NALCS Finals Preview: Rematch of the Gods

After a long LCS spring split, the finals are just days away. Two of the most successful organizations in Cloud 9 and Team SoloMid will face off once again to see who will be crowned as the champions of Spring Split 2017. This match is crucial for both teams. Ninety Circuit points and a spot at MSI are on the line.

Team SoloMid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

TSM comes in as slight favorites, having finished the regular season at the top of the standings. They looked much improved from the start of the split, with top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell having a breakout split. Mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is still performing as the star mid laner we’ve come to know. Meanwhile, the bot lane duo of Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang have developed into a formidable bot lane duo.

TSM has a long history of NALCS titles, having been one of the first successful organizations in professional League of Legends. Owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh has made it clear that anything short of a first place finish is a disappointment.

They had a few early game hiccups in their semifinal match against Flyquest. Notably, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen making some overly aggressive plays without proper lane pressure. This resulted in him and Hauntzer getting caught by a collapsing Flyquest in game one.

Despite this, all their lanes were usually fairly far ahead. Their rotations were solid and they were able to out maneuver Flyquest around the map in each game, resulting in their 3-0 sweep.

Cloud 9

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud 9 came into the split as preseason favorites. With Wildturtle taking the helm at ADC for TSM, most expected Cloud 9 to step up as the new kings of North America. After a strong 8-0 start, the team’s problems became apparent. Their lack of early game play making was an evident problem that teams began to exploit.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia has looked like the promising jungler most had hoped for at the beginning of the split. He had a great series against Phoenix1, and will be vital in their series against TSM.

Cloud 9 also has an interesting dynamic with their Korean top lane duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Both top laners have shown some great performances on different champions. With Impact, they appear to like him on comps where a tank is needed, such as Nautilus or Maokai. With Ray, you always have to worry about his signature split push Jarvan or his Renekton.

Support Andy “Smoothie” Ta has had a breakout year, being heralded as the best support of the split this year. After some rocky splits on TL and TDK, he’s finally found his groove with this C9 roster.

With another split of coaching under Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, Cloud 9 looked like they had peaked midway through the split. As teams around them got better, they stayed the same, and dropped games because of this. With two weeks of practice before playing their first playoff match, they looked much improved. They’re hoping it will be enough to retake the North American throne from TSM.

 

Matchup to Watch: Svenskeren vs. Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

My matchup to watch is in the jungle. Cloud 9’s Contractz got the better of Svenskeren in their first meeting of the split, but his performance slowly stagnated as the season progressed. He’s had a decent split with high expectations heading in. He’s had his share of rookie mistakes, sometimes over extending without the help of his team.

In Cloud 9’s match against Phoenix1, Contractz looked revitalized as the star jungler many had expected in the preseason. He seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to help his team.

TSM’s Svenskeren admitted in an interview before playoffs that he felt he wasn’t playing his best. Despite being on the top team in the league, Sven had one of the lowest KP% of all junglers, and was middle of the pack in KDA. The aggression he’s known for sometimes puts him in bad positions to be caught out. Svenskeren will need to be very calculated with his invades, as Contractz is another jungler who likes to play aggressively.

Contractz will need to do a good job tracking Svenskeren in the early game. If they can pick him off early in their jungle, Cloud 9 have the talent to use those small leads to their advantage. With Contractz playing in his first ever LCS final, he may feel the pressure of being in such a packed stadium for the first time. The LCS stage is one thing, but a whole arena packed around you is completely different. He’ll need to keep his nerves in check for Cloud 9 to be able to take the series.

Prediction

With how these two teams played in semifinals, Cloud 9 honestly looked a bit cleaner to me than TSM. It’s tough to say when Phoenix1 played their sub support for whatever reason for the first two games. TSM’s early games against Flyquest weren’t the cleanest, but their mid game teamfighting and shotcalling was what propelled them to huge gold leads.

As a Cloud 9 fan, I’ll be rooting for them all the way, but I think in the end, TSM’s veteran experience will be the difference in a 3-2 victory over Cloud 9.

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NA LCS 2017: Players to Watch

Any NA LCS fan that has been following the off-season knows that the past few months have been crazy with roster swaps, imported talent, and a sweep of new players hitting the scene for 2017. One might have found themselves asking “How much of Immortals’ roster will stay?” “Who will be Team Solo Mid’s new AD Carry?” or “What will Echo Fox and Phoenix1 do to improve for next Spring?” It was apparent that this season would bring about much change, but it was uncertain which teams and which players would be shuffled around.

The 2016 season was filled with surprises and disappointments. New esports organizations were formed from the ashes of old with big names and big money, while endemic organizations continued to field stable rosters. Veteran players came out of retirement. Korean and European summoners were imported to completely rebuild certain rosters. Rookies were put under pressure to perform on the big stage.

Looking into 2017, most of the dust has settled. The buyouts have gone through and many of the starting line-ups have been submitted to Riot. With so much changing it can be difficult to realistically make predictions of how the Spring Split will turn out. We will find out if their is more power in maintaining a stable roster, like Counter Logic Gaming, Team Solo Mid, or Cloud9. We will find out if drastic roster changes can still perform at top level with a high-quality support system behind them, such as Immortals. We will find out if the new imported talent can carry under-performing teams, Phoenix1, Echo Fox, Dignitas, to greatness. We will also see if newcomers to the scene will be able to step up and handle the heat. Taking all of this into account, here are some players to watch out for in the 2017 NA LCS.

VETERANS

Being a veteran in the NA LCS is a blessing and a curse. Sure, the player now has several splits under his belt. He should be able to execute under the pressure of being on stage. He should be able to help call the shots for his team. He should be a leader in and out of the game. He is a mentor for the younger players around him, and he is the bridge between coaches, rookies, and non-English speakers. For this article, I chose 3 players who will be remaining on their same team from 2016 and need to step up for victory.

PLAYER: Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin 

TEAM: Team Liquid

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of Riot eSports

Piglet spent a solid portion of the Summer Split playing for Team Liquid Academy in the NA Challenger Series. Despite playing on a top 6 team, Piglet averaged a 2.33 KDA while playing the first part of the LCS, putting him in 10th of 12 starting ADC’s. When he swapped into TLA for the remainder of Summer, that boosted to 6.44.
In order for Liquid to have a successful 2017, Piglet will need to translate his dominance into the LCS. We all know Piglet is capable of being a fearful force in the bot lane; he was a Season 3 World Champion, after all.
Now that the Jungle role has been filled with an experienced, veteran Jungler, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, hopefully Team Liquid’s performance will be more stable. Top, Mid, and Support are all being filled by sophomore players who will rely heavily on Piglet to remain consistent and powerful. IEM Gyeonggi was not the best showing for Piglet, but if Team Liquid can get in some practice they should be solid contenders this year.

PLAYER: Eugene “Pobelter” Park

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: Mid Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Pobelter is the only member remaining on Immortals for 2017 from the 2016 season. This is somewhat surprising considering Immortals had stellar regular season performances in Spring and Summer Split, only falling short in the Playoffs and Regional Qualifiers. Nonetheless, a complete overhaul of the roster can be scary.
Pobelter is one of 2 North American Mid laners for the 2017 Spring Split. This makes him incredibly valuable in his position. Combine that with the fact that Immortals is fielding a rookie AD Carry, a sophomore Jungler with a history of disciplinary issues, and Korean players for Top and Support, and you begin to see the pressure that will be placed on Pobelter.
It will be up to him to be consistent against staunch opponents, to be a mentor to the younger players, and to help orient the imported talent. These various cogs will need to brought together cohesively for Immortals to succeed this year, and Pobelter will be a huge asset in that project. If he crumbles under the pressure, the entire team will fall with him.

PLAYER: Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha

TEAM: Counter Logic Gaming

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Counter Logic Gaming had a rollercoaster 2016. Never quite considered the #1 team, yet never being counted out against NA’s best, it is difficult to figure out what was holding them back from greatness. Their teamwork is undoubtedly great, so then we look at individual performances and come upon a weak spot: Darshan.
His play last year seemed to peak in the Spring Playoffs (4.08 KDA, 79% Kill Participation), hit a pretty low floor in the Summer Split (2.31 KDA, 55% Kill Participation), and was passable at the World Championships (3.92 KDA, 53% Kill Participation). Darshan’s split-pushing was a prominent part of CLG’s wheelhouse during the Spring Split and Mid-Season Invitational, but once the meta shifted in the off-season leading into Summer Split he never really seemed to pick back up.
Considering CLG kept their entire roster for 2017, it is expected that they have shored up any weaknesses in the Top lane. Still, many teams have imported proven Korean Top laners, meaning Darshan will need to push beyond his past capabilities if CLG are to have a successful season.

ROOKIES

With each new Split and each new organization comes new players. They could be picked up as Solo Queue stars or previous participants in the Challenger Series. But regardless of where they were found, there is always a risk involved in bringing rookies onto the scene. Limited experience on stage generally leads to inconsistent play under pressure. And individual play in Solo Queue does not always easily translate to more coordinated, practiced opponents. But sometimes with the right teammates and the right support system behind them, rookies are able to shine and become the stars of tomorrow. Here are 3 rookies who were picked up in the off-season to start in the NA LCS 2017.

PLAYER: Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham

TEAM: Echo Fox

ROLE: Jungle

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

Picked up by Echo Fox from the Challenger Series, Akaadian is looking to put his mark on the Jungle role this year. After placing 3rd-4th in the NA CS last Spring he moved from Team Liquid Academy to Dream Team, where he went on to place 3rd-4th again in the Summer series.
The Jungle role is particularly important in the current League of Legends meta. A lack of early pressure, or limited communication, can be detrimental to teams hoping to gain a lead or stop the opposing team from snowballing.
Akaadian will need to build synergy with Mid laner, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, and incoming Top laner, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, if Echo Fox are to stand a chance this year. In my opinion, Echo Fox’s weakest link last year was then-Jungler, Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev. Ideally, Echo Fox has figured out how to play better around this role.

PLAYER: Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia

TEAM: Cloud9

ROLE: Jungle

courtesy of Riot eSports

Another rookie Jungler coming out of the NA CS, Contractz helped Cloud9 Challenger qualify for the LCS in the Summer Playoffs last year. He was the only player from that squad that was not included in the buyout by FlyQuest. Contractz is listed on the starting roster for Cloud9, taking the place of William “Meteos” Hartman.
Cloud9 historically does not adapt to roster changes well. The retirement-unretirement meme of Hai “Hai” Du Lam is not easily forgotten. Now Meteos has retired, come back from retirement, and seems to be ready to retire yet again. Hopefully, Cloud9 has learned enough from these experiences to be able to seamlessly bring Contractz onto the starting squad without too much of a set-back.
As mentioned above, Jungle is a crucial role for the success of a professional League of Legends team. Control of the Jungle and neutral objectives can allow a leading team to strangle their opponents into losing, and lack of control can cause a leading team to throw the whole game. Playing against the likes of Reignover, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun will truly be a test.

PLAYER: Cody “Cody Sun” Sun

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

Cody Sun joins Immortals from after playing as AD Carry for Dream Team in the NA Challenger Series under the moniker “Massacre”. He will be one of four new members joining the re-built roster after all but Pobelter left to play for other teams.
Cody Sun finished the NA CS Summer Season with the second highest KDA of all players with more than 2 games played, averaging 9.3. His Kill Participation was 6th out of all players with more than 2 games played, but his CS and Gold Differences at 10 minutes were middling. Another interesting statistic is that he only had 9 total Deaths over 11 games played, fewest among players with more than 4 games played, and second fewest among players with more than 2 games. These numbers indicate he plays conservatively: giving over lane pressure and getting kills during team fights while remaining as safe as possible.
It is difficult enough bringing a rookie onto an established roster. Once you factor in that 3 other players will be brand new to each other, that the Jungler has a history of disciplinary issues, and the other two are Korean imports, you can start to see where things could go wrong. Cody Sun will need to play a bit more aggressively with his support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, to exert pressure in lane. IEM Gyeonggi was not pretty for this Bot lane, and a lot of it was due to AD Carry passivity.

IMPORTS

Professional League of Legends has consistently involved the importation of players from outside North America. The NA LCS includes European and Korean summoners of all positions. However, due to Riot rules, a team may have no more than 2 non-NA starters at a time. This rule has created some dynamic off-season roster changes. If Cloud9 start an imported Jungler, then they have to have a native Top or Mid laner. Since Team Liquid have solidified native Top and Support players, then they can experiment with imports in the Jungle, Mid, or AD Carry role. Regardless of the team or position, though, importing players can cause headaches for a variety of reasons, whether they be visa issues, higher salaries, or disappointing performances due to language barriers and adapting to life in North America. They can resuscitate a dying organization or be a mortal reminder to an established squad. Here are 3 players who were imported in the off-season that will need to execute at their highest level for their teams to succeed.

PLAYER: Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon

TEAM: Phoenix1

ROLE: AD Carry

courtesy of http://lol.esportspedia.com

One of Phoenix1’s two imported players for 2017, Arrow is an AD Carry who previously played for KT Rolster in the LCK. While holding down the Bot lane, Arrow helped KT Rolster finish third in the Spring Playoffs and second in the Summer Playoffs in 2016.
Arrow will be replacing Brandon “Mash” Phan, who ranked 7th of 10 AD Carries (who played more than 9 games) in KDA, but also 3rd out of 10 in Kill Participation and 5th of 10 in CS Difference at 10 minutes. Since Phoenix1 finished 8th of 10 teams last Summer Split, changes needed to be made to this roster.
Arrow’s veteran experience in the LCK should be a vital asset in 2017. And with 5 of 10 AD Carries in the 2017 LCS having 1 or fewer years of professional experience, Arrow should be able to hold his own. He will need to ensure that their are no communication issues with his North American Support, Adrian “Adrian” Ma, which would be the only potential issue.

PLAYER: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok

TEAM: Echo Fox

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of Riot eSports

Looper joins as the new Top laner for Echo Fox, replacing Park “kfo” Jeong-hun, who ranked last in the NA LCS Summer Split among Top laners for KDA and Kill Participation, and second to last in Gold Difference at 10 minutes. Looper previously played for LPL’s Royal Never Give Up, who finished 5th-8th in the 2016 World Championships.
This will be a 180 degree turnaround for Echo Fox’s Top lane. Looper’s KDA was middle-of-the-pack at Worlds, and his CS Difference at 10 minutes was on the low side, -10.4. But his Kill Participation was second highest of all Top laners. If he can effectively communicate with the rest of the team for smart uses of Teleport and split-pushing, then he will work out well for Echo Fox.
A major factor in the success of this team will be the Jungle-Top synergy. As mentioned above, Akaadian is a rookie Jungler, and there will be a language barrier between Looper and his teammates. Echo Fox will need to focus resources on making sure these pieces come together to form the proper puzzle.

PLAYER: Lee “Flame” Ho-jong

TEAM: Immortals

ROLE: Top Lane

courtesy of immortals.gg

Immortals’s Top laner for 2017 is Flame, previously of Longzhu Gaming in the LCK. After having a middling performance during Spring Split, Longzhu benched Flame in favor of Gu “Expession” Bon-taek, so Flame did not play competitively during Summer Split.
He will be filling a void in the roster left by Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo, who left the team on short notice. Huni was an aggressive player for Immortals, securing the most Kills out of all Top laners in the NA LCS Summer Split, and sixth most out of all players. However, he also tied for the second most Deaths out of all players, and had significantly more than any of his teammates.
Hopefully, Flame can produce more stable results. It is no small feat to bring together a Korean Top and Support, a rookie AD Carry, a sophomore Jungler with a history of disciplinary issues, and a single player from the original roster. IEM Gyeonggi should have pointed to some clear strengths and weaknesses in Immortals’ gameplay. Flame will be a key player in forging this roster.