NALCS: The Good and Bad of Franchising

TheScore esports released an article Friday regarding franchising becoming a real thing in NALCS. Franchising has been a trending topic in terms of LCS since last year. Franchising LCS means that ten teams will be locked in from season to season, not being relegated. Riot would get rid of the relegation system altogether, and most likely opt for something similar to minor league, for teams to scout upcoming talent. New teams would not enter the LCS unless teams voted to expand the number of teams.

The Good

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Owners can rejoice with the announcement of franchising. Franchising in LCS will be amazing for teams already in LCS, and investors. With no risk of relegation, sponsors can freely pour money into teams without the risk of teams dropping out of the LCS. Under the relegation model, bottom tier teams struggle more to garner sponsors with the risk of losing their LCS spot.

More opportunities for players to enter the scene could possibly open up. If each team has a sort of “farm” team in the minor leagues, we could see more talent brought into struggling teams. With most of the best young talent playing in the challenger series during the regular season, there isn’t much room for roster adaptations during the regular split. Teams can feel comfortable doing roster changes in the middle of the split with no threat of losing their spot.

Fans also don’t have to worry about their favorite team being relegated from LCS. CLG and TL fans can assure you that relegation is a terrifying possibility. Franchising will pave the way for more money, continuing the rapid growth we’ve seen in esports recently.

The Bad

Franchising prevents any new organizations from entering the LCS. We may never get to witness a team like Origen or old school Cloud 9 grow from Challenger into Worlds contenders. Franchising will prevent the “underdog” story of LCS with no new organizations being able to play their way into the league.

Player contract security may also be hindered with Franchising. There would be a lot more on the line for players. Underperforming teams could be more open to adapting during the split. Players may not have a secure spot on the team if their team struggles.

Furthermore, competitiveness of the league could also dip. With no fear of relegation, some teams can be complacent with being a bottom tier organization. Without the fear of relegation, teams can be okay with having a bad split.

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Cloud9’s Playoff Profile: The Quest to Body Their Way Back to the Top

Cloud9 finished the season as the second best team to TeamSoloMid, again. Most expected this split to be Cloud9’s with TSM’s starting ADC Yiiang “Doublelift” Peng taking a break from the team. Although Cloud9 surged to a phenomenal 8-0 record, they’ve still struggled to solve their early game issues while other teams have improved. If they want to reclaim the NALCS title, they’ll need to show the ability to make plays in the early game.

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud9 has three extremely strong lanes. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen has had an MVP-like split, ending second in KDA and CSD@10 among mids.

The top lane Korean duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won gives them a diverse range of champions. Ray looked iffy in the beginning of the split, but has shown steady improvement towards the end. It will be interesting to see how C9 utilize each of them in a best of five format.

Cloud9 excels in mid game team fighting and shot calling. They’re great at knowing each other’s power spikes and knowing how to capitalize on their enemy’s mistakes. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Weaknesses

It’s no secret Cloud9’s weakness this whole split has been their lackluster early game. They’re not ones to make big plays in the early game despite having some of the most talented players. Jensen is often criticized for his lack of roaming and his selfishness to only gain an advantage in his lane.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia is often used as a tracker for the enemy jungler. It’s worrisome that they usually opt to farm it out till mid game to make plays. Against more aggressive playmaking teams such as TSM, we’ve seen that C9 can be punished for it. Despite Cloud9 being the second best team in the league, they are a mediocre 7th in GD@15.

If C9 want to reclaim the North American throne, they’ll need to show that they can make plays in the early game.

Player to Watch: Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Contractz is a huge X-Factor for this team. As a rookie playing in his first playoffs series, he’ll need to step up big time.

Contractz has shown glimpses of stardom, but he’s also had his share of rookie blunders. Furthermore, when he’s confident and being a nuisance to the enemy jungler, he looks his best. If he gets caught out during crucial objectives and doesn’t have an early game impact, we could see an early upset. With how dominant Phoenix1 looked against Dignitas, it will be a close series.

 

Prediction

While Phoenix1 will give Cloud9 a run for their money, I believe C9 will reach the NALCS finals again to face off in a close series against TSM.

Cloud9 3-2 over Phoenix1 in the semifinals

TSM 3-2 over Cloud9 in the Finals

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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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CLG’s Playoff Profile: United They Stand, Or Divided They Will Fall

Setting the Stage

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the perennial contenders (or pretenders) of the NA LCS. They’re (almost) always in contention for playoffs every split. There is always some kind of hype behind them, but they often do the exact opposite of what everyone expects. They were the only NA LCS roster to leave the off season intact, retaining all the same five starters from over a year ago. Top lane held down by the one called Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, veteran long time LCS Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, hot and cold Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, zero to hero ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and team captain on and off the Rift, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. It’s the same squad that brought North America some pride at MSI, and then proceeded to lose both games against Wildcard Cinderella story Albus NoX Luna.

Even his teachers call him… Darshan? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s path to the playoffs was one that could’ve (or should’ve), gone very differently. They had a rough start to the split, where other teams could draw on new players as an excuse. A strong surge in the middle and a wonky, long game three against EnVy make this CLG roster very… CLGesque. But they’re in the playoffs, and up against the hot and cold Flyquest. The record between these two doesn’t really help us in favouring a side. Both have beat each other in a 2-0 series. While CLG’s win was more recent, Flyquest looked stronger in their last week of games.

 

The Players in the Jerseys

What about the players themselves? Darshan hasn’t had quite the split he had last year, often winning his lane and split pushing CLG to victory. Oftentimes he looks as if he’s trying too hard to be too much for the team. Whether it’s the increased skill in the Top lane, a decline in mechanics, or a massive meta shift (the last one being quite likely), Darshan doesn’t seem to be as solid of a rock for CLG as he used to be. The bright side? Darshan has looked a lot more comfortable in the recent meta than in the first half of the split. If he can temper his aggression, become slightly more calculated in his 1 vs 1’s, or contribute otherwise, he can still be the Top laner CLG need. But that’s quite a few ifs.

Xmithie, the constantly underrated Jungler to the point of being overratedly underrated, has looked… uninspiring this split. Statistically speaking, his KDA is the lowest in the league for Junglers at a startling 2.4 (relative to, say, the highest being 3.8 on Galen “Moon” Holgate). He also ranks at the bottom for Kill Particpation, a vital stat for Junglers at a measly 63.1%. It could be the reason that CLG started so slow. Rookies like Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Juan “Contractz” Garcia were on hot streaks, single handedly taking their teams to wins; but as these rookies have cooled down, and the meta shifts away from carry Junglers, we may see the steadier Xmithie return.

Stats aren’t everything, though, and Xmithie is still a strong player for CLG. He has experience and always seems to be where he needs to be. If it makes any CLG fan feel better, Svenskeren ranks only one place above Xmithie. That’s saying something. A Jungler’s role in League of Legends is one of tacticians, making plays to get your teammates ahead and out-thinking the other Jungler. This is something Xmithie has had multiple seasons of practice with.

There are a lot of stats to look at when thinking about Mid laners. Huhi is one of those players that isn’t necessarily understood through his stats. He often looks unstoppable on certain champs, and utterly lost on others. His stats are interesting, though. When you think of Mid laners, you want two things: damage output and CS difference at 15. On the first point, Huhi does pretty well. He places fourth among starting Mid laners with a Damage Per Minute of 559 (28.1% of CLG’s overall damage), putting him third overall for Mid laners.

On the second part, Huhi was dead last, only higher than the much maligned changing Liquid Mid laners of Goldenglue and Piglet. You can never count him out though. He can come up big for the team on certain champions, like Syndra and Aurlieon Sol. His damage output, even while behind in lane, is impressive. He also will play a vital role against Flyquest in (trying) to shut down Hai and possibly get inside the head of the veteran shotcaller.

From zero to hero, Stixxay’s journey with CLG has gone from fans criticizing him to praising him. Can he lead them into another Spring finals? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s botlane duo seems to be almost always the stable foundation for the whole roster. This is the case now more than ever. While the rest of the team fell flat some games, or looked completely bewildered, Stixxay and Aphromoo found consistency. It has put Stixxay in the spotlight. From a harshly criticized player, to challenging Aphromoo as CLG’s strongest laner, Stixxay has come alive this split. He is tied with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi for second in Damage Per Minute at 546, and third in Damage percent at 26.9%. Remember, that’s all coming out of a split that was half dominated by Utility Ult ADC’s, too.

On the other hand, Aphromoo’s contribution to the team isn’t just on the Rift. Stats for Supports are always hard to read. His presence is known inside and out of the Rift, as a team leader and cool head for the squad overall. There’s a lot to be said for that, and a lot to be said about a Support’s ability to bring out the best in their ADC. Stixxay is performing up there among the greats of the league, like newcomer No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and long time staple, Sneaky.

 

The X Factor

So what does all this mean for CLG? Well, pretty much the same as always. CLG aren’t expected to take it all, and a deep drive into the playoffs will give some hope to the Faithful. It’s a position they’re all too accustomed to, though. So what needs to happen for CLG here? What’s their X factor? Well, as lame as it sounds, they need to stand as a team again. That was this roster’s strength last year. Stixxay didn’t out-mechanic any ADC in NA of note. Darshan was great for splitpushing, yes, and Aphromoo was always Aphromoo, but it was the team that won that playoff. The X factor is for that team to reappear in this playoff run. Not just the strong talent that each player has shown off at times, but for them as a team to move and work together again.

This is a different CLG than last Spring though. Stixxay, as many have pointed out, has grown into one of the strongest ADCs in the region. Aphromoo is still hailed for his strength as a player and a leader. When Huhi is playing his best, he’s an absolute monster. Darshan can still pull off some insane plays. Xmithie still shows up and performs for his team. It was the roster that looked good as a whole, not as individual units. Some part of me wonders if that is for better or worse.

Can Huhi step up to the plate for CLG when they need him? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

As Piltover’s Sherrif says, “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” CLG fans will need to see that team play again. The macro and teamwork-oriented style of play, while picking each other up. CLG seems too much like a team trying to always make a play. From greedy 1 vs 1’s for Darshan to awkward engages in the bot lane, CLG needs to get themselves back to their position of working as a team and thinking rather than just hoping the plan of attack works. While the obvious players to watch are Stixxay and Huhi, CLG haven’t relied on solo carries since the Doublelift days. They will win as a team.

 

Predictions

3-2 CLG over Flyquest, 3-1 loss against TSM.

I’m not convinced that Flyquest is back to winning. I wonder more if it was the similar phenomena where teams just can’t seem to handle the ‘new kids on the block’ or not. That being said, you can’t bat an eyelash at Hai “Hai” Du Lam and his boys. They’re a strong roster, and whether that’s more off the back of Hai’s magic touch at shotcalling or as a genuine threat, they’re still tough and always a team that can show up and take the win. CLG seemed to play to the level of their opponents this split though, which might mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders against the mind of Hai.

Nonetheless, I think CLG will pull it out in the end. I just think they have it in them to take down Flyquest, but it really depends which CLG and which Flyquest show up. Hence my 3-2 win. I highly doubt we’d see a complete blow out either way. However, if either team comes to these games playing at their lowest, we might. If each team comes performing at their best, it’ll be a back and forth series. Both teams are underdogs to make it deep into the playoffs and will have that underdog identity hanging over their heads. For CLG, this will be old news. For the new (old?) Flyquest boys, this may be a new feeling.

TSM, on the other hand, I don’t see CLG standing much of a chance against. They looked absolutely horrendous against TSM (I would know, I had Huhi, Aphro, and Xmithie on my Fantasy team…). They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight in their most recent meeting. TSM had control the entire time, and with that in mind, I really can’t see this series going CLG’s way. I’m generous and thinking, hey, maybe they can squeeze one game out. If they do manage to pull out a win, it would possibly be an even bigger upset than their past two wins in playoffs against TSM.

The Return of Dyrus: Will his new team grace the LCS? Marc Merrill Confirmed

Well it’s that time of year again folks. The Spring Split comes to a close, the Promotion tournament rages on, and the majority of us are left with no good League of Legends to watch. Thankfully the scene delivers us some exclusive news that will excite any fan of League: the return of Marcus “Dyrus” Hill.

Dyrus reached out to me personally on my MySpace account saying, “It just didn’t feel the same watching these scrubs win Top lane. That’s just not how you do it. I had to come back and teach kids how to play Top lane again ;)” Wink included. Dyrus detailed how he felt it was important for some real American throwdowns to return in the Top lane.

Dyrus also confirmed the backing of a venture capitalist group succinctly titled “Sketchy Big Money Guys Who Want More Money But Love Esports We Swear Ever Since It Made Others Money”, or SBMGWWMMBLEWSESIMOM, or just Big Money Guys. “With the backing of Big Money Guys I feel we have a real single shot at making LCS before all our funding is pulled suddenly and violently leaving many of our support staff stranded and without any chance of survival! We’re absolutely excited and thankful for this single shot at the big leagues with a group that only believes in us if we perform in one split of Challenger Series.”

When asked about the process of forming this new team and anyone who inspired this sudden change of heart, Dyrus simply sent me this image as a single tear rolled down his cheek.

While Dyrus stressed that this was not necessarily the final draft, he assured me he did not in fact do it in MS Paint five minutes before contacting me. Definitely not.

While Dyrus is currently the only announced player for the roster, he hinted at some fellow familiar big names that may join him. “I’m not allowed to say who will be joining me just yet, but I can say that they are known to LIFT things sometimes twice or DOUBLE… Double times… Ohh, and I think TheOddOne said he was free too I guess.”

(Praise be Unto Mark Merrill, our Lord and Savior)

But what will this legendary team be called? Dyrus also wasn’t hesitant with this. “We wanted to be known for our own legacy and not the team we played for in the past and had massive success with. So we decided on Team Alternative Middle, or TAM. Our logo is pretty cool. It’s got fire and stuff. But we wanted to build our own, completely unique and never done before sounding team. Like, we may bring in a super star Danish mid laner or something.”

In case it wasn’t apparent, April Fools folks. Sadly the return of Dyrus doesn’t seem to be happening (yet!?) Hopefully my bad humour was mildly amusing to someone. Anyone. My mom thinks my jokes are funny.

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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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Looking at Team Liquid’s Future

When Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng announced his “break” to focus on streaming, many were hopeful for his return to TSM in Summer. In a surprising turn of events, he has returned in the middle of the Spring Split on Team Liquid. On a sort of “loan” for the rest of the split, Team Liquid attains one of the best players in NALCS history at his position.

Former ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin role swapped to mid in an attempt to be more of a carry for the team. He had a very good showing last week in their victory against Immortals. His replacement ADC, Young-bin “Youngbin” Jung, struggled to have much of an impact on the team. Youngbin looks to be staying on as an in-house sub, learning from Doublelift as the split comes to a close.

This appears to be a win-win for Team Liquid as they have the ability to allow a young ADC to learn from one of the best.

Team Liquid is looking at the big picture in attempting to stay in the LCS. They are currently tied for last place with Envy, with a 3-8 record. They’re attempting to save their season with some drastic roster changes.

With the announcement of the transfer of Phoenix1 support Adrian “Adrian” Ma to Team Liquid, it begins to make Liquid look like a strong contender on paper. Current support Matt “Matt” Elento has struggled, to say the least. He currently sits at dead last in KDA among NALCS supports. Adrian has been a solid support on every team he’s played on. He may not make a ton of flashy plays, but he’s consistent.

Best Case Scenario

Courtesy:Riot Esports

Looking ahead, Team Liquid still have a shot at playoffs. It may be extremely slim, but there’s a chance.

No one can deny Doublelift’s individual talent. Being able to bring in a player of his stature to this roster gives them a high chance of avoiding relegation. The only concern could be how well the team is able to synergize.

On paper, this roster looks like they could be top 4-5. No one can deny that jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin was once the best jungler in the region a year ago. He has shown glimpses of his old self this split, but maybe with a stronger roster around him he can start to succeed once again.

Samson “Lourlo” Jackson has had games where he looked phenomenal. He’s also had games where he looked tilted off the earth. With Doublelift and Adrian joining the team, this may be the most talent he’s ever played with. There will be no excuses for not playing up to his full potential.

Allowing Adrian to play over Matt would be the best for both parties. It’s extremely demotivating feeling like your job is just waiting to be taken from you with time. Think back to G2’s top lane situation last split.

In a perfect world, Doublelift can become a vocal leader on TL and lead them into being one of the strongest teams in NALCS. Although their 3-8 record is quite a hole to dig out of, it’s not impossible. At best they can avoid relegation and earn the 7th spot. In summer, Youngbin can step in after being a protege under Doublelift for a few weeks and be a formidable ADC. Team Liquid takes off and finishes atop of summer, finally breaking the curse of forever fourth. Once again, this is a best case scenario, right?  Let’s take a look at the other side.

Worst Case Scenario

Courtesy: Riot Esports

We’ve seen it before. A dream roster on paper, but synergy lacks. Doublelift and Piglet have been known to have egocentric personalities. If these personalities begin to clash, this team could fail harder than they were before.

Adrian literally is coming from Phoenix1 due to refusing to play with his starting jungler. Adrian may have a somewhat different lane style than Doublelift. He has often favored supports like Nami and Soraka, as opposed to more aggressive supports. If things go sour quick, we could see a clash of personalities on the team.

Team Liquid has become infamous with player management after their debacle last Summer. Their documentary “Rebirth” allowed fans into the world of toxicity that was TL’s team environment a season ago. Could we see a repeat with this roster?

If these five talented individuals do not mesh well, we could see things go downhill very quickly.

Team Liquid have noting to lose, but have garnered some heavy talent to save their season. It’ll be a huge question if they can come together in a short amount of time. If they make a Cinderella run through the split, owner Steve “LiQuiD112” Arhancet will be hailed for making the needed changes to accomplish it.

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

We’re halfway through the NALCS spring split, and I’ll be handing out grades for each team so far. My basis for grading: expectations coming into this split, if they’ve met/under performed those expectations, and their current standing. Every team has played each other once now, so we have a good feel for how each team matches up against one another. Things can definitely change in the second half of the split, so it’ll be interesting to see where these teams end.

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Nobody expected us to be halfway through the split with Team Liquid sitting at the bottom, even below Envyus. They acquired supposedly one of the best junglers in the region in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, but it hasn’t been enough. One thing that has changed this split is the meta shift to utility style AD carries, in which star Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has struggled on. In the past, Team Liquid relied on Piglet to be a main carry for the team. That has not been the case this split as Piglet currently sits dead last in KDA and leads all AD’s in deaths.

Team Liquid has obviously hit the panic button with the announcement of possible roster changes during the IEM break. The most notable rumor being Piglet switching to mid. If that doesn’t spell desperation, I don’t know what does. There aren’t many ADC’s in challenger willing to thrust themselves into a sinking ship and be apart of the downfall.

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

In all honesty, everyone expected Envyus to be a low tier team, possibly similar to Echo Fox last summer. The fact that they have two wins, one coming off a talented Echo Fox team, tells me they’re not as bad as people think. They’ve shown the ability to take teams to close matches even when they do lose.

Their laners are able to gain significant CS differences in games. Looking at top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu Yeong and ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price, they’re both near the top in their positions in CS diff@10. They may lack the team fighting needed to really compete on the LCS level, but that’s to be expected when only your bot lane speaks English as their first language.

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

With the big name imports of Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas was expected to be towards the top of the standings. They were off to a slow start, but things have finally picked up for them, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. I’ll admit two of those wins were against Team Envyus and Team Liquid, two teams at the bottom of the standings, but they needed those wins. They also looked impressive in a 2-0 victory against Flyquest, who were tied for second heading into the week.

Their schedule doesn’t get any easier heading into the second half, as they half Phoenix1 and TSM as their first opponents. Maybe this IEM break will give them the needed time to finally come together as the top tier team many had hoped for.

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

Echo Fox has to be the most inconsistent team in LCS. At least with bottom tier teams you can expect how they’re going to play. With Echo Fox, one week they’re 2-0 sweeping TSM, the next they’re getting 0-2’d by Envyus. This team seems to have trouble playing to the level of their competition. Against the good teams, they play their best, but against the worse ones, they’ll allow themselves to play down to their level. This is just about where people were placing them in terms of standings heading into the split, if not lower.

It is surprising to see a team this low still hold the highest Gold difference@15 among NALCS teams. Their early game isn’t their weak point by any means. Jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham has shown to be the best jungler so far, despite a poor showing last weekend. His early game aggression has allowed Echo Fox to jump to their early leads. It’s been in the mid-late game where Echo Fox has struggled in not knowing how to translate their leads into victories.

If they can fix their macro-play, this team can definitely be a “Cinderella” team heading into playoffs.

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

For the most part, people pegged Immortals as being around this 5th-8th place team. Immortals was expected to play mostly through star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. For the most part, Dardoch has had to solo carry the team, with Pobelter playing uncharacteristically poor. Pobelter has improved as the weeks have gone on, but he’s still currently last in KDA and CS diff@10 among mids.

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong looks to have fixed some of the communication issues that he was having. In the beginning of the split, his teleports and team fighting seemed off from the team. In a meta where tank play was very important, Immortals struggled to gain any wins to start out. They have gone 3-1 in their past two weeks, but most of those victories came off teams below them in the standings.

They’ll need to show some competitiveness against some of the better teams before we can list them as a definite playoff team.

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) was somewhat expected to thrive to begin the split. Most teams were brand new rosters with absolutely no synergy built up yet, as was evident in the first few weeks. CLG would have the advantage of not having any roster changes and knowing how to play with one another. They struggled to use this to their advantage, as they had a slow start due to not having a great grasp on the meta. CLG have noted that they’ve always been a bit slow on picking up on the meta. As a top tier organization, you’d expect this problem to be fixed by now.

Star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black looked lost in the meta of carry style supports, often being caught out of position. Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has looked as okay as he always has, but with the rise of jungle talent in a meta of carries, it hasn’t been enough.

They’ve recently began to look like they’re returning to top form, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. They took a much needed victory against Immortals last week that put them ahead of them in the standings.

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

Phoenix1 were my darkhorse favorite heading into the split, and they haven’t disappointed.  Most people ranked P1 as a middle-lower half team heading in, but they’ve shown the ability to compete with the best, after sweeping C9 2-0 with a substitute jungler. No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has been the best ADC in NA “by far” and a candidate for MVP.

Nobody really knows what exactly is happening with Rami “Inori” Charagh. Before he departed the team, he was looking to be struggling on any champion that wasn’t Rengar or Kha’zix. In recent interviews with substitute jungler Will “Meteos” Hartman, he made it sound like P1 may just be looking for a long term replacement. Meteos is no slouch as a replacement, although he doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to commit long term. If P1 continue with Meteos, I don’t see why this team can’t finish in the upper echelon of the standings.

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest have developed into fan favorites as the “C9 White”. No one can really count out any team with prolific shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on it. Having three out of five members who have played together for so many years also has to help. Everyone, including myself, wanted to cheer for this team, but honestly expected them to be in the bottom tier.

This was reinforced with the announcement of Galen “Moon” Holgate as their new jungler just days before the LCS start. The last time we saw Moon, he looked scared and out of his element on stage. This split, he’s become one of the most improved players we’ve ever seen in LCS. This may be due to playing with some LCS veterans this time, but Moon himself has been looking like an absolute steal from free agency.

Hai’s effectiveness as a shotcaller will never be able to be measured statistically, but if Flyquest finish top two, I’d peg him as a favorite for MVP.

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

Cloud 9 came into the split as heavy favorites, as their only roster change was bringing in rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. They also have top tier players in just about every position. They definitely started the split as the strongest looking team, with an 8-0 record. Before this week, Cloud 9 was the lone wolf atop the NALCS. After an abysmal 0-2 week, they’re now tied with TSM at 8-2.

It’s questionable how Cloud 9 went undefeated through the first half of the split. Other teams may have just needed more time to build synergy. Cloud 9’s early game still isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a top team. They’re currently ranked seventh in CS diff@15. They’re not nearly as proactive as they could be in the early game and often take wins from team fighting in the mid game.

Star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has played the worst I’ve ever seen. He seemed out matched against TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in their last series. Cloud 9 seems to live and die by how well Impact does. If Impact isn’t playing, they tend to look much more disorganized as well.

For the most part, they’ve played up to expectations, but losing to Phoenix1 with a sub jungler is unacceptable. They’ll need to bounce back strong to prove that they deserve the NALCS title.

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid had a rough beginning, as the absence of ADC Yiliang “Doubelelift” Peng hindered their play more than expected. Doublelift held a very strong vocal leadership role in game that was missing after he left.

Solo laners Hauntzer and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg have adapted to take more vocal roles on the team. It was slow at first, but the team has finally looked to be peaking at the right time. They 2-0’ed the two teams ahead of them in the standings, in C9 and Flyquest. Hauntzer and Bjergsen have also been playing extremely well individually. In a meta where tank play is extremely important, Hauntzer has played near perfect in what his team has needed.

TSM will need to continue this trend of improvement as they head into the second half of the split.

Grade: A

 

There’s still much League of Legends to be played. Playoffs will ultimately be decided by who comes out strong for the second half of the split. Can Cloud 9 bounce back from a rough week? Can TSM continue to improve and be the top team in North America? Will Echo Fox break the curse of their odd week struggles? These are only a few questions that will need to be answered before we crown a North American champion.

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NALCS Mid Season Awards

We’re halfway through the split, and the competition is heating up. Some players have come out and performed above expectations, while others have failed to meet them. I will be highlighting my picks for mid season awards. Along with the traditional MVP, rookie, and coach of the split, I’ll also be looking at the top import player and most improved player as well as an All-LCS first and second team.

MVP of the Mid season: Hauntzer

Courtesy: Riot Esports

This may come as a surprise to many, but my pick for mid season MVP is Team SoloMid’s top laner, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell. In a split where many teams imported star top laners, Hauntzer has held his own, if not better. After a rocky week one, he’s been looking better each week as the split has progressed. He consistently outplayed Cloud 9’s star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong this past week and even solo-killed him a few times.  

In a meta, where tank play is very important, Hauntzer has had great teleport plays and good teamfight presence as an annoying front liner for his team.  He currently leads all top laners in KDA and damage per minute.  

What makes him stand out as my MVP is he’s also taken a new role as a shotcaller for the team. Many were made aware of how vocal former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng was after his departure this split. It left a hole in TSM’s shot calling and was evident throughout the first few weeks. Hauntzer took it upon himself to fulfill the hole left by Doublelift and TSM has looked much improved throughout the split aside from a bad series against Echo Fox.

Along with becoming a new vocal leader for the team in game, his play has been essential in TSM’s success. For these reasons, he earns my mid season MVP nod.  

Had Cloud 9 and Flyquest not looked so horrendous this week, Impact or Hai were two of my favorites for MVP.

Honorable mentions: Impact, Hai, Jensen, Arrow, Moon

  

Rookie of the Mid season: Akaadian

Courtesy: Riot Esports

 

Aside from this past week, Echo Fox jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham had been playing like the best jungler in North America. His aggressive play style has helped him take the scene by storm, often elevating an early gold lead for his team.  

Most analysts hadn’t heard much about Akaadian outside of seeing him play on Team Liquid Academy in the challenger series. Many assumed he wasn’t much of an upgrade from their former jungler Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev. Akaadian has proved his doubters wrong as he leads all junglers in kills and is slowly becoming the “NA first blood king”. He currently holds the best first blood percentage among junglers. His early proactivity often gains his team wide gold leads that set them up for success.

Echo Fox have been the kings of inconsistency. One week they’ll look like a top playoff team, the next they’re losing to bottom competition. Hopefully, this past week was just a hiccup for Echo Fox as a team and we can see them back to their previous form where they were able to 2-0 sweep TSM.

Honorable mention: Contractz

Coach of the Mid season: Reapered

Courtesy: Riot Esports

No one can deny how much Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has affected Cloud 9 since he became their head coach last summer. Without former mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam, the team looked lost in what do in the macro game. Reapered described them as five talented members playing solo queue when he first took the helm as head coach. With his work on the team, Cloud 9 has finally learned to play without Hai successfully. Each member is attributing in communication and it has been evident this split. Other teams around the LCS with new imports have struggled to do anything with leads, while Cloud 9 have been able to steamroll games off team fighting in the mid game.

Reapered has been praised by members of Cloud 9, as well as other team management for his effectiveness as a coach. As a team that never really had an authoritative figure before, he is exactly what this team needs. In C9’s YouTube series, it shows he’s not afraid to call out the team for playing poorly and will scold them for mistakes. This type of coaching is what North America as a whole needs to finally be a able to compete on the world stage.

Although they went 0-2 this week, I’m sure Reapered will whip them back into form. It’s better for them to have these mistakes show earlier than later so they can get them fixed in time for playoffs.

Honorable mention: Fly, Parth

Best Import of the Mid season: Arrow

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Phoenix1 ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon honestly wasn’t hyped up much heading into the split. He came from a KT team of stars where some thought he was being carried. On Phoenix1, he’s one, if not the best performing player on the team.

He currently leads the league in KDA, damage per minute, and damage percentage among ADC’s. He has out performed every ADC in North America so far showing masterful play on meta picks, such as Varus and Jhin. His skill shot accuracy has been insane in a lot of the games he’s played on those champions.

Moving forward, Arrow will play a huge part in how far P1 really goes. For now, he’s the reason for most of his teams’ wins. If other areas of P1 improve, this team could be top contenders in playoffs.

Honroable mentions: Ssumday, Ryu

Most Improved Player of the Mid season: Moon

Courtesy: Riot Esports

The last time we saw Flyquest jungler, Galen “Moon” Holgate, he looked like a forgotten prospect. He was once heralded as the next up and coming jungle talent, but stints with Team Liquid and NRG never really showed us that. He struggled in his first few splits and was demoted back to challenger after a few rough games.  

When Flyquest announced Moon as their starting jungler, most analysts thought we’d see the same passive jungler that we had seen before. That has not been the case this split. Moon has looked like a revitalized jungle star in a meta where carry junglers are thriving. He’s also shown the ability to perform well on Eve, a champion we haven’t seen from any other team.  

Many have credited Moon’s success to playing with a seasoned shotcaller in Hai and other veterans, but Moon just looks so much more comfortable than we saw previously. His early game plays are usually what helps Flyquest snowball their leads into the mid game where Hai can guide them to victory. Moon leads all junglers in KDA and is second in total kills to Akaadian.  

Moon is having an MVP-esque season and is a huge reason Flyquest are near the top of the standings. If we see them go back to some standard picks, I believe they’ll return to top form.

Honorable mentions: Smoothie, Altec, Huhi

All-LCS 1st Team

Top: Team SoloMid Hauntzer

Jungle: Echo Fox Akaadian

Mid: Cloud 9 Jensen

ADC: Phoenix1 Arrow

Support: Cloud 9 Smoothie

All-LCS 2nd Team

Top: Cloud 9 Impact

Jungle: Flyquest Moon

Mid: TSM Bjergsen

ADC: Cloud 9 Sneaky

Support: Phoenix1 Adrian

The last half of the split will be a heated battle for playoff positioning. Before this week, Cloud 9 were obvious favorites to take the crown. They now sit tied for first with TSM, while everyone else look to be improving. Dignitas and CLG are steadily improving and could make a late surge into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Echo Fox and Immortals will need to gain some consistency if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. I’m excited to see how the rest of the split unfolds.

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