The boys of silver: Cloud 9’s second place tenure

Recently it’s been an emotional roller coaster for Cloud 9 fans. I should know. I’ve been one since I started watching esports. I came to League by way of Smash. I was, and still am, a Mang0 fan. When I started watching League in spring of season 4 I decided since Mang0 had been picked up by C9 I’d stay true to the org and root for C9. Fortunately, they won that split. Unfortunately, they haven’t won in NA since. While C9 hasn’t had an unsuccessful split since, even finishing 7th didn’t stop them from making it to worlds, they have been unable to clutch the NA championship trophy. Coming in 2nd no less than four times. Falling short all four times to TSM, who hasn’t missed an NA final since the inception of LCS.

I’m not displeased with Cloud 9’s performances, far from it. It is great to be a C9 fan. I can’t imagine the masochism that CLG and Team Liquid fans have endured. However, I can’t help but feel like the team is destined to fall just short, time and time again. It’s hard to pin down the weaknesses among the strengths. What exactly is it that Cloud 9 is missing?

 

Strengths

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

Cloud 9 has always been able to team fight. When they joined the league they immediately rose to the top for three reasons.

The first was their mechanical prowess. It’s easily forgotten that at the offset Cloud 9 was considered a top-tier mechanical team. This was before Hai’s wrist issues.

The second was their ability to team fight. They would win nearly every team fight, often winning even when behind in gold.

Cloud 9 also had the x-factor of Hai. Hai was willing to make bold play calls and take risks in order to win, even when down. This often enabled his team to make comeback victories.

These three things combined to make them a dominant team in their first two splits. Cloud 9 had a combined record of 49-7 in their first two splits. They also took grand finals 3-0 both splits against TSM.

More recently the team has struggled at the last. However, they aren’t without their strengths. Jensen is widely regarded as a top two mid-laner. Some put him as the best in NA, but most think that he is second to TSM’s Bjergsen. He has great mechanical prowess and is often able to carry games. He is the superstar mid-laner for Cloud 9.

The bot lane also shows great strength. Sneaky and Smoothie have been consistently good throughout. Smoothie was named the best support in the league last split and Sneaky the second best ADC. Although they rarely display the level of hard carry prowess that Jensen does, they are more consistent. Their ceiling is high, but their floor isn’t far below it.

The top side of the map has shown some strength too. Contractz controls the early game and often ganks successfully to get his teammates ahead.  Impact has the ability to work with little resources yet still have a presence. Jensen can carry games more easily because he soaks up the resources that aren’t devoted to Impact. Impact’s positioning in team fights as well as his engages are second to none. Ray has also shown a lot of promise. His J4 has been deadly and has brought C9 out of a hole more than once this split already.

Weaknesses

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

Where then are the weaknesses? If every player has his strengths, what is the team struggling with? In order to highlight it I’m going to compare them to TSM. The reason for this is because Cloud 9 continues to fall short to this team.

At first glance it’s easy to say that TSM’s players are just better. Bjergsen is the better Jensen, Doublelift is the better Sneaky, and Svenskeren the better Contractz. It might be that TSM has better players, but team play is much more important than individual prowess.

TSM is also more proactive. Their macro and rotations are very good domestically. They rarely make bad calls and when they do they often find ways to make up for them. Cloud 9 on the other hand seem to hesitate. They are no longer at the level of macro play that they were when Hai was at the helm. When they play against lesser teams Cloud 9 often make quick work of them. They carve out advantages in the early game and then make decisive calls and win team fights in the mid game. Against teams like TSM, Cloud 9 hesitates a bit, or gets out rotated. C9 is unable to carve out an advantage early game, or struggle to rotate swiftly in the mid game. Cloud 9 doesn’t look lost, just timid.

Solutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

There most certainly is no one solution to Cloud 9’s problem. However, one thing that is missing from the Cloud 9 of old is that X factor. Hai’s ability to shot call and his ethos was Cloud 9’s X factor. Now that they have a team with great mechanical ability and great team fighting they are struggling to find their X factor. TSM has their’s in Bjergsen. His ethos and prowess has carried TSM to the finals time and time again. Cloud 9 is trying to emulate that in Jensen, but has fallen short two splits in a row, in game 5. It’s as if Cloud 9 is trying to beat TSM at their own game.

Jensen has been unable to pull it out in the clutch. It’d be a lot easier to argue that he is the best mid in NA if he was able to beat the current king when it was all on the line. Cloud 9 needs to find their new X factor. That unquantifiable thing that will push them to the championship.

 

Photos via Lolesports Flickr

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Dear Team Liquid, it’s time to change the narrative: An open letter about why we love competitive League of Legends

As a fan of competitive League of Legends since the birth of the NA LCS, what keeps me coming back season after season is the humanity of the team-based esport. When I think of my favorite moments in professional League of Legends, I do not think of the highlight plays, the flash predicting hooks nor the beautiful kiting mechanics of a skilled AD. It’s true these moments are fantastic. They are a form of high-brow art to a League of Legends fan, but even the skill of Zed v Zed play pales in emotional power to the stories these plays create.

Take a step back from the individual plays of the game, and ask yourself why you are a fan of whatever team you just bought a summoner icon for. Why do you love TSM or CLG? Why are you willing to argue with anonymous individuals online for hours over Dignitas or Cloud 9? Where do these arguments go?

It’s all about the story

CLG owner, HotshotGG, gets a henna tattoo after losing a bet to TSM owner, Reginald. Courtesy of lolesports.

For me, and for what I imagine to be the majority of the community, these arguments always end up with the discussion of the individual players. Not just that, this line of discourse tends to transcend how each player performs in game, and stretch into the personal lives of each player. Part of this is fueled by the amazing documentary crew Riot has on staff, with the production of the Drive series and Legends Rising. The ability to peer into the life of a professional esports athlete, a job most of us have fantasized about at one point, fuels the vicarious desire for our team and our favorite player to achieve victory against all odds.

It’s the story that brings us here. And it’s the constantly changing narrative that keeps us here. Think about the community’s favorite matchup, CLG v TSM. Regardless of the current standings of both of these teams, everyone knows this is the most viewed match of the season. Despite both of these teams being consistently high ranked, what brings fans to the CLG v TSM stream, is the narrative behind it. Fueled by zany characters like Reginald, paired with comic relief such as ludicrous bets, and topped off by the traditional interview trash talk; how can you not be entertained?

It’s like the scripted drama before a wrestling match, except it’s not scripted (entirely) and as a gamer, it is entirely relatable. Aphromoo, Doublelift, Bjergsen, Xmithie, Froggen, the list goes on. It’s not the silhouette of a horse nor the imagery of a minimalist helmet, that makes me a fan of Team Liquid or Immortals respectively. It’s the player who I may have been following on twitter or reading about consistently for almost five years.

Dyrus cries and we grow up

Dyrus announces his retirement in an emotional interview. Courtesy of lolesports

Take Delta Fox, North American Challenger Series Team. No one expected them to be a dominant force in the NACS, but they are without a doubt the most beloved team in NA. Why’s that? Because of their stories. One of my most memorable League of Legends moments was Dyrus’ retirement. For me, this single moment had more impact than any baron steal. Dyrus, someone who rarely shows emotion, was overcome by the changes. He felt as though his time in the professional League of Legends scene had come to an end, maybe this was due to his perceived relative skill, or some other issue entirely. The reason itself does not matter, so much as the visible distress he was under during the interview. In the face of a changing world, Dyrus undoubtedly felt lost, and chose to step down from competitive play. This was hard to watch. It was a reality check for the entire community.

The world was changing, and esports with it. What started as a group of friends creating a team in a game they all loved to play began to change. The gritty side of esports, the working gears of the revenue grinding industry has reared its ugly face. International success, domestic gains, investor returns, branding, advertising, sponsorships. These fuel the esports industry, and without them, we could never have a competitive League of Legends scene; so at the end of the day, we must be thankful, but it’s still hard to see. Perhaps this is why the community is so riveted by Delta Fox. Delta Fox marks a return of not just Dyrus, but those players we grew to know so intimately. I mean, I know the name of Imaqtpie’s cat, but I couldn’t tell you the name of my best friend’s cat to save my life. Delta Fox is a nostalgic trip into the the ‘good ol’ days’ of League of Legends when an ‘Insec’ was not a play that any Diamond player could pull off. But at the same time, Delta Fox is also a marketing campaign, which begs my next question.

Maybe the professional esports scene never changed? Maybe I just grew up. I mean, a lot has happened over these past couple of years. I’ve seen my parents grow old and distant, my hometown go from green to brown in a drought that I can no longer pinpoint the start of. I’ve seen my first love find someone else. And I’ve seen Dyrus cry.

These things have all shaped me, they’ve shaped who I am.

Every moment has the power to mold one’s identity, whether it is something as large as the death of a grandparent or as seemingly distant as a short documentary on a professional gamer. These stories become intertwined with our own; they bind together to shape our identity, influencing our interactions with others, in turn shaping them.

TL Matt and Piglet embrace optimistically for a photo. Courtesy of lolesports Flickr

Team Liquid and the underdog archetype

When Riot Games released an episode of Drive on TL Matt, I became a fan. TL Matt is the classic underdog story. Going from challenger series to LCS in three days, TL Matt’s underdog narrative explodes out of the handicaps that plagued his pre-pro days. High ping, low frames, constant crashing and obstructive parents all weighed against him. But despite the odds, the underdog support player made it to LA and is still competing for Team Liquid.

Team Liquid is devastated after another defeat. Courtesy of lolesports flickr.

It was this story that originally led me to follow TL more closely. TL Matt was a new face to the scene and he reincarnated the narratives that had originally led me to become a competitive League of Legends fan. Matt was a nobody who surged onto the stage, not through an elaborate exchange of contracts, but instead through a search for fresh talent and a bright outlook on the future. This is a story I want to follow, and I am happy that it is still going despite its ups and downs revealed in TL’s “Breaking Point”, and several substitutions made in the support role. Those substitutions bring me to the next Team Liquid narrative.

Team Liquid and the madman archetype

We have all heard the story of the man who tries to become the most powerful individual in the world. Maybe we have seen Breaking Bad (Walter White), Code Geass (Lelouch), Death Note (Light Yagami) or even Star Wars (Anakin Skywalker), we are all familiar with the archetypal protagonist who stops at nothing to accomplish everything. In doing so, this protagonist loses their humanity and their reason. They may even accomplish their goals, but at what cost.

Enter Team Liquid’s Co-founder, Steve Arhancet. Steve Arhancet has been with Team Liquid since their ignition in 2015. We know him most recently from the “Paid by Steve” meme, a meme that comments upon Steve’s tendency to substitute his players and constantly “buy” up the latest and greatest for each role. With 27 roster changes in less than two years, Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet lusts after fame and fortune. This is nothing new, I mean who can forget this.

Steve is the only true person TL fans can call consistent, yet we know little to nothing about him aside from his drive to develop the best NALCS team at any cost. What costs has he created? Well for one, the fan base of TL is relatively low compared to other Vanguard teams. Just last week we witnessed the one TL fan in the crowd waving a “Paid by Steve” sign and cheering TL on. As the only consistent image of TL, it is Steve who must take the reigns on his own public narrative.

Currently, Steve occupies the Mad Genius Archetype. He is desperately trying to string together a top tier team while leaving a trail of destruction and burnout in his path. But this cannot be true. As one of the last remaining TL fans, we just don’t have anything else to believe. So who are you Steve? What drives you to the point of creating an almost two-hour movie called “Breaking Point” that highlighted the destruction of your own team. It can’t just be money. It can’t just be fame. the story is important. It’s what made things like “Breaking Point” and Delta Fox so intriguing, and it is what will bring TL fans back. 

So you acquired Inori, and lost Link. Tell me why I should care. Tell me you will stop replacing your team members faster than tires on a Bugatti Veyron because I’m tired of the short stories your roster creates. It’s time for a novel.

 

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Featured image courtesy of teamliquidpro.com

 

Hooks in the LCS

Week Two of the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) has proven once again that NA pros are hooked on League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) picks. While Thresh has been a staple in competitive since release, the rise of Blitzcrank has recently rocketed in North America.

Thresh’s Big Moment

Perhaps the most consistent support pick, Thresh has become stronger than ever with the recent meta changes. Having a kit that is overloaded with the ability to create picks, peel, and reposition allies, it is no wonder that Thresh has been a staple in pro play. This being said, Thresh has reached his peak in both competitive and solo queue environments due to some recent changes.

Photo by: lolesports

Changes to support and laning items have made Thresh’s abusable laning phase easier to handle. Doran’s shield protects vulnerable AD carries from the harassment of the ever popular ranged mage supports. Poke based support champions are also hindered by having less mana regen on the Spellthief’s support item line. With poke supports doing less poking, tank supports running the Relic Shield line have been indirectly buffed, but they are again buffed through the power of the Relic Shield Quest which gives them a refreshing shield once it is completed.

Alongside the lack of health regen from the Ancient Coin line, and less mana regen from Spellthief’s, Relic Shield supports such as Thresh and Blitzcrank are at their strongest.

The Great Steam Golem

The Great Steam Golem has seen plenty of screen-time in the LCK, most notably from the likes of MVP MAX, whose signature Blitzcrank is a pick to be feared. With seven bans and five picks since the LCK started three weeks ago, Blitzcrank maintains a 60 percent win rate. Popularized by MVP Max during the Spring Split of the LCK, Blitzcrank is one of Max’s many play making supports. Currently, in the Summer Split of the LCK, MVP Max has only played two games on his claim to fame champion, winning one and losing the other; this shows that the pick has become popular amongst other supports in the LCK as well.

Throwback to Team Alternate versus Gambit (Moscow 5). Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has always been an unpopular pick in the competitive scene, with exception of the first two seasons of competitive. This is in large part due to the reliability of his one-dimensional kit. Blitzcrank is the quintessential Catcher. While being the best pick based support, Blitzcrank’s toolkit starts, stops and ends at his Rocket Grab. The basic combo, hook into knock-up and silence, can be used for peeling through a separation of the combo into its more basic components.

However, there are so many other better-peeling supports. Due to the nature of his one combo kit, Blitzcrank’s power is completely dependent on hitting the initial Rocket Grab. This is the primary reason why professional players have strayed away from Blitzcrank. While this champion is undeniably one of the most powerful supports in the game, consistently sitting in the top three highest win rate supports for the past few seasons, the lack of flexibility and reliability prevents the Steam Golem from being the most picked support.

Blitzcrank’s Fleshling Compatibility Services

Enter Xayah, the Rebel. Xayah has incredible late game scaling, laning phase damage, wave clear, and Crowd Control. Her popularity alongside her partner, Rakan, has soared in the competitive scene. While her go-to bottom lane partner is Rakan, Blitzcrank makes a potentially more powerful support. Much like the Kalista Blitzcrank combination of the past season, Xayah and Blitzcrank compensate for each other’s weaknesses perfectly. Xayah lacks in gap closers that allow for her to dump her insane amount of damage onto backline threats. Blitzcrank’s Rocket Grab allows for her to utilize her damage on threats that would otherwise be too far away. The Steam Golem lacks in reliability to initiate the Rocket Grab combo, but Xayah’s wave clear and root allow for Rocket Grab to become a point and click ability instead of a jukable skill shot.

EULCS Hylissang gets his hook on in time for a victory. Photo by: lolesports

Blitzcrank has incredible play-making ability that was displayed in game three of CLG v Echo Fox. Alongside Xayah, Blitzcrank is a foe to be reckoned with. Regardless of whether or not Blitzcrank is laning with Xayah, the Steam Golem has seen a recent resurgence in both solo queue and competitive environments. Most recently in the EU LCS, Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov, proved the champion’s power supporting Twitch in the bottom lane. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s knack for play-making supports has translated well into his Blitzcrank play. While CLG would ultimately lose to TSM with Blitzcrank, this is in large part due to the unexpected performance by TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenkskeren” Johnsen.

As support itemization is once again being changed, expect to see both hook-heavy champions in the bottom lane. With Redemption being nerfed when not paired with other healing and shielding items, and Knight’s Vow being made more appropriate for supports to pick up, expect to see a new Blitzcrank and Thresh build path. This new itemization will compensate for Blitzcrank’s lack of peel by allowing him to effectively share a health pool with his marksmen.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

 

The Fall of Phoenix1

Phoenix1 came into Summer Split as the third place team from Spring. They had an MVP player in ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon with solid pieces around him. Many expected them to still be strong contenders in the North American LCS, but two weeks in and they’re lone wolves at the bottom with an 0-4 record.

What exactly happened in between splits? For the most part it feels like the team has stagnated a bit, while the rest of the teams around them have gotten better. A few minor roster changes from last split seemed to have carried over as the team just does not look to be meshing well.

Is it time to bench inori?

Photo via Riot Games

Many of P1’s problems arose last split before jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh, took a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues. News then arose that him and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma were bringing much tension to the team with chemistry. Adrian took shots at Inori in an LCS interview basically saying how Meteos was a smarter jungler overall. Inori returned to the team and looked much improved after his break. With the transfer of Adrian to Team Liquid, Inori no longer has the personal issues on the team that he had before.

Inori has looked shaky to start off the split. He’s near the bottom in just about every jungle statistic. He’s known to let his emotions dictate his game play. With Phoenix1 struggling to find their first win, he may be tilting a bit to start off the season. The team overall hasn’t looked very proactive at all, as most of their games have been straight up stomps.

In P1’s last match against Cloud 9, he was subbed out in favor of William “Meteos” Hartman. With Meteos, the team looked a lot more competitive. With the jungle meta shifting away from the carry junglers, Inori’s time could be up on Phoenix1.

If the team wants to move on, they’ll need to find a long term jungler that they can develop. Meteos has voiced that he doesn’t want to be with P1 long term and was only there as a temporary fix. If they can’t find someone else soon, they could be facing relegations.

Was Shady the Right choice at support?

When Adrian was transferred to Team Liquid, P1 brought on Dignitas sub, William “Stunt” Chen, to be the starting support. The team found much success with Stunt on the roster. He seemed to fit well with the team near the end of the season and first round of playoffs. Yet when it came to semifinals, Phoenix1 decided to go with a brand new rookie support in Jordan “Shady” Robison.

With Shady, the team never really looked quite as good. We’ll never know what happens in practice or scrims, but it felt that Stunt was the better option just looking at how the team plays on stage. Individually Shady isn’t blowing any stats out of the water, looking average at best. Maybe having a seven man roster with Stunt would have been the better option.

Photo via Riot Games

Peaked

Perhaps 3rd place was the best Phoenix1 could possibly do as a roster. Arrow hasn’t looked like the MVP from last split. Their early game seems a lot less proactive and more reactive to other teams. This team looked poised for another split of success, but have started off rocky. How they bounce back after rough 0-2 back to back weeks will be huge in how they perform the rest of this split.

As other teams have shown improvement over the offseason, Phoenix1 has looked worse. With rift rivals just weeks away, they’ll need to show a lot of improvement if they want to represent North America well in a huge international rivalry.

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Cover Photo by Riot Esports

Will Super Teams Ever Be formed in the LCS?

For those who follow the NBA, it’s no doubt that the league has changed. Star players used to be much more loyal to the teams that drafted them. Nowadays if players want to compete for a title, they most likely need the help of fellow superstars to do so. Which brings an interesting topic to LCS. What would happen if some of the best players of the region all came together to form “super teams” to begin to seriously contend for worlds. One could only imagine the possibilities of rosters.

We have yet to really see any formation of super teams take place in LCS. In Europe, Alliance had their small run of success before flopping at Worlds. The transfer of Zven and Mithy to G2 was also a bold move for them as they saw the greatest chance for success in joining G2 esports. In the LMS you somewhat have the formation of two of the best rosters on AHQ and Flash Wolves. It’s an extremely top heavy region where Flash Wolves and AHQ are almost always bound to meet in the finals.

Why not?

Photo via Inven

One could see how the formation of “super teams” could greatly benefit a region. Could you imagine a super team of North American talent of Hauntzer, Dardoch, Bjergsen, Doublelift, and Aphromoo? Possibly the best players at their positions from the region all coming together to compete for a World championship.

Player loyalty is much higher in LCS than the NBA. Players are extremely loyal it seems to the teams that gave them their first real shot at playing professionally. Bjergsen will always be famous for the work he has put in on TSM. The same goes for Aphromoo on CLG. Even Froggen on Echo Fox. Despite having some poor splits so far in the NALCS, Froggen remains loyal to Echo Fox as an organization. It makes it difficult to see if either players would give up their loyalty for a shot at a professional title. In the NBA, a star player can only hope for so long that his GM can garner the right pieces for a championship team. Once they’ve hit their peak, they’re looking for a title contending team which usually means teaming up with other NBA superstars (i.e. Kevin Durant to GSW).

Would Super Teams Hurt the LCS?

The competition of LCS may become worse if all the best players of a region are stacked onto 1-3 teams. Looking at the NBA, we can almost expect the Cavs and Warriors to face off in every finals for the next few years until another super team can form to dethrone them. If super teams dominated LCS, and the gap between a middle tier and top tier team were to expand, the league could grow stale for some. Seeing super star heavy teams leaves less of a talent pool for other teams. Most teams would probably need to turn to imports to compete.

With no real player rivalries anymore in the NBA, more players seem to care more about winning a championship than anything. Player/team rivalries are huge in sports/esports, but if every good player just wants to team together, it sort of defeats the purpose of competing against the best.

Can Super Teams actually compete on the world stage?

Photo via Riot Esports

If super teams were to form in NA LCS, it’d be with one goal in mind: to finally contend for a world championship. For so long Korea has dominated professional League of Legends. Forming a sort of “all star” team could be one way to finally contend for a World title. We’ve seen teams like G2 and TSM do well domestically, but flop at Worlds. Could the solution just be superstar players joining up to form all star caliber teams?

It’s hard to say for sure. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward as North American fans grow frustrated with seeing Korea win every year and NA fail to make it out of groups. If the years continue on like this, I could definitely see some superstars look to join up as esport athletes don’t have the longest career spans. Searching for a World title may be one or two players away from forming a super team.

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Cover Photo by Riot Esports

Let me know what your super team would be in the comments below!

 

It’s time to believe in League of Legends

The summer split of the seventh season has just begun, and it promises to be exciting. CLG has opened with an unexpected 2-0 while SKT lost their season opener, and FNC once again looks like a force to be reckoned with. Aside from unexpected victories and losses, Riot has announced that next year teams will be able to permanently lock in a spot for the NALCS. This means that the teams will be making a long time buy-in investment when deciding to sign up for a spot. Sure, there will be opportunity for an instant return on investment, but teams are in it for the long haul.

Organizations have indicated that they expect League of Legends to be around for a long time. It’s a game that has been on the incline since its inception, both gaining players and viewers of its professional league. Although it shows no signs of slowing down, many predict that eventually the titan shall fall and fade into obscurity as an esport, much like Starcraft or Quake has in the past – both games are still played competitively, but they are by no means as large or as followed as they once were.

Riot’s Changes

 

Esports have come a long way since Quake and Starcraft were the top titles. There’s much more money, much better infrastructure, and more fan involvement, especially in League of Legends, the clear top title at the moment.

Recently, Riot has made it clear that they are willing to take drastic steps to secure a stable and long future for their game as an esport. They have listened to fans, analysts, orgs, and players alike. They have franchised the NALCS, increased the prize money available at all levels of professional play, introduced a new international tournament, increased wildcard team involvement and coverage, added a player’s association and an Academy league in the NALCS. Not to mention the quality of game changes they’ve made and have planned, such as the remastered runes and masteries and the ten-ban system.

The last year has been a busy one for Riot Games. They have changed a lot to make their game a better one, and they have been much more receptive to players, opening up important communication channels.

 

Fan Impact

 

The once small company turned behemoth has put the onus on us. Riot has held up their end of the bargain and laid the groundwork for us a fandom, a culture, to turn League of Legends into something great. If we want to continue to watch League of Legends for many years to come, we must act now.  There will never be another opportunity to take League of Legends as an esport to greater heights.

It’s time to believe in League of Legends.

How we do it is simple: everyone should do one small thing for the community. Find a way to give back to the game that has given us all so much. Talk to your friends about League, host watching parties and maybe invite someone who has never watched a game. Even something as simple as buying and wearing a t-shirt of your favorite org helps. If you want to do something really big, you could host a local LAN tournament.

The more people that spend time talking about esports, the more seriously people will take us. The more people talking about and interested in League of Legends, the more people will join our community. This endless cycle will propel us to be considered a major force in the world of sports.

It all starts now. We must change how we approach the game. We have to be more vocal and more public in our support. Erase the stigma surrounding esports. Riot has put their trust in us to support the game that we love. If you believe in League of Legends, as a game, as an esport, then now is the time to prove it.


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Photos via Lolesports

Does Team Liquid Deserve Their LCS Spot?

After a problematic first week in the North American League Championship Series, Team Liquid’s shaky start promotes questions of the competitive integrity within the League itself. Not too long ago, Team Liquid faced relegations at the end of the Spring Split. Their participation in the Summer Promotion tournament following their poor performance throughout the Spring Split was aided through the convenient substitution of some of the League’s best players: “Adrian” Ma and Peter “DoubleLift” Yilang.

 

CLG bring TL their first loss of the weekend through expert dragon control. Courtesy of lolesports

With Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin in the mid lane, Team Liquid was in dire need of a powerhouse bottom lane, and they bought it. Through “renting” these two players, Team Liquid successfully paid their way out of relegations; conveniently so, as franchising has now begun. In renting DoubleLift, TL successfully rented one of the most mechanically proficient players while also securing a venerated shot caller currently at the head of TSM.

 

 

Team 0-2

Currently, Team Liquid sits at 0-2 in the standings. Their losses against Echo Fox and Counter Logic Gaming were both head scratchers in very different ways. Against CLG, Team Liquid were gifted three kills onto Piglet’s Jhin, followed by ten minutes of TL shuffling up and down the river looking for plays they could not find. In game two of TL vs CLG, dragon control led to an inevitable four stack Elder, allowing CLG to dismantle TL in a team fight forty minutes in the making.

Echo Fox versus TL proved Team Liquid had more weaknesses than substitutions could patch, but it also showed how much synergy matters on the competitive stage. Watching the first game of this series showed one of two things: Echo Fox has mastered map movements to a T, or that TL has no idea how to work as a team around objectives. While the latter is definitely true, Echo Fox did show a masterful ability to work the map. However, this has yet to be challenged by a top tier team.

In game two, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham proved to be a high-pressure combo, killing Slooshi’s Cassiopeia under tower with the Taliyah and Lee Sin synergy. Akaadian then stopped by every lane, snowballing advantages in every sector of the map. Reignover’s Elise was nowhere to be found, failing counter ganks that should have been called out far before they were initiated.

Echo Fox show that dominant map movement and teamplay are the two things that matter most in League of Legends. Courtesy of lolesports

TL then proceeded to ignore a Rift Herald drop in the mid lane until it had already taken a tower and a half. Once again, game two was defined through TL being out macroed as an entire team. Each of these players has undeniably great mechanics, but ultimately Echo Fox brought what TL could not buy, teamplay.

 

Liquid Without the Team Part

 

Teamplay is something Team Liquid sincerely lacks. Team Liquid’s lack of confidence in one another transcends the stage as Piglet has suggested in recent interviews. Piglet has told reporters that he would like to play mid again, while also stating that he should not bring it up to his team for obvious reasons. He openly doubts his teammates, creating an environment of disrespect that will deny team cohesion. Piglet calls out his team’s ability to shot call, claiming there is a lack of clarity in calls. This does not bode well for TL as Erving Goffman, American Sociologist, has stated that the greatest threat to a team is not being able to act in synchronized behavior (Goffman, 1959).

The caliber of play Team Liquid has shown in their first week of the LCS is severely lacking in comparison to their super sub bailout squad that barely beat Gold Coin United in the Summer Promotion Tournament. Due to the last minute substitutions during Team Liquid’s escape from relegations, the Summer split now hosts a team that is of an undeniably lower caliber than teams in the NACS. To add insult to injury, fans will be unable to watch NACS games this season, which will undoubtedly be entertaining, to say the least.

 

TL Goldenflue optimistic before his substitution. Courtesy of lolesports flickr.

For the sake of competition in the NALCS, we must hope that Team Liquid can turn things around. Perhaps the “impersonal contacts between strangers [which]  are particularly subject to stereotypical responses, will change [when] persons come to be on closer terms with each other… this categorical approach recedes and gradually sympathy, understanding, and a realistic assessment of personal qualities take its place” (Goffman, 1963). Team Liquid hosts some undeniably talented players, but until they learn to cooperate, they will continue to be an undeniably untalented team.

 

 

 

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of lolesports flickr

Goffman Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959 Print.

Goffman Erving. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, 1963 Print

 

Why Dardoch and Xmithie are perfect fits for their teams

It’s only been one week into the Summer Split of the NALCS, but Immortals and CLG look impressive. During the off-season, the two teams agreed to swap junglers Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

Most people only saw CLG as the clear winners of this trade. With Xmithie looking to have peaked as a jungler, few expected Immortals to have much success after the transfer. Immortals had different plans, though, as they were able to take a commanding 2-0 week after sweeping last split’s champions, TSM. Both junglers seem to be perfect fits on their new rosters.

Photo via Riot Esports

Mid/Jungle Synergy

Before the split, mid laners Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Eugene “Pobelter” Park were heading in opposite directions. Huhi was often criticized at the weak link of CLG in his first split, but looked much improved in the spring. Meanwhile, Pobelter was known as being one of the only NA mid talents, had one of his worst splits in spring. Statistically, he was near the bottom when comparing stats among other mids.

Xmithie and Pobelter had previous experience playing together on CLG back when they took the 2015 NALCS finals. The support of Xmithie has helped him and Immortals as a team. Pobelter finished the week with a massive 10 KDA and looked like his former star self.

Huhi benefited from having a more aggressive jungler as he was able to help with roams and pressure his lane more with Dardoch behind him. Huhi did work this week doing 33 percent of his team’s damage while also having the third highest KDA among mids.

Jungle Styles

Stylistically, Dardoch and Xmithie are night and day in comparison. Dardoch is extremely aggressive and loves to make big plays. Xmithie is an efficient pather and likes to play more supportive in tracking the enemy jungler while helping his laners.

On Immortals, Dardoch was a huge voice on the team. On a team of very passive personalities, his ego took over and he basically did whatever he wanted. Immortals staff even acknowledged this in their offseason video where they highlighted some of the team’s issues. On CLG, Dardoch plays with the presence of other strong vocal players such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. With veteran leadership already in place on CLG, Dardoch isn’t required to do as much of the heavy lifting as he was on Immortals.

With Immortals, Xmithie is willing to sacrifice resources to allow his team to gain leads. Immortals players have rather passive personalities that could easily be run over by someone like Dardoch. But with Xmithie, they have someone willing to help the team by all means necessary. As the meta shifted back to carry tops and tank/support jungles, Xmithie fits perfectly. Xmithie does not try to make flashy plays that will make himself good, rather he tries to allow his carries to do what they need to do.

Team Environments

Photo via Riot Esports

It almost feels that this is the strongest roster and management staff Dardoch has ever played on. With strong veteran presence leading the way on CLG, he can worry about his own play rather than his teammates. CLG has experience dealing with egocentric players having dealt with star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Dardoch also isn’t relied upon to be the sole shot caller. It’s been known that Darshan and Aphromoo are very vocal in game and help a ton with the macro play.

The Immortals roster felt like it needed a fresh start after playing with Dardoch for a split. In the video going over Spring Split, the roster members felt that because of Dardoch a lot of the relationships amongst team members felt very “artificial”. With that type of team environment, you can’t expect young players to be at their best. Xmithie comes from an environment where team bonding and friendship were a strong vocal point in success. Xmithie doesn’t have near the ego of Dardoch, so you can expect Immortals are riding this honeymoon phase all the way into Week Two.


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Cover Photo by Riot Games

NALCS is finally franchising: Changes to the league and their effects

Riot plans to roll out a number of changes for the NALCS in 2018. Namely, the league is finally franchised. After what seems like years of team owners, players, analysts, and the odd fan begging, demanding, and even imploring Riot to franchise, they listened. The structure changes will open a variety of avenues and opportunities for organizations.

Structure Changes

           

Structure changes encompass the franchising plans for NA. Franchising means that regardless of how well a team does in the regular season, they will not face relegations – even a tenth-place team with a zero and eighteen record will retain their place in the following split.

Not only are teams going to be “permanent partners of the league”, they will also have Academy spots. The Academy League will be the replacement for the Challenger Series. Each team will have an Academy team and the teams will play more games than the current Challenger teams. The Academy will be where NA talent goes both to develop and to prove themselves. Teams will be able to take a chance on unproven solo q stars, or uLol standouts, without the risk of hurting their LCS teams.

Riot stresses that these changes are both being implemented in order to further bolster NA talent. The idea is that teams will have more leeway to take risks and try out new players for longer periods of time. This makes sense: giving a player that you believe in a second or third split to prove himself will allow teams to take more chances on promising rookies. The old way of the risk averse win now mentality will fade as organizations give their teams multiple splits to develop before deciding to make changes.

Application Process

 

The newly franchised league will not be open for everyone. In fact, getting into the league will be an extensive process. Teams must submit a lengthy application that outlines their branding and business plan, as well as who the owners are and their overall team strategy. Riot understands that this application will only happen once, and they will only have one shot at getting it right. Riot doesn’t want to risk allowing a seedy team to slip into the league, just because they can afford the buy-in fee. They also don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work with a less financially powerful, but well-structured team. Therefore, Riot set the buy-in at a relatively low 10 million, with five million up front and the later five due over time.

Riot’s process should filter out any team that might not be good to its players, or might collapse within the next two years. Riot, with this structure change, is looking to create a better professional atmosphere for fans, orgs, and players.

Effects of Change

Many fans were worried that the implementation of a franchise would decrease the stakes and the quality of play. This is an especially prominent worry with bottom tier teams. Riot has a solution to these issues.

Riot created increased monetary incentives for higher placements, and “teams can lose their right to compete in the league if they finish in 9th or 10th place five times over an eight-split span”. This type of incentive will keep teams hungry for higher placements, as well as wary of consistent low finishes. This will keep games engaging and exciting. Teams will still want to avoid consistent losses, but an immediate loss won’t spell the end of an organization’s investment. Riot has created a league that is set up to protect team’s investments while still having enough incentives to keep teams playing with a competitive drive.

By implementing a permanent partnership with league orgs, there becomes a larger incentive for sponsors to poor money into teams. This has been a major point for org owners since the beginning of the franchise discussion. More money in means more money out. Teams can spend more on players, facilities, and staff because they will be able to afford it. This means that organizations might not have to choose between two rookies, and can afford to hire both. Orgs can afford to send their players and staff to elaborate training facilities, or maybe own one themselves. With franchising comes stability, and stability brings money.

There will also be significant effects on the professional league scene. The move to franchise is a great step towards increasing the longevity of League of Legends as an esport. The franchise will bring in sponsors and the sponsorship money will allow the teams to spend more on things like advertisement and PR. The advertisement and PR will bring in more fans. The fans will increase the incentive for sponsors, and the cycle continues. Another factor to note is that more stable teams will keep fans watching. When your favorite team or player gets relegated, many would just stop watching because they didn’t want to root for anyone else. Now with a franchised league, many fans will stay and be the basis for creating generational fandom.

All told, the new structure of the NALCS will benefit all areas of professional League of Legends. The fans will be able to continue to watch their team both suffering through harder seasons and enjoying great ones. The orgs will have more money and greater stability. The players will see an increase in pay as well as job security. Finally, Riot will get to watch their already unprecedently large game grow even larger.


Photos via Lolesports

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Picks you bet NA will take from the LCK

With the North American League Championship Series Summer Split dropping in just one day, here’s a list of the top three picks to see in each role. The League Championship Korea Summer Split has already been underway and it’d be a surprise for NA teams to not adopt the freshest Korean picks. So here it is, the top three picks in each role to be picked or banned in the NALCS.

Top Lane

Kennen is the most contested top laner due to his versatility and OP on-hit build. Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

Kennen– Sure this champion has yet to be seen in-game in the LCK, but that’s just because the Heart of the Tempest has had a 100 percent ban rate. This is in large part due to the on-hit Kennen build that has become popular the past few months. With this build shredding through tanks like an electric woodchipper, Kennen fits perfectly in the current meta. The on-hit build makes building resistances difficult into Kennen’s mixed damaged, making laning against him just as painful as team fighting against his AOE ultimate.

Jayce– Also a tank buster, Jayce continues to be the Swiss Army Knife of champions. Jayce brings resistance shredding, max health percentage damage, hard CC, soft CC, artillery, gap closers, utility, and a whole lot of swagger to the Rift. Tank busters are pretty strong in the top lane right now, but Jayce is all that and more.

Galio– It’s no wonder how strong tank busters are right now, given the state of tanks in the top lane. It was a tough choice deciding who of the big three tanks – Galio, Gragas, Sejuani – to put in this list, but Galio smashes in at number one of these tanks with his dominant crowd control and game changing abilities. Galio makes it into this list, because like the other OP top laners, he brings percentage max health damage with his Winds of War. Watch out for Galio top and mid lane as the NA LCS dawns because the Colossus is as fun to watch as he is strong.

Honorable Mention: Sejuani– The Fury of the North has seen some considerable playtime in the LCK, but her laning phase brings with it too many bad matchups to include in the top three. This alongside some horrible Sejuani performances by the likes of Kang “ADD” Gun-mo of MVP has pushed her into the honorable mentions section of the top laners rising out of Korea. Still, it would be surprising not to see her charging into the NA LCS in the hands of players like C9’s Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, an expert tank player.

Jungle

Lee Sin– I don’t see this guy ever leaving the top three competitive junglers in the LCK. It seems that almost every jungler in the LCK is a Lee Sin one trick, constantly pushing this champion to a whole new level of play. Whether it is Han “Peanut” Wang-ho on SKT T1 during MSI, or recently, Longzhu’s  Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan showing that move speed nerfs mean little in the LCK, everyone seems to be prioritizing the Blind Monk.

Both Lee Sin and Orianna are making a return from their MSI conquest in the LCK. Expect to see them in the NALCS. courtesy of lolesports

Zac– Zaun’s Secret Weapon is going to have to stay secret a bit longer, unfortunately. Zac, like Kennen, has seen the ban list each and every game and with good reason. Zac’s Elastic Slingshot into Let’s Bounce combo has carries seen on that back of milk carton’s since his release, but it seems players are just now mastering Zac as his win rate has skyrocketed as of late. Expect NA to follow in the blob steps of the LCK with a perma-banned Flubber cosplay.

Elise– The Spider Queen has returned as the Queen of the Jungle. Elise, also known as AP Lee Sin, is an early game playmaker with enough hops to rival the blind monk. The terrifying spider tears through the jungle without taking much damage, while also being one of the only viable sources of magic damage from the jungle. With her hard hitting early game damage and that sweet percentage health damage, Elise has rappeled her way into the top three.

Honorable Mention: Graves– The Outlaw has been hit hard ever since the return of his smoking habit. With no more slick combos on his ultimate and a lack of MR coming out of one of his ten passives, Graves seems to be falling out of favor. However, Raptors are keeping this smoker on the Rift. With Raptor control as such a priority in the LCK, Graves has found his calling as one of the best champions that can clear the Raptor camp. This allows for him to dominate both his jungle and the enemy’s, and while this is important for the jungle meta, Graves seems to be lacking in some of the game-changing abilities his peers have.

Mid Lane

Syndra– “Press R to Outplay.” Syndra has come back into the LCK with sovereignty. While she has been seen on the ban list more often than she has been picked, it is without a doubt that NA will assimilate her playstyle with ease. Like many of the popular mid laners, Syndra can set up ganks with ease via her semi-reliable CC, but more than that, she can capitalize on her allies CC by getting in range to press R and seal the deal. Just ask SSG’s Lee “Crown” Min-ho how easy it was to 2-0 SKT with Syndra.

Orianna– We saw Faker play Orianna to perfection at MSI, but have you seen Longzhu’s ‎Kwak “Bdd” Bo-seong on Orianna? Longzhu 2-0’d kt on the back of Bdd’s Orianna in both games, where his Ultimates created tragically one-sided games for kt. Orianna has always been a staple of competitive League of Legends, but now more than ever has she risen to the top.

LeBlanc– While assassins seem to be falling out of favor in the LCK, LeBlanc consistently survives as one of the most valuable picks. There’s not much to say about the Deceiver that hasn’t already been said before, she is frustrating to lock down and packs a ton of single target damage. While Orianna seems to be able to survive the matchup pretty well, LeBlanc can dominate other popular picks in the LCK from Fizz to Karma.

Honorable Mention: Galio– Not only is Galio a top tier top laner, but he is doing pretty well as a flex pick in the mid lane. It is true that Faker lost lane using this pick, but Galio’s ability to freely itemize MR in a lane ruled by AP carries allows him to survive handily as a top value flex pick. With magic damage coming out of top laners and supports alike, don’t be surprised to see Galio smashing his way into the NA LCS mid lane.

ADC

Pray leads team to victory against kt via his jaw-dropping Ashe ultimates. Courtesy of lolesports

Ashe– If you haven’t seen Kim “PraY” Jong-in’s Enchanted Crystal Arrows, you haven’t been watching LCK. The pro’s use the high-value Ashe ultimate on cooldown, while also itemizing cooldown reduction through an early Essence Reaver. For Ashe in competitive play, it really is about the ultimate, but this is not to say that her early lane is weak. Ashe can force a level two fight bot lane with her early pushing power, and when this is paired with some of the more meta supports like Karma and Zyra, Ashe lanes can be kill lanes.

Varus– With a high value ultimate and a kit the shreds tanks, Varus is one of the top two ADC’s alongside Ashe. Both of these top-tier AD’s utilize Blade of the Ruined King to the maximum of the item’s ability. They both have game changing ultimate abilities that provide for pick potential as well as peel on a relatively short cooldown as well as AOE damage with their preferred build paths. Ashe and Varus are near one and the same, so it comes as no surprise that they are the two most valued picks in the AD role. Other champions such as Caitlin, Twitch, and Xayah seem to be the go to backups in the LCK.

Support

Thresh– The Chain Warden is back, and that’s great for spectators wanting to see big plays coming out of the support role. With relic shield item line buffs and a rather disappointing coin rework, Thresh is stronger than ever. Over this past spring split, it seems like every viable support has been nerfed except Thresh, making this split his time to shine. However, it is worth noting that Thresh has a very bad laning phase into Zyra, who seems to be prominent as well.

Zyra– The Thresh counter is back at it. Zyra is the classic mid laner gone wrong, as she dominates the game with very few items and a very cheap overall core build. While she peaks damage charts in solo queue environments she seems to be doing the same in the LCK. Except to see the rise of the thorns in NA as a solid counter pick to not only Thresh, but hard engage in general.

Lulu– As Zyra counters Thresh, Lulu counters Zyra. Lulu has seen some play since her whimsey was nerfed a few patches ago, allowing her to be lifted from the perma-ban list. That being said, she is still very strong especially in protect the carry comps that are oh-so-good right now. Not only does she excel late game as an ADC steroid machine, but she also does very well in lane and can get rid of the pesky Zyra plants with her Pix passive.

MVP Max flashes, then predicts Zyra’s flash with a beautiful hook. Courtesy of LCK

Honorable Mention: Max’s Blitzcrank– MVP Max has always been a support player that pushes the meta. His claim to fame Sion Quadra Kill has been followed by his extensive playmaking champion pool. As the support player to watch in the LCK, his most recent success on Blitzcrank has given professional players in the LCK flashbacks to solo queue nightmares. While I don’t exactly expect him to be picked in NA, I would guess Cloud9 to pick him up first as they already have last split.


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