Spitfire

How London beat Boston on Anubis

Boston’s first match of the week was against a slumping London Spitfire. Bookmakers had Boston as clear favourites for the match but the analyst desk was split 50/50 on the night. The first map was Temple of Anubis, a map that Boston had previously won against the Spitfire in Stage 1, and had a 100% win record on before the match.

boston stumble on attack

London were the home side this series and so Boston started out on attack. After a few seconds of play Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov switches from Widowmaker to Gengi, at that point Boston are playing full dive, a strategy that they often play on Assault maps. One of the biggest reasons they managed to beat London the first time was because London tried to play their dive into Boston’s dive.

This time was different. London played a more static defence with an Orisa as main tank and a widow behind to pick off anyone trying to dive. This worked really well, with Dong-eun “Hooreg” Lee hitting shot after shot on Widowmaker to get the early picks. Boston got a good dive after about a minute and a half, leaping on to the Orisa. Although Boston don’t get eliminations there, they dislodged Spitfire enough to Resurrect Gamsu, catch Hagopeun and snowball the fight to cap the point with 2:10 remaining.

Beaten back on point B

Boston were in a good position to take point B. The first fight lasted well over a minute with several ultimates invested on both sides. Boston used Dragonblade which was countered by transcendence from Spitfire, leading to Boston also using Transcendence. Boston got nothing from two very powerful ultimates and so their push was essentially done there.

London shut down the next few pushes by getting early picks and then staggered picks thanks to Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong going incredibly deep. Eventually when Boston got to the point with enough players they were shut down by a Rip Tire and a D.va Bomb. Finally with just over a minute remaining, Boston got enough kills and made progress on the point. London stalled enough by rotating one player at a time on to the point to allow time for the respawns to get back on the point. After a tremendous amount of stall from London, Boston manage to take the point in overtime.

Spitfire attack strongly

What followed was some of the most dominant Overwatch between two seemingly even teams that the league had seen. Without getting any eliminations, London rotated around the Uprising and took the high ground behind them, forcing Boston’s Widowmaker onto the low ground, making it much harder for the Widow to find sight lines. London and Boston traded eliminations and both used resurrections but London kept control of the high ground and health pack. As the attacking team Spitfire also had spawn advantage so any trades gave them the advantage.

The difference makers in point A were Joon-yeong “Profit” Park and Won-sik “Closer” Jung. The pair cleaned Point A of any trace of the Uprising while the tanks ensured no players got back to the point. London only had to ensure they captured Point B with time in the bank to ensure at worst a draw.

London then took point B in their first push, investing every available ultimate, starting out with Sound Barrier, then Transcendence and finally a Dragonblade although it seems Profit was more effective without his Dragonblade. Boston were kept off the point and could not stall at all.

an easy finish

London then had over five minutes to get one tick on Point A. As expected the GC Busan dive team showed just why they are “Royal Roaders” and took the point in under a minute. Finding both supports but losing their main tank, Spitfire sped on to the point. With no healing and a huge spawn disadvantage Boston were unable to defend for very long. London are now the only team to have beaten Boston Uprising on temple of Anubis.

 

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London Spitfire

Does London Spitfire’s inconsistency make the league more interesting?

London Spitfire likes to keep the league interesting. Spitfire are easily the second best team in the Overwatch League. With an impressive 15-7 league score so far and a +30 map differential it’s impossible to deny they are among the best. However they are not perfect by any means. They have three more losses then their rivals New York Excelsior, and they have now lost three matches in a row. They lost to rising stars Philadelphia Fusion, then long time road block Houston Outlaws, and then their aforementioned rivals, NYXL.

London are one of the most dominant teams, but they struggle in odd match ups and often lose to opponents considered much worse then them. But admittedly, their inconsistencies have made them a very interesting team to watch. NYXL looks amazing with flashy plays by Park “Saebeyolbe” Jong-ryeol and Kim “Pine” Do-hyeon, but if you’re anything like me, seeing them win every day is a bit…boring. But a team like Spitfire, well anything can happen.

London Spitfire

London’s abysmal start to stage 3 places them with the bottom two teams in the League. Courtesy of the Overwatch League website

Losses against lower teams

It sounds weird praising a team for their losses, but this does make the whole league a bit more interesting to watch. They lost to two teams I would argue they should’ve easily won. That was Boston Uprising and Los Angeles Gladiators. Now since then both have proven themselves as forces to be reckoned with, but neither team has even managed to make it to stage finals before. The Boston match was a heart pounding 2-3 loss for London. It was an amazing game that lead to their first loss. At that point we thought the three Korean teams were going to dominate the league. London vs Boston was the first sign that wasn’t going to happen.

And when they lost to the Los Angeles Gladiators, they lost by a bit of a margin, 1-3. But it again really fit a story line of Baek “Fissure” Chan-hyung claiming victory over his old comrades. In both scenarios, although disappointing for London fans, was actually incredibly hype to see them lose, and totally went against what everyone was expecting.

Roadblock with Houston Outlaws

At this point it’s fair to say that London have a problem with Houston. Maybe it’s that Houston is known as a great anti-dive team. Maybe it’s because all four times they have played Houston it was the same week that they play New York. Or maybe there really is just a mental road block at this point. No matter what it is, if you’re just looking at the regular season they are 0-3 against Houston. Now why is this interesting? Story lines. People like a good story, and a dominant tyrant brought down by a somewhat mediocre (at this point) team is exciting. On top of that once they do win, it’ll be even more exciting since we won’t be expecting it. It was super exciting when they tasted revenge beating Houston 3-1 in the Stage 1 finals. Next win will be just as satisfying as well…if they win.

 

The most interesting rivalry in the league

New York Excelsior is the final boss of Overwatch. With an immaculate 20-2 record and a staggering +54 map differential, they are the top dogs. At this point there aren’t many teams who really put up much of a fight towards NYXL. Heck, only two teams in the entire league have ever actually won against them. Those being Philadelphia Fusion, and of course, London Spitfire. The Spitfire are actually the only team to win twice. Once in the Stage 1 finals and a second time in Stage 2. Unfortunately after a pretty one sided loss against NYXL, they are now 2-2 on sets. Like I said, NYXL always winning does get boring, but as long as London is around, they will never sit too comfortably a the top; if they slip up even a little, London will be looking for blood.

 

Why is this good for the league?

People like to see change; if you watched the same episode of the same show every day it would get boring. Watching the same three teams win day in day out is exhausting and uninteresting. That’s why a team like London is good for the league. Keep it exciting, keep the fans on their toes. There’s a reason in Football no one wants the Patriots to win, they always win. No one wants to see the same result everyday. So London both being the only team to go toe to toe with NYXL while also being a team that any team can strive to beat keeps the league a bit more balanced.

 

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London vs Seoul

Spitfire triumphs over Dynasty: London vs. Seoul analysis

London Spitfire never cease to amaze me. Once again after looking shaky in their last match against the Gladiators, they pull a complete 180 and 4-0 Seoul for the 2nd time. They looked absolutely dominant, an image of the team that won Stage 1. Seoul had been looking strong other then their match with New York, where they loss 2-3. Other than that, they won every match this stage. London on the other hand already lost to Los Angeles Gladiators and Houston, looking like the weak link of the Koreans. That all changed with London vs Seoul.

If you know your Overwatch history, this shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Before the OWL, Lunatic-Hai was the dominant force (Eventually becoming Seoul Dynasty). GC Busan (Now London Spitfire) came out of nowhere and won two consecutive 3-0 sets against Lunatic Hai. Now in the OWL, London it 8-0 on maps against Seoul. This means overall their map score is 14-0 against Seoul. Why does Seoul struggle against London? Well overall it’s hard to say, it could be a mental block, or clashing play styles. But as for what happened on Saturday, I can shed some light on why we saw history repeat itself again.

unlikely Hero Picks

For most of the match, Seoul ran fairly basic team comps. Sticking to the meta of Tracer, Genji, D.va, Winston, Zen, and another support. They only veered off this in certain situations. London on the other hand, decided to mix things up quite a bit.

On Hanamura, Jong-seok ‘NUS’ Kim is on Mercy duty. This is odd in Stage 2 since her nerfs making her a more niche pick. This worked marvelous for London however as he focused much of his healing and damage boosting on Ji-hyuk ‘birdring’ Kim. Also this gave them a mid-fight resurrect, that turned the tide of a few fights on Hanamura.

On Lijiang Tower, London went for another odd comp with double hit scan heroes. Usually this isn’t a good idea since it makes it difficult to deal with fast moving heroes like Tracer and Genji, but it shut down Byung-sun ‘Fleta’ Kim’s Pharah instantly. This forced Fleta to switch to Genji, however London’s DPS was so destructive, it didn’t make enough of a difference.

King’s Row was another odd map. London looked as though they were about to lose 3rd point and allow Seoul to finish the map. Joon-yeong ‘Profit’ Park made an incredible switch to Zarya at the last second. Zarya, by the way, has a less then 5% pick rate in the Overwatch league, and one of the lowest win rates overall. This didn’t matter as Profit charged up his Ultimate in only a single fight and helped his team fend off Seoul, denying them map completion.

GOING IN WITH A PLAN

This is the Overwatch League, you need to go in every match with a plan on every map. London had a few strong strategies going into this game. First, they decided to split Seoul’s attention with their tanks. Jae-hee ‘Gesture’ and Seung-hyun ‘WooHyaL’ Sung both went in and distracted Seoul, giving birdring and Profit room to show the league what they’ve got. Profit used this space given to establish my next point.

Je-hong ‘ryujehong’ Ryu must really hate Profit, I mean REALLY hate Profit. Last stage Jehong was on the bench against London in order to “throw them off.” This time Jehong played all 4 maps against London. He’s really an amazing support, he’s known for his great positioning and amazing game sense, but you wouldn’t know that from this match since Profit killed him so many times. Jehong ended the match with 34 deaths and only 8 kills on Zenyatta.

Screenshot (7).png

Jehong giving Birdring a hug after the match. Courtesy of MLG Network and Twitch.

One thing I’ve always praised London for is their last second stalls. Kings Row is a perfect example of this in action. Seoul is about to cap the third point and London only has 2 players left alive. Instead of making the common mistake of attempting to hold out as long as they can in a ultimately pointless effort. They both fall back and hide in spawn, allowing Seoul to push the payload farther, up until the very last second when they are able to come back in with almost full 6, taking control of the payload. Spitfire knows it’s much better to sacrifice those 5-10 meters in order to stop the payload short of completing the map.

JUST BEING OUTPLAYED

Sometimes Overwatch boils down to who plays better. True, the heroes choices and the strategies are important, but sometimes who can click the most heads works too. Fleta is often considered best DPS in the league, but this weekend he wasn’t able to keep up with Birdring who just kept shutting him down.

The Tracer battle between Sang-beom ‘Munchkin’ Byeon and Profit looked very one sided. Seoul for a while now has been known to have weaker tracers, and that contrast is drastic when compared to Profit. And when they both switched to Zarya on King’s row, Profit as mentioned before charged up his ult in a single fight, used 3 Graviton Surges throughout the map which secured 10 kills and had an average energy of 65. Munchkin on the other hand, used only 1 Ult and failed to secure a single kill with it, and ended with an average energy of 35.

This doesn’t end with the DPS, the tanks were just as dominant . Gesture looked as amazing as always match ending with 16 more kills then his Winston Counter part. And WooHyaL on D.va looked just as dominant, dying 50% less than Seoul’s D.va player.

London Spitfire are definitely a force to be reckoned with. They often look shaky and inconsistent, but times like these prove why they are defending champions. Seoul isn’t quite out yet however, with a fairly easy week 5 ahead of them, we may be looking at a rematch in the Stage 2 finals. Even if it ends one sided, the skill range here is still incredibly close. Matches like London vs Seoul are matches I wish we could watch every single week.

 

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Schalke 04 joins the EU LCS in 2018

2018 EU LCS changes helping or hurting Europe?

Riot is rolling out big plans for European professional League of Legends, according to a recent report from ESPN esports. Jacob Wolf’s sources outlined a new format for the EU LCS starting in 2018, which includes “the league…[splitting] into four regions… 24 total teams,” “a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket,” and “a multi-year license from Riot Games.”

These updates come in response to several instances of dissatisfaction from organizations that own teams in the EU LCS. Top-tier European teams applying to join the NA LCS in 2018, and H2K’s recent public announcement to the community are two recent, high profile examples. These organizations cite financial unsustainability and insecurity as primary causes of strife within the EU LCS.

Maintaining the current promotion-relegation model creates an environment of uncertainty and risk for LCS teams, which scares sponsors from making high-value investments. European organizations also suffer from a more fragmented, regional market, when compared to those in North America. Without more certainty for organizations, and without the possibility of larger investment, the value of EU LCS slots has stagnated.

As reported by TheScore esports, EU LCS viewership is on the decline, especially when compared to the NA LCS. While Riot has developed and announced plans for franchising in the NA LCS next year, fans and players are worried that the EU LCS will suffer without serious change. The newest report shows Riot EU is looking to bring needed changes in the following areas.

BUSINESS & FINANCES

Misfits Academy sold to Mysterious Monkeys for $400,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

First and foremost, these changes aim at improving the economic environment of the EU LCS. Growth and excitement in esports, professional League of Legends included, revolve around money. Viewership, audiences and fans create opportunities for advertising, which allows developers, like Riot, to monetize the broadcasting of their games. Business organizations, such as Roccat or Splyce, view esports events as opportunities to advertise their products by sponsoring teams to compete. Players and coaches see esports as opportunities to make a living.

The decline in EU LCS viewership and the maintenance of the promotion-relegation model, coupled with the immense potential of an expanded, franchised NA LCS, present problems for European League of Legends organizations. While other regions and esports are taking major steps forward to increase revenue opportunities, the EU LCS is lagging behind. For example, while North America’s most recent LCS slot purchase (FlyQuest) clocked in at $2.5 million, Europe’s (Mysterious Monkeys) only sold for $400,000. Mysterious Monkeys was relegated within one split of entering the EU LCS, demonstrating the riskiness of such a venture.

From a financial perspective, the most compelling portion of Jacob Wolf’s’ report states “Participating teams will be granted a multi-year license from Riot Games to compete in the league, but a hard date on those licenses has not been established, sources said. This means teams won’t have to fear the possibility of relegation from their domestic leagues.” Doing away with relegation boosts the security for teams within the league, which, in turn, makes them more attractive as investment opportunities. This change removes the risk of a team, like Mysterious Monkeys, entering and exiting the LCS within a split or two.

Another element that should affect the business side of the EU LCS is the localization. Since there will now be four domestic leagues centered in Berlin, Paris, London and Barcelona, companies and organizations with more ties to specific locations may be more likely to invest. Spanish businesses may be drawn to sponsor a team in the Barcelona league, while French agencies might invest into Paris. Assuming this localization is more attractive to European investors, splitting parts of the LCS should be a beneficial move.

A final, less direct benefit of these new changes is the fact that Riot EU has tangible plans for next year. Financial backing is impossible without clear, executable strategies for the future, especially when organizations are targeting investments that may not return over several years. Once Riot unveils more detailed plans, organizations, team owners, sponsors and investors can begin to seriously consider their financial future with less uncertainty.

The only possible problem with the new EU LCS league format would be the need for more overall investment in a short period of time. There are currently 10 teams in the LCS and six teams in the Challenger Series. The reported 24-team league would require eight additional professionally funded organizations. This would mean each localized region would need to find two additional major organizations to enter the league from scratch. It is unclear if this is feasible. However, Riot EU has most likely analyzed the market to a point to determine this as a realistic goal for 2018.

COMPETITIVE INTEGRITY

Fnatic Academy sold to Ninjas in Pyjamas for $500,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

When talking about professional sports and esports, the competitive environment is of utmost importance. No one wants to watch matches that are excessively one-sided or low overall quality. The EU LCS has not struggled too much with these two problems up to this point, but the new reported format could have an impact.

Riot will break up the EU LCS into four regional leagues. The  increase in overall league size will bring in at least 40 new players to the big stage, most likely more. This will have an effect on competitive integrity by drawing in a larger pool of players, which may not be impactful immediately, but it will train a mass of players as professionals.

The second part of the reported formatting that will affect the competition is this:

“The top two teams of each domestic league will automatically qualify into the greater league, which will run alongside the competitive seasons of the domestic league, similar to the Champions League, according to sources. The third- and fourth-place teams will compete in a play-in, while fifth and sixth places will play in an open qualifier. The greater league will house a total of 16 teams, with a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket.”

Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and London will now have their own domestic leagues with six teams representing each. These teams will play within their locality first to qualify for the greater league and the play-in. This format will create competition by having all teams competing to get into the greater league, rather than having only the bottom two LCS teams facing off against the top two CS teams for slots.

The major downside to this is that there will most likely be even more striation within localities than what currently exists in the EU LCS. For example, during the regular season this year, Group A created clear first, second, third, fourth and fifth place teams with Fnatic being a couple of wins ahead of G2, G2 a couple of wins ahead of Misfits, etc. Imagine this concept stretching to four groups, and that layered effect may be more extreme.

On the flip-side, this may create more competition, just more often at a lower level. Unicorns of Love may be able to crush all of the teams in the bottom four, but maybe the fights for third through sixth within the Berlin locality would be closer. Maybe the greater league will have closer match-ups more frequently between the bottom 10 teams, while the top six continue to duke it out for championship points.

It is also possible the concentration of high-profile players will decrease if the team market expands. Instead of having several star players within a few rosters, and less notable players meshed together for Challenger teams, perhaps more teams will be able to sign one of the very best and build around them with lower-profile and rookie players. 

FAN EXPERIENCE

Origen may rejoin the EU LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Esports are nothing without an audience. This is where the cycle of monetization begins, and a major factor in the success of professional League of Legends. Making headway with EU LCS fans is vitally important to the future of the league. As stated earlier, viewership for the EU LCS has been on the decline, so investors, organizations, teams and players are looking at Riot to make changes to address the issue.

However, Wolf’s report does not really touch on this part of the conversation, leaving many questions unanswered. With so many more teams, there must be many more games. How will this affect streaming? Will Riot schedule simultaneous broadcasts in Paris, Berlin, London and Barcelona? Will they be in their native languages, or English for all? Are these going to be best-of-ones, twos, or threes? Are these the only changes directed at gaining more viewers?

Audiences have expressed dissatisfaction with best-of-ones and best-of-twos in the past. The two group format for 2017 has also been underwhelming. Splitting even further into four groups may make everyone even more fractured, causing viewership to further decline. If fewer of the match-ups are of higher competitive quality, then viewers may elect to spend time watching other regions, rather than Europe.

There is also the question of production staff. Can Riot get enough casters and analysts to effectively carry four different domestic leagues? Will the quality of the overall production decrease in response to the increase in the total amount of production? The EU LCS already has less week-to-week content when compared to the NA LCS. Will stretching those resources across more broadcasts affect this disparity?

Hopefully, more information will come to light to address these concerns. While it is understandable that Riot may be primarily focused on the health of organizations and the financial future of the league, they cannot completely forget about the fuel for esports: the viewers. Creating opportunities for investment into the league is not enough. Viewership has to scale with the investment, or else it will all be a sink.

PLAYERS’ & COACHES’ WELL-BEING

Paris St. Germain may join the EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://lol.esportsmatrix.com

The EU LCS is not the EU LCS without its players and coaches. These are the individuals that train day in and day out to achieve peak performance and beat all opponents. Professional League of Legends, and esports as a whole, would be nothing without them. Organizations sign contracts with these people to provide them enough resources to get on stage, play the game and gain viewers. Investors have no business in the EU LCS without these talents.

Of course, there is a bit of cyclic nature to professional esports athletes. Money and material gains are the incentives that bring high quality talent up to create professional teams. High quality players need to exist for audiences to watch regularly. But the players may not play if the financial incentives are not high enough.

It is unclear how these changes for 2018 will affect players and coaches in the EU LCS. Will most players’ and coaches’ salaries go up due to an overall larger pie, due to investment? Will the top players and coaches maintain the same pay and benefits, while only nascent teams bring in new money? Is it possible that the top players and coaches already make too much money, and they may see a decline, as the market expands into four separate leagues with more teams and players available to choose from?

The report also does not mention anything about revenue sharing or players’ associations, akin to the announcements for the NA LCS. While owning organizations and teams may be gaining more investment opportunities, there is no guarantee that players, coaches or other staff will actually benefit. Players and coaches should expect higher salaries and more resources, but that may be naive thinking. Some investors may simply view these updates as a chance to recoup losses before expanding their costs in any meaningful way.

OVERALL

Challenger teams may join EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://windandrain.org

These reported changes do seem to be overall beneficial for the EU LCS in the grand scheme. Creating four district leagues that compete alongside a greater regional league seems to address European investors’ issues with the small, localized markets. Removing relegation and introducing multi-year licenses should ease organizations’ fears of the risk-reward nature of the league. Formatting the LCS to include more teams may create a healthier environment for developing more European talent, upping the overall competitive spirit.

There are some concerns with regards to the logistics and quality of broadcasting, as well as the effects on players and coaching staff. These should be addressed more in-depth in the near future. More steps may need to be taken by Riot EU to ensure that these increased economic opportunities are not lost on the individuals that make esports work at the end of the day, audiences and players. Higher investment ceilings only mean so much if there are no consumers to drive the advertising and monetization of the broadcast.

Finally, organizations have been rather quiet in response to Wolf’s report. This silence may be due to non-disclosure agreements with Riot EU. However, considering how vocal owners and organizations have recently been, one would expect more public announcements expressing thoughts and feelings on the subject.

In the report, Wolf mentions “other teams with ventures in League of Legends, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Origen and Red Bulls, have expressed interest in participating.” Misfits’ owner, Ben Spoont, gave some brief insight on Reddit, and former H2K manager, Chris Kalargiros, wrote an opinion piece for Blitz Esports. However, not much else has been heard from the rest of the professional League of Legends community. This may turn out to be a critical moment for European League of Legends. The community is waiting for more clarity from European organizations.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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What the EU LCS announcement could mean for NA LCS

The Announcement

After spending a weekend in Boston at the NA LCS Finals my mind has been focused on one thing. I know you’re probably thinking, “Worlds, duh.” Sorry but you’re wrong. The more people I talked to who were in the know or even had inside information made me wonder about my favorite League of Legends topic, franchising.

Courtesy of: https://eu.lolesports.com/

We all know there will be a major announcement for who has been accepted sometime in November. It has also been reported that over 100 teams applied for the NA LCS franchising opportunity. This means that over 100 teams/organizations have either found investors or have the $13 million necessary to join the league.

What this also means is that there is an insane amount of interest in League of Legends for these spots.

Jacob Wolf announced earlier today that EU LCS would be splitting into four regions. With this there will be 24 teams that are all at the top league, six in each region. It sounds like there will be no minor league teams or challenger scene, and with that it will end relegation which has been a huge thorn in the side of teams. They will be playing in London, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin.

What does this mean?

How will this effect NA? Well for starters one would expect there to be at least 16 or more teams in the new league. With over 100 teams applying I can definitely see more. There has been much debate around this over the weekend and especially within The Game Haus.

One of the major concerns that has been brought up is if there is enough talent to allow for this many teams. We have seen in the past that League of Legends normally has about four upper echelon teams in each split with some middle tier teams and then normally at least two teams that struggled mightily.

This is a valid point and a similar one can easily be made for EU as many people feel they are a weaker region. The hope is that with salaries and more of a budget to officially pay players, some of the best in each region will eventually spread out to the different teams. It is also possible that some of the top players in each region may jump back in. Could we see the return of Dyrus to the main league? Although doubtful, the possibility is there.

Courtesy of: http://wwg.com

An argument could be made that this may extend careers as well. Plenty of people have worried about the fact that most League players either burn out or lose their edge once they reach their middle to upper twenties. That would allow more time for development of newer players and expectations may be lowered.

Another point that can be made for NA is that it looks likely that they will at least follow a similar format to EU. It is completely conceivable that NA goes regional and has all of their teams in each region like EU. There could be Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern and Western regions that could accommodate a similar number of teams.

Or, they could do what Overwatch league is planning on doing and have teams in separate cities like the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc. With the team owners of the OWL building Esports arenas, it is also possible that there will be League teams sharing those stadiums similar to traditional sports.

There are clearly so many different questions that can be asked with this news. One that has been answered is that Riot is not letting EU die out. Instead their goal of revamping it and adding franchising should give EU fans hope.

For NA it allows excitement to start brewing for the announcements to come after Worlds. For now League fans can theorize and discuss this on the forums while also enjoying Worlds. Big changes are coming to League of Legends. Riot clearly has a vision that includes League being around for the long haul and one can see that this is only the beginning.


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One Signing Each Premier League Contender Should Make in January

 

We are just past the halfway point in this Premier League season. As it stands, six teams are within ten points of the top. January is the final chance for these sides to polish their team as the final dash for the title is in sight.

Chelsea: Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko could help stabilize Chelsea’s midfield.

The Blues have been tearing through the league this season. New manager Antonio Conte has instilled his 3-4-3 formation into the side and Chelsea has rocketed to the top of the league. The brilliant play of summer signing N’Golo Kante has been a large reason behind Chelsea’s turnaround season. The ability to win the ball in the midfield has allowed the Blues to feed their very talented attacking players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have each enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

If a side is going to run the 3-4-3 effectively, they need excellent defensive midfield play to make up for the one less defender at the back. While Kante and Nemanja Matic have done well thus far, Chelsea is still thin at the position. Bakayoko is just 22 years old and is enjoying a breakout season for Monaco. His dribbling ability through the middle would allow Hazard and Willian to play more wide. From there they can whip in crosses to Costa, one of the best in the air in all of England. Bakayoko’s youth is enticing as Matic is 28 and has been inconsistent at times this season. Although his playing time could be limited initially, Bakayoko will undoubtedly be a big part of the future at Stamford Bridge if Conte is able to acquire his services.

Liverpool: Quincy Promes, Spartak Moscow

Liverpool target Quincy Promes has helped Spartak Moscow to the top of the Russian Premier League

In Jurgen Klopp’s second season at Anfield, Liverpool have arisen as serious title contenders at this point in the season. Their plethora of attacking players, including Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino have been very efficient in the attacking third.

However, Klopp will be without Mane for a large part of the next month. The Senegal international will be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament comes at a critical time in Liverpool’s season with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on there horizon. Promes has had a great season at Spartak. He has netted six goals and also has six assists in the Russian Premier League as Spartak have surprised by leading at this point in the season. It may be tough to coax Promes from Spartak, but Klopp should try. Promes will give Liverpool some width while Mane is away. He can play opposite Mane, which will benefit the Reds when Mane returns from international duty.

Tottenham: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would bring creativity on the wing to White Hart Lane

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has put Spurs squarely in the title conversation. Tottenham sit third in the table at the turn of the calendar year. Young players have stepped up this season, including 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli. Spurs are fighting off Real Madrid for his services.

However, Spurs could use an outside threat to compliment their plethora of middle attacking players. Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen have combined to score 25 goals in the league this season. All of those players are under the age of 25. 24-year-old Zaha could add to this “young core” that Pochettino has built at White Hart Lane. Zaha, who plays on the left wing at Crystal Palace, would compliment Kane, Eriksen, and Alli in the middle. Zaha is extremely skilled with the ball at his feet and has a tremendous ability to get crosses in from tough angles. Erik Lamela has been underwhelming again this season and Zaha could fill the void for Spurs.

Manchester City: Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich

Holger Badstuber’s experience at the back could prove invaluable for Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s highly anticipated first year at the Etihad has been up and down. A victory against Barcelona in the Champions League showed City’s potential under Pep. However, they have been very inconsistent at times domestically. Their inconsistency, especially at the back, is the primary reason why they find themselves seven points adrift at this juncture.

Man City payed quite a bit to sign promising young English center back John Stones from Everton over the summer. Stones, while very talented and promising, is still raw. There has been more than one occasion where he has looked lost this season. Captain Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have continued and it is difficult to rely on him for an extended period of time. Eliaquim Mangala consistently underperforms when given a chance in the starting XI. Badstuber is very experienced at just 27 years of age. He has 119 caps for Bayern and 31 for the German National Team. While a permanent deal is unlikely, Pep could explore a six-month loan deal for Badstuber. This would give City added security and depth at the center back for the remainder of the season while Stones continues to develop.

 

 

 

Arsenal: Ricardo Pereira, Porto (on loan at Nice)

Ricardo Pereira is a perfect solution to Arsenal’s right-back injury crisis.

Arsene Wenger is notorious for not making moves in the January transfer window, even when his team could really use them. Fifth place Arsenal have been by no means bad this season, but there is always room for improvement at the Emirates.

Promising young right back Hector Bellerin will be out for an extended period of time with an injury and his predecessor Mathieu Debuchy is rumored to be at odds with Wenger and on his way out of North London. This leaves the underwhelming Carl Jenkinson as the only right back on the Gunners’ roster. Ricardo, who is on loan at Ligue 1 leaders Nice from Porto has exploded this season. His 7.6 match rating on WhoScored.com has him placed in their Ligue XI team of the season. He provides sound defending and security at the back. Pereira is also a threat going forward, with a goal and three assists this season. He could be a perfect solution in the interim while Bellerin is injured. And his ability going forward could see him utilized as a wing-back or midfielder when the Spaniard returns.

Manchester United: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann would be an expensive, but worthwhile signing for Manchester United.

After a disastrous start to the season, Jose Mourinho has begun to right the ship at Old Trafford. Despite being ten points back of Chelsea, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Manchester United have played well throughout the season, but have failed to convert the many chances they create. 31 goals in the League is significantly less than the other five “contenders”.

Griezmann is widely considered one of the best players in the world and would not come cheap. However is precision in the final third is exactly what United need. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a pure striker who doesn’t create, and while Paul Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world, he is limited going forward to do the teams reliance on him from a defensive standpoint. Griezmann would fit right into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 as an attacking midfielder. He played this role brilliantly for France in this summer’s European Championships where he scored a tournament-high six goals. It also doesn’t hurt that Griezmann is close friends with fellow Frenchman Pogba. The two could do lots of damage if they play together under Mourinho.

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