Cloud9’s Playoff Profile: The Quest to Body Their Way Back to the Top

Cloud9 finished the season as the second best team to TeamSoloMid, again. Most expected this split to be Cloud9’s with TSM’s starting ADC Yiiang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break from the team. Although Cloud9 surged to a phenomenal 8-0 record, they’ve still struggled to solve their early game issues while other teams have improved. If they want to reclaim the NALCS title, they’ll need to show the ability to make plays in the early game.

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud9 has three extremely strong lanes. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen has had an MVP-like split, ending second in KDA and CSD@10 among mids.

The top lane Korean duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won gives them a diverse range of champions. Ray looked iffy in the beginning of the split, but has shown steady improvement towards the end. It will be interesting to see how C9 utilize each of them in a best of five format.

Cloud9 excels in mid game team fighting and shot calling. They’re great at knowing each other’s power spikes and knowing how to capitalize on their enemy’s mistakes. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Weaknesses

It’s no secret Cloud9’s weakness this whole split has been their lackluster early game. They’re not ones to make big plays in the early game despite having some of the most talented players. Jensen is often criticized for his lack of roaming and his selfishness to only gain an advantage in his lane.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia is often used as a tracker for the enemy jungler. It’s worrisome that they usually opt to farm it out till mid game to make plays. Against more aggressive playmaking teams such as TSM, we’ve seen that C9 can be punished for it. Despite Cloud9 being the second best team in the league, they are a mediocre 7th in GD@15.

If C9 want to reclaim the North American throne, they’ll need to show that they can make plays in the early game.

Player to Watch: Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Contractz is a huge X-Factor for this team. As a rookie playing in his first playoffs series, he’ll need to step up big time.

Contractz has shown glimpses of stardom, but he’s also had his share of rookie blunders. Furthermore, when he’s confident and being a nuisance to the enemy jungler, he looks his best. If he gets caught out during crucial objectives and doesn’t have an early game impact, we could see an early upset. With how dominant Phoenix1 looked against Dignitas, it will be a close series.

 

Prediction

While Phoenix1 will give Cloud9 a run for their money, I believe C9 will reach the NALCS finals again to face off in a close series against TSM.

Cloud9 3-2 over Phoenix1 in the semifinals

TSM 3-2 over Cloud9 in the Finals

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NALCS: Reflecting on preseason rankings

The regular Spring Split of the NALCS has come to a close and the standings are a lock.  In the off season, we saw some big names enter the scene with huge investments made by NBA teams.  Some teams came in with some high expectations, while others may not have looked as promising.  I’ll be reviewing how well I did in my preseason power rankings compared to how things played out. There were definitely some surprises on both sides of the standings so let’s take a look at some of the surprises this split:

Team SoloMid

Projected Ranking: 2nd

Final Ranking: 1st

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid came into this split projected as low as fourth on some preseason power rankings.  Many, including myself, saw ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran as a definite downgrade to Doublelift.  It was evident in the first few weeks, and many doubted how well they’d adapt.

Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell began to take over heavier shot calling duties.  It was rough at first, but TSM finally figured things out mid way through the split.  Hauntzer has looked like an MVP candidate, while support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang has proved to be a star support without Doublelift. Star mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg had a few rough first games but has steadily returned to MVP form.

The only worrying trend I could see is how inconsistent jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen can be.  Svenskeren did appear to be the weak link of the team throughout the split.  He’ll need to become more of a consistent threat for this team to reclaim their NALCS title.

Cloud 9

Projected Ranking: 1st

Final Ranking: 2nd

Unlike most teams, Cloud 9 stormed out of the gate to a phenomenal 8-0 start.  Teams around them struggled to find synergy in the early parts of the split, but lingering issues have since plagued Cloud9. They’ve struggled to make early game plays and often get wins off their mid game team fighting. Against worse teams, this may work, but to be a top team in the world, this is something they’ll need to improve.

Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen has had an MVP-like season.  His Orianna plays in the last week were carrying many of their games during the final week. Rookie Juan ”

Rookie Juan “Contactz” Garcia has seen his share fair of criticism throughout the split.  It’s easy to forget that this is only his first season.  He’ll need to find a better way to make early game plays for this team to succeed.

Phoenix1

Projected Ranking: 6th

Final Ranking: 3rd

Power Rankings: Phoenix1, #9 western team

Courtesy: Riot Esports

I actually pegged Phoenix1 as one of my dark horse favorites heading into the split.  They didn’t disappoint, as they sky rocketed from relegations to a 3rd place finish this split.  Even with the hiatus of star jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh, Phoenix1 was still able to show that they can be top contenders in this league.

They imported a hidden gem in ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon.  Arrow has looked superb aside from the last week of the split.  Despite changing supports around the mid way point Arrow has looked like the best import this split.  He currently leads the league in KDA and is 4th in CSDiff@10.

Phoenix1 honestly looked like strong contenders heading into the final week before being blown out by the top two teams in the league.  Phoenix1 will need to bounce back heading into their series against a surging  Dignitas.

Counter Logic Gaming

Projected Ranking: 4th

Final Ranking: 4th

CLG had a season similar to last Summer Split.  They struggled to adapt to the meta and lost a lot due to this.  Another issue is playing to the level of their competition.  Against the best teams, CLG looked like they could contend with the top teams.  When facing bottom tier teams, they’d sometimes get upset or may it a closer series than expected.

Around the mid-season, we saw the usual CLG return to their expected form of title contenders.  With the meta shifted back to ADC’s being more than just ult bots, we may see CLG look to play around their bot lane more.  Mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun has looked much improved this split after being heavily criticized last year.

CLG have Flyquest as their first opponents heading into playoffs.  They should be favorites considering how much Flyquest struggled during the second half of the split.  CLG look to be improving week by week, so barring another emergency medical emergency, they should face rival TSM in the next round.

Flyquest

Projected Ranking: 8th

Final Ranking: 5th

Power Rankings: #3 western team

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Most had Flyquest pegged as a bottom tier team during pre-season.  Flyquest stormed onto the scene as a top three team for the first half of the split.  Under the shotcalling of Hai “Hai” Lam, they were able to easily out maneuver many of the newer rosters.  Hai’s shotcalling and leadership poised Flyquest to be top contenders heading into the split.

As we entered the second half of the split, Flyquest’s magic fizzled out.  As teams around them improved, Flyquest attempted to “cheese” opponents bringing out unique picks such as Shaco, Mordekaiser, and Blitzcrank.  Teams seem to have figured out their strategies and Flyquest have struggled to adapt.

Despite their late season fall from the top three, they still played well enough to earn the fifth seed in the playoffs.  It’ll be interesting to see how much they decide to rely on cheese picks going into playoffs.  Their drafts have been some of the most interesting, to say the least. CLG is a tough first opponent, but they definitely have the experience to take the series.

Dignitas

Projected Ranking: 3rd

Final Ranking: 6th

Dignitas, on paper, looked like a top three team.  Bringing in two of the best in their roles from Korean in Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, many thought they’d contend for top two.  That wasn’t the case, as the language barrier and synergy issues were quite evident in the first half of the split.

The team wasn’t very proactive.  After a coaching change in bringing back former Apex coach David “Cop” Roberson, the team finally look to be reaching their potential.  During the second half of the split, Dignitas looked like the team many had hoped for in preseason.

They have a tall task in facing Phoenix1 in the first round of playoffs, but if they prepare well enough I could see them getting the upset.  Chaser has been playing extremely well lately and will play a huge role in deciding whether this team goes far in playoffs.

Immortals

Projected Ranking: 7th

Final Ranking: 7th

Courtesy: Gamepedia.

Immortals came in, like many, struggling with synergy issues.  Uncharacteristically Eugene “Pobelter” Park looked like the worst mid laner during the first few weeks of the spring, but during the mid-season, Immortals looked to be improved and maybe deserved a playoff spot with how they were playing near the end.

The team still heavily relies on jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett to either carry them or lose them games.  Their bot lane looked much improved from the start of the split though.  I could see Immortals sticking it out with this roster and improving a bunch for Summer split.

Barely just missing playoffs hurts, but they’re headed in the right direction.

Echo Fox

Projected Ranking: 9th

Final Ranking: 8th

Echo Fox didn’t have too many expectations heading into the split.  Specifically, nobody knew how good jungler Matt “Akaadian” Higginbotham was going to be.  Akaadian has come out as the next upcoming NA jungle talent in the scene.  His early game aggression netted Echo Fox some enormous early game leads.

Echo Fox struggled in transitioning their early game leads to victories.  ADC Yuri “Keith” Jew received much of the criticism in Echo Fox’s losses for his performances this split.  Top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was supposed to be an upgrade in his role, but looked to lack synergy with his team.  He was often teleporting late or engaging teamfights without his team behind him.

Look for Echo Fox to make some roster changes if they want to be real contenders for next split.

Team Liquid

Projected Ranking: 5th

Final Ranking: 9th

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team Liquid was actually another one of my dark horse favorites heading into this split.  Jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin was thought to be a top tier jungler in North America.  Mid laner Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer was finally getting his shot to prove himself.

I don’t think anybody expected Team Liquid to have such a bad season.  Nobody would’ve predicted the role swap for Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin from ADC to mid either.  In an more even shocking turn of events, Team Liquid brought in Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng to take over at ADC.  Team Liquid has done everything to try to climb out of relegations, but still struggled to finish out the games needed towards the end of the split.

Team Liquid will need to play their way through relegations now to find their way back into LCS, but with the roster they’re sporting now, I don’t see this team losing their LCS spot.

This was still one of the most disappointing seasons in Team Liquid’s history.  It’ll be interesting what off season changes they’ll make to claim their rightful spot in fourth place.

Team EnVyus

Projected Ranking: 10th

Final Ranking: 10th

Not much to say here.  EnVyUs’ big need is in the mid lane where they’re wasting an import slot on Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo at the moment. Their bot lane is underrated, and jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo has looked like the best jungler in NA at times.  I don’t see them losing their spot in relegations, but we’ll need to see if Lira sticks with them.

If Lira doesn’t get any offers from other teams, and EnVy replaces Ninja, I could see them improve to at least a playoff team in Summer.

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NALCS: Grading this Split’s Rookies

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

Phoenix1 Stunt (Support)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

Cloud 9 Contractz (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

 

Grade: B

Echo Fox Akaadian (Jungle)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Grade: A

Immortals Cody Sun (ADC)

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

Dardoch (IMT Jungler)

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Hai and Moon (Flyquest Mid and Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Stixxay (CLG ADC)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Keith and gate(Echo Fox ADC and support)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

Contractz (Cloud 9 Jungler)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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NALCS Mid Season Awards

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

MVP of the Mid season: Hauntzer

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Rookie of the Mid season: Akaadian

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Contractz

Coach of the Mid season: Reapered

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Fly, Parth

Best Import of the Mid season: Arrow

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Honroable mentions: Ssumday, Ryu

Most Improved Player of the Mid season: Moon

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions: Smoothie, Altec, Huhi

All-LCS 1st Team

Top: Team SoloMid Hauntzer

Jungle: Echo Fox Akaadian

Mid: Cloud 9 Jensen

ADC: Phoenix1 Arrow

Support: Cloud 9 Smoothie

All-LCS 2nd Team

Top: Cloud 9 Impact

Jungle: Flyquest Moon

Mid: TSM Bjergsen

ADC: Cloud 9 Sneaky

Support: Phoenix1 Adrian

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

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NALCS Teams on the Rise: Echo Fox and Immortals

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

Echo Fox

Courtesy: Riot Games

 

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

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

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

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

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

Immortals

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Cloud 9 vs. Flyquest Preview

The matchup we’ve all been anticipating since the start of the LCS, “Cloud 9 White against Cloud 9 Blue.” For obvious reasons, this is the highlight match of the week for most viewers. Current Cloud 9 were heralded as the top dogs heading into the split, so it’s no surprise that they sit atop the standings at 6-0.

The old school veterans of Cloud 9 now have a chance to prove that they’re better than the members who replaced them. Flyquest were coming in as “washed up” former pros that everyone expected to be fighting towards the bottom. With a 5-1 record, Flyquest will have a lot to prove this week as they face some of their toughest opponents so far in Phoenix1 and Cloud 9.

Solo Laners and Macro Play

Cloud 9 have been winning games through their mid-game team fighting abilities and superior shotcalling. Along with that, Cloud 9 have top talent in just about every position. Similarly for Flyquest, they’re often looking to just go even in laning phase before exploding for early baron calls and immaculate shot calling we’ve come to expect from mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam.

The difference between the two is that Flyquest doesn’t exactly have top talent in their roles. Individually, they don’t do phenomenal in lane as opposed to Cloud 9. C9 have some of the best solo laners in Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen.  

For Flyquest, An ”Balls” Le and Hai have never been known as strong mechanical laners, but do what their team needs. Despite having the worst CS differential@10 among tops, Balls has the third highest KDA. Hai currently has the most kills of all mids along with the highest damage percentage. Hai’s shotcalling has also reminded us that you can never truly count any roster out as long as he’s there.

We witnessed this firsthand when Hai retired and was brought back to salvage a struggling Cloud 9 team. Through the leadership of Hai, Cloud 9 turned around a seventh place finish into a magical run through the gauntlet to qualify for Worlds.

Hai and Balls will be looking to take revenge on the players that replaced them. Meanwhile, Jensen and Impact will look to prove that Cloud 9 made the right choices in doing so.

Jungle Matchup

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

In the Jungle, Cloud 9 rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia is facing off against Flyquest’s Galen “Moon” Holgate. Contractz had been praised as being the next up and coming rookie talent from North America. He has not disappointed so far, and looks to be improving every week.

For Moon, not many expected this kind of performance from him. He was once in Contractz’ shoes, seen as an up and coming talent, but never really developed into what many had hoped. Under the veteran leadership of Flyquest, Moon has been able to finally show the NALCS that he is a top jungler in this league.

Moon and Contractz currently hold the top KDA’s among junglers at 6.5 and 4.8 respectively. It will be exciting to see just how well these two do against each other. They both look to be contenders for the best jungler in North America.

 

 

Sneaky vs. Lemonnation

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports

One of the best bot lanes to ever play in North America face each other for the first time in competitive play. C9 ADC Zachery “Sneaky” Scuderi and Flyquest support Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart were infamous innovators during their time together in competitive LoL.  

Lemonnation was one of the first innovators of really breaking down drafts strategically. With Ashe and Zyra returning to the meta, it reminds us that Sneaky and Lemonnation were one of the first bot lanes to use those champions successfully in competitive.  

Sneaky now lanes with current C9 support Andy “Smoothie” Ta who has looked like one of the most improved players from last split. Lemonnation joins Johnny “Altec” Ru who isn’t exactly a carry style AD, but he’s definitely not someone you can sleep on. Smoothie has developed into arguably the best support of the NALCS. He currently holds the highest KDA among supports at 6.0. Altec currently holds the highest KDA among ADC’s at 6.2.

 

 

Prediction

Cloud 9 and Flyquest both have special places in my heart as I’ve been a C9 fan since I began watching competitive. I’ll never forget the undefeated LCS playoff title runs or the magical Worlds performance against Najin White Shield. This split has been a treat for C9 fans, as we’ve basically gotten to witness essentially “two C9’s” do extremely well to start off the split.

Cloud 9 have the edge, but Flyquest will not go down easy. Cloud 9 will take it in a close 2-1 series with a lot of bloody fights. As long as Impact is starting, I don’t see any team being able to take them down. Cloud 9 without Impact look completely different. With him, they look unstoppable.

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Comparing Current Cloud 9 to TSM of Summer 2016

Cloud 9 look miles above the rest to start the split. They currently sit atop the standings with a 6-0 record and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. They look like a team ready to retake their North American throne. Their current start is reminiscent of TSM in Summer 2016.

TSM had a similar start to Summer, where they looked so dominant after replacing veteran support Bora “Yellowstar” Kim with rookie Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. TSM had arguably one of the best splits in NALCS history by finishing the season off with a 17-1 record, and a total of 35 games won and only six lost. Let’s look at how TSM of Summer and current Cloud 9 stack up statistically.

TSM Summer 2016

Courtesy of Riot Esports

Three weeks into the split, TSM held a 6-0 record. Same as the current Cloud 9 squad. The difference is that TSM only dropped one game during their first three weeks. C9 has dropped two games so far.

TSM held the highest gold difference @15 with 1,615. TSM was known for getting huge gold leads from pure talent in the laning phase. They were also extremely proactive and had mastered the lane swap meta that dominated that split.

They also held the highest Dragon control %, along with the second highest Baron control %, only behind Immortals. Along with this stat, they held the shortest game time average at 32.2 minutes and had the highest team KD at 1.68. TSM were kings of knowing exactly what to do with a lead and how to translate them to victories efficiently.  

Current Cloud 9

Currently, Cloud 9 is 6-0 and sits alone at the top of the NALCS. They look much stronger than any other team so far, but the competition also seems a bit weaker. Teams are still adjusting to imports, and North American games going to 40+ minutes seems to be the norm at the moment.

Courtesy of Riot Esports

Cloud 9 is third in Gold Difference@15 with only 423. They actually trail Flyquest and Echo Fox. Despite Echo Fox sitting in the middle of the pack, they have the highest Gold Difference@15 with 1,389. Cloud 9 does have strong lanes, but their mid game team fights and skirmishes are where they’ve gotten their leads.

C9’s shotcalling and communication are above the rest of the league at the moment. They’re usually pretty proactive in setting up plays and know how to play their comps properly. They have the third shortest game time, averaging 37.9 minutes. With wave clear picks such as Varus, Orianna, and Corki being in the meta right now, it’s easy for teams to try to stall out when they’re behind.   

Cloud 9’s baron control this split hasn’t been too great. They currently sit fourth at 59% and sixth in Dragon control at 51%. Cloud 9 seem to be content with giving up Dragons if it means getting a tower in exchange. In the lane swap meta, it made it easier for teams to do early dragons as well. They currently hold the highest team KD at 1.72.  

 

 

Who would win in a BO3 series?

The ultimate question is who would win in a best of 3 series between the current Cloud 9 team and TSM of Summer? Cloud 9 looks better and better each match with Reapered coaching them. TSM did look top notch in NALCS last split and definitely looked better with ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Contractz also brings the right amount of aggression that synergizes well with Cloud 9.  

Looking into the future, we could very well see this matchup come to fruition. TSM’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect how much they’ve struggled. Even with a lead, TSM has struggled to close out the game cleanly. Various members of TSM have mentioned the absence of Doublelift has hindered the shotcalling of the team. If TSM doesn’t win first place, I believe Doublelift will be returning to the starting lineup for summer.

Owner of TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, has made it clear that he wants to see TSM do well at Worlds. If TSM can’t even win the North American title, he’ll want to see changes. Doublelift has also made it very clear on stream that he wishes to return to pro play for the Summer.  

If these teams do end up getting the chance to play one another, it will be one of the most hyped up matches LCS viewers have ever seen. It’ll be a huge question mark if Doublelift will still be in the same form after his break, and if TSM can continue their success from Summer.

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The Game Haus will be hosting Haus Wars, an amateur LoL Tournament with teams from all across the nation competing February 10-12.  

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Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Rookie Cloud 9 Jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia, looked far from any rookie we’ve seen in NALCS. In two games against the North American powerhouse, TSM, he ganked early and often. Both games he got first blood, and set the tempo for Cloud 9 to take the series 2-0. He started game two with a 5-0 kill score on Lee Sin, basically snowballing the early game before sealing the deal with an amazing ult onto Wildturtle in the final team fight.  

A lot of analysts were wondering whether they should believe in the hype for 17 year old Jungle prodigy. After a performance like that, it’s almost hard not to. In his post game interview he was extremely humble, saying, “This isn’t where I want to be yet, I want to be much better.” If this is only the beginning, everyone will be watching to see how far he can really go.

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham of Echo Fox had much less hype around him. Most people expected him to be average at best. In both games against Phoenix1, Akkadian was able to get Echo Fox off to an early lead with some aggressive ganks to the Mid and Top lane. Although, the team fell short with some late team-fighting failures, Akkadian was a standout player for me. Nobody was really talking about him before the NALCS Split, but it definitely looks like they should be.   

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

People will be quick to place the blame on replacement ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran for this loss, but TSM as a whole played poorly from what we’re used to seeing. Even the draft was questionable.  

What stood out the most was the poor shotcalling, specifically in Game 2. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen made an amazing Baron steal to keep TSM in the game. He died quickly after, and instead of TSM resetting with four members with Baron Buff they decided to try to make a pick on Cloud 9 support, Andy “Smoothie” Ta. The team takes a poor 4v5 fight and Cloud 9 takes an inhibitor for it. In the final team fight of Game 2, TSM tries to focus down a very tanky Nautilus which leads to them getting Aced, and Cloud 9 ending the game from there.  

This isn’t the first time they’ve had questionable decision making either. Poor decisions with Baron buff against Unicorns of Love also led to them losing 1-2 at IEM Oakland. That was a few months ago. It raises the discussion of how much they miss former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s contribution to shotcalling. If this team hasn’t fixed those issues yet, it will be a tough Split for them. Cloud 9 is a hard first opponent, but if TSM can’t fix their shotcalling issues, Doublelift may need to come back sooner than later. Reginald has made it clear that anything outside of first is a failed Split for TSM. 

P1’s abysmal early game vs. Echo Fox’s terrible late game

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 and Echo Fox came into the Spring Split with not too many expectations. Most people were ranking P1 as a middle tier team and Echo Fox near the bottom of the standings.  

Echo Fox surprised most spectators as they were able to take command of the early game for both games. Back to back ganks from Akaadian for Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen set him up to be able to carry on his Leblanc. That was not the case, as poor teamfighting allowed P1 back into the game. It was a back and forth clown fiesta for a bit before Phoenix1 eventually closed out Game 1 with a victory.

In Game 2, Akaadian aimed his ganks to the Top Lane for former World Champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok to  be able to carry on his signature champion, Singed. Echo Fox were ahead by as much as 3.1k at one point, and once again, threw their lead at a poor team fight around dragon. Shortly after, Phoenix1 took baron and ended the game in 24 minutes.  

Phoenix1 simply won’t be able to rely on poor mid-late game team fighting against stronger teams. Inori will need to be more active in the early game if this team really wants to contend. It may have been nerves, but most teams won’t throw away huge gold leads like Echo Fox did today.  

 

Echo Fox’s Jungler, Akaadian, looked better than what most people expected. Much of the early leads were off the ganks and pressure he was distributing among the map. Mid and late game shotcalling will need to improve if this team wants to make playoffs. Looper looked okay at best, but not nearly what we expect from a former World Champion. The language barrier may be more of an issue than they had suspected.  

One thing that may also develop is a rivalry between these two young junglers. In an interview before the match, Akaadian called spectators out for overrating Phoenix1 Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh last season. Akaadian also noted that if Inori isn’t able to “cheese” people, than he’s basically useless for the rest of the game. When David “Phreak” Turley asked Inori about it in the post game interview, he declined to fire any shots back towards Akaadian. He chose to let his play speak for him, but it will be interesting if this evolves into a mini-rivalry between these two young NALCS jungle talents.

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

In an interview in between Games 1 and 2 between C9 and TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh fired shots at other team owners, saying, “A lot of the team owners don’t know what they’re doing. They’re importing Korean talent over without knowing how to place them into their roster.”  A lot of NBA teams buying into the NALCS with no experience of the scene have been trying to acquire the biggest names possible and hoping it works without having the right infrastructure to support them  

He specifically aimed his comments towards Team Dignitas and Echo Fox, saying, “They’re going to place bottom half for sure.”  

It’s a bold prediction going into the Spring as most new North American teams have looked to Korea to import some of the best players in League of Legends. Reginald’s philosophy with TSM is to prioritize communication and synergy over individual skill. No one can really argue as his team finished first place in Summer 2016 for North America, only losing one series to Phoenix1. CLG, who won Spring last season, had five players who all spoke English as well.  

This Split will definitely prove Reginald right or wrong. Many of the newer teams entering the scene have imported a lot of Korean talents in an attempt to contend for an NALCS title. It will be interesting if more owners follow Reginald’s philosophy moving forward, or continue with the trend of importing high-profile Korean talent.

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Day 1 of NALCS is in the books and I look forward to the rest of the match-ups!

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