Four new organizations enter the NA LCS in 2018

NA LCS team identities following off-season roster upheavals

This year’s off-season has been extremely disruptive to the identity of each NA LCS team. Iconic, long-term and founding members of several rosters have switched to another team for 2018. Aphromoo is no longer playing for Counter Logic Gaming. Echo Fox is without Froggen. Hai has moved on from FlyQuest. TSM does not have Svenskeren.

Four brand new organizations are entering the LCS, while four previous organizations are no more. Immortals, Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Dignitas are out. Optic Gaming, Golden Guardians, 100 Thieves and Clutch Gaming are in. All of the narratives surrounding the dissolved teams no longer matter. Immortals’ fumbles domestically, and then their tragic World Championship; Dignitas’ return to the LCS and Summer Split run in the playoffs; Phoenix1’s roller-coaster ups and downs from Rift Rivals, MikeYeung and roster shuffles. All down the drain.

The incoming teams will create new narratives for fans to enjoy. Endemic organizations made big roster moves in the off-season, which will bring their own storylines. The other teams in the middle, like Echo Fox and FlyQuest, will continue to mold into their own identities. 2018 is a watershed year for creating new drama, rivalries and narratives within the NA LCS.

100 Thieves: Old Guard, Modern Marketing

Aphromoo joined 100 Thieves for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The roster and coach announced for 100 Thieves consists of Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, Aphromoo and Pr0lly. Each of these members could easily help anchor a team with their veteran experience and knowledge. However, they find themselves together on a roster that could very well have the most combined professional League of Legends experience on any announced NA LCS team in 2018. The coaching role, every lane, and the jungle position is covered by an established personality.

The organization itself is rather novel, though. Matthew Haag, aka “Nadeshot,” is well-known in the Call of Duty world as a retired player and team owner. He is partnered with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to build a brand and a League of Legends roster under the 100 Thieves moniker. With a standout logo and a merch store full of casual-wear, 100 Thieves will most likely bring a different marketing flavor to the LCS.

100 Thieves should bring a mixture of results on and off the Rift. Meteos, Pr0lly and Aphromoo are some of the most recognized personalities in North America, while Ssumday and Ryu rally their own sets of fans. Nadeshot and the Cavaliers may contribute new styles and promotions than League of Legends is used to. Combine the charisma of the players and staff with the creativity and flashiness of the brand, and 100 Thieves could pull a nice set of followers. Not to mention, if the team actually has synergy, then there is no doubt they can be contenders regardless of which AD carry they sign.

Cloud9: question marks

Svenskeren joins Cloud9 for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fans are filled with confusion and concern towards Cloud9’s off-season. With Impact and Contractz leaving, Cloud9 brought on Svenskeren and Licorice to join Jensen, Sneaky and Smoothie on the starting roster. Factions of the fan-base believe these members to be side-grades at least, downgrades at worst. Licorice has not been tested above the Challenger Series, while Svenskeren was not viewed as a key factor for TSM in 2017. While Impact and Ray had their low moments this year on Cloud9, there is no question that Impact’s high points were on another level.

Cloud9 still remains as one of the goofier, nonchalant organizations. Sneaky will still be the central personality, as the longest tenured member of the organization. Jensen, Smoothie, Svenskeren and even Coach Reapered and team owner Jack have had their fair share of memes and fun. Licorice will probably fall right in line with this theme.

However, the lightheartedness of the players only works if they are winning. Jokes and humor fall flat if the roster has issues clicking, or if results do not show. Despite standing out as an amusing team, Cloud9 actually has a strong League of Legends legacy. They have won two NA LCS championships, and finished runner-up four times. In 2018 Cloud9 will look to continue building on this success, while still playing the jester role off stage.

Counter Logic Gaming: the Nice Guys

Biofrost joins CLG for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLG took their first step away from their “Team Friendship” theme when they traded Xmithie for Dardoch in the 2017 mid-season. They took a step further this off-season by bringing on Reignover to start over OmarGod. Add Aphromoo’s departure, and CLG’s identity is reeling.

But look at the starting roster: Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay, Biofrost. These are the nice guys of the NA LCS. This squad has charisma. None of these members have any baggage following them from a previous team, or lacks personality. When Stixxay is the most arrogant player on the roster, it is probably a healthy work environment.

CLG should have some concerns, though. Who will be the leader and shotcaller to fill the void left by Aphromoo? Is there enough fire in the team? And is the talent strong enough to pass the test of 2018? Stixxay has never played in the LCS without Aphromoo. Biofrost only played one split without Doublelift, and it was not nearly as impactful. Reignover has not shown a level of play akin to his days with Huni on Fnatic and Immortals. 2018 will be a huge test for these players’ improvement together.

Clutch Gaming: upgraded envy

Febiven joins Clutch Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Lira, Apollo and Hakuho made up three fifths of Team Envy in 2017, and they will make up three fifths of Clutch Gaming in 2018. Instead of Nisqy and Seraph, though, Clutch opted for Febiven and Solo. Unlike Cloud9’s, these acquisitions should definitely be upgrades. Nisqy brought a level of consistency to the mid lane, which Envy did not have prior to starting him. Seraph was a starter for the team over a longer period of time, but played much less consistently. Febiven earned first team All-Pro in the 2017 European LCS Summer Split, and Solo was a top performer in the North American Challenger Series.

Envy’s jungler and bottom lane were huge contributors to the team’s Summer Split success. They were able to secure a playoff spot, and took CLG to five games in the quarterfinals. With stronger top and mid laners, Clutch Gaming may be able to reach the next level and push even farther. They also brought on David Lim, who led Team Liquid Academy during their promotion into the LCS and Team Liquid during the 2017 Spring Split.

Beyond a possibly underrated roster, the Houston Rockets’ Clutch Gaming identity within the LCS remains unclear. Sebastian Park, their Head of Esports, seems confident in the team’s potential, and the organization has teased analytical tools for optimizing talent scouting, including a “pathfinding engine.” If these types of developments pan out, then Clutch Gaming could become the Moneyball team in the NA LCS.

Echo Fox: The Aggressors

Dardoch and Fenix join Echo Fox for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

List the most aggressive players in the NA LCS over the past two years, and several of Echo Fox’s reported members are likely to pop up. Huni, Dardoch and Fenix are well-known hawkish competitors. Altec and Adrian began building a similar reputation in the 2017 Summer Split, as well. Echo Fox has combined these aggressors into one squad to completely revamp into 2018.

Drama and tension are the other side of this aggression coin. Dardoch and Fenix had their fair share of issues while on Team Liquid in 2016, as showcased in Breaking PointAdrian had his own problems on Phoenix1 in the 2017 Spring Split. These types of off-stage obstacles could bubble up once again without the proper infrastructure.

FOX’s new look is also a departure from the previous Froggen-centric 10-man roster and the Stream Dream Team (Delta Fox). Echo Fox could never develop any synergy on their LCS roster during Summer Split, due to constantly rotating starters. Froggen’s status is still unknown (although Jacob Wolf reported that FOX plans to drop him), but even if he stays, he will no longer be the only voice on the team. This new Echo Fox will have the highest performance variance, as most of the members rely on emotional momentum to succeed. If this roster is able to mesh and remain problem-free, then Echo Fox could reap huge rewards from this huge risk.

FlyQuest: A chemistry experiment

Flame joins FlyQuest for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the few fully announced rosters, FlyQuest is completely revamped for 2018. Following the trend of keystone figures switching teams, Hai is no longer FlyQuest’s mid laner. Balls, Moon and Lemonnation are gone, as well. Instead, FlyQuest acquired Flame, Anda, Fly and Stunt as starters. They also signed Keane and Shrimp, as well as Ngo, Erry and Jayj from the University of Toronto’s collegiate team. Wildturtle is the only remaining member from the 2017 roster.

Other than Flame, these players feel middle of the pack individually. Anda and Fly are untested in the LCS, but have played in the NA Challenger Series with varying success. Wildturtle can spike fairly high, but generally relies on his teammates to play around his style. Stunt was the on-and-off starter during his time on Phoenix1.

Unlocking these players’ ceilings will be FlyQuest’s greatest challenge in 2018. With the proper synergy, FlyQuest could certainly rise higher than their 2017 Summer Split. Communication problems are more likely, though. Wildturtle has veteran experience, but he may not be a loud voice to build a team around. The rookies, Anda and Stunt, will rely on Wildturtle to be a leader and gel together with the Korean imports, Flame and Fly. Keane and Shrimp are smart pick-ups, since they worked fairly well with Ssumday on Dignitas, and could bring that experience into FlyQuest.

Golden Guardians: Hai and Company

Hai joins Golden Guardians for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Hai kick-starts a new organization in 2018, Golden Guardians, and he is basically their only hope. The Golden State Warriors-owned organization has reportedly acquired Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt. This roster would be the only one in the NA LCS without any imported players. Golden Guardians also seem to have the least combined LCS experience. These two factors will leave many fans wondering what reasoning was used to construct this team.

Golden Guardians will live or die by Hai in 2018. He is surrounded by relatively young players who have never played for more than one previous organization. LCS fans were impressed with Moon’s performance on FlyQuest with Hai as a shotcaller, but that success was short-lived. If Hai is able to unlock Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt the same way, then Golden Guardians could surprise.

ESPN also reported Locodoco as the Golden Guardians’ head coach, which could be helpful. He has experience coaching younger players on Team Liquid and Gold Coin United, including Lourlo and Matt. It would be surprising if Golden Guardians kept these same five members as their starters throughout 2018. Without the pressure of relegation, this organization could be taking the opportunity to develop younger native talents with Hai’s proven leadership.

Optic Gaming: The HodgePodge

PowerOfEvil joins Optic Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

A true concoction, Optic Gaming enters the NA LCS pulling together a wide variety of talents. The “Green Wall” is an expansive organization spanning Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Overwatch and other esports. They have announced their acquisition of Romain Bigeard, ex-manager of Unicorns of Love, and Zaboutine, former caster, as manager and coach. ESPN has reported the starting roster as Zig, Akaadian, PowerOfEvil, Arrow and LemonNation.

If all of this is true, then Optic is combining rising stars in top and jungle with an experimental European mid laner, an up-and-down Korean AD carry and an analytical, veteran support. The roster will be led by an eccentric manager-mascot and a French caster-turned-coach, and they will have the full support of an esports powerhouse brand. There are some strong pieces to this puzzle, but they are not necessarily a clean fit.

The Optic LCS team seems like it may sit somewhere between 100 Thieves and FlyQuest. Optic is definitely a well-known esports organization, and they should draw a fan-base. The first-person shooter edge and player recognition of 100 Thieves combines with the questionable roster synergy of FlyQuest. Romain is a promotional personality with a knack for creating content and winning hearts, so expect Optic to use him to full effect. There is certainly plenty of talent on this roster, but it may take a while for them to actually produce favorable results.

Team Liquid: Vengeful Spirits

Doublelift joins Team Liquid for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The hoarders of the off-season, Team Liquid emerges with a complete roster overhaul. After acquiring contracts for several different players, Liquid has most likely settled on Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift and Olleh. This five-man group feels much stronger and intuitive than Liquid’s team from 2017 Summer Split. Xmithie, Pobelter and Olleh are proven talents who made up three fifths of Immortals’ World Championship-qualifying roster. Impact had a mostly off year, but still solid during the high points. Doublelift comes to Liquid after being replaced by TSM.

Revenge is the overarching theme for Team Liquid going into 2018. Owner Steve Arhancet wants revenge for his last two years of roster troubles. The ex-Immortals players want revenge for losing to TSM in the Summer Split finals, then being denied from the franchised LCS. Most importantly, Doublelift wants revenge for getting nudged out of TSM.

With Cain remaining as head coach, Team Liquid should trend towards the top of the league. If this roster is unable to perform, then it will be a complete disgrace. All of these players have been victorious in the past. Each of these players have attended the World Championship, many of them as teammates. 2018 serves as a fresh start for Team Liquid and Steve, and they need to use their past frustrations as fuel. Dardoch is not an excuse. Piglet is not an excuse. Goldenglue is not an excuse. It is time for Liquid to put up or shut up.

TSM: the final boss

Zven and mithy join TSM for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Citing international shortcomings and issues with shotcalling and communication, TSM’s owner, Reginald, decided to replace Svenskeren, Doublelift and Biofrost with MikeYeung, Zven and Mithy. He also picked up Coach Ssong from Immortals’ dissolved team. The six-time NA LCS champions continue to adapt and reinvigorate their roster, and TSM will remain as the final boss in 2018. Every individual player on this team should be top three in their role at the beginning of the season.

MikeYeung is the only player worth questioning. He showcased an explosive Rift Rivals in 2017, but Phoenix1 fell off as a team afterwards. Fans will find out how meta-dependent MikeYeung is in 2018.

Hauntzer was the standout player at Worlds, and he had an all-around stellar 2017. Bjergsen continues to be an anchor in the mid lane, ever-present, ever-consistent. Zven and Mithy’s reputation precedes them, as they have been a package deal since their time on Origen starting in 2014.

TSM’s performance floor is higher than several LCS teams’ ceilings, because the consistency and experience on this team should be solid. Ssong obviously factored into Immortals’ Summer Split success. If he can produce even a portion of that improvement with TSM, then they have a fruitful road ahead. With so much volatility in the off-season, TSM is one of the only teams to maintain the same identity as the villain of the league. They are the team that assumes North American dominance, and shoots for greatness abroad. Franchising has opened doors for some others to compete financially and strategically, but will they actually have what it takes to dethrone the kings?

credits

Featured Image: Akshon Esports Twitter

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

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2017 Scouting Grounds draft and the future of NA LCS

The 2017 NA Scouting Grounds draft took place this weekend at Riot’s Los Angeles studio. Amidst the crowd of players and press, we witnessed a historic step for the NA LCS. While the players involved in the draft will likely join the 2018 season Academy teams, their significance lies in the future of esports. The 2017 Scouting Grounds draft is one way for Riot to show fans that they mean business. And Riot are not the only ones stepping up. Cloud 9 (C9) and Clutch Gaming (CG) were the only two teams to buy out another org’s draft positions. So what does this draft tell us beyond 10 new faces to Academy teams?

North America’s Development Problem

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

For years, North America as a region has been criticized for its lack of homegrown talent. While many NA fans are quick to throw up names like Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Eugene “Pobelter” Kim or Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, there are undeniable problems with North America’s talent pool. In an interview with Travis Gafford, Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, said “we have a third of the player-base as much as Europe and a third of the ranked players as Korea so they have a lot more options to choose from.” Clearly this is an issue that North America cannot fix overnight. There is no waking up tomorrow morning and suddenly the player-base triples to match Europe.

This is precisely why the Scouting Grounds draft is such an important marker for the future. North America’s only option is to capitalize on and develop its existing talent. Enter the Academy league. Unlike the former Challenger Series, the upcoming Academy system emphasizes development over LCS promotion. It’s important to understand that LCS promotion and regional development are not the same in the old CS system. Admittedly, Challenger Series has given us players like Jae “Huhi” Choi and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes on Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). However, over the course of its inception, Challenger Series became a place for relegated pros and teams to try and regain a spot in the LCS.

This became a huge problem for North America. In addition to favoring already established pros, many teams even opted for imports over fresh talent. This is precisely why Scouting Grounds plays such an important role for the future of NA. It gives a chance for players like Ziqing “League” Zhao and Ming “Spica” Lu to gain recognition outside of solo queue.

Why scouting grounds draft matters

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the Scouting Grounds event this past weekend, we saw both Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming invest in higher draft positions. Cloud 9 bought out two positions to pick up League, Ash, and Blaberfish2 for exclusive negotiating rights. When talking about C9‘s CEO, Jack Etienne, Riot commentator Aidan “Zirene” Moon said, “this guy is serious about growing talent that hasn’t been completely in the spotlight yet.” Zirene highlighted that Jack’s ability to identify and develop early talents like now European stars, Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. As a CEO, Jack has a proven track record in bringing out the best of new players.

Alternatively, new team Clutch Gaming does not share this history. At least as far as esports goes. CG picked up two promising players in support Vulcan and mid laner Palafox. But, a single additional draft pick does not exactly scream hype. The fact that Houston Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey attended the small event, does however speak volumes to how seriously the Rockets are about their new team. In an insightful interview with Travis Gafford, Morey emphasized that the Rockets and Clutch Gaming are “in this for the long haul.” He explained that the 2018 season will be a steady learning experience for the CG organization.

Obviously, Clutch Gaming does not share experience that Jack Etienne has developed in his time with C9. However, Daryl Morey’s reputation as a general manager in the NBA is nothing short of incredible. His approach to team investment and growth led the Houston Rockets to major successes over the years. Clutch Gaming made it clear this weekend. They are dead serious about developing North America. It is extremely exciting to see a new org that is hungry and willing to invest in growing NA regionally.

The future of NA LCS

scouting grounds draft

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

To say the sky is the limit is an understatement. Riot NA’s move to franchise the league has already brought about dozens of roster changes and player opportunities. The Scouting Grounds draft is a preliminary step for North America to grow holistically. Meaning, not only should fans pay attention to NA LCS, but also to how teams work on their upcoming Academy rosters. An organization’s success should reflect both LCS and Academy standings. As a whole, teams with the proper infrastructure, coaching staff and player relationships will shine in 2018.

On paper, Cloud 9 and Clutch Gaming have taken the lead in terms of their dedication to player development in NA. Surely, it will not be long before other teams and coaches start to pick up on these trends. And if these team owners take development seriously, we may see a revitalized pool of NA talent in coming years. “This is where winning traditions can start being grown,” analyst, Mark Zimmerman said when discussing the 2017 Scouting Grounds draft. There is perhaps no better way to word the future of NA LCS.

The 2018 season marks a turning point for North American League. What teams choose to do now will set the precedent for years to come.

Featured Image: LoL Esports

Looking for a podcast covering EU and NA LCS? Check out LCS Weekly on SoundCloud. You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Michael!

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scouting grounds

Standouts at 2017 North America Scouting Grounds

The 2017 North America Scouting Grounds event took place this weekend. 20 of NA’s top challenger players worked alongside four NA LCS organizations to test their mettle in the Riot LA studio. OpTic Gaming (OPT), Team SoloMid (TSM), Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) and Cloud 9 (C9) were the four teams to participate at this year’s scouting event. After a series of placement matches on day one, the players headed into the third and first place matches. Let’s highlight some standout players in their respective teams.

Fighting tooth and nail

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

Coming in at fourth place overall, Team Cloud Drake (CLD), led by C9, struggled to find their footing in their third place match against Team Mountain Drake (MTN). Despite the tough series, two of CLD‘s players managed to show resolve in their play. First off, League in the top lane showed up despite being counter-picked in both games. In game one, League’s Cho’Gath not only stayed toe-to-toe with Rodov‘s Gnar during the laning phase, but even managed to earn a solo kill. At 17 minutes, League’s superior timing at a teamfight bottom turned the fight in CLD‘s favor. In his second game, League demonstrated several heads-up plays using his Teleport to flank and engage teamfights. Although CLD failed to capitalize on some of these plays, League’s proactive playstyle stood out respectably.

Another player on CLD who performed on-stage was Fanatik. Although Fanatik fell behind his veteran counter-part “Nintendudex” pressure early on, he adapted quickly in game one. After recognizing the mid-jungle focus for Team Mountain Drake, Fanatik countered a dive to secure a clean 2-0 fight. In his second game, Fanatik capitalized on a crucial team MTN mistake and stole the Baron to keep his team alive. At 26 minutes, Fanatik’s Jarvan found a four man “Cataclysm” to lock down multiple enemies and win his team the fight. As the youngest player at the 2017 Scouting Grounds, it will be interesting to see how he develops as a player.

A team of duos

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

For Team Mountain Drake, led by Counter Logic Gaming, their duos stood out more than individual play. First, no stranger to the NA LCS, Nintendudex showed serious synergy with Ablazeolive, one of the foremost challenger mid laners in North America. The communication between the two was on clear display during a fight in game one of the series. After Ablazeolive used his Teleport to return to lane, CLD‘s Linsanity saw an opportunity to get a pick. But, Ablazeolive turned on the enemy mid laner, locking him down using Malzahar’s “Nether Grasp” to buy Nintendudex time to join the fight and finish the kill. Ablaze’s teamfight ability shined in game two where he hit multiple key “Shockwave’s” on Orianna to seal CLD‘s fate.

The second pair to come through was MTN‘s bottom lane. Support Winter and AD-carry Value stood out as remarkable players in their roles. Winter’s aggressive style transitioned to key roams on Alistar to tip early skirmishes. In game one, Winter’s awareness on Alistar punished a poorly set up flank by CLD‘s mid and jungle, deleting the enemy Ryze from the ensuing teamfight. In game two, his engages on Rakan set up multiple fights for his mid laner to land game-winning ultimates. Winter’s AD-carry, Value also had his fair share of star play. In game one, an over-ambitious engage from CLD, Value landed a four-man “Featherstorm” + “Bladecaller” combo to clean up the fight. By layering his ultimates with his team’s engages, Value pumped out 927 damage per minute in game two. He earned himself player of the series with a combined 18/3/15 KDA across two games.

Live and die by the flames

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

Team Infernal Drake (INF), led by TSM, gave viewers some heated highlight plays to live up to their team name. In game one of the finals match, INF found themselves pushed in heavily. Their opponents, Team Ocean Drake (OCN), had remarkable vision superiority in INF‘s jungle, making it difficult for them to find fights on favorable terms. But their support Teesum on Rakan was able to find a three man engage with his “Grand Entrance.” This catch gave room for his carries to unload their damage before the enemy team could respond. However, Teesum’s performance in game two was largely lacking. Despite being the team’s main tank on Braum, several flubbed shields using his “Unbreakable” led to multiple teamfight deaths.

Game two was where two of INF‘s carries stepped up. After a rough game one, INF funneled resources into their AD-carry, NoahMost. Although his teamfight presence was weak throughout the early game, Noah was able to capitalize on an overzealous rush by Team Ocean Drake. With five members barreling toward his Xayah, Noah released a “Featherstorm” + “Bladecaller” combo that rooted five members. After locking down the entire enemy team, Noah’s Xayah mowed down the opposition for the only Pentakill at the 2017 Scouting Grounds.

The third player on INF to showcase his star potential was PieCakeLord in the top lane. Although his team was behind for much of the second game, PieCakeLord on Fiora was able to exert tremendous side-lane pressure that often brought multiple OCN members to stop him. Still, he managed to out-pressure the enemy Shen throughout most of the game. After the enemy Azir wiped his team at the Baron pit, PieCakeLord outplayed the enemy mid and top to keep his team in the game.

Stomping the Scouting Grounds

scouting grounds

Credits: LoL Esports

After drafting possibly the strongest team at Scouting Grounds, eyes were on OpTic Gaming’s coaching staff to make that roster shine. And boy did they shine. First, Vulcan‘s Taric was able to turn an early gank into a kill on the enemy AD-carry, setting a serious tempo advantage for team OCN. In the late game, Taric’s damage negation with “Cosmic Radiance” allowed his team to stampede over teamfights. In game two, Vulcan’s engages on Rakan practically spoon fed kills to his mid laner, Palafox.

Palafox had questions circling about his potential after being drafted as the 20th pick. But he brought the heat. Playing as Malzahar in game one, Palafox found an aggressive pick onto the enemy Orianna. After Orianna seemingly flashed to safety, Palafox landed an instant over the wall “Call of the Void” to secure the kill. Palafox’s Azir was the single greatest game-deciding factor in game two. A gigantic “Emperor’s Divide” knocked up four members of INF, completely shifting the momentum mid-game. Again at 46 minutes, Palafox earned a quadrakill at the Baron pit to push OCN‘s advantages over the edge.

Third, OCN‘s top laner Kaizen came into his own in game two. His Shen managed to outplay an early 2v1 dive by INF‘s top-jungle duo, earning himself a kill on his lane opponent on the way out. Although the enemy Fiora’s split push pressure was strong, ultimately, Kaizen’s teamfight utility became a winning factor for his team. Across the board, Team OCN performed spectacularly at this year’s Scouting Grounds. It will be exciting to see these players develop on future academy rosters. And, a win here shows good signs for OpTic Gaming who hope to make a definitive statement in their first season in the NA LCS.

Featured Image: LoL Esports

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biofrost

Biofrost: Following the footsteps of legends

Vincent “Biofrost” Wang began his NA LCS career in 2016 summer as the starting support for Team SoloMid (TSM). In his rookie split, Biofrost had the daunting task of replacing one of League’s most legendary supports, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim. Against all expectations, Biofrost emerged as one of the league’s premier supports. After two years with TSM, Biofrost signed a contract with Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) as the new starting support for the 2018 season. With new roster announcements dropping daily, let’s take a moment to appreciate all that Biofrost has accomplished.

Filling Bora’s Shoes

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In 2016 spring, team owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh drafted an all-star roster for Team SoloMid, featuring veteran support YellOwStaR alongside Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the bottom lane. Following issues with team synergy and performance, YellOwStaR left TSM in May of that year. To fill his shoes, Biofrost, an unknown rookie, joined the squad. While expectations surrounding TSM’s new support remained low, Bio’s performance was anything but. In his rookie split with TSM, Bio helped push the team to a 17-1 win-loss record, a league record.

His lane prowess on champions like “Karma” and “Lulu” complimented Doublelift’s hyper-carry playstyle. Even on non healers/shielders, Biofrost pulled off some incredible highlight saves to keep his AD-carry alive. Bio truly stepped up by honing his teamfighting presence on TSM. Team SoloMid has historically been one of the most dominant teamfighting teams in NA LCS history. As a rookie, Bio had to pick up these skills quick. And his progress proved itself time and again in his playoff performances.

In the summer 2016 playoffs, a clutch two-man Tempered Fate from Bio’s “Bard” earned TSM a quarterfinal victory over summer split juggernaut Immortals (IMT). Team SoloMid went on to win the NA LCS summer finals and met Samsung Galaxy (SSG), Royal Never Give Up (RNG) and Splyce (SPY) at Worlds 2016. Despite drawing into the “group of death,” TSM managed a 3-3 record before dropping against RNG. After failing to advance from groups, TSM‘s AD-carry Doublelift announced that he would take a break from professional play in the 2017 season.

New Season New Botlane

Biofrost

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In spring of 2017, Biofrost partnered with LCS veteran Jason “WildTurtle” Tran to make up TSM‘s new bottom lane. With a hugely successful rookie season already under his belt, Bio’s mission for spring was to grow into his own. With Doublelift taking a break, LoL Esports saw this as an opportunity for Biofrost to find “more space to operate and discover his identity as a support player.” While many fans expected Bio to develop a stronger leadership role, the TSM bottom lane struggled to find consistency. Criticism fell on Turtle and Bio as the roster stumbled to find its footing.

WildTurtle’s famously high-risk, high-reward playstyle became a problem. As TSM worked to tone down Turtle’s flashy plays, Bio also suffered the consequences. Rather than finding more space to operate, he found himself constantly under a lens. Teams focused the bot-duo, pinpointing Turtle and Bio as TSM‘s weak link. While pressure from opponents rained down bottom, TSM shifted their jungle pressure top lane. Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell grew into a carry role to offset his struggling bottom lane. This change in resources gave Biofrost even fewer tools to garner much growth.

Despite the challenges thrown their way, Biofrost and WildTurtle powered their way to yet another NA LCS championship. A two-time LCS champion, Bio boasted a pedigree that some of League’s veterans still have yet to achieve. At the start of summer 2017, TSM announced that Doublelift would return to the starting roster. With the majority of a split apart, it was unclear if the TSM bottom lane could gel once again.

The Biofrost we love

biofrost

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In summer, Biofrost and Doublelift took to the Rift facing some new opponents. A revamped Immortals roster had support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, rampaging through NA LCS. Olleh’s exciting play-making and roaming sense on champions like “Alistar” earned him the reputation of best support in NA. Then, as if to directly challenge the title, Biofrost faced off against Olleh’s “Alistar” in the NA LCS grand finals. With “Rakan” as his champion of choice, Bio found multiple key engages that clawed TSM back from a 10.5K gold deficit. That win sent TSM to Worlds 2017 as NA’s first seed.

At Worlds, TSM failed to find their footing in the group stage and suffered an early exit from the tournament. In the off-season, TSM announced that Biofrost, Doublelift and Svenskeren would be leaving the team. Several days later, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) announced that Biofrost would join the main roster as starting support. With the departure of storied veteran Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Biofrost has some legendary shoes to fill once again. In an early DUOS Extra interview, Biofrost explained that Aphromoo was an idol for him early on. As fate would have it, Biofrost will go on to replace Aphro in the 2018 season.

Aphromoo leaves a legacy on CLG that any player will be hard-pressed to surpass. But, there is perhaps no greater player than Biofrost to fill the shoes of North America’s most legendary support. While the goodbye is bitter for most TSM fans, Biofrost will remain one of NA’s most beloved players. A starting position on an endemic organization like CLG will give Bio the resources and play time he needs to grow beyond his previous iterations. Although the future is uncertain, Biofrost will undoubtedly return to captivate North America in 2018.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Thanksgiving Free Agents: League of Legends Edition

League of Legends is having their first major free agency period since the start of franchising in North America. As with traditional sports, free agency is going to be a major time for teams to build their rosters for LCS’ new start. Instead of just giving you who some of the free agents are and where they might go, a holiday theme has been added for your enjoyment. (Note: As of the time this was written none of these players have signed officially)

Corn “Froggen”

Froggen has been consistent since the day he entered the LCS. Never overly flashy but a major part and sometimes the best part of his team. Corn like Froggen is never flashy but it is reliable and can be the best part of a bad meal.

Last year on Echo Fox, Froggen was the unchallenged leader of the team. Echo Fox finished in eighth, just outside of the playoffs the last two splits. This was due to many things, but rarely ever Froggen. There are plenty of new openings for Froggen. As an in-game and out of game leader, Froggen will be someone who is going to be brought on to do just that. His play is consistent but his leadership skills are what gets him his next position.

For this reason, Froggen will be going to a completely new squad in NA as some of the newer teams will be looking for a leader to help guide them through their first season. He did this with Echo Fox and maybe with a better and more consistent roster around him, Froggen will finally make NA playoffs this year.  With sources saying Akaadian has been bought out by OpTic Gaming it would make sense that they add arguably the two best players from Echo Fox.

Prediction: OpTic

Cranberry Sauce “PowerOfEvil”

Like cranberry sauce you either love PowerOfEvil or you strongly dislike him. He can be an absolute legend on the rift or look like he is lost. That being said PowerOfEvil is testing the waters of free agency hoping to be picked up by a NA squad.

Misfits made a surprising run in world this last year making it out of group stages. While the team played well as a whole, in most games until the end, PowerOfEvil had looked solid. He can make the flashy plays and keep up with many of the games top mid-laners when he is on his game. If he can find consistency there is no doubt that he can challenge just about anyone while in lane. For that reason I think PowerOfEvil will be a hot commodity for NA this free agency.

A great squad for PowerOfEvil would be Flyquest. With Flame reportedly signing there and a solid bot-lane of WildTurtle and Stunt, bringing on PowerOfEvil would make a nice splash for FlyQuest. For PowerOfEvil he would be able to play with teammates who can help guide him in his first year in NA and allow for him to learn from his mistakes he will probably make early on. If they get the PowerOfEvil we saw during group stages and during Mistfits’ run in EU championships, then FlyQuest could have a very strong squad next season.

Prediction: FlyQuest

Sweet Potatoes “LemonNation”

Sweet Potatoes are classic when talking about Thanksgiving dinner. They are sweet and almost like desert before actual desert. Lemonnation is a classic NA support who can surprise people by quietly being solid throughout the game. (Also both are orange/red) Lemonnation has been a consistent and overall solid support since he came into the professional league scene. He does his work and helps lead teams to being better than many people would have thought.

Last year on FlyQuest, many people felt that they would be a joke because it was made up of players who had not played in the pro-scene in awhile. They came out and surprised everyone by making playoffs their first split and barely missing playoffs their second split. Lemonnation came back with a vengeance and showed that older players in the scene can still play and has maybe changed everyone’s opinions about what a “old” player really is.

While Ignar and Aphromoo are higher on teams’ lists, there are still openings for supports especially on new teams. You could reasonably argue that once the other two have signed, whoever else has an opening would sign Lemonnation. With that in mind 100 Thieves looks like a good place for Lemonnation to end up. Ssumday and Meteos (both of whom are on this list) are rumored to be signed with 100 Thieves and Ryu has been confirmed. With Pr0lly as their coach this group could add Lemonnation and have a very reliable team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Green Bean Casserole “Meteos”

Some years it’s there, some it’s not. Sometimes you dislike it, sometimes you love it. Like “Dark” Meteos green bean casserole comes back after missing some time at family events and you’re afraid of what is coming next. It is put on your plate against your will and you are told to try it. This time you like it and oddly want more.

Meteos was a mainstay with Cloud9 for many splits. He has a solid following and thus every time he’s filled in for a team people have been very excited. After spending different parts of the year with Phoenix1, who went from playoffs to last between Spring and Summer split, Meteos is ready to be a starter again. With the many opportunities it is likely that he will get a chance to show he is a top level jungler at the professional level.

It is being reported that Meteos will be signing with 100 Thieves. If this stands, with Ryu and Ssumday, it looks as though 100 Thieves could have a very interesting roster to start of League of Legends franchising.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Biscuit/Corn Bread/Rolls “Febiven”

Any type of bread is needed with any Thanksgiving meal. They help to fill you up and are a go to if you’re not ready to try something new. Febiven in NA would be that. He is a solid mid-laner who brings consistency to any team. He may not be the mvp on his team but he is needed and a safe pickup for any team.

Febiven brings that feeling of a stalwart in the middle of the rift for any team. For H2k this past year Febiven brought composure to an already winning team. He got his start with Cloud9 Eclipse and many speculate he is testing free agency in order to go back to NA. Febiven can bring a lot to one of these new franchising teams and it is likely that he would have a nice payday doing so.

According to sources Golden Guardians only have their coach so far, Locodoco. It is also rumored that Shiphtur might be signing with them. While Shiphtur is a good mid-laner, the Golden Guardians would be making a big time acquisition by signing Febiven. He would not only attract fans but also players. If they know they have someone like him holding down the middle of the Rift then players will feel more comfortable around him. Also wouldn’t it be fun to see Bjerg, Jensen, Pobelter, Huhi, Ryu and Febiven battling it out in mid next season?

Prediction: Golden Guardians

Stuffing “Ignar”

On the outside, if you have never had stuffing before you might think, “I dont know what to think about this”. Then you try it and realize it’s solid and brings the meal together. In many ways this is Ignar. The All-Pro support had some questions coming over to Misfits and showed this year that he is the stuffing to any Thanksgiving meal.

After a quick stay with KT Rolster Ignar found a home with Misfits. He was exactly what you would want in a support. He is able to speak Korean and getting better at English, and he is able to help get bot-lane ahead. His aggresion mixed well with his lanemate, Hans Sama, as he played champions like Rakan, Blitzcrank and Thresh. He is a playmaker and with that will come many offers from teams for a support who can do more than just keep their ADC alive.

There are rumors that Ignar is looking to head back to the LCK, possibly even with SKT. If this doesn’t happen and he heads to NA, there is no doubt that he will land a starting roll. OpTic would be a good match with Ignar. Sources say that Arrow has already signed and thus Ignar would have another Korean ADC. This would eliminate a language barrier and give OpTic another nice pickup.

Prediction: OpTic Gaming

Gravy “Aphromoo”

If you don’t like gravy, what are you doing with your life? If you don’t like Aphromoo the same question should be asked. The man is one of the best supports in NA and, like gravy, he is liked by mostly everyone. Gravy is also what you put on everything in order to help it taste better. No matter what team Aphromoo joins, he will make them that much better.

The Moo has been one of the best, if not the best, supports in NA since he arrived on the scene. His ability to get his ADC ahead by whatever means necessary has made him a lanemate that any ADC would want. While he still can go back to CLG if he wants to, it is interesting that he is testing free agency. It may help drive up the money for his contract wherever he signs, including CLG.

While it would be interesting to see another team pick up Aphromoo, it is likely he stays with CLG. They will give into giving him a large contract and that should bring him back. He is already familiar with the team as most of his teammates, Darshan, Huhi and Stixxay have all already signed with CLG.

Prediction: CLG

Mashed Potatoes “Ssumday”

Mashed potatoes are one of the best parts of the entire Thanksgiving meal. Is it really Thanksgiving without them? Nearly everyone loves them and sometimes if the other parts of the meal aren’t good you can always turn to mashed potatoes to be the best part. Ssumday will be this for which ever team he signs with. Everyone is going to want to bring him on and when others may not be as good around him, you can turn to him and know he will show why he is one of the best top-laners in the world.

Ssumday did not live up to the hype during his first full year in NA, but was still very good. Coming over from KT Rolster everyone believed Ssumday was easily a top 3 top-laner in the world. Dignitas fans were ecstatic when he signed on. Dig went to the playoffs both splits in their first full season back, but unfortunately were not chosen to go forward with franchising. Now Ssumday is again looking for his next home to show he is a top tier top-laner again.

Originally it was thought that Ssumday would be looking to go back to the LCK this season. Then sources came out claiming that 100 Thieves is looking to sign him. While the team has not confirmed it yet, if he were to sign there 100 Thieves, it would have a very nice start for their team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Pumpkin Pie “MikeYeung”

Pumpkin pie is what everyone wants even though they are already full, it is that good. It can be the only part some people care about. MikeYeung is the new, young jungler that everyone is going to be going after. He is the pumpkin pie at this Thanksgiving dinner, every team will be giving him a look.

MikeYueng made a splash in NA during his first split with Pheonix1 by winning Rookie of the Split. He showed that he can be an impact player at every phase of the game, especially when he got ahead. The problem was when he didn’t get ahead or his team struggled, he lacked the experience to bring them back. Now that he has played a full split he will be looking to show anyone who signs him that he is the real deal.

Sources are saying that TSM is likely going to sign MikeYeung. After a disappointing year with Svenskeren, it is not a huge surprise that TSM would be looking at someone with the potential of MikeYeung. With Bjerg and Hauntzer most likely staying, they will be able to help bring Mike along and help him to reach his full potential. Also, with sources saying that Zven and Mithy have come over to TSM, this squad could have an incredible 2018.

Prediction: TSM

Turkey “Peanut”

The main course, the bird that represents all of Thanksgiving is the turkey. Turkey is what people spend days prepping to make sure it looks and tastes amazing. Shows and movies constantly show people fighting over the last available turkey. Thanksgiving dinner is not Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey. Peanut is someone people can build a team around. He is the turkey of this Thanksgiving meal.

Many people were surprised when Peanut announced that he was a free agent. He instantly shot up to the top of teams wishlists, as he is considered by many to be the best jungler in the world. Every team that has a jungle opening should be looking to sign someone of his talent level. He made his name on ROX Tigers and then signed with SKT this last season. While they didn’t win Worlds he was still a major part, along with Faker, of getting this team to Finals.

Peanut is the prize in this free agency and if he heads to NA, every team will want him. If it wasn’t likely that TSM was signing MikeYeung, it is probable that they would be in the mix. Counting them out, there are three teams who will likely be vying for his service: FlyQuest, Golden Guardians and CLG. CLG has a very good squad especially if they bring back Aphromoo. OmarGod had a solid first split after Dardoch left but, if CLG want to be a contender for Worlds, they need to sign Peanut. With him on their team CLG could easily be vying for a top spot in NA and could make a huge run at Worlds.

Prediction: CLG

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

GAM Levi locked in Nocturne jungle

Eight surprise champion picks that shaped Worlds’ group stage

The 2017 League of Legends World Championship continues into the knockout stage, yet there is so much to unpack regarding the group stage. The bottom two teams from each group have gone home defeated, and they will mentally replay every win and loss to make sense of it all. They will review their drafts, early game strategies, mid-game decisions and late-game execution.

Adaptation was a major theme of this year’s group stage. Each week, the teams who brought key innovations onto the stage defined the final standings. Pocket picks, surprise lock-ins and fulfilling match-up win conditions decided matches, which shaped teams’ chances to advance. Here are eight pivotal champion picks that shaped the first wave of 2017 Worlds.

GAM Levi Nocturne – Day 1 v. FNC

GAM Levi locked in Nocturne jungle at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

After the first few matches included drafts that mostly went by the book, Gigabyte Marines decided to lock in Nocturne for Levi against Fnatic. This decision completely changed the tone of the 2017 Worlds stage. The surprise draft reminded audiences around the world why they fell in love with Gigabyte Marines at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Nocturne is such a feast or famine option that he is hardly ever played professionally. However, Gigabyte Marines set up Levi to reach level six in five minutes, and he carried them to a 24-minute victory. 

This game was significant for so many reasons. Firstly, it demonstrated that top teams from minor regions are completely capable of putting up a fight on the international stage. Other members of Group B cannot underestimate Gigabyte Marines. Secondly, this quick win gave Gigabyte Marines the confidence to continue bringing out “never before seen” drafts and strategies throughout the Group Stage. But, most importantly, the loss definitely shook Fnatic’s mentality for their matches in week one. Gigabyte Marines, and their successful Nocturne execution, set up Fnatic to start Worlds 0-3. 

G2 Expect Trundle – Day 3 v. FB

With Cho’Gath locked in for 1907 Fenerbahce’s Thaldrin, and Gnar and Shen banned away, G2 locked in the Trundle for Expect. This match was the first Trundle on the 2017 Worlds stage. With a little help from Perkz to secure First Blood, Expect pushed down first turret and helped Trick acquire Rift Herald. From there, he transitioned into split-pushing to win one-versus-one against Thaldrin.

While Expect was not the only major factor in G2’s day three victory, his pressure did result in G2’s first win after losing to Samsung Galaxy on day one. His Trundle game also set the precedent for Alphari, CuVee and Huni to gain wins with Troll King during group stage. Expect put Trundle on the board, forcing teams to consider him in future drafts, especially against super-tank top laners.

G2 Expect locked in Trundle top at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

C9 Contractz Graves – Day 3 v. EDG

As one of the only junglers prioritizing high damage over tankiness and crowd control, Contractz surprised with a Graves lock-in on day three. Touted as a counter-pick to Jarvan IV, Graves still maintains fast camp clears and invasion pressure. The pick worked out similarly to Contractz’ Ezreal jungle. He farmed monsters rapidly, and he made sure to visit lanes to help poke out EDG’s laners.

More importantly, Cloud9 won their first game against China’s first seed. The same pick did not work out against EDG on day eight, but the first win basically prevented a tie-breaker match between the two teams for second seed in Group A. Even though no other players tried out Graves on stage, Contractz’ week one success with the pick turned out to be a saving grace for Cloud9’s advancement to quarterfinals.

LZ Khan Nasus – Day 4 v. FNC

What was not to love about this game? The top lane Nasus generated so much hype by itself, disregarding any memes about “dog champs.” Khan had already shown prominence on Lethality Jarvan IV, so everyone expected his Nasus to be nasty. Longzhu realized that Fnatic tends to abandon sOAZ in the top lane, so this champion would hard counter that choice. 

LZ Khan locked in Nasus at Worlds

Screenshot of LoL Esports broadcast

Khan did not disappoint. Longzhu destroyed Fnatic’s nexus in 20:52, the shortest match in the group stage. This victory solidified Longzhu at the top of Group B with a 3-0 record, and Fnatic at the bottom with an 0-3. Almost all of the drama of Group B’s week two would have been nonexistent without this stomp. The Nasus pick, in particular, reinforced the possibility of surprise picks on the international stage.

FNC Caps Malzahar – Day 5 v. IMT

Week two saw Fnatic on a momentous upswing. They won their second matches against Immortals and Gigabyte Marines, while Longzhu remained undefeated. The games played out to create a tie-breaker situation between Immortals and Fnatic, which is when Caps pulled out the first Malzahar of Worlds.

Malzahar is supposed to be a counter-pick to Ryze, which allowed Caps to neutralize Pobelter. The mid lane interactions allowed Fnatic’s other members to have the space necessary to gain advantages and push through neutral objectives. With this victory, Fnatic sent Immortals back to North America, and continued into their tie-breaker against Gigabyte Marines to finalize Group B’s standings.

MSF IgNar Thresh – Day 7 v. FW

MSF Ignar locked in Thresh at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This match-up against Flash Wolves was a breakout game for IgNar and Misfits. Their Thresh lock-in presented one of the first non-Ardent Censer supports at Worlds. It also proved that teams can opt for play-making champions in the bottom lane and find success. IgNar finished the game with a 0-0-10 scoreline, making the most of his roams and picks.

While Flash Wolves were not their main competition, Misfits started day seven with momentum. The unpredictability of IgNar’s champion pool allowed them to have flexible drafts, and to know that any member of their team is capable of carrying. Misfits cemented Flash Wolves’ fate in the group stage, since they fell 0-4 with this loss.

WE Mystic Caitlyn – Day 7 v. TSM

One of the most innovative strategies of the group stage, Mystic decided to race the Ardent Censer support build by drafting Caitlyn. Her combination of early poke damage, wave clear, and sieging allows Caitlyn to push in late-scaling AD carries such as Doublelift’s Twitch. Team WE executed the strategy perfectly, pushing through the game in just over 24 minutes. Mystic himself finished with a 10.0 KDA.

This game marked the turning point for TSM in Group D. WE pulled ahead to match Misfits 3-1, while TSM dropped below them at 2-2. This same strategy won WE their second match against Flash Wolves to finish at the top of the group. From a larger scope, this match also introduced another strategy to counter hyper-carries with enchanter supports. Caitlyn would go on to finish the group stage 4-0, including wins from EDG and Cloud9 on the final day.

FW MMD Renekton – Day 7 v. TSM

FW MMD locked in Renekton at Worlds

Screenshot of LoL Esports broadcast

Calling Renekton a “surprise pick” is a bit of a stretch. He is a staple lane bully champion for top laners. However, the 2017 Worlds meta has not seen him played much. Flash Wolves drafted Renekton for MMD to completely neutralize Hauntzer. Karsa and MMD killed Hauntzer twice within the first five minutes, which provided MMD with so much pressure that he zoned Hauntzer off of farm. MMD gained a 2,000 gold lead by 11 minutes, which transitioned into first turret, Rift Herald and complete dominance by the Flash Wolves.

The first seed LMS team had nothing to lose, seeing as they were already guaranteed to be eliminated. They took their only win off of TSM in this match, which forced the tie-breaker with Misfits to finish group stage. This single win, stemming from this single champion match-up, was the catalyst for Misfits to secure second seed in Group D. If TSM had won this game, then they would have graduated into quarterfinals instead of Misfits.

From the first day of group stage to the last, we have seen individual champion selections have huge impacts. Countering the meta, or countering specific team playstyles, these surprise performances influenced the standings. They allowed and denied entry into the knockout stage. Teams, players and the tournament itself are creating highlights, and even legacies to be remembered for World Championships to come.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports FlickrLoL Esports broadcast

Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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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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Group D preview: Group of Life

The 2017 World Championship is approaching, building up hype for this epic tournament. With the group draw concluded most are heralding group D as the “Group of Life.” Group D is considered a favorable group due to not having a Korean team in it. With Korea’s success in previous World Championships, it’s a blessing if you can avoid facing one of their powerhouse teams in the first part of the tournament. This group holds two veteran teams in TSM and Flash Wolves, with new comers from the EU LCS, Misfits. There’s definitely a strong possibility that if things play out the way they should, WE could be put into this group as well.

Flash Wolves

Photo by: Riot Esports

Flash Wolves earned another Worlds berth by winning the LMS region once again, defeating AHQ 3-0 in the finals. They’ve dominated their region for the most part for the past few seasons. They like to play through veteran jungle/mid duo, Maple and Karsa. With the meta shifting to more supportive tank junglers, it will be interesting to see how Karsa performs. We’ve seen in previous Worlds his best performances on aggressive ganking junglers such as Lee Sin and Elise. Maple also hasn’t looked great this past split, but a good boot camp before Worlds could help fix some of their issues.

While Flash Wolves were able to take the top spot in LMS, they haven’t really looked much better from their MSI performance. Top and bot lane are average at best. Support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie will often times look to roam to setup plays for his team. Their ADC, Lu “Betty” Yuhung, didn’t have a great showing at MSI. If he performs the same way against even better competition, they could be hurting. Nonetheless they have been known to snowball really well off early game leads. TSM and Misfits like to play more towards the mid-late game. If Flash Wolves can set the tempo and get snowballing they can definitely win this group.

Team SoloMid

Photo by: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid come in as the number one seed from North America after defeating Immortals 3-1 in the NA LCS finals. TSM have finally been blessed with one of the better group draws they could have possibly asked for. No Korean teams, so there’s absolutely no excuses for not being able to make it out of their group this time around. The pressure will be on for them to perform and make it out.

They are led by the two star carries of Bjergsen and Doublelift. Support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang was shaky in his first Worlds appearance last year. Up against the likes of Mata and CoreJJ, he looked outclassed. This year he comes in with a lot more experience. He showed up huge for TSM in their finals series against Immortals, earning the finals MVP. His play making on Rakan played a huge part in their series victory.

TSM’s weaknesses lie in the early game. With strong roaming, support/jungle duos can look to gain early leads and possibly snowball the game. TSM likes to play towards the mid-late game where their shot-calling has been much improved since the Mid Season Invitational. Even when they are behind, they are very good at knowing how to catch up. TSM look like favorites to win their group on paper, but they’ll need to show it on stage.

Misfits

Photo by: Riot Esports

Misfits head to Worlds as the second seed after losing to G2 3-0 in the finals. Not much was expected of Misfits heading into the EU LCS Summer Playoffs, but they had a magical run to the finals where they looked like a much different team from the regular season. They looked like a completely new team. Maxlore and Ignar in particular were coordinating some excellent roams to help snowball their leads. They were shot-calling much better in the mid-late game as well.

They have two monster solo laners in mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris. Both laners have shown the ability to pop off in games with Power of Evil contributing a ton to his team’s total damage. Alphari is a mechanical beast, but can sometimes succumb to early enemy jungle pressure.

Misfits will be the underdogs of this group as no one on their team has ever been to Worlds. It will be good experience for the young organization from EU, but most people are expecting them to finish like Splyce did last season.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Should the West head to Korea to Bootcamp again?

This is a foregoing topic around every World championship it seems. Many of the Western teams over the past couple years have gone to Korea to bootcamp and scrim in preparation for the World championship. While it may seem beneficial in retrospect, we have yet to see it really make a difference on the World Stage. We’ve heard the pros and cons of bootcamping in Korea, but with no real results to back it up. Should teams just stay within their regions to practice?

Photo by: Inven

Pros

It’s no doubt Korea has some of the most competitive League of Legends scenes in the World. They’ve produced multiple talents just from solo queue, and usually dominate at the World championships. Korean infrastructure for LoL seems to be miles ahead of their Western counterparts. From the way they develop talent, to how they practice, and their dedication.

The chance to scrim some of the best Korean teams is enticing. To be the best, you have to practice with the best. Since bootcamping in Korea has become the norm for Western teams, you also have the chance to scrim the best teams from other regions as well. Those who don’t attend would miss out on the chance to scrim with some of the best teams at Worlds.

One of the biggest benefits that pros have noted is the solo queue. Being able to practice with very low ping similar to LAN makes a huge difference. Solo queue in North America also tends to have a lot more one tricks, streamers and people who don’t take things too seriously. In Korea, every player in challenger plays to win. The solo queue actually offers a much better practice environment from what we’ve heard from pro players who’ve bootcamped there.

Cons

Practicing with your competition has come up as an interesting topic in pro LoL as of late. Echo Fox was the latest team to decide not to scrim opponents. In all seriousness, why would you practice against your enemies? The most success we’ve seen from a North American competitor was with CLG at MSI 2016. CLG had their own meta developed and had their own pocket picks that they knew they could play. From scrimming Korean teams, many Western teams may try to duplicate their style or try to copy the way they play. A certain meta always develops, and Koreans will almost always have it perfected before any other team.

If Western teams strayed from trying to duplicate Korea’s playstyles, maybe they would find more success. Developing their own meta that they can perfect and show good performances on. It’s fair to say that what they’ve tried the past few seasons has not worked for them. Going to Korea to bootcamp for better solo queue is great, but scrimming against the better competition may not be ideal.

Korean teams are able to get a feel for how Western teams like to play from the first game. From there they’re able to dissect their playstyles and champion pools. If the West doesn’t give them that chance could they have a better surprise factor for when they do face off?

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

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Who will win the Gauntlet for North America?

With the first two seeds locked in for North America, there is one more that will earn their spot at Worlds through the Gauntlet. This may be the tightest race ever for the final Worlds spot. Every team in the Gauntlet have a chance to possibly make it out. Let’s take a look:

Flyquest

While Flyquest just barely avoided having to play in the relegation tournament this split, they did earn enough points from last split for a Gauntlet spot. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for them as 3/5 members were on the Cloud9 team that had to play through the Gauntlet in season five to qualify for Worlds. Not only did they qualify, they did it off back to back reverse sweeps like we’ve never seen before. There’s just something about mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam that makes you never want to count a team with him on the roster out. His leadership and shot calling ability can make even the worst rosters look like contenders.

Flyquest also has the luxury of having not played on stage in quite a while since they missed playoffs; Nobody knows what to expect from them outside of scrims. Nobody has seen them play on this patch, so they’ll have the surprise factor heading into their first game of the Gauntlet. What they choose to do with it will be the real mystery. Expect some interesting cheese picks to come out from them.

Dignitas

Photo by: Riot Esports

Dignitas heads into the Gauntlet after a nice playoff run where they upset Cloud9 in the first round before losing to TSM 3-1. They made the mid season move of taking on the bot lane of Adrian and Altec. The move has paid dividends as the team has looked much improved from their mid slump. In their series against Cloud9, they looked like the better team with Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho leading the way. Ssumday has been the solid rock for this team all year.

In their next two series of the playoffs, it looked like the team may have peaked. TSM and CLG seemed to dismantle the team effortlessly in the early game. Mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang seemed to fall behind without jungle pressure. He was a weak link for the team. Without an early game lead, Dignitas looked lost on how to come back from such large deficits.

Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming go from zero to hero over a playoff series. On one hand, they looked shaky against EnVy and Immortals. On another, they dominated Dignitas in their third place match. It was almost a night/day performance for rookie jungler Omar “OmarGod” Amin. In their previous series he was one of the more inconsistent performers for the team, but in their third place match, he looked very comfortable. He was making plays and looked to be synergizing well with the team. Maybe they just needed time, but CLG looks to be the favorites heading into the regional qualifier for now.

Cloud9

Cloud9 had one of the easiest routes of the all the teams looking to qualify for Worlds. As long as they made it past the first round of playoffs, they’d auto qualify with circuit points if things went as expected. They did quite the opposite and now have created a much harder path to Worlds for themselves.

It’s no doubt they were clear favorites at the beginning of the year to be top contenders once again, but questionable drafts during their Dignitas series and under performing members makes us question if they can actually qualify for Worlds.

They’ve had the same issues all year it seems. No early game playmaking and relying heavily on the mid game to snowball. Even with an early lead, Cloud9 squandered their leads in their series against Dignitas.

They’ve had time to practice so hopefully they’ve figured out their issues. This hasn’t been a new trend though, it’s been the same issue all year. This team heavily relies on Jensen to carry a lot of the load. If he doesn’t snowball his lead, the team seems to struggle to find production else where.


Photo by: Riot Esports

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Christian!

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