Four new organizations enter the NA LCS in 2018

NA LCS team identities following off-season roster upheavals

This year’s off-season has been extremely disruptive to the identity of each NA LCS team. Iconic, long-term and founding members of several rosters have switched to another team for 2018. Aphromoo is no longer playing for Counter Logic Gaming. Echo Fox is without Froggen. Hai has moved on from FlyQuest. TSM does not have Svenskeren.

Four brand new organizations are entering the LCS, while four previous organizations are no more. Immortals, Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Dignitas are out. Optic Gaming, Golden Guardians, 100 Thieves and Clutch Gaming are in. All of the narratives surrounding the dissolved teams no longer matter. Immortals’ fumbles domestically, and then their tragic World Championship; Dignitas’ return to the LCS and Summer Split run in the playoffs; Phoenix1’s roller-coaster ups and downs from Rift Rivals, MikeYeung and roster shuffles. All down the drain.

The incoming teams will create new narratives for fans to enjoy. Endemic organizations made big roster moves in the off-season, which will bring their own storylines. The other teams in the middle, like Echo Fox and FlyQuest, will continue to mold into their own identities. 2018 is a watershed year for creating new drama, rivalries and narratives within the NA LCS.

100 Thieves: Old Guard, Modern Marketing

Aphromoo joined 100 Thieves for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The roster and coach announced for 100 Thieves consists of Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, Aphromoo and Pr0lly. Each of these members could easily help anchor a team with their veteran experience and knowledge. However, they find themselves together on a roster that could very well have the most combined professional League of Legends experience on any announced NA LCS team in 2018. The coaching role, every lane, and the jungle position is covered by an established personality.

The organization itself is rather novel, though. Matthew Haag, aka “Nadeshot,” is well-known in the Call of Duty world as a retired player and team owner. He is partnered with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to build a brand and a League of Legends roster under the 100 Thieves moniker. With a standout logo and a merch store full of casual-wear, 100 Thieves will most likely bring a different marketing flavor to the LCS.

100 Thieves should bring a mixture of results on and off the Rift. Meteos, Pr0lly and Aphromoo are some of the most recognized personalities in North America, while Ssumday and Ryu rally their own sets of fans. Nadeshot and the Cavaliers may contribute new styles and promotions than League of Legends is used to. Combine the charisma of the players and staff with the creativity and flashiness of the brand, and 100 Thieves could pull a nice set of followers. Not to mention, if the team actually has synergy, then there is no doubt they can be contenders regardless of which AD carry they sign.

Cloud9: question marks

Svenskeren joins Cloud9 for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fans are filled with confusion and concern towards Cloud9’s off-season. With Impact and Contractz leaving, Cloud9 brought on Svenskeren and Licorice to join Jensen, Sneaky and Smoothie on the starting roster. Factions of the fan-base believe these members to be side-grades at least, downgrades at worst. Licorice has not been tested above the Challenger Series, while Svenskeren was not viewed as a key factor for TSM in 2017. While Impact and Ray had their low moments this year on Cloud9, there is no question that Impact’s high points were on another level.

Cloud9 still remains as one of the goofier, nonchalant organizations. Sneaky will still be the central personality, as the longest tenured member of the organization. Jensen, Smoothie, Svenskeren and even Coach Reapered and team owner Jack have had their fair share of memes and fun. Licorice will probably fall right in line with this theme.

However, the lightheartedness of the players only works if they are winning. Jokes and humor fall flat if the roster has issues clicking, or if results do not show. Despite standing out as an amusing team, Cloud9 actually has a strong League of Legends legacy. They have won two NA LCS championships, and finished runner-up four times. In 2018 Cloud9 will look to continue building on this success, while still playing the jester role off stage.

Counter Logic Gaming: the Nice Guys

Biofrost joins CLG for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLG took their first step away from their “Team Friendship” theme when they traded Xmithie for Dardoch in the 2017 mid-season. They took a step further this off-season by bringing on Reignover to start over OmarGod. Add Aphromoo’s departure, and CLG’s identity is reeling.

But look at the starting roster: Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay, Biofrost. These are the nice guys of the NA LCS. This squad has charisma. None of these members have any baggage following them from a previous team, or lacks personality. When Stixxay is the most arrogant player on the roster, it is probably a healthy work environment.

CLG should have some concerns, though. Who will be the leader and shotcaller to fill the void left by Aphromoo? Is there enough fire in the team? And is the talent strong enough to pass the test of 2018? Stixxay has never played in the LCS without Aphromoo. Biofrost only played one split without Doublelift, and it was not nearly as impactful. Reignover has not shown a level of play akin to his days with Huni on Fnatic and Immortals. 2018 will be a huge test for these players’ improvement together.

Clutch Gaming: upgraded envy

Febiven joins Clutch Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Lira, Apollo and Hakuho made up three fifths of Team Envy in 2017, and they will make up three fifths of Clutch Gaming in 2018. Instead of Nisqy and Seraph, though, Clutch opted for Febiven and Solo. Unlike Cloud9’s, these acquisitions should definitely be upgrades. Nisqy brought a level of consistency to the mid lane, which Envy did not have prior to starting him. Seraph was a starter for the team over a longer period of time, but played much less consistently. Febiven earned first team All-Pro in the 2017 European LCS Summer Split, and Solo was a top performer in the North American Challenger Series.

Envy’s jungler and bottom lane were huge contributors to the team’s Summer Split success. They were able to secure a playoff spot, and took CLG to five games in the quarterfinals. With stronger top and mid laners, Clutch Gaming may be able to reach the next level and push even farther. They also brought on David Lim, who led Team Liquid Academy during their promotion into the LCS and Team Liquid during the 2017 Spring Split.

Beyond a possibly underrated roster, the Houston Rockets’ Clutch Gaming identity within the LCS remains unclear. Sebastian Park, their Head of Esports, seems confident in the team’s potential, and the organization has teased analytical tools for optimizing talent scouting, including a “pathfinding engine.” If these types of developments pan out, then Clutch Gaming could become the Moneyball team in the NA LCS.

Echo Fox: The Aggressors

Dardoch and Fenix join Echo Fox for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

List the most aggressive players in the NA LCS over the past two years, and several of Echo Fox’s reported members are likely to pop up. Huni, Dardoch and Fenix are well-known hawkish competitors. Altec and Adrian began building a similar reputation in the 2017 Summer Split, as well. Echo Fox has combined these aggressors into one squad to completely revamp into 2018.

Drama and tension are the other side of this aggression coin. Dardoch and Fenix had their fair share of issues while on Team Liquid in 2016, as showcased in Breaking PointAdrian had his own problems on Phoenix1 in the 2017 Spring Split. These types of off-stage obstacles could bubble up once again without the proper infrastructure.

FOX’s new look is also a departure from the previous Froggen-centric 10-man roster and the Stream Dream Team (Delta Fox). Echo Fox could never develop any synergy on their LCS roster during Summer Split, due to constantly rotating starters. Froggen’s status is still unknown (although Jacob Wolf reported that FOX plans to drop him), but even if he stays, he will no longer be the only voice on the team. This new Echo Fox will have the highest performance variance, as most of the members rely on emotional momentum to succeed. If this roster is able to mesh and remain problem-free, then Echo Fox could reap huge rewards from this huge risk.

FlyQuest: A chemistry experiment

Flame joins FlyQuest for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the few fully announced rosters, FlyQuest is completely revamped for 2018. Following the trend of keystone figures switching teams, Hai is no longer FlyQuest’s mid laner. Balls, Moon and Lemonnation are gone, as well. Instead, FlyQuest acquired Flame, Anda, Fly and Stunt as starters. They also signed Keane and Shrimp, as well as Ngo, Erry and Jayj from the University of Toronto’s collegiate team. Wildturtle is the only remaining member from the 2017 roster.

Other than Flame, these players feel middle of the pack individually. Anda and Fly are untested in the LCS, but have played in the NA Challenger Series with varying success. Wildturtle can spike fairly high, but generally relies on his teammates to play around his style. Stunt was the on-and-off starter during his time on Phoenix1.

Unlocking these players’ ceilings will be FlyQuest’s greatest challenge in 2018. With the proper synergy, FlyQuest could certainly rise higher than their 2017 Summer Split. Communication problems are more likely, though. Wildturtle has veteran experience, but he may not be a loud voice to build a team around. The rookies, Anda and Stunt, will rely on Wildturtle to be a leader and gel together with the Korean imports, Flame and Fly. Keane and Shrimp are smart pick-ups, since they worked fairly well with Ssumday on Dignitas, and could bring that experience into FlyQuest.

Golden Guardians: Hai and Company

Hai joins Golden Guardians for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Hai kick-starts a new organization in 2018, Golden Guardians, and he is basically their only hope. The Golden State Warriors-owned organization has reportedly acquired Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt. This roster would be the only one in the NA LCS without any imported players. Golden Guardians also seem to have the least combined LCS experience. These two factors will leave many fans wondering what reasoning was used to construct this team.

Golden Guardians will live or die by Hai in 2018. He is surrounded by relatively young players who have never played for more than one previous organization. LCS fans were impressed with Moon’s performance on FlyQuest with Hai as a shotcaller, but that success was short-lived. If Hai is able to unlock Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt the same way, then Golden Guardians could surprise.

ESPN also reported Locodoco as the Golden Guardians’ head coach, which could be helpful. He has experience coaching younger players on Team Liquid and Gold Coin United, including Lourlo and Matt. It would be surprising if Golden Guardians kept these same five members as their starters throughout 2018. Without the pressure of relegation, this organization could be taking the opportunity to develop younger native talents with Hai’s proven leadership.

Optic Gaming: The HodgePodge

PowerOfEvil joins Optic Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

A true concoction, Optic Gaming enters the NA LCS pulling together a wide variety of talents. The “Green Wall” is an expansive organization spanning Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Overwatch and other esports. They have announced their acquisition of Romain Bigeard, ex-manager of Unicorns of Love, and Zaboutine, former caster, as manager and coach. ESPN has reported the starting roster as Zig, Akaadian, PowerOfEvil, Arrow and LemonNation.

If all of this is true, then Optic is combining rising stars in top and jungle with an experimental European mid laner, an up-and-down Korean AD carry and an analytical, veteran support. The roster will be led by an eccentric manager-mascot and a French caster-turned-coach, and they will have the full support of an esports powerhouse brand. There are some strong pieces to this puzzle, but they are not necessarily a clean fit.

The Optic LCS team seems like it may sit somewhere between 100 Thieves and FlyQuest. Optic is definitely a well-known esports organization, and they should draw a fan-base. The first-person shooter edge and player recognition of 100 Thieves combines with the questionable roster synergy of FlyQuest. Romain is a promotional personality with a knack for creating content and winning hearts, so expect Optic to use him to full effect. There is certainly plenty of talent on this roster, but it may take a while for them to actually produce favorable results.

Team Liquid: Vengeful Spirits

Doublelift joins Team Liquid for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The hoarders of the off-season, Team Liquid emerges with a complete roster overhaul. After acquiring contracts for several different players, Liquid has most likely settled on Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift and Olleh. This five-man group feels much stronger and intuitive than Liquid’s team from 2017 Summer Split. Xmithie, Pobelter and Olleh are proven talents who made up three fifths of Immortals’ World Championship-qualifying roster. Impact had a mostly off year, but still solid during the high points. Doublelift comes to Liquid after being replaced by TSM.

Revenge is the overarching theme for Team Liquid going into 2018. Owner Steve Arhancet wants revenge for his last two years of roster troubles. The ex-Immortals players want revenge for losing to TSM in the Summer Split finals, then being denied from the franchised LCS. Most importantly, Doublelift wants revenge for getting nudged out of TSM.

With Cain remaining as head coach, Team Liquid should trend towards the top of the league. If this roster is unable to perform, then it will be a complete disgrace. All of these players have been victorious in the past. Each of these players have attended the World Championship, many of them as teammates. 2018 serves as a fresh start for Team Liquid and Steve, and they need to use their past frustrations as fuel. Dardoch is not an excuse. Piglet is not an excuse. Goldenglue is not an excuse. It is time for Liquid to put up or shut up.

TSM: the final boss

Zven and mithy join TSM for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Citing international shortcomings and issues with shotcalling and communication, TSM’s owner, Reginald, decided to replace Svenskeren, Doublelift and Biofrost with MikeYeung, Zven and Mithy. He also picked up Coach Ssong from Immortals’ dissolved team. The six-time NA LCS champions continue to adapt and reinvigorate their roster, and TSM will remain as the final boss in 2018. Every individual player on this team should be top three in their role at the beginning of the season.

MikeYeung is the only player worth questioning. He showcased an explosive Rift Rivals in 2017, but Phoenix1 fell off as a team afterwards. Fans will find out how meta-dependent MikeYeung is in 2018.

Hauntzer was the standout player at Worlds, and he had an all-around stellar 2017. Bjergsen continues to be an anchor in the mid lane, ever-present, ever-consistent. Zven and Mithy’s reputation precedes them, as they have been a package deal since their time on Origen starting in 2014.

TSM’s performance floor is higher than several LCS teams’ ceilings, because the consistency and experience on this team should be solid. Ssong obviously factored into Immortals’ Summer Split success. If he can produce even a portion of that improvement with TSM, then they have a fruitful road ahead. With so much volatility in the off-season, TSM is one of the only teams to maintain the same identity as the villain of the league. They are the team that assumes North American dominance, and shoots for greatness abroad. Franchising has opened doors for some others to compete financially and strategically, but will they actually have what it takes to dethrone the kings?

credits

Featured Image: Akshon Esports Twitter

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

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2017 Scouting Grounds draft and the future of NA LCS

The 2017 NA Scouting Grounds draft took place this weekend at Riot’s Los Angeles studio. Amidst the crowd of players and press, we witnessed a historic step for the NA LCS. While the players involved in the draft will likely join the 2018 season Academy teams, their significance lies in the future of esports. The 2017 Scouting Grounds draft is one way for Riot to show fans that they mean business. And Riot are not the only ones stepping up. Cloud 9 (C9) and Clutch Gaming (CG) were the only two teams to buy out another org’s draft positions. So what does this draft tell us beyond 10 new faces to Academy teams?

North America’s Development Problem

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

For years, North America as a region has been criticized for its lack of homegrown talent. While many NA fans are quick to throw up names like Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Eugene “Pobelter” Kim or Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, there are undeniable problems with North America’s talent pool. In an interview with Travis Gafford, Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, said “we have a third of the player-base as much as Europe and a third of the ranked players as Korea so they have a lot more options to choose from.” Clearly this is an issue that North America cannot fix overnight. There is no waking up tomorrow morning and suddenly the player-base triples to match Europe.

This is precisely why the Scouting Grounds draft is such an important marker for the future. North America’s only option is to capitalize on and develop its existing talent. Enter the Academy league. Unlike the former Challenger Series, the upcoming Academy system emphasizes development over LCS promotion. It’s important to understand that LCS promotion and regional development are not the same in the old CS system. Admittedly, Challenger Series has given us players like Jae “Huhi” Choi and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes on Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). However, over the course of its inception, Challenger Series became a place for relegated pros and teams to try and regain a spot in the LCS.

This became a huge problem for North America. In addition to favoring already established pros, many teams even opted for imports over fresh talent. This is precisely why Scouting Grounds plays such an important role for the future of NA. It gives a chance for players like Ziqing “League” Zhao and Ming “Spica” Lu to gain recognition outside of solo queue.

Why scouting grounds draft matters

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the Scouting Grounds event this past weekend, we saw both Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming invest in higher draft positions. Cloud 9 bought out two positions to pick up League, Ash, and Blaberfish2 for exclusive negotiating rights. When talking about C9‘s CEO, Jack Etienne, Riot commentator Aidan “Zirene” Moon said, “this guy is serious about growing talent that hasn’t been completely in the spotlight yet.” Zirene highlighted that Jack’s ability to identify and develop early talents like now European stars, Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. As a CEO, Jack has a proven track record in bringing out the best of new players.

Alternatively, new team Clutch Gaming does not share this history. At least as far as esports goes. CG picked up two promising players in support Vulcan and mid laner Palafox. But, a single additional draft pick does not exactly scream hype. The fact that Houston Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey attended the small event, does however speak volumes to how seriously the Rockets are about their new team. In an insightful interview with Travis Gafford, Morey emphasized that the Rockets and Clutch Gaming are “in this for the long haul.” He explained that the 2018 season will be a steady learning experience for the CG organization.

Obviously, Clutch Gaming does not share experience that Jack Etienne has developed in his time with C9. However, Daryl Morey’s reputation as a general manager in the NBA is nothing short of incredible. His approach to team investment and growth led the Houston Rockets to major successes over the years. Clutch Gaming made it clear this weekend. They are dead serious about developing North America. It is extremely exciting to see a new org that is hungry and willing to invest in growing NA regionally.

The future of NA LCS

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

To say the sky is the limit is an understatement. Riot NA’s move to franchise the league has already brought about dozens of roster changes and player opportunities. The Scouting Grounds draft is a preliminary step for North America to grow holistically. Meaning, not only should fans pay attention to NA LCS, but also to how teams work on their upcoming Academy rosters. An organization’s success should reflect both LCS and Academy standings. As a whole, teams with the proper infrastructure, coaching staff and player relationships will shine in 2018.

On paper, Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming have taken the lead in terms of their dedication to player development in NA. Surely, it will not be long before other teams and coaches start to pick up on these trends. And if these team owners take development seriously, we may see a revitalized pool of NA talent in coming years. “This is where winning traditions can start being grown,” analyst, Mark Zimmerman said when discussing the 2017 Scouting Grounds draft. There is perhaps no better way to word the future of NA LCS.

The 2018 season marks a turning point for North American League. What teams choose to do now will set the precedent for years to come.

Featured Image: LoL Esports

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FlyQuest secured a franchise slot for 2018

FlyQuest: A new logo, a new roster, a new beginning

As the off-season continues, North American LCS organizations are putting together their teams for 2018. Most of the line-ups remain as rumors and reports, but FlyQuest is one of a few that is fully confirmed. While TSM and Team Liquid are garnering attention for their dramatic overhauls, FlyQuest has flown a little bit under the radar. On November 30, they announced top laner Flame, jungler Anda, mid laner Fly, AD carry Wildturtle and support Stunt as their roster.

Balls, Moon, Hai and Lemonnation are no longer apart of the team. The identity of this organization is completely made over, as none of the original 2017 Spring Split members remain. Many fans are questioning whether or not FlyQuest will perform as highly without Hai’s shotcalling presence, but the organization seems prepared to move beyond that next year. With a franchise slot, a more polished logo and an updated roster, FlyQuest will look to reclaim the top of the standings.

Wildturtle Remains

WildTurtle is FlyQuest's AD carry for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest’s 2018 roster was rebuilt around WildTurtle, their veteran AD Carry. Of their five Summer Split players, WildTurtle stood out most often as a hard carry. Despite FlyQuest’s 6-12 record, Wildturtle averaged the fourth most damage per minute, good enough for a 26.3 percent damage share. He has played in the NA LCS for five years now, which makes him one of the longest tenured players.

Moving into 2018, Wildturtle will have a lot on his shoulders. With the likes of Zven, Doublelift and Sneaky, the AD carry position will be very competitive. Wildturtle will need to rise to the occasion for FlyQuest to compete. With a fresh new support backing him up, Wildturtle should take control of the bottom lane and carry FlyQuest to victories.

While Wildturtle died more than any other AD carry in the Summer Split, it was mostly due to FlyQuest’s team playstyle. As the scrappiest team in the league, they would look for fights even if they were behind. Every member of FlyQuest finished the season with the most deaths in their positions. This strategy is most likely gone with Hai.

Wildturtle played on Cloud9, TSM and Immortals before his time on FlyQuest. He has gone to the League of Legends World Championships three times and he has made it to the NA LCS finals even more. Wildturtle is capable of making FlyQuest a top team in 2018, especially if the meta favors late-game scaling marksmen. If the other members are able to play around him by engaging fights and protecting him, then Wildturtle will willingly carry them to victory. He rarely tilts in-game, and he is an apparent positive player out-of-game.

imported solo lanes

Flame will play top lane for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest will employ Flame and Fly as solo laners in 2018. Flame is known from his past year as Immortals’ top laner. Other than his brief stumbling in the beginning of the 2017 Spring Split, he looked exceptional. While on Immortals, Flame showed strength in laning phase and teamfighting, playing Jarvan IV, Shen, Nautilus and many others.

Fly also played in North America in the Summer Split. Gold Coin United finished the Challenger Series regular summer season 8-2, thanks in part to Fly’s mid lane performance. He maintained a 100 percent win rate with Orianna, and over 10.0 KDAs on Galio, Corki and Taliyah. He should fit right into the stacked LCS talent pool.

Beyond the alliteration, Flame and Fly bring consistency and reliability to the mid and top lanes of the map. These players are also unafraid to carry or support their teammates. They should be compatible with Wildturtle, since Immortals and Gold Coin United played well around their passive AD carries.

There have been several past teams that failed to utilize their dual-Korean solo lanes. Team Envy with Ninja-Seraph and Ninjas in Pyjamas with Profit-Nagne are two examples. Communication and synergy were the major issues holding back those rosters. Since Flame and Fly have already spent time on North American teams with mixed nationalities, then maybe they have overcome any issues with communicating. With relative newcomers playing the supportive positions, it will be of utmost importance.

Jungle and Support Solo Queue Stars

Stunt will play support for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Anda and Stunt round out the roster as jungle and support. Anyone who watched the NA LCS should recognize Stunt as the support who shared duties with Shady on Phoenix1 in Spring Split. While Shady typically played high-damage supports, Stunt was more apt to play Karma, Lulu or Taric. He was most recently a substitute for Immortals during this year’s Summer Split.

Anda was also a substitute for Immortals this summer. While he has not seen the stage as much as Stunt, Anda is known as a formidable solo queue player. He switched from top lane to jungle, where his top champions are Nidalee, Elise, Lee Sin and Rengar. FlyQuest will hope to channel his mechanics and raw talent into success, much like Moon during the Spring Split.

These two young athletes will be the deciding factors for FlyQuest in 2018. Stunt will need to prove himself as a starter. Anda will need to translate his skills into a more coordinated setting. Hopefully they developed synergy during their time on Immortals, and FlyQuest saw that before signing these two. Jungle-support synergy is huge, as shown by Xmithie-Olleh and Lira-Hakuho in the Summer Split.

If Anda and Stunt are able to develop more playstyle flexibility, then that would boost FlyQuest’s chances even higher. Flame and Fly have shown their willingness to play roaming and utility champions, which would empower Anda and Stunt to play more carry champions. But there will be times when the meta calls for tanks and utility from jungle and support. If Anda and Stunt can work together to establish vision, seamlessly communicate and enable Flame, Fly and Wildturtle, then it could be a recipe for success.

putting together all of the pieces

Fly will play mid lane for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest’s recipe for success involves each of these players fulfilling their roles. Flame will be a rock in the top lane, absorbing any enemy pressure while steadily chipping away at the opponent top laner. Fly will generally gain an advantage in his lane, but rely more on Anda’s jungling for vision and ganking. Wildturtle and Stunt will play the lane passively. As long as they have a scaling AD carry and enchanter support, then they will be in their comfort zone.

Once mid game rolls around, Fly and Anda will take control of whichever river they want. Flame and Fly will look for any chance to impact other parts of the map and begin the snowball. Anda and Stunt will do their best to protect Wildturtle and allow him to output all the damage in the world.

Finally, this team’s teamfight could be their golden ticket. It all depends on communication and flexibility. The top half of FlyQuest’s team can easily gain a lead, and bottom lane just has to make it through laning phase without giving too much. Coordination will most likely be difficult in the first few weeks of the split, but by the halfway point, FlyQuest could become quite the contender.

They should resemble 2017 Summer Split Fnatic. Each member can carry in their own right, and when they are coordinated and decisive they look amazing. But when communication breaks down, or a player gets tilted, then it all comes crumbling down. FlyQuest is looking to make waves in 2018, and most of the community is sleeping on them.


Featured Image: FlyQuest’s Facebook

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

Player and Team Statistics: Games of Legends, Oracles Elixir

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A look at the teams not in the NBA 2K League

17 teams are entering the NBA 2K League. That is more than half of the 30 teams in the NBA participating in the 2K League’s inaugural season. While a few teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers have deeper roots in esports than others, there are 13 teams waiting for their opportunity to enter the scene.

Eventually the NBA would want every team to join the NBA 2K League. I’m optimistic that it’s not a matter of if they’ll join, it’s a matter of when they’ll join. The NBA 2K League will thrive with more competition synonymous to the NBA. As a result it will present excellent opportunities for the community as well.

Who are these teams?

  1. Atlanta Hawks
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Charlotte Hornets
  4. Chicago Bulls
  5. Denver Nuggets
  6. Houston Rockets
  7. LA Clippers
  8. Los Angeles Lakers
  9. Minnesota Timberwolves
  10. New Orleans Pelicans
  11. Oklahoma City Thunder
  12. Phoenix Suns
  13. San Antonio Spurs

Business as usual

While a number of teams don’t have any reported esports experience, they have the business experience to make the NBA 2K League a success. In a marriage between esports and traditional sports, it’s a transition that’ll help grow both industries for the world to see.

There are three teams that have their feet wet in the esports landscape and have created successful moves. But because these teams have esports experience doesn’t necessarily mean they’re locked in for season two nor does it mean that the other 10 teams are less likely to join either.

Denver Nuggets

One of the two Los Angeles teams in the Overwatch League. Courtesy of LA Gladiators via Twitter.

Josh Kroenke, Nuggets President, and his father Stan Kroenke co-own the Los Angeles Gladiators after securing a league spot in the Overwatch League. Blizzard set a $20 million fee to own a regional franchise in the Overwatch League and the Kroenke’s can pay the bill.

Kroenke Sports & Entertainment is a sports and entertainment holding company based in Denver with control over five professional sports franchises. The Kroenke’s own numerous Colorado sports franchises including the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and the Colorado Mammoth.

With the Los Angeles Gladiators as their first venture into the esports landscape, the Denver Nuggets joining the NBA 2K League next season is a possibility.

Houston Rockets

Clutch Gaming has a spot in the NA LCS. Courtesy of Clutch Gaming via Twitter.

Tilman Fertitta, Rockets Owner, owns Clutch Gaming after securing a league spot in the North American League of Legends Championship Series. The Clutch Gaming brand coincidentally inspired from the nickname given to the Houston Rockets, Clutch City.

It also helps that Daryl Morey, Rockets General Manager, is an avid supporter of esports and joined the MLG Board of Directors back in 2013. In an interview with ESPN, he spoke esports as “[t]he 1950s basketball right now, where there’s that kind of opportunity.”

 

 

There’s enough esports involvement to believe the Houston Rockets will eventually make their way into the NBA 2K League sooner rather than later.

Los Angeles Lakers

Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson. Courtesy of Fox Sports.

Magic Johnson, Lakers President of Basketball Operations, is an investor for aXiomatic which has an ownership in Team Liquid. Johnson is no stranger to business and Team Liquid may be his first stop among many in his esports career.

Other traditional sports figures include former Lakers, Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neal, who are making waves of their own. Both Echo Fox and NRG are continuing to grow and recruit the best talent in their respected esports.

Meanwhile both Northern California teams, the Warriors and Kings, are in the NBA 2K League this year. There’s a lot of opportunity in a large market like Los Angeles and we hope to see the Lakers and Clippers soon.

 

Featured image courtesy of Tito Sar.

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The North American Challenger Series will revamp in 2018

How franchising will revamp the North American Challenger Series in 2018

The North American Challenger Series has operated for several reasons in the past. Established organizations sat in time-out, as they wait to re-qualify into the LCS. New players showcased their abilities on rag-tag teams. Veterans tried their hands at building a squad to relive the glory days. Others put together rosters hoping to challenge the bottom-feeders of the LCS.

2018 is going to be different. The NA LCS is franchising, which will remove the promotion-relegation system. Each organization is required to field a 10-man roster–five for LCS, and five for an Academy team. The CS will mirror the LCS as a double round robin of best-of-ones. Riot stated that their goal with this updated Challenger Series is “developing future stars of the NA LCS.” Here are the major steps towards fulfilling this primary goal in 2018.

expand the size of the league

The 2017 Scouting Grounds will introduce 10 new players into professional League of Legends

Image from lolesports.com

Since 2015, North America has fielded six teams for the Challenger Series. These teams won their way in through an open qualifier bracket, or by carrying over from a prior series. Starting in 2018 the Challenger Series will expand to 10 teams, one for each LCS team. This expansion will open up a minimum of 40 new spots for players to fill.

A shallow talent pool, a small financial pie and a lack of resources could have been problems in the past. However, with the revenue-sharing model of franchising, Riot and the 10 LCS organizations should be able to reconcile these issues. Teams will be more likely to offer higher salaries to more of their starters, pulling experienced players, like Cris, GBM, or Santorin, from CS into LCS. Investing into Scouting Grounds will further help increase the available talent pool, and this year each team is required to draft one player. League of Legends organizations must acquire 10 total players directly from Scouting Grounds. Riot can also incorporate incoming revenue from organizations buying slots into producing the higher volume of broadcasts necessary in a 10-team CS league.

Even if 16-20 players in the Challenger Series are already established, the broadened league would still present 30 or more slots for others to begin their esports careers. By simply introducing more young players into the system, Riot and the franchised LCS will develop much more talent for the future. This is just one element of the 2018 Challenger Series that will result in more North American star players.

Limit Veteran and Import Players

Riot will restrict veterans and imports in the 2018 Challenger Series

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

How can a team develop future stars when past and current stars are taking up roughly 50 percent of all Challenger slots (~16 out of 32)? If the goal of the CS is to advance players from the solo queue ladder into the LCS, then Riot will need to create clear guidelines regarding veteran and import players. They will also need to define these terms in a way that reinforces the CS space as a “minor league,” while avoiding limiting the full potential of these organizations.

Grza, Senior Manager of Riot Esports Operations, mentioned “there will be limits on the amount of veteran players and imported players that can play in Academy games,” while noting “there will be a lot of fluidity between game rosters.” For example, Riot may dictate that each Academy team must always start a majority of rookie and sophomore North American players. That would mean three of the five players in each match would need to have started one or fewer years of professional League of Legends. By this definition, CLG Academy and EUnited would be the only two teams from the 2017 Summer Split to meet the standards.

Otherwise, Riot could restrict each team to one veteran and one import, or only one veteran or import. These provisions would quickly disqualify many of the past Academy teams, but make room for several more inexperienced players. Riot should still allow imports and veterans in the Challenger Series, because playing with these players can guide budding stars in communication, out-of-game growth and overall maturity. It would also provide opportunities for talented imports to practice English or adapt to North American culture prior to entering the LCS. Veterans may get the opportunity to become leaders or gain team captain experience. Development is not only restricted to young American and Canadian players. This is all another way to develop talent in the new Academy teams.

Tie CS teams to LCS Organizations

Academy teams will be directly attached to LCS teams in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Every Academy team will have a parent organization that is fit to operate an LCS team. This association brings numerous benefits. The Challenger Series will introduce new players to esports in a way no others have in the past. These organizations will provide the same high-quality financial, legal and professional resources to their Challenger players as their LCS players.

This connection removes any opportunity for shady businesses and unscrupulous owners to take advantage of inexperienced, talented players. Organizations will not fail to pay their players, or fail to give them proper housing, or fail to provide gaming equipment. The owners and managers will treat the players with all the respect of a professional, and this is the true opportunity for development.

LCS teams were able to have sister squads in the Challenger Series in the past. For example, Team Liquid and Cloud9 owned Academy teams in 2016, but used them in different ways. Five veteran players composed Cloud9’s team, and only incorporated Contractz when Rush decided to return to Korea. It was obvious they were farming a strong Challenger team with hopes of promoting into the LCS and cashing in on a buy-out. Liquid started almost exclusively rookies, until they benched Piglet from the LCS in favor of fabbbyyy. Dardoch, Moon, Goldenglue and Stunt promoted into the LCS from this roster, which is the point of the Challenger Series. Cloud9’s 2016 roster is an example of what this new minor league will avoid, while Liquid’s 2016 line-up would be perfect going into 2018.

Remove Relegation

Relegation is removed for the 2018 North American Challenger Series

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

In 2017, Team Liquid, Echo Fox and Phoenix1 already experimented with rotating starters and roster changes in the LCS. However, they took these steps to avoid relegation, rather than developing new talent. They were not bringing in properly vetted Academy players due to proper seasoning. The organizations demoted their starters due to poor performance and fear of relegation. Riot is removing relegation and promotion in 2018, which should end this unstable practice.

This is a momentous change in the history of North American League of Legends. Audiences watch at the end of every split, as teams battle to the death for the well-being of their organizations. If an LCS team demotes, then they almost certainly fail to bring in enough revenue. Relegation is a huge loss, and promotion is a huge win for organizations trying to curry favor with sponsors. Team Liquid, Echo Fox and Phoenix1 were scrambling out of anxiety towards relegation, rather than hope towards star players.

Riot will still maintain a certain level of competitive integrity, though. According to Grza, “if a team finishes in ninth or tenth for five out of eight splits, the league can remove them.” Under these circumstances, it would take four full years before the first team is relegated. Spreading the pressure of relegation over eight splits, rather than compressed into one, makes it much more tolerable.

Organizations can focus on the big picture–branding, infrastructure and developing talent. Teams can sign multi-year contracts with players that they hope to bolster into the next big North American talent. They can experiment with coaches and other staff to provide the proper guidance necessary for growth. Owners can invest in spaces and equipment to give their roster the edge over their opponents.

Combining the expansion of the Challenger league, limiting veterans and imports, attaching Academies to LCS teams and dropping relegation, the 2018 Challenger Series will provide a more optimized environment for developing future stars. The stabilized financial system will allow organizations to make longer commitments to young diamonds in the rough. There will be fewer instances of player mistreatment that might scare some away. More slots will open for the next tier of North American players to fill, instead of meme teams and others. Think of 2018 as a planting season. Riot and the LCS is investing into the seeds of today, hoping they produce a harvest in the future.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

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graduated junglers

Preseason: NA’s graduated junglers

After joining the NA LCS in 2017, three former rookies mount their return as NA’s newly graduated junglers. Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung, Omar “Omargod” Amin and Juan “Contractz” Garcia exploded onto the scene in season 7. After an exciting freshman year, these three junglers look to stake their claim on the newly franchised NA LCS. Looking back at their performances the past year, who is poised for even greater breakout performances in 2018? Let’s take a look at North America’s graduated jungler trio as they plot their return.

MikeYeung: From the Ashes

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

MikeYeung made his NA LCS debut in the Summer Split as the jungler for Phoenix1 (P1). Previously a highly rated solo-queue player, MikeYeung erupted onto the NA scene with an arsenal of carry junglers. His signature pick in “Nidalee” stunned the NA crowd and crushed his opponents. Boasting an insane 80% overall winrate on “Nidalee” in summer, this pocket pick was no joke. Following an already impressive debut, MikeYeung travelled to Germany with Phoenix1 to participate in the Rift Rivals tournament, his first international event. Mike shocked his EU opponents with some flashy plays on his patented “Nidalee,” earning himself the Group Stage MVP distinction.

After returning from a strong showing at Rift Rivals, the MikeYeung hype train was in full gear. However, with the jungle meta shifting to control-oriented tank picks, Mike’s champion pool struggled. His star champions, “Kha’Zix,” “Lee Sin” and “Nidalee” could not snowball enough advantages against more useful utility tanks. Due to these meta changes, fans did not see the dominant MikeYeung that most expected. Phoenix1 suffered a steady decline that saw them forced into the summer Promotion tournament.

After ending their summer season early, news surrounding P1’s failure to earn a spot in the new NA LCS began to leak. The question now: where will P1’s rookie sensation go to reclaim his former glory? With the recent runes overhaul in patch 7.22, carry junglers look to make a serious comeback. MikeYeung has an opportunity to showcase his improvement since the Promotion tournament at the upcoming 2017 All-Stars event. For MikeYeung, the sky is the limit. Can the graduated rookie can reclaim his spot atop NA’s jungle hierarchy?

Omargod: Breaking the Chains

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Omargod made his professional debut as a substitute jungler for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). After internal issues involving starting jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett surfaced, Omar became the team’s starter. For Omargod, the road to NA LCS was a long climb. He first appeared on CLG’s radar at the 2016 Scouting Grounds event. Impressed by his carry performances, coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and veteran support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black first-picked Omar as the jungler for Team Cloud Drake. After several fantastic games on carry picks like “Hecarim,” Omargod proved why he belonged on the LCS stage.

After Dardoch parted ways with CLG, Omargod had a huge gap to fill. Dardoch established a name for himself by consistently dominating enemy junglers. But, because of meta shifts in the summer split, Omar found himself mainly on utility tanks. Criticism poured in as CLG struggled to regain their footing in the latter half of the split. Analysts pointed to the recent jungle swap as the obvious reason for CLG’s decline. After falling to Cloud 9 (C9) in the NA LCS regional qualifiers, CLG and Omargod found themselves stuck at home, instead of attending Worlds.

Because of Omar’s shaky performances during the Summer Split, fans have mixed expectations for the upcoming season. However, Counter Logic Gaming is an organization known for the coaching staff’s dedication and loyalty to players. If any coach can bring out the best in Omargod, Zikz is second to none. Now is the time for Omar to free himself of the criticism from last split and prove himself on CLG. Perhaps the preseason meta changes will encourage Omargod to dip into his champion pool and show North America the carry potential that CLG witnessed at Scouting Grounds. After all, rumor has it “Predator Hecarim” is rampaging through preseason.

Contractz: A Carry’s DNA

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike the other graduated junglers, Contractz began his journey with Cloud 9 in the spring of 2017. After earning spring Rookie of the Split, Contractz stumbled a bit in summer. In the Summer Playoffs, Cloud 9 dropped out in quarterfinals against a surging Dignitas (DIG). So, C9 spent their time preparing for the regional qualifier gauntlet. There, the squad overcame CLG in a solid 3-1 finish and booked a ticket for China.

At Worlds, Contractz battled the likes of SKT Peanut, EDG Clearlove7 and WE Condi. His peerage became a group of elite, international junglers. Still, the rookie performed fantastically on the world stage. Contractz won over many fans, pulling out picks like “Ezreal” and “Graves” in the group stage. While the other NA junglers struggled against international competition, Contractz held his own against the best. After being the only North American representative to advance past group stages, all hope rested with Cloud 9. Although C9 fell to Team WE in quarterfinals, the roster made a definitive statement to the fans back home. “We are the best NA team here.”

With a great Worlds performance behind him, Contractz looks to dominate in the upcoming split. As carry junglers rise both in power and viability in preseason, is this the split for Contractz to stamp his name as the best jungler in NA? A Top 8 finish at Worlds means the onus is on C9 to reclaim their former glory at the top of North America. With changes coming to NA LCS, Cloud 9 look poised to gun for first place. Of the three former rookie junglers, Contractz may be the one to surpass them all. Still, only time will tell which graduated jungler will break ahead of the pack.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Zoe's competitive

Early looks: Zoe’s competitive potential

Patch 7.22 brings the largest gameplay update League has seen in years. While the community theory-crafts fresh playstyles and build paths with the Runes Reforged overhaul, a new champion looms just around the corner. Zoe, the Aspect of Twilight, will soon be the latest addition to the Rift. With new play patterns emerging by the day, Zoe will enter the League just in time to sew some chaos. Professional players will no doubt spend much of preseason mastering Targon’s newest champion. How will Zoe‘s competitive future pan out after the pros have a chance to practice her high skill-cap style?

summoner spells, stars and… sleep?

Zoe's competitive

Credits: Riot Games

Zoe introduces several new ideas and a unique mechanic to the League. Her E, “Sleepy Trouble Bubble” is the first ability in the game to have the “drowsy” mechanic. After hitting an enemy with her bubble, Zoe sleeps her target, a form of hard crowd-control seemingly similar to a root. If the initial cast does not hit a target, the bubble lingers as a fairly wide trap. This new mechanic makes messy mid-game skirmishes against Zoe increasingly tricky. Sneaky bubble placement can cause huge disruption in teamfights. Tanks can find themselves immobile for the few seconds it takes to lose their AD-carry. Players can also use these bubbles to zone off entrances or exits to jungle corridors, taking the positional advantage to secure objective control.

Zoe‘s bubble becomes even more threatening when coupled with her ultimate, “Portal Jump.” Zoe gains an extra dimension of mobility with her portal. Although she cannot move while portal jumping, Zoe can cast abilities, ward and auto-attack. A quick “Portal Jump” near the enemy AD-carry can deliver a fast sleep bubble before Zoe jumps back to safety. Alternatively, she can quickly ward dangerous enemy territory and escape unscathed.

Zoe‘s competitive potential and teamfight explosiveness shines with her W ability, “Spell Thief.” When enemy champions use active spells or items, they leave spell shards that Zoe can steal with her WIn her champion teaser, Riot showcased Zoe‘s skirmishing strength by weaving multiple “Flashes” to make for quick spell rotations. Mechanically gifted players will take Zoe‘s competitive gameplay far beyond Riot’s teaser video. But, will this aspect of Zoe‘s kit put her in the ranks of mages like Ryze and Azir? Champions whose skill ceilings are oppressively strong on the competitive stage.

Zoe’s Competitive Skill Ceiling

Zoe's competitive

Credit: LoL Esports Photos

We have seen it with several champions over the past few years. Champs like KalistaRyze and Azir whose kits gave room for massive skill caps that dominated competitively. However, because of their dominance, Riot was forced to nerf these champions beyond viability for the average player. This causes a frustrating disparity between the pros and casual players in solo queue. The question now is, will Zoe be doomed to a similar fate?

Many initial reactions to Zoe highlight her “over-loaded” kit. In all fairness, Zoe does boast a kit with high ceilings for mobility, crowd-control and wave-clear. However, on a recent episode of Beyond the Rift hosted by Michael “imaqtpie” Santana and William “Scarra” Li, RiotWrekz and RiotMeddler dive deeper into a discussion on Zoe‘s mechanics. Scarra used the term “fake mobility” to characterize how Zoe‘s ultimate is more of a deceptive type of mobility. RiotMeddler elaborated on the point, adding that “Portal Jump” excels when used to dodge skillshots, not run down enemy champions. In the podcast, they highlight that Zoe‘s actual strength is her ability to quickly re-position in teamfights.

In Riot’s teaser, Zoe chases down multiple targets in an oppressive display of mobility. However, when we take a step back to really look at the champion, her power lies elsewhere. Zoe seems to excel more in mid-game teamfight scenarios where she can duck enemy crowd-control with “Portal Jump” and steal summoners to effectively lay down her own CC. While Zoe‘s kit is extremely impressive at a glance, the months to come will test her strength in a competitive setting. With the preseason patch constantly reinventing the meta, Zoe‘s competitive viability changes every day.

Featured Image: Riot Games

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I interviewed Cody Sun, AD Carry for Immortals

Cody Sun’s 2017: Immortals, Worlds, Coach Ssong, and franchising

In January of this year, I wrote a piece called IEM Gyeonggi: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I named Cody Sun in the “Bad” section, expressing “this bot lane [is] a glaring weak spot for the Immortals’ roster.” I followed that phrase with something more positive: “hopefully, more time, practice, and experience brings these players together in a more cohesive way.”

From there, Cody Sun and Immortals have been on an epic journey. My fellow TheGameHaus.com contributor, Christian Marcale, rated Cody Sun with an “A” among the rookies of Spring Split. Cody continued to be mentioned in articles about the NA LCS Summer Split playoffs and finals, new NA organizations going to Worlds and a Group B preview. Reading back through these pieces, Immortals’ young AD carry has come a very long way from his initial impression.

I got the chance to sit down with Cody Sun and talk about his year. We talked about his current day-to-day since leaving China, his experience at Worlds and what is on his horizon for next year. I asked about travelling and scrimmaging at international events, Immortals’ expectations of Group Stage and working with Coach Ssong. We even discussed the controversy surrounding Immortals and franchising in 2018. Click the video below to listen to the interview.


Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Thomas!

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huni

SKT Huni: History of the Holo knight

Seonghoon “Huni” Heo is perhaps the most beloved player in League of Legends. Having played in three different regions since his professional debut on Fnatic (FNC), Huni has earned armies of fans across the globe. As a central figure to arguably the most dominant Western team to date (2015 FNC), Huni’s continued success through the years comes as no surprise to his supporters. Now a member of Korea’s defending world champions, SK telecom T1 (SKT), Huni prepares for the match of his career. Let’s take a look at Huni’s storied road to the World finals.

The Hero Europe deserved

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the start of Season 5, Fnatic’s historic roster disbanded. Only veteran Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim remained, left to reassemble what would become a historic European squad. Enter Huni and Ui-jin “Reignover” Kim, two fledgling Korean promises destined to take the EU LCS by storm. The pair would go on to play together for several splits, even traveling across continents before parting ways.

Huni’s meteoric rise on FNC began as the freshly forged European squad finished their regular season 13-5 to place second. In playoffs, FNC edged out the Unicorns of Love (UOL) in a five-game finals match to earn first place. With the momentum of a new regional title, FNC displayed a fantastic showing at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational. In a roller-coaster five-game series, Huni and his teammates took former world champions SKT T1 to the brink, determined to show that Europe was no joke. Returning to EU that summer, FNC carved League history, becoming the first team to ever play an undefeated regular season, finishing an unprecedented 18-0.

Huni was unstoppable. His carry-oriented style tore through Europe’s finest teams. Backed by an ever faithful teammate in Reignover, FNC’s top-laner became a human highlight reel. His impeccable team-fighting on Rumble and Gnar ignited the European home crowd. But, it was his contagious laughter and hilarious nature that won the hearts of fans across the globe. At the end of Season 5, Huni chose to close his chapter in Europe and crossed the Atlantic, hungry for more.

Huni the Immortal

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the start of Season 6, Huni and Reignover left Europe to join the emerging team Immortals (IMT) alongside several NA LCS veterans. The duo were instant fan-favorites. With solid reputations after their tear through Europe, Huni and Reignover rampaged through the NA scene. That year, Immortals achieved a 17-1 regular season record, tying with long-time regional powerhouse Team SoloMid (TSM) for first place.

Immortals had a strong case as the best team in North America. Despite being an entirely untested roster, the players gelled like old friends. Huni and his AD-carry, Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, shared a hyper-aggressive playstyle. Luckily, the explosive pair had support Adrian “Adrian” Ma and Reignover in their back pockets to always keep them safe. Adrian’s signature heal and shield type champion pool combined with Reignover’s affinity for tank junglers opened room for their carries to mow enemies down in any ensuing teamfights. With their regular season success, IMT headed into playoffs with high expectations.

Immortals fell to Team SoloMid in a crushing 0-3 sweep in the Spring semifinals. IMT placed third overall, failing to qualify for that year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Again, in NA LCS Summer, IMT only managed to place third. Because of the championship points system set up by Riot, IMT found themselves fighting for a spot at Worlds 2016 in the NA Regional Qualifiers. Because they were seeded the highest, IMT only had to face the winner of three teams: Cloud 9, Team EnVyUs, and Team Liquid. Cloud 9 emerged victorious in the Regional Qualifiers, leaving IMT at home for Worlds 2016.

To be a Champion

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Before his debut on Fnatic, Huni tried out for the top-lane position on SK telecom T1. After not receiving the position, he forged his own path, but the dream remained. In the 2016 off-season, SKT offered Huni a position as the team’s starting top-laner, the opportunity of a lifetime. Although he was still under contract, Immortals CEO Noah Whinston released Huni of his obligations so that he could realize his dream.spr

Although his performance in LCK Spring was great, Huni lost significant playtime to his teammate Jin-Park “Untara” Ui that summer. SKT went on to lose against Longzhu Gaming at the Summer Finals. Eyes were on SKT’s coaching staff to decide which top-laner would accompany the team to Worlds. For a variety of factors, SKT’s head coach Byeong-hoon “cCarter” Choi ultimately announced that SKT would bring Huni. After a somewhat questionable group stage, many of Riot’s casters painted this year’s iteration of SK telecom as the weakest yet. The criticisms stacked after SKT teetered above elimination at the hands of Misfits Gaming (MSF) in quarterfinals.

In semifinals, SKT faced off against China’s Royal Never Give Up (RNG) in another dramatic five-game series. RNG targeted Huni in each ban phase, removing Jayce in all five games. As a result, Huni locked picks like Camille and Gnar to fulfill a crucial split-pushing role for SKT. Specifically, in Game 5, Huni dominated the enemy Shen, forcing the RNG’s mid-laner to swap top-lane. Continued split push pressure forced RNG into a position where their only option was to force teamfights. Instead, SKT pushed small advantages until they could take a fight on their terms. At 40 minutes, Huni found a massive three-man “GNAR!” to crush RNG’s team, sending SKT to the finals.

This weekend, Huni faces against regional rivals Samsung Galaxy. The match-up is a repeat of Worlds 2016, only SKT has a new roster. The stage is set for the most important series of Huni’s career. Will Huni’s everlasting confidence carry him through the match, or is this the year that SK telecom T1 fails?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Michael!

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Worlds Group A

Worlds 2017 group A : The Clash of Titans

Introduction

Every year, as the post-seasons of the multiple leagues around the world come to a close, many fans set their eyes on Worlds and the meeting of the best of the best in the international throw down. While maybe not the exciting affair for some, the group stage draw signals the coming of Worlds in the hearts of fans and is the nostalgic feeling of ‘Worlds is around the corner’ again. The group draw is this series of events that will drastically shape which teams are slated to go forward, who has the easy group, who gets the dark horse team and who gets placed into the dreaded Group of Death™. With that each group has its own story lines that emerge, and for group A, the title I’d give it has to be the Clash of Titans.

Group A drew not only EDward Gaming (EDG), finalists for the LPL, but also Worlds’ favorite and defending champions in SKT T1. As if a more storied and titanic clash could exist, the group, for me at least, avoids the term Group of Death™ because, well, AHQ is there. With the fourth team still to be determined, we can’t comment too much there, but this group is definitely a dance of two. Will it be the resurgent LPL region’s EDG that walks away in first, or the fan favorite in SKT that manages again, even with questions hanging over their head, to prove themselves as the best in the world? Or can AHQ, against all odds, pull off a miracle and make it out of the group? Maybe the fourth team will add some unexpected spice that upsets the perfect balance of the two titans facing off for the first and second seed.

EDG 

With some of the most stylish jerseys out of the LPL, EDward Gaming hope to cement themselves as a force to be reckoned with internationally. Courtesy of EDward Gaming Facebook.

EDG come into Group A as the finalists from the scrappy LPL region, a region known for aggression that can start as early as level one. After reverse sweeping Royal Never Give Up to keep the team from winning an LPL Finals, to cement themselves, at least as far as standings go, to be the best in China, EDG come into Worlds roaring with confidence. However, EDG come into the group in an odd position; they match up against their titanic opponents, SKT, which draws concern.

Questions surround EDG’s top lane, Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao, and even Ming “Clearlove7” Kai, the on and off star jungler, abound. It’s the weaker side for the roster, that contains Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “meiko” Ye on the other half of the Rift. That being said, EDG’s draw in the group stage is a slight benefit, they face SKT, which for most would be a bad thing. But with SKT’s struggling top lane and jungler position too, EDG’s weaker sides may not be placed up against a stronger side. This means not only will EDG’s side not be exposed to a stronger lane match up, where the other team can focus and create a lead there, but also maybe EDG can manage to be the stronger side in the top half.

Their bot lane, with new kid on the block Hu “iBoy” Xianzhao, will be the true point of contest between the two titans. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan have not looked like the dominant force they once were, having been a key part in SKT’s slump mid split. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a formidable foe for a rookie ADC. EDG will have to prove themselves the stronger team even with the questions that surround them, but given their pedigree and history of strong performances, EDG look to be easy favorites for at least second place, if not first in the group.

 

The X Factor: iBoy and Scout

Rookie iBoy will have his skills and mettle tested severely against the veteran bot lane of Bang and Wolf. Can he come out ahead? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The two primary carries of EDG are the linchpin of the roster for me. Scout has to be performing at his top tier to dominate the group, and particularly to show up against old teammate Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. If it’s Scout at his ceiling, he can be the carry that EDG needs to maybe secure that first place in the group. If he’s at his floor, EDG will find trouble against possibly even AHQ.

The other big factor is iBoy, the newcomer to the LPL scene. A rookie by all accounts, he comes into Worlds only having played a total of 22 games over his entire professional career. To be thrown into a Worlds roster, let alone one that has SKT and Bang in its group, is one large task for the rookie. However, iBoy’s stats aren’t worrisome, and with the veteran lane mate of Meiko by his side, this could be a real time for the young player to shine. On the other hand, not performing will be costly for the team overall, so the pressure on iBoy is pretty damn high to at least go toe to toe with Bang.

SKT 

Ahh, SKT. They barely need introduction for fans of League of Legends, but the once completely unstoppable juggernauts have had a slightly less than glamorous recent showing. The notable slump in performance, and the question marks not only in top lane of who to start between Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Ui “Untara” Jin-Park, were concerns that many analysts brought up. Not just that, but also their jungler position too is up in the air, with Han “Peanut” Wang-hoand and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, being the two possibilities. For many on the outside looking in, this has put the organization in a bit of a tumultuous position.

SKT’s full roster will be tested as they go into Worlds. Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

Just as with EDG though, SKT lucked out slightly by placing in a group with similar question marks in the top side of the Rift. With the “Unkillable Demon King” of League in Faker playing on the team though, and the long standing relationship between Bang and Wolf in the bot lane, it’s hard to say SKT is weak, even through their struggling top and jungle positions. Untara looks to be the more stable top lane, and Blank slots in similarly, and that almost feels the stronger formation for SKT going into Worlds. SKT can win games off simply mid and bot lane, and a tank meta supports a more supportive top and jungler position, rather than the more carry-oriented play that one might expect out of Huni or Peanut.

SKT however is still not the guaranteed top squad. With the current draw, they should be able to squash struggling AHQ Esports Club, but will be faced against an equally formidable EDG. The more aggressive nature of LPL teams may be a challenge for the defending champions, but it’s difficult to say they’ll struggle. Sure, at Rift Rivals the LPL were the ultimate winners, but LCK is never a region to bat an eyelash at. And almost most importantly, this is still a team with Faker on it, and Bang and Wolf, who bring not only their experience, but synergy. It will depend on how the squads match up, if Faker can take on his once pupil, Scout and if synergy wins out over new kid and star iBoy in the bot lane and the veteran in Meiko.

 

The X Factor: Untara/Huni and Blank/Peanut

High risk, high reward, is what has always characterized both Huni and Peanut. But can SKT take the gamble at Worlds? Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

This may come off wrong, but I’m not worried about SKT’s bottom half of the map. Faker has rarely performed negatively, and the Bang and Wolf duo seem a lot more energized after their slump. It’s the top half that’s the tricky part for SKT, and ultimately something they’ll need to address if they plan to make any real statement at Worlds.

The Huni/Untara saga continues, as Huni, previously the star diamond in the rough player, has looked considerably disappointing in recent showings (like, recent for a while…) Untara, on the other hand, may not be as flashy as Huni in his hay day or the phenom in Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, but he gets the job done for SKT. If Huni can be assured to perform, he’s the obvious pick, as a strong top laner into a group with weaker top laners could be another weapon in the SKT arsenal. However, he’s a liability, and SKT may decide to go with Untara for the security in the top lane.

The next question mark is in the jungle. Peanut, the darling of the Rox Tigers that stormed onto the scene last year, is in doubt. He’s not the consistent jungler that SKT needs. Stats aren’t everything, but Blank, particularly in SKT’s playoff run, was the superior jungler in almost every category, having played six games to Peanut’s eight. That’s a decent sample size. With Blank’s solid performance, and the bigger question mark being in the top lane, SKT could very well leave Peanut out of the six man roster for Worlds in favor of a more diverse top lane option. Regardless, whoever fills in the jungle position for SKT will need to be able to get their carries in the position to succeed. 

 

AHQ

The LMS region has always been a dark horse region. Often times discounted, except when one remembers the miracle run of Tapai Assasins, or Flash Wolves’ constant ability to take down the tyrants of SKT, they tend to look to be the weakest region of the non-wild card regions. While expansion of LMS teams at Worlds has gone from two to three, a welcomed sign for the region, it’s not as bright a note given the current teams being fielded.

Can the weird… flying… unicorn… horse thing of AHQ carry the team to one of the biggest upsets of the year against the two titans in Group A? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Many pundits feel that AHQ is a fairly weak team, and particularly compared to Flash Wolves, is the easier opponent hailing from the LMS region. While an AHQ of yesterday, with a strong top lane in Chen “Ziv” Yi , might’ve posed a threat to the group of weak top side teams, it’s not as big a factor anymore. As the analysts noted, Ziv has not looked as strong as he has in the past. More importantly, the mid lane question mark for AHQ is whether to play weaker Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei who synergizes better with jungler Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong, or stronger mechanics but weaker synergy in Wong “Chawy” Xing. SKT and EDG are teams that play around their star mid laners, and to have a position of almost a lose-lose scenario of options to field in that vital role, it’s hard to see them coming out ahead.

While longtime Chou “AN” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei in the bot lane might bring some stability to the roster, it’s difficult to say whether they’d be able to make any real threats against the likes of Bang/Wolf or even iBoy/Meiko. AHQ look like a team that, truthfully, doesn’t have a real edge in any position over their (confirmed) group opponents. While that doesn’t mean they can’t win, their lack of clear, concise team play doesn’t assure a “team play > mechanics” style of winning either. It’s hard to see the team making a real dent in the gargantuan teams of SKT or EDG here, but we’ve seen before that the LMS region can pull some real dark horse prowess on opponents who may not give them the credit they are due.

 

The X factor: Chawy/Westdoor and Ziv

Ziv is one of the old faces of the LMS, and it’ll be on his shoulders to try and create an advantage for his team to work off of. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Group A is a group of strong mid laners, and that’s something that cannot be said for AHQ. The rotating mid lane of Westdoor, who has the weaker mechanics but better jungle synergy, and Chawy, the newer, stronger, but less synergized mid laner, is the biggest hurdle for AHQ. They need to make the proper decision, either trusting Mountain and Westdoor’s ability to work together, or Chawy’s individual prowess, when facing up against some of the strongest mids at Worlds. 

Ziv is the rare situation in the group up until now: he’s a steady top laner for a team. Another long term member of the club, his performance has not be the most impressive, and it’s questionable on whether he would even be able to match up well into either Mouse or Huni/Untara. But if he can, if he can become the strong point of AHQ, he’s in the group of his life to upset. While the mid lane is looking to be a fiery display of strong skill, the top lane is almost unanimously questionable on each roster. A strong showing from the top lane could be just the trick that AHQ needs to be memorable additions to Group A. Without it, there isn’t much in the way of hope for any particular position on the AHQ roster to have any clear advantage against their confirmed rivals of EDG and SKT. 

 

Overall story lines to follow

The big story line here is the mid lane, with Scout facing up against his old organization SKT, and Faker, looking across the rift to a player he once helped improve. Scout has improved considerably with EDG, and while a kind of High Ceiling Low Floor (i.e. can either do really well or really… not… well,) may be enough in a Bo1 series against SKT, it’ll still be questionable on whether he can truly make a god bleed. Faker, on the other hand, looks to reassert SKT’s position to the World, coming in with a lot of questions hanging over their head. If SKT can make quick work of a team like EDG and look comfortable doing so, they’ll remind everyone of why they are still one of the favorites to reclaim their title. If they struggle, if EDG instead are the ones standing atop the battle in the mid lane, SKT’s position in Worlds will be called further into question. And for EDG, the curse of performing not as hot in international tournaments can be fully put to rest. 

AHQ, on the other hand, are on the outside looking in for the group. They’re not really slated to do overly well, and it’s questionable if they can even make a dent against the two teams already pulled, let alone a possible third seed team. Their relevancy at the world stage will be tested, and while not even a gambling person would have them out to make it out of groups, taking a few wins will be imperative to give some sense of dignity going home for the team.

Overall comments

I know it sounds kind of lame, but I have to agree with the analysts on the group from the group draw. This is definitely EDG and SKT’s group to lose. What order that’ll be depends on which team can shore up their leaky top side, or which team can make enough plays around the mid to bottom half to make up for it. That’ll decide who takes the first seed, and while many would be safe in saying SKT has that all but locked up, I’d caution against counting EDG out of that contest.

However, AHQ are a team that many still feel shouldn’t even necessarily be here. The LMS region, while still upset-able, are not necessarily that strong of a region in recent times. EDG historically face up well against AHQ, and SKT, not facing Flash Wolves, should be able to dismantle the LMS representatives fairly easily.

The third spot, as discussed by Jatt, has the potential (note: this is highly speculative so keep that in mind) to have either Fnatic or Cloud 9 in it. While both teams, particularly Cloud 9, seem slightly more assured in the top lane, it’s hard to hold the rest of the roster as showing much potential to upset for a second place slot. They can each bring damage to the records of both, and honestly could be the decider for the top seed teams, but their shots to make it out of groups are thoroughly suspicious. It’s just hard to imagine the two titans in EDG and SKT falling victim to a third place team from the West. But crazier things have happened. 

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