Post MSI Thoughts: Team SoloMid

Once again, North America’s Team SoloMid failed to get out of groups at an international event. This is the second time we’ve seen them do poorly at MSI. This was somewhat expected of them coming in; Most people had them ranked 5th coming in after struggling to defeat Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines in the play-in stage.

Problems

It’s hard to know exactly why TSM tends to play worse internationally. Domestically, TSM is usually somewhat proactive and aren’t afraid to pull the trigger on plays.

Photo by: Riot Esports

During MSI, TSM was often playing scared, not willing to make any plays to finish the game. They built up early game leads, but time and time again they didn’t know how to snowball them to victory.

 

It could be an issue of needing to bring in more analysts or coaches. Too many issues have plagued TSM for literally the whole season with little improvement. These issues arose once again during the Mid Season Invitational and ultimately cost them a spot in the bracket stage.

Their drafts may not have been the issue – even though they were heavily criticized for them. A lack of being able to play the meta was.

It seemed that mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg could not play Syndra counters such as Fizz and Ekko. Syndra was one of the strongest mid lane champions at MSI. Fizz was also a very valuable flex pick if teams could pull it off, but TSM refused to show the ability to play it in their comps. “Protect the ADC” was also a huge strategy that TSM failed to execute in the first game of group stages against Gigabyte Marines. They would go on the rest of the tournament not attempting to play a similar comp again.

Player Performance

Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran were some of the most criticized members during the group stage of MSI. Svenskeren once again was often getting caught out on greedy invades without proper lane pressure. This had been a constant issue in North America, and it continued here. Individually, it felt like Svenskeren was out-classed by most of the junglers at this tournament aside from G2’s Trick. Svenskeren finished the tournament with a 1.9 KDA and most deaths for junglers.

Many were quick to jump on the Wildturtle hate train after he face checked baron with both summs up against WE during a vital part of the game. Wildturtle statistically did not have a great showing; He was basically near the bottom for most categories among ADC’s. In mid-late game team fights outside of that WE face check, he wasn’t terrible. Wildturtle was never a main carry threat for the team and was usually put on something like Ashe or Varus that could help with locking someone down.

Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had a somewhat underwhelming performance after being named MVP of the LCS finals. There were games where his split pushing on Kennen won them games, but there were also times where he got solo killed out of nowhere or got caught out. In the G2 game, Hauntzer was caught out split pushing in the bot lane, which helped G2 stall the game even more and led to TSM’s defeat.

Bjergsen and Hauntzer’s shotcalling seemed pretty off for most of the tournament. TSM seemed lost in what to do with their early game leads and had some of the longest games of the tournament. Even when they did win, it usually wasn’t very convincing.

Looking Ahead

It will be interesting to see if TSM can bounce back from their MSI performance. Taking North America hasn’t been a tough task for them, but translating it over to international success has been a struggle. With star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng coming back into the mix, we have to wait to see how the team adjusts. Doublelift has the capabilities to be a consistent main carry for the team, along with being a major part of the shot calling last Summer.

Most would expect TSM to add another analyst possibly or another head coach into the mix. Parth has been with TSM for awhile now, but some of their problems are still lingering. After Svenskeren’s performance last split and at MSI, he’ll definitely be a player to watch coming in. If he continues to struggle, TSM could look to replace him for Worlds. One bad tournament shouldn’t justify benching him though.


Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Six Takeaways from the MSI Group Stage

The Mid Season Invitational concluded on Sunday, with SKT, WE, G2, and Flash Wolves all advancing to the bracket stage of the tournament. It was a close competition as there were a ton of surprises and close games throughout the tournament. Outside of SKT and maybe WE, every team had its shares of ups and downs throughout the tournament. It’s always interesting to have the top teams from around the world compete. It gives a glimpse at how each region stacks up to one another and gets us more excited for Worlds. Here are some key takeaways from the tournament:

Is the gap closing?

Photo by: Riot Esports

As we’ve come to expect, Korea’s SKT Telecom T1 finished atop the standings.

They did drop two games during the group stage. Once, to the Korean slayers, Flash Wolves, and another to WE. Despite this, SKT still looked quite dominant throughout the tournament. Even when they’re behind, they don’t look the part. Their strength is definitely in the mid-late game shot calling where they almost always know exactly what to do to earn the victory.

SKT could fall behind one thousand gold or so in the early game, but take one big team fight to retake the lead in the mid game. Once the tournament goes to best of 5’s, I’m honestly not sure if they’ll drop a game. They’ve had a chance to scout the competition now. Head coach Kim kkOma Jung-gyun will have a week to prepare SKT which will be more than enough to get his team ready to take another MSI title.

TSM’s International Struggles Continue

North America’s champs, TSM, took a heavy defeat Sunday as they lost out on NA’s chance at a number one seed for Worlds. Failing to make it out of the group stage of MSI just adds to the TSM legacy of under performing at international events. The team had a poor start to the tournament, just barely edging out Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines in the play-in stage.

Most of the blame was shifted to jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen for getting caught out multiple times on aggressive invades throughout the tournament. ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran also received much of the criticism, specifically costing his team a game against WE face-checking at baron with both summoner spells up. Head coach, Parth Naidu, also received a lot of criticism from the community for his drafts. In their tiebreaker match, he banned Kog’maw and Twitch when FW hadn’t played either of those champions the whole tournament.

Overall, it felt like TSM were scared to make plays. In both their matches against G2, they failed to snowball their leads and let G2 back into both games. Game one would have been lost, had it not been for some small misplays by G2. TSM had no idea how to properly close out games, ultimately being the biggest reason for their failure to get out of groups.

Gigabyte Marines Are Fun To Watch

Nobody was really talking about these guys coming in, but Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines can hold their heads up high. They played phenomenal for a wildcard region and showed that the GPL has some tough competition. From the beginning of the play-ins, Gigabyte Marines’ aggressive early game has given teams troubles and they were able to take some games off some of the top teams, finishing 3-7.

Jungler, Đỗ “Levi” Duy, Khánh made a name for himself this tournament. He was a major part of his team’s success, and analysts even said that he should be imported into a major region for summer. His Lee Sin and Kha’zix were a treat to watch and everyone is hoping to see more of him in the future.

If Gigabyte Marines can keep this momentum going, we can definitely expect to seem them again at Worlds 2017.

G2 Redeems themselves

Photo by: Riot Esports

After a whole year of international tournament stumbles, G2 esports was finally able to play well and earn a spot in the knockout stage for MSI. This has to be relieving for all members, after much of the hate that ensued after their last MSI and Worlds performances.

Their mid laner, Luka “PerkZ” Perković, had a phenomenal tournament, finally getting to showcase his skill on the international stage. Star ADC, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, also had a great tournament. G2 often built their comps around him to allow him to carry in the mid/late game.

Jungler Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun didn’t have the greatest performances. He was often reactive to many of the aggressive junglers in the tournament. G2 has shifted to putting him on supportive junglers such as Nunu and Ivern to allow for Zven to carry. It’ll be interesting to see if G2 decides to keep with Trick after many of his international struggles.

G2 can finally breathe a bit as they earned a number one seed for EU at Worlds 2017.

Flash wolves overrated?

Taiwan’s Flash Wolves came into MSI as most people’s 2nd best team to SKT. Most thought they’d take second easily after a dominant showing at IEM and in their championship run. That was not the case as Flash Wolves struggled heavily early in the tournament.

Specifically, it seemed like other teams were exploiting top laner, Yau “MMD” Li-Hung, one of Flash Wolves’ weaker members. Early in the tournament, he struggled to make an impact on the team, often falling behind. As the tournament went on though, MMD’s confidence seemed to come back as Flash Wolves was able to do just enough to beat out TSM for the last spot in the knockout stage.

Flash Wolves are an explosive early game team. Sometimes this can also be their downfall though. The “Korean Slayers” will get a chance to take down SKT in a bo5.

WE Surprises

Photo by: Riot Esports

Maybe team WE wasn’t expected to do that bad, but many people didn’t expect them to do this well. WE was getting ranked around 4-5th position due to many people just not really knowing what to expect.

Team WE doesn’t adhere to the Chinese stereotype of chaotic games. Their macro is solid and they know how to push their leads well. They’ve shown the ability to play a number of unique champions, such as mid laner Su “Xiye” Han-Wei pulling out Lucian in their victory against SKT.

Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie showed he can compete with some of the best. He was 2nd in KDA among junglers and was first in kill participation percentage with a whopping 70 percent. His early game plays helped setup his team to snowball leads.

Top laner Ke “957” Changyu had some great performances on carry split pushers like Fizz and Kled. He was a nuisance for the enemy team, pressuring side lanes and getting picks in team fights.

WE look like big contenders to contest SKT for the MSI title. They’ll need to get through EU’s G2 first though.

Cover photo by: Riot Esports

Tune into the MSI Knockout Stage this Friday, Saturday, and Finals Sunday

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MSI 2017: SKT Faker, Bang, Peanut

Standout Performances from Day 2 of MSI Group Stage

Day 2 of the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational Group Stage has come to an end. League of Legends fans have settled into expectations for their favorite teams. While the tournament has had its fair share of under-performers, these players deserve recognition for outstanding performances on the day.

SKT v. TSM: Peanut

Consistently ranked as a top player internationally, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho has shown up just as expected. During SKT’s match-up against TSM, Peanut demolished the field. He finished the match with a 13.0 KDA, and 82 percent more damage per minute than Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen (375 to 206). Due to Peanut’s early pro-activity, and punishing Svenskeren’s map movements, SKT was able to secure a 5,000 gold lead around 14 minutes in. Peanut’s Lee Sin continues to be undefeated, and this match illustrates why.

GAM v. FW: Betty

Gigabyte Marines built a huge lead on Flash Wolves, but they were unable to secure the win. Much of the comeback was mounted by Lu “Betty” Yuhung on Ezreal. After he finished building Blade of the Ruined King and Muramana, Betty was able to melt through GAM’s team, particularly Phan “Stark” Công Minh’s Galio. Using proper positioning, Betty stayed safe through most of the mid-late game and put out high damage. He finished with a 16.0 KDA, and an enormous 819 damage per minute (39.2 percent of FW’s total damage).

G2 v. WE: Condi

A 10.0 KDA, 100 percent kill participation, and 21.9 percent of Team WE’s gold are all the highlight stats for Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie against G2. His Graves delivered tons of damage while accelerating the tempo of the game, which finished in 28 minutes. This win was definitely a team effort. Jin “Mystic” Sung-jun and Ke “957” Changyu contributed Ashe and Kled ultimates to lock down G2’s carries. However, Condi’s early control of the jungle neutralized Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun and blew the game wide open.

FW v. TSM: Karsa

Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan has been having a good tournament so far, despite Flash Wolves’ overall poor start to the MSI Group Stage. Playing against TSM, Karsa was the catalyst for countering Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s Fizz, which got ahead early in this match-up. Karsa moved around the map to always be in the middle of the action. He finished with a 14.0 KDA, 459 damage per minute, and 5.9 CS per minute. Beyond the first eight minutes, TSM’s Svenskeren paled in comparison.

GAM v. G2: Perkz

Fizz has been much more popular in top lane so far at MSI, but Luka “Perkz” Perković decided to take him mid against Gigabyte Marines. Once he reached level 6, and unlocked Chum the Waters, he was a true force. Not only did Perkz do the most damage in the match-up (27,677), but he also controlled the side lanes throughout. He engaged, disengaged, and re-engaged effectively, hopping in and out of fights using Playful Trickster, Hextech Protobelt, and Flash. His risky plays around Baron and Elder Drake dazzled the Brazilian crowd.

WE v. SKT: Bang

Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s two deaths were both within the first 15 minutes of this game. From there, he was able to amass seven kills and six assists, ending with a 6.5 KDA. SKT was confident to put Bang on a squishy hyper-carry, Twitch. Han “Peanut” Wang-ho and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan were given Ivern and Nami, respectively, while Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok was drafted Orianna (all healing and shielding champions). If Bang had failed to rebound after the poor early game, then SKT would have most likely lost their first match of the tournament to Team WE.

Player/Champion Statistics: Games of Legends, Stage.GG

Featured Image: LoL Esports Photos


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Mid Season Invitational Power Rankings

MSI will officially begin Wednesday as TSM, Flash Wolves, and Gigabyte Marines have earned their spots through the play-in stage. TSM looked shaky, needing a reverse sweep to take down Gigabyte Marines. It will definitely be interesting to see how the teams come out. Will G2 finally play well on the international stage? Can TSM bounce back from their poor performance? Can Gigabyte Marines make a Cinderella Run? Here are my power rankings of the teams heading into the Midseason Inviational.

1.SK Telecom T1 (Korea)

This should come to no surprise to fans and analysts. Korea as a region and SKT as a team have dominated the LoL scene for quite some time now. They’ll be looking to assert their dominance even more if they can go through MSI undefeated. SKT holds some of the best players in the world at each of their position.

Their most infamous has to be their mid laner, the GOAT, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As long as Faker is on this team, you can bet on them being World contenders for awhile. Alongside Faker, has been his head coach since the beginning Kim kkOma Jung-gyun. Kkoma has been praised for being the best coach in League of Legends, having led SKT to all their World Championships. He’ll look to add a back to back MSI title to that list.

2. Flash Wolves (Taiwan)

Photo by: Riot Games

Flash Wolves may play in a top heavy region, but despite this, they’ve showed consistently time and time again that they cannot be underestimated. Coming off a successful IEM win at Katowice, Flash Wolves will look to surprise spectators and continue their reign as the “Korean Slayers”.

Flash Wolves play an aggressive style, often making plays in the early game with jungler  Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie looking to make plays. Not only can they build big gold leads in the early game, they know how to properly finish games as well.

Flash Wolves came into the season sporting a new ADC in Lu “Betty” Yuhung who looks to get better and better every time we see him. Betty finished their series against SuperMassive with a monstrous KDA of 36, only dying once the whole series. Their longtime jungle/mid duo of Karsa and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang have not shown any signs of slowing down. They had a phenomenal performance against SuperMassive, dominating their opponents. Flash Wolves have the best shot at upsetting SKT here at MSI.

3. G2 Esports (Europe)

Despite G2 having not played a game at MSI yet, they definitely showed a dominant run in playoffs en route to their third European championship. Everyone from G2 are ready to finally prove that they can perform well on the international stage. Maybe with the help of sports psychologist, Weldon Green, they can finally get that monkey off their back of choking internationally.

Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković in particular will have lots of pressure as he’s become known for not playing well in international competitions. If he plays well, G2 can definitely make a decent MSI run. G2’s bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will be one of G2’s power positions. With the meta shifting back to “carry style” ADC’s, G2’s bot lane can definitely have a major impact in games.

What’s worrying is how long their games tend to go. Against some of the best teams in the world G2 will need to have the ability to close out games or risk failing in international play once again

4. Team we (China)

Team WE is a name that’s been around professional LoL for some time now. Once a powerhouse in their region, they’ve returned to take the throne as the number one team in China. After years of mixing rosters, they finally found success dropping only a single game en route to their 3-0 sweep of Royal Never Give Up in the LPL finals. They don’t play the stereotypical play style of all aggressive early game teams we’ve seen in the past from China.

WE plays much more controlled and teamfight well in the mid/late game. Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie is an absolute monster and will be essential in WE’s success. In the mid lane, Hanwei “xiye” Su, has a deep champion pool and has shown good performances on both control mages and assassins. He had the 2nd best KDA in the LPL for at 4.7.

China has since fallen off from being the heralded “2nd best region”, but WE will look to prove that they are still one of the best.

5. Team SoloMid (North America)

Photo By: Riot Games

TSM looked shaky in their play-in series vs. Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines. It felt like they were heavily disrespecting their opponents going for questionable invades and teamfights almost expecting the other team not to be prepared. This caused them to go down 2-0 in the series, before reverse sweeping their way to victory.

That series had many North American fans breathing sighs of relief. TSM will be heavy underdogs now at this point of the tournament if they struggled that heavily against a wild card region.

Even in the reverse sweep, their last two wins were not clean by any means. Gigabyte Marines showed the capability to gain early leads off some poor play out of TSM. Gigabyte Marines nearly had the series in game four, before overstaying in TSM’s base which ultimately led to TSM’s victory.

In particular TSM’s adc, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran had an awful series, dying in a winning 2v2 and often getting caught out of position while only having a 52.9 kill participation percentage. He’ll need to step up big time if TSM wants to finish in the top four of the group stage.

6. Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)

Although they are the wildcard representative of MSI, their play-in stage performance was amazing in terms of Wildcard performances in international tournaments. Gigabyte Marines gave North America’s TSM a run for their money, nearly taking the series. Maybe some nerves and lack of experience, forced a bad call to try to end the game that resulted in a throw, but nonetheless this team has impressed.

Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh has been an absolute monster this whole tournament. He’s currently 2nd in KDA and first in DMG% among junglers who have played at MSI so far. Gigabyte Marines rely heavily on him to setup plays in the early game to snowball leads. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the likes of SKT’s Peanut or Flash Wolves’ Karsa.

One of their weak points will definitely be in top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh. Stark showed some great performances on Gragas during their series against TSM, but was non existent if not on that particular champion. In game three, he was constantly solo killed by Hauntzer’s Gragas and never seemed to comeback from it throughout the series.

Despite losing a close series to TSM, the group stage will be best of 1. Don’t be surprised to find Gigabyte Marines apart of the top four once the group stages conclude at MSI.

Cover photo by: Riot Games

Tune in Wednesday for the opening ceremonies of MSI on May 10

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MSI: TSM vs. Gigabyte Marines Preview

In the first best of series to determine who gets to enter the next stage of MSI, we have North American favorite, TSM, squaring off against Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines of the GPL. TSM will come in as heavy favorites, but Gigabyte Marines showed some promise in their group. The Gigabyte Marines only dropped one game the entire group stage. TSM will need to not underestimate their opponents if they want to avoid a major upset.

Team SoloMid

TSM comes into MSI after narrowly fending off a reverse sweep by Cloud 9 in the NALCS final. TSM started the spring rather slow, but quickly improved to retake their throne as the kings of North America. Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had his best split yet, just barely missing out on NALCS MVP. Soren “bjergsen” Bjerg is still the “GOAT” mid laner of the NALCS and should take over his lane quite handily. In the bot lane, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang showed a lot of improvement in the NALCS finals. Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen was, in my opinion, the MVP of the final. He had a great showing and will look to take that momentum into MSI.

Courtesy: Riot Esports

How they win

TSM should win based solely on individual skill and macro play. I don’t see any lanes losing heavily unless Gigabyte Marines’ star jungler Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh really pops off. If TSM doesn’t play down to the skill of their opponent, they should take this series.

How they lose

If TSM allows Levi to play his signature Lee Sin and he pops off, I could definitely see them losing a game. Levi was an absolute monster during the group stage, but TSM will be a lot stiffer competition for them. TSM is also known to come out slow in the start of their series, usually dropping the first game. If there was a time they could lose, I’d imagine it be the first game.

Player to watch

TSM’s jungler, Svenskeren, will play a major role in shutting down Levi. If he can play more aggressive and track him, Gigabyte Marines don’t have many other options.

 

Gigabyte Marines

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Gigabyte Marines come into this matchup after winning group B quite handily with a 5-1 record. Most of their games were carried by their jungler, Levi, who has shown tremendous plays on Lee Sin and Elise. He’ll need to pressure the map early if they want to stand a chance against TSM. Notably, support Minh “Archie” Nhựt Trần said that teams were denying them scrims, and therefore used play in stage as “scrims.” We’ve seen how not scrimming certain opponents can lead to upset victories, so maybe they’ll be able to use that to their advantage.

 

How they win

Levi will need to have another stellar performance against more formidable opponents. If they do pull off a miracle upset, Levi will be a huge part in it. If he can get them a good early game lead, they’ll need to close things out fast.

How they lose

In their matchups, TSM beats them individually and in macro play. Even if TSM falls behind early, I don’t know if Gigabyte Marines can out macro them to finish the game. If Gigabyte Marines don’t make early aggressive plays, I don’t see them taking down TSM.

Player to watch

By now, you’re probably expecting this pick. Levi will need to take command of the early game for his team to have a shot at taking down TSM. If TSM decides to leave Lee Sin or Elise up, I could definitely see Levi carrying his team to an upset victory for a game or two.

 

Prediction

If everything goes according to plan, TSM should take the series with a commanding 3-0 sweep. Knowing them though, they could possibly let Levi get Lee Sin game 1 and drop a game.

 

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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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NALCS: Reflecting on Pre-season 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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Loaning Players: Good or Bad for the Scene?

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This split, we’ve gotten the chance to see the first instances of “loaning” players in the NALCS. Phoenix1 with jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and Team Liquid with Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. It sparks the discussion, is “loaning” players good or bad for the scene? If a top tier organization is able to acquire a big name like Doublelift when they’re sinking fast, what does it mean for the newer organizations who may not have those types of connections?

Mainly looking at Doublelift’s loan for the rest of the split. It feels like team owners who have been there since the beginning may be willing to help each other more than most. I doubt TSM’s owner, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, would loan Doublelift to Envy or Immortals had they asked. The owners of Team Liquid, CLG, TSM, and C9 seem to have a special connection, having been there in the early birth of NALCS.

The Good

The real winners in each deal here are the players. Doublelift has stated that his break made him realize that competitive play was where he wanted to be. Getting the chance to get back into the swing of things in a few weeks with Team Liquid allows him to ready himself to be in prime form for a summer return with TSM. Doublelift made it clear that he would only be with Liquid until the end of the split.

Team Liquid gets a great deal in this as well. Doublelift is the best non-import slot that you could attain. If their only goal at this point is to avoid relegations, Doublelift gives them the chance to do so.

TSM are also winners in this deal. Unless Team Liquid has a miracle run and some luck, it’s unlikely they’d meet in playoffs down the road. TSM earns big bucks for loaning out a sub who is in need of LCS time before returning.

The Bad

Courtesy:Riot Esports

It becomes an interesting discussion of whether this is fair to the rest of the league. Team Liquid could even bail TSM out of a bad situation in the future through offering a sub. It can only really benefit the two teams involved.

It becomes a problem when the rest of the bottom tier teams may not have that same luxury. In all honesty, it’s not an even playing field if a move like this can occur whenever one of the top organizations is having a rough split. This may be temporary though as most organizations are desperate to stay in LCS with the rumors of franchising the NALCS.

Moves like this ensure the original LCS teams don’t go away anytime soon. Team Curse was one of the first LCS teams in its young career, and it’s unlikely we’ll see them be relegated anytime soon. Should Riot continue to allow teams to loan their subs?

Team Liquid’s case may be extremely rare, but could be totally possible in the future. With more veteran players, it may become intriguing to rest star players in the Spring. Burnout is a serious issue among pros, and if more stars decide to take breaks in the Spring, a situation like this could occur in the future.

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Comparing Current Cloud 9 to TSM of Summer 2016

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

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

TSM Summer 2016

Courtesy of Riot Esports

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

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

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

Current Cloud 9

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

Courtesy of Riot Esports

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

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

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

 

 

Who would win in a BO3 series?

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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