skill gap

NA closing the skill gap

It’s no secret that many consider Europe to be the dominant region when it comes to Rocket League esports. However, North America appears to be closing the skill gap.

Major LAN Events

Take a look at the top four teams from major Rocket League LAN events in the past. It’s easy to see EU’s domination over NA at the beginning.

RLCS World Finals

iBUYPOWER, a former NA team, won the first ever Rocket League Championship Series world finals. Regardless, EU was still dominant overall. Flipsid3 Tactics, Northern Gaming and The Flying Dutchmen, all EU teams, took second through fourth place respectively.

In fact, in all three seasons of the RLCS thus far only one team has represented NA in the top four of the world finals:

Season Two

  1. Flipsid3 Tactics (EU)
  2. Mock-It eSports (EU)
  3. Northern Gaming (EU)
  4. Take 3 (NA)

Season Three

  1. Northern Gaming (EU)
  2. Mock-It eSports (EU)
  3. NRG Esports (NA)
  4. The Leftovers (EU)

Since the season three finale of the RLCS, there are several tournaments one can look back to which suggest this skill gap is narrowing.

DreamHack / FACEIT

The RLCS features equal representation from EU and NA at the world finals. DreamHack Summer 2017, taking place in Sweden, only featured one team from NA. Of the 15 teams total who competed, the NA team, Rogue, placed in the number 3-4 spot.

skill gap

Image courtesy of steamcardexchange.net

The most recent major LAN event to take place was the FACEIT X Games Invitational. The tournament featured eight teams in total, four from NA and four from EU. The bracket was broken down into two groups, each consisting of two NA and two EU teams.

While EU looked strong as always, NA certainly showed up to play in this tournament. Out of nine matches that were played between an NA and EU team, NA came out on top five times. This includes the finals, in which NRG Esports beat Gale Force eSports four to three in a best of seven match.

Five out of nine games is relatively even, which is exactly the point I’m trying to make. The skill gap is closing. On top of this, the ending placements were just as even. Gale Force eSports took second. After that, the 3rd-4th, 5th-6th and 7th-8th slots each had one NA and one EU team.

Mechanics

It’s difficult to lock down a group of players, let alone a single player, as the top mechanically. There are too many top tier players in NA and EU, not to mention from other regions of the world.

When it comes to mechanics, top players may have certain mechanics that they are known for executing frequently and nearly flawlessly.

skill gap

Image courtesy of steamtradingcards.wikia.com

David “Deevo” Morrow is well known for his double taps; Francesco “Kuxir97” Cinquemani is well known for his mechanical ability playing off the wall; Jacob “Jacob” McDowell is known for his unusual mechanics; Chris “Dappur” Mendoza and Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson are known for their one-on-one abilities, just to name a few.

That being said, you don’t make it the top without being proficient in all mechanical aspects. Pick the “worst” mechanical pro player you can think of, and they’re still miles ahead of the average player.

So, I’m confident in arguing that NA and EU have been relatively equal, in terms of mechanics, since the beginning of the professional Rocket League scene. Decision making, on the other hand, is a different story.

Decision Making

Perhaps the most important aspect of decision making in Rocket League is knowing when and when not to rotate back. For those who don’t know, rotation is when you decide not to pursue the ball, rather opting to fall back and allow a teammate to attack.

It only takes one poor decision regarding rotation before you quickly find your team getting scored on. Watch past seasons of the RLCS and you’ll see EU’s superiority when it comes to rotation. That’s starting to change.

skill gap

Jacob. Image courtesy of nrg.gg

NA teams are refining their rotations, making effective decisions. One team worth taking a look at, regarding rotation, is NRG.

Along with his unusual mechanics, Jacob is known for his sometimes unusual positioning. While that has been advantageous at times, making it difficult for the opposition to predict, it has also been the cause of breaks in NRG’s rotation.

However, as the skill gap tightens and NA teams make increasingly better decisions regarding rotation, Jacob’s unusual positioning makes NRG more dangerous than ever. Without impeccable decision making, unusual positioning is a recipe for breaking rotation and ceding goals. Add in proper decision making and it becomes a recipe for breaking the opponent’s rotation instead.

Conclusion

With the skill gap getting smaller and smaller, there has never been a better time to be a fan of NA Rocket League. Fans should psych themselves up.

A closing skill gap means tighter competition and, in turn, tighter matches. The best Rocket League matches are won by one game. The best Rocket League games are won by one point.

With DreamHack Atlanta beginning today and season four of the RLCS just on the horizon, it promises to be a great few coming months for Rocket League.

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Featured Image courtesy of amazon.com

Season four

Season four changes

Three, two, one, go!

Season four of the Rocket League Championship Series kicks off in just a few short weeks. Registration ends August 8, and open qualifiers begin August 12 and 13 for North America and Europe respectively.

Psyonix announced some important new changes to format and qualification, in regards to season four and five. These changes will make Rocket League, as an esport, more accessible to new and long-time viewers.

If you haven’t seen the changes yet, here’s what is happening with NA and EU and why the changes are important. Psyonix has yet to announce information regarding Oceania.

Rocket League Rival Series

Season four

Image courtesy of rocketleague.com

The Rocket League Rival Series, a second, lower division, makes its debut in season four. This division effectively doubles the number of teams competing. The RLCS and RLRS each feature eight teams per NA and EU regions, raising the total to 32 teams.

Twitch, official partner of the RLCS, will continue to stream RLCS matches on Saturdays and Sundays. RLRS matches will take place on Fridays.

The benefit to fans here should be obvious: more Rocket League for everyone.

Auto-qualification, Promotion/Relegation

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for esports fans to keep up with season to season is rapidly changing team compositions. However, some esports are taking measures to limit or discourage this.

For example, Riot Games is moving away from a promotion/relegation system, opting instead to franchise the North American League of Legends Championship Series. The goal is to have permanent partners in the form of professional gaming organizations.

Season four

Image courtesy of steamcardexchange.net

Psyonix, on the other hand, implemented a promotion relegation system into the season four and five format. Instead of permanent partners, a promotion/relegation system focuses on roster consistency.

Psyonix tested this system in season three, relegating five auto-qualification spots for season four. The top two teams from both NA and EU, after the season three regional championships, auto-qualified for season four. These teams include NRG and Rogue for NA and Flipsid3 Tactics and Mock-It for EU. As the current world champions, Team EnVyUs, formerly Northern Gaming, won the fifth auto-qualification spot.

There are two stipulations for retaining auto-qualification: teams must retain two-thirds of their starting roster and they must abide by league rules. Mock-It lost auto-qualification due to not retaining two-thirds of their starting roster.

In a promotion/relegation format, a team’s organization doesn’t affect their auto-qualification.

The RLCS announced they will be expanding this format in the coming seasons. Here’s how the promotion/relegation system looks moving forward.

RLCS

Twelve season five spots are up for grabs during season four. The six teams that make it to the regional championships in each region auto-qualify for season five.

Four teams in each region will battle for the remaining RLCS slots in a promotion/relegation tournament, set to take place between the regional and world championships. The bottom two teams from the RLCS and the top two teams from the RLRS will compete in a double elimination tournament to determine who qualifies for the remaining RLCS slots in season 5.

RLRS

Four teams in each region will auto-qualify for the RLRS division of season five. The bottom two teams from each region’s promotion/relegation tournament, along with the third and fourth place teams receive auto-qualification.

Benefit

There’s a huge benefit to viewers when it comes to a promotion/relegation format. Teams are encouraged to stick together due to the two-thirds roster requirement for auto-qualification. This allows viewers to truly become fans of teams, knowing that the chance of the team entirely splitting up after the season isn’t as high.

Season four

Image courtesy of rocketleague.com

Along with seeing more stability in top level rosters, we will also have the chance to see the rise of new teams. Four RLRS slots in each region, beginning in season five, go to teams competing in open-qualifiers.

The new format provides some roster stability, while at the same time still offering up and comers an opportunity to break into the professional scene through RLRS open qualifiers.

A franchise system such as the one the NA LCS is working on implementing would be closest to a traditional sport. That being said, the additional stability under the promotion/relegation system should still make Rocket League even more appealing to traditional sports fans than it already is.

We’re one step closer to cementing Rocket League as a top-level esport.

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NA

How Dreamhack highlighted the ever growing gulf between NA and EU

How we got here

The big story in competitive Smite throughout Season 4 has been competition. There have been two aspects in regard to competition. Firstly, competition has grown incredibly within the regions. Seed one through six are all capable of taking games off each other now in both regions. What is possibly the bigger story is that NA have fallen off a cliff competitively when it comes to LANs.

In every other season NA has been able to compete at the highest level. Admittedly NRG have been top dogs for the last two years, but between the rest of EU and NA there has not been much difference. However, at the very end of Season 3 things started to change. EU sent only two teams to SWC after not performing all that well at the preceding LAN. However, EU dominance started to show there as both EU teams went to the final. This was even more impressive as at the time Obey were not respected as the team they are now. The second team in EU was OrbitGG who didn’t go to SWC due to poor performances at the preceding LAN.

It was at the Gauntlet though and Smite Masters where we really learned just how big the gap had grown between the two regions. It was dominant from EU just putting NA to the sword. Nothing epitomised this more than the way in which Rival handled Soar (now SpaceStationGaming).

Where we are at now

na

Image courtesy of neogaf.com

EU was known to be stronger than NA; however there was hope that the gap would shrink. Day one of Dreamhack Valencia put such vain hopes to rest. In the three sets between NA and EU only one game went to NA. What was more telling was the way in which EU won. It was brutal, NA were made to look like one of the minor regions. 4th seed in EU, Team Rival, absolutely took SSG, the first seed from NA, to pieces. The way in which that happened makes me confident that Eanix, EU’s 5th seed, has a better chance of winning SWC than any team in NA.

Why?

NA have little success in Moba’s. In pretty much all Moba’s NA are significantly behind the rest of the competition. A few theories are banded around but I don’t put a huge amount of stock in any of them.

Firstly, you hear that ego hinders NA teams; they think they are all better than they are, don’t play for the team and big egos clash. This doesn’t make any sense to me for so many reasons. I mean is John ‘Barracuda’ Salter’s ego getting in the way of LG competing internationally? I think not. You occasionally hear that NA doesn’t take competitive gaming seriously and conventional sports are much more popular. EU is no different, conventional sports are far and away dominant over esports. Most people don’t really know about competitive gaming as a thing. I honestly couldn’t give you the reason, but it is a trend which is hard to ignore.

How?

More focused on Smite I can’t tell you the core problem, but I do have some ideas as to symptoms of the issue. The big thing here that everyone notices is how much more objective focused EU are than NA. I think one of the best ways in which we have been shown at Dreamhack so far is through mid lanes and supports.

The first time this is apparent is in the Rival vs SSG set. Game 2 was won through objective control. The Ra pick by rival was huge. Firstly, it takes away one of Andrew ‘Andinster’ Woodward’s favourite picks. Secondly, it gives you a great ultimate for objective secure. Then SSG backed themselves into a corner with the Hades pick. They had zero objective secure. Up to 20 minutes the game was close but Rival were behind in kills, but had three Gold Furies.

Take away those Gold Furies and SSG are in a dominant position in the game instead of slightly behind. Their objective play was just sloppy as a whole that game though. When they lost a Gold Fury because five people backed at the same time, it was infuriating. This is something that has been known since the game was in open beta. I mean this is not EU playing amazingly but NA playing pretty poorly. Rival were also taking Gold Furies in the face of SSG. This is because of their dominant objective secure.

Look at game number one in the NRG vs Dignitas set. Dig have a Sol in the mid lane and NRG had a Vulcan. While Sol’s objective secure is not bad it just can’t compete with a Vulcan. Dignitas recognise this though, so Jeppe ‘Trixtank’ Gylling starts with a HOG.

NA

Image courtesy of smitepedia.com

This allows them to really compete and contest at Gold Furies. It shows the thought that EU are putting into making sure that they don’t fall behind in the objective game. Something NA clearly are not doing at the moment. Notice how he didn’t go HOG when NRG had a Morrigan in the mid lane, showing that this is a thought process based around big mage ults.

NA also seems to be one step behind when it comes to Meta. One way in which this has risen to prominence is how little they value the Sobek. Sobek has been dominant this LAN. Objective wise he is one of the best supports. If you are baiting a Gold Fury he is great as anybody who comes near has to fear the pluck into your entire team. Same goes for anybody trying to contest. You could be one second away from being flung into the entire opposing team.

On top of that he probably has the best ult for securing objectives, with Lurking in the Waters, slowing anybody who comes in, doing huge amounts of damage to players and objectives. For example, when Trix went HOG on Sobek he alone could probably burst the Gold Fury from 30 percent down in a second or so. If you look at the only NA team to win a game, it was when Sinjin ‘Eonic’ Thorpe was playing the Sobek. NRG noticed this though and started banning out the Sobek vs Trix.

What this means for competitive Smite

Nothing good comes from this ever growing divide. Smite competitively is hamstrung in one major regard. We have no serious Asian scene. In particular, Korea does not recognise Smite as a competitive game. Having Korea as a region in a game is beneficial for so many reasons. Korea takes esports more seriously than any other region in the world. For those of you who do not follow any other esports, the best way to describe this is to mention Kespa. That is the government body specifically designed to deal with esports, who even go as far as hosting their own ‘Kespa Cups.’ Korea drag every other region up as they are so professional and take esports so seriously that to keep up everyone must try to emulate. Korea is very invested in their esports scene.

Missing those benefits hurts competitive Smite, but now not having Korea becomes even more of an issue. Only having one region who is competitive will get boring very quickly. If it stays this way, there will be no inter-region competition at LAN’s. Inter-region competition is the most exciting part about big LAN’s. When that disappears, interest in major events falls rapidly.

At the end of the day if NA doesn’t up their game soon everyone suffers.

Top Image courtesy of twitter.com/SmitePro

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Possible EU season four rosters

We’re back with more potential Rocket League rosters you may see showing up to compete in season four of the Rocket League Championship Series. This time we’ll be focusing on Europe.

There are certainly many potential teams we may see coming up in season four. That being said, this guide is focused on potential teams containing players who competed in season three.

If you missed it, you can check out the predictions for NA rosters here.

RLCS season three contenders

Season four will be the first time Rocket League fans will see auto-qualified teams competing in league play. Where North America has two auto-qualified teams, three teams from Europe earned auto-qualification. Although that means one fewer league play slot for EU, there are some stipulations. One team has already lost their auto-qualification, opening up that slot back up.

Along with the auto-qualified RLCS veterans, there will surely be other teams with season three veterans showing up as well.

Auto-qualification was granted to the top two teams in NA and EU during the regional championships of season three. A fifth auto-qualification spot was up for grabs by the team crowned world champions, assuming they weren’t already auto-qualified.

Since the season three world champions, Northern Gaming, didn’t place in the top two during the regional championships, three teams from EU auto-qualified for season four: Northern Gaming, Flipsid3 Tactics and Mock-It eSports EU.

Northern Gaming/Team EnVyUs

This is another team that has competed in all three seasons of the RLCS. Under the name We Dem Girlz, the initial roster consisted of Remco “Remkoe” den Boer, Nicolai “Maestro” Bang and Marius “gReazymeister” Ranheim. This squad was acquired by Northern Gaming during the first season. They came in third at the season one world championships.

Image courtesy of teamenvyus.com

 

Between season one and two, gReazymeister left Northern Gaming and David “Miztik” Lawrie joined the team. Again, Northern gaming placed third at the season two World Championships.

By season three, David “Deevo” Morrow replaced Miztik as Northern Gaming’s third roster member. Maestro was unable to attend the season three World Championships, and Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver subbed in. The team was finally able to break past third place, becoming the season three World Champions.

Since the end of season three, Remkoe, Maestro and Deevo left Northern Gaming and joined Team EnVyUs. This suggests that there are no plans to change rosters.

Flipsid3 Tactics

 

Flisid3 Tactics left to right: Kuxir97, gReazymeister, Markydooda. Photo courtesy of rocketleague.com

Another veteran team of the RLCS, Flipsid3 Tactics has had only one roster change since season one.

 

The initial Flipsid3 Tactics roster consisted of Mark “Markydooda” Exton, Francesco “Kuxir97” Cinquemani and Michael “M1k3Rules” Costello. After season one, M1k3Rules left Flipsid3 Tactics to take a break from competitive Rocket League and gReazymeister joined the roster, making up the current roster.

This roster was crowned season two world champions and placed in the fifth-sixth during the season three world champions.

Since season three of the RLCS, Flipsid3 Tactics took first place at DreamHack Summer 2017 in Sweden and doesn’t appear to be planning any roster changes.

Mock-It EU

While the Mock-It organization has been a part of all three seasons of the RLCS, they have had drastically different rosters each season. Season three’s roster consisted of all new players from the previous seasons, including Miztik, Courant “Kaydop” Aledandre and Victor “Fairy Peak” Locquet.

Despite placing first in the season three regional championships and second at the season three World Championships, it appears that Mock-It will be the only team to lose their auto-qualification for season four. Kaydop left Mock-It to join Gale Force eSports, alongside Turbopolsa and Jos “ViolentPanda” van Meurs.

While it is uncertain what team Miztik will be playing for, if any, he is no longer a part of the Mock-It roster. The new roster consists of Fairy Peak, Philip “paschy90” Paschmeyer and Sandro “FreaKii” Holzwarth.

Xedec Nation/Cow Nose

Originally qualifying under the organization Xedec Nation, this team quickly left to reform their Cow Nose. In a Twitlonger, the Xedec Nation manager of the team explained the reason for their departure.

The roster consisted of Niels “Nielskoek” Kok, Hampus “Zensuz” Öberg and Danny “DanzhizzLe” Smol. As of now, it appears that Nielskoek and Zensuz will remain on team Cow Nose. DanzhizzLe, on the other hand, announced his departure from Cow Nose with a Twitlonger shortly after the run at season three of the RLCS came to an end.

The Cow Nose Twitter account lists the team members as “@NielskoekRL, @ZensuzRL and …” suggesting they haven’t locked down a third roster member. As for DanzhizzLe, it seems he has not made any announcements about a future team.

Pocket Aces/Gale Force eSports

Pocket Aces showed up to season three of the RLCS with a strong roster. The team consisted of paschy90, ViolentPanda and Thibault “Chausette45” Grzesiak. During the season they were acquired by Gale Force.

As mentioned above, Mock-It and Gale Force have done a bit of player shuffling since the end of season three. Kaydop left Mock-It, despite having auto-qualification to team up with ViolentPanda on Gale Force. Gale Force later announced the addition of Turbopolsa as their third. On the other hand, paschy90 moved from Gale Force to Mock-It to team up with Fairy Peak and FreaKii. Chausette45’s Twitter name is currently “Chausette45 LFT,” or looking for team.

The Leftovers

The Leftovers left to right: Sikii, Ferra, Snaski. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv

As their name implies, The Leftovers teamed up at the last minute because they weren’t on teams already. Despite that fact, they went on to take third in regionals and fourth at the world championships.

The Leftovers main roster consists of Nicolai “Snaski” Vistesen Andersen, Alexander “Sikii” Karelin and Victor “Ferra” Francal. So far, it does not appear that The Leftovers will be making roster changes.

PENTA Sports

Although PENTA placed 10 in qualifiers, falling short of league play by two slots, they made it to league play on a technicality. The team consisted of FreaKii, Kasper “Pwndx” Nielsen and Danilo “Killerno7”  Silletta.

Initially, ZentoX secured eighth league play slot, however they were disqualified due to Amine “Itachi” Benayachi’s ineligibility. PENTA went on to win a round-robin tournament in order to secure that spot.

After FreaKii made the move to Mock-It, Killerno7 and Pwndx decided to disband. Both Pwndx and Killerno7‘s Twitter accounts list them as looking for a team.

Secrecy/Resonant Esports

Beginning as Secrecy, they were picked up by Resonant during season three. The roster consists of Otto “Metsanauris” Kaipiainen, Joonas “Mognus” Salo and Linus “al0t” Möllegren.

While the roster hasn’t changed, the team name has. After season three they left Resonant and created Element. Shortly after, Element was acquired by Method.

Moving forward

There seems to be some more certainty with potential EU rosters compared to NA ones. There are some players who are LFT, such as Killerno7, Pwndx and Chausette45. That being said, there quite a few rosters which seem to be locked down already.

What other teams do you expect to see in season four of the RLCS? Drop a comment below and let us know.

Tentative/Potential season four teams (with season three contenders)

  • EnVyUs: Remkoe, Maestro, Deevo
  • Flipsid3 Tactics: Kuxir97, Markydooda, gReazymeister
  • Gale Force: ViolentPanda, Kaydop, Turbopolsa
  • The Leftovers: Snaski, Sikii, Ferra
  • Method: Metsanauris, Mognus, al0t
  • Mock-It: Fairy Peak, paschy90, FreaKii

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Possible NA Season Four Rosters

It’s been just under a month since the season three finale of the Rocket League Championship Series. Already players are hard at work changing organizations, building new rosters, practicing and competing in smaller tournaments.

This guide is an attempt to help Rocket League fans keep track of the scene’s ever-changing teams and offer potential team compositions for the coming fourth season of the RLCS.

RLCS Season Three Contenders

As with previous seasons, season three of the RLCS allotted eight league play slots for North American teams and European teams. In addition, the top two teams competing in the Throwdown Rocket League Oceanic Championship made it into the season three RLCS world championships. This was the first time the RLCS included teams from the OCE region.

The top two teams from both the NA and EU regions, along with the world champions, received auto-qualification for season four. Season four will be the first season in which teams are auto-qualified for league play. However, these teams must retain two-thirds of their season three roster in order to keep their auto-qualification.

Auto-Qualified Teams

Two NA teams are auto-qualified for season 4. These teams are NRG and Rogue.

NRG

NRG left to right: GarretG, Jacob, Fireburner. Photo courtesy of NRG Instagram (nrggram)

NRG’s Rocket League team consists of Jayson “Fireburner” Nunez, Jacob “Jacob” McDowell and Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon. Beginning under the name Kings of Urban, Jacob and Fireburner have been teammates since the first season of the RLCS. With Kais “Sadjunior” Zehri as their third roster member during the first two seasons, this squad won both regional championships.

Despite winning the first two NA regional championships, this squad was unable to place higher than fifth place at the world championships. Cut to GarrettG replacing Sadjunior. The updated NRG squad became three-time regional champions and placed third at the world championships, higher than they had before.

With this current squad taking second place at the first tournament of the 7-Eleven Summer Series presented by Brisk, it doesn’t appear that they’ll be changing their roster any time soon.

Rogue left to right: Sizz, Turtle, Matt. Photo courtesy of rocketleague.com

Atelier/Rogue

Beginning season three under the name Atelier, Emiliano “Sizz” Benny, Matt “Matt” Dixon and Isaac “Turtle” App made quite a mark on the NA region.

After placing second in the regional championships, Rogue acquired Atelier. Rogue went on to take the fifth-sixth slot at the world championships.

Travelling to Sweden for DreamHack Summer 2017, Rogue placed in the third-fourth slot. There are no signs of any roster changes as of yet.

 

Other Season Three Contenders

Of the six other teams that participated in season 3 of the RLCS, there is a mix of roster changes, continuing rosters and disbands. Here’s what we know so far.

Denial Esports

Denial’s season three team consisted of Treyven “Lethamyr” Robitaille, Gabriel “CorruptedG” Vallozzi and Sadjunior. Denial placed in the seventh-eighth slot at the season three world championships.

While there doesn’t appear to be any drastic changes to Denial’s roster so far, fans did see a different starting lineup during the first tournament of the 7-Eleven Summer Series. Sadjunior was moved to a substitute position and Jason “Klassux” Klass took over the third starting position. They were eliminated by Take 3 in the first round of this single-elimination tournament.

Nothing is official, but the addition of Klassux to Denial would create a team with a strong starting three and an equally strong substitute.

G2 Esports

G2, Photo courtesy of g2esports.com

As an organization, G2, has been active in the RLCS since season one. That being said, Cameron “Kronovi” Bills is the only remaining member from the initial team, who were crowned the first world champions of the RLCS.

After failing to qualify for the world championships in season two, G2 saw it’s first roster change. Ted “0ver Zer0” Keil retired and Brandon “Lachinio” Lachin left to help form Iris.

In season three, G2 and Kronovi came back to the RLCS with Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo and Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman on the roster.

Despite not making it to worlds again in season three, the G2 roster has remained so far. In fact, the team took first place at the first tournament of the 7-Eleven Summer Series, beating NRG 4-0 in the finals.

When asked about season 4 during an interview on RLCS Overtime, Kronovi said “it’s either third time’s the charm if I make it, or three strikes you’re out if I fail again.” Continuing with this roster could be the resurrection G2 needs or the end of Kronovi, the mountain himself.

Genesis

Genesis, during season 3, consisted of Klassux, Trevor “Insolences” Carmody and Robert “Chrome” Gomez. They placed in the fifth-sixth slot of season three league play, falling just short of qualifying for the world championships.

Genesis reportedly had some teammate conflict throughout the season. Klassux tweeted a screenshot of an argument between himself and Insolences, which took place during season 3. This is, supposedly, just one of several problems the Genesis teammates had.

Chrome left Genesis and played for Take 3 during the first tournament of the 7-Eleven Summer Series. As mentioned above, Klassux played for Denial during the same tournament. As for Insolences, he tweeted about his uncertainty of whether or not to continue with competitive Rocket League. This came shortly after Genesis failed to qualify for the season three world championships.

Although nothing is certain at this point, it will be interesting to see where these players end up.

Selfless Gaming left to right: Mijo, Timi, Dappur. Photo courtesy of twitter.com/selflessrl

Selfless Gaming

Selfless took season three by storm. The roster consisted of Chris “Dappur” Mendoza, Timi “Timi” Falodun, Jesus “Mijo” Gutierrez and Braden “Pluto” Schenetzki. Pluto subbed in for Dappur during day two of the season three world championships.

It’s uncertain what will happen with this roster. All four of these players were involved with the first tournament of the 7-Eleven Summer Series but none under the Selfless name. Timi played with Ohana. Despite suggestions that Mijo is retired, Ohana listed him as a sub. Pluto played for Splyce, alongside Jaime “Karma” Bickford and Matthew “Satthew” Ackerman. Finally, Dappur played for The Muffin Men, along with Mariano “SquishyMuffinz” Arruda and Kyle “Torment” Storer.

Ohana was eliminated in the first round by G2, Splyce was eliminated in the first round by The Muffin Men and The Muffin Men were eliminated in the second round by G2.

Radiance/SetToDestroyX

Joshua “Lemonpuppy” Wright, Michael “Memory” M. and Eric “Halcyon” R. entered season three of the RLCS under the name Radiance. They were quickly acquired by SetToDestroyX.

After coming in last during the regular season, SetToDestroyX may be making some changes to the roster. Showing up at the 7-Eleven Summer Series, the roster consisted of Lemonpuppy, Coleman “ColemanA” Arehart and Matt “Loomin” Laymin. They were eliminated in the first round by NRG.

It’s unclear what the official roster will be come season four of the RLCS.

Take 3

Take 3 made their debut in the RLCS with a roster consisting of Rizzo, Insolences and Christopher “Zanejackey” Jacobs. Although this squad came in fourth at the season two world championships, Rizzo left to join G2 and Insolences joined Genesis.

Adam “Espeon” Barth and Vincent “Vince” Viani joined to fill the open slots for season three. They came in seventh.

Take 3 showed up to tournament one of the 7-Eleven Summer Series with a slightly different roster. Chrome took over Espeon’s position.

One notable thing about this change is Espeon’s presence on the tournament’s analyst desk. Espeon may be moving towards a caster/analyst role and out of a player role.

Moving Forward

Registration for season four of the RLCS has not begun yet and, as such, there is still plenty of time roster changes and new teams to form. Teams are constantly changing and disbanding as players seek to rise to the top and dominate the competition. Below is the potential/tentative list of teams that you can expect to see competing for a spot in season four.

These are just teams consisting of contenders from season three of the RLCS. Expect to see other players rise up for their shot at glory. You can catch a glimpse of some of these other teams by tuning in to the NA Nexus Gaming Summer Invitational, beginning Saturday, July 1.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two, potential EU teams.

Tentative/Potential Season Four Teams (with season three contenders)

  • Denial: Lethamyr, CorruptedG, Sadjunior, Klassux
  • G2: Kronovi, Rizzo, JKnaps
  • NRG (auto-qualified): Jacob, Fireburner, GarretG
  • Ohana: Timi, Moses, Gimmick
  • Rogue (auto-qualified): Matt, Sizz, Turtle
  • SetToDestroyX: Lemonpuppy, ColemanA, Loomin
  • Splyce: Karma, Satthew, Pluto
  • Take 3: Zanejackey, Vince, Chrome
  • The Muffin Men: Dappur, SquishyMuffinz, Torment

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Why is North America Falling Behind in Competitive Smite?

As Ryan ‘Agro’ likes to point out, Smite has never been this competitive. Although I would like to add a caveat to that: not between regions.

We have seen the most competitive split ever this spring, with top five teams in both regions taking games off eachother. Then we came to the first LAN in the Gauntlet and saw Europe’s fifth-seeded team take the whole show, while in North America the Challenger team Oxygen Supremacy did far better than anyone expected. However, between regions, it has been a very different story.

The two major regions in Smite have always been NA and EU, and between them, competition has

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

normally been very strong. Apart from 2017 SWC, we have always had multi-regional finals. However, recently that competition has not been there. EU dominated SWC 2017, although only sending two teams, and they both made it to the finals. It is important to note though, that NA did send more teams to Worlds because of a dominant showing at the previous LAN. In the last two LANs, though, it has been very noticeable that a gulf is developing between the two regions. Any time there has been an EU-NA showdown, it has been a blowout for EU, with rare exceptions.

 

Look at Dota, LoL, Starcraft, Counter-Strike and even Heroes of the Storm – EU is the stronger region. Smite has never been this way, until now.

We have also had genuine inter-region competition, as we do not have the Korean overlords to quail before in terror. Recently, this competition has gone to the wayside. As I said earlier, the only competitive set between regions we have had in the last two LANs is probably the 5th seed out of EU vs NA 2nd seed.

The most hype games Smite has to offer will always be the big region showdowns, between metas and players who don’t normally collide, coming face to face.

Playstyle

What reason have we been given for this sudden fall from grace?

The EU teams were very diplomatic and have repeatedly said that NA teams just haven’t figured out or caught up on the new meta. This is noticeable in the picks, most notably Cabrakan. Quite simply, EU doesn’t really rate the God. Yes, he is good and has lock-down but he isn’t the only one who provides that. There was also Skadi, again favored more by NA than EU. While NA sees her as a must-have, EU sees her as a very powerful but unnecessary God.

The major difference between NA and EU has always been that EU is a much slower paced region. Personally, I think that has always made a bit more sense as a game plan. As fast-paced, high-octane games make sense against people who are going to be out of position and late rotations, this is not mine and your ranked games. When you have the opposite, early aggression is much more likely to be punished and far harder to pull off, as you will have to put yourself out of position and leave yourself open to counter-rotations to get the value for your ganks. Plus, the harder and more you commit to a gank in regards to health and cooldowns, the less likely you are to be able to. In the immortal words of Thom ‘F.’ Badinger, “get the stuff after the stuff.”

This is one thing I feel was never fully analyzed regarding NRG. We have heard numerous times about how when they were in their prime, it was like a switch was flipped at 16 minutes and from then on they steamrolled teams. One of the major reasons for this, I feel, is that they knew they were the better team.

Why risk the volatile world of early aggression? Because you know that if you group up when everyone has a couple of items and is ready to perform their role in the team fight, you can win it. Also, a team fight won at that point in the game gives you a powerful gold fury, lots of XP and gold for the kills and incredible map pressure.

I feel a lot of the NA vs EU playstyle can be summed up in the fact that NA look for picks to dictate and win the game, whereas EU obviously takes them if they see the opportunity, but really they try not to lose the game and rely on superior team fights and late game as the win condition.  To put it simply, EU seems far more objective focused.

Looking Forward

Image courtesy of neogaf.com

NA doesn’t look like its going to get any stronger soon, but maybe these LAN’s have been the wake-up call. However, the NA teams are now back into transition mode. There have been significant roster changes in the middle to the bottom of the league, as well as the fact that Eager has parted ways with their Solo and Jungle. That is a scary, albeit maybe necessary, thing for the top seed. Who is going to replace them?

Right now as an outsider looking in, I would say the best free agents in NA are the two Eager just released. The dream scenario would probably be that Eager convinces Andrew ‘Andinster’ Woodward that he really wants to jungle again. I do not think that is very likely though as Andinster seemed committed to making Soar work in his interviews. The whole Soar team has stated that they are not particularly worried about how things are going right now, but are looking to the future with what they think is a very solid line-up.

The easiest fit for Eager is probably Andy ‘Elchapo’ Leon and Arthur ‘Uzzy’ Asherov. As the first seed, do you really want to be picking up players who were just dropped from the 7th seed? I think not.

Realistically, I think the best chance for Eager would be feeling out Brooks ‘Cynosure’ Matty. However, IMOG is a team I personally rate very highly and I think it would be hard to convince him out.

So it looks like while NA is rebuilding there is a good chance of the EU teams pulling further ahead.

One thing to take note of here is that the two players most likely to play their own meta, so to say, are Divios and DJ Pernicus. However, Divios very often sets solo lane meta and the Guan pick which didn’t work at Masters has definitely worked before.

eUnited hs also made a very significant change: They have removed their Jungler from the team. Replacing a Jungler in a team is one of the hardest positions to do so. There are multiple reasons for this: Firstly a Jungler requires synergy to some degree with every lane. There is also the disruption to the three man core of Mid, Support and Jungle which really dictates the flow of the game. Louis-Phillipe ‘PainDeViande’ Geoffrion has shown time and time again his ability to replace players. He isn’t quoted as saying “I love kicking people” for no reason, although with a scarcity of top level Jungler’s and 1st and 3rd seed looking for one, things could get tricky.

What this means is that 1st and 3rd NA seeds will be in a period of rebuilding. The last few LANs have show that it was growth and not consolidation that was needed. The thing is all top-tier teams have one thing in mind: SWC. Winning regional LANs and doing well in the league are all great, but everything though pales in comparison to the importance of Worlds. So making these changes may hurt in the short-term but does give them enough time to get ready for the main event.

Often, pro’s will say that they do not watch a huge number of games outside of their region. Obviously, when it comes to LAN, they research their opponents. However, this, in my opinion, will change now. If I was coaching an NA team I would be taking a lot of tips from EU right now. They are clearly ahead, if it is just a matter of NA being behind in meta then clearly the way to go is ‘follow the leader’. There is a good argument for NA being behind in meta. Either way, unless something changes, be it meta-shift or an NA catch up, we are likely to see another SWC in European hands.


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Top Ten Players at MSI

The Mid Season Invitational opening ceremony is a day away, and I’ll be looking at the top players from every region playing this week. Many of these players have been around the pro scene for a while and have made a name for themselves as being some of the best in the world at their positions. Let’s take a look:

10. Swordart (Flashwolves Support)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie has been in the pro scene since season three. He’s been an integral part of Flash Wolves’ success, often roaming with their jungler, Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in the early game. This season has been no different. SwordArt has shown excellent performances on meta picks, such as Karma. He ended the LMS spring split atop his position with a massive 11.5 KDA, well above any other support in the region.

In their series against Supermassive, he finished with a KDA of 43, only dying once in the entire series. SwordArt is one of the best supports at setting up plays for his team in the early game. He’ll be vital in Flash Wolves’ success in this tournament.

9. Zven (G2 esports ADC)

Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen has slowly developed into one of the best ADC’s in the world. With the ADC meta shifting back to more traditional style carries, Zven will have a chance to prove why he’s one of the best at his position. Despite his support, Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez dipping in performance a bit this season, Zven has still been able to dish out damage in mid game team fights. Most of G2’s success comes in the mid game, often waiting for power spikes to hit before breaking the game wide open with a mid game team fight. Zven’s positioning in team fights is excellent, knowing where he can dish out the most damage from a safe distance.

Zven also has some of the strongest laning of all ADC’s at the tournament. He leads EU in CSdiff@10 with a massive 8.0. Him and Mithy can still compete with the best, and will be up against some World class bot lanes.

8. Hauntzer (TSM Top Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had one of his best splits on TSM in Spring 2017. With star Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break for the split, Hauntzer stepped up from the top lane to help be the decisive voice for his team. Despite taking on shot calling responsibilities, Hauntzer’s play did not hinder, it actually got better. With all the talent imported into NA for top laners, Hauntzer held his own and took the title of NA’s best top laner. Hauntzer topped NALCS top laners in DMG% and KDA. He showed excellent performances on a variety of champions as well.

Many believed he deserved the MVP award for the split, but he barely lost out to Phoenix1’s Arrow. He’ll be looking to prove himself on the World stage once again, after struggling to make an impact during their Worlds run last season.

 7. Peanut (SKT Jungler)

Han “Peanut” Wang-ho made a name for himself last season as the starter for ROX tigers. After barely losing to SKT in the semifinals of Worlds last season, Peanut decided to join his rivals this season. Peanut has struggled a bit this season, sometimes getting caught and subbed out for Blank, but he’s still a force in the jungle.

His Lee Sin play has been heralded as some of the best in the world. He has also shown great play on other meta picks, such as Rengar, Graves, and Elise. Along with this, Peanut has had some of the best Dragon/Baron steals anyone has ever seen in pro League of Legends. It’s insane the plays he’s able to pull off.

Peanut will have a chance to win his first international event. With SKT coming in as heavy favorites, anything outside of first will be a failure.

6. Huni (SKT Top laner)

Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo has been a fan favorite for his loving personality and his high play making ability. After spending two seasons playing in Europe and North America, Huni got the chance to play with the best team in the world. He was formerly known for playing hard carry top laners, such as Riven, Fiora, and Gnar, often being criticized for not playing into tank metas.

Many wondered how he’d do under the Korean structure of coaching. On past teams, coaches allowed him to play carry champions, even pulling out Lucian in the top lane in playoffs. He has shown the ability to play tanks, while also still being able to pull out the carry tops when needed for his team. Even when on tanks, Huni has a very strong impact on the game with his teleports and team fighting. He lead the LCK in DMG% for top laners and total KDA.

Playing for SKT has helped Huni become elevated to a World class top laner. He’s more versatile in his champion picks and a huge reason why SKT are favorites to go undefeated here at MSI.

5. Maple (Flash Wolves Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang has been a long time mid laner in the LMS region. He’s shown phenomenal performances in previous international events, such as Flash Wolves’ IEM Katowice victory. In their victory over SKT at Worlds last year, his Aurelion Sol was vital in setting Flash Wolves up with an early lead to snowball. Maple has a deep champion pool, being able to play control mages such as Syndra, or assassins like Zed or Leblanc.

Maple had another great season in the LMS region, posting a 7.1 KDA to top the league. Him and jungler, Karsa, have excellent mid/jung synergy that can often net Flash Wolves huge early game leads. They are also excellent at knowing exactly how to finish games with these heavy leads.

Flash Wolves will be looking to Maple once again, as they are heavy favorites to be the ones to slay Korea once again.

4. Karsa (Flash Wolves Jungler)

Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan is one of many talented junglers at this tournament. His early game play making is huge in Flash Wolves’ success. He loves playing high skill early game champions such as Lee Sin, and Elise. He finished the LMS season top in DMG% and KDA for junglers.

In their series against SuperMassive, Karsa jungled circles around Stomaged, gaining huge CS leads and tracking him quite well. Him and SwordArt have excellent jung/supp synergy, usually setting up vision to do aggressive invades or tower dives. Karsa will be vital in his team’s success, with jungle being one of the most talented positions in the whole tournament.

 3. Bjergsen (TSM Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has been the star mid laner for Team SoloMid since taking over for owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh in season four. Bjergsen has been a vital part of TSM’s organization, being the only stable member in the past seasons. TSM has literally built the team around him, as he’s slowly just become the best player in the West. His spring season started off a bit slow, as TSM was adjusting not playing with Doublelift, but since then he’s regained his MVP form. He finished the NALCS spring split as leader in total KDA and CSdiff@10.

Bjergsen has slowly taken the title of the Western GOAT for pro League of Legends. He’s become the face for esports talent in North America, and continues to play the game at an extremely high level. The only knock on him is international success. TSM as a whole have one IEM Katowice title in terms of international success. MSI gives them the chance to prove that North America is a region to be on the lookout for.

2. Bang (SKt ADC)

Bae “Bang” Jun-sik has been the starting ADC for their past two Worlds titles. It sometimes feels Bang is underappreciated on a roster full of stars and goofy personalities. Bang has been a consistent carry for SKT, always dishing out damage from a safe distance while also being one of the best laning ADC’s.

He lead the LCK in total KDA for ADC’s while also averaging the highest CSdiff@10 with 8.2. Bang also dished out the highest damage per min among ADC’s. He has shown phenomenal performances on high skill carries such as Ezreal, and even pulled out some amazing Twitch performances in the LCK finals. Bang will look to add another MSI title to his belt as he looks to dominate the bot lane once again.

1. Faker (SKT Mid laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok will forever be known as one of the best League of Legends players of all time. He has become known as the best mechanically skilled pro player, while also having the awards and team achievements to back them up. Three world titles, multiple MVPs, along with many Korean esports awards to boast. Since season three, Faker has consistently been the star player of SKT. When they decided to roster change, only him and Bengi were left from the original championship roster. Faker often draws a ton of jungle pressure due to people just knowing how good he is. It opens up a lot of options for the rest of this talented roster.

His impact on the game is unmatched. Faker has become the face of professional esports. When others ask who’s the best player in League of Legends, people will say Faker. His legacy is continually growing, as SKT dominated KT in the LCK finals. He’ll look to add another MSI title to his legacy.

Cover photo by: Riot Esports

MSI kicks off Wednesday!

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Mid Season Invitational Power Rankings

MSI will officially begin Wednesday as TSM, Flash Wolves, and Gigabyte Marines have earned their spots through the play-in stage. TSM looked shaky, needing a reverse sweep to take down Gigabyte Marines. It will definitely be interesting to see how the teams come out. Will G2 finally play well on the international stage? Can TSM bounce back from their poor performance? Can Gigabyte Marines make a Cinderella Run? Here are my power rankings of the teams heading into the Midseason Inviational.

1.SK Telecom T1 (Korea)

This should come to no surprise to fans and analysts. Korea as a region and SKT as a team have dominated the LoL scene for quite some time now. They’ll be looking to assert their dominance even more if they can go through MSI undefeated. SKT holds some of the best players in the world at each of their position.

Their most infamous has to be their mid laner, the GOAT, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As long as Faker is on this team, you can bet on them being World contenders for awhile. Alongside Faker, has been his head coach since the beginning Kim kkOma Jung-gyun. Kkoma has been praised for being the best coach in League of Legends, having led SKT to all their World Championships. He’ll look to add a back to back MSI title to that list.

2. Flash Wolves (Taiwan)

Photo by: Riot Games

Flash Wolves may play in a top heavy region, but despite this, they’ve showed consistently time and time again that they cannot be underestimated. Coming off a successful IEM win at Katowice, Flash Wolves will look to surprise spectators and continue their reign as the “Korean Slayers”.

Flash Wolves play an aggressive style, often making plays in the early game with jungler  Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie looking to make plays. Not only can they build big gold leads in the early game, they know how to properly finish games as well.

Flash Wolves came into the season sporting a new ADC in Lu “Betty” Yuhung who looks to get better and better every time we see him. Betty finished their series against SuperMassive with a monstrous KDA of 36, only dying once the whole series. Their longtime jungle/mid duo of Karsa and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang have not shown any signs of slowing down. They had a phenomenal performance against SuperMassive, dominating their opponents. Flash Wolves have the best shot at upsetting SKT here at MSI.

3. G2 Esports (Europe)

Despite G2 having not played a game at MSI yet, they definitely showed a dominant run in playoffs en route to their third European championship. Everyone from G2 are ready to finally prove that they can perform well on the international stage. Maybe with the help of sports psychologist, Weldon Green, they can finally get that monkey off their back of choking internationally.

Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković in particular will have lots of pressure as he’s become known for not playing well in international competitions. If he plays well, G2 can definitely make a decent MSI run. G2’s bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will be one of G2’s power positions. With the meta shifting back to “carry style” ADC’s, G2’s bot lane can definitely have a major impact in games.

What’s worrying is how long their games tend to go. Against some of the best teams in the world G2 will need to have the ability to close out games or risk failing in international play once again

4. Team we (China)

Team WE is a name that’s been around professional LoL for some time now. Once a powerhouse in their region, they’ve returned to take the throne as the number one team in China. After years of mixing rosters, they finally found success dropping only a single game en route to their 3-0 sweep of Royal Never Give Up in the LPL finals. They don’t play the stereotypical play style of all aggressive early game teams we’ve seen in the past from China.

WE plays much more controlled and teamfight well in the mid/late game. Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie is an absolute monster and will be essential in WE’s success. In the mid lane, Hanwei “xiye” Su, has a deep champion pool and has shown good performances on both control mages and assassins. He had the 2nd best KDA in the LPL for at 4.7.

China has since fallen off from being the heralded “2nd best region”, but WE will look to prove that they are still one of the best.

5. Team SoloMid (North America)

Photo By: Riot Games

TSM looked shaky in their play-in series vs. Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines. It felt like they were heavily disrespecting their opponents going for questionable invades and teamfights almost expecting the other team not to be prepared. This caused them to go down 2-0 in the series, before reverse sweeping their way to victory.

That series had many North American fans breathing sighs of relief. TSM will be heavy underdogs now at this point of the tournament if they struggled that heavily against a wild card region.

Even in the reverse sweep, their last two wins were not clean by any means. Gigabyte Marines showed the capability to gain early leads off some poor play out of TSM. Gigabyte Marines nearly had the series in game four, before overstaying in TSM’s base which ultimately led to TSM’s victory.

In particular TSM’s adc, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran had an awful series, dying in a winning 2v2 and often getting caught out of position while only having a 52.9 kill participation percentage. He’ll need to step up big time if TSM wants to finish in the top four of the group stage.

6. Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)

Although they are the wildcard representative of MSI, their play-in stage performance was amazing in terms of Wildcard performances in international tournaments. Gigabyte Marines gave North America’s TSM a run for their money, nearly taking the series. Maybe some nerves and lack of experience, forced a bad call to try to end the game that resulted in a throw, but nonetheless this team has impressed.

Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh has been an absolute monster this whole tournament. He’s currently 2nd in KDA and first in DMG% among junglers who have played at MSI so far. Gigabyte Marines rely heavily on him to setup plays in the early game to snowball leads. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the likes of SKT’s Peanut or Flash Wolves’ Karsa.

One of their weak points will definitely be in top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh. Stark showed some great performances on Gragas during their series against TSM, but was non existent if not on that particular champion. In game three, he was constantly solo killed by Hauntzer’s Gragas and never seemed to comeback from it throughout the series.

Despite losing a close series to TSM, the group stage will be best of 1. Don’t be surprised to find Gigabyte Marines apart of the top four once the group stages conclude at MSI.

Cover photo by: Riot Games

Tune in Wednesday for the opening ceremonies of MSI on May 10

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The Birth of the Korean Top Lane Era in NA

Home Grown Talent

Without a doubt, when it comes to fostering homegrown talent in North America (NA), the scarcest position seems to be none other than the Top lane.  Aside from Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, not much can be said about the remaining North American Top laners.  You have Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, from Counter Logic Gaming, who has been declining in recent splits. Next to him, you have the up and coming Samson “Lourlo” Jackson, of Team Liquid, who has shown the ability to perform at times, but hasn’t done it consistently enough just yet.  An “Balls” Le, the former starting top laner for Cloud 9, once considered the best in his role, saw a steady decline before losing his starting role to Korean import Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.

ssumdayKorean Imports

With the recent roster announcements, teams have imported some terrifying Top laners everyone will have to compete with for next split.  To begin, we have Dignitas bringing in KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-Ho, known to be one of the best Top laners in the world from his performances in these past two LCK seasons.  He had a tremendous showing at Worlds 2015 and it appears that the money Dignitas received from the 76ers has helped them bring in their star Top laner.  Than you have Echo Fox acquiring former Samsung White World Champion, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.  Looper is a seasoned veteran, competing at World’s last season with China’s Royal Never Give Up at an extremely high level. Cloud 9’s infamous “top die” laner we’ve all come to love, Impact, absolutely destroyed during playoffs once the meta shifted off of lane swaps and will look to continue that trend this season. He’s also a former World Champion with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3 Worlds and was a main carry for C9 during their run to Worlds last season.  Immortals made sure to keep up with the other top lane imports by bringing in none other than Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong a longtime name in pro League of Legends and known for the “Flame Horizon” (being ahead of your enemy top laner by 100+ cs).  

Why Top Lane?

With all these imports coming in, it amplifies the discussion of why top lane seems to be the hardest position to garner any talent within NA.  Attempting to think of upcoming challenger Top laners, names like Cris, Solo, and RF Legendary come to mind.   Cristian “Cris” Rosales has been a long time top laner “memed” as good enough to dominate in the challenger series but not good enough to find success on a top LCS roster.  Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta had a good run with team Renegades through the Challenger series qualifying for LCS but was simply not up to par with LCS level Top laners and has bounced around multiple challenger teams since.  Colin “Solo” Earnest has made appearances in team Ember, and most recently, Team Liquid Academy, but hasn’t been able to reach LCS just yet.  Beyond Hauntzer, Darshan and Lourlo, no NA resident Top laners have been given a shot at a starting position on an LCS team, aside from subbing a game or two due to visa issues with imports.

So what is it about Korean Top laners that make them so much better than all other regions?  In terms of champion pools, you don’t see a lot of champion picks from Korean Top laners be chosen in other regions.  High mechanical Top lane champions such as Riven or Yasuo rarely get touched in some regions as opposed to Korea, where players like Smeb and Huni have shown the ability to solo carry games on them.  Even Jeon “Ray” Ji-won former Apex Top laner (now C9 sub), had his signature full Attack Damage split push Jarvan he would pull out that allowed him to carry games.  You just don’t see the same carry potential coming out of NA Top laners.  Korean’s teleport (TP) usage has always been above par, and that has a lot to do with coaching in Korea.  Korean teams have always been heralded as the kings of macro play and it helps tremendously with setting up huge plays using TP.  It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in North America with the language barrier and possibility of inferior coaching.   

We are in store for an intriguing 2017 season of the NA LCS with all these new roster changes making the region look stronger than it’s ever been.  It’s safe to say fans are extremely excited to see the competition in Top lane be at an all time high with all these stars coming in.  We’ll have to wait and see whether these big names can live up to the hype, or flounder under their new organizations.

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immortals

Photo Courtesy of immortals.gg

Mixwell and the NA Clockwork: OpTic No. 1 NA in May

When OpTic, the most famous Call of Duty organization, entered CS:GO in January by picking up a bottom-feeding North American lineup spearheaded by ShahZaM, the choice was met with cries of derision. Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields and Richard Lewis trashed their early performance at the first NA minor; even a month ago, they speculated that the team would break up with ShahZaM’s rumored departure—a departure that would become a reality, and a hole that would be plugged by an unproven Spanish prospect. 

OpTic has been the No. 1 NA team for the month of May thus far.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

Don’t believe me? The results prove it. OpTic has achieved more in offline tournaments in the past month than any other NA team. They stomped Astralis, a classic elite lineup, in a Best of 1. They took 25 rounds over two maps off of Luminosity, the best team in the world. And they bested Tempo Storm, a team many consider top 10 material, in two consecutive Best of 3s. On a smaller note, won the recent NA Minor and only dropped 1 map while doing so (to Tempo Storm on dust2, 16-13 in the finals). 

What top teams did other NA teams beat? The only other result of significance is Cloud9 winning mirage from Luminosity in the Group A finals of ELEAGUE. That was impressive work, but also C9’s only international result in the month. Should OpTic manage to upset G2 or NiP in the Group B playoffs, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them the No. 1 NA team.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. OpTic are not a top 10 roster in the world, and I’m not sure they can be. They are merely the only NA team I have enjoyed watching this month besides C9. They’ve played with confidence, polish, and strength beyond the rag-tag look of their lineup. They are the first tier 2 NA team with a quality sponsor to repay their org with true improvement. That’s a notable feat in and of itself. 

What makes OpTic work? As it turns out, a Spanish AWP prospect who has picked up the rifle was the factor to unlock the skills and hard work of this lineup. Will it continue to work? That relies upon the team’s continued research, confidence, and self-understanding.

The Cog Spaniard

A Spanish AWPer who now prefers the rifle is by far the most important piece behind OpTic’s success. This is not the force of a s1mple bulldozer plowing over opposition despite the flaws of a team. This is the power of sliding a missing gear into a clock, winding it up, and listening to it chime for the first time. mixwell is not an incredible world-beating fragger like s1mple, but his game-sense and nose for a play is the unwitting cog that is sending OpTic ticking upward.

mixwell is not a good aimer. Well, okay, he CAN hit some good shots, but his highlight reels are often more quick-witted than they are sure-of-hand. I mean, how do you miss a layup shot like this

Or this? (Okay, it was a bit long range with that deagle. Okay, I miss them all the time. Gimme a break.)

What’s notable about those botched kills, though, is how mixwell in both instances took his opponents so by surprise that he had longer than most players normally do to land a frag. mixwell is an uncanny player. Even in his fledgling pro matches, he has an aggressive timing to his positioning and faces that takes opponents by surprise. He seems to have a good sense for where to find a frag, and he is constantly hunting for information. Watching his movements around the spectator minimap, I can almost imagine the mental cartography occurring in his head. 

His important frags come from unexpected opening duels, anticipation, and exploiting chaos in a defense or strung-out attack; rarely does mixwell pull off flashy he-shouldn’t-have-done-that headshots, bomb-site-opening entries, or multi-man spray-downs. His name isn’t often shouted by the casters, but by the end of the map, he’s always put up the second or third best stats in the server for OpTic. 

In a strange way, mixwell reminds me of some Spanish-flair inversion of Happy, the famous French lurker and IGL for LDLC/VeryGames. Both players find their best success when they exhibit their beautiful timing in their engagements. Both are at their best when they can play off of the positioning of their teammates. But mixwell is much more of an information gatherer than Happy. Happy is content to extreme lurk and let his teammates bait for him, while mixwell is aggressive, to the point of sometimes seeming reckless. Happy’s rifles are also much sharper than mixwell’s; but mixwell knows when and how to AWP much better than Happy does. 

Another player mixwell reminds me of is Ola “elemeNt” Moum, the Norwegian 1.6 player who relied on his ability to read a game, not his aim, to make himself and his teams successful. Based on what limited POVs I’ve seen of elemeNt, there’s a certain mind-before-mechanics that both their movements seem to indicate. This is not a fair comparison. elemeNt was an all-time great, and mixwell is a rookie. But the thought has flashed through my mind, fair or not. 

Mixwell does have a tendency to give up opening kills due to his greedy positioning. In OpTic’s first match at the MLG Minor against Tempo Storm, for instance, he gave up one less entry frag than daps, stanislaw, and NAF-FLY combined. This is currently mixwell’s main weakness, a product of a playing style that mixwell seems nevertheless assured of within the current setup of OpTic.

Sliding mixwell into gear 

OpTic started off by forcing mixwell to be a dedicated AWPer in the vein of ShahZaM and other NA snipers, to mediocre effect at best. mixwell struggled. 

At some point, daps and company recognized mixwell’s essential quality was not AWPing, but understanding his opponents and game situations. They relieved him of sole sniper duty and handed him an AK-47 or the green gun as suited the round. mixwell became not quite a lurker, but not quite an entry fragger; he assumed forward positions in rounds and struck at targets of opportunity, but let other players open up bombsites or anchor defenses. They began basing their understanding of how to play rounds off of the information that mixwell fed to the team (compliments to the youngster’s excellent English). 

What do we call this position mixwell now plays? Recon? I don’t think it neatly fits into typical CS:GO role definitions at the moment. Whatever the case, it has worked. As a review of the demo and of stanislaw’s post-match interview reveals, it is exactly this role that allowed OpTic to whip Astralis 16-7 on inferno, and a role that is typical of mixwell since.

Please admire my paint skills.

Please admire my paint skills.

On T side, mixwell played at the top of banana time after time.

Astralis failed to contest or punish this position effectively, especially early in the half. When allowed, mixwell would peek off of a flashbang into the site itself. Based off of what he saw, he would either call his team to come B or would turn around and walk back to mid. I actually laughed once when I saw NAF-FLY do a bit of a double-take at one of mixwell’s decisions to back off of banana—but he followed nevertheless. 

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

When OpTic pushed a site, mixwell (with the AK in hand) would often take a side route to the bombsite. On A, while his teammates run out past boiler towards the default plant, he would wrap around arch-side. On B, he would go out and around through the back of construction. 

In post-plants, he often moves to the outermost position reasonable while his teammates take more solid positions close to the bomb. He is eager to hunt retreating CTs when given the opportunity, and this game was no exception. I suppose this is the type of play stanislaw refers to when he says they used mixwell as an “aggressive rifler.”

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

 

As a Counter-terrorist, mixwell played close to mid from arch-side, a rotation position that suits mixwell’s intuitive play. From here, stanislaw said in his interview, mixwell could hear Astralis’s footsteps and convey where Astralis were moving. When stanislaw says that Astralis was “easy to read,” the reason for this confidence is mixwell. 

Since this victory, mixwell has gone back to a mixture of AWPing and rifling, but he only AWPs when he has a specific position or face in mind. In their first train match versus Tempo Storm, for example, after noticing felps pushing on close train, mixwell picked up the AWP and caught felps out on this maneuver again and again, despite the wily methods of approach that felps devised. Mixwell’s decisions on which weapon to use often seem to have real and specific logic behind it, which is a boon to both him and his team’s executions.

The Clockwork OpTic

When Hiko joined Team Liquid, his respected predefined role as a lurker forced his new teammates to realign their roles, bringing Liquid from a mediocre NA team to a top tier NA team, competing for No. 2 with CLG. mixwell’s impact for OpTic has been much the same, creating a better and more logical coordination of OpTic’s forces. What is more impressive, however, is that mixwell’s defining role within the team was conceived AFTER the team tried and failed to make him a ShahZaM-like AWPer. 

With mixwell the sometime AWPer and dedicated freelance recon (just roll with it…please…), NAF-FLY has become his foil, a conservative and rock-steady player who excels as an anchor on defense and in post-plants on offense. 

NAF-FLY has precise aim in contrast to mixwell’s witty aim, and for this reason had long been touted as an up-and-coming NA talent. But NAF-FLY has always hesitated to step out and be a play-maker, preferring to play supportive angles at the back of bombsites and pushes, and this has limited his in-game impact. Now, much like Krimz or boltz, this stiff, stoic quality in his play has become a virtue when playing next to a bolder co-star. The risk-taking of mixwell on both halves of play and the quick execution style of OpTic on T-side creates situations where NAF-FLY doesn’t have to seek plays, but plays naturally seek him. This is the “star support” role, as it were, and NAF-FLY is well-suited to it. Now he needs to show consistency in fulfilling it.

Furthermore, NAF is good with the AWP in a more static sense than mixwell, who uses it aggressively. This means that OpTic always has an appropriate AWPer for each situation. How convenient! The team also rarely uses double-AWP setups, perhaps for the polar styles of their AWPers and for the fact that one of them (NAF-FLY) is excellent with the rifles. 

RUSH is another long-touted NA talent with good aim who never quite delivered until now. He typically the entry-fragger for OpTic, though daps and stanislaw will also take that role depending on the round, and will also sometimes play on more forward CT positions than his other teammates. Whereas mixwell’s aggression is a curving split-finger fastball, RUSH’s is a straight-on two-seamer; the distraction that either causes during an attack can benefit the other, so that the defense doesn’t know exactly which they should look for. In addition, RUSH has cleaned up his old habits of over-peaking and taking unnecessary aim duels, much to the benefit of his team. 

OpTic’s success relies upon these three players—RUSH, mixwell, NAF-FLY—stepping up and playing well. When NAF-FLY is having an off game, the effect is immediately obvious, as defenses tend to fold easily and with few return frags.

daps is the IGL, and credit must be given to him for recognizing how mixwell is best employed in this lineup and for filling in the gaps his team needs. His shot calling is not brilliant, nor his executions unique, but he does a good job of mixing up both the pace and location of the team’s T-sides. stanislaw just seems like a good fragger to me, and has acquitted himself particularly well with the pistols; he doesn’t seem to me to have a special role within the team other than occasionally popping off and putting up big kills in a round.

The ghost in the machine

OpTic is not unique beyond this clockwork quality of play. They have a very traditional NA style of play: map control default at the beginning of a round, then attack a bombsite, no real fancy executions need apply. (The team has had some embarrassing smoke misses before, especially on overpass; I can’t even bring myself to link to the video.) Before mixwell, they relied on both star power and the hard work of their players; if they were unique, it was for the noticeable amount of work some of the players were putting into their positioning and decision-making.

As it turns out, the default-to-execution style of gameplay works much better with mixwell. mixwell is the wild-card, getting into unusual positions and feeding both off of and into his team’s larger decisions about rotations and executions. Since acquiring mixwell, the team seems to know what their opponents are doing in the server much better. 

It’s notable, though, that OpTic’s favorite maps have been cobblestone, train, and inferno. These maps have been considered tactical maps, requiring more coordination and understanding of teamplay than, say, dust2 or cache. OpTic is very good on these maps, which is very unlike any other NA team now–a big domestic advantage. It is unfortunate for them, though, that Valve rotated their best map, inferno, out of the map pool.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

Also notable is the lack of strong emotions while playing. The OpTic players rarely shout, look at each other, high-five, or even crack a smile while they play. More than being a sign of focus, I think it’s good for OpTic not to fall into the trap of people’s expectations for NA CS:GO teams: that they have to be loud, emotional, fiery, and chaotic.

Grinding forward

Without NAF-FLY and RUSH performing at their highest level game in and game out, this team cannot do significant international damage. The two maps against NiP in ELEAGUE group B this week showed just how weak this team can look without those players stepping up. The positive is that mixwell is consistent even when the team is losing. The negative is that it hardly makes a difference when the NA clockwork falls apart against a truly elite team.

Part of what makes each gear in this clockwork team spin is how the pieces work together. What impressed me about the stanislaw interview was how self-aware of the source of the team’s success stanislaw seemed to be. The team needs to realize what makes them tick, and how, to exit the group stage in ELEAGUE this week. The team certainly needs more courage and self-confidence during the playoffs than we’ve seen thus far from them.

Nevertheless, I’ll be watching them, hoping to see OpTic continue to grind forward and give mixwell and his compatriots success. I hope I enjoy watching them.

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