London Spitfire Win OWL Stage One: Defense is name of the game

The players that make up the London Spitfire have enjoyed a wealth of success in their short careers. Following the royal road to an Apex title, earning the title as the best team in Korea, and now winning the stage one championship in dramatic fashion over the New York Excelsior. A pattern is forming and it involves the heart of the Spitfire roster and winning everything.

BDosin happy after winning the stage one championship. Photo via https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonspitfire/with/39319450275/

London went down two games to a New York Excelsior team with a nearly unblemished record, on the biggest stage. The Spitfire needed to rally to become the first Overwatch League champion. This was a team that struggled to find their footing and lost winnable games due to lack of teamwork in stage one. It was a process, one that required serious trial and error.

Fortunately for London, they employ the strongest defensive unit in Overwatch history. A suffocating, relentless defense that’s been the main driver behind the success of GC Busan and now the London Spitfire. In fact, throughout all of stage one, the Spitfire had the most shutouts on non-control maps.

Now, this type of defensive effort goes back to the Apex days. GC Busan made a living off strong defensive holds. Even with an uncoordinated offensive attack, GC Busan would always find a way to hold offenses on the first point. The GC Busan spirit is embedded into this team. Add in the helping hands of Kim “Birdring” Ji-hyuk and Choi Seung-tae (to name a few), who have helped elevate an already ridiculously talented GC Busan roster. 

Shutting Down the NYXL

In game four on Numbani, the Spitfire got off to a rough start on offense, barely capping the first point and failing to reach the second point. At the end of that attack, it felt like the momentum had suddenly shifted back to the Excelsior. The lack of ultimate kills despite good ultimate economy was the difference, but Kim “Rascal” Dong-jun out positioning the Excelsior on the high-ground with Soldier 76 turned the last and most important fight.

The Spitfire’s Numbani offense only lasted a few meters longer before getting shut down. The reverse-sweep hanging in the balance on a map that’s notorious for easy offense was London’s most dangerous situation. Only a world-class hold against a team fielding Park “Saebyeolbe” Jong-yeol and Kim “Libero”  Hye-sung would do the job. Luckily, Birdring is one of the most dangerous Widowmaker players on the planet and stepped up in the moment.

The Excelsior continued to dive at Rascal on Junkrat, who was isolated on the high-ground near the first point on Numbani, spraying down the street. The dive exposed Rascal, but it gave Birdring easy shots onto he NYXL healers. JJoNaK struggled to avoid Birdring using Widowmaker’s grappling hook to get the extreme height and tracking BDosin on the low-ground targeting him on Zenyatta. It was scary a one-two punch.

By the same token, Hong “Gesture” Jae-hee played a fantastic zoning Winston. In the event of a disadvantaged fight, the Spitfire would disengage around the backside of Numbani first point and re-engage with a dive, led by Gesture pushing the Excelsior into bad spots. The use of ultimates on defense for the Spitfire is much more organic and valuable. Gesture’s primal rages were game changers.

Dorado

Heading into game five, the Spitfire were riding a wave of momentum entering a map they’d beaten the NYXL on earlier in the day. The pressure was also flipped over to the Excelsior who were scrambling to avoid the reverse-sweep. The Excelsior stuck it out with Saebyeolbe and Libero on the dive and the Spitfire moved back to Profit on Junkrat over Rascal.

However, the formula for the Spitfire closing out the series was similar to their Numbani and Horizon defense.  Give Birdring Widowmaker sightlines and protect him by using the tanks aggressively. Kim “Fury” Jun-ho on D.Va combined with Birdring to dive on every player Birdring weakened from the backlines. It was a beautifully choreographed play from the Spitfire defense.  

Together with the strength of Birdring and the tank play, Profit’s laser focus on taking out the Excelsior supports stunted many NYXL attacks. On multiple occasions, Profit’s delayed rip tire got to the backline and took out Hong “ArK” Yeon-joon on Mercy and JJoNaK on Zenyatta to ruin the Excelsior’s day. Profit’s play was incredible, single-handedly forcing the opposition to back up and stay aware of Profit’s positioning.

In the final analysis, it’s clear the Spitfire still haven’t completely gelled as a team offensively. However, the players on that roster have a talent for zoning defense and ultimate usage. It’s scary because this squad is only going to get better from here on out. The players of the London Spitfire keep winning. No matter the situation, they pull it out. That’s a strong trait for a team to display early on.

Do the London Spitfire have a roster problem?

In this week of completely logical, and non-overreaction reactions, one (successful) team seems to have an eventual roster issue if things stay as they were in week one. The London Spitfire did come out and dominate to no one’s surprise, but the lack of substitutions raised some questions.

Birdring and Profit coming to stage in Burbank, CA. Photo via of London Spitfire Twitter

The first question, and the most important question moving forward, is if this starting roster will continue to play the majority of games? There’s a good chance that the starting six will stay: Kim “birdring” Ji-hyuk and Park “Profit” Joon-yeong on the damage heroes, Kim “Fury” Jun-ho and Hong “Gesture” Jae-hee on the tanks and Choi “BDosin” Seung-tae and Kim “NUS” Jong-seok as support mains.

In all eight games, the Spitfire stuck to this group. No substitutions throughout the week. Baek “Fissure” Chan-hyung, who’s notably one of the best Winston mains in Korea, sat on the bench behind Gesture all weekend. In the same vein, players such as Jo “HaGoPeun” Hyeon-woo on support, Jung “Closer” Won-sik sitting back NUS on Mercy and another well-known player in Kim “Rascal”  Dong-jun all sat on the bench.

Will it change in week two?

Based on interviews, it feels as if the Spitfire is running with two separate groups. In case anyone didn’t know, the Spitfire is made up of primarily one of two of the best Korean teams at the time of the signing period for the Overwatch League. It seems as if there’s internal competition, and while the starting lineup is made up of some GC Busan players, it still feels lacking.

Now, a scenario could arise where the Spitfire go with an entirely different unit than in week one. It doesn’t seem likely, but it’s a possibility. Remember, this team has the maximum number of players on one roster so there’s the option to start a different six than before. It feels even less likely that Fissure or Rascal will continue to ride the bench.  

Here’s another scenario, the Spitfire coaches are carefully watching to see how each unit works against what teams and comps. It’s early in the season and the Spitfire knew they matched up with a bottom six team in the Florida Mayhem and the Philadelphia Fusion who missed the preseason entirely. It’s a good chance to see what they are up against.

Is this the best starting six?

Coach Park Chang-geun setting the starting lineup. photo via London Spitfire twitter

Lastly, the question needs to be asked if this coaching staff will role with this six considering the hero pools of each player and skill level. Yes, the lineup they went with in week one is considerably better than almost any combination from any other team in the league.

Looking at these names, Profit is arguably the best Tracer and birdring the best Widowmaker/Soldier 76. Gesture and Fissure are as equally gifted Winston players, but Gesture’s only role is on the dive-Winston. In any scenario where that’s the play, Gesture will outshine Fissure. Same goes for Fury on the D.va instead of taking Sung “WOOHYAL” Seung-hyun.

It goes without saying, but BDosin has a long-standing history of incredible Zenyatta play. It will take quite a turn from BDosin to be forced out in favor of HagoPeun, especially after week one. I expect Closer to get some run at Mercy over NUS.

So, in essence, this is likely the best starting six possible based on the composition and game planning strategy this team runs with. Regardless, don’t expect this lineup to stick forever. There’s plenty of talent on the bench to give this team a needed push when called upon.

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Featured photos via London Spitfire twitter

UOL Vizicsacsi ranks first among EU LCS top laners

Regular season EU LCS top laner rankings

The European LCS is home to many world-calibur top lane players. Often left on an “island” to themselves, top laners tend to play head-to-head for the longest time compared to other roles. Top lane is also a position whose champion pool changes heavily depending on the meta. If tanks are strong, expect to see tanks. If bruisers are strong, expect to see them instead. Split-pushing is a valid strategy for top laners, as well.

The 2017 Summer Split regular season is over, and the standings are set. Playoffs will be underway soon, as well as the promotion tournament. Votes will be cast for MVP, rookie, coach and all-team awards. Therefore, before any of those biases are incorporated into thinking about who is the best, it is time to rank these players while the play time is as even as possible between teams.

These types of rankings can be controversial. It is difficult to parse apart an individual player’s contribution to their team. Is this a strong player being held down by his team? Or is the team carrying him? Is he only able to play one style, and then falters on another? Does he only play well against teams below his own? Here is an attempt to answer such questions for every starting EU LCS top laner.

10. ROC Phaxi

ROC Phaxi is tenth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Roccat average the second highest deficit in the EU LCS at 15 minutes. Out of their 628 gold deficit, Phaxi contributes 237 behind. Of course, some of this comes from losing turrets or neutral objectives to enemy teams, which is not entirely his fault. However, part of it has to do with his having the second lowest CS difference at 10 minutes among top laners, -4.2. This amounts to 109 XP behind at 10 minutes, second lowest among top laners, as well.

This wouldn’t be as problematic, but Phaxi’s champion pool has been mostly carries this summer. Out of 33 total games, Phaxi only played tanks in seven (21.2 percent), Galio, Poppy and Shen. His most played champs have been Jarvan IV, Gnar and Renekton. Phaxi also has the lowest First Blood rate (six percent), KDA (1.6) and kill participation (56.6 percent). His damage numbers are lowest among top laners. Even in Riot’s new adjusted damage rating, Phaxi finishes last.

9. MM Kikis

MM Kikis ranks ninth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Kikis has fewer games than other top laners on this list, because he got picked up by Mysterious Monkeys after the first few weeks of the Summer Split. That being said, his impact on the team was not heavily felt. To be fair, he has the lowest death share of all top laners (17 percent), and he has a 40 percent First Blood rate. Kikis averages close to even in lane at 10 minutes, +73 gold, -3 XP and -3.7 CS. His damage share for the Monkeys is actually pretty good (23.4 percent).

The issue for Kikis, though, is his actual damage and presence on the map. It is hard to imagine replacing other EU top laners with Kikis and seeing improvements throughout the team. His most played champions have been Camille and Renekton, yet neither seems memorable. Kikis is an obvious upgrade from Jisu, Mysterious Monkeys’ previous top laner, but mostly in salvaging deaths, rather than securing kills or objectives. His surprise picks, such as Akali and Aatrox, were welcome from an entertainment standpoint, but they do not help his case as a quality top laner in the EU LCS this split.

8. MSF Alphari

MSF Alphari ranks eighth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The main element that separates Alphari from the bottom two top laners on this list is his split pushing. Alphari’s statistics are awful. He owns the second lowest damage per minute (375), the lowest CS and XP differences at 10 minutes (-5, -209) and the second lowest gold difference at 10 minutes (-124). However, his KDA is fourth among top laners (3.4).

Although it failed both times, Misfits drafted Kennen in the top lane twice. Alphari plays mostly Jarvan IV, Rumble and Renekton, and he tends to pressure the map away from the rest of the team for as long as possible before flanking with teleport to join fights. While Maxlore and IgNar roam in tandem to pressure mid and bottom lanes, Alphari is left alone in top. He generally sacrifices an early lane advantage for his teammates. However, it is rare to see him actually carry a game, which separates him from the top laners higher in these rankings.

7. VIT Cabochard

VIT Cabochard ranks seventh among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Cabochard contributes 24.6 percent of Team Vitality’s damage. That is the highest damage share among top laners. However, Cabochard also receives 23.1 percent of the team’s gold, which is second highest among EU LCS top laners. Vitality invests a lot into Cabochard’s success. He generally starts the game well, averaging the most gold ahead (152), second most XP ahead (180) and second most CS ahead (3.8) at 10 minutes.

This is to be expected, considering Cabochard played over a third of his games on Rumble (10 out of 29). Rumble is a champion that always gets to bully his lane with Flamespitter and easily farm. The reason Cabochard is not higher on the rankings is that his lead never seemed to propel Vitality’s games. Vitality, as a team, averaged behind in gold at 15 minutes, and their early objective rates are all low. Cabochard’s leads stay with him. They do not get spread across the map for turrets or dragons or Heralds or Barons.

6. nip profit

NIP Profit ranks fifth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Although Ninjas in Pyjamas finished this split in last place of Group A, Profit seemed to adapt well to the EU LCS. He averaged middle-of-the-pack for gold, CS and XP differences at 10 minutes as well as kill participation (63.5 percent). His damage numbers are decent, a 24.4 percent share for his team, second highest among top laners. However, he also receives a 23.2 percent share of the gold.

Profit may very well be the strongest split-pusher in the EU LCS this split. On champion picks like Rumble, Jarvan IV, Gnar and Renekton, Profit is extremely calculated in the side lane. He only sacrifices 19.9 percent of NiP’s deaths (second lowest among top laners), despite his isolation. This split-push style is Profit’s only real demonstration this split, though. NiP got worse as the games got later. The coordinated teamfighting aspects of the game were lost on the Ninjas, and Profit’s obsession with side lanes did not seem to help.

5. g2 expect

G2 Expect ranks fifth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

G2 have had lower lows this summer than in previous splits, but Expect has done well for himself. He has flown under the radar with third-fourth place laning statistics, such as +2.1 CS, +30 XP and +84 gold at 10 minutes.

Expect also has good teamfighting numbers, such as 458 damage per minute (third highest among top laners) and 69.6 percent kill participation (highest among top laners). And, somewhat surprisingly, Expect ranked second highest among top laners for adjusted damage.

Expect’s ranking on this list represents the first multi-faceted top laner in the EU LCS. Those below him had narrow windows of power in the game, which, if missed, would not result in much. However, Expect has exhibited an ability to play Gnar and Renekton, as well as Galio and Cho’Gath. His flexibility allows G2’s strategies to adapt to their opponent’s. Expect can hold his own in lane, essentially denying enemies the opportunity to get ahead on the top side. He then transitions into strong teamfighting, split-pushing and objective control. He has fulfilled G2’s needs well. But where he falls short is in acting as an individual carry for the team.

4. FNC Soaz

FNC Soaz ranks fourth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Soaz is difficult to peg against other EU LCS top laners. Fnatic have had an incredibly successful split, and when a team is performing so well together, it can be difficult to pull them apart and compare as individuals. While Soaz looks refreshed compared to his recent history with Origen, he still is not the primary catalyst for Fnatic. Of course, he is ahead in gold and XP at 10 minutes (+117, +118), but not from CS (averages zero at 10 minutes). His teammates create plenty of pressure and take First Blood in 74 percent of games, 52 percent of the time involving him.

Soaz’s adjusted damage rates him third. He performs well 1-v-1 on picks like Gnar and Jarvan IV, but on tankier picks, such as Shen, Gragas and Galio, Soaz truly shines. Fnatic looks best when Soaz is able to enable Caps and Rekkles to dish damage. These resistant, high crowd-control champions are perfect for Soaz’s role on the team, but the players ranked above him have exhibited more diverse playstyles with less stellar teammates.

3. SPY Wunder

SPY Wunder ranks third among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Wunder plays the best Kled in the EU LCS. His other top played champions include Rumble, Camille, Gnar and Cho’Gath. Kled is suitable to Wunder’s playstyle, because he enjoys aggressive dueling in side lanes while split-pushing, but he also acts as an engage tool in most of Splyce’s games. This has been a weakness for Wunder in the past: playing overly aggressive without the support of his team and sacrificing deaths. This split has looked much more polished.

Wunder’s laning statistics are not great by any means: fourth lowest gold difference (+2), third lowest XP difference (-106) and third highest CS difference (+2.2) at 10 minutes. This paints a picture of Wunder on an island in the top lane receiving pressure from the enemy jungler, denying XP, but still managing to secure CS to go even in lane. Wunder has one of the lowest First Blood rates among top laners (15 percent). And although he has sacrificed the fourth most deaths in the league (75), he is tied for the most kills (84). Wunder is also sure to put out the second highest damage per minute (459). He has the opposite problem of Soaz. Splyce jungler is not as active, especially on the top side of the map, yet Wunder manages to make it through laning phase and contribute in engaging, damaging and split-pushing.

2. H2K Odoamne

H2K Odoamne ranks second among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

H2K’s top laner has been towards the top of top laners for several splits now. As a veteran, Odoamne has been consistently good through several different metas, including lane swaps. What makes him so good is his ability to bring pressure to the game with any champion he drafts, whether it be Shen, Gragas and Maokai, or Rumble, Gnar and Camille. Odoamne has the highest KDA among top laners (4.7) and is tied with Wunder for most kills (84) even though he has only played 26 games. He also has the fourth highest adjusted damage rating.

Many of the statistics do not do Odoamne justice. Just watching him play the game, you can tell that he is on another level compared to most top laners. When he trades in lane, when he synergizes with Jankos, when he teleports or flanks into a teamfight, he just brings a presence that is not felt with many of Europe’s top laners. The only reason he is not ranked number one is because there is one other top laner that brings the same presence described here, except his laning is even better.

1. UOL Vizicsacsi

UOL Vizicsacsi ranks first among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Vizicsacsi has been named MVP, first team all-LCS, and many others. His role on Unicorns of Love cannot be understated.

Vizicsacsi starts the game by averaging the highest XP and CS differences at 10 minutes of any top laner (+243, +9.6). This sets him up to have the items and advantage to enter skirmishes and fights around the map, particularly bottom lane, and spread his lead into other teammates. For this reason, Vizicsacsi is the best Shen player in the EU LCS, and he looks best on tankier champions, such as Cho’Gath, Galio and Gragas.

Vizicsacsi’s split-pushing is some of the best in the league. When he plays Gnar, Fiora or Rumble, he generally draws a lot of attention. The Unicorns’ top laner is even known to turn on his opponent and secure counter-kills when he is caught out. It can be incredible. Vizicsacsi has the highest damage per minute of all top laners (472), and the highest adjusted damage rating according to Riot. His main flaw is sacrificing deaths. He has the second most deaths among top laners (110), granted he has played the most games (32). However, his 2.4 KDA is fourth lowest among top laners, which is not good for being on a top team.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Champion Statistics: GamesofLegends.com, OraclesElixir.com

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Buying LCS Spots: Ninjas Make Their Return

Players and fans alike have mixed opinions around the recent announcement of Ninjas in Pyjamas (NIP) purchasing the Fnatic Academy spot in the EU LCS.

The Fnatic Academy roster consists of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek at top lane, Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider as the jungler, Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer at mid, Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm as ADC and Johan “Klaj” Olsson at support. This team worked their way through the EU Challenger circuit only to be bought out earlier this week. This was all done without consent from the players and the bulk of them have tweeted their dismay after the announcement.

With NIP offering spots to three of the five “brothers” of EU’s Fnatic Academy, each being declined due to a desire to stay together as a team, the future of each of these players is still largely up in the air. For now they are choosing to stay with the Fnatic organization, however, they are also available for contracting.

Ninjas move in

The roster looking to replace Fnatic Academy under the NIP brand, consists of ex-SKT top laner, Kim “Profit” Jun-hyung, Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema in the jungle, former KT Rolster mid laner Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, Martin “HeaQ” Kordmaa at ADC, and Hampus “sprattel” Mikael Abrahamsson in support. This is an exceptionally confusing roster as only a few of these players carry the esteem and praise that the original Fnatic Academy line up achieved throughout their play in the Challenger scene. What is in question is whether or not this new line up would have made it through the EU Challenger series. If so, then the spot is deserved. However, if in this hypothetical they would not perform up to the par set by other EU teams, then a serious strike towards the integrity of competitive League of Legends has been made. 

What is especially worrying is that NIP sought to take three of the five Fnatic Academy players, implying that three players in their current line up are not as valued as those they are replacing. As to who those three are, we do not know. What is more likely than not is that NIP sought to replace both solo laners with imports, despite the solo laners of Fnatic Academy performing relatively well this past split.

How NIP performs in the upcoming split will either leave the ex-Fnatic Academy players vindicated or disdained. It will be hard to watch someone take over your role and flounder after being given a spot on an LCS squad. That being said, it may be more difficult to watch the same team triumph in the spot you worked so hard to carve out for them.

Gold Coin United leaves the stage after a close loss in a best of five against TL. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

This has happened before

Fans in an uproar must check themselves. Buying LCS spots is nothing new. 

Just a few months ago, the NA LCS Summer Promotion tournament held a fierce competition between four teams. These four teams, eUnited, Gold Coin United, Team Envy and Team Liquid, competed for only two LCS spots. While Team Envy secured their LCS spot with their original roster intact, Team Liquid made two temporary purchases during the season’s final weeks with both Adrian Ma and Peng “Doublelift” Yilang. These purchases were never meant to be long-term investments towards their permanent roster, but instead, they were made to prevent Team Liquid from being relegated.

Even with the “rental” of one of NA’s greatest ADC players, Team Liquid was pushed to all five games of a best of five against Gold Coin United. While Gold Coin United made some serious misplays in this best of five, fans of Team Liquid and competitive League of Legends alike must question the integrity of this “rental”. Is Team Liquid more deserving of this LCS spot than Gold Coin United? With DoubleLift in their roster, the obvious answer is yes, however without DoubleLift the picture shows a more skilled team, Gold Coin United, cheated out of an entire season of hard work. 

It must be exceptionally devastating to field a team through the Challenger series only to get to the final match and have the enemy team sub out their weakest link for one of the best players in the league.

League of meritocracy no longer

Amazing meditates after a hard fought victory. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

There is a lot of money in esports nowadays. And sadly, this can act as a corrupting agent for the integrity of the meritocracy competitive League of Legends once created. The times of five friends coming together to win a world championship is long expired, and I for one miss those times. Now the competitive League scene has too much money in it to allow a roster deserving of an LCS spot actually keep their LCS spot. Whether they win the promotion tournament and get bought out, or they lose due to a relegated team renting a roster that would have never been relegated, the sanctity of the LCS is a myth of the past.


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Featured image courtesy of lolesports flickr