Golden Guardians may need to replace Hai in the mid-season

Potential mid-season targets for NA LCS teams

Jacob Wolf of ESPN recently reported that FlyQuest has signed Santorin as a starting jungler for the 2018 Summer Split. This is the first mid-season roster report for the NA LCS so far. Since this is the first year of franchising, it is unclear how much each organization will shake up their teams after one split.

This time last year, North America saw several roster changes, including the Dardoch-Xmithie trade, Doublelift’s return to TSM and Ssong joining Immortals. This year is different, though, because teams are not under threat of relegation from the league. No one wants to finish towards the bottom of the standings, but the risk of losing is much lower.

The 2018 mid-season will probably be quieter than past years. However, with the Santorin report, it is clear that teams are looking to make changes. Here are some of the most likely updates for Summer Split.

FlyQuest: mid-jungle

FlyQuest may need to replace Anda and Fly in the mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Considering ESPN already reported Santorin to FlyQuest, jungler change is a given. In Wolf’s report, he also mentions FlyQuest possibly promoting Keane as starting mid laner. These changes make sense, considering FlyQuest’s issues visibly stemmed from mid-jungle synergy and pressure.

FlyQuest finished the Spring Split in eighth place with a 6-12 record, so they are not in desperate need for roster changes. Flame has proved himself an elite solo laner for the past three splits. Wildturtle put on several carry performances this spring, and rarely felt like FlyQuest’s loss factor. Stunt had a fine split, although JayJ got to start two games. Anda and Fly were the key starting members to FlyQuest’s losses.

Anda showed strong ganking and engage throughout the split, with picks like Zac and Sejuani. He did not seem to play well around the rest of the team, especially on Jax and Jarvan IV. Anda frequently invaded the enemy jungle without lane priority and initiated fights without back up. These issues were most prevalent regarding mid lane. Fly’s Galio pick helped cover up their lack of coordination, which is why most teams banned it. It remains unclear if this discord stems from playstyle differences, communication issues or lack of skill.

FlyQuest had the most roster experiments during the Spring Split. They started eight different players, including substitutes Shrimp, Keane, and JayJ. FlyQuest Academy also won the Academy League, which shows roster depth and organizational strength. Simply bringing in a decisive, experienced jungler like Santorin, and promoting Keane could help solve some of FlyQuest’s nuanced problems. As Wolf later mentions, a support like KonKwon could be valuable to organization, as “he is one of the few North American resident supports who speaks both English and Korean, and FlyQuest’s top laner and mid laner (even if it moves to Keane) would be Korean native speakers.” It is not surprising that FlyQuest may be scouting him.

OpTic Gaming: Top-Support-Coach

OpTic Gaming may need to replace Zig and LemonNation in the mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Finishing ninth place in the Spring Split with a 5-13 record, OpTic Gaming may look to make changes in the mid-season. Most analysts pegged OpTic as a low-tier team in the NA LCS, due to its patchwork roster and lop-sided map strength. These predictions turned out to be true, as the team rarely achieved leads in the early game or coordinated well in the mid-game.

Akaadian and PowerOfEvil held up well in their respective roles, generally going even or ahead individually. Arrow and LemonNation frequently fell behind in lane, but Arrow almost always showed up in team fights and skirmishes. OpTic’s glaring issues revolved around top lane. Zig had his worst split yet, and substitute Dhokla was not an answer. These two never got leads, even in winning match-ups, and opponents pigeonholed OpTic in the draft because of it.

OpTic need to upgrade top lane if they want to compete in Summer Split. With PowerOfEvil and Arrow filling import slots, OpTic is restricted to North American talent, though. V1PER and Allorim are the only players from Academy League worth trying on the big stage. So unless TSM, CLG or Cloud9 are interested in trading, this weakness may carry over into summer.

The support and coaching positions may need tinkering, as well. LemonNation felt outclassed by many other supports in the league this year, and OpTic’s team did not visibly improve much over the course of the split. Moving Lemon to an analyst or coaching to assist Zaboutine, while bringing in Winter or another North American Academy support, could be the best move. OpTic should try out players with Arrow and find one with the best laning synergy. Fans questioned whether Zaboutine would translate his casting background into proper coaching, and it is hard to tell how much of OpTic’s issues revolve around their coach. OPT may need to make some staff changes for next split.

Golden Guardians: Top-Mid-Coach

Golden Guardians may need to replace Lourlo and Hai in the mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Golden Guardians finished last place this spring with a 4-14 record, but their highs felt much higher than FlyQuest or OpTic’s. GGS took games off of 100 Thieves, Team Liquid, CLG, and Echo Fox over the course of the split. However, it is clear that they need to make changes to be competitive this summer.

Hai and Lourlo account for most of the early game deficit. They both average significantly behind at 15 minutes, while Contractz and the bottom lane go even or ahead. Professional teams have a severely hindered chance of winning with weak solo laners, so Golden Guardians should prioritize those positions. Lourlo has five splits of LCS experience, but only really stood out in one. Hai has five and a half years of LCS experience, but feels underwhelming on stage.

Golden Guardians could make a case for keeping Lourlo and further developing him, but Hai seems forced at this point. Like LemonNation on OpTic, Hai would probably serve best as an analyst or coach outside of the game, while GGS brings in a new mid laner. Coach Tyler did seem to help the team when they released Locodoco, and Hai could supplement that development.

The bad news–Golden Guardians’ Academy team finished last place in the Academy League this spring. They cannot really look there for upgrades. The good news–their LCS roster still has both import slots open. Golden Guardians’ options are unlimited. Mickey, Damonte, V1PER, Goldenglue, and Allorim are available in Academy League, if GGS can buy them out. Europe and other regions have plenty of options to choose from, if GGS can import them. This organization seems to need the most change, from starters to subs, but Jurassiq and Jenkins are the only players released so far.

Everyone Else

CLG may not need any changes in the mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The rest of the teams will probably keep their LCS rosters for at least another split. CLG, TSM, Cloud9, Clutch Gaming, Echo Fox, 100 Thieves and Team Liquid all have strong players and staff. They each showed moments of brilliance and adapted throughout spring. CLG suffered most from individual shortcomings week-to-week and a lack of decisiveness since Aphromoo left. However, Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay and Biofrost all had strong individual showings at different points.

TSM and Cloud9 showcased sheer dominance at certain points in the split, but could not maintain their highest levels of play every week. Clutch Gaming made it way farther than anyone anticipated, including themselves, and out-macro-played most of their opponents regularly. Echo Fox maintained first place most of the split. 100 Thieves finished second in their first ever split, and steadily improved week by week. Team Liquid won their first ever LCS title, never sinking below fifth place. The players and coaches on these teams are solid. They just need more time to develop synergy and consistency as units. They may change up some Academy rosters, but their starters will probably stay the same.

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Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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Graph of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split standings over time.

Graphing the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split standings over six weeks

Like Europe, the NA LCS has been much different than preseason expectations, so far. The Spring Split has seen new teams succeed and have rough starts, while old teams push forward and falter. The renewed best-of-one format creates a different paradigm for teams to rise and fall. Each week comes down to two games. The teams only have three outcomes–a 100 percent win rate, a 50 percent win rate, or a zero percent win rate. These three outcomes basically boil down to climbing, stagnating or sinking.

GRAPHING THE STANDINGS

Graph of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split standings over time.

Graph of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split standings over time.

The first week of the Spring Split illustrates these three outcomes. Four teams began tied for first, because they won both games. Two teams tied for fifth with 1-1 records, and four teams took the week 0-2, tying them at seventh.

Echo Fox (orange) and Golden Guardians (yellow) were the only teams to maintain their places over several weeks, framing the league in first and last. Cloud9 (sky blue) and Team Liquid (light grey) followed similar trajectories, dipping and rising around the top, until Liquid’s 0-2 in week four. Optic (light green) has trended similarly around the bottom three spots.

All the rest of the North American teams have varied quite a bit in the standings. Clutch (red), TSM (black), CLG (cyan), FlyQuest (dark green) and 100 Thieves (dark grey) average 3.4 places between their highest and lowest placement over the first six weeks. FlyQuest, the least variable, has been hovering between seventh and fifth. Meanwhile, 100 Thieves started in first, dropped to fifth, and are currently back upward. CLG, on the other hand, started in seventh, rose to fifth, and have tanked down to ninth going into week seven.

Clutch Gaming and TSM have varied in a more positive way. TSM were stuck in seventh for two weeks, before climbing to fourth, and solidifying themselves in sixth with two wins above seventh place. Clutch dipped into seventh place with an 0-2 third week, but have since risen to a third place tie after winning five of their past six matches.

INTO WEEK SEVEN

Coming out of week six, there seems to be a clear separation between the top five teams and the bottom five. However, simply graphing the standings can be misleading, as TSM is only one win off of Clutch, Liquid, and 100 Thieves. Instead, the true separation lies between the top six and bottom four, as FlyQuest and Optic are two wins behind TSM.

If TSM and the other top six teams continue to maintain their current forms, then the bottom four do not really have much chance in catching up. There are only eight games left for each team, and the lower teams are going to have to take wins from the higher teams to reach playoffs. Instead, it looks like Golden Guardians and Optic are climbing at FlyQuest and CLG’s expense, and 100 Thieves and TSM are clawing their way upwards by beating teams above them. For example, TSM beat Echo Fox and 100 Thieves beat Cloud9 in week six, but TSM lost to Cloud9 and 100 Thieves lost to Echo Fox in week five.

These could be the standings if week six repeats.

These could be the standings if week six repeats.

If the momentum of week six carries over and repeats in week seven, the standings get even more divided. Clutch, Liquid, and TSM would collide at fourth place with 8-6 records, while Optic would stick to seventh at 5-9. The top of the standings would spread out, as Echo Fox, Cloud9, and 100 Thieves finished first, second, and third, respectively. Golden Guardians would reach its highest place in the standings since week one, while CLG would reach its lowest, tenth.

Of course, the schedule will play a major factor in the rest of the Spring Split standings. TSM still needs to rematch FlyQuest, 100 Thieves, Cloud9, CLG, Golden Guardians, and Team Liquid, only three of which they beat. Meanwhile, Optic only plays one opponent currently ranked below them in the standings for the next three weeks. Essentially, if any teams want to continue their movement up the ranks, they will need to win against opponents that previously bested them.

While such uncertainty in the standings probably causes anxiety for the NA LCS teams, players, and organizations, it has made for an exciting, engaging fan experience. Watching Echo Fox rise to the top of the ranks and maintain their first place goes against all of the preseason story-lines. Seeing CLG struggle harder than ever before, while Clutch and 100 Thieves probably make playoffs, represents a kind of success with franchising.

The best-of-one format makes every game do-or-die, which is probably boosting some teams. Best-of-threes in the playoffs will test teams in new ways, which should allow well-rounded rosters to shine. However, these teams need to win their single games first, before they can even think about series.

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FlyQuest secured a franchise slot for 2018

FlyQuest: A new logo, a new roster, a new beginning

As the off-season continues, North American LCS organizations are putting together their teams for 2018. Most of the line-ups remain as rumors and reports, but FlyQuest is one of a few that is fully confirmed. While TSM and Team Liquid are garnering attention for their dramatic overhauls, FlyQuest has flown a little bit under the radar. On November 30, they announced top laner Flame, jungler Anda, mid laner Fly, AD carry Wildturtle and support Stunt as their roster.

Balls, Moon, Hai and Lemonnation are no longer apart of the team. The identity of this organization is completely made over, as none of the original 2017 Spring Split members remain. Many fans are questioning whether or not FlyQuest will perform as highly without Hai’s shotcalling presence, but the organization seems prepared to move beyond that next year. With a franchise slot, a more polished logo and an updated roster, FlyQuest will look to reclaim the top of the standings.

Wildturtle Remains

WildTurtle is FlyQuest's AD carry for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest’s 2018 roster was rebuilt around WildTurtle, their veteran AD Carry. Of their five Summer Split players, WildTurtle stood out most often as a hard carry. Despite FlyQuest’s 6-12 record, Wildturtle averaged the fourth most damage per minute, good enough for a 26.3 percent damage share. He has played in the NA LCS for five years now, which makes him one of the longest tenured players.

Moving into 2018, Wildturtle will have a lot on his shoulders. With the likes of Zven, Doublelift and Sneaky, the AD carry position will be very competitive. Wildturtle will need to rise to the occasion for FlyQuest to compete. With a fresh new support backing him up, Wildturtle should take control of the bottom lane and carry FlyQuest to victories.

While Wildturtle died more than any other AD carry in the Summer Split, it was mostly due to FlyQuest’s team playstyle. As the scrappiest team in the league, they would look for fights even if they were behind. Every member of FlyQuest finished the season with the most deaths in their positions. This strategy is most likely gone with Hai.

Wildturtle played on Cloud9, TSM and Immortals before his time on FlyQuest. He has gone to the League of Legends World Championships three times and he has made it to the NA LCS finals even more. Wildturtle is capable of making FlyQuest a top team in 2018, especially if the meta favors late-game scaling marksmen. If the other members are able to play around him by engaging fights and protecting him, then Wildturtle will willingly carry them to victory. He rarely tilts in-game, and he is an apparent positive player out-of-game.

imported solo lanes

Flame will play top lane for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest will employ Flame and Fly as solo laners in 2018. Flame is known from his past year as Immortals’ top laner. Other than his brief stumbling in the beginning of the 2017 Spring Split, he looked exceptional. While on Immortals, Flame showed strength in laning phase and teamfighting, playing Jarvan IV, Shen, Nautilus and many others.

Fly also played in North America in the Summer Split. Gold Coin United finished the Challenger Series regular summer season 8-2, thanks in part to Fly’s mid lane performance. He maintained a 100 percent win rate with Orianna, and over 10.0 KDAs on Galio, Corki and Taliyah. He should fit right into the stacked LCS talent pool.

Beyond the alliteration, Flame and Fly bring consistency and reliability to the mid and top lanes of the map. These players are also unafraid to carry or support their teammates. They should be compatible with Wildturtle, since Immortals and Gold Coin United played well around their passive AD carries.

There have been several past teams that failed to utilize their dual-Korean solo lanes. Team Envy with Ninja-Seraph and Ninjas in Pyjamas with Profit-Nagne are two examples. Communication and synergy were the major issues holding back those rosters. Since Flame and Fly have already spent time on North American teams with mixed nationalities, then maybe they have overcome any issues with communicating. With relative newcomers playing the supportive positions, it will be of utmost importance.

Jungle and Support Solo Queue Stars

Stunt will play support for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Anda and Stunt round out the roster as jungle and support. Anyone who watched the NA LCS should recognize Stunt as the support who shared duties with Shady on Phoenix1 in Spring Split. While Shady typically played high-damage supports, Stunt was more apt to play Karma, Lulu or Taric. He was most recently a substitute for Immortals during this year’s Summer Split.

Anda was also a substitute for Immortals this summer. While he has not seen the stage as much as Stunt, Anda is known as a formidable solo queue player. He switched from top lane to jungle, where his top champions are Nidalee, Elise, Lee Sin and Rengar. FlyQuest will hope to channel his mechanics and raw talent into success, much like Moon during the Spring Split.

These two young athletes will be the deciding factors for FlyQuest in 2018. Stunt will need to prove himself as a starter. Anda will need to translate his skills into a more coordinated setting. Hopefully they developed synergy during their time on Immortals, and FlyQuest saw that before signing these two. Jungle-support synergy is huge, as shown by Xmithie-Olleh and Lira-Hakuho in the Summer Split.

If Anda and Stunt are able to develop more playstyle flexibility, then that would boost FlyQuest’s chances even higher. Flame and Fly have shown their willingness to play roaming and utility champions, which would empower Anda and Stunt to play more carry champions. But there will be times when the meta calls for tanks and utility from jungle and support. If Anda and Stunt can work together to establish vision, seamlessly communicate and enable Flame, Fly and Wildturtle, then it could be a recipe for success.

putting together all of the pieces

Fly will play mid lane for FlyQuest in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FlyQuest’s recipe for success involves each of these players fulfilling their roles. Flame will be a rock in the top lane, absorbing any enemy pressure while steadily chipping away at the opponent top laner. Fly will generally gain an advantage in his lane, but rely more on Anda’s jungling for vision and ganking. Wildturtle and Stunt will play the lane passively. As long as they have a scaling AD carry and enchanter support, then they will be in their comfort zone.

Once mid game rolls around, Fly and Anda will take control of whichever river they want. Flame and Fly will look for any chance to impact other parts of the map and begin the snowball. Anda and Stunt will do their best to protect Wildturtle and allow him to output all the damage in the world.

Finally, this team’s teamfight could be their golden ticket. It all depends on communication and flexibility. The top half of FlyQuest’s team can easily gain a lead, and bottom lane just has to make it through laning phase without giving too much. Coordination will most likely be difficult in the first few weeks of the split, but by the halfway point, FlyQuest could become quite the contender.

They should resemble 2017 Summer Split Fnatic. Each member can carry in their own right, and when they are coordinated and decisive they look amazing. But when communication breaks down, or a player gets tilted, then it all comes crumbling down. FlyQuest is looking to make waves in 2018, and most of the community is sleeping on them.


Featured Image: FlyQuest’s Facebook

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

Player and Team Statistics: Games of Legends, Oracles Elixir

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The evolution of coaching in LCS

Around two years ago head coaches became a necessity for teams in the LCS. In the younger years of professional League of Legends most teams didn’t have the money to support having a head coach. Due to how young the professional scene still was, there wasn’t much availability for people looking to coach. Even if there was a coach, he was mostly just an analyst that helped bounce ideas off the players.

The scene has evolved, making a coach a necessity now. Not just an in-house analyst either. A coach must be able to lead these young players in their professional career. They must be able to give out criticism properly, while also demanding the respect of the players.

Over the past years we’ve seen what having a good coach can do for a team. We’ve also seen the other side of things when a coach can have a negative impact on a team.

Early LCS

When professional LoL started there wasn’t much structure among teams. For the most part you had five players living together with maybe a team manager that helped with scheduling and making sure they were taken care of. Coaching hadn’t really become a necessity yet until Korea began their reign over all the other regions. The West seemed way behind and needed help to catch up.

In the early days of LCS not many coaches had come about yet. Most of the coaches we see today are former players themselves. Teams maybe had an analyst at best, but nothing like a head coach that would need to solve internal issues along with having game knowledge.

Korean coaching

Photo via Riot Games

It’s no secret that Korea has taken over as the best region in terms of competing in professional League of Legends. Korea has taken home the title for four straight years now. SKT head coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun has been apart of every SKT championship and is heralded as the best coach in professional LoL.

North America followed suit hiring several Korean coaches over the past few splits. Most notably Cloud 9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and Immortals Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo have found much success with their teams after coming over.

 

Before Reapered became coach, Cloud 9 seemed lost without former captain/shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on the roster. Immortals were in the same boat before SSONG joined the team this summer. With SSONG coaching, Immortals has jumped from 7th place to 1st place taking wins off many of the top teams from last split. Their macro play has also improved immensely from last split. 

Korean coaches seem to know how to get the most out of their players. They also demand more as an authoritative figure, while also knowing how to deal with internal issues. SSONG and Reapered are accredited with much of their teams’ success since they’ve been brought on.

Western Players’ Mindsets

One could argue that coaching players in the West is much different than their eastern counterparts, or at least in Korea. In Korea, kids are brought up respecting their elders, while in the West kids are brought up more loose. Korean players have also stated that after coming to NA they think it’s much more relaxed compared to training in Korea.

The West seems to lack many good coaches. With some veterans retiring throughout the years, some have stepped up to become decent coaches such as Dignitas’ Cop and Saintvicious. We’ve also seen different personalities, such as Scarra and Lemonnation, not have much success as a coach. CLG’s head coach, Zikz, has received much praise for his coaching. TSM’s anlayst, Parth, has also been around the scene for awhile now.

We’ve also seen in EU with Origen a few splits back not really feeling the need for a coach. It feels that many Western players didn’t see the need for a coach a few seasons ago. That mindset has changed a bit, but some players are still reluctant on just how effective a coach can really be.

The present

Coaches today can’t just be analysts. They must be able to have an authoritative role over their players while also being able to deal with internal issues amongst the teams. Coaches have to know how to effectively get the most out of each practice and also know how to do pick/bans. Coaches have slowly developed into becoming vital in a team’s success.

Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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The Fall of Phoenix1

Phoenix1 came into Summer Split as the third place team from Spring. They had an MVP player in ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon with solid pieces around him. Many expected them to still be strong contenders in the North American LCS, but two weeks in and they’re lone wolves at the bottom with an 0-4 record.

What exactly happened in between splits? For the most part it feels like the team has stagnated a bit, while the rest of the teams around them have gotten better. A few minor roster changes from last split seemed to have carried over as the team just does not look to be meshing well.

Is it time to bench inori?

Photo via Riot Games

Many of P1’s problems arose last split before jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh, took a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues. News then arose that him and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma were bringing much tension to the team with chemistry. Adrian took shots at Inori in an LCS interview basically saying how Meteos was a smarter jungler overall. Inori returned to the team and looked much improved after his break. With the transfer of Adrian to Team Liquid, Inori no longer has the personal issues on the team that he had before.

Inori has looked shaky to start off the split. He’s near the bottom in just about every jungle statistic. He’s known to let his emotions dictate his game play. With Phoenix1 struggling to find their first win, he may be tilting a bit to start off the season. The team overall hasn’t looked very proactive at all, as most of their games have been straight up stomps.

In P1’s last match against Cloud 9, he was subbed out in favor of William “Meteos” Hartman. With Meteos, the team looked a lot more competitive. With the jungle meta shifting away from the carry junglers, Inori’s time could be up on Phoenix1.

If the team wants to move on, they’ll need to find a long term jungler that they can develop. Meteos has voiced that he doesn’t want to be with P1 long term and was only there as a temporary fix. If they can’t find someone else soon, they could be facing relegations.

Was Shady the Right choice at support?

When Adrian was transferred to Team Liquid, P1 brought on Dignitas sub, William “Stunt” Chen, to be the starting support. The team found much success with Stunt on the roster. He seemed to fit well with the team near the end of the season and first round of playoffs. Yet when it came to semifinals, Phoenix1 decided to go with a brand new rookie support in Jordan “Shady” Robison.

With Shady, the team never really looked quite as good. We’ll never know what happens in practice or scrims, but it felt that Stunt was the better option just looking at how the team plays on stage. Individually Shady isn’t blowing any stats out of the water, looking average at best. Maybe having a seven man roster with Stunt would have been the better option.

Photo via Riot Games

Peaked

Perhaps 3rd place was the best Phoenix1 could possibly do as a roster. Arrow hasn’t looked like the MVP from last split. Their early game seems a lot less proactive and more reactive to other teams. This team looked poised for another split of success, but have started off rocky. How they bounce back after rough 0-2 back to back weeks will be huge in how they perform the rest of this split.

As other teams have shown improvement over the offseason, Phoenix1 has looked worse. With rift rivals just weeks away, they’ll need to show a lot of improvement if they want to represent North America well in a huge international rivalry.

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Cover Photo by Riot Esports

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

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

Strengths

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

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

Weaknesses

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

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

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

 

Prediction

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

Cloud9 3-2 over Phoenix1 in the semifinals

TSM 3-2 over Cloud9 in the Finals

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NALCS: Grading the Newest Imports

This season, in particular, we got the chance to see some big names imported into the NALCS scene. With the split coming to a close soon, I thought I’d review some of the bigger pickups by teams. It will always be an ongoing debate of whether having an all English speaking team is better than having to integrate international players.

This was evident this split, as teams with big name imports, such as Dignitas, Echo Fox, and Immortals stumbled out of the gate. Their team synergy seemed off with top lane imports, especially when using teleport and team fighting.

Phoenix 1’s Arrow and RYu

Courtesy: Riot Esports

ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has stormed onto the NALCS scene. After playing the last few seasons on KT, Arrow made the move to North America with Phoenix1. Many questioned how much Arrow was being carried by a talented KT roster. Nobody really knew how well Arrow was going to perform, as he’d have to learn English for the first time.

Arrow has heavily exceeded expectations as he’s developed into one of the best ADC’s in North America. His skill shot accuracy on utility carries such as Varus and Jhin has made him one of P1’s most valuable players. He currently leads all ADC’s in KDA, DMG%, and DPM. All key stats for an ADC. He has undoubtedly taken the role of best ADC in North America.

Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, on the other hand, had the advantage of playing in Europe. With his experience on H2K, he’d become accustomed to communicating in English. Ryu hasn’t skipped a beat since coming to NA. He is a solid mid laner for his team and is definitely able to keep up with the talent in the region. He currently has the fourth highest KDA and CSD@10.

Phoenix1 has been able to surge from being a relegation team last split, to title contenders. Ryu and Arrow have been key pickups, and Phoenx1 deserve praise for being able to integrate these two talented imports.

Grade: A+

Echo Fox’s Looper

 

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Former World champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was brought into Echo Fox after a last place finish in Summer. Looper was brought in as someone who knew what it took to win a championship. Some say he benefited from having a world class shot caller in support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.

Looper’s tank play has been disjointed from his team at times. His teleport plays may seem a bit off, but it may also be Echo Fox as a team being a bit indecisive. He still has pretty strong laning as he’s fourth in CSD@10, but is near the bottom in KDA.

Looper hasn’t necessarily been a weakness on this team, but he’s certainly not one of the main carries either. Echo Fox as a whole has struggled with mid game shot calling. Their early game is pretty decent, but they usually have no idea how to translate it into a victory.

Grade: B-

Dignitas’ Ssumday and Chaser

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho was arguably one of the biggest names to enter the NALCS in recent history. From his time with KT, he had become heralded as one of the best top laners in the world. Dignitas as a team struggled out of the gate making plays as a team. Bringing in former Apex coach David “Cop” Roberson has seemed to help immensely.

Ssumday individually has played quite well. He has had a few games where he just straight up carried Dignitas on a high skill champion, such as Fiora. With the meta shifting somewhat off of tanks, we may see Ssumday start to do more work. He currently leads the league in CSD@10 and is tied for first in DMG%.

Dignitas’ jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun maybe wasn’t as hyped up as Ssumday, but was still expected to do well. Chaser struggled in his first few weeks of LCS. In a carry jungle meta, he wasn’t making the sort of impact his team needed. Dignitas seemed to struggle with pulling the trigger on engages, but have gotten much better.

Chaser has stepped up most recently. He currently holds the second highest kill participation and had a dominant series in a crucial win over Team Liquid this week.

With Dignitas beginning to look like the possible fourth best team, Ssumday and Chaser have been key contributors. Individually, Chaser may have struggled to start out the split, but he has been getting better each week.

Grade: A

Immortals’ Flame and Olleh

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong came onto Immortals with high expectations. After spending time as a sub in China, he came to North America looking to takeover the North American scene. Many questioned if he’d be able to work with jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Both players were infamous for having attitude issues on previous teams.

As with most of the teams that had imports, Flame struggled out of the gate. His teleport plays always seemed way out of sync with the rest of his team. He would often times get caught out split pushing or engaging without the help of his team. In recent weeks, Immortals have fixed some of the issues plaguing them, and look to be contenders for a playoff spot. Flame is second in CSD@10, but still holds one of the worst KDA’s among top laners.

Support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung was a lesser known import to most spectators. He had spent some time on Brazil’s Pain Gaming and LMS’ Hong Kong Esports. Olleh hasn’t necessarily stuck out as a big play-maker support, but that could be due to playing with a rookie ADC in Cody Sun. He’s currently middle of the pack in KDA, but does lead the league in Wards per minute.

Immortals haven’t necessarily been winning off their imports’ play. It’s mostly been heavily reliant on how well jungler Dardoch plays. If he doesn’t do well, there usually isn’t someone else left to help carry the game.

 

Grade: C

Team Envyus’ Lira

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Despite not playing the first week due to visa issues, jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo has looked like a good player on a bad team. Often times when Envyus gets upset wins, it is due to the early activity of Lira. He currently has the fourth best first blood percentage and KDA among junglers.

It’s hard to grade Lira due to where Envyus is in the standings. Without him, they might be winless and headed for relegation. With him, though, I don’t see them losing their LCS spot, especially with the junglers currently playing the Challenger Series.

I’d love to see how he does with a better mid laner, perhaps. Lira has definitely been one of the more effective imports. It seems like Envyus could do well if they got a better player at mid. Other teams may look to seek his services in the off season as he seems to be adapting well.

Grade: B+

 

 

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Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

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

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