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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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

north america's prophecy

Worlds 2017: North America’s prophecy

Week Two of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship brought miracle comebacks and rookie hype. While some records were broken, others remained.

North America’s prophecy rang true; The North American representatives combined for a meager 2-9 record in Week Two of groups. With a history of defeat, what can explain NA’s consistently poor showings at Worlds? Do the players and teams suffer from some mental block? Or, is NA doomed to their prophetic losses year and again?

NA Hopes and Memes

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Each year it sounds like a broken record. “North America looks really good this year. The region is a lot more competitive this time around,” they say.

Yet, NA teams never seem to show up when it counts. At Worlds 2015, all three NA representatives failed to advance beyond group stage. Worlds 2016, only Cloud 9 (C9) moved on to quarters before falling to tournament finalists Samsung Galaxy (SSG). This year, analysts had Immortals (IMT) and Team SoloMid (TSM) as heavy favorites to advance coming into Week Two of groups. Still, the North American representatives crumbled under the pressure. Cloud 9, again, was the only team to survive.

It seems that despite the progress North America seems to make, their teams consistently fail to perform on the international stage. Domestic competition grows, but nothing translates come time for Worlds. This trend carried over the past several years, developing into a widely used meme: NA in Week Two. Week Two of group stages has often been NA’s ‘Achilles heel’. The worst part? The results do not lie.

Last week, Immortals only needed to win one of four games to secure themselves a quarterfinals spot. Instead, they crumbled to Fnatic (FNC) in an unparalleled run for the European squad. Team SoloMid fell to rookie squad Misfits Gaming (MSF) in a tiebreaker match that silenced thousands of NA hopefuls, begging the question: is North America’s prophecy a matter of fact, or has the meme grown so large that NA teams succumb to pressure on social media?

NA’s Kryptonite: Prophecies or adaptation?

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

One of the greatest benefits of participating in the World Championship is team growth. Many Worlds teams show remarkable improvement after the first week of group stage. Misfits Gaming, for example, had several clear weaknesses in Week One. Their bottom lane was susceptible to early pressure in their loss against Team WE. Transitioning into Week Two, MSF’s AD-carry Steven “Hans Sama” Liv and support Donggeun “Ignar” Lee played with a measured aggression that shined through their tiebreaker victory over TSM.

On the other hand, TSM’s most glaring weakness throughout the tournament was an inability to apply early pressure. Instead, TSM relied on a passive playstyle and scaling focused compositions. In fact, TSM’s affinity to float through the first fifteen minutes of a game led to zero first bloods in all seven of their games. Coming into Week Two, it was time to see if TSM fixed these issues. Team WE drafted an aggressive early-game focused composition meant to push TSM out of their usual scaling, late-game comfort. Team SoloMid failed to adapt as WE crushed them in 24 minutes.

TSM showed no signs of growth coming into their Week Two matches. In their games, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and mid-laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg played uncharacteristically restrained, unwilling to take risks or pressure aggressively. This lack of proactive early shot-calling proved that TSM made little progress fixing their week one problems. Similarly, with Immortals, their opponents in Fnatic and GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) both made huge strides in improving their gameplay while IMT clung to their week one formula. These two North American teams showed little growth coming into the second week of Worlds 2017.

Can C9 Smash North America’s Prophecy?

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike TSM, Cloud 9 demonstrated a clear ability to adapt to meta changes on the fly. In addition, C9 successfully indexed on early aggressive playstyles carried out primarily by rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. After seeing Team WE pull out the first “Caitlyn” of the tournament, C9 was quick and unafraid to experiment with the champion in a high-pressure match against ahq eSports Club (AHQ). With C9 AD-carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi looking increasingly in form, and Contractz overperforming at his first Worlds appearance, the momentum looks good for C9.

However, their quarterfinal opponents in Team WE also look to be rallying with the home crowd booming behind them. Both teams boast aggressive, carry-oriented junglers. So far at Worlds, we have seen Contractz and WE’s jungler RenJie “Condi” Xiang on champions like “Ezreal,” “Kha,zix” and “Graves.” These high risk, high damage junglers will define the early game between these two rosters. How will Contractz, a rookie, fair against a more seasoned jungler in Condi?

In a post-game interview, Contractz spoke to confidence as a crucial part of C9’s mindset coming into every match. With no time to worry about North America’s prophecy or endless memes, Cloud 9 is looking to show up big at Worlds 2017. As the most consistent North American team on an international stage, C9 carries the weight of an entire region coming into quarterfinals. Will this iteration of Cloud 9 be the one to break this cursed prophecy?


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Edward Gaming: Pressure on China’s hometown heroes

Edward Gaming (EDG) struggles to find success at the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, rounding week one of the group stage with an 0-3 match record. Despite coming in as heavy favorites to advance to quarterfinals alongside defending champions SK telecom T1, China’s first seed cannot seem to find their footing. Let’s dive into EDG’s games and look at what they must do to claw out of Group A.

Game 1: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Edward Gaming controlled the tempo for the majority of a 54-minute brawl, ultimately crumbling to AHQ’s superior teamfighting. To start the game, EDG locked star mid-laner Lee “Scout” Ye-chan on a comfort pick in Lucian. EDG looked to dominate mid-lane and that advantage across the map. Scout executed, earning a staggering +30 CS differential at 15 minutes.

Despite this aggressive lead in the mid-lane, AHQ found multiple advantageous teamfight opportunities in the mid-game. An extended five on five fight at 20-minutes resulted in a quadra-kill for AHQ’s AD-carry Chun-An “AN” Chou. Taking these small victories, AHQ dragged the game into a plus fifty minute slug fest, ultimately overpowering the Chinese representatives.

What internal factors led to EDG’s loss in their first match of Worlds 2017? Crucially, EDG failed to capitalize on their Shen counter-pick for top-laner Yuhao “Mouse” Chen. As a team, EDG should have prioritized mid-game skirmishes and early Drake control using their Teleport advantage with Shen’s “Stand United” to out-rotate AHQ. Naturally, Cho’Gath stood to outscale Mouse‘s Shen in both teamfight effectiveness, objective control and raw tank stats. EDG had to recognize this weakness in their composition and close out the game early. However, because of Mouse‘s weak lane performance against the enemy Cho’Gath and EDG’s lack of proactive rotations, AHQ secured early objectives that paid dividends in the late-game.

Game 2: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs SK telecom t1 (SKT)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

EDG had no time to lick their wounds before facing off against long-time rivals, the defending world champions, SK Telecom T1. With the force of an entire arena in Wuhan cheering on their hometown favorites, Edward Gaming stormed into game two with blood in their eyes. Led by Wuhan native, Kai “Clearlove7” Ming, EDG coordinated plays to shut down living legend, Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. Unlike the day before, EDG did not relent. The Chinese squad continued to wreak havoc on multiple SKT members, ballooning their lead to over 9.1k gold at 25-minutes.

Then, at 29-minutes, SKT finds a single teamfight that swings the entire momentum of the game. In rapid succession, SKT’s support, Jaewan “Wolf” Lee and jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han layer double knock-ups onto EDG’s carries. Faker lands a picture-perfect “Command Shockwave” on four members of Edward Gaming, decimating the opposition and turning the game on its head. EDG are never able to regain control of the game.

One fight. One crystal initiation by SKT’s play-makers leveled Edward Gaming’s seemingly insurmountable lead. It is difficult to find many faults with EDG’s play in this particular game. After successfully neutralizing Faker‘s Orianna, EDG exposed several mid-game vulnerabilities in SKT’s playstyle. However, a single positioning mistake at the height of their gold lead cost EDG their second game. Still, we can find many positives for Edward Gaming. They successfully shut down Faker, whose ability to absorb and outplay enemy pressure is perhaps the best in the world. EDG then took that mid-lane pressure and earned leads across the board, securing three Mountain Drakes, Rift Herald and a Baron.

Game 3: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs Cloud 9 (C9)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Coming into Game 3, Edward Gaming looked like they had a chip on their shoulder. C9’s rookie jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia invaded Clearlove7‘s side of the jungle, stifling EDG’s ability to gain vision control and snowball lanes. Meanwhile, EDG’s top laner Mouse found himself suffocating under early pressure from C9’s top-laner Eonyoung “Impact” Jeong.

Feeling the need to pull his team from the trenches, Scout tried to pressure Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s Syndra pick. However, without his team to back him up, Scout found himself on the receiving end of multiple three-man ganks. Edward Gaming cracked under the pressure to perform on their home turf as the North American representatives led them into their third consecutive loss at Worlds 2017.

Taking a look at this game, it is clear EDG is off-center. In an attempt to slow down Contractz‘s aggressive playstyle, EDG banned Ezreal. However, after Contractz locked in Graves, EDG failed to adapt their strategy. The result: Cloud 9 methodically dismantled Edward Gaming, executing clean initiations and trades to put the game away.

Looking at Week Two

edward gaming

Credit: LoL Esports Photos

Despite the odds, an 0-3 match record does not mean Edward Gaming is out of the running. In games one and two, EDG earned sizable leads and control through mid and jungle control. Their crutch was a failure to close out these games. In the days leading up to week two, EDG must work on fixing issues with their macro-play and teamfighting.

The road to quarterfinals will be exceedingly difficult, but EDG is no stranger to being behind. This roster secured China’s first seed by reverse-sweeping regional rivals Royal Never Give Up (RNG) 3-2 at the LPL Summer Finals. Most of EDG’s members are repeat Worlds competitors, veterans even. In times like these, leadership and composure on the world stage will define EDG’s legacy. Team captain, Clearlove7 will look to lead his team surging into week two.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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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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The boys of silver: Cloud 9’s second place tenure

Recently it’s been an emotional roller coaster for Cloud 9 fans. I should know. I’ve been one since I started watching esports. I came to League by way of Smash. I was, and still am, a Mang0 fan. When I started watching League in spring of season 4 I decided since Mang0 had been picked up by C9 I’d stay true to the org and root for C9. Fortunately, they won that split. Unfortunately, they haven’t won in NA since. While C9 hasn’t had an unsuccessful split since, even finishing 7th didn’t stop them from making it to worlds, they have been unable to clutch the NA championship trophy. Coming in 2nd no less than four times. Falling short all four times to TSM, who hasn’t missed an NA final since the inception of LCS.

I’m not displeased with Cloud 9’s performances, far from it. It is great to be a C9 fan. I can’t imagine the masochism that CLG and Team Liquid fans have endured. However, I can’t help but feel like the team is destined to fall just short, time and time again. It’s hard to pin down the weaknesses among the strengths. What exactly is it that Cloud 9 is missing?

 

Strengths

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

Cloud 9 has always been able to team fight. When they joined the league they immediately rose to the top for three reasons.

The first was their mechanical prowess. It’s easily forgotten that at the offset Cloud 9 was considered a top-tier mechanical team. This was before Hai’s wrist issues.

The second was their ability to team fight. They would win nearly every team fight, often winning even when behind in gold.

Cloud 9 also had the x-factor of Hai. Hai was willing to make bold play calls and take risks in order to win, even when down. This often enabled his team to make comeback victories.

These three things combined to make them a dominant team in their first two splits. Cloud 9 had a combined record of 49-7 in their first two splits. They also took grand finals 3-0 both splits against TSM.

More recently the team has struggled at the last. However, they aren’t without their strengths. Jensen is widely regarded as a top two mid-laner. Some put him as the best in NA, but most think that he is second to TSM’s Bjergsen. He has great mechanical prowess and is often able to carry games. He is the superstar mid-laner for Cloud 9.

The bot lane also shows great strength. Sneaky and Smoothie have been consistently good throughout. Smoothie was named the best support in the league last split and Sneaky the second best ADC. Although they rarely display the level of hard carry prowess that Jensen does, they are more consistent. Their ceiling is high, but their floor isn’t far below it.

The top side of the map has shown some strength too. Contractz controls the early game and often ganks successfully to get his teammates ahead.  Impact has the ability to work with little resources yet still have a presence. Jensen can carry games more easily because he soaks up the resources that aren’t devoted to Impact. Impact’s positioning in team fights as well as his engages are second to none. Ray has also shown a lot of promise. His J4 has been deadly and has brought C9 out of a hole more than once this split already.

Weaknesses

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

Where then are the weaknesses? If every player has his strengths, what is the team struggling with? In order to highlight it I’m going to compare them to TSM. The reason for this is because Cloud 9 continues to fall short to this team.

At first glance it’s easy to say that TSM’s players are just better. Bjergsen is the better Jensen, Doublelift is the better Sneaky, and Svenskeren the better Contractz. It might be that TSM has better players, but team play is much more important than individual prowess.

TSM is also more proactive. Their macro and rotations are very good domestically. They rarely make bad calls and when they do they often find ways to make up for them. Cloud 9 on the other hand seem to hesitate. They are no longer at the level of macro play that they were when Hai was at the helm. When they play against lesser teams Cloud 9 often make quick work of them. They carve out advantages in the early game and then make decisive calls and win team fights in the mid game. Against teams like TSM, Cloud 9 hesitates a bit, or gets out rotated. C9 is unable to carve out an advantage early game, or struggle to rotate swiftly in the mid game. Cloud 9 doesn’t look lost, just timid.

Solutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

There most certainly is no one solution to Cloud 9’s problem. However, one thing that is missing from the Cloud 9 of old is that X factor. Hai’s ability to shot call and his ethos was Cloud 9’s X factor. Now that they have a team with great mechanical ability and great team fighting they are struggling to find their X factor. TSM has their’s in Bjergsen. His ethos and prowess has carried TSM to the finals time and time again. Cloud 9 is trying to emulate that in Jensen, but has fallen short two splits in a row, in game 5. It’s as if Cloud 9 is trying to beat TSM at their own game.

Jensen has been unable to pull it out in the clutch. It’d be a lot easier to argue that he is the best mid in NA if he was able to beat the current king when it was all on the line. Cloud 9 needs to find their new X factor. That unquantifiable thing that will push them to the championship.

 

Photos via Lolesports Flickr

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You can follow Zack on Twitter. He tweets about this and that.

NALCS Finals Preview: Rematch of the Gods

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

Team SoloMid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Cloud 9

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

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

 

Matchup to Watch: Svenskeren vs. Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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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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