performance

Worlds 2017: Breakout and breakdown performances

Worlds 2017 comes to a smashing close with roller-coaster performances across the board. Many fans can agree that this world championship has been the most exciting to date. From rookie upsets to classic battles, this Worlds had it all. But, with high highs come low lows. While some new sensations shook the world with their star performances, some of League’s greatest veterans faltered. Let’s take a look at three players in the Top 8 whose performances truly shocked the crowd.

MSF Ignar: Hook, Line and Sinker

performances

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

It’s fair to say that the entire Misfits Gaming (MSF) roster outperformed expectations at Worlds 2017. After all, many analysts slotted them dead last in Group D alongside Team WE (WE), Flash Wolves (FW) and Team SoloMid (TSM). Misfits shattered these predictions to face off against SK telecom T1 (SKT) in a breathtaking quarterfinals match. And it was their support Donggeun “IgNar” Lee, who went beyond what many thought his team was capable of.

In Game 2 of their quarterfinal match, already down one game against SKT, IgNar fearlessly locked in “Blitzcrank.” If his previous “Blitzcrank” game against TSM was any indication, IgNar would find few hooks against the reigning champs SK telecom. But, time and again, “Rocket Grab” found its mark as Misfits turned the tide against SKT. In a pivotal fight at the Baron pit, IgNar landed a blind “Flash” hook onto SKT’s Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee, causing the famous Faker‘s tilted shoulder roll. “Welcome to the EU LCS baby!” Riot caster Martin “Deficio” Lynge shouted as IgNar pulled off the miracle play.

After this impressive performance, IgNar doubled-down on risky support picks by locking “Leona” with “Ignite” and “Fervor of Battle.” Jaws dropped as IgNar and his AD-carry Steven “Hans Sama” Liv emerged victorious in a massive outplay against the SKT bottom lane. These rookies with no expectations coming into the tournament, had pushed the defending world champions to the brink. Although Misfits fell to SKT in a thrilling five-game saga, they won the hearts of millions of western fans. They pushed SK telecom farther than any team in western history. And they did it with style. After missing an opportunity at the support position for Team SoloMid in 2016, IgNar made his way to the world stage and surpassed all expectations.

SKT Bang: A burden to carry

performances

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Of all his Worlds performances to date, 2017 has been Junsik “Bang” Bae’s toughest year. After having won two world championships back-to-back, Bang stood as a strong contender for the world’s best AD-carry. His synergy with support Jaewan “Wolf” Lee was top-tier and his teamfight decision-making was impeccable. He was SK telecom’s shining AD-carry and he carried those responsibilities like a badge of honor. But his performances all throughout the Top 8 at Worlds 2017 were a shell of his past glory.

In the quarterfinals against Misfits Gaming, Bang found himself on the receiving end of multiple “Rocket Grab’s” and “Zenith Blade’s.” His skills looked duller, cracks started to appear in his play. Although his team managed to scrape past MSF in the quarterfinals, criticism still centered around the bottom lane. Leading up to their semifinal match against Royal Never Give Up (RNG), SK telecom for once, did not look like clear favorites. Even after besting RNG, Bang still looked like a huge liability.

With the SK telecom dynasty weighing heavy on his shoulders, Bang found himself in his third consecutive World Finals. Seated against Jaehyeok “Ruler” Park, Bang had his work cut out for him. After a one-sided defeat in Game One, Bang no doubt felt responsible for his team’s success. Perhaps this pressure was too much. Perhaps it was nerves in Game 2 that compelled Bang to “Flash” forward into three members of Samsung Galaxy. Then, forty-thousand fans watched in the Bird’s Nest in Beijing as Ruler caught Bang and Faker to close a swift 3-0 victory. What thoughts ran through Bang‘s mind as the Samsung colors came raining down in front of him? Would his legacy end with this crushing loss? Or will Bang strike back in 2018?

SSG Crown: Lucky Number 13

performance

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

From the Worlds 2017 Top 20:

“A great 2017 Spring Split led into a Summer Split plagued by inconsistency, dropping him below the more consistent Bdd. However, Crown has the work ethic and the attitude to bounce back and once again challenge Faker for the throne.”

After Worlds 2016, Minho “Crown” Lee showed everyone that he was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the “Unkillable Demon King.” The story seemed a bit different this year. Samsung Galaxy did not come into the tournament with the confidence that took them to last year’s finals. Instead, the former finalists were overshadowed by their regional counterparts, Longzhu Gaming (LZ) and SK telecom. Crown found himself Number 13 on the LoL Esports Top 20, 12 spaces below his lane opponent, Faker, in the finals in Beijing.

In light of Faker‘s massive carry performances throughout the tournament, SKT looked to earn their third straight title. But, Samsung Galaxy were determined to uproot the SKT dynasty, Crown most of all. After locking “Malzahar” in Game 1, Crown faced off against Faker‘s legendary “Cassiopeia.” Despite the disadvantage of a counterpick, Crown outplayed Faker on multiple occasions, forcing out Summoner Spells and defensive build-pathing. Despite the mid-game strength of Crown‘s “Malzahar,” SK telecom elected not to ban the pick for the remainder of the series. A crucial mistake, and Crown capitalized. By sacrificing early lane priority, Crown‘s single-target suppression gave Samsung the freedom to take winning fights all throughout the mid-game.

With a 6-0 match record on “Malzahar,” and three straight victories against SK telecom, Crown proved that he could match the world’s greatest. While Samsung relishes in their new title as the 2017 World Champions, eyes will stay on Crown and his teammates in the splits to come. Is this only the beginning of the Samsung dynasty? What place will Crown find himself in next year’s Top 20 list? And who can we expect to break out at the next international event?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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samsung galaxy

Samsung Galaxy: Kingslayers

Samsung Galaxy (SSG) overthrow the greatest dynasty in League of Legends history. After losing out against SK telecom T1 (SKT) at the World Championships in 2016, SSG worked all year for their shot at revenge. SSG’s Top 8 performance will go down as one of the most dominant runs in League history. Closing with a 9-1 record, Samsung Galaxy defeated the world’s top LoL teams and stamped their names in history. Despite this dominating performance, the climb to a world title was not easy.

Road to Redemption

samsung galaxy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In the early years of LCK, Chanyong “Ambition” Kang was regarded as one of the world’s top mid-laners. Enter Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee, SKT’s mid-lane prodigy who, in his debut performance, dominated Ambition‘s former team, CJ Blaze. In 2016, Ambition became the jungler for Samsung Galaxy and met Faker again, this time for the world title. At the World Finals 2016, Samsung Galaxy took SK telecom to a grueling five game series. SKT edged out a victory to secure back-to-back world titles. 2017 would be a redemption chapter for Samsung Galaxy. The main roster stayed together, determined to grow and claim the glory that narrowly slipped through their fingers.

At Worlds 2017, Samsung Galaxy drew into Group C alongside Royal Never Give Up (RNG), G2 Esports (G2) and 1907 Fenerbahçe Espor (FB). Samsung was a huge threat in what many regarded as this year’s “group of death.” Their immaculate control style paired well against G2 and FB, who looked largely outclassed by the Korean representative. But the group stage did not go as smoothly as Samsung would have hoped. A near loss against 1907 Fenerbahçe along with two defeats against China’s RNG, left Samsung as the second seed of Group C.

The road would not get easier. In quarterfinals, SSG paired against tournament favorites, Longzhu Gaming (LZ). Longzhu’s aggressive early game playstyle looked like a perfect match to overpower Samsung’s defensive, late-game team. With the odds against them, Samsung Galaxy delivered the biggest upset of Worlds. After sweeping LZ 3-0, Samsung advanced to meet China’s dark-horse Team WE (WE). Coming into semifinals, buzz around this Samsung team rose. Suddenly, fans remembered that SSG were last year’s world finalists. With momentum on their side, Samsung Galaxy outclassed WE in a convincing 3-1 victory.

Walking the Knife’s Edge

samsung galaxy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

On the other side of the finals bracket, defending champions SK telecom edged out two Top 8 matches against Misfits Gaming (MSF) and Royal Never Give Up (RNG). However this year, the most dominant organization in League history looked shaky coming into Worlds. A loss against Longzhu Gaming in the LCK finals highlighted SKT’s rough summer split. After unexpectedly dropping a game against ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ) in the group stage, criticism surrounding starting jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han and AD-carry Junsik “Bang” Bae clouded the SKT narrative.

In their quarterfinal match against Misfits Gaming, SK telecom stood at the edge of defeat. Down 1-2 in the series, fans prepared for the largest upset of League history. Teetering on the knife’s edge, SKT’s legendary mid-laner Faker stretched his shoulders and carried his team to the promised land. After this narrow victory, SKT stood before Royal Never Give Up in the semifinals.

With RNG’s veteran AD-carry Zihao “Uzi” Jian leading his team, SK telecom geared up for one of their hardest matches of Worlds 2017. With the Shanghai crowd surging for their home team, Royal took the series lead against SKT 2-1. Once again, SK telecom stood at the mouth of the abyss. A single loss would be the end of the SKT dynasty. SK telecom clawed their way to victory in Game 4 of the semifinals to take the series to its final match. One elimination game away from their rightful spot at the finals, SKT zeroed in on their win conditions. Despite the criticism surrounding his play, it was SKT’s Peanut who found a clutch pick to snowball his team to the World Finals. Once again SKT walked on the knife’s edge. Once again, they prevailed.

Samsung Galaxy the conquerors

samsung galaxy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After their loss in the previous year, Samsung Galaxy had a shot at revenge. In Game 1 against SKT, Samsung Galaxy doubled-down on their top-laner Sungjin “CuVee” Lee. Samsung recognized SKT’s tendency to play around carries and split-pushers for their top-laner Seonghoon “Huni” Heo. SSG locked in AD “Kennen,” a pick that would have CuVee outplay Huni with his own style. CuVee delivered, amassing a 20 CS lead at ten minutes, giving Huni little space to find teamfight initiations. Samsung dominated the vision and objective game to crush SKT in the series opener.

In Game 2, SK telecom struck back. Early proactive plays from Faker‘s “Ryze” gave SKT a sizable lead in the mid-game. But, at 18:47, SKT Bang made a crucial mistake. Flashing into the dragon pit to land a “Chain of Corruption” on Ambition left Bang open to a re-engage from three Samsung members. SKT lost the ensuing teamfight and several fights after. Bang‘s misplay opened a snowball that Samsung used to roll over SKT in Game 2.

Faced with yet another elimination in Game 3, again SKT stood on the knife’s edge. With their backs against the wall, SKT found success in early pressure coming from their substitute jungler Sungu “Blank” Kang. Early proactive plays opened a 7.0k gold lead for SKT at 25 minutes. However, Samsung Galaxy never gave SKT enough room to severely punish these advantages. Samsung took favorable trades when possible and stretched the game out. Finally, at 39:18, SSG’s AD-carry Jaehyeok “Ruler” Park seized his chance for victory. Ruler used “Flash” and “Chain of Corruption” to root Faker and Bang, earning two picks onto SKT’s main carries. Samsung pushed this man advantage to close out a dominating 3-0 sweep to win the World Championship.

The dynasty was over. Samsung Galaxy ascended the throne as the 2017 World Champions. They triumphed over both Longzhu and SK telecom, a feat that few thought was possible. The road was long for Samsung Galaxy, but the prize was all the sweeter for it.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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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huni

SKT Huni: History of the Holo knight

Seonghoon “Huni” Heo is perhaps the most beloved player in League of Legends. Having played in three different regions since his professional debut on Fnatic (FNC), Huni has earned armies of fans across the globe. As a central figure to arguably the most dominant Western team to date (2015 FNC), Huni’s continued success through the years comes as no surprise to his supporters. Now a member of Korea’s defending world champions, SK telecom T1 (SKT), Huni prepares for the match of his career. Let’s take a look at Huni’s storied road to the World finals.

The Hero Europe deserved

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the start of Season 5, Fnatic’s historic roster disbanded. Only veteran Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim remained, left to reassemble what would become a historic European squad. Enter Huni and Ui-jin “Reignover” Kim, two fledgling Korean promises destined to take the EU LCS by storm. The pair would go on to play together for several splits, even traveling across continents before parting ways.

Huni’s meteoric rise on FNC began as the freshly forged European squad finished their regular season 13-5 to place second. In playoffs, FNC edged out the Unicorns of Love (UOL) in a five-game finals match to earn first place. With the momentum of a new regional title, FNC displayed a fantastic showing at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational. In a roller-coaster five-game series, Huni and his teammates took former world champions SKT T1 to the brink, determined to show that Europe was no joke. Returning to EU that summer, FNC carved League history, becoming the first team to ever play an undefeated regular season, finishing an unprecedented 18-0.

Huni was unstoppable. His carry-oriented style tore through Europe’s finest teams. Backed by an ever faithful teammate in Reignover, FNC’s top-laner became a human highlight reel. His impeccable team-fighting on Rumble and Gnar ignited the European home crowd. But, it was his contagious laughter and hilarious nature that won the hearts of fans across the globe. At the end of Season 5, Huni chose to close his chapter in Europe and crossed the Atlantic, hungry for more.

Huni the Immortal

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

At the start of Season 6, Huni and Reignover left Europe to join the emerging team Immortals (IMT) alongside several NA LCS veterans. The duo were instant fan-favorites. With solid reputations after their tear through Europe, Huni and Reignover rampaged through the NA scene. That year, Immortals achieved a 17-1 regular season record, tying with long-time regional powerhouse Team SoloMid (TSM) for first place.

Immortals had a strong case as the best team in North America. Despite being an entirely untested roster, the players gelled like old friends. Huni and his AD-carry, Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, shared a hyper-aggressive playstyle. Luckily, the explosive pair had support Adrian “Adrian” Ma and Reignover in their back pockets to always keep them safe. Adrian’s signature heal and shield type champion pool combined with Reignover’s affinity for tank junglers opened room for their carries to mow enemies down in any ensuing teamfights. With their regular season success, IMT headed into playoffs with high expectations.

Immortals fell to Team SoloMid in a crushing 0-3 sweep in the Spring semifinals. IMT placed third overall, failing to qualify for that year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Again, in NA LCS Summer, IMT only managed to place third. Because of the championship points system set up by Riot, IMT found themselves fighting for a spot at Worlds 2016 in the NA Regional Qualifiers. Because they were seeded the highest, IMT only had to face the winner of three teams: Cloud 9, Team EnVyUs, and Team Liquid. Cloud 9 emerged victorious in the Regional Qualifiers, leaving IMT at home for Worlds 2016.

To be a Champion

huni

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Before his debut on Fnatic, Huni tried out for the top-lane position on SK telecom T1. After not receiving the position, he forged his own path, but the dream remained. In the 2016 off-season, SKT offered Huni a position as the team’s starting top-laner, the opportunity of a lifetime. Although he was still under contract, Immortals CEO Noah Whinston released Huni of his obligations so that he could realize his dream.spr

Although his performance in LCK Spring was great, Huni lost significant playtime to his teammate Jin-Park “Untara” Ui that summer. SKT went on to lose against Longzhu Gaming at the Summer Finals. Eyes were on SKT’s coaching staff to decide which top-laner would accompany the team to Worlds. For a variety of factors, SKT’s head coach Byeong-hoon “cCarter” Choi ultimately announced that SKT would bring Huni. After a somewhat questionable group stage, many of Riot’s casters painted this year’s iteration of SK telecom as the weakest yet. The criticisms stacked after SKT teetered above elimination at the hands of Misfits Gaming (MSF) in quarterfinals.

In semifinals, SKT faced off against China’s Royal Never Give Up (RNG) in another dramatic five-game series. RNG targeted Huni in each ban phase, removing Jayce in all five games. As a result, Huni locked picks like Camille and Gnar to fulfill a crucial split-pushing role for SKT. Specifically, in Game 5, Huni dominated the enemy Shen, forcing the RNG’s mid-laner to swap top-lane. Continued split push pressure forced RNG into a position where their only option was to force teamfights. Instead, SKT pushed small advantages until they could take a fight on their terms. At 40 minutes, Huni found a massive three-man “GNAR!” to crush RNG’s team, sending SKT to the finals.

This weekend, Huni faces against regional rivals Samsung Galaxy. The match-up is a repeat of Worlds 2016, only SKT has a new roster. The stage is set for the most important series of Huni’s career. Will Huni’s everlasting confidence carry him through the match, or is this the year that SK telecom T1 fails?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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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peanut

SKT Peanut: Evolution of an apex predator

Wangho “Peanut” Han earned international acclaim as the star jungler for ROX Tigers (ROX) at Worlds 2016. His hyper-aggressive playstyle and clutch Baron steals on “Lee Sin” won over legions of fans. After losing out to SK telecom T1 (SKT) in the semifinals that year, Peanut would later leave ROX Tigers to join SKT. Over the past year, Peanut’s playstyle on SKT has grown increasingly measured and calculated, far less aggressive than his performance on ROX. Coming into quarterfinals at Worlds 2017, Peanut’s lackluster performance raised several red flags. Despite the criticism, Peanut delivered when SKT closed a five game series against Royal Never Give Up (RNG), to send the reigning champions to their fourth World finals appearance. Let’s take a look at how SKT as a team, built Peanut to evolve beyond his former glory.

SKT’s Winning Formula

peanut

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In their Worlds victories in 2015 and 2016, SK telecom T1 made great utility of their six-man rosters. At Worlds 2015, SKT ran with Ji-hoon “Easyhoon” Lee as the mid-lane substitute for Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. In this season, SKT used Easyhoon to adjust how the team played stylistically. Then in 2016, Seong-ung “bengi” Bae stood as the team’s substitute jungler and specifically, the “game-closer” on multiple occasions. While most teams struggle to effectively utilize their six-man rosters or avoid using subs altogether, SK telecom seems to have figured out the formula.

At the semifinals of Worlds 2016, SKT found themselves down 1-2 against regional rivals, ROX Tigers. Coach Jeonggyun “kkOma” Kim made the call to sub in bengi over starting jungler Sungu “Blank” Kang. When the pressure was on, bengi delivered two stellar performances, sending his team to the finals. Over the 2017 season, Blank worked to fulfill the role of his mentor bengi. In the quarterfinals series against Misfits Gaming (MSF), Blank subbed in for Peanut as SKT’s match-closer, sealing away the series 3-2.

How does SKT continue to be one of the few professional League of Legends teams that can use substitutes effectively? Teams and players in the past argued that by having a substitute, team-scrims suffer. Because subs and starters have to share scrim time, teams effectively lose out on maximum practice time with a single player. Theoretically, this logic makes some sense, but how does SKT consistently perform with multiple subs and new players cycling in/out every season? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between SKT’s starters and subs.

Growing Pains

peanut

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In 2016, while Blank was the starter for SK telecom, many critics saw him as the weaker jungler compared to the veteran bengi. However, Coach kkOma continued to use him as SKT’s starter, eventually leading SKT to their third World Championship. This dedication to the players undoubtedly pushes both starters and substitutes to grow. This is an aspect of coaching that many teams and players across all regions seem to ignore or overlook. While a starting position is certainly prestigious, SKT’s substitutes exist not as some second-rate bench-warmers, but as bastions for when the cards are down. When SKT call on bengi, and now Blank, the opposing team understands that SKT’s ace has stepped onto the Rift.

SKT uses these substitutes to create a symbiotic relationship between players like Peanut and Blank. The jungle duo constantly grows by watching each other’s play. The substitute ‘paradigm’ for SKT is fundamentally beyond that of any other League of Legends team. Because of this relationship, Peanut’s capacity to grow during the World Championship has been fascinating to watch.

When casters and analysts cited his poor showing in both the group stage and SKT’s quarterfinal match, Peanut’s mental toughness was put to the test. In high pressure situations, many players succumb to criticism. The doubts surrounding Peanut mounted further when Coach kkOma selected to start Blank in SKT’s semifinals series. Was Peanut performing so poorly in scrims that SKT would bench him in such an important match? The answer was a resounding, no. kkOma took this opportunity to push Peanut beyond the doubters and critics. When SKT found themselves down 1-2 against Royal Never Give Up, kkOma called on Peanut to close.

evolve and overcome

peanut

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Peanut loaded into game 4 on Gragas, a standard “Cinderhulk” jungler with which SKT could both engage and disengage teamfights. Gragas did not reflect Peanut’s hyper-aggro playstyle, instead he played the role his team needed. For the past year, Peanut worked to prove himself on non-carry champions and in a crucial elimination game, he delivered. After winning game 4, SKT looked at the final match of the series. Again, Peanut would be their closer. Standing undefeated, with an 8-0 record in elimination games, SK telecom ran the risk of losing it all. The burden weighed on Peanut’s shoulders. In the ensuing 41-minute game, the SKT jungler would cement himself as one of League’s clutch apex predators.

Coming in game 5, Peanut locked in Jarvan IV as his champion of choice. After taking red buff at level one, Peanut found a window of aggression. As RNG’s bottom-lane extended aggressively, Peanut made a brilliant punish, ganking at level two to secure first blood not three minutes in. He maintained this early proactive style to push SKT into a comfortable ~2.0k gold lead throughout the mid-game. Then, at 33 minutes, Peanut found the game-deciding pick onto RNG’s jungler Shiyu “Mlxg” Liu. This single pick earned SKT a Baron buff that would start an unstoppable siege into RNG’s base. SK telecom closed out the game after clutching a massive teamfight at the Elder Dragon.

In his post-series interview, Peanut spoke to coming into those elimination games with a “different mindset” than when he was starting. He said, “Since I was subbed in this time, I could fully focus on the series.” Despite a rough summer split and start to Worlds 2017, Peanut grew remarkably during the tournament. After dropping out in semifinals in 2016, Peanut has a shot at redemption this year. Will this growth be the deciding factor at Worlds 2017? Can Peanut continue to adapt both on-stage and in his mind?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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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royal squares up

Semifinals Spotlight: Royal squares up

Royal Never Give Up (RNG) advance to the Worlds 2017 semifinals stage after sending Fnatic (FNC) back to Europe. Now, RNG faces their hardest challenge yet squaring up against defending champions SK telecom T1 (SKT). After missing an opportunity to play against SKT at 2017 Rift Rivals, Royal’s mid-laner Yuanhao “Xiaohu” Li swore to blaze a path at Worlds. After dominating their group and cinching their quarterfinals match against Fnatic, Royal have tremendous momentum coming into their semifinals match. Let’s take a look at how Royal squares up against Korea’s greatest bastion.

SKT’s kryptonite?

royal squares up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After teetering over the edge of defeat, SK telecom T1 managed to close out a five-game bloodbath against European squad Misfits Gaming. In spite of their 5-1 (edited) group stage and victory in the quarterfinals, doubts continue to circle this iteration of SKT. Unlike in previous years, SKT have not shown the same level of international dominance that fans come to expect. Instead, their group stage performance revealed some possibly glaring weaknesses. Early gold deficits and close brushes with defeat marred their play.

Despite the rough start, analysts still favored SKT to score a dominating 3-0 over Misfits. This was not the case. Instead, SKT found themselves one game from a prompt Worlds 2017 exit. Early aggression from the Misfits support and jungler duo overwhelmed SK telecom’s carries. The SKT bottom lane, of Junsik “Bang” Bae and Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, showed glaring exploitable weaknesses in the laning phase. After struggling in quarterfinals against the rookie bottom lane of Misfits, it will be interesting to see how Royal’s elite bottom duo square up. In a meta dominated by “Ardent Censer,” with massive emphasis on AD-carry microplay, how will a struggling Bang fair against a veteran organization like RNG?

Redemption for xiaohu and Uzi

royals square up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

In his empowering “Chase Your Legend” video, RNG’s Xiaohu recounts his failure at the quarterfinals of Worlds 2016 against SKT. “I still felt that there was a huge skill gap between us,” Xiaohu remarks. This year, the veteran Chinese mid-laner is determined to overcome his rival in Korea, the Unkillable Demon King, Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. While Faker‘s presence and stature might intimidate many of his lane opponents, Xiaohu is one player who stands unafraid. Coming into semifinals, Xiaohu boasts the second highest KDA ratio (10.3) of all players at Worlds 2017.

Hungry to display his growth, front-and-center for the home crowd, Xiaohu continues to produce highlight reels even on utility champions like “Galio” and “Ryze.” Even on the supportive role, star plays from Xiaohu give room for his AD-carry, the legendary Zihao “Uzi” Jian, to explode in late-game teamfights. Like XiaohuUzi‘s story is a climb toward redemption. A two-time Worlds finalist, Uzi has never earned a single international title, a statistic that haunts him daily. Still, Uzi stands as a paragon of the AD-carry position. With the meta poised to equip him with all the tools necessary to carry RNG to their first World championship, Uzi has come to play.

Uzi continues to demonstrate a level of teamfight mastery that even professionals can only dream of. His acute micro-skill and teamfight awareness have him slated as one of the greatest laning AD-carries of all time. Coming into semifinals, Uzi has his eyes set one SKT’s struggling bot lane. Backed by his team’s willingness to constantly funnel resources his way, Uzi‘s aggressive playstyle can truly shine. As Royal squares up, fueled by hunger and redemption, how will they hope to topple the back-to-back champions of SKT?

Royal: TO FOrge a Warpath

royal squares up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Clearly, the SKT bottom lane seems to be the team’s weakest link at Worlds 2017. Aside from early jungle attention and superior laning, Royal can go further to limit the resources available to Bang and Wolf. SK telecom generally opens their series with jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han. Despite a history as one of the most aggressive junglers in the world, the SKT iteration of Peanut seems lukewarm. At Worlds 2017, Peanut has demonstrated a severe lack of proactive play encroaching on passivity in the early-game. Royal jungler, Shiyu “Mlxg” on the other hand, has played champions like “Lee Sin” and “Rek’Sai,” capable of exerting serious early pressure on the opposing jungle. In the upcoming semifinals match, RNG can punish Peanut‘s passivity by banning out champions like “Sejuani” and pick “Jarvan IV.”

RNG displayed a clever strategy by layering Mlxg‘s “Cataclysm” on “Jarvan” and Ming‘s “Equinox” on the “Soraka” to lock in and silence opposing carries. Strategies that can catch SKT off-guard will pay dividends for RNG as the series progresses. Because of SKT’s demonstrated ability to grow throughout a series, RNG must not default to a single style and expect to roll the defending champs over. Instead, they must especially attack SKT’s fragile jungle and bottom lane in Game 1 of the series. Then, Royal must have a second strategy available to counteract SKT’s back-up jungler Sunghu “Blank” Kang.

To win against a team like SK telecom T1, RNG must be willing to adapt both in between games and in-game. This year’s iteration of Royal Never Give Up stands a strong chance at toppling the team that has ended their Worlds runs so many times before. This upcoming series is not just a shot at redemption for RNG, but for China as a region. As Royal squares up against the titans of Korea, the weight of their home country rests on their shoulders. Can Uzi and Xiaohu carry the hopes of the LPL to victory?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Despite losing, the West can be hopeful

The Worlds quarterfinals have concluded and we have our final four contenders. People may be disappointed to see that once again it is a Chinese and Korean-only semifinals, but the West did impress more compared to recent years. We had some very close series that could’ve seen some of the teams moving forward; Unlike other years, the West looked competitive. Here are a few reasons why fans can be hopeful that the “gap is closing” between the West and East.

Photo by: Riot Esports

Breaking the meta

It only took a few years, but the West finally showed that they can adapt..at least when they reach quarterfinals. Misfits and Cloud 9 showed unique picks that brought out chaotic games and helped with their near-upsets. This Worlds definitely showed us that you absolutely cannot play to Koreans’ meta game. You must have your own strategies and come up with some unique picks if you want to beat them.

Misfits’ support picks of Blitzcrank and Leona caused absolute chaos in their series against SKT in which they were one game away from being the first team to ever beat SKT in a best of five at Worlds. Cloud 9’s Singed pick was absolutely a brilliant pairing with the cataclysm of Jarvan who we saw Contractz pull out for the first time in the tournament. And Fnatic pulled out some unique ADC picks in Vayne and Sivir that saw them barely lose to RNG.

This is what the West needed to learn – that you need to be able to play to your own style and trust your players on executing.

Exceeding Expectations

Of all the Western teams, Misfits had drawn the hardest matchup, having to face off against defending champions, SKT of Korea. After a game 1 in which they got destroyed, many believed the series was heading to a 3-0 sweep. Misfits showed resiliency to come back with their own support picks to get ahead of SKT 2-1. No one expected anything of them heading into the tournament, but they showed the most improvement throughout.

Cloud 9 nearly became the first North American team to ever reach the semifinals of Worlds. Many expected it to be close, but their brilliant drafting was puzzling WE early. Had they not thrown game 1, they may have been on track to sweep the Chinese team after dominating the early part of the first three games. They had every chance to make it to semifinals, but just barely fell short.

Fnatic faced almost impossible odds after a disastrous week 1 which saw them 0-3 and last place. With the odds stacked against them, they fought their way to a three-way tie-breaker to earn second place out of their group. Against RNG they showed glimpses of just how talented they are. It was a slight lack of experience and shot calling that ended up being their downfall. Despite this, they showed grit and determination in making a very strong comeback from week 1.

What’s Next?

Photo by: Riot Esports

With North America heading to franchising, it will be interesting to see if the influx of money helps to actually improve the talent of the region. More money means more room to import and experiment with rosters, and every team will be looking to be competitive.

Franchising will also open up more talent for teams to have “Academy” teams in the Challenger scene. This will mean more opportunity for homegrown talent to make it into the pro scene if they wish to do so. This will hopefully stop the flood of importing and bring more of a focus to growing the talent in the states and making the region stronger overall.

For EU, rumors are still alive that they may be splitting the region into four groups. Most are not too happy about this as talent is already quite scarce across the region. With franchising heading to NA, we could see more talented European players crossing over for the big money investors.

After the success at this year’s Worlds, one has to wonder if Riot should focus on growing the region more. EU has shown that they can be a top performing region in the World. They earned a lot of new fans with how they performed this year, so hopefully Riot can look to helping them improve even more and improving the West overall.


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Cover photo by Riot Esports

ardent censer meta

Worlds 2017: an Ardent wonderland?

Ardent Censer meta reigns supreme over Worlds 2017. Champions like Janna and Lulu, the main abusers of Ardent Censer, sit atop the support tier list. AD-carries forfeit their laning phase to first purchase Relic Shield in order to funnel gold into their supports. The early game at Worlds has effectively become a race to see which support can ‘mine’ gold faster to hit the all-important Censer power-spike. As with previous World Championships, teams adapt their playstyles and drafts throughout the tournament to challenge the Ardent meta. How are teams exploiting the Censer meta? And how can new strategies affect the Worlds’ meta heading into semifinals?

Team WE resurrects Caitlyn

ardent censer meta

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

As of Patch 7.18 (Worlds patch), Ardent Censer grants recipients of shields and heals with bonus 25% attack speed and 20 health drain. This buff grants AD-carries increased damage output and sustain during explosive mid-game teamfights. Because of the oppressively efficient nature of Ardent Censer, the item became a must-buy for supports across the board. However, this strength comes at a cost. Because some AD-carries forfeit their early power for a Relic Shield, many bottom lanes lack early playmaking and aggression. Teams become increasingly passive, content to fight only over wave control and vision before 15 minutes.

Herein lies the main weakness of an Ardent Censer meta. Because many bottom lanes opt into passive, farm-oriented playstyles, early strength can effectively bully the opposition into an early deficit. On Day 7 of the Worlds group stage, Team WE debuted Caitlyn as a new pick for AD-carry SeongJun “Mystic” Jin. After several rounds of nerfs, Caitlyn, the once queen of AD-carries, faded out of the meta. However, the champion’s oppressive lane pressure and a tweak to her Headshot passive gave her room to shine in a meta of passive carries.

Team WE recognized TSM’s reliance on a passive playstyle and failure to adapt. They dealt a crushing blow to the North American fan-favorites and cemented Caitlyn as a new pick-ban priority. This innovation in the second week of group stages prompted other teams, like Cloud 9 and Edward Gaming, to test Caitlyn in their upcoming games. AD-carries quickly took to Caitlyn’s pressure-heavy playstyle. Coming out of the group stage, Caitlyn boasted a 100% win-rate out of four games.

Misfits ignar Defies the ARdent Supports

ardent censer meta

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After pairing against defending world champions SK Telecom T1 in the quarterfinals, rookie-team Misfits Gaming looked set for a quiet exit from Worlds 2017. The Misfits had other plans in mind. And they went on to deliver the most thrilling series of Worlds 2017 so far. After losing game 1 to SKT using an Ardent support, Donggeun “IgNar” Lee refused to roll over. Entering into game 2, Misfits rallied the Guangzhou Gymnasium, locking in his signature Blitzcrank. By flexing mid-laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage onto Karma, Misfits gave room for IgNar to make plays throughout the game as he landed Rocket Grabs left and right.

SKT hoped to force IgNar onto a slower playstyle in game 3, buying SKT room to play a more methodical, drawn-out game. But the rookie support turned heads locking in Fervor Leona, a pick that was never thought to see the light of day at Worlds 2017. Misfits rounded out their composition with an Ardent Censer user in Ivern for jungler Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian. The Misfits bottom lane dismantled SKT’s legendary duo after an explosive outplay just after two minutes. Misfits put their foot on the gas as IgNar roamed to punish wandering members of SKT. The wildly successful early aggression from the Misfits bottom lane earned their AD-carry Steven “Hans Sama” Liv a +3k gold lead over his counterpart.

Although they lost the series, the rookies on Misfits won global respect and admiration. The rookie European squad took SKT farther than any western team before them. These incredible results came from fundamental team synergy among the players. Particularly, IgNar’s aggressive style showcased that Ardent Censer supports are not a prerequisite at Worlds 2017. After this performance, perhaps we will see more supports taking on play-making roles at semis.

To Bury Ardent Censer Meta

ardent censer meta

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

As semifinals loom just a few days away, how can we expect the meta to take shape? Will SK Telecom T1 adopt some of IgNar’s aggression and pull out the Blitzcrank? Or perhaps we will see RNG’s veteran AD-carry Zihao “Uzi” Jian abuse Caitlyn to crumble towers before ten minutes? Despite Ardent Censer’s undeniable utility, teams must create these micro-adaptations to gain an advantage. It’s exciting to watch as teams strive for constant improvement in response to a seemingly ‘figured-out’ metagame.

The pick-ban phase becomes increasingly nuanced. Banning picks like Caitlyn and Sivir, prized for their ability to siege early towers, frees up champions like Sejuani and Jarvan IV. Coaches like SKT’s Jeonggyun “kkOma” Kim must discover ways to abuse not only Ardent Censer meta, but any possible counters as well. The Worlds 2017 meta continues to grow and bleed into new configurations we have yet to discover. Fans will be anxious to see what unseen pocket picks these semifinal teams have in store for the stage in Shanghai.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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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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fnatic path

Fnatic: A path of fire

Fnatic (FNC) rewrote Worlds history this week, becoming the first team to ever advance to quarterfinals with an 0-4 start. How did FNC manage this miracle run? Certainly, the path to quarters was no easy feat for the European squad. From criticism in Play-In’s to breakdowns in group stage, Fnatic endured it all. Stepping into week two, FNC looked broken. However, the boys in orange had other plans in mind.

First sparks at Play-In’s

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Coming in as the EU LCS third seed, Fnatic’s Worlds 2017 journey started early. With Riot’s newly introduced pre-Worlds Play-In stage, major region third seeds had to compete against emerging-region teams gunning for their seats. Fnatic drew into Group C alongside the GPL’s Young Generation (YG) and the LAS’s Kaos Latin Gamers (KLG). Initial reactions after the group draw pinned Fnatic as easy favorites coming into the week.
Although FNC claimed first in Group C, several questions circled around the squad’s performance. Doubts flared after Young Generation managed to topple Fnatic, securing second in their group. Suddenly, critics referenced FNC’s poor showing at Rift Rivals earlier this season. Others attacked Fnatic for losing to the seemingly weaker Misfits Gaming (MSF) in the EU LCS playoffs. Fans and analysts began to raise preemptive red flags.

Fnatic promptly shut those critics down in the Play-In’s Knockout stage. After securing a clean 3-0 victory over Hong Kong Attitude (HKA) from the LMS, Fnatic calmly advanced to the Worlds main event. There, Korean titans Longzhu Gaming (LZ) waited for them alongside North America’s Immortals (IMT) and Garena’s GIGABYTE Marines (GAM).

Week One: Fnatic reduced to ashes

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Fnatic kicked off their Worlds 2017 group stage with an explosive standoff against the GIGABYTE Marines. A blitz strategy by the Marines shoved FNC on the back-foot. Blindsided, Fnatic opened their group stage with a harsh defeat. One player in particular, FNC’s top-laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, struggled massively against the Marine’s aggressive lane-swap strategy. sOAZ suffered through the first six minutes of the match, unable to kill a single minion.

The schedule was not getting any easier. Fnatic loaded in against North America’s second seed, Immortals. FNC’s AD-carry Martin “Rekkles” Larsson came out guns blazing. With “Twitch” as his champion of choice, Rekkles infiltrated Immortals’ backline, mowing down enemies with wild abandon. However, living true to his name, Rekkles committed a fatal mistake that would cost his team the game.

Spotting IMT’s mid-laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemingly unaware, Rekkles unloaded onto his target. Seeing red, the FNC AD-carry tunneled onto this single kill that could earn his team an all crucial advantage to secure the win. The plan blew up in his face. Rekkles expended his “Flash”, desperate to secure the kill, only to be met by a full Immortals squad gunning straight for him. Fnatic scrambled to save their carry, but the pieces fell apart. Immortals tore through Rekkles‘ health bar and sealed the game.

Following this crushing loss, anxiety crept into the Fnatic camp at 0-2, but the week was not over. Korea’s first seed, Longzhu Gaming, loomed like a tidal wave over FNC. It was sink-or-swim. LZ’s top-laner, Dongha “Khan” Kim, rallied the crowd after locking in “Nasus”, a pick that had not seen competitive play for years. The next twenty minutes would be a systematic dismantling of Fnatic’s team composition. sOAZ again struggled to gain any ground against his disadvantageous match-up. Fnatic were helpless to stop Khan‘s massive “Nasus” from ripping through their lines. FNC ended their first week 0-3, a score that no team in League history had ever overcome to secure a quarterfinals position.

Week Two: Marching through the flames

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After their bitter first week, Fnatic showed signs of internal problems. sOAZ took to Twitter, expressing his frustration toward being abandoned on “dog-champs” (champions, mainly tanks, whose primary goal is to supplement the team at all costs). Leaks and talks of the team’s turmoil spread like a social media wildfire. Suddenly, attention zeroed in on the burning European squad. Was this the end? How could FNC recover internally, much less on-stage?

Despite the eyes pointed at them, Fnatic stepped into week two of group stage determined. Their fate would be decided in a single day of games. The odds were almost insurmountably stacked against them. To throw salt on their wounds, Fnatic began their second week against Longzhu. Analysts feared another 20-minute rampage that would knock the European squad off their feet for good. FNC loaded into the game with clear heads.
Fnatic fought for 30 minutes through a close early-game. After several teamfight outplays from Longzhu, the Korean giants subjugated FNC to 0-4. If Fnatic’s goose was cooked at 0-3, now it was burned to a crisp. FNC recollected. There was still a sliver of a chance that they could change history. And so, they set out to face Immortals.
FNC’s jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Perdersen pressured Immortals early on his signature “Rek’Sai”. The game balanced on a knife’s edge for the first 35 minutes. Then, in a play eerily similar to Rekkles‘ previous falter against IMT, Immortals ADC Li Yu “Cody Sun” Sun flashed straight into four members of Fnatic. FNC seizing the opportunity, push through IMT’s entire base on that single mistake. Finally, with a win on the board, Rekkles sent Cody Sun his regards.

Don’t call it a comeback

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

As FNC gained momentum, Immortals suffered three consecutive losses. This set in place, the necessary conditions for (dare I say it) a monumental comeback. Now, the onus was on FNC to overcome their previous performance against the GIGABYTE Marines. Having already seen two games from the Marines that day, FNC entered their match with unwavering focus. After GAM’s top-laner, Minh Nhut “Archie” Tran, locked in “Urgot,” FNC’s gameplan was clear.

GIGABYTE’s composition lacked engage, unlike earlier against IMT. Fnatic recognized this weakness, attacking the biggest potential threat on GAM: Archie‘s “Urgot”. Broxah spent this game eliminating Archie‘s pressure through repeated ganks. FNC dominated the GIGABYTE Marines and claimed vengeance over the squad that handed them their first Worlds defeat. Suddenly, Group B had a three-way tie. Fnatic held all the momentum heading into tiebreakers against Immortals and GIGABYTE.

FNC stepped into the first game against Immortals by locking in an unconventional “Malzahar” pick for their mid-laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther. IMT did not know how to react to the single-target pressure from Caps‘s “Malzahar.” And like a fire razing the plains, Fnatic burned through IMT in a 27-minute stomp. FNC stood one game away from rewriting history and once again, the GIGABYTE Marines stood in their way. Unlike their previous performances, GIGABYTE opted for a standard composition, hoping to outplay Fnatic without any hidden antics. FNC tasted victory and sOAZ set his sights on quarters. In a draining 43-minute match, sOAZ dominated on “Gnar,” earning himself eight kills and pushing his team into the history books.

Fnatic’s second week of Worlds 2017 is a testament to the resiliency of one of esport’s most storied franchises. So many times in FNC history, when the cards were down and the odds against them, Fnatic rose above. Now, the European squad stands to represent their home looking onto quarterfinals. After staging the biggest upset in Worlds history, can Fnatic continue feeding this fire? Is quarters as far as FNC goes? Or can Fnatic continue forging the path?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Gigabyte Marines: Orchestrated chaos

GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) debuted on the international stage at the League of Legends 2017 Mid-Season Invitational. Their blitzkrieg playstyle and unconventional strategies surprised several major-region teams, earning international recognition overnight. After securing a top-six finish, the Marines dominated their region, the Garena Premier League (GPL), and charged toward Worlds.

The Marines drew into Group B at Worlds 2017, along regional powerhouses: Longzhu Gaming (LZ), Immortals (IMT) and Fnatic (FNC). Their notoriety on the international stage meant teams and analysts could not write them off as another ‘wildcard’ team. After week one of the Worlds Group Stage, GAM sit at third place in their group, with a 1-2 match record. How did GIGABYTE find initial success? And can they surge into week two to capture a spot in quarterfinals?

GIGABYTE Marines evoke chaos style

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Heading into their first match at Worlds 2017, questions circled around how GIGABYTE Marines would size up against European powerhouse Fnatic. Determined to make a statement at their Worlds debut, GIGABYTE defied the meta. After locking in an unexpected “Nocturne” for their star jungler, Duy Khanh “Levi” Do, GAM took Fnatic for a spin.

Coming into the game, GAM transitioned their AD-carry and Support topside. Meanwhile, their top-laner Minh Nhut “Archie” Tran sacrificed his early levels to accelerate Levi‘s experience advantage. When Archie showed himself bottom, Fnatic responded appropriately, but fumbled the execution. FNC stacked four members onto Archie‘s Galio in a bottom dive. However, this left GIGABYTE’s duo free to rush the opposing top-outer tower. FNC failed to completely punish the lane-swap. Instead, they returned to their standard lane setup while Levi power-farmed his jungle.

Then, at 5:04, Levi broke a record, being the fastest player in Worlds history to unlock his ultimate. Archie‘s early sacrifice set his jungler up for monumental success. And Levi sprung to action. Not twenty seconds after hitting level six, Levi used his ultimate, “Paranoia” straight down bottom lane. Caught in a massive level mismatch, FNC’s support Jesse “Jesiz” Le dropped while his teammates scrambled to respond. What began as a surprise 2-on-2, became FNC committing four members to the fight. Despite the numbers, Levi secured three kills and GIGABYTE set the pace to ‘chaos’.

After a 24-minute bloodbath, GIGABYTE emerged victorious. The air was electric as casters and fans roared behind the Marines’ explosive win. Not only did GAM dominate their European opponents, they made a definitive statement on the metagame. Levi, in an interview with Worlds host Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, promised to bring even more exciting strategies against Longzhu and Immortals.

The Marines hit a brick wall

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Heading into day two of the Worlds group stage, GAM sat across from Longzhu Gaming, tournament favorites and Korea’s prize first seed. What unforeseen strategy did the Marines have planned to challenge the Korean powerhouse? GAM head coach Nguyen Duy Thanh “Tinikun” Doung reached deep into his playbook for the upcoming match.

The draft between GAM and LZ began surprisingly safe, until Tinikun made the call to lock in “Mordekaiser” for Archie. GIGABYTE plunge deeper into the rabbit hole, rotating their AD-carry Vu Long “Noway” Nguyen mid-lane and placing their mid-laner Van Cuong “Optimus” Tran topside. Few knew what to expect out of GAM’s questionable composition, but Longzhu had a definitive game-plan coming into the match.

Longzhu invaded as five into GAM’s blue jungle quadrant, warding all possible paths to bottom lane. This gave Longzhu information on GIGABYTE’s lane assignments and a glimpse into the GAM strategy. By pivoting Archie and support Thien Nhan “Nevan” Phuong to the bottom lane, the Marines delivered the duo to their deaths. Longhzu, spotting this weakness, executed a clean four-man dive to secure first blood. After dropping to the early dive, Archie commits a crucial mistake, using his “Teleport” bottom, only to be dove again. This poor call set the GAM top-laner so far behind, he never truly recovered.

With their bottom duo limping through the early-game, step one of GIGABYTE’s grandiose strategy crumbled. Suddenly, the game became a steamroll for Longzhu. Archie was largely ineffective on the “Mordekaiser” pick and GAM struggled to trade objectives effectively during the mid-game. Without the early minutes of the game going according to plan, GIGABYTE Marines fell apart and could not seem to pick up the pieces.

Do the GIGABYTE Marines abandon ship?

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After their crushing defeat at the hands of Longzhu Gaming, GAM look onto their third match against North America’s second seed, Immortals. Questions surrounded the Marines as analysts and teams dissected their previous matches. Without precise early execution, GIGABYTE could not seem to regain control of their game. It was clear. Teams that recognized GAM’s early objectives could capitalize on those weaknesses. No doubt Immortals prepared for GAM’s signature lane-swaps, but would the Marines shift to another strategy instead?

GIGABYTE Marines had a particularly weak draft, handing over the “Xayah” and “Rakan” duo to the Immortals bot-lane. Perhaps worse, rather than executing a unique strategy, GAM opted into standard lanes. Aside from an aggressive “Kayn” lock-in for Levi and Nevan running “Heal” and “Ignite” for his summoner spells, the GAM draft was largely underwhelming. Unlike their previous games, GIGABYTE did not have an explosive start. Without securing an early lead, the Marines struggle to play from behind. Once Immortals built up their advantages, IMT pushed those leads into a clean victory.

This third game looked grim for the GIGABYTE Marines. Rather than playing to their unique styles, they revealed glaring weaknesses in their standard compositions and ability to play at a disadvantage. Now, several questions bubble to the surface. Did the defeat from Longzhu shake team morale? Will GIGABYTE have the confidence to execute their unique strategies? Fans can speculate, but it is up to team captain Levi and coach Tinikun to steady their ship. As week two of the Worlds 2017 group stage barrels forward, the GIGABYTE Marines must recollect and march on.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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