Can SSong solve TSM’s international woes?

According to Jacob Wolf, sources close to TSM have confirmed that they’ll be taking on former Immortals head coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo as their new head coach heading into the new season. Coach SSong has a long tenure of successful coaching stints as the former coach of ROX Tigers and Immortals.

During his time at Immortals, Ssong transformed Immortals from a seventh place team in Spring to a second place NA LCS team in summer. It was a major improvement over a short amount of time. Many of the Immortals members credited coach Ssong with the team’s success during summer.

Ssong’s hiring comes in the wake of another failed TSM run at Worlds where the team failed to make it out of groups once again. This year TSM had one of the easiest groups at Worlds. The fact that they failed to make it out again was a major disappointment for the organization.

New Roster Changes Incoming?

Photo by: Riot Esports

It’s no secret Andy “Reginald” Dinh believes avoiding the language barrier is an important factor to a successful team. Introducing a Korean coach may hint that the team is finally breaking that mold and might be importing Korean talent.

In the article from ESPN, sources also say that the team is looking at some roster changes for the upcoming season. One of the most criticized players after Worlds has to be jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen. If there was one position likely to be changed, it would probably be jungle.

Star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng could also be in talks of retirement again. He’s a longtime pro in the scene, but we could also see TSM utilize a sixth man like they had proposed last summer.

Svenskeren was one of the least proactive junglers at Worlds. The team as a whole failed to make any early game plays and would often fall behind by ridiculous amounts of gold.

ssong brings a new dynamic

The hiring of Ssong starts a new tenure of Korean coaching with TSM. This is the first time TSM will be under the tutelage of a Korean coach. They will also have the help of former support Lustboy and Parth, their old head coach. It’s clear what region has dominated the professional LoL scene for the past years. Korea has five of the seven LoL World Championships. Korean coaching structure has been heralded as more intense than Western coaching styles. Korean players who have imported have stated how much more relaxed the professional scene is compared to Korea.

Coach Ssong will have the chance to lead one of the best North American teams in TSM. While they’ve dominated domestically, they have yet to show much success internationally. Ssong will hope to change that and will add a strong strategic mind who’s had experience coaching a North American team.

Immortals praised Ssong during his time there last summer. Many of the players and leads credited Ssong for their drastic turnaround during summer. It will be interesting to see how he approaches TSM heading into the split. As a team that’s already known to dominate domestically, they’ll need to improve in their international play.

With a new head coach TSM already looks to be getting stronger. We’ll need to wait and see what the roster changes could be, but TSM will be favorites heading in. With Ssong leading the way and more talent incoming, TSM fans can only grow more excited for the upcoming season.

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north america's prophecy

Worlds 2017: North America’s prophecy

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

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

NA Hopes and Memes

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

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

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

NA’s Kryptonite: Prophecies or adaptation?

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

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

Can C9 Smash North America’s Prophecy?

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

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


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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NA LCS Finals preview

As the NA LCS summer split finishes, we have our final two competitors: Immortals and Team SoloMid. You have Immortals who saw much success during the regular season in their first four seasons, but always failed in playoffs. Then you have the consistent veterans of TSM who are adding another NA LCS finals appearance to their legacy.

Immortals

Photo by: Riot Games

What a story it’s been for Immortals. Most people around the league had written them off as a bottom tier team. Most people saw the trade of star Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and veteran Jake “Xmithie” Puchero as a down grade in terms of skill. Xmithie has been the perfect fit for this team. He’s not afraid to sacrifice for his carries and his stats can often be overlooked.

Meanwhile, in the bot lane Cody Sun and Olleh have developed into arguably the best bot lane in North America. After a rough beginning in their first split together, they seem to have found their synergy.

The signing of head coach, Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, has possibly been the best move of the off season. In past seasons Immortals was able to win off raw talent and skill. This led to them having tremendous regular season success, yet choking in playoffs. SSONG has come in and been an invaluable asset to the team. They finally look like they know how to translate their early game success into victories. They’re also playing much more proactive this split before making plays instead of being reactive.

Team SoloMid

Photo by: Riot Games

North America’s favorites, TSM, once again make it to another NA LCS finals. Their playoff buff is on once again as they were able to defeat Dignitas 3-1 in the semi-finals. They had some rough beginnings to start off the split, but seemed to be using the regular season to test out new playstyles.

Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is having another MVP-like split leading TSM to another final. Bjergsen will want to continue to add to his legacy with another NA LCS championship. He was constantly building massive leads in lane against Dignitas’ Keane in their semifinal match. Bjergsen finished the series with an average CSdiff@10 of 17.3. He has a much tougher opponent in Immortals’ Pobelter.

TSM have possibly two of the best carries in the west in Bjergsen and Doublelift. Doublelift returned this summer after a much needed break from professional play. The bot lane matchup will definitely be interesting to watch as Doublelift and Biofrost have become known for their strong laning phase.

 

Matchup to watch: Bot lane

Look for the bot lane to be explosive with Doublelift and Biofrost facing off against Cody Sun and Olleh. This is most definitely going to be a battle of the best two bot lanes in North America. Olleh and Biofrost have somewhat similar champion pools. Look for thresh to be a priority pick for both teams. Biofrost and Olleh have shown the ability to carry if thresh is left open.

Doublelift and Cody Sun also match up quite nicely. They’ve both been major carries for their teams. Look for some close skirmishes and 3v3’s with jungler help in the bot lane.

Prediction

Although the results don’t matter much here as both teams have qualified for Worlds as pool two seeds, they will still look to give a good showing for the fans. Prize title money and adding to their org’s legacy will also be on the line.

Based off regular season and semi finals performances, Immortals have honestly looked like the better team. This will be the first time for some of them playing in a finals match on a big stage. I think TSM’s experience gives them the edge they need, taking a close 3-2 finals and earning another NA LCS Summer Split title en route to Worlds.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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dev1ce: The LeBron James of Counter-Strike

Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz is one of the all-time best players to play the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Ever since his emergence out of the ashes of the failed Counter-Strike: Source, he has been pure fire. The Danish superstar’s career draws quite a few parallels to LeBron James’ career in the NBA.

Consistency

via http://theurbantwist.com

Dev1ce is the CS:GO poster child for consistency. The last time he has had below a 1.00 HLTV rating for an event was at Fragbite Masters Season 5 Finals; an event that took place in 2015. He has only dropped below a 1.00 rating for an event four times since joining Team SoloMid, and none of those four times came in his tenure with Astralis. One of the most consistent players in the world draws parallels to LeBron James’ consistency in the NBA. LeBron has been selected to the All-NBA team 13 times in his 15 season career and did not play significantly worse when he was not selected. Lebron James throughout his career has a monstrous 28.0 point-per-game average.

They just keep coming, both of these guys don’t even seem to be slowing down in the recent times, despite their age in their respective games. Dev1ce is 21, which in CS:GO years, is old to still be a superstar, especially considering his dominance has stretched four years now. LeBron is 32, yet doesn’t look a day over 25. Both of these guys seem to just be getting started.

Raw Talent

via http://wiki.teamliquid.net

LeBron James and dev1ce are both insanely talented in what they do, and are oozing with raw skill. In the primes of their careers, these two could do anything that could be wanted of them in their respective game. Dev1ce did literally anything you wanted from him with a rifle in his hand, from opening rounds, to closing them. He could play with the AWP pretty well; he was a great pistol player too. Truly a fantastically rounded player, and a perfect superstar candidate. James could do anything with the ball in his hands from taking jumpers, to driving, to even passing. This guy wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the rebounding either. Perhaps an underrated part of James’ game was his impeccable defense. Not only was his on-ball defense sound, but he had a knack for creating turnovers.

LeBron doesn’t still have the outside jumper as a major part of his arsenal, but is still incredible at driving to the basket. A very similar feat, deVVe has lost the entry-fragging explosive side to him, but excels at playing a consistent, AWP style of play. They both create great space for their teammates, with enemy teams game-planning around making things tough for these two superstars.

The ‘Choking’ issue

via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IalExPzWrkU

Both of these players have been criticized for not having that killer instinct. While LeBron has gotten less heat for it, he still struggles in the most high-pressure situations it seems. Both of them show flashes of brilliance in these situations, making you think they are over it. Then they make a mistake, or disappear for a bit. Both players have looked much better in these situations as of late but still aren’t up to their usual standard of domination in these scenarios. While they draw attention from the opponent just by showing up, they lack the ability to make their foe crack. They lack the killer instinct.

 

Featured image via https://www.hltv.org

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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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Top Ten Players at MSI

The Mid Season Invitational opening ceremony is a day away, and I’ll be looking at the top players from every region playing this week. Many of these players have been around the pro scene for a while and have made a name for themselves as being some of the best in the world at their positions. Let’s take a look:

10. Swordart (Flashwolves Support)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie has been in the pro scene since season three. He’s been an integral part of Flash Wolves’ success, often roaming with their jungler, Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in the early game. This season has been no different. SwordArt has shown excellent performances on meta picks, such as Karma. He ended the LMS spring split atop his position with a massive 11.5 KDA, well above any other support in the region.

In their series against Supermassive, he finished with a KDA of 43, only dying once in the entire series. SwordArt is one of the best supports at setting up plays for his team in the early game. He’ll be vital in Flash Wolves’ success in this tournament.

9. Zven (G2 esports ADC)

Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen has slowly developed into one of the best ADC’s in the world. With the ADC meta shifting back to more traditional style carries, Zven will have a chance to prove why he’s one of the best at his position. Despite his support, Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez dipping in performance a bit this season, Zven has still been able to dish out damage in mid game team fights. Most of G2’s success comes in the mid game, often waiting for power spikes to hit before breaking the game wide open with a mid game team fight. Zven’s positioning in team fights is excellent, knowing where he can dish out the most damage from a safe distance.

Zven also has some of the strongest laning of all ADC’s at the tournament. He leads EU in CSdiff@10 with a massive 8.0. Him and Mithy can still compete with the best, and will be up against some World class bot lanes.

8. Hauntzer (TSM Top Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had one of his best splits on TSM in Spring 2017. With star Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break for the split, Hauntzer stepped up from the top lane to help be the decisive voice for his team. Despite taking on shot calling responsibilities, Hauntzer’s play did not hinder, it actually got better. With all the talent imported into NA for top laners, Hauntzer held his own and took the title of NA’s best top laner. Hauntzer topped NALCS top laners in DMG% and KDA. He showed excellent performances on a variety of champions as well.

Many believed he deserved the MVP award for the split, but he barely lost out to Phoenix1’s Arrow. He’ll be looking to prove himself on the World stage once again, after struggling to make an impact during their Worlds run last season.

 7. Peanut (SKT Jungler)

Han “Peanut” Wang-ho made a name for himself last season as the starter for ROX tigers. After barely losing to SKT in the semifinals of Worlds last season, Peanut decided to join his rivals this season. Peanut has struggled a bit this season, sometimes getting caught and subbed out for Blank, but he’s still a force in the jungle.

His Lee Sin play has been heralded as some of the best in the world. He has also shown great play on other meta picks, such as Rengar, Graves, and Elise. Along with this, Peanut has had some of the best Dragon/Baron steals anyone has ever seen in pro League of Legends. It’s insane the plays he’s able to pull off.

Peanut will have a chance to win his first international event. With SKT coming in as heavy favorites, anything outside of first will be a failure.

6. Huni (SKT Top laner)

Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo has been a fan favorite for his loving personality and his high play making ability. After spending two seasons playing in Europe and North America, Huni got the chance to play with the best team in the world. He was formerly known for playing hard carry top laners, such as Riven, Fiora, and Gnar, often being criticized for not playing into tank metas.

Many wondered how he’d do under the Korean structure of coaching. On past teams, coaches allowed him to play carry champions, even pulling out Lucian in the top lane in playoffs. He has shown the ability to play tanks, while also still being able to pull out the carry tops when needed for his team. Even when on tanks, Huni has a very strong impact on the game with his teleports and team fighting. He lead the LCK in DMG% for top laners and total KDA.

Playing for SKT has helped Huni become elevated to a World class top laner. He’s more versatile in his champion picks and a huge reason why SKT are favorites to go undefeated here at MSI.

5. Maple (Flash Wolves Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang has been a long time mid laner in the LMS region. He’s shown phenomenal performances in previous international events, such as Flash Wolves’ IEM Katowice victory. In their victory over SKT at Worlds last year, his Aurelion Sol was vital in setting Flash Wolves up with an early lead to snowball. Maple has a deep champion pool, being able to play control mages such as Syndra, or assassins like Zed or Leblanc.

Maple had another great season in the LMS region, posting a 7.1 KDA to top the league. Him and jungler, Karsa, have excellent mid/jung synergy that can often net Flash Wolves huge early game leads. They are also excellent at knowing exactly how to finish games with these heavy leads.

Flash Wolves will be looking to Maple once again, as they are heavy favorites to be the ones to slay Korea once again.

4. Karsa (Flash Wolves Jungler)

Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan is one of many talented junglers at this tournament. His early game play making is huge in Flash Wolves’ success. He loves playing high skill early game champions such as Lee Sin, and Elise. He finished the LMS season top in DMG% and KDA for junglers.

In their series against SuperMassive, Karsa jungled circles around Stomaged, gaining huge CS leads and tracking him quite well. Him and SwordArt have excellent jung/supp synergy, usually setting up vision to do aggressive invades or tower dives. Karsa will be vital in his team’s success, with jungle being one of the most talented positions in the whole tournament.

 3. Bjergsen (TSM Mid Laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has been the star mid laner for Team SoloMid since taking over for owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh in season four. Bjergsen has been a vital part of TSM’s organization, being the only stable member in the past seasons. TSM has literally built the team around him, as he’s slowly just become the best player in the West. His spring season started off a bit slow, as TSM was adjusting not playing with Doublelift, but since then he’s regained his MVP form. He finished the NALCS spring split as leader in total KDA and CSdiff@10.

Bjergsen has slowly taken the title of the Western GOAT for pro League of Legends. He’s become the face for esports talent in North America, and continues to play the game at an extremely high level. The only knock on him is international success. TSM as a whole have one IEM Katowice title in terms of international success. MSI gives them the chance to prove that North America is a region to be on the lookout for.

2. Bang (SKt ADC)

Bae “Bang” Jun-sik has been the starting ADC for their past two Worlds titles. It sometimes feels Bang is underappreciated on a roster full of stars and goofy personalities. Bang has been a consistent carry for SKT, always dishing out damage from a safe distance while also being one of the best laning ADC’s.

He lead the LCK in total KDA for ADC’s while also averaging the highest CSdiff@10 with 8.2. Bang also dished out the highest damage per min among ADC’s. He has shown phenomenal performances on high skill carries such as Ezreal, and even pulled out some amazing Twitch performances in the LCK finals. Bang will look to add another MSI title to his belt as he looks to dominate the bot lane once again.

1. Faker (SKT Mid laner)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok will forever be known as one of the best League of Legends players of all time. He has become known as the best mechanically skilled pro player, while also having the awards and team achievements to back them up. Three world titles, multiple MVPs, along with many Korean esports awards to boast. Since season three, Faker has consistently been the star player of SKT. When they decided to roster change, only him and Bengi were left from the original championship roster. Faker often draws a ton of jungle pressure due to people just knowing how good he is. It opens up a lot of options for the rest of this talented roster.

His impact on the game is unmatched. Faker has become the face of professional esports. When others ask who’s the best player in League of Legends, people will say Faker. His legacy is continually growing, as SKT dominated KT in the LCK finals. He’ll look to add another MSI title to his legacy.

Cover photo by: Riot Esports

MSI kicks off Wednesday!

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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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TSM Playoff Profile

TSM Playoff Profile: Long Live the Kings

No one should be surprised that TSM finished the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split at the top of the standings. Finishing the regular season 15-3, this squad was a challenge to all others. Since making a run at the World Championship last year, TSM has done its best to prove that they are still an international threat. However, this team has shown themselves to be far from perfect, and playoffs will be the time for others to capitalize.

TSM Playoff Profile: Mid laner Bjergsen

courtesy of Riot esports

TSM has remained anchored in the mid lane by Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. An NA LCS icon, continually an MVP candidate, and a world-class mid-laner, there is little to question about Bjergsen’s gameplay. He hardly ever loses lane. His teamfight positioning is stellar. There have been several instances where all seems lost for TSM, and Bjergsen cleans everything up. He is just that good. Of course, he will still need to play 100% to beat other contenders, but Bjergsen has been dependable time and time again.

TSM Playoff Profile: Top laner Hauntzer

courtesy of Riot esports

In the top lane, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell has had his best split yet. Some fans have also nominated him as NA LCS MVP. Exerting constant pressure in top lane, Hauntzer has become a true force. He can play tanks or carries with high dependability. It is hard to blame TSM losses on the top laner’s play. Hauntzer is also adept at safely absorbing pressure when he has the lower hand in his lane. Expect TSM to play well around Teleport advantages and mid-game side lane pressure, in thanks to his continual improvement. 

TSM Playoff Profile: Jungler Svenskeren

courtesy of Riot esports

Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has been a moderately consistent jungler this season. His kill participation (65.1%) and his death share (27.4%) are fairly bad compared to other NA junglers. Svenskeren also trends behind in gold, XP, and CS at 10 minutes. What Svenskeren does contribute to the team is vision. He leads junglers in wards per minute (.81). This is partially attributed to his fondness for playing Lee Sin, but it is one of his biggest strengths for TSM’s laners. He also contributes some of the most kills and assists among junglers, but his KDA is middling due to his high death count. While playing against strong jungle talent such as Juan “Contractz” Garcia, William “Meteos” Hartman, and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Svenskeren will need to exhibit much more calculated play.

TSM Playoff Profile: Bot laner WildTurtle

courtesy of Riot esports

TSM’s most widely fluctuating position is bottom lane. Most analysts would agree that Jason “WildTurtle” Tran has proven to be a downgrade from last season’s Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Vincent “Biofrost” Wang has not synergized to the same level with him either. If other teams are to defeat TSM in the playoffs, it will be off the back of bad bottom lane plays. WildTurtle’s kill participation and damage per minute are the lowest in the league, and his death share is one of the highest among playoff ADC’s. He averages even in lane, but only does 23.7% of TSM’s damage. Other marksmen, such as Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, make a much larger impact in the game, and may prove too challenging for TSM to overcome.

TSM Playoff Profile: Support Biofrost

courtesy of Riot esports

On the other hand, Biofrost has the second highest KDA among supports, high kill participation, and a low share of TSM’s deaths. His Thresh, Braum, Lulu, and Malzahar have 75% or higher win-rates. Biofrost tends to draw important bans from enemy teams. He helps WildTurtle get through the laning phase as much as possible, and then executes teamfights well. Fans should expect big plays out of Biofrost, and be confident in his consistency.

Overall, TSM stand a good chance at winning this whole tournament. The organization has always proven itself in high pressure LCS situations, especially longer series’ like Best-of-5’s. TSM should have a strong showing, regardless of which team they face in the Semifinals. Cloud 9 will be difficult to overcome if they are TSM’s opponent in the finals. However, if TSM are on their A game, they should close this split in first.

Prediction: TSM make it to finals and beat Cloud9 3-2. Any other opponent will lose 3-1.

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