reignover, a product of the Liquid-Immortals Jungle shuffle. His tactical mind and presence in the Jungle will need to make up for the downgrade in the Mid lane, with the departure of Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun and the rotating North American Mid laners of Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.

Either the rebuilds for these teams will go according to plan, or they’ll continue to be haunted by their postseason woes (Immortals) or stagnating mediocrity (Liquid). Their skill will truly be tested on the rift. This is something that fans will want to keep an eye on. It’s a mix of talented players, Flame/Dardoch/Pobelter for Immortals and Reignover/Piglet/Matt for Liquid, mixed with some questionable players whose skill ceilings may not be as high as fans hope. Still, super teams have failed historically and we’ve seen some incredible splits from teams that ‘shouldn’t have done well,’ like CLG in the NA LCS Spring Split in 2016. Can Immortals pull off another almost perfect split? Will Liquid rise above their middle of the pack status?

Steady as she goes: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

While our previous story line followed teams who thought a change in players was the answer, these teams have chosen (almost) the exact opposite approach. Both Cloud 9 and TSM only have a single player change in their lineups, with Juan “Contractz” Garcia replacing struggling William “Meteos” Hartman in the jungle for Cloud 9, and familiar face Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replacing the hiatus taking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the ADC role for TSM. CLG, on the other hand, did the unthinkable in the craziness of the off season; they didn’t change a single thing about their roster, retaining all five starters without bringing on any ‘backups.’

Can the CLG Fam have a repeat of last Spring Split? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

So what’s the story here? Well, it’ll be whether the stability of these rosters holds out against the crop of new, fresh talent. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell will truly be tested in the Top lane against the recent influx of Korean imports, like Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.

Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong will also be under new pressure to remain the unkillable sponge we saw in Cloud 9’s playoff run. Was struggling Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun the best choice for CLG, and not another, more talented import Mid laner? Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s reign of top NA Mid laners is also up in the air now.

Overall the real questions here is whether these were the right choices. I don’t feel like, outside of CLG, there was much room for growth in acquiring new talent for these rosters. It’s also questionable whether it will be a case of ‘synergy trumps new talent’ or if ‘stagnating water will fail.’ Truth be told, I am more supportive of the first. There is a lot to be said for team synergy and players all ‘clicking’ naturally. For the NA LCS Spring Split? I think these rosters will remain in the top four of the league. During the Summer Split? It will depend on how the other teams in the middle of the pack settle.

The return of the boys in gold and black: Dignitas’ interesting return to the LCS

Dig hold a special place in my heart like a lot of the ‘legacy’ teams do. They were there when I started getting into the scene, and it was not without a bit of sadness that I saw them relegated and dissolve their League operations. It’s great to see the team back, if for no other reason than to see another old team back on the stage.

But Dig also were the talk of the scene when they acquired Top lane talent in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and potentially scary Jungler in Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. While the team Dig bought out to return to the LCS, Apex, seemed to meander around the middle of the pack, the addition of a tried and true pattern of Top-Jungle Korea imports, alongside acquiring Benjamin “LOD” deMunck to fill the hole left by Apollo “Apollo” Price has many pundits torn on exactly where to put Dig.

The Terror in the Top Lane? Courtesy of Inven.

The big story line to follow here is whether Dig will actually make an impact in the league or not. Signing big name talent isn’t the sure fired solution to a winning team, and while it is obviously better than signing bad talent, there’s been a few examples of that failing (read Alliance and other super team failures).

But Dig isn’t just a ‘super team in the making’ kind of deal either. They’ve got serious backing from NBA franchise Philadelphia 76er’s, something Ssumday cited as a reason for joining the NA side. It’ll not be just a simple question of whether the team will click, but how the newly moneyed Dig can use those funds to make the integration of their two Korean imports as painless as possible. If they can do that and make the team mesh, we could be looking at a new top four contender. If not? Well, back to the middle of the pack for the Dig boys and hopefully avoiding relegation.

Just call me the Underdog: Can the bottom of the pack make a real move upwards?

Ahhh, the scrappy, loveable underdogs at the bottom of the heap, these teams have seen troubled splits that didn’t turn out like they probably wished. Phoenix 1, Echo Fox, EnVyUs, and newcomers FlyQuest (god awful name) are all slotted pretty low in most pundits minds. P1 struggled last split to a non-memorable split had not been for a miraculous Rengar filled win against (until then) undefeated TSM in the NA LCS Summer Split.

Echo Fox just never seemed to get much momentum going forward, with Henrik “Froggen” Hansen finding himself again in 7th place in the NA LCS Spring Split 2016 and an abysmal, single win showing in the Summer. NV, on the other hand, exploded onto the scene and hyped up many to be the next top flight team, but ultimately petered out as their Summer split continued, ultimately ending with an unsatisfying 6th place in the regular split and an early bow out from the playoffs, falling to Cloud 9. FlyQuest are newcomers to the scene, having climbed into the League from the Challenger Series under Cloud 9 Challenger and are a mix of old Cloud 9 members attempting another foray into the scene.

Can the Foxes double their wins from last split? (Surely two wins isn’t too hard…) Courtesy of Gamepedia.

The big question marks here is whether these sides will make any real waves in the scene. FlyQuest have the luxury of having no real history, so they’ll be coming in with a clean slate, but one that’s questionable as to if it’ll hold up against top flights like TSM and Cloud 9. NV will look to newcomers Nam “lira” Tae-yoo and Apollo “Apollo” Price can carry the team into the top half, but it’s questionable whether they’re even upgrades to the members they’re replacing.

It’s not a daring prediction here, but I think Echo Fox can at least improve on their one win split this time round. The real question is if they can become contenders based on how fast Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok integrates into his English speaking team? Also whether Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Austin “Gate” Yu are the answers the Foxes needed to make a dent in the scene. I’m still skeptical of this roster making any real contact with the top tier teams in the league, but I’ve been wrong before.

P1 are the only team I have serious hope for going into this split. Acquisitions of the Boss Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook from European side H2k and KT veteran ADC in No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon add depth and talent to a roster that, once finally figuring out how VISAs work, really looked to be on the up and up. Not just an upset win against TSM last split, but also starting to pick up wins against teams in tiers above them showed improvement to the remaining core of the team.

Can the Boss whip another team into a Worlds team? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

As with any prediction, it’s quite possible that I’ll be shown to be completely wrong. But I don’t think that any of the bottom tier teams outside of P1 hold much of a chance against the top half of the league. FlyQuest is untested (ironically, given the veteran status of their players) in the new competitive league, NV is a bit of a wild card on whether they’ll show up enough, and Echo Fox seems to just not have it in them to really make it far.

P1 showed themselves to be a decent team last split, with clear upgrades in Korean duo of Ryu and Arrow alongside new Support Adrian “Adrian” Ma. they seem to be the best suited to break into the middle of the pack. But, nobody predicted them to be the team to take down the undefeated TSM, so anything is possible for any of the teams at the bottom here. There’s only up to go from the bottom, right? Right? (Ohh wait, relegation exists…)

TL;DR

The Rebuilds: Liquid and Immortals enter the NA LCS Spring Split with a fresh new roster, so the question here is whether this’ll be what the doctor ordered, or whether the teams will find themselves worse for wear? Can Immortals pull off another nearly flawless split? Will Liquid finally find themselves at the top?

Steady As She Goes: TSM and C9 only changed one player on their roster, WildTurtle for Doublelift Contractz for Meteos respectively, in the off season, while CLG vouched to retain all of their starters. The question here is whether this was the right move for the teams, and whether they can continue their placements consistently being in the top four of the League.

The Return of the Boys in Gold and Black: Dignitas’ return to the LCS is met with baited hype, as the team acquired big names in Ssumday and Chaser for their top and jungler positions. Whether this will translate to a team that can challenge for top of the league will depend on how well the team meshes this split.

Just Call me the Underdog: P1, Echo Fox, NV, and newcomer FlyQuest are slated to find themselves again at the bottom of the pecking order. Some interesting off season roster changes, particularly for P1, raise questions as to whether these teams can make a real run for middle of the pack or beyond. P1 holds the highest chance in my opinion, adding depth to a roster that managed to take down TSM, but only time will tell whether this holds any truth now.

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Ssumday’s Trip to NA LCS: Will it have an Impact or be another case of miscommunication

Courtesy of Esportspedia.

Courtesy of Esportspedia.

Seeing the boys in gold and black from Dignitas back in the NA LCS brings a certain happiness to me. They’re an old team, one of the ‘legacy’ teams, and their eventual removal from the league in relegation seemed sad.

But they’re back, and seemingly with intents of making much better names for themselves than they have in recent splits. The signing of high flying Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho Korean import is the kind of ‘big franchise move’ that Dig needed. They wanted to make a splash in the scene after acquiring middle of the pack squad of Apex. But is it enough to bring a break out year? That depends.

Ssumday’s skill is definitely noteworthy. I always feel a bit of respect for players that have been around for years now, particularly ones who have survived the grueling, cutthroat nature of LCK. Sssumday’s done that with KT in various capacities.

He brings his strong team fighting and overall experience to a roster that, truthfully, will need it. An odd pick up for the Jungle, a relatively uninspiring Mid Laner, a rookie(ish) ADC, and a once-strong-but-now-not-overly-so Support leave Dig with a strange kind of squad to be working with. Can Ssumday turn the kind of rag band team into a winning squad?

The menacing war face of our new Korean Overlord, Ssumday. Courtesy of Inven.

The menacing war face of our new Korean Overlord, Ssumday. Courtesy of Inven.

By the sounds of it, though, I think Dig brings something that other teams have been lacking when bringing in Korean talents: support. Multiple interviews with Ssumday show that he chose Dig because of the stability of not only the NBA ownership, but also of the support staff surrounding the players.

I wouldn’t want to say it’s of a Korean caliber, but by the sounds of it is very much a strong, robust system. This support staff will be key for Ssumday. He’s a good player, a great player, but I think fans often forget that League is strongly a team oriented game. Ssumday will need to be able to integrate with his teammates, get to know them, and ultimately synergize with them.

A genuine interest in learning English is a good step for Ssumday too. It’s been shown time and time again that Top-Jungler synergy can be key for Korea duos in foreign leagues.

I don’t want to say this all falls on the support staff either. As with any new teams, it’s really hard to gauge their exact strength. A smattering of super star players has been shown to flop, while a team that everyone undervalued have won back to back splits.

On a similar note, I don’t know if I want to say either that this falls entirely on Ssumday’s shoulders. But, that kind of happens when you’re arguably the teams closest thing to an ace. I think of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong for Cloud 9 and how the team seemed to live and die by his plays. He was just able to do so much for the team.

I think Ssumday will have similar potentials for Dig. It also falls on his teams around him to make sure they’re stepping up to the plate. I think, ultimately, Ssumday needs to be more than just an ace: he needs to be a captain. He has to bring this team together, through either his play or his off the Rift abilities.

My honest verdict and prediction? I think Ssumday can do it. TSM showed they were mortal on the Worlds stage and lost key ADC superstar Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Cloud 9 still look like solid contenders for the top, but a new Jungler will mean the team needs to grow together. CLG didn’t make any roster changes and it’s questionable whether this was the right or wrong move. Immortals and Liquid are whole new teams.

If there were any time for Dig to make their impact, or should I say make their Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, it’s this Spring split. I think Ssumday’s got the right attitude too, going into this ambitious, wanting a change of scenery, and, most importantly, trusting in those around him. He has the making of the next ‘great Top Laner,’ bringing not only pedigree but seemingly a genuine desire to grow in the NA LCS. Only time, and results, will tell though if Ssumday found himself the right home to build a new legacy around.

Does Spring Split Really Matter?

The Effect of Doublelift Stepping Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture courtesy of Riot Games Flickr

Options for a Spring Split Replacement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TSM DETHRONED: LOSING AS THE BEST OUTCOME FOR THE TEAM

Phoenix 1 rose from the figurative ashes and shut down TSM’s unbreakable streak in the NA LCS summer split. 14 match win streak. 17 games in a row. Taken away by lowly P1, a team that a lot of viewers, including myself, shrugged off as mere placeholders for NALCS2’s twitch channel.

If you’re reading this article, I trust that you probably have seen the games – you watched TSM confidently win game 1; you witnessed Sven as Gragas strut his way through enemy vision for Inori’s blue buff; you cheered in utter triumph when Inori, as Rengar, said NO MORE! NOT TODAY SVEN! And so Inori turned, forcing Sven to flash over the wall and feed Pirean that juicy First Blood.

That exchange, that moment when Inori walks  through the river to fight Gragas at his own Blue Buff best represents why we watch competitive League of Legends. It’s the moment when the over-confident team becomes blinded by their own perceived infallibility, and the underdog brings down the hammer, reminding the heroes that the game is still going. That the Nexus has yet to fall. And so Inori goes ham on Rengar, then bms as Rek’Sai, and joins his team in a celebratory huddle.

It should be noted that the other members of P1 played particularly well, or at least TSM’s tilted gameplay made P1’s seem spectacular. Unfortunately for P1, the team fell too hard in the first half of the split and has numerically locked itself out of playoffs. But such performance against TSM demonstrates P1’s ability to play League of Legends, and proves that the team is not going to go away quietly into the night. TLDR; look out for this young group.

On a separate note, TSM now has to face against IMT in the run for first place in the NA LCS summer split. The first place title at this point is largely moot, given that regardless of this weekend’s match both teams have solidly locked up first and second place in the standings, guaranteeing their byes in the playoffs. However, the IMT vs TSM match this weekend promises to deliver the most hyped-match of the NA LCS summer split thus far, as well as providing an opportunity for IMT to attain redemption.

After TSM’s loss to P1, Dylan Falco – coach of IMT – tweeted: “next week vs TSM got a lot more interesting.” I must say, I agree. IMT has now lost to TSM in their last two on-stage matches, with a notable loss in the semi-finals of last Spring split. The tables now seem to have turned, as TSM lost to P1 in an over-confident fashion that resembled IMT’s Lucian Top defeat, and so the question becomes: will IMT be able to capitalize on TSM’s faltering?

On the contrary, losing to P1 was perhaps the best result that TSM could have hoped for leading up to these final matches. As a way to keep the team honest, losing to P1 demonstrated holes in TSM’s game that the team now has the opportunity to fix before the high-stake matches. I do not claim to be an expert analyst on competitive League, but it does not take a genius to point out the over-confidence displayed by TSM in Game 2 against P1, notably: Sven greeding Inori’s Blue Buff; Hauntzer getting solo-killed by Zig in an unsuccessful dive; and the lack of respect for Rengar’s solo pushing with Baron to end the game.

Tune in this weekend to see if TSM can turn it around against the other colossus of NA LCS. Also, of note, there is a small chance that APX jumps NV to secure that lost spot for playoffs. Of course, this means APX needs to 2-0 and NV has to win literal zero matches against two teams who lie respectively lower in the standings. What do you think, can they do it? I’ll root for the old-fashioned underdog story and put my faith on APX. Let’s go.

 

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