NALCS: Grading this Split’s Rookies

In my last piece I took a look at some of newest imports of the North American LCS. This week I’ll take a look at the rookies and how they’ve made an impact to their team this split. There are only four this split, but nonetheless every rookie has come onto their team and made an impact. Grading will be based on expectations heading in and how they’ve met them. Lets take a look:

Phoenix1 Stunt (Support)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

William “Stunt” Chen began this split as a sub on Dignitas. He also spent some time last summer on Team Liquid Academy playing alongside Piglet.  Little was known about Stunt heading in, as most didn’t even know he was a sub on Dignitas untill he subbed for a series against Envy.

He finally got his shot at LCS as a starter when Phoenix1 acquired him before the trade deadline. Their former support Adrian “Adrian” Ma was transferred to Team Liquid in wake of internal issues with jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. Stunt came in as a brand new support who had never really had a starting role on an LCS team. Phoenix1 has not been phased by this at all, if anything, they’ve looked to have grown even stronger.

In the 8 games he’s played, Phoenix1 is undefeated and look to be catching up to Cloud 9 as the second best team in North America. Stunt himself has been performing quite well in this support meta. His champion pool is diverse, having played seven champions already in his short time on P1. Stunt currently has the highest KDA of supports at 5.5 and a spectacular 80 percent kill participation.

Phoenix1 seemed to have done a great job integrating Stunt into the team. Phoenix1 look like top contenders heading into playoffs.

Grade: A-

Cloud 9 Contractz (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Juan “Contractz” Garcia came in as the next hyped upcoming challenger talent. He spent time on Cloud 9 Challenger and helped them qualify for the LCS. Many praised him as a solo que star being bred to take the NA LCS by storm. After a phenomenal week 1 performance many thought Contractz would pop off and propel Cloud 9 to the top team once again. That hasn’t really been the case as Cloud 9 have regressed as other teams around them have improved.

Contractz in particular has had his fair share of rookie mistakes that have cost his team. Sometimes getting caught out before big objectives or invading without the aid of his team behind him. Even a minor accidental slip up in champion select may have cost his team a close series against CLG.

Nonetheless, Contractz has played pretty well for a rookie Jungler in his first split. Expectations may have hindered how well he’s actually played this split. Contractz came in molded to be a somewhat supportive style Jungler helping his talented laners get ahead. He gets deep vision for the team and tracks the enemy Jungler.  He currently has the 2nd highest KDA among Junglers.

What’s worrisome is how much Cloud 9 struggles to make plays in the early game.  With so many talented players, their early game is still one of their biggest weaknesses. Contractz has the worst First Blood percentages among Junglers which speaks to the lack of C9’s play making in the early game. Often times their wins come off mid game fights.

 

Grade: B

Echo Fox Akaadian (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham came into the LCS with little to no expectations of him. Most expected him to be average at best and not make much of an impact. That was not the case as he stormed onto the scene in the first weeks as an extremely talented and aggressive Jungler.

As the split has gone on, some teams may have figured out his style. With teams around them getting better, Echo Fox has struggled to stay afloat. Akaadian went from having one of the best KDA’s in the league, to having one of the worst at 2.7.  Nonetheless, Akaadian has been one of, if not the best player on his team this split. His early game play making has often netted his team huge gold leads. It’s more of the team as a whole not being able to transition those leads into victories.

It will be interesting if he garners interest from other teams during the off-season. Any North American talent is crucial as it allows for imports in other parts of the roster.

Grade: A

Immortals Cody Sun (ADC)

Li “Cody” Yu Sun was an up and coming ADC fresh out of the challenger scene. He spent time on Dream Team last split where he stood out as a top performer. As a rookie, not much was expected from him and his lane partner Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. People expected Immortals to play mostly through their talented solo laners and Jungle.

It took awhile, but Cody Sun and Olleh are quietly becoming a bot lane force. Their first few weeks were a bit rough. As a rookie ADC being thrown into a meta where ADC’s were basically ult bots was a tall task.

As the ADC meta is slowly shifting back to meta carries Cody Sun has shown some great performances on Ezreal and Cait. He’s one of the underrated pickups during the off season as a North American talent who doesn’t take up an import slot. Moving forward, he’ll need to continue his growth for Immortals to perform at their highest level.

Grade: B-

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NALCS: Grading the Newest Imports

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

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

Phoenix 1’s Arrow and RYu

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Grade: A+

Echo Fox’s Looper

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: B-

Dignitas’ Ssumday and Chaser

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

Immortals’ Flame and Olleh

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

 

Grade: C

Team Envyus’ Lira

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: B+

 

 

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NALCS: Players to Watch as We Near the End of the Split

There are only two weeks left in the split, and each game will be important in playoff positioning. TSM and Cloud 9 are the obvious top two teams, but Phoenix1 has been on a tear recently. The middle of the pack has been a toss up every week. It seems that every week a different team decides to show up or collapse. In this piece, we’ll take a look at key players to watch who will be vital in their team’s success as we near the end of the split.

Dardoch (IMT Jungler)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett  has been the MVP of Immortals up to this point. He is often the decider in whether or not his team comes out on top. There are times where we see Dardoch play like the jungle God we’ve come to know from his time on Liquid. Other times he’ll make questionable aggressive plays that make us shake our head. In their series last week against TSM, he showed up with a phenomenal Rengar in Game 1, but failed to make enough of an impact in the next two games of the series.

Immortals are currently tied with Dignitas for 6th place at 6-8. In order for Immortals to solidify their playoff position, they’ll need Dardoch at his best.

Hai and Moon (Flyquest Mid and Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This one could go out to Flyquest as a whole honestly. Their drafting seems to have focused heavily on cheesing opponents. While it brings out unique champions for fans, their in game success has fallen off since the mid way point. It may be a mix of other teams around them getting better, but Flyquest will need Hai “Hai” Lam and Galen “Moon” Holgate to get back to where they were at the start of the split. During their first three weeks, Flyquest were winning off the backs of their strategic drafts and Hai’s shotcalling. Moon was also putting up phenomenal stats, but has struggled as of late.

Flyquest have fallen from being a top three team to tied for fourth with CLG. Their playoff spot isn’t even guaranteed anymore. They may need to go back to playing more standard picks and what worked for them. Morde and Shaco were fine for a game or two, but the rest of the LCS continues to get better, and cheesing opponents just isn’t enough anymore.

Stixxay (CLG ADC)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC’s have quietly shifted from being ult-bots to now being able to carry a game. We saw evidence of this from CLG’s last series with Cloud 9. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes showed the ability to be able to carry with his Ezreal and Caitlyn play. With the changes to Botrk going live this week, Ezreal may become a top tier ADC pick. This is good news for CLG as they’re used to playing around their star bot lane duo.

CLG seems to always pick it up during this time of the season. Their win against Cloud 9 was much needed, and they’ll need to take that momentum with them into playoffs.

Keith and gate(Echo Fox ADC and support)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

It’s no doubt Echo Fox’s bot lane has been their weak spot. ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew and Austin “Gate” Yu are often the X factor in many of their games. If they don’t get caught and play with confidence, it’s a team that can clean sweep TSM. When they’re constantly getting caught out of position though, the rest of the team struggles to find consistency. Gate and Keith are both near the bottom in KDA at their positions.

Echo Fox are currently 8th place, sitting a game behind Immortals and Dignitas. With the bot lane shifting away from just being ult-bots, Echo Fox’s bot lane will need to step up immensely. They’ve shown the ability to hand TSM one of their only two losses of the split, so we know they’re capable.

Contractz (Cloud 9 Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Some may have been quick to praise Cloud 9 jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia, the next best jungler of North America. Contractz debuted with some phenomenal performances to begin his young LCS career. As teams around him have gotten better, we haven’t seen the same progression from him. His Rengar against CLG was unimpressive as he struggled to find effective ults onto anyone. His mis-click onto Jayce in Game 3 gave C9 an awkward team comp to say the least. Small rookie mistakes cost his team at times where he is caught out before big objectives. Contractz will play a huge part in whether Cloud 9 can dethrone TSM as king of NALCS.

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Loaning Players: Good or Bad for the Scene?

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

The Bad

Courtesy:Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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Looking at Team Liquid’s Future

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

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

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

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

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

Best Case Scenario

Courtesy:Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Case Scenario

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

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Notable Role Swaps in NALCS History

With the recent announcement of Team Liquid moving their star AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin to the mid lane, I thought I’d highlight some notable role swaps to come out of the NALCS.  Some were worked out and some were down right atrocious. Most would believe that role swapping mid-split would be one of the worst times to make such a move. Team Liquid has made it clear that they have nothing to lose. Role swaps aren’t very common, as learning a new role brings many different responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how this one unfolds. Without further ado, here are some of the most notable role swaps in NALCS history:

CLG’s Role Swaps (Seasons 2-3)

One of North America’s longtime organizations, Counter Logic Gaming, basically made a name for themselves early on role swapping. It almost became a meme how many times they attempted to just out right role swap once talented players into new roles on the team. It basically birthed the meme “truly counter logic” to attempt to move around struggling talented players in an attempt to see if things could work.

One of the most iconic players in LCS history, Steve “Chauster” Chau became known for role swapping, having played every role during his competitive career. Chauster also became infamous for molding star AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift Peng” into the player he is today. Chauster was praised for being one of the most intelligent players in the pro scene. For the most part, Chauster succeeded in just about every role he played, with support maybe being his peak, playing alongside Doublelift.

CLG’s owner, George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis, made a name for himself as one of the best early LoL streamers at the time. He was also considered one of the best professional players during early LoL. Internal issues with former jungler Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco led to HotshotGG taking over in the jungle. The team suffered as HotshottGG’s jungle style didn’t fit the team, as they fought to not place last in the season 2 World Championship. Once Chauster was moved to the jungle, HotshotGG returned to the top lane, but was never the same star he once was. He was forced into supporting Doublelift and never really having the carry impact he once had.

CLG once again tried to role swap Chauster back into the support role by bringing in former mid, Michael “bigfatlp” Tang, to jungle for summer of season 3. He would become the third member role swapped into jungle after Saintvicious’ departure. He was quite underwhelming compared to those before him. CLG would fail in the first round of playoffs, and bigfatlp would be replaced by EU jungler Marcel “Dexter” Feldkamp.

Possibly one of the best role swaps was bringing in a former ADC Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black to the starting support role. Aphromoo did not see success right away. He struggled with what seemed like stage jitters to begin with. Eventually Aphro and Doublelift would become the best bot lane in NA, known as “Rush Hour”.  His aggressiveness in lane matched perfectly with Doublelift’s, and having mained ADC before, he credited his success to knowing what an AD wants from the support role.

Xmithie and Zuna Roleswap (XDG Spring season 4)

XDG (formerly Vulcan) had just qualified for Worlds in season 3 and had a decent showing. Despite not getting out of groups, they took a game off Fnatic and looked to be a team on the rise in NALCS. In a puzzling move, they role swapped their ADC, Christopher “Zuna” Buechter, and jungler, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero upon returning from the World Championship for season 4. The team would fail to find the same success with this new roster change, and they eventually switched back.

It was too late, as Xmithie didn’t look like the same jungler who was heralded as “Dandy lite” at the last World Championship. XDG would eventually be relegated by LMQ and Xmithie would eventually be picked up by CLG to find much success.

Altec to Support (Winterfox Spring Season 5)

Johnny “Altec” Ru was once heralded as a rising NA talent. He had just been picked up by Evil Geniuses (rebranded to Winterfox) and looked to be on the rise. Halfway through the split, Winterfox was struggling mightily. Altec was one of the few English speakers on the roster, and thought going to the support role may help him have a bigger impact.

In a bizarre move, their head coach at the time, Choi “Paragon” Hyun-il stepped in to start as the new ADC, while Altec moved to support. This team had many other issues outside of bot lane, and after going 0-2, they reverted the move.

Winterfox went on to get relegated that summer, and Altec would find success on Gravity (formerly Curse Academy). He now plays for Flyquest, where he holds the 2nd highest KDA.

Voyboy from Top to Mid (Team Curse)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Voyboy was an iconic top laner in early pro LoL. He was an innovator for the most part who had a great mind for the game. He made picks like Akali, tank Katarina, and AP Tryndamere popular during his time.

Season 4 came, and Curse announced the move of Voyboy over to the mid lane. With this decision, many people questioned how innovative he could really be.  In the spring split, Curse would finish the regular season 11-17, and finish in their memed “forever fourth place”.

His mid lane never really matched what we saw from him in top lane. He was decent at best, but he never really became “World Class”. Team Curse would come close to qualifying for Worlds in season 4 before being reverse swept by LMQ. Shortly after Voyboy announced his retirement, he became a big streamer.

Saintvicious Jungle to Support (Team Curse)

Saintvicious was one of the best junglers in early League of Legends. Having spent time on CLG and Curse, he’d decided he wanted to step away to pursue coaching. During the first few weeks, Curse went 3-5. The team decided to insert Saintvicious into the starting support role.

He was heralded as a shotcaller during his time in the jungle, and dealt with many of their strategies as a coach. What could go wrong? The team didn’t find much success, going 2-6 while still sitting at the bottom of the standings.

Saintvicious would eventually move to Curses Academy team, where he’d lead a young roster back into LCS. He eventually retired after an okay season with the rebranded Gravity, and is now an analyst for Team Liquid.

KiWiKiD Top Lane to Support (Team Dignitas Season 4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen started off in the top lane to begin his pro career during season 3. KiWiKiD had shown some ability to carry games, but as the meta shifted he struggled to stay afloat. He eventually took the title for most deaths in NALCS history.

The next season he joined Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana, to support him in the bot lane. Their previous support, Jordan “Patoy” Blackburn, was a mechanically gifted support. Patoy and Imaqtpie were not known to be good friends outside of the game. The opposite was the case for KiWiKiD and Imaqtpie. They were great friends inside and out of the game.

KiWiKiD would never be able to become a top tier support. Dignitas would look like serious contenders for Worlds mid way through season 4 summer before eventually losing to TSM in the first round of playoffs.

Dignitas eventually got relegated from NALCS the following season. KiWiKiD spent a disastrous season on NRG before they got relegated as well. His work ethic has been questioned by former teammates on NRG. Mostly his Korean teammates for playing Overwatch in between scrims.

Hopes for Team Liquid

Numbers have shown role swaps are extremely risky and usually don’t grant much reward. Having a player compete against players who have mastered their roles since they started their careers is a daunting task for anyone. Role swaps during the middle of the split may be considered even riskier. Piglet showcased yesterday just how good of a player he is. We may need to wait longer to see how well he does against the likes of C9 and TSM. If his Immortals series is a sneak peak of what to expect, then this may be one of the best role swaps in history.

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

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

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

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

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

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

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

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

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

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

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

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

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

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

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

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

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: A

 

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

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Evaluating Team Liquid’s Roster Options

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

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

Piglet at Mid and Find a New ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bring back Arcsecond and Piglet stays at ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

ShipHtur in Mid and Piglet Stays at ADC

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

 

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NALCS Mid Season Awards

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

MVP of the Mid season: Hauntzer

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Rookie of the Mid season: Akaadian

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Contractz

Coach of the Mid season: Reapered

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Fly, Parth

Best Import of the Mid season: Arrow

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Honroable mentions: Ssumday, Ryu

Most Improved Player of the Mid season: Moon

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions: Smoothie, Altec, Huhi

All-LCS 1st Team

Top: Team SoloMid Hauntzer

Jungle: Echo Fox Akaadian

Mid: Cloud 9 Jensen

ADC: Phoenix1 Arrow

Support: Cloud 9 Smoothie

All-LCS 2nd Team

Top: Cloud 9 Impact

Jungle: Flyquest Moon

Mid: TSM Bjergsen

ADC: Cloud 9 Sneaky

Support: Phoenix1 Adrian

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

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NALCS Teams on the Rise: Echo Fox and Immortals

We’re almost halfway through the NA LCS split. NA LCS teams look all over the place in terms of standings. Cloud 9 stand above the rest undefeated at 8-0. Other than C9, the rest of the standings appear up in the air. This will be the first of a two part piece where I’ll be highlighting teams hitting their stride halfway into the split. This week I’ll start with Echo Fox and Immortals.

Echo Fox

Courtesy: Riot Games

 

Echo Fox may just be the definition of inconsistency. One week they throw enormous leads, another week they’re dominating their games. Echo Fox is coming off an impressive 2-0 week where they swept some big name teams in CLG and TSM.

Jungler Matt “Akaadian” Higginbotham has erupted in his rookie split. He has shown to be an extremely aggressive jungler who’s not afraid to make the big play. Often times rookies are not aggressive due to the jitters related to playing on stage for the first time. He has developed into the “NA First Blood King” holding the highest first blood percentage among junglers at 70%.  

Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen has been the leader for this team since its inception into the NA LCS. Frogen holds the 2nd highest KDA among mids with 4.6 while also leading the league in damage percentage at 30.7%.  He’s also been one of the most flexible mids, having played seven champions. Having that wide champion pool makes it impossible for enemy teams to ban him out.

After being the scapegoat of many of Echo Fox’s early losses, ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew has looked better week by week. In a meta where ADC’s are seen more for their utility, Keith hasn’t needed to carry teamfights. He’s had some good Jhin/Ashe ults and has been working on getting caught less.

Echo Fox seem to finally be figuring out how to transition their early leads to victories. It’s surprising to see they hold the highest gold difference@15 in the NA LCS at 1,530. Akaadian has been a major contributor in getting his team ahead. If this team can build off their momentum, they can begin to show the league that they’re real contenders.

Immortals

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Immortals are another team coming off an impressive 2-0 week after looking like a bottom tier team for most of the split. The slow start could have been due to communication issues within the team, but they looked much better.  

Rookie ADC Cody “Cody Sun” Sun looks to have found his pocket pick in Miss Fortune. After looking rocky for most of the split, he posted an eye-popping 19.5 KDA on Miss Fortune. Immortals won all three games that Cody Sun played her in. If teams start banning her moving forward, it will open up more champion choices for his team.

It’s been no secret that mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park has looked suspect for most of the split. This past week he posted an 8.2 KDA in the four games Immortals played. Hopefully this propels him back to form as the best NA resident mid laner we’ve been used to seeing from him. 

Finally, Immortals look to have finally resolved some of their communication issues. Their schedule gifted them with some bottom tier competition in Team Liquid and Dignitas. With some other teams beginning to struggle, they may be able to use their newfound momentum to creep into a playoff slot.

After Cloud 9, just about every NA LCS team looks even in skill and competition. Every team has different strengths that allow them to win games. In my next piece, I’ll be looking at some teams heading downwards in the standings.

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