Is Cloud 9’s new roster underrated?

Heading into the new split, one of the biggest organizations in NA LCS, Cloud 9, made some questionable moves this off season. They lost top laner, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, to Team Liquid and also let rising jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia leave. With the acquisitions of rookie top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie and former TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, most people are considering these moves downgrades. Licorice is a huge question mark as someone who has never seen the LCS stage outside of challenger series. He showed carry potential at times, but when faced against LCS-level competition, he floundered. Svenskeren comes in after a shaky year with TSM in which he took the blunt of the criticism for their failures. Cloud 9 have always been a top organization in NA LCS, but are people downplaying how good this roster can actually be?

is Licorice the next Hauntzer?

Photo by: Riot Esports

Licorice is seen as the biggest question mark heading into the new split. He hasn’t had any LCS experience outside of the challenger series, but has shown flashes of his carry potential. He’s often been high on the solo queue ladder so the mechanics are definitely there. In a region with weaker top lane talent, Licorice has the chance to have the similar path of TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell.

Licorice has the chance to learn from many of the LCS veterans on his team. Many people doubted TSM’s signing of Hauntzer after seeing him do decent with Gravity. Nobody thought that he would be as good as he is today. Being surrounded with some of the best players in the league gives him a chance to learn from the best. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta are all at least top two players within the region. While Svenskeren may have had an off year this past split, the new runes may favor his type of playstyle.

Licorice seems hungry to learn and brings in a new young player that Cloud 9 can mold. This is the second straight season that they’ll be bringing on a rookie NA player.

Keeping the Core

If there’s one move Cloud 9 can be praised for, it’s keeping the core of their success. Jensen and Sneaky are two of the best carries in North America at their positions. Sneaky, being underrated for most of his career, finally began to receive recognition last year after good Worlds and Gauntlet performances. He attended his first All star event this past year. Smoothie has also shined since joining Cloud 9 as a shot caller and play making support. Smoothie continues to grow every year and is arguably one of the best supports in the league now.

While there were rumors that head coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu could bolt after last season, he has stayed with the team. Since coming onto the team in May 2016, he’s given the team the leadership to succeed and shot call in game without former star, Hai “Hai” Lam. Being able to keep a coaching talent like Reapered is huge for staying successful.

Which Svenskeren Will We see?

It’s no secret Svenskeren is coming off one of the weakest years of his career. He received much of the criticism for TSM’s lackluster performances at international events. Joining a new team gives him a fresh start to rebuild himself. This will likely be his last chance to prove that he can be a world class jungler. With the new runes leaning towards more aggressive junglers, Svenskeren might be able to reinvigorate his career.

He matches much of the aggression of star mid laner, Jensen, so it will be interesting to see how the two work together. They could form one of the most aggressive mid/jungle duos if things work out correctly. Former TSM owner, Andy “Reginald” Dinh noted his lack of synergy with former support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Jungle and support synergy is especially important in the early game play making. With Smoothie being a very vocal member of the team, I could see him and Svenskeren working really well together.

Cloud 9 will have some big questions to answer in the new season. With franchising shaking up rosters, there will be some new teams on the rise for sure. Cloud 9 will need to be on top of their game if they want to stay contenders in a growing NA LCS scene.

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Can Cloud 9 carry NA to semi-finals?

Quarterfinals start this weekend. Week two proved to be the same old story for North America. After a strong week one performance from all the North American teams, Cloud 9 was the lone survivor to make it out. Cloud 9 will have immense pressure as they are the only North American team left in the tournament.

China on the other hand impressed many in front of their hometown fans as both WE and RNG took first in their respective groups. WE are riding high as they finished the group stage 5-1 looking very strong.

How C9 Wins

Cloud 9 wins if Contractz can keep Condi from taking over the map. We saw in WE’s previous games that they know how to snowball their leads. Not only that, but they also know how to play from behind. Jensen will be vital in his team’s success as always. Cloud 9 will most likely look to camp the mid lane as they always do and try to snowball off Jensen’s lead.

Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta will need to hold their own in the bot lane as well. Against EDG and SKT their laning phase didn’t look the best. They will need to be at their best this round. Last year against Samsung Galaxy, they were heavily exploited. They’ll be looking to redeem themselves this time around.

Matchup to Watch: Contractz vs Condi (jungle)

Photo by: Riot Games

WE and Cloud 9 have some of the more talented junglers in the tournament: Juan “Contractz” Garci and Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie. Condi has been heralded as the best jungler by some from the group stage. Contractz came on with a strong showing in week one showing prowess on carry junglers such as Ezreal and Graves.

Junglers have played a large part of each of these teams’ strategies. Cloud 9 looks to setup mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, so Contractz will often look for multiple ganks there to get him snowballing.

Condi has shown the ability to exert his pressure in many areas of the map. Contractz will need to track him well if Cloud 9 stand a chance against these hometown heroes.

Adjustments

With this matchup being the last of all the quarterfinals matches, they’ll have the chance to see how the meta shifts for the tournament. Near the end of week two we saw Caitlyn as a huge counter to much of the farm fest bot lanes that started out. She can easily bully people in lane and go for the early tower with her range. It will be interesting to see how much teams decide to prioritize her moving forward. Cloud 9 picked up Caitlyn in their final match against AHQ in which they dominated.

With how well top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has been playing, I’d like to see him be put on a carry champion such as Rumble or even Trundle. We have yet to see Contractz pull out a Jarvan pick, which has been quite impactful. It raises the question of if he’s able to play it or just doesn’t want to.

Prediction

While Cloud 9 may be slight underdogs here, I think they can pull off a close 3-2 upset of this Chinese powerhouse and take North America to semi-finals.

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C9’s top lane: Looking into the stats for both Ray and Impact

Many were confused when Cloud 9 announced they’d be adding a sixth man to the roster. With starting top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong coming off one of his best performances in playoffs/worlds, many didn’t see the need for a top lane sub. Jeon “Ray” Ji-won had come off an impressive rookie split with Apex where he showed flashes of potential stardom. Cloud 9 took a chance on Ray in hopes that he could add a unique playstyle to their talented roster.

With so much top talent being imported this split, things were going to be more competitive than ever. Legendary names like Flame, Ssumday and Looper would be added to the North America top lane talent. Impact and Ray would need to keep up for Cloud 9 to have any hopes of duplicating their success from previous splits.

Early days of Ray

Photo by Riot Games

In Ray’s first match with C9 he had the tall task of facing one of the best top laners in the world in Dignitas’ Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. In a matchup of tanks Ray did well in game 1 to go even with Ssumday. The second match, he fell behind 50 CS and Cloud 9 lost. Impact was subbed in for game three in which Cloud 9 would take the series.

It started to become evident exactly when Cloud 9 would want to play Ray. Whenever the team wanted to run a carry top laner, Ray was their guy. When the team needed a tank, Impact would start. Ray’s first few games for Cloud 9 were hard to watch at times. There were times where he’d flash his brilliant mechanics and earn a solo kill. There were also times when he’d get overaggressive and die to a gank.

Watching Impact and Ray play for the team was almost night/day. Impact’s communication with the team seemed to be much more fluid. Impact had the advantage of playing a full split with the team so he knows how to communicate properly and efficiently. Ray’s English still hadn’t reached a manageable level yet, but in time you could definitely see him overtaking Impact in the near future.

Early game struggles

In all honesty, neither Impact nor Ray have looked consistently great this split. They seem to always be left on an island to fend for themselves. Either dying to ganks or going even at best. Ray will get the occasional solo kill, but it usually doesn’t amount to much. With Ssumday and Flame finally looking like the superstars they were meant to be, Impact and Ray seem to be struggling to keep up.

Looking at the stats for summer, Impact and Ray sit in the middle of the pack in KDA and both hold the last place spots for CSdiff@10, with -5.4 for Impact and -11 for Ray. Those numbers aren’t too far off from their spring stats either. Often times they’ll die to ganks in the early game due to lack of vision and over aggression.

In the mid to late, they still do a decent job of team fighting and drawing pressure. Impact and Ray are near the top when it comes to damage percentage and damage per minute among top laners. Cloud 9 as a team still struggles at times to make plays in the early game. Due to this, top lane seems to be the lane that usually takes the hit in the early game.

Looking towards Worlds

With every teams’ goal set at qualifying for Worlds, Cloud 9’s top lane duo will need to be in top form if they want to attend Worlds for another season. With teams finally hitting their strides, Cloud 9 seems to have taken a step back. Ray and Impact in particular will need to step things up if C9 will have any chance at being back at Worlds. Rift Rivals will be a huge measuring stick in terms of seeing where they stand. EU’s top teams look a little better at the moment, but nobody really knows until they face off on the rift.

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Cover photo by Riot Games

 

 

 

The evolution of coaching in LCS

Around two years ago head coaches became a necessity for teams in the LCS. In the younger years of professional League of Legends most teams didn’t have the money to support having a head coach. Due to how young the professional scene still was, there wasn’t much availability for people looking to coach. Even if there was a coach, he was mostly just an analyst that helped bounce ideas off the players.

The scene has evolved, making a coach a necessity now. Not just an in-house analyst either. A coach must be able to lead these young players in their professional career. They must be able to give out criticism properly, while also demanding the respect of the players.

Over the past years we’ve seen what having a good coach can do for a team. We’ve also seen the other side of things when a coach can have a negative impact on a team.

Early LCS

When professional LoL started there wasn’t much structure among teams. For the most part you had five players living together with maybe a team manager that helped with scheduling and making sure they were taken care of. Coaching hadn’t really become a necessity yet until Korea began their reign over all the other regions. The West seemed way behind and needed help to catch up.

In the early days of LCS not many coaches had come about yet. Most of the coaches we see today are former players themselves. Teams maybe had an analyst at best, but nothing like a head coach that would need to solve internal issues along with having game knowledge.

Korean coaching

Photo via Riot Games

It’s no secret that Korea has taken over as the best region in terms of competing in professional League of Legends. Korea has taken home the title for four straight years now. SKT head coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun has been apart of every SKT championship and is heralded as the best coach in professional LoL.

North America followed suit hiring several Korean coaches over the past few splits. Most notably Cloud 9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and Immortals Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo have found much success with their teams after coming over.

 

Before Reapered became coach, Cloud 9 seemed lost without former captain/shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on the roster. Immortals were in the same boat before SSONG joined the team this summer. With SSONG coaching, Immortals has jumped from 7th place to 1st place taking wins off many of the top teams from last split. Their macro play has also improved immensely from last split. 

Korean coaches seem to know how to get the most out of their players. They also demand more as an authoritative figure, while also knowing how to deal with internal issues. SSONG and Reapered are accredited with much of their teams’ success since they’ve been brought on.

Western Players’ Mindsets

One could argue that coaching players in the West is much different than their eastern counterparts, or at least in Korea. In Korea, kids are brought up respecting their elders, while in the West kids are brought up more loose. Korean players have also stated that after coming to NA they think it’s much more relaxed compared to training in Korea.

The West seems to lack many good coaches. With some veterans retiring throughout the years, some have stepped up to become decent coaches such as Dignitas’ Cop and Saintvicious. We’ve also seen different personalities, such as Scarra and Lemonnation, not have much success as a coach. CLG’s head coach, Zikz, has received much praise for his coaching. TSM’s anlayst, Parth, has also been around the scene for awhile now.

We’ve also seen in EU with Origen a few splits back not really feeling the need for a coach. It feels that many Western players didn’t see the need for a coach a few seasons ago. That mindset has changed a bit, but some players are still reluctant on just how effective a coach can really be.

The present

Coaches today can’t just be analysts. They must be able to have an authoritative role over their players while also being able to deal with internal issues amongst the teams. Coaches have to know how to effectively get the most out of each practice and also know how to do pick/bans. Coaches have slowly developed into becoming vital in a team’s success.

Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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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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