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: Grading the Newest Imports

This season, in particular, we got the chance to see some big names imported into the NALCS scene. With the split coming to a close soon, I thought I’d review some of the bigger pickups by teams. It will always be an ongoing debate of whether having an all English speaking team is better than having to integrate international players.

This was evident this split, as teams with big name imports, such as Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals stumbled out of the gate. Their team synergy seemed off with top lane imports, especially when using teleport and team fighting.

Phoenix 1’s Arrow and RYu

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has stormed onto the NALCS scene. After playing the last few seasons on KT, Arrow made the move to North America with Phoenix1. Many questioned how much Arrow was being carried by a talented KT roster. Nobody really knew how well Arrow was going to perform, as he’d have to learn English for the first time.

Arrow has heavily exceeded expectations as he’s developed into one of the best ADC’s in North America. His skill shot accuracy on utility carries such as Varus and Jhin has made him one of P1’s most valuable players. He currently leads all ADC’s in KDA, DMG%, and DPM. All key stats for an ADC. He has undoubtedly taken the role of best ADC in North America.

Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, on the other hand, had the advantage of playing in Europe. With his experience on H2K, he’d become accustomed to communicating in English. Ryu hasn’t skipped a beat since coming to NA. He is a solid mid laner for his team and is definitely able to keep up with the talent in the region. He currently has the fourth highest KDA and CSD@10.

Phoenix1 has been able to surge from being a relegation team last split, to title contenders. Ryu and Arrow have been key pickups, and Phoenx1 deserve praise for being able to integrate these two talented imports.

Grade: A+

Echo Fox’s Looper

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was brought into Echo Fox after a last place finish in Summer. Looper was brought in as someone who knew what it took to win a championship. Some say he benefited from having a world class shot caller in support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.

Looper’s tank play has been disjointed from his team at times. His teleport plays may seem a bit off, but it may also be Echo Fox as a team being a bit indecisive. He still has pretty strong laning as he’s fourth in CSD@10, but is near the bottom in KDA.

Looper hasn’t necessarily been a weakness on this team, but he’s certainly not one of the main carries either. Echo Fox as a whole has struggled with mid game shot calling. Their early game is pretty decent, but they usually have no idea how to translate it into a victory.

Grade: B-

Dignitas’ Ssumday and Chaser

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho was arguably one of the biggest names to enter the NALCS in recent history. From his time with KT, he had become heralded as one of the best top laners in the world. Dignitas as a team struggled out of the gate making plays as a team. Bringing in former Apex coach David “Cop” Roberson has seemed to help immensely.

Ssumday individually has played quite well. He has had a few games where he just straight up carried Dignitas on a high skill champion, such as Fiora. With the meta shifting somewhat off of tanks, we may see Ssumday start to do more work. He currently leads the league in CSD@10 and is tied for first in DMG%.

Dignitas’ jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun maybe wasn’t as hyped up as Ssumday, but was still expected to do well. Chaser struggled in his first few weeks of LCS. In a carry jungle meta, he wasn’t making the sort of impact his team needed. Dignitas seemed to struggle with pulling the trigger on engages, but have gotten much better.

Chaser has stepped up most recently. He currently holds the second highest kill participation and had a dominant series in a crucial win over Team Liquid this week.

With Dignitas beginning to look like the possible fourth best team, Ssumday and Chaser have been key contributors. Individually, Chaser may have struggled to start out the split, but he has been getting better each week.

Grade: A

Immortals’ Flame and Olleh

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong came onto Immortals with high expectations. After spending time as a sub in China, he came to North America looking to takeover the North American scene. Many questioned if he’d be able to work with jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Both players were infamous for having attitude issues on previous teams.

As with most of the teams that had imports, Flame struggled out of the gate. His teleport plays always seemed way out of sync with the rest of his team. He would often times get caught out split pushing or engaging without the help of his team. In recent weeks, Immortals have fixed some of the issues plaguing them, and look to be contenders for a playoff spot. Flame is second in CSD@10, but still holds one of the worst KDA’s among top laners.

Support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung was a lesser known import to most spectators. He had spent some time on Brazil’s Pain Gaming and LMS’ Hong Kong Esports. Olleh hasn’t necessarily stuck out as a big play-maker support, but that could be due to playing with a rookie ADC in Cody Sun. He’s currently middle of the pack in KDA, but does lead the league in Wards per minute.

Immortals haven’t necessarily been winning off their imports’ play. It’s mostly been heavily reliant on how well jungler Dardoch plays. If he doesn’t do well, there usually isn’t someone else left to help carry the game.

 

Grade: C

Team Envyus’ Lira

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Despite not playing the first week due to visa issues, jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo has looked like a good player on a bad team. Often times when Envyus gets upset wins, it is due to the early activity of Lira. He currently has the fourth best first blood percentage and KDA among junglers.

It’s hard to grade Lira due to where Envyus is in the standings. Without him, they might be winless and headed for relegation. With him, though, I don’t see them losing their LCS spot, especially with the junglers currently playing the Challenger Series.

I’d love to see how he does with a better mid laner, perhaps. Lira has definitely been one of the more effective imports. It seems like Envyus could do well if they got a better player at mid. Other teams may look to seek his services in the off season as he seems to be adapting well.

Grade: B+

 

 

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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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EU LCS 2017 logos

Spring Watchlist 2017: ROCCAT, Misfits, H2k, and Fnatic

Another year of professional League of Legends is upon us. It is time to reflect on Europe’s end of 2016, adjustments in the off-season, and discuss the possibilities for 2017. With the introduction of a two-group format and 10-ban system, it is difficult to predict how the Spring Split will go. Established organizations changed rosters, veterans retired, and an up-and-coming Challenger team joined the LCS.

Unsurprisingly, G2 and Splyce decided to retain their entire starting rosters. None of the other teams seem prepared to challenge these two for group dominance. Unless the new pick-ban phase exposes unforeseen weaknesses, we expect these two teams to stay at the top. Ideally, they have taken time to address flaws affecting their abilities to compete internationally since the World Championship.

On the other hand, Origen seems to be the only team that did not catch a break in the off-season. After a 9th place finish in the Summer Split last year, the entire squad dissipated. Origen’s pick-ups each appear to be a downgrade from their respective predecessors. Bringing on Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert as AD Carry is an improvement from Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez, but he is not playing at the level that Origen will need. Max “Satorius” Günther, Yoo “NaeHyun” Nae-hyun, and Aleksi “Hiiva” Kaikkonen will all be rookies from Challenger scenes. Kim “Wisdom” Tae-Wan has more professional experience, but not enough to carry this roster. The floor is low on this team, and we expect that they will round out the bottom of Group B.

All remaining teams have room to rise and fall in the ranks. Some storylines will be more exciting than others, but following this season should be interesting, to say the least. Based on 2016 results and pre-season decisions, there are four teams I will be watching closely. These are the teams I see having the greatest influence on shaping their group standings.

Can ROCCAT get higher than 9th place?

courtesy of Riot eSports

ROCCAT had a horrific 2016. After finishing 9th in the Spring Split playing in the Summer Promotion tournament, ROCCAT fell to 10th last Summer. They did maintain their slot in the LCS in the Spring Promotion tournament, as well. They replaced every member of the team in the off-season except mid laner, Felix “Betsy” Edling. Betsy actually saw decent performances last year, despite being on a bottom-tier roster. While many analysts are having conversations about top-level teams, ROCCAT has been able to fly under the radar this off-season.

ROCCAT have added Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren (Top), Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian (Jungle), Petter “Hjärnan” Freyschuss (ADC), and Kim “Wadid” Bae-in (Support). Phaxi and Wadid are relatively unknown entities. Phaxi was a substitute for Dark Passage in TCL, while Wadid was a substitute for SBENU Korea in LCK. We can only speculate at this point what they will be able to do against other players in EU LCS. The language barrier in the bot lane is the only concern that can be raised.

Meanwhile, Maxlore saw passable performances on Giants last Summer. He averaged a 3.2 KDA, 73% Kill Participation, and +2.7 CS above his opponents at ten minutes. These figures put him slightly above Jonas “Memento” Elmarghichi from last Split. Vitality benched Hjärnan, ROCCAT’s new AD Carry, last Summer after a solid Spring Split performance. He ranked 3rd in KDA, 4th in Kill Participation, and 3rd in CS Difference at ten minutes among all ADC’s. He will be replacing Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi who was consistent in both Splits, despite ROCCAT’s low rank overall.

I find myself wondering if ROCCAT can actually pull it together and get themselves out of this 9th-10th place rut. Origen and Giants both appear to be just as shaky as what ROCCAT has put together. Misfits are new to the pro scene and lost two key players in the off-season. I am keeping my eyes on this new ROCCAT. They could get a few wins under their belt and avoid the Summer Promotion series this year. They could end up in last yet again, but everyone loves an underdog, right?

Are Misfits ready for LCS?

courtesy of Riot eSports

The only newcomer to the EU LCS this Split, Misfits qualified in the Spring Promotion tournament. Touting a 90% win-rate in the Summer Season, this team has many analysts speculating how they will stack up. Challenger teams in the past made serious waves when entering the scene, such as Origen and G2.

However, the situation with Misfits is a bit different. Firstly, there are major formatting changes that were not in place when they were playing last year: the two-group league and the ten-ban system. Challenger teams historically have less coaching and support staff available. Major strategic changes can disproportionately affect them. Secondly, Misfits is not maintaining their same roster coming into 2017. Neither Origen nor G2 kept their qualifying roster when entering the LCS, but their replacements were obvious upgrades at the time. Origen brought in Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. G2 brought in Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun and Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun.

Meanwhile, Misfits will be replacing Marcin “SELFIE” Wolski and Kim “Wisdom” Tae-Wan with PowerOfEvil and Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon. SELFIE and Wisdom had the highest average KDA during the Summer Season in Mid and Jungle. They both maintained high average CS Differences at 10 minutes, 10.5 and 6.7, respectively. On the other hand, PowerOfEvil finished with the second lowest average KDA last Summer and averaged 1.7 CS behind his opponent at ten minutes. KaKAO spent 2016 in the Chinese Challenger scene with Wan Yoo, who finished 13th out of 16 teams. Over 24 games KaKAO averaged a 3.69 KDA, which placed him 18th of 36 Junglers with three games or more.

PowerOfEvil and KaKAO have both shown moments of promise, but their recent performances are not reflective of high skill. If Misfits want to make an impact, they will need their remaining players to continue to play at the top level, while incorporating PowerOfEvil and KaKAO seamlessly. Barney “Alphari” Morris, Steven “Hans sama” Liv, and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun will need to maintain lane dominance against tougher lanes. This team does have a high ceiling, but these roster changes will need to prove themselves fruitful.

Can H2k play as well without FORG1VEN, Vander, or Ryu?

courtesy of Riot eSports

Many did not expect H2k to be the highest finishing Western team at the 2016 World Championships. H2k managed to make it to the Quarterfinals and finished 3rd-4th overall. It seemed like all of their players were on a whole new level, particularly AD Carry FORG1VEN and Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook.

Looking at FORG1VEN’s KDA throughout 2016, it bottomed out in the Spring Playoffs at 3.8. This was preceding his announcement to step down as H2k’s starting ADC. After his unsuccessful stint with Origen, FORG1VEN returned to H2k for the tail-end of the Summer Split. He averaged a 14.5 KDA over five games in Week Nine, and carried the team to a 3rd place Playoff finish. His KDA during Summer Playoffs leveled out to 5.9, then boosted to 7.9 at Worlds (1st among all players with more than two games).

Ryu’s KDA followed a similar trajectory throughout 2016. He averaged 2.9 in Spring Playoffs, up to 3.8 in Summer Split, up again to 5.8 in Summer Playoffs, leveling off at 4.0 for Worlds (5th among 17 Mid laners with more than two games). His pressure became noticeably greater among international Mid lane competition. His synergy with Jungler, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, also seemed to be smoother. Only one other Mid-Jungle duo had a higher First Blood rate (among players that played more than two games).

But these two carries, along with Support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan, are not part of the roster for 2017. Will the momentum of last year continue, or did it fizzle in the off-season? H2k picked up Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten, Shin “Nuclear” Jung-hyun, and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho to fill Mid, ADC, and Support. Febiven has proven himself to be a top-tier European Mid laner. He should be able to step in without issue. However, Nuclear and Chei are Korean imports, which could prove to be dangerous. Other experiments in this roster style have been middling at best, such as NA’s Team EnVyUs. On top of that, Chei’s last team, Jin Air, declined throughout last year, and Nuclear’s last team, SBENU Sonicboom, disbanded altogether after they failed to re-qualify for the LCK last August.

Jankos and top laner, Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu, are experienced, high-pressure players that will hold their own against the rest of EU. However, this H2k roster is radically different from the successful team of last year. The coaching and support staff will need to pull these pieces together if they want to maintain the same level of competitiveness.

Will Fnatic bounce back with a rebuilt roster?

courtesy of Riot eSports

Fnatic’s 2016 was tumultuous, especially when compared to expectations coming out of 2015. They had achieved 3rd-4th at the 2015 World Championships and won five out of their last six EU LCS splits. But everything began to decline after Fnatic announced that Top-Jungle duo, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin, would be leaving the team. Then they reported that team captain, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, would be departing. Fnatic rebuilt, finished the Spring Split in 6th place, and fought their way to a 3rd place finish in the Playoffs. After replacing a couple of players between Spring and Summer (including bringing back YellOwStaR), they still finished the Summer Split in 5th place. H2k immediately eliminated them from Playoffs. With the Championship Points tallied, Fnatic did not qualify for the 2016 World Championships.

2017 has started with even more changes. Only the AD Carry, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, remains from last year. Fnatic brought on Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider who played as the Top-Jungle duo for Origen last year. Rasmus “Caps” Winther joins from Dark Passage after helping them win the TCL. Jesse “Jesiz” Le returns as Support after operating as an Assistant Coach for Immortals throughout 2016.

This roster has a lot of combined experience. But will it be enough? SOAZ and Amazing might have helped Origen finish 3rd-4th in the 2015 World Championships, but they fell throughout 2016. SOAZ appeared particularly weak in the Spring. Amazing was lost in the Jungle in the Summer. Jesiz has not played a professional match in more than a year. Most EU LCS fans are probably pulling for Fnatic to do well in 2017. While this line-up’s ceiling is quite high, they could also finish middle-of-the-pack.

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NALCS Darkhorse Teams

With the new season upon us, there’s always those teams that many don’t expect to contend, but come out of nowhere and turn the LCS on their heads. I’ve decided to highlight two of my favorite darkhorse contenders for the North American LCS Spring Split Title.

Phoenix1

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 rose from the ashes last split, after bringing on Jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. They turned around a winless season to finish 5-13 for 8th place, and sweeping Echo Fox handily 3-0 in the relegation tournament. They also shocked TSM by handing them their only loss of the Summer Split.

This season, they’ve imported LCK veteran ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and former H2K mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook. If Arrow isn’t held back with the language barrier between him and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma, they can contend to be one of the best bot lanes in North America. People forget Arrow had the second highest KDA of LCK summer, only behind SKT’s Bang. It’ll be up to him to prove that he is a top carry in his role and wasn’t being carried by the other stars of his old KT team. Ryu has always been a consistent performer, competing against some of the strongest Mids in Europe. I don’t think he’ll have much trouble transitioning over.  

The biggest question mark is if top laner, Derek “zig” Shao, can compete at high levels. He was underwhelming last season, but filling important slots in the carry roles lead to them bringing back their North American top laner. Zig had the worst CS differential @10 in the entire NALCS for Summer. If he can play the role of a good low-econ top laner I think this team can go far.  

Inori looks like a top North American Jungle talent, and outside of playoffs, Adrian has looked like an above average support. Adrian had the second highest KDA of Summer, only behind TSM’s Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.  Many people questioned his move from Immortals to P1 since Immortals had a more successful season overall. I don’t believe he’d make this move if he didn’t think this roster could contend for an LCS title.

Another move that has been underrated was bringing back former coach Kim “Fly” Sang-chul. Fly coached P1 back when they were Team Impulse. Most recently, he was the head coach of China’s Royal Never Give Up, who made it out of groups at Worlds. Fly is a respected head coach and has experience coaching mixed Korean/English teams. With this talented roster and the upgrade at head coach, Phoenix1 has the potential to go far.  

Team Liquid 

Photo Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

A lot of people predict Team Liquid to be a middle of the pack team, probably finishing fourth or below. Team Liquid released the documentary “Breaking Point” last fall that opened up the community to the team’s struggles during Summer Split. Former jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett and head coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon were often clashing with one another, having very different opinions on a multitude of areas. Team Liquid decided it was best to replace him with one of the best Junglers in the game in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Reignover has become a well-known name in the Jungle after back to back successful seasons with Fnatic and Immortals. Reignover had the second highest KDA among Junglers last Summer, and lead the League in CS differential@10.  

One member who may benefit the most from having Reignover as the new Jungler is Top Laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson. Lourlo looked good at times last season, but showed an inability to stay consistent. He was able to post the third highest KDA among North American Top Laners with a 3.6, but was middle of the pack when it came to CS differential@10. Looking at Reignover’s previous playstyle on Immortals, he liked to play around the top lane with Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. This allowed Huni to carry games and apply pressure while split pushing. If Reignover continues this playstyle, it may enable Lourlo to be an essential carry on this new Team Liquid.

Team Liquid also brings back star AD Carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin for their LCS lineup. Piglet requested to play on the Challenger squad after issues with Dardoch arose through the Summer Split. In nine games of LCS, he posted a 2.2 CS differential@10, third among all ADC’s in North America. Often times Team Liquid has tried to play around him as the main carry. They’ll need him to do it once again, now more than ever, with the inexperience in the mid lane.

Mid lane is the biggest question mark for Team Liquid. Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer has been a lurker among the Challenger Scene. He’s done okay at best, but most people have agreed that he isn’t an LCS caliber Mid. Perhaps Fenix’s attitude issues spurred the roster change, but it will be a significant downgrade in terms of skill. Bringing in former CLG Mid Laner, Austin “Link” Shin, makes me suspect that they don’t have total faith in Goldenglue. My bold prediction is that Link eventually overtakes Goldenglue as the starting Mid and makes a successful return to  the LCS. I believe he’ll thrive under a better coaching staff than he ever did under CLG.

Team Liquid has promoted former Challenger coach David Lim, and released former coach Locodoco.  David Lim seems to be much more emotionally stable and overall a better fit for leading young players. They’ve also brought on Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco as a strategic coach. Saintvicious has become infamous as of late for coaching teams from Challenger to LCS. He has a ton of game knowledge as a former pro Jungler himself, so he knows what it takes to be successful. If Link or Goldenglue can establish themselves as a top tier mid, this team can contend for top three and break the curse of “forever fourth”.  

Every team honestly looks like they could be contenders. These two are my favorites to sneak in unexpected and be heavyweights to contend for the title.

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Uh Oh VISA Doe: The VISA issue and how it effects the future of the LCS

If you’ve been following both the NA and EU LCS lately, you’ve probably noticed that the topic of work VISAs is a pretty big topic. The Western scene has seen an increasing move from ‘regional’ teams, teams who are gathered entirely from League’s home region, towards a more ‘international’ team scene, where foreign talent from Korea/Europe is imported to another region. With this, arguably, we’ve seen the talent-level of the LCS increase, but this also has led to many complications as far as VISAs go. Basically, given the ‘league’ format of the LCS, players must live near the city that hosts the LCS (Berlin for EU and Las Angeles for NA.) Unlike tournament circuits, this means that foreign players must apply for work VISAs to live in that area: which leads us to our current ‘crisis.’

The newly minted Echo Fox already faces some growing pains of being an organization. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The newly minted Echo Fox already faces some growing pains of being an organization. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

We’ll start by discussing the NA situations. Everyone’s probably heard of Echo Fox by now, if for no other reason than its colourful and personality filled owner in Rick Fox. They also managed to nab arguably one of the most underused talents in the world: Froggen, who, since joining Elements never quite looked the same. But Echo Fox was dealt a heavy blow when they had to forfeit a match because they did not file the proper papers to field half their team: Froggen, from Denmark, Hard, from Canada, and Kfo, from Korea. They have managed to play in games by tapping on the shoulders of Challenger team, Ember, for subs.

The legend of Diamondprox may very well be coming to end. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The legend of Diamondprox may very well be coming to end. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

While Echo Fox seems to have sorted themselves out, it cannot be said the same for those in Europe who have been hit hard by the recent VISA inquiry. The return of a legend in Diamondprox was brought to a swift end by local laws, as the ‘category’ of eSports players is still rather vague in Germany. To that end, Diamondprox, who was the starting jungler for a rebuilt Unicorns of Love, cannot play in the EU LCS, raising questions as to whether his non-EUship, being a Russian player, had anything to do with it. Sadly, it seems that the remnants of the great Gambit are slowly being dispersed again.

The Thresh Prince may finally be put to rest if the VISA issue contiunes. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The Thresh Prince may finally be put to rest if the VISA issue continues. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Diamond isn’t the only ex-Gambit player hit by the VISA issue, as his fellow in Edward, an Armenian, also is unable to play for his team, Roccat. Ryu of H2K was also found to be of invalid standing, where they subbed in a familiar face SELFIE, currently signed to Echo Fox as a sub, and seemed no worse for wear from it. While Roccat found themselves taking a wallop and leaving 0-2, UOL faired slightly better pulling a 1-1 record while H2K surprisingly went 2-0, one of which was against super team Vitality. Teams across the LCS will need to look long and hard at this issue going forward, as largely teams have had to scramble to find suitable replacements to their talent imports.

But where does this leave fans? Well it’s a hard and ambiguous debate right now really. Yes, to be seen as legitimate, it should go without saying that players and organizations follow local laws to a T, particularly given some of these teams have had a long tenure in the LCS, Echo Fox aside. Yet I don’t think any fan can sit and watch as both Edward and Diamondprox seem so… defeated by the blow to their careers. Sure, if these were less storied players, it might be a different story. Nothing against Ryu, but the aforementioned were definitely in the lime light (sadly) of this situation. This has to raise the counter question: would the scene be as up in arms if these weren’t such fan favorites? Surely biases exist, but it just doesn’t feel right to see some players lamented more than others stuck in the same situation.

Does the City of Lights deserve to be queen of Europe? Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Does the City of Lights deserve to be queen of Europe? Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Furthermore, there’s the big glaring question mark over Riot’s head. If the German government can’t even recognize your players properly, is it time to reconsider your location? Sure, Germany is quite central in Europe, but if its government is not forward-looking enough to sit down and iron out some laws over this issue, does it really deserve to be the host country of the EU LCS? Surely, a place like France or the U.K might be more progressive in this sense, or not at all. But the question is really being asked about the future of the EU LCS. While the creation of the C.I.S. region surely will help the fledgling (outside of Gambit,) Eastern European scene, is it really an answer to two players almost synonymous with the EU LCS?

But Riot also walks a double-edged sword here: eSports is still young, and it needs to be seen as a legitimate sport. That means following the laws, regardless of our opinions on them. It’s a harsh sentence to drop, but it’s also, sadly, a necessary one. Could you imagine a case like this in traditional sports? Of an imported talent flying in the face of local law? Wouldn’t be good. So Riot did need to come down hard on the players and organizations, not so much to punish them but to set an example going forward. Riot has increasingly taken the role of judge, jury and executioner, to the chagrin of some and the approval of others, laying down the heavy hand of fines to big teams like TSM and CLG (who practically became a meme of ‘better fine HotShotGG.’) This all might seem rather arbitrary at times, and sure the grey zone in some of these issues persists, but the fact that Riot is seeing itself as having a heavy influence in the leagues it’s responsible for shouldn’t come as a shock. What would the NFL be without some good ol’ fashioned fines?

Or is it London Calling for the EU LCS? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Or is it London Calling for the EU LCS? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

One also has to wonder at the level that Riot is in communication with the German government over this. Surely the pains and costs associated with a move would be harsh, but if this is the view of your players by the local authorities, that they’re not ‘athletes,’ then maybe it’s time to look forward more. In the NA LCS, this issue is relatively small, as the USA government recognizes players as athletes, and thus applying for the proper work VISAs is only mildly a headache. The pressure is on not just Riot but also Germany to reconsider its archaic view or possibly lose its status as the heartbeat of the EU LCS. Teams shouldn’t be impacted by the politics of the locality they’re in any further than making sure they comply with local laws. Teams might very well face relegation threats over this issue, and to have that hang over not only the players but the organizations themselves and their trust/investment in the scene is troubling. Riot and Germany need to act swiftly to at least bring some level of discussion to the forefront, otherwise this might spell disaster for the EU LCS.