The resurgence of Dignitas

What a journey it’s been for team Dignitas. With high hopes and big name Korean imports Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, the team looked lost. They had just bought their way back into LCS and on paper, looked like a top team. The coaching and team synergy was way off though and they were barely able to sneak into playoffs for Spring. They started off Summer hot but soon fizzled out back to their former selves. A few changes throughout the team have helped along the way. Let’s take a look:

Changing up the Coaching staff

Dignitas started spring with Korean coaches Kim Jeong-soo and Park Jae-seok. A surprise to many, their coaching really wasn’t helpful for Dignitas at all. As they were watching their spring split hopes wash away, they decided to bring in a familiar face in David “Cop” Roberson. Cop coached many of the former APEX squad during their first run at LCS. Dignitas was able to finish the second half of Spring strong enough to garner a playoff spot.

This split they brought in another familiar face in Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco. Saintvicious has been involved in pro League of Legends for awhile now and also worked with the team when they were APEX gaming.

It was obvious under the Korean coaches the team did not know how to communicate effectively. They could often get decent early leads, but had no idea how to snowball games. With the induction of Cop in spring the team looked revitalized and were taking wins off some of the better teams in the league. They began to struggle mid split of Summer, but a few roster changes turned their season around.

Roster changes

One of the big changes over summer was letting go of Chaser as the starting jungler in favor of Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon. Shrimp played with the team on APEX and just seemed to mesh better with the team stylistically. His Nunu play in their quarterfinals match against Cloud 9 was huge in helping them secure a semi-finals spot.

Shrimp is similar to Xmithie as he’s a selfless jungler who is good at tracking the enemy jungler and providing good vision for his laners. He has the second highest kill participation in the league for junglers which speaks volumes to how active he is for his team. In a meta of tanks, Shrimp is quite comfortable and can even pull out the Nunu to enable ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru to carry even harder.

Altec and Adrian

photo via riot esports

In the bot lane we had the induction of Altec and Adrian “Adrian” Ma into the starting lineup. With a history of issues on other teams, Adrian is stepping up huge for Dignitas this split. He’s shown that he can play more than just his signature Soraka, with he and Altec contending to be one of the better bot lanes this split. Many questioned Altec’s decision to leave Flyquest for Dignitas where he wouldn’t even be guaranteed a starting spot. After he and Adrian were subbed in the team hasn’t looked back.

Altec has looked like a complete monster on this team. He finished 3rd in CS diff@10 and 2nd in DMG%. He’s shown some great plays on meta picks such as Sivir and Tristana. Him and Adrian have developed into one of the best bot lanes in NALCS. TSM is next on their list of upsets.

Dignitas looked great in their 3-1 victory over Cloud 9 yesterday. This only makes their match with TSM more interesting as they’ve held a great record against them during the regular season. If they are able to pull off the upset, who’s to say they aren’t good enough to compete for a championship?

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Who should be NALCS MVP?

With the regular season over, we can begin to evaluate how teams/players lived up to expectations. Teams like Immortals shocked the NALCS by contending with the best this split. With the split concluding, we soon find out who will win the heralded NALCS MVP of summer.

An MVP, aka Most Valuable Player, is someone who has shown great importance to their team’s success in and outside of the rift. An MVP is someone that, if taken off the roster, would greatly impact their team’s performance greatly.

Looking at the split, we have a few candidates who really separated themselves from the rest. Let’s take a look:

Cloud9 Jensen (Mid laner)

Photo via Riot Esports

Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen been critiqued as a “KDA player” who some believe cares more about his own stats than the good of his team. Jensen struggled with consistency during his first few splits in the NALCS but has slowly come into his own, contending with Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg for the best mid laner in North America.

He put up monstrous stats towards the end of the split. More specifically, his Orianna play was some of the best play we’ve seen out of him. He finished the season with the best KDA of any player at 8.7. Cloud9 often played through the mid lane enabling Jensen to get huge leads to snowball the game. Jensen rarely fell behind in lane, leading the league in CS diff@10 with a whopping 8.9.

Just based off regular season performance though, Jensen has put up a good argument for NALCS MVP. He has played phenomenally well individually and has the stats to back that up. One could argue how much Cloud9’s playstyle benefits his KDA. They often heavily relied on him to get ahead in lane and snowball for his team. He’s also been critiqued for not roaming as much as he could or for being selfish for resources.

One knock on Jensen has been his inability to step up in crucial moments. Last spring in a close game five against TSM, a costly mistake lead to Jensen dying with ult and Zhonya’s still up on Ekko. His death lead to TSM eventually finishing the series and taking the Spring Split championship. Could this finally be the playoffs we see Jensen step up for his team?

Immortals Xmithie (Jungler)

Jake “Xmithie” Puchero came to Immortals in a trade with CLG in exchange for star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Many thought Xmithie had peaked on CLG and was nearing the end of his professional career. Nobody even expected Immortals to finish this high in the standings and deserving of a Worlds spot.

It has gone to show how much team chemistry and coaching can impact a player. Xmithie has look revitalized after coming to Immortals. He’s been arguably the best jungler this split and is a huge reason why people believe Immortals can qualify for Worlds. Dardoch and Xmithie’s jungle playstyles are almost night and day, but Immortals got the right jungler they needed – someone who was going to be willing to sacrifice for the carries and mesh well with the team. Xmithie has been just that and more.

He lead all junglers in assists for the summer. While none of his stats really pop out, it’s no secret how much of an impact he’s had for the team. Since Xmithie’s arrival, Immortals went from a 7th place team to a 2nd place team. Others on the team have also been able to shine much more with Xmithie for whatever reason. Cody Sun and Pobelter look like different players from their spring split forms.

It’s a huge example of how much coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo has done working with the team. When a team has this big of a turnaround you can’t expect it all to be from one player.

Photo via Riot Esports

TSM Bjergsen (Mid Laner)

Ah, just about every year, TSM’s Bjergsen has to be considered to be in the MVP race. He’s undoubtedly always one of the most impactful players on TSM for many reasons. Aside from always putting up monstrous stats, he’s a main shotcaller for the team and has developed into one the main leaders. Bjergsen can add another great regular season to his legacy as he finished second in KDA among mids and damage per minute.

This split, Bjergsen showed off his ability to play different styles such as the Galio in the mid lane. It adds to the versatility we’ve come to know from the Danish mid laner. In terms of how much value Bjergsen brings to TSM, it’s without a doubt that they’d be much worse without him. He just brings so much to the table for a mid laner and plays well without needing too many resources.

Many will argue that Bjergsen plays with some very talented teammates. This may be the same thing that kept Hauntzer from winning MVP in spring. Having other talented individuals on a team can sometimes mask the impact a player actually has on a team.

These are my top three picks for MVP in no particular order. MVP will be a tight race. It will be interesting to see if Bjergsen adds another MVP trophy to his career or if someone new can take it from him.


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Thinking like a professional jungler

While the most recent rendition of CLG versus TSM was not as close as many would have liked it to be, there were many important takeaways from the play of both Svenskeren and OmarGod. As these two junglers went head to head, they tracked each other’s camps, jungle pathing and enemy summoner spells during the early to mid game in order to secure a lead.

Jungle tracking

Junglers trade red buffs through tracking each others camps and playing on the strong side of the map. Courtesy of lolesports

In game one of TSM versus CLG, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and Omar “OmarGod” Amin traded camps cross-map through friendly vision and CS tracking. With OmarGod on Sejuani starting raptors and transitioning into a full blue side clear after red, TSM vision from a level one trinket ward allowed for a safe invade of krugs by Svenskeren’s Maokai. As Svenskeren stole CLG’s krugs, Darshan’s Gragas gained vision of the camp revealing a Maokai with 17 cs. This number reveals to OmarGod that Maokai has not done his own krugs, allowing OmarGod to move in for the guaranteed camp.

This is but one example of how enemy junglers track each other in high stake scenarios. Another example comes from game two where CLG received the information of Svenskeren’s red buff start from his level two gank on bottom lane. In this case, CLG used their advantage in the top lane to collapse on the spawning red buff, securing the objective, two kills and several summoner spells.

 

 

Repeat ganks on summoner-less champions

 

Before six minutes in the game, Bjergsen fakes a recall, allowing Svenskeren’s Maokai to then burn Huhi’s flash and ghost as Huhi’s Orianna attempted to shove in the wave. By taking advantage of Huhi’s naturally proactive tendency to deny the enemy CS as they back (like any good laner would do), Svenskeren was able to burn both defensive summoner spells allowing for an easy follow up gank to guarantee the team first blood and with it, a tempo advantage.

Maokai burns both defensive summoner spells mid allowing for a repeat gank later on. Courtesy of lolesports.

 

 

Even before the follow up gank on CLG’s mid laner, the initial Maokai gank gave pressure to TSM’s mid laner allowing the Taliyah to actively deny CS from CLG’s mid laner by threatening both all in’s and ganks. The follow up gank arrived just before Huhi’s flash came up, securing first blood through a four person dive on the mid lane. By ten minutes, TSM’s entire gold lead stemmed out of their mid lane advantage created through repeat ganks by Svenskeren’s Maokai. This advantage would then translate to a four for one teamfight in TSM’s favor utilizing the advantage of the AOE mage in the mid lane that was previously gained.

In game two we witnessed an early invade that resulted in a blown flash for CLG’s immobile Ashe. Svenskeren immediately took advantage of this by ganking bot lane after starting red buff in his topside. Had Ashe’s flash not been down prior to this gank, an early gank from Svenskeren would have more than likely put him behind in his jungle clear. However, since the flash had been down, the 400 gold that comes from killing CLG’s ADC was very worth the minor setback that occurred as a result of pathing so oddly.

 

 

Solo-queue takeaways: Economy of opportunity

Camping a lane is always a good idea, but camping a lane that has no summoner spells is even better. Junglers in competitive environments benefit from playing around strong sides of their map, sides where their laners have item or summoner advantages. The same basic principles can be applied to solo-queue environments.  When playing on the strong side of the map, if both allies and enemies are to collapse on a risky invade, your allies should have the advantage in the following skirmish.

A level two gank on a flash less Ashe ends up being a flashy play. Courtesy of Lolesports

 

Jungling is all about risk versus reward. What benefits you can gain from ganking a lane may not outweigh the benefits that are guaranteed through farming your jungle. More so, they may not outweigh the benefits you can gain from denying the enemy jungler their own resources. Highly skilled junglers take this into account frequently. They often do not gank early due to the tempo loss that can arise from a failed gank. However, the same can be applied for the reverse of this scenario. Easily gankable lanes are prioritized over their own camps and the opportunity to counter jungle. How a jungler utilizes the economy of opportunity will dictate how skilled they are, and furthermore, will decide whose nexus falls.

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Feature image courtesy of lolesports

How franchising in North America might affect Europe

ESPN has reported that four teams have applied to the NA LCS in wake of franchising next year. Not just four average teams either. Four major esports organizations from the EU LCS in Fnatic, Misfits, G2 and Splyce. It seems that with franchising coming to North America next year, it would be a safer investment than staying in the EU LCS.

Franchising opens up the ability for investors to have a safer investment with no risk of teams being relegated. Teams will also have a lot more money to pay players than their European counterparts. This could lead to less investors heading to Europe with more money going into the NA LCS.

More Players Leaving Europe?

Photo via Riot Esports

It’s no secret that Europe has produced some very talented players that have come to the NA LCS. Names like Bjergsen, Jensen and Froggen come to mind. With more money coming to North America, could we see a migration of Europeans/Koreans to North America?

Some say money can’t buy everything. But with players typically having short career spans, wouldn’t you want to at least go where your money will be the greatest? Europe has somewhat been known for having less money than North American competitors. With franchising looming next split, could we see even more European stars head to North America in chase of higher pay?

The EULCS would inevitably become weaker if they can’t compete with the money that North American teams can offer. Even European teams have applied to franchise in North America. This would force teams to have to drop over half their roster to satisfy the import rules. This leads into the next topic of combining NA and EU LCS.

One Western League?

Instead of implementing the import rule for EU LCS teams coming over, could Riot think to combine both regions altogether? While it’s highly unlikely, if Europe’s top organizations were to get accepted, it would leave a huge void in Europe for talent and org experience.

Many European fans have discussed their negativity towards franchising in Europe. If all the best teams are already looking towards NA for franchising, it may be better to follow suit. This whole year has almost proved that the EU LCS is a top heavy league.

The difference between the bottom four and top six teams is quite apparent, especially with the results at Rift Rivals. With more money heading to North America, the competition can only grow stronger.

Changing the Format

It’s no secret Europe has become victim to Riot’s LCS experiments. First with the best of 2’s last year and now with the divided groups. The two group format has made EU more dissatisfying to watch as you see a lot less of the top teams going head to head. The bottom teams in each conference are almost auto-wins for the rest as well.

Having only two full days of games compared to three in NA definitely hurts from a sponsorship standpoint. With franchising also coming, EU needs to go to all teams playing each other twice in a best of three. No more groups splitting the league either. It almost feels like it hurt them competitively as well. This was evident at Rift Rivals when Phoenix1 who finished last place this summer was able to handily defeat the top teams from Europe.

The format isn’t the only thing holding Europe back, but it’s definitely an issue. Riot needs to give EU a full three days of games and the same format as North America.

It will be interesting to see what exactly happens next year with franchising coming to North America. Many talented EU players may look to North America in search of the money. This could be detrimental to EU LCS as we move forward.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

Top five junglers and how they are used in the LCK and NA LCS

Strategies and picks in the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) often get criticized for imitating those pioneered in the League Championship Korea (LCK). This is a fair criticism and is in a large part due to the fact that the LCK plays before the NA LCS on each patch by a couple of days, allowing for their North American counterparts to learn vicariously from the trials and errors in the LCK.

The jungle has always been a role that remains fairly static despite changes in the meta, with picks like Lee Sin and Elise seeming to always be viable. But with each region being on a ten ban system, this season has shown some prominent divergences from the standard jungle picks. Here we explore the top five jungle picks in both regions to see how each region has success with the strategies that arise from these power picks.

In the following list, the most picked junglers will be graded for each region based upon the entire Summer Split so far. Other junglers of note are Maokai, Rek’Sai, Jarvan IV, Graves and Nidalee who have either not seen enough play to make conclusions upon their value or have simply been outclassed by the five junglers mentioned below. 

 

1. Lee Sin: S tier in NA / A tier in the LCK

With a win rate at 64 percent in the NA LCS it is no wonder that Lee Sin is the most picked jungler. His big plays allow for any player, rookie or veteran to steal the spotlight with a flashy play. No other champion is capable of the hype plays that Lee Sin can pull off. I’m talking about MikeYeung hype tier plays. While his success is slightly less impactful in the LCK, where Lee Sin has a 52 percent win rate, both regions have seen him picked in 25 games. Lee Sin is the jack of all trades and his value is recognized by all teams across all regions. Having the capacity to fit any team composition due to the diversity of his kit and the power of his mobility, Lee Sin is S tier in the NA LCS and A tier in the LCK. The reason for Lee Sin being slightly less valuable in the LCK is mostly due to the smaller amount of Lee Sin one tricks in the LCK when compared to the MikeYeungs of NA. Additionally, Thresh and Taliyah, both of which do very well into Lee Sin, are even more popular of picks in the LCK than they are in NA.

 

Elise dives Gragas with an enemy minion wave in the way of a free cocoon that would have secured the kill cleanly. This is not how you do the Elise Renekton combo NA. Courtesy of lolesports.

2. Elise: C tier in NA / S tier in the LCK

Similar to Lee Sin in more than just being a flashy playmaking jungler, Elise is the LCK’s version of Lee Sin. With a 81.8 percent win rate in the LCK and a dismal 31.8 in the NA LCS, Elise shows a distinct difference in the meta for each region. The LCK has only picked Elise a total of 11 times, which is less than half that of the NA LCS. Additionally, teams that pick Elise consistently try to pick champions like Syndra and Renekton. More so than any other champion, Renekton has the ability to lock down a champion giving Elise a free stun, oftentimes resulting in not only a kill but also the depletion of the enemy top laner’s summoner spells as well. In the NA LCS Elise is not used in the same as in the LCK and is instead used as a “fit all team compositions” jungler much like Lee Sin. In the LCK, Elise is an S tier jungler, while in NA she appears to be one of the many C tier picks.

 

3. Gragas: B tier in both regions

Being able to choose your fights makes you the strongest on the rift. Courtesy of lolesports

Often picked early due to the ability to flex this pick in top lane, Gragas is another one of those champions that always seems viable in competitive play. Being the second most picked champion in the NA LCS Summer split comes as no surprise, but the priority by which Gragas is picked does not always follow the success that he garners. While having a positive win rate in both regions, Gragas’ jungle success is much higher in the LCK, while his laning success is higher in NA LCS. While the fat man lacks in clear speeds, he makes up for it with the versatility of his kit. If you are noticing a trend in the top jungle picks so far, you are right to do so. Elise, Lee Sin and Gragas all have the ability to engage and disengage from fights, which is especially valuable in competitive. The ability for a champion to win most fights is great at all levels of play, but the ability to choose which fights to enter into is ultimately much more valuable at higher levels of play. For this reason, Gragas is a B tier jungler in both regions.

 

4. Kha’Zix: D* tier in NA / A tier in the LCK

One item Kha’Zix damage. That just doesn’t seem right… Courtesy of OGN

Being the third most picked jungler in the LCK, Kha’Zix has recently been attributed as the most overpowered jungler in Korea. The rise of Kha’Zix is primarily due to his ability to abuse the very powerful Duskblade of Draktharr item, but despite the power of this item, his win rate and pick rate in NA is dismally low. With a 16.7 percent win rate in NA and a 64.3 in the LCK many viewers are left scratching their head. A lot of this difference in pick rate between the two regions stems from the assassin junglers being overvalued in Korea. More high damage AD junglers like Graves, Kha’Zix and Rengar are seen in Korea in general, potentially to round out the magic damage that is so popular in top lane tanks like Gragas, Maokai and more recently Cho’ Gath. NA, on the other hand, seems to be struggling with Kha’Zix as an AD assassin while simultaneously performing exceedingly well on Rengar. This is in large part due to who is picking Kha’Zix. Reignover, Contractz and Moon are prolific Kha’Zix players and unfortunately for them, they are on teams that have not found much success as of lately. For this reason, I have added an asterisk to the D tier rating for Kha’Zix in NA.

5. Olaf: B tier in NA / D tier in the LCK

Olaf is not the most popular jungler in either region being discussed. He seems to have arisen from the ten ban system as a result of junglers not being prioritized in the first pick stage. Despite his lack of popularity, Olaf has seen some success in NA. Olaf is one of the few champions that Team Liquid has seen success on and appears to be a popular back up pick for the likes of both Xmithie and Contractz. While on the other side of the Pacific, Olaf has been met with much disdain. Standing at a 30 percent win rate over the course of ten picks, Olaf’s lack of success in the LCK is to be expected given his inability to be able to pick and choose the fights he engages in. Having no way to traverse the jungle walls, Olaf’s invades can be risky. Olaf simply does not have the mobility that other top tier junglers have, but he still remains an “if all else fails” pick for many junglers in competitive.

 

 

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Rookie

Who Deserves NA LCS Rookie of the Split?

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

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

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

MikeYeung

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

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

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

Nisqy

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

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

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

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

Omargod

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

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

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

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

Rookie of the Split

Rookie

Photo Via Lolesports

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Photo Via lolesports

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Is this the year North America goes far at Worlds?

For the past few seasons North America has had very little success at Worlds. While other regions have been able to find their way to the finals or even semi finals, NA hasn’t made it past quarterfinals since season one. This year there is a hope with NA showing a dominating performance at rift rivals against EU. Europe has had somewhat more success with teams such as H2k and Fnatic reaching semifinals the past few seasons.

Every year around this time people are slowly getting hyped for the World championships. Teams will begin to qualify in the next month or so and will most likely head to Korea for a boot camp. Bootcamping in Korea has almost become a must for teams wanting to have a shot at the World championship. The same story seems to always come for North America. Korea and other regions hype up their scrim results only to have them flop on stage. One team might make it out of groups, but then be swept handily in the quarterfinals. Here are some reasons NA fans can be hopeful this year:

Improved Competition

Worlds

Photo via Riot Esports

It’s no doubt North America has been improving steadily each year. Some of the best players from around the world have been brought in and overall, the scene seems much improved. More money has allowed teams to invest in better players, coaches, and practice facilities. Many teams such as Immortals and Cloud 9 have shown the effectiveness of bringing in a Korean coach. Immortals literally went from a 7th place team in Spring to a team contending for first with a worse roster under the wings of former ROX coach, Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo.

Not only have imports improved the competition, but new homegrown talent has also begun to flood the scene. Players like Contractz, Akaadian, Mikeyeung, and Cody Sun have begun to show that there is talent to foster here in North America. Despite all the knocks on our solo que, there are talented players out there waiting to be discovered.

The competition throughout NA is much better than it was last year and even last split. Compared to EU, there isn’t really a team like Massive Monkeys or NiP that are free wins for most teams. Every team can take a win under the right circumstances. More importantly, the top six teams look closer than ever. First place has not been held for very long this split, and it almost feels like it’s a good thing. More talented teams, should mean a better showing at Worlds.

Group draws play a huge factor

With Worlds continuing with the same format as previous seasons, group draws will be very important in seeing how far an NA team can actually go. With TSM flailing at MSI, NA comes in as underdogs with no number one seed coming into Worlds. This may not matter much as we saw G2 last year get drawn into a somewhat favorable group at first glance without a number one seed.

While NA hasn’t had the best luck with their group draws, this year could be different. The real jackpot is avoiding drawing a Korean team if possible during the group stages. Korea is undoubtedly always the strongest region.

Teams to Watch out For

Photo via Riot Esports

Due to how important circuit points are in qualifying for Worlds, TSM and Cloud 9 are almost auto locks for Worlds barring a playoff upset. The third spot will most likely be contested for in the gauntlet unless Immortals can win their first NALCS split. While it’s not impossible, Immortals have yet to show up in playoffs after successful regular seasons. This team looks much different than their previous seasons, showing a variety of different strategies to be able to win games. Coach Ssong has had a steady impact for this team. CLG, Dignitas, and Envy have also been steadily improving.

TSM will look to redeem themselves at Worlds this year after a dominating summer last year only to be knocked out of Groups. This year TSM isn’t trying to perfect one sole strategy. Instead, they’re practicing different styles of comps and learning to play off more than one lane carrying. It sounds like a good plan for Worlds success.

Cloud 9 on the other hand have looked inconsistent this split. The team seems to only win through getting star mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen ahead. When Jensen snowballs hard the team’s games become much easier. If he doesn’t get ahead, the team struggles to find a way to win. Jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia has had a phenomenal sophomore split as he has the highest DPM among junglers and is near the top in total KDA. If the top and bot lane of C9 can find more consistency, they can definitely show a good performance at Worlds if they qualify.

 

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

 

What Mickey’s acquisition means to Team Liquid

Team Liquid made a huge announcement this week with the acquisition of former ROX tiger mid laner, Sun “Mickey” Yong-min. It’s no secret that Team Liquid has failed to meet expectations this whole year. They thought they could turn things around after acquiring star jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin in the off season. That hasn’t been the case as the team has sat near the bottom of the standings for most of the year, barely avoiding relegation in Spring.

This off the back of an impressive 2-0 week where Team Liquid looked to be finally coming together. Team owner, Steve Arhancet, seems to be highly dissatisfied with the team’s results this year. With franchising coming to LCS soon he wants to start building for the future now. This move infers a lot of things with the team moving forwards.

Piglet’s Inevitable retirement

Mickey

Photo via Riot Esports

Star ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin was brought onto the team two years ago to turn TL into Worlds contenders. That hasn’t come to fruition as the team has struggled mightily for most of his time on the roster. This may be a sign that both sides are ready to move on.

Piglet has put up decent stats throughout his NA LCS career, but the team has never been able to fully use that to their advantage. During his early stages, he would often get caught out farming a side wave and failing to group with his team. His communication and chemistry issues showed in game, and the results mirrored that.

Meanwhile Team Liquid has done everything in their power to make things better for Piglet. Last summer when the Dardoch drama was going on, he requested to play on Team Liquid Academy. Even after that, he’s shown in Breaking Point wanting to quit again. Team Liquid has constantly tried to build a team around him, despite it showing that it hasn’t worked for four splits now.

The signing of Mickey brings Team Liquid to the two import limit. This means either Reignover or Piglet can’t play with Mickey in the lineup. For now it seems that they’ll try to make things work with Inori at jungle. Looking forward, they may try to find a North American talent to replace Piglet. In interviews at the start of the split Piglet states that he’s leaning towards retirement if TL doesn’t win NA LCS.

Goldenglue’s Failed Return

Many were surprised when TL announced they’d be bringing back the exact same roster from last split that was nearly relegated before Doublelift came in. Most notably, the return of mid laner Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer to the starting lineup. Goldenglue spent some time bootcamping in Korea by himself while the team finished out the Spring Split without him. TL hoped that the Korean bootcamp had helped him improve enough to warrant the starting position. That wasn’t the case as the team as a whole seemed to struggle.

Goldenglue specifically hasn’t put up great stats this split. He is currently near the bottom for KDA and CS diff@10 among mids. He had some great performances last week during their 2-0 where he showed flashes of brilliance. But just like that, Mickey is being brought in to challenge him for his spot.

This all but spells his likely end with Team Liquid. It may also mean the end of his pro career as he’s more of a challenger series level mid laner at most. He’s great at helping qualify teams for LCS, but just hasn’t performed well enough on stage. It’ll be interesting to see what he does moving forward. He has definitely put in a lot of work trying to consistently stay in LCS these last few years.

Reignover a bust?

Mickey

Photo via Riot Games

One of the biggest questions coming into the split was how jungler Reignover would do without his long time duo Huni in the top lane. While Huni went onto do great things on SKT, Reignover has been a shadow of his former self. He has not been the MVP performer we were used to seeing last year.

The jungle talent does seem to have been elevated this split. With big name rookies all coming into the split and others getting better, Reignover hasn’t looked the same. Even in this meta where tanks are king, he doesn’t seem to have the same impact.

With Mickey coming onto the team, TL has reacquired Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett as the starter with Reignover waiting in the wings. Many will remember Dardoch as one of the most talented yet toxic members during his time on TL. Another high risk/high reward move that could work well or blow up the team to oblivion. This time around they don’t have the clash of Dardoch and Locodoco so maybe this move can work out. Dardoch seems to have a history of toxicity at this point on every team he’s been on. Even a winning CLG team.

Only time will tell if these moves can actually move TL into Worlds contention in the future.

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Cover photo by The Score Esports

Dignitas

Team Dignitas’ rise to the top

This split has been a roller coaster for Team Dignitas. Initially playing with a top-heavy map DIG came out of the gates strong this summer, but suffered through a mid-season slump. However, after the recent roster swaps the team has begun to surge forward again. Moving into the playoffs they still have to square off against IMT and CLG. Dignitas has proven themselves up to the challenge with a convincing 2-0 win over TSM on Saturday and a close 2-1 loss to C9 yesterday.

As a result, Team Dignitas for the first time since early season three is considered a top team in North America. Long gone are the days of baron tosses and being a middle of the pack team. Instead DIG has the second highest baron control in the LCS and in the last two weeks have been utterly crushing opponents with snowball comps.

The Landscape

Dignitas

Photo Via Lol esports Flickr

The LCS is in utter upheaval. It feels like EU LCS in season three and four: everyone can beat anyone else. There are only two weeks remaining in season before playoffs begin and seeding for the tournament is still up in the air. A rift has opened between the top six teams and the bottom four teams. The teams that will participate in the playoffs are likely locked in, but the gap isn’t insurmountable though. An undefeated run from any of the bottom four teams has the potential to put them in the playoffs.

Team Dignitas is in prime position to take advantage of this upheaval. They are resting in fourth place and have won three of their last four games. They have a chance to ride this winning run to a bye in the playoffs. Winning out will give them a 12-6 record and, assuming CLG or IMT drop a game, tied for second. DIG winning out means a win against both teams, which would tie up the head to head against each team. This means it would come down to game Win/Loss record for who is seeded higher.

At the very least DIG will make playoffs. Even with a 1-3 record in the last two weeks DIG would sit at sixth place. However, it seems unlikely that DIG will drop more than two sets in the next two weeks. The other teams they face off against, other than the aforementioned CLG and IMT, are Echo Fox and Team Liquid. Each series is DIG favored, despite TL coming off an impressive 2-0 week.

The Players

Dignitas

Photo Via Lol esports Flickr

The reason Dignitas finds themselves in this fortuitous position is because of the recent roster swap. The team was slumping because the only threat was coming from Ssumday in the top lane. He was able to carry them through the first few weeks, but teams eventually realized that they just needed to shut him down in order to win.

Now though with Altec and Adrian coming in for Lod and Big, the bot lane has become a threat. This has opened up the map for DIG in the sense that they can play through any lane. If a team focuses too much on shutting down Ssumday, DIG can channel resources to their bot lane and win from there. If a team doesn’t focus on Ssumday he’s able to snowball and carry the game.

A threat in the bottom lane has also unlocked Keane. Keane has been a solid, consistent midlaner this split. He isn’t one to carry his team to a win, but certainly never gets stomped. Now that the pressure is more focused on Dignitas’ top and bottom lanes Keane can play for the teamfights and late game damage, something he has shown to be his forte.

Last, but certainly not least, is Shrimp. Shrimp has been suffocating his opponents in the jungle on his Nunu and Graves these last couple weeks. He’s taking away the jungle pressure from other teams by counter jungling, counter ganking and making them have to focus on neutral objectives instead of lanes. Shrimp understands his role very well and plays to that role. He knows he must get his lanes ahead and they will carry the game.

The Future

Dignitas

Photo Via Lol esports Flickr

DIG came out to three great weeks, slumped in the next two and have now had two great weeks. They are looking to break the trend of peaks and valleys and ride out this victory train into the playoffs. They’ve proven that they can take down the top teams in decisive fashion and certainly have a chance at the NA LCS title. Despite their loss to C9 the series was close and game one was a stomp in DIG’s favor. They can certainly hold their own against top teams, and have a good chance to take down both CLG and IMT. If they can perform in the playoffs to the degree they have shown in weeks six and seven they have the ability to make it deep.

Overall Dignitas looks strong. At this point anything less than fourth in NA LCS should be considered a failure. They put themselves in a position to succeed and are the masters of their own fate. DIG doesn’t need any other teams to have key losses to make the playoffs. They just need to keep winning. As for their playoff run, if they take away some good wins and keep up the level of performance they will take some momentum into the playoffs. They may still be able to secure a bye round, or at the very least a higher seed for side selection and an easier first round.

 

Cover Photo Via lolesports

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Substitutions

Breaking down substitutions in the NALCS

This year has seen a rise in the number of subs used in the LCS. In previous years it was a rare sight to have multiple players starting in the same position. The exception came only when there were illnesses or injuries preventing a player from playing. Now, though it is far from the norm, many teams have started swapping out players between games and sets depending on a number of factors. These factors include: the team being played, the composition the team wants to try, tilt and player to player match ups.

The most prominent example of subs working lies with SKT. Since season five they have had at least one sub. Initially it was Easyhoon subbing in for Faker in the midlane. Then it was Bengi and Blank subbing in and out in the jungle. Now we have Peanut and Blank sharing the jungle and Untara and Huni splitting time in the top lane.

SKT finding success with the sub style has proven that it can work. Though it has been implemented in the NALCS, the strategy has been met with varied degrees of success.

 

Cloud 9

Substitutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flickr

Cloud 9 has probably found the most success with substitutions in the NALCS this split. Being able to sub in Ray or Impact when the series isn’t going their way, or when the match calls for a certain playstyle has helped Cloud 9 a few times this season. Most prominently when C9 subbed out Impact for Ray in their series against TSM. Ray came into game two and stayed even in lane, then made a huge play in the bottom lane swinging the momentum in C9’s favor. Then despite picking the wrong keystone mastery in game three of the series he still managed to make plays around the map.

Cloud 9 has found some success with substitutions. They still have a lot of problems that need to be fixed, though. Namely, the team often looks uncoordinated. Take their most recent series against CLG. They lost game one with Impact, who was just destroyed from level one, so they sub in Ray. They win game two with Ray, his J4 looked clean and though he didn’t carry he definitely set up some great plays. Game three was a different story. Despite being up in gold and towers at 20 minutes Cloud 9 is unable to take control of the neutral objectives and lost a fight around Baron and then in midlane giving CLG the advantage and letting them take the game.

Subbing works at times for Cloud 9, but it feels as if the lack of scrims with the same roster, and the different playstyle that each top laner brings unbalances C9 nearly as much as it does the opposing team.

 

Other teams

Substitutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flickr

This trend of unbalance on both sides seems to be a staple among all of the teams that utilize subs in the NALCS. Recently CLG has brought in jungler OmarGod. In his first series he came in after CLG picked up a win against Flyquest. He crushed on Olaf with a 5-0-13 performance, dominating the early game and bullying his way into the mid game. He proved that he has the talent to be an LCS jungler. When CLG lost game one to DIG they subbed out Dardoch and brought in Omar. They still didn’t pick up the win, and in fact looked more discombobulated in game two than in game one.

Echo Fox has a “ten man line-up” with a sub for every roll. However, substitutions in any role has only gotten a win against TL since week three.

NV has seen some success with the substitutions between Pirean and Nisqy. Generally, they play out an entire weekend with one, rather than swapping out in between games or series. This allows them time in scrims to prepare for the coming week, rather than splitting time. They still haven’t managed to beat a top team other than the struggling C9.

 

Pros and Cons

Substitutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flickr

Whatever advantages teams gain from implementing subs seems to be negated by the unbalance it brings to their own team. The communication seems to be lackluster in all of the teams that have used subs this split. CLG seemed to bring in Omar in the DIG series because they were reaching for a panic button, rather than having a definitive plan to win. The lack of scrim time that each player gets is also a concern. More scrims is always a good thing, and having to split time between players doesn’t promote cohesion.

It is a long term investment though. Having two players that are both integrated with the rest of the team can be a powerful weapon to possess. If teams like CLG and C9 can have seamlessly interchangeable players at their disposal in the future they may have the edge they need to beat other top teams. Until those players get to that level of integration the teams are going to suffer some defeats because of it.

Only time will tell if the investments these teams have made into multiple players will pay off as short term losses and long term gains.

 

Cover Photo Via lolesports

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