SPL Summer Split: North American Team Preview

The Summer Split is finally here! North America has some catching up to do this split with how things ended at Masters LAN. With every team returning to the SPL, let’s take a look at how the North American teams are projected to perform this time around.

Flash Point

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Flash Point is the team with the most to prove. They finished the Spring Split in last place, meaning they needed to compete in Relegations to make it back in the SPL. They won both the matches they played pretty impressively to secure that spot and appear to be a better team than they were the previous split.

FP is coming into the Summer Split with three new players on the roster. Among these players is Jon “Sheyka” Sheyka, who replaces Riley “Incon” Unzelman in the mid lane. With the backbone of Erich “ShadowQ” Grabowski and Eugeen “Mirage” Mathew they put on a strong performance in Relegations, beating the SPL Gatekeepers (formerly Oxygen Supremacy), a team who beat them back in the Gauntlet, pretty handily. Expect Flash Point to be much more competitive this split, taking more games off the other teams than they did previously. Just don’t look for them to finish in the top three of North America.

Noble Esports

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Noble is a team to look out for. They are returning three players that are known to be some of the top players in their role. With that being said, they still finished 7th last split and were another team forced to play in Relegations. The good news for Noble is that the two players they added will make their roster much stronger. Ryan “Aquarius” O’Neill, previously on Flash Point, was their top performer during Relegations, which was big for them considering they under-performed out of the solo lane last split.

Noble’s biggest unknown is what they’ll be getting out of their veteran players. Smite World MVP Brett “MLCst3alth” Felley didn’t look like the same player during the Spring Split that we’re used to seeing. The same can be said out of the duo lane with Jacob “Wowy” Carter and Derek “Wubbin” Gibson.  Most importantly, however, is if this team has figured out a strategy. MLCst3alth stated during the Gauntlet that Noble didn’t exactly know how to pick and ban quite yet, as they were still trying to figure things out as a team. That is something that will need to change if they want to compete for a spot at Dreamhack at the end of the Summer Split.

Team Allegiance

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Team Allegiance is an interesting case. They are the team that has had the most roster changes in recent memory, whether it be from the “Weak3n backstab”, or players deciding to retire. Either way, Kurt “Weak3n” Schray has said that Allegiance has been winning a majority of their scrims lately. Now if that’s slightly exaggerated, who can tell, but what we do know is that they’re coming in to this split with an edge. ALG was one of the North American teams to compete in the Season 3 Smite World Championships.

The biggest roster change for ALG had nothing to do with their roster. With the SPL Gatekeepers losing during Relegations, they were forced to split up. This allowed Allegiance to finally pick up the perfect support player to replace the “retired” Mike “PolarBearMike” Heiss. Neil “Neirumah” Mah fits in perfectly with this Allegiance team. Looking back at the Spring Split, you could see that they had a lot of trouble when it came to shot calling and objective control. Neirumah is a player known for his shot calling and will be the perfect complement for Weak3n.

SoaR Gaming (Formerly)

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

SoaR isn’t quite as fun to talk about, and for them that’s probably a good thing. SoaR was a team that was supposed to be the next “super team” when they were first formed. After a rocky start, and a solo lane debacle, SoaR figured it out and ended up at the Masters LAN, where they lost to a very good Team Dignitas squad.

They still have one of the strongest jungle players in the world with Alexander “Homiefe” D’Souza, and one of the smartest players in Connor “Jigz” Echols. Add to that Andrew “Andinster” Woodward coming into his own in the mid lane, the sky is the limit for this team.

In Memory of Gabe

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

In Memory of Gabe is a team that came out of the gate storming the SPL. They appeared to be this unstoppable force that would compete for the top spot in North America. As the split went on, they fizzled out, and ultimately lost to SoaR in the Gauntlet.

This is still a roster that is strong all around. Evan “Snoopy” Jones and Sinjin “Eonic” Thorpe have spent a lot of time together in this league, and are a very reliable duo lane pair. The biggest question that IMOG will have is their new solo lane player. Tyler “Meerkat” Jensen replaces Mark “Whalrus” Maloney, a player who is very strong short Laner. It will be interesting to see the new dynamic Meerkat brings to the squad.

eUnited

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

eUnited appeared to be back to their former glory of Season Two as Enemy. They closed out the Spring Split very strong after stealing Ben “Benji” McKinzey back from SoaR. SoaR got their revenge on eU during the Gauntlet however, winning the North American side, and ultimately causing eUnited to face NRG for the Wild Card spot.

This time around eUnited will be taking on the Summer Split without their general. Louis-Philippe “PainDeViande” Geoffrion was replaced with the previously retired PolarBearMike. Pain is known as a great shot caller, so it will be interesting to see how eUnited fairs in that category this split. They have five very talented players – perhaps the easygoing attitude of PBM will be what they need to get back to a big LAN.

Luminosity Gaming

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Luminosity is the only other team without a roster change joining SoaR. Going into the Masters LAN, John “BaRRaCCuDDa” Salter said that he wasn’t too worried about winning the LAN because it was all about the World Championship for him. After the performance Luminosity and the rest of North America had it’s safe to assume Barra has changed his tune a bit. Luminosity will come into the Summer Split as the favorite after finishing second and having no roster changes. They will be the team that NA will be leaning on heavily this split.

Luminosity is a team known for playing the meta extremely well. This meta is incredibly fast paced and aggressive, which fits the play style of Barra, Woonyoung “Baskin” Kim, and Suharab “Mask” Askarzada perfectly. Expect Luminosity to have new life this split, and look to take the top seed.

Team Eager

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Luminosity might know the meta, but Team Eager is a team known for creating their own meta. They tried to do that at the Masters LAN, and were embarrassed with their Guan Yu Jungle attempts. The meta is very defined at the moment, and is will be interesting to see if Eager can play this meta instead of their own.

The good news for Team Eager is that the place that the meta seems to be the least defined is in the ADC role. What is means is that Steven “Zapman” Zapas will have the ability to play whatever God he feels most comfortable on and be the Carry fans have come to love. What remains to be seen is if the roster swap will work out for them. Samuel “sam4soccer2” will be replacing Cody “djpernicus” Tyson in the jungle, and will have to be able to fit the winning pedigree Eager has created of late.


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Feature Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Smite Pro League: Masters LAN Review

The Smite Masters LAN was yet another successful tournament for the Smite Pro League. Before the LAN, I posed some questions and pointed out a few things to watch for during the LAN. With the way things played out, we received our answers and they’ve left us with some interesting thoughts for the upcoming Summer Split.

Which Favorite Will be the First to Fall?

Team Eager and Obey Alliance were the top seeds coming into the Masters LAN. Based on the way the seeding worked out, the team most likely to fall first was Obey Alliance.

They got matched up with NRG Esports in their first set, and that was followed with Team Rival. Both of these sets were taken to the final game, one best of three, the other best of five, with Obey miraculously coming out on top.

Eager had the easier road. They wound up facing the team from Brazil, Black Dragons, in their first set. This was one that everyone had going to Eager in a 2-0 sweep. Black Dragons showed that the other countries aren’t as far off of NA as we thought, and that they should be taken seriously. The wound up pushing Eager to the limit and forced a game three before ultimately falling to the NA champs.

The next set for Eager also took three games, just maybe not the way they wanted. Their next matchup was with Team Dignitas from EU, in a best of five with the winner going to the Masters Final. Eager put Cody “djpernicus” Tyson on Guan Yu in the jungle for the first two games, and it resulted in an embarrassing exit for the favorites out of North America.

Will NRG Bounce Back?

The short answer is, well, no. Technically they were out in the best of eight round and accomplished nothing.

The long answer is they never really went anywhere to begin with. They played the LG Dire Wolves from the Oceania Pro League in their first set, a best of three. The first game was a shocker for most people watching. The Dire Wolves came to the 2017 Smite World Championship and laid an egg. They didn’t really impress anyone and walked away without a win. So with them facing NRG in their first set, we expected more of the same. What we got was a very close first game, with it looking like DW had a shot of toppling the World Champions. That didn’t happen, however, and NRG asserted their dominance in the second game without having a single death.

NRG’s second set was a rematch of the 2017 World Championship vs Obey Alliance. This was one of the best sets from the weekend and featured a game one where NRG looked like they were going to completely stomp anyone they were up against. NRG unfortunately dropped games two and three and were out of the tournament on just the second day, but we found our answer as to whether NRG had gotten worse or not: Everyone from EU has just gotten that much better and are able to compete with anyone they’re up against. Which leads us to our next question.

Photo By: Hi-Rez Studios

Who Will Win the Region War?

EU. I don’t even know what else to say about this. North America was completely dominated by the teams from Europe to the point where it was a meme for the rest of the weekend.

Team Rival’s win at the Gauntlet was not a fluke, these guys are the real deal. Team Dignitas are absolutely the “Super Team” that they were supposed to be when their roster was announced. Obey Alliance has taken over as the number one team in not just Europe, but the world. And let’s not forget NRG Esports, who could have gone just as far in the tournament as any of the other teams had they not been matched up with the champs in their second set.

What we learned from this is that NA has some work to do. EU appeared to be a step ahead of all the teams from NA with everything from Picks and Bans, to objective control. North America was embarrassed, plain and simple. Hopefully for the sake of the rivalry they can pick things up for the upcoming Summer Split, and put on a strong performance at Dreamhack.


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Featured Photo By: Obey Alliance

EU’s Final Showdowns: G2-UOL, FNC-MSF

The last matches of the 2017 EU LCS Spring Split are happening this weekend, April 22nd-23rd. The playoffs have been exciting thus far, and the final two series look to be just as juicy. Fnatic will battle Misfits for third place, while Unicorns of Love attempts to dethrone G2. All four of these teams have rounded out the past few weeks well, but here are some notes going into their last match-ups of Spring.

Misfits

Playoffs: Misfits mid laner, PowerOfEvil

courtesy of Riot esports

Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage has had an excellent playoff run. Among all of Misfits and Fnatic’s players, PowerOfEvil has been averaging the highest damage per minute: 620 (the next highest is Martin “Rekkles” Larsson with 497). He makes up 29.8% of Misfits’ damage. His average during the regular season was 495, or 28.8% of the team’s total. PowerOfEvil will need to maintain this high level of play and shut down Rasmus “Caps” Winthe if Misfits want to stand a chance of winning.

Their jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, will need to adjust. Between all ten Misfits and Fnatic players, KaKAO sits bottom two in KDA, kill participation, first blood rate, and experience difference at 10 minutes. This is not going to cut it if Misfits are to win this weekend’s series and secure third place. Many analysts have criticized his play on Rengar. His win percentage is only 33% on this champion, so he should try to stay away from it in the draft. Unicorns of Love were smart to ban Lee Sin and Elise, for which he holds 78% and 67% win-rates. His next best options are Ivern and Rek’Sai, for which he also holds 67% win-rates.

Overall, Misfits have mainly lost the early game pressure they exhibited during the regular season. So far, they have averaged 384 gold behind their playoff opponents, which is awful compared to their 820 gold ahead during the regular season. The largest discrepancy between Misfits and Fnatic has been their respective abilities to take the first three turrets. Fnatic holds the top spot among playoff contenders, taking their opponents’ first three turrets in 71% of games. Misfits have only achieved this in 44% of their games.

Fnatic

Playoffs: Fnatic's support, Jesiz

courtesy of Riot esports

Fnatic’s most improved player for playoffs has been Jesse “Jesiz” Le. Almost every statistic of his has improved over the past two weeks. His KDA went from 3.4 to 5.2. His kill participation rose from 60.3% to 68.9%. Jesiz has been a primary engage tool for the team on champions such as Camille, Thresh, and Zyra. He is also a big reason why Rekkles has been able to get through laning phase on off-meta marksmen. Hopefully, Jesiz is able to maintain this high-pressure playstyle.

While having a wide champion pool can be good, it is not always necessary. Fnatic’s odd champion choices essentially ended their series against G2 last weekend. Vayne, Tristana, Kayle, Annie: these selections were not necessary. The flexing of Camille and Kennen have generally worked well for Fnatic, but branching out much beyond those picks is a bit much. The surprise factor does not outweigh the execution factor.

One area where Fnatic has excelled during playoffs is Baron control. Fnatic has taken the first Baron in 86% of their playoff games (compared to 38% during the regular season). They have also maintained a 71% Baron control rate (compared to 33% during the regular season). This focus is much better than Misfits, and will more than likely be the biggest factor in Fnatic’s favor. Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen and crew will need to continue to prioritize this objective.

Unicorns of Love

Playoffs: Unicorns of Love's top laner, Vizicsacsi

courtesy of Riot esports

Unicorns of Love have strong players at every position except, arguably, their AD carry. During playoffs, Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás and Fabian “Exileh” Schubert have averaged 605 and 600 damage per minute, respectively (third and fourth highest of all players). Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir tops the competition in KDA (10.5) and has the second-lowest death share of all player in playoffs (8.9%). While Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort generally averages behind in CS at ten minutes, he stays ahead in gold and experience, and he maintains the third lowest percentage of UOL’s deaths (13.3%).

One of the Unicorns’ biggest strengths is their champion pool. Xerxe has 75-100% win-rates on four champions with three or more games (Warwick, Ivern, Rengar, Rumble). Vizicsacsi has 75-100% win-rates on four champions with three or more games (Renekton, Rumble, Nautlius, Shen). And Exileh has won games on 11 different champions this spring. Pinching their pools will be virtually impossible for G2.

As a team, Unicorns of Love has secured first blood and first dragon in every game of playoffs so far. UOL has also secured the first Baron in in 75% of games with a 71% Baron control rate. If they are going to beat G2, it will most likely be off the back of a Baron trade. G2 have averaged a poor 25% first Baron rate during playoffs, and a 50% Baron control rate. During the regular season, G2 secured first Baron 72% of the time and maintained a 74% Baron control rate.

G2

Playoffs: G2's mid laner, Perkz

courtesy of Riot esports

G2 will be a formidable foe for Unicorns of Love. They offer similar strong players in virtually every role. Luka “Perkz” Perković has really shined throughout playoffs so far. He has the highest damage per minute (635) and percent of his team’s damage (33%). He has the lowest death share of all players in playoffs (8.5%), and he has the third highest KDA (7.0). UOL’s Exileh showed a bit of weakness against PowerOfEvil during laning phase last weekend. Perkz will be even more difficult for him to overcome.

G2’s other primary carry has been Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. Although he was not quite as dominant in the Fnatic series last weekend, his match-up with Unicorns’ bottom lane should be much easier. Zven has averaged 6.5 CS and 164 gold ahead at ten minutes. If there is a player who needs to step up in this series, though, it is Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun. Trick’s regular season KDA was 4.7. So far in playoffs, it is 1.8. He averaged significantly ahead in gold, experience, and CS at ten minutes. In the playoffs, he has averaged 7 CS and 108 experience behind.

G2’s early game was phenomenal against Fnatic last weekend. The squad averaged 877 gold ahead at 15 minutes. That was the case during the regular season, as well. What looks like a weak spot is taking early towers. During the regular season, G2 took first turret in 64% of games and the first three turrets in 73% of games. In their series last weekend, they only did 50% and 25%, respectively. Unicorns of Love take the first turret less often, but the first three turrets more often. G2 will have to transition their early game leads into early objectives if they want to stand a chance against UOL. Teamfighting may not be the correct strategy. Smart rotations and perfect execution will be their only chance at victory.

predictions

Fnatic has looked much stronger in the past few weeks than Misfits have. I do not think it impossible for Misfits to take this, but it is highly unlikely. Just as Misfits took one game off of Unicorns of Love, they should get one from Fnatic, but Fnatic should win 3-1.

The finals series will be much more exciting. G2 have looked a bit weaker, while Unicorns seem hungry. Either way, it should be a five game series. If UOL wins it will be from snowballing the top side of the map, while G2 should look to snowball the bottom side. While both will likely happen, Vizicsacsi’s gameplay lately is seemingly unstoppable. This should be Unicorns’ spring split playoff victory.


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League Champions Korea: Spring 2017 Playoffs So Far

All you need to know to get up to date on League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK)

With LCK’s semifinals for the Spring Split coming soon, now is the optimal time for a brief update before the League’s premier games. In this article, the logistics of the League’s gauntlet style tournament as well as a short recap of how playoffs have been will be discussed.

How it Works: LCK Gauntlet

LCK, like its western counterpart, LCS, has ten teams facing each other twice throughout the split; fighting for their place in the standings that will inevitably result in promotion/relegation tournaments for the bottom two teams, and playoffs for the top four. Tiebreakers occur when two teams have the same game record and head to head record. This occurred between MVP and Afreeca Freecs this season. While this tiebreaker did not hold much weight, as the two teams would then replay each other in the first round of playoffs, it did decide who gets side selection for the next round.

The LCK playoffs operate very differently than their western counterparts. In the LCK, the first place team does not play until the final round, receiving a bye for their performance throughout the normal split. The playoffs consist of the third place team playing against the fourth place team. Then the winner of that team plays the second place team, ultimately leaving one team to play against the first place team. This manner of competition puts much more weight on the individual split, as there are more games where a bye can be achieved. Overall, this is very healthy for LCK, as teams must go through a gauntlet of playoff games before playing against the first place team. This format rewards dominant performances in the regular split, which have become all too typical in the LCK.

 

MVP Jeong “Max” Jong-bin, two kills into his quadra kill on support Sion. Courtesy of OGN.

Playoffs So Far

With Afreeca Freecs (AF) taking the tiebreaker, they were poised to win their next best of five against MVP, in order to play against the third place, kt Rolster. While this was the expected result, AF was subdued by underdog team MVP, a team that just pushed into LCK through the promotion tournament this time last year with a mostly rookie roster. This was in large part due to the momentum MVP took off of a play around baron. Kt Rolster expended too many resources stealing the baron during game one of the series. One over-extension led to MVP taking the first game, which quickly translated into a follow-up victory, securing the series with a zero death MVP bot lane.

After sweeping AF, MVP went on to get swept by kt Rolster. This allowed kt Rolster to play against second place team, Samsung Galaxy, in a best of five that ended much like the previous series (3-0). Kt Rolster flaunted their obvious strengths in both sweeps, with solo laners Wonseok “Pawn” Heo mid, and Kyungho “Smeb” Song top. Renowned 2014 world championship MVP from Samsung White, Sehyoung “Mata” Cho, had a huge impact on Malzahar in kt Rolster’s game against MVP, with pick after pick. Neither MVP nor Samsung Galaxy had a chance to truly challenge kt Rolster, both being 3-0s.

The mistakes they did show played into their commonly criticized characteristics. When kt Rolster is criticized, it is for their lack of team play. Kt Rolster is known largely as a team of Super-Star players, and less known for their meta gameplay and map movement. While their sweep against Samsung Galaxy showed that they can play as a team, albeit a bit messy, their true strengths lie in the power of their individual players as expected.

 

Kt Rolster’s Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. Courtesy of OGN

The Finals to Come: Kt Rolster vs SK Telecom T1

So far, playoffs have been composed entirely of 3-0 sweeps. I’m sure all League of Legends fans are looking for a closer series between Kt Rolster and SK Telecom T1 (SKT). That being said, what can we expect to see between these two powerhouse teams? SK Telecom T1 is looking as strong as ever. Kt Rolster with their most recent roster seem to be gaining steam, as they have plowed through Samsung Galaxy 3-0.

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Smite Pro League Spring Gauntlet Preview

The regular season for the Smite Pro League Spring Split has come to an end, which means it’s finally time for some LAN tournaments!

Smite Masters will take place at the end of April, with Team Eager and Luminosity Gaming already punching their tickets by finishing first and second respectively out of North America. Across the pond, Obey Alliance and Team Dignitas qualified after their strong splits, overtaking the two-time reigning world champion NRG Esports.

Luckily for NRG, they still have a shot at making Smite Masters through the Spring Gauntlet LAN. This grueling tournament is set to start this Friday, April 14th at 11 AM EST, running through Sunday for the last chance to make the Masters LAN.

The teams participating in the Gauntlet are as follows:

NA

  • eUnited
  • SoaR Gaming
  • In Memory of Gabe
  • Team Allegiance
  • Noble Esports
  • Flash Point
  • Oxygen Supremacy (Challenger Cup)

EU

  • NRG Esports
  • Eanix
  • Team RivaL
  • Elevate
  • Lion Guard Esports
  • Sanguine Esports
  • Optimus Gang (Challenger Cup)

The Gauntlet will start with a Smite Challenger Cup team from each region (Oxygen Supremacy in NA and Optimus Gang in EU) facing off against the team who finished in last place (8th) in each respective region (Flashpoint in NA and Sanguine Esports in EU) in a winner-take-all one game set. The winner will then move on to face the 7th place team, and they will then play a best of 3 set, with the winner advancing, and so on. The winners of the final match in each region will then play each other for seeding in the upcoming Masters tournament, while the runners-up will play each other for a final chance at the wildcard spot.

Gods to Look Out For

Season 4 has seen a plethora of Gods being played in its current meta. Because of this, and because certain teams like to get cheeky when it comes to picks and bans, don’t be surprised if someone pulls out a God that isn’t played all that much. I’m looking at you, Ah Puch. However, as long as nothing has changed in the most reason scrims, it’s safe bet that these are the Gods we’ll be seeing the most of:

Solo:

The solo lane has been seemingly dominated by Guardians this season as opposed to the traditional Warriors that we’re used to. As a result, expect to see a lot of Terra, Xing Tian, and Cabrakan in the short lane. Guardians are the types of Gods that can be left alone to farm in the early to mid game, and then make their rotations and be virtually immortal with the level lead they’re likely to have. Come late game these three Gods have a lot of lock down with their Crowd Control abilities. Expect to see Odin to counter any Healing heavy team comps.

Jungle:

The jungle has seen a lot of different Gods played in it as well, from Chang’e to Ymir. What you should expect is the old standby picks for this LAN. Ratatoskr, Susano, and Thor are all likely to be picked or banned very often this weekend. The mobility out of these Gods make it easy to gank with them, as well as the global pressure from Rat and Thor. And if Cabrakan can make it through bans, expect to see him played in the jungle role as well.

Mid:

Middle lane doesn’t have as wide of a pool as the two previously mentioned lanes. Poseidon has seen a return to glory this season, and that’s unlikely to change at the LAN. He’ll be joined by Zeus, Ra, and Janus. The meta is controlled by Mages with burst ults that can be used for objective secure. Unless a team comp is specifically set around the God, you’ll likely on see these types of Mages locked in at mid.

Support:

Support is probably the role with the least amount of diversity. All season long we saw lots of Khepri and lots of Sylvanus. Expect more of the same, along with Geb. These three Gods all have strong peel, and the ability to separate an enemy team in a team fight. Each of them also has an ability to protect their squishy team members when needed.

Carry:

Hunters. The day’s of the magical ADC have passed, for now, leaving the long lane to be controlled by Hunters again. Medusa has performed exceptionally this split and there’s no reason the think that won’t continue. Almost any Hunter is viable in the current meta, so you can honestly expect to see whatever God each player is feeling. This will be the first time we’ll see Cernnunos played at the pro level, that you can be sure of.

 

Gauntlet Predictions

With the way the Spring Split played out, the Gauntlet is anyone’s tournament to win. It’s possible for one of the Challenger Cup teams to make a deep run. North America has eUnited, a former World Championship runner-up (under Enemy at the time), and Team Allegiance, who just played in the World Championship LAN a few months back. Of course, NRG is the favorite when it comes to the European scene.

I’m predicting eUnited to win in NA, beating In Memory of Gabe 2-1 in their set. In EU I’ll take the easy way out and go with NRG over Eanix 2-0. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t think the same. As far as the wildcard goes, IMOG has my vote in a 2-0 over Eanix. At the end of the day though, none of my predictions really matter, there’s a reason why they play the game, it’s a great time to be a Smite Pro League fan.

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Reflecting on Pre-Split EU LCS Expectations

On JANUARY 20, 2017, the second day of the EU LCS Spring Split, I wrote a piece with my initial thoughts on four teams. I chose these four teams, because they seemed to have the widest possible range of results. The final standings would be determined by their performance. Check out that article here.

As the EU LCS finishes Week 9, it only makes sense to revisit my preseason thoughts. There has been a smaller gap between groups than expected. Some teams have performed as expected, while others have been surprisingly strong or weak.

G2 and Splyce

Preseason Thought: “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.”

G2: EU LCS #1 team

courtesy of Riot esports

G2 has truly secured their spot at the top of the standings. Sitting at 11-0, few teams have even been able to take a game off of this squad, let alone a series. Maintaining the starting lineup from Summer 2017 has allowed G2 to remain dominant within EU. Even through meta shifts from patch changes, G2 has adapted to every opponent they have faced in the LCS. They may even be performing better than analysts expected.

Splyce: EU LCS #5 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Splyce, on the other hand, has seemed much weaker than last year. Early losses to H2K, Unicorns of Love, and Misfits proved that Splyce would need much improvement to reach the top of Group B. Spring has shown them beating teams below them, but losing to teams above them. Splyce currently sit third in their group, with a 7-4 record. They have generally performed below preseason expectations, but fans have seen flashes of Splyce’s former dominance.

Origen

Preseason Thought: “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…The floor is low on this team, and we expect that they will round out the bottom of Group B.”

Origen: EU LCS #10 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Poor Origen. Boasting a series record of 0-12, and a game record of 2-24, they have performed at the lowest possible level. The lineup has been plagued with issues this split. Substituting in the support and jungle roles has not been ideal.  Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez has had to step into another new seat. Unfortunately, Origen will be heading towards the Spring Promotion Tournament to defend their spot in the LCS. They have performed as analysts expected.

Roccat

Preseason Thought: “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?”

courtesy of Riot esports

ROCCAT began the split 0-7, which had analysts believing they would be destined to return to their third consecutive Promotion Tournament. However, over the past few weeks, ROCCAT has swung back, going 5-0. They currently sit in fourth in Group A, just below Fnatic. Depending on the results of Week 10, ROCCAT can actually slip into the playoffs and boot Fnatic. Being one of the only teams to truly climb through the standings, ROCCAT have performed much better than many preseason expectations. (I kind of called it, though.)

Misfits

Preseason Thought: “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.”

Misfits: EU LCS #4 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Misfits have definitely made a splash in their first EU LCS split. Their 7-4 record is nothing to overlook. Misfits sits solidly in second place in Group A, four wins below G2, two wins above Fnatic. The team has looked slightly weaker in recent weeks, but should still be a force in playoffs. Barney “Alphari” Morris, Steven “Hans sama” Liv, and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun have meshed right into the professional scene. Each of them have had standout performances. Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon have proven my skepticism wrong. Misfits demonstrated team synergy earlier than expected, and PowerOfEvil looks like an entirely new player compared to last year.

H2K

Preseason Thought: “Will the momentum of last year continue, or did it fizzle in the off-season?…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.”

H2K: EU LCS #3 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu are as good as ever. The jungler and top laner have maintained dominance while allowing Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten to have a successful split thus far. H2K was obviously disjointed in the beginning of the split, but Shin “Nuclear” Jung-hyun, and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho have assimilated into the rest of the team relatively well. This team has probably performed slightly higher than many expected, but they are nowhere near the ceiling they experienced at Worlds 2016. H2K is far from the best team in EU.

Fnatic

Preseason Thought: “This roster has a lot of combined experience. But will it be enough?…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.”

Fnatic: EU LCS #6 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Spring Split has been difficult for Fnatic. Sitting at third in Group A, they hold a 5-6 series record and a 14-16 game record. The same team that took games off of G2, Unicorns of Love, and Splyce also dropped games to Giants and Vitality, even dropping a series to ROCCAT. It seems the combined experience of Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, and Jesse “Jesiz” Le has proven insufficient. Substituting at the jungle position has not helped anything. Fnatic’s rookie mid laner, Rasmus “Caps” Winther, has definitely shown strong potential as a solo carry at times. Overall, Fnatic has performed lower than many analysts expected. It has not been entirely surprising, though.

EU LCS teams have one last week to settle the standings leading into playoffs and relegation. This split has had its fair share of exciting match-ups, but much of it has gone according to my preseason expectations. The group format and Best-of-3’s have brought pros and cons, but mostly stagnation within groups. ROCCAT’s recent climb has essentially been the only major action, especially when compared to the NA LCS. Playoffs should be exciting and less predictable, due to the parity between Unicorns of Love, H2K, Misfits, and Splyce. Mid-Season Invitational should be another great test of EU’s relation to the other major regions.

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NA LCS Spring Split Story lines to follow: Preseason Edition

It’s a new year and a new season with the NA LCS Spring Split just around the corner! To welcome in the hype of a new year, I’ll be bringing you the top four story lines to follow going into this NA LCS Split! Also, a quick TL;DR is at the bottom for those in a rush!

The Rebuilds: New players, same placements?

Two of NA’s more troubled franchises, Team Liquid and Immortals, went into what could only be called a ‘rebuilding’ phase over the off season. Immortals, dominating during their regular split showings, always seemed to struggle in their playoff runs. Liquid, on the other hand, seemed to always have mediocre placings during the regular splits, while meeting similar middle of the road results during their postseason matches.

Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Immortals’ rebuild wasn’t much by choice, as the majority of their roster left for greener pastures elsewhere. Retaining Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, the Immortals side cobbled together a team that is hard to argue as, on paper, more talented than their previous.

Acquiring polarizing talent in Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is a good core to build around, but given it was a replacement for Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin it’s hard to view it as a clear upgrade. Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong is another solid pick up for the team. Again though, observers are left wondering whether he will be better than Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo. Whether rookie Li “Cody” Yu Sun and Korean import Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung will be a strong bot lane is another question hanging over the roster.

Can one time world Champ Piglet bring help Liquid ascend? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

Liquid seemed to have a lot more agency in their rebuilding choices, looking towards internal problems and needing a change of scenery to make it further.  The team constantly fell just outside of relevancy internationally, so it seems like it was time to change the core of the roster. Keeping rookie talents in Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and Matt “Matt” Elento bring a sense of stability to the roster, with Matt being a particularly strong retention.

Promoting Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin back to the starting five was another wise choice from the team, who will hopefully bring pressure from the botlane that seemed lacking in S6. Joining him from Korea is star studded Reignover, a product of the Liquid-Immortals Jungle shuffle. His tactical mind and presence in the Jungle will need to make up for the downgrade in the Mid lane, with the departure of Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun and the rotating North American Mid laners of Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Austin “LiNk” Shin.

Either the rebuilds for these teams will go according to plan, or they’ll continue to be haunted by their postseason woes (Immortals) or stagnating mediocrity (Liquid). Their skill will truly be tested on the rift. This is something that fans will want to keep an eye on. It’s a mix of talented players, Flame/Dardoch/Pobelter for Immortals and Reignover/Piglet/Matt for Liquid, mixed with some questionable players whose skill ceilings may not be as high as fans hope. Still, super teams have failed historically and we’ve seen some incredible splits from teams that ‘shouldn’t have done well,’ like CLG in the NA LCS Spring Split in 2016. Can Immortals pull off another almost perfect split? Will Liquid rise above their middle of the pack status?

Steady as she goes: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

While our previous story line followed teams who thought a change in players was the answer, these teams have chosen (almost) the exact opposite approach. Both Cloud 9 and TSM only have a single player change in their lineups, with Juan “Contractz” Garcia replacing struggling William “Meteos” Hartman in the jungle for Cloud 9, and familiar face Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replacing the hiatus taking Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the ADC role for TSM. CLG, on the other hand, did the unthinkable in the craziness of the off season; they didn’t change a single thing about their roster, retaining all five starters without bringing on any ‘backups.’

Can the CLG Fam have a repeat of last Spring Split? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

So what’s the story here? Well, it’ll be whether the stability of these rosters holds out against the crop of new, fresh talent. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell will truly be tested in the Top lane against the recent influx of Korean imports, like Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.

Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong will also be under new pressure to remain the unkillable sponge we saw in Cloud 9’s playoff run. Was struggling Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun the best choice for CLG, and not another, more talented import Mid laner? Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s reign of top NA Mid laners is also up in the air now.

Overall the real questions here is whether these were the right choices. I don’t feel like, outside of CLG, there was much room for growth in acquiring new talent for these rosters. It’s also questionable whether it will be a case of ‘synergy trumps new talent’ or if ‘stagnating water will fail.’ Truth be told, I am more supportive of the first. There is a lot to be said for team synergy and players all ‘clicking’ naturally. For the NA LCS Spring Split? I think these rosters will remain in the top four of the league. During the Summer Split? It will depend on how the other teams in the middle of the pack settle.

The return of the boys in gold and black: Dignitas’ interesting return to the LCS

Dig hold a special place in my heart like a lot of the ‘legacy’ teams do. They were there when I started getting into the scene, and it was not without a bit of sadness that I saw them relegated and dissolve their League operations. It’s great to see the team back, if for no other reason than to see another old team back on the stage.

But Dig also were the talk of the scene when they acquired Top lane talent in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and potentially scary Jungler in Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. While the team Dig bought out to return to the LCS, Apex, seemed to meander around the middle of the pack, the addition of a tried and true pattern of Top-Jungle Korea imports, alongside acquiring Benjamin “LOD” deMunck to fill the hole left by Apollo “Apollo” Price has many pundits torn on exactly where to put Dig.

The Terror in the Top Lane? Courtesy of Inven.

The big story line to follow here is whether Dig will actually make an impact in the league or not. Signing big name talent isn’t the sure fired solution to a winning team, and while it is obviously better than signing bad talent, there’s been a few examples of that failing (read Alliance and other super team failures).

But Dig isn’t just a ‘super team in the making’ kind of deal either. They’ve got serious backing from NBA franchise Philadelphia 76er’s, something Ssumday cited as a reason for joining the NA side. It’ll not be just a simple question of whether the team will click, but how the newly moneyed Dig can use those funds to make the integration of their two Korean imports as painless as possible. If they can do that and make the team mesh, we could be looking at a new top four contender. If not? Well, back to the middle of the pack for the Dig boys and hopefully avoiding relegation.

Just call me the Underdog: Can the bottom of the pack make a real move upwards?

Ahhh, the scrappy, loveable underdogs at the bottom of the heap, these teams have seen troubled splits that didn’t turn out like they probably wished. Phoenix 1, Echo Fox, EnVyUs, and newcomers FlyQuest (god awful name) are all slotted pretty low in most pundits minds. P1 struggled last split to a non-memorable split had not been for a miraculous Rengar filled win against (until then) undefeated TSM in the NA LCS Summer Split.

Echo Fox just never seemed to get much momentum going forward, with Henrik “Froggen” Hansen finding himself again in 7th place in the NA LCS Spring Split 2016 and an abysmal, single win showing in the Summer. NV, on the other hand, exploded onto the scene and hyped up many to be the next top flight team, but ultimately petered out as their Summer split continued, ultimately ending with an unsatisfying 6th place in the regular split and an early bow out from the playoffs, falling to Cloud 9. FlyQuest are newcomers to the scene, having climbed into the League from the Challenger Series under Cloud 9 Challenger and are a mix of old Cloud 9 members attempting another foray into the scene.

Can the Foxes double their wins from last split? (Surely two wins isn’t too hard…) Courtesy of Gamepedia.

The big question marks here is whether these sides will make any real waves in the scene. FlyQuest have the luxury of having no real history, so they’ll be coming in with a clean slate, but one that’s questionable as to if it’ll hold up against top flights like TSM and Cloud 9. NV will look to newcomers Nam “lira” Tae-yoo and Apollo “Apollo” Price can carry the team into the top half, but it’s questionable whether they’re even upgrades to the members they’re replacing.

It’s not a daring prediction here, but I think Echo Fox can at least improve on their one win split this time round. The real question is if they can become contenders based on how fast Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok integrates into his English speaking team? Also whether Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Austin “Gate” Yu are the answers the Foxes needed to make a dent in the scene. I’m still skeptical of this roster making any real contact with the top tier teams in the league, but I’ve been wrong before.

P1 are the only team I have serious hope for going into this split. Acquisitions of the Boss Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook from European side H2k and KT veteran ADC in No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon add depth and talent to a roster that, once finally figuring out how VISAs work, really looked to be on the up and up. Not just an upset win against TSM last split, but also starting to pick up wins against teams in tiers above them showed improvement to the remaining core of the team.

Can the Boss whip another team into a Worlds team? Courtesy of Gamepedia.

As with any prediction, it’s quite possible that I’ll be shown to be completely wrong. But I don’t think that any of the bottom tier teams outside of P1 hold much of a chance against the top half of the league. FlyQuest is untested (ironically, given the veteran status of their players) in the new competitive league, NV is a bit of a wild card on whether they’ll show up enough, and Echo Fox seems to just not have it in them to really make it far.

P1 showed themselves to be a decent team last split, with clear upgrades in Korean duo of Ryu and Arrow alongside new Support Adrian “Adrian” Ma. they seem to be the best suited to break into the middle of the pack. But, nobody predicted them to be the team to take down the undefeated TSM, so anything is possible for any of the teams at the bottom here. There’s only up to go from the bottom, right? Right? (Ohh wait, relegation exists…)

TL;DR

The Rebuilds: Liquid and Immortals enter the NA LCS Spring Split with a fresh new roster, so the question here is whether this’ll be what the doctor ordered, or whether the teams will find themselves worse for wear? Can Immortals pull off another nearly flawless split? Will Liquid finally find themselves at the top?

Steady As She Goes: TSM and C9 only changed one player on their roster, WildTurtle for Doublelift Contractz for Meteos respectively, in the off season, while CLG vouched to retain all of their starters. The question here is whether this was the right move for the teams, and whether they can continue their placements consistently being in the top four of the League.

The Return of the Boys in Gold and Black: Dignitas’ return to the LCS is met with baited hype, as the team acquired big names in Ssumday and Chaser for their top and jungler positions. Whether this will translate to a team that can challenge for top of the league will depend on how well the team meshes this split.

Just Call me the Underdog: P1, Echo Fox, NV, and newcomer FlyQuest are slated to find themselves again at the bottom of the pecking order. Some interesting off season roster changes, particularly for P1, raise questions as to whether these teams can make a real run for middle of the pack or beyond. P1 holds the highest chance in my opinion, adding depth to a roster that managed to take down TSM, but only time will tell whether this holds any truth now.

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NA LCS Playoffs Predictions

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TSM vs C9 :
Arguably the most interesting rivalry in LCS history face each other one more time. They have claimed five out of six NA LCS titles, they have faced each other in multiple finals and they have dominated the NA region since S3 (with the exception of summer of S5).
TSM and C9 have historically been the two best NA teams in bo5 series. In the early days of the LCS era, C9 was undefeated for two consecutive splits in playoffs. However, on the other side TSM has historically been the best team in preparation for a tournament or for a series. They have not been the best team, but it favors them multiple games against a single team than a bo1.
The clear favorite is C9. C9 finished higher in the standings, they have a 1-1 record against TSM this split and have looked like a cohesive unit over the last 10 weeks. However, they seem to have hit their potential. Individually, one is not expecting more out of any player. No player has been under-performing recently in C9, therefore, it is logical to assume that the team that will show up in the  playoffs will be very similar than the one that showed up in the regular season.

fty

When we evaluate how C9 plays, one has to look at strong individual players. Rush will play a over aggressive style of jungling, Jensen will be solid in the mid-lane, Balls will look to have late-game impact and the bot lane is looking to transition into the mid-game without falling behind, but with limited resources. Their shot-calling used to be impeccable, but since Hai swap positions a couple times, it has not been world class. Nonetheless, one of the best in the region. Unless C9 has practiced cheesy counters or strange strategies, which has not historically characterized them, one knows what C9 will bring to the table. Individual talent coupled with strong macro-level strategies.

On the other hand TSM has looked shaky throughout the split. Arguably the team with the most talent, at least in terms of what the players have accomplished, has struggled to even maintain a winning record. TSM brings the most talented individual players, coupled with one of the least decisive and weakest shot-calling in the region. TSM is a team that historically has performed better than expected in playoffs and are still a strong contender to make it to the finals. TSM has made it to all six finals of all six NA LCS splits, they have won half of those series. For the most part, they have not been the favorites to win it all, yet they always manage to make it to the finals. This is arguably the time it will be the most challenging since they beat LMQ in the semifinals before finally beating C9. TSM comes in as the underdog, but they have been here many times and always deliver. Therefore, it would not be surprising if they manage to improve tremendously the week before playoffs, and the area they should be looking at, is macro-level strategies and shot-calling.

nrg

NRG vs TL:

The two teams that have performed most unlike each other face each other in the first round of playoffs. TL started things off very slow with an almost 0-4 start, they actually started in last place with a 1-3 record after coming back from an incredible gold deficit in their fourth game. NRG on the other side got things rolling the first two weeks with a 3-1 record and their loss came against Immortals. NRG’s strong early came to a halt as they only managed to secure a spot in the playoffs with a 9-9 record. On the other polar opposite, TL turned around a season with he help of Dardoch, ending with a 10-8 record, meaning they had a 9-5 record in their last 14 games. Taking into consideration the fact that 2 of the losses in their last 14 games came against Immortals, that means they had a 9-3 record in their last 12 games non-including Immortals. The reason why I take that into consideration is because everyone lost both of their games to Immortals (except CLG). The above statistic is also relevant considering Dardoch is a rookie and it took him a couple of weeks before getting used to performing on stage.

NRG has tremendous trouble beating teams with a winning record. They had a 0-2 record against Immortals, CLG and C9. NRG lost all six games against the top three teams, and only managed to win one game against the fourth placed team (TL). NRG has a combined record of 1-7 against teams with a winning record. In a playoffs scenario, where you have to beat a top team three times, it looks challenging for NRG to do something three times which they did once in 8 games.

There is an advantage that NRG  has that we have not mentioned, their only win against a team with a winning record came late into the split in week eight. Not only did they manage to secure an important win that would serve as a confidence booster coming into playoffs, but they managed to do so against Team Liquid. That means that amidst all the struggles NRG had beating good teams, they beat the team they would face in playoffs two weeks ago. Although that match will have no effect in the eyes of the viewer, one has to take into account that it will give NRG the confidence it needs to battle toe to toe with Team Liquid.

 

Conclusion:

I was excited to see how the brackets were filled in. I am excited to see C9 and TSM battle it out one more time. I cannot wait for the winner to play against CLG. And I am also excited to see NRG and TL face each other. I think they are very different teams and will be interesting to see what ideology works best. Spring Split usually has not had the importance that this years has, and I think is due to the increase in level of play. My prediction? It will be awesome to watch.

 

courtesy of lolesportspedia.com and youtube.com,