Matić’s world-class strike completes a 3-2 comeback victory for Manchester United over Crystal Palace

Capping off a rather dull weekend of football, Manchester United and Crystal Palace played a thriller at Selhurst Park. Coming into the game, Crystal Palace hadn’t won against Manchester United in all 17 of their previous Premier League matches. However despite Crystal Palace leading 2-0, Manchester United fought back in the second half and ultimately won 3-2 in stoppage time. Nemanja Matić scored the winner with an absolute world-class goal from outside the box in the 91st minute.

The Motm:

Juan Mata:

Nemanja Matić's world-class strike completes a 3-2 comeback victory for Manchester United over Crystal Palace

After coming onto the pitch, Juan Mata controlled the game well (Photo by Action Images via Reuters)

When Juan Mata came on in the middle of the second half, the Manchester United attack instantly changed. His clever runs and link-up play instantly brought a spark to a team which was struggling to create anything going forward.

Manchester United enjoyed a majority of the possession in the first half. But this possession was rather stagnant and they struggled to create much with it. There was a distinct lack of positive quality going forward.

However, after coming on, Mata was integral to actually doing something with the possession that Manchester United had. He consistently looked forward and played the right pass and made the right runs. Alexis Sanchez looked more dangerous too with Mata playing intricate passes to him.

Juan Mata is known as one of the most intelligent footballers in the world and it certainly showed today. For much of the first half, Manchester United tried to go down the middle of the pitch. However, Palace always had men back and clogged this area. This caused all the open space to be out wide. Once Mata came on, he consistently looked out wide and played the ball into space for the wide players to run into. This was key because the wide players were then able to play in tantalizing crosses, something Wayne Hennessy struggled to deal with all day.

Jose Mourinho does not start Mata often enough against teams that will sit back against Manchester United and let them possess the ball. Mata may not have ended up with a goal or an assist, but he put in an absolute class performance for Manchester United.

Honorable Mentions:

Christian Benteke:

Christian Benteke has enjoyed a fairly dismal 2017/2018 at Crystal Palace with only two goals in 23 appearances. He has often looked lackadaisical up top and his effort has rightfully been questioned at times. He just does not seem up for it in some matches.

Today though, he was magnificent. He consistently troubled Manchester United’s back line and bullied them with his strength. He never stopped running throughout the match and tracked back brilliantly to defend a few times. Most notably, he cleared a shot off the goal line to preserve a 2-1 lead for Crystal Palace.

His best moment of the match came just after Manchester equalized to make it 2-2. Benteke beat Chris Smalling to the ball and rose high and headed the ball on net. He was unlucky not to score as he was ultimately denied by a world-class diving save by David de Gea.

Nemanja Matić:

There are no words that adequately describe how difficult Matić’s match-winner in stoppage time was. It was an absolutely exceptional hit on the half-volley from well outside the box. The technique that he needed to get that on target is phenomenal. Matić, someone who is well known for his longshots, deserves all the credit in the world for the strike.

He easily could have been MOTM, but his play throughout the rest of the match just did not stand out enough. Defensively, he was not great and allowed Crystal Palace to threaten on the counter-attack multiple times. He also went missing in the midfield for periods of the game and had a poor first half along with the rest of Manchester United.

Matić was a bit unlucky not to score in the 74th minute when Benteke cleared his shot off the line. All in all, it was not Matić’s best match in a Manchester United shirt. Nevertheless, his heroics in the 92nd minute will be all that is remembered from this match and deservedly so.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Nemanja Matić's world-class strike completes a 3-2 comeback victory for Manchester United over Crystal Palace

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s well-timed tackle on Marcus Rashford (Photo by Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images)

A relatively new face to the Premier League, Wan-Bissaka played exceptionally well against Manchester United. Only 20 years of age, this was Wan-Bissaka’s second senior appearance for Crystal Palace. Despite this inexperience, Wan-Bissaka completely held his own against two more experienced players in Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford. He kept up with Rashford’s pace well and had two strong tackles.

His best moment came midway through the second half when Rashford got in behind him. Wan-Bissaka used to his pace to catch Rashford and had an amazingly well-timed to tackle to get the ball away from Rashford and avert the danger from Crystal Palace’s goal. For someone playing only his second senior match, Wan-Bissaka’s performance was eye-opening. He looks to have a promising future and should hold his head extremely high despite the loss.

Poor Performers:

Wayne Hennessey:

Nemanja Matić's world-class strike completes a 3-2 comeback victory for Manchester United over Crystal Palace

Chris Smalling with a golden opportunity after Wayne Hennessey misplays a cross (Photo by David Klein/Reuters)

Despite not being at fault for any of the three goals, Hennessey had an absolute shocker of a match. Arguably the worst keeper in the Premier League, he did no favors to his reputation in this fixture. Multiple times he misjudged a cross and let the ball fall in a dangerous area. Manchester United did not capitalize on any of those mistakes but they easily could have.

He did have a decent save from a Paul Pogba strike but any top-flight keeper should be expected to make that save. Hennessey also struggled to organize the Crystal Palace defense in the final twenty minutes of the game. They were constantly under pressure and looked relatively nervy. A better keeper behind them could certainly have helped with directing the defense and instilling the necessary confidence in them so that they could have successfully seen out the result.

Paul Pogba:

Including Pogba here might be seen as a little harsh but with a €105 million price tag comes €105 million expectations. Pogba offered very little going forward throughout the match. He did have four shots but ultimately none of them were particularly troublesome for Hennessey. He was very wasteful in possession, especially in the first half.

Multiple times either Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia were running into space out wide but Pogba played a lazy pass that was either over-hit or intercepted. He seemed to be fairly passive throughout the match and could be seen half-heartedly jogging around the pitch.

This has been a recurring problem for Pogba since transferring to Manchester United. When he’s on, he’s absolutely world class and a nightmare for the opposition to deal with. However, most of the time this season, he’s been poor. This has created a huge liability in the midfield for Manchester United, especially defensively. Jose Mourinho certainly cannot rely on Pogba to track back at all. He still is full of potential, but as of now, he has not lived up to his lofty price tag.

What this all means:

Manchester United will largely want to forget this match. They were extremely poor throughout the first half and against a better side, that will be impossible to overcome. They showed great heart and poise in the comeback and that should be applauded. However, most importantly, they managed to grab all three points from this match. The victory today brought Manchester United back to second in the table ahead of their weekend clash against Liverpool.

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, will agonize over the fact they wasted a 2-0 lead. There were certainly some positives to gather from this performance. However, with them firmly in the relegation zone, they need desperately need results. A win today would have brought them all the way up to 13th in the table from 18th. With how injured their squad currently is, Roy Hodgson has his work cut out for him in order to help Crystal Palace avoid the drop.

Featured image by John Walton/PA

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Giants are currently tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

Giants Gaming: EU LCS contenders or pretenders?

Going into week five of the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split, Giants Gaming sits tied for second place. Their 5-3 record puts them level with G2 and Fnatic, and above other perennial favorites, such as Misfits and H2K. Fans of the Spanish esports organization may be getting their hopes up for finally having Giants towards the top, but this hope may be misguided.

Giants Gaming has rarely found itself in this position in the past. Despite originally qualifying for the EU LCS five years ago, Giants has only qualified for LCS playoffs twice. The organization has been sent to the Promotion Tournament five times, and relegated out of the LCS twice. Anyone who follows Giants most likely subconsciously considers them a bottom-tier team. An overview of organization’s LCS history easily contextualizes this view.

From Spain to the Main Stage

Giants Gaming entered the EU LCS in 2013

Babeta, Exterminare, Morden, Samux and Motroco

In 2012, Giants Gaming created their first League of Legends team. The roster, consisting of Babeta, Exterminare, Morden, Samux, and Motroco, competed in Dreamhack Valencia and ESL’s Go4LoL. Motroco left in October, but was replaced by JimBownz, who competed with the team at The Siege. Giants finished top four at each event, and went on to Dreamhack Winter, but finished 0-3 in their group.

Due to their relative success, Riot Games invited Giants Gaming to compete for a slot in the premier season of EU LCS in 2013. Along with Fnatic, Copenhagen Wolves, Against All Authority, and Dragonborns, Giants finished in the top five. They instantly qualified for the LCS, making the organization one of the first teams to ever participate in the European league.

Once there, Giants’ momentum subsided. The Spaniards took their first week 1-1 to start in fourth place. They continued to have losing streaks over the 10-week split, finishing seventh place with eight wins and 20 losses. Giants was forced into the first ever Summer Promotion Tournament to defend its place in the league.

The First Worst Loss

Alternate Attax relegated Giants Gaming from the EU LCS in 2013

Kerp, Araneae, ForellenLord, Creaton and Jree

The format of the Promotion Tournament was different in 2013. Teams from three different qualifier tournaments faced off against the bottom four LCS teams in one best-of-five, with the winner earning the LCS slot. Giants Gaming was set to battle Alternate Attax, a German esports organization made up of Kerp, Araneae, ForellenLord, Creaton, and Jree. By winning 3-2, Attax relegated Giants from the EU LCS for the first time.

The Challenger Series had not been developed yet, which meant Giants Gaming was back in the amateur scene. They entered Gfinity London, finishing third-fourth behind Copenhagen Wolves and Eternity Gaming. Gfinity London was the only contest in which they competed for the rest of the year.

Getting Back on the Horse

Throughout 2014, Giants Gaming continued to prove that it was worthy of competition. By April the organization put together an all-new roster, consisting of Reven, Naruterador, Pepiinero, Zigurath and Dave. These five competed in Gamegune in Spain, taking home fourth place.

Giants must not have been happy with that performance, because three months later they brought on Werlyb, Fr3deric, Adryh and Rydle. This was Giants’ second roster overhaul of 2014. This definitely worked out, as they rounded out the

Giants Gaming played in the amateur scene during 2014

Paris Games Week 2014

amateur scene with two gold medals. At Paris Games Week, they took down seven teams including Gamers2, a team Giants lost to at Gamegune. They also won the Liga de Videojuegos Professional, the Spanish regional league.

By becoming so competitive, Giants Gaming was able to move up the European solo queue ranked ladder. And since they were in the top five at the end of 2014, Riot Games once more invited Giants to fight to earn their spot in the EU LCS. They introduced an expansion tournament, which included competitors from the Promotion Tournament, the Challenger Series, and the five-versus-five ranked ladder. Through two stages of gameplay, Giants Gaming took down Reason Gaming to qualify for the 2015 Spring Split with H2K.

Deja Vu

In similar fashion to their first LCS split, Giants Gaming started 2015 with a bang. Pepii and crew had a 2-0 week one, placing them at the top of the standings. H2K and Unicorns of Love took Giants down a peg in week two, dropping the team to fourth. Another 0-2 in week three put Giants into a free fall, slipping down to seventh. Fast forward seven more weeks, and Giants Gaming finished the split with a 5-13 record, tying MeetYourMakers for last place. Luckily, Adryh’s late-game Sivir pick was able to come online and win Giants the game, saving them from auto-relegation.

Another Spring Split and Giants faced another Promotion Tournament. Coincidentally, they met Reason Gaming in a best-of-five to defend their slot. Just as they had in the expansion tournament, Giants took down Reason 3-1 and reclaimed their LCS spot. This qualification marked three times in three years.

A Glimmer of Hope

G0DFRED joined Giants Gaming in 2015

G0DFRED joined Giants Gaming in 2015

Leading into Summer Split marked the first off-season where Giants’ roster remained mostly intact. G0DFRED joined as a rookie support, but everyone else stayed. Together they were able to get through the regular season 8-10, tied for fifth. ROCCAT won the tie-breaker, but Giants still made it into playoffs for the first time since its inception.

H2K skunked Giants in the quarterfinals of the Summer Playoffs. They took the series 3-0, and the longest game was 30:19. Giants garnered enough Championship Points to qualify into the Regional World Qualifiers. ROCCAT shut them down 3-0 in the first round, as well. Nonetheless, Giants had a somewhat successful first split back. They avoided the Promotion Tournament and made it into their first playoffs ever. They even had a slim chance to go to Worlds. It seemed like a great place to start Giants’ new time in the LCS.

Another Spring, Another Let-down

Spring Split 2016 rolled around, and Giants Gaming looked a little bit different. Werlyb and Fr3deric changed teams, and Giants brought in Atom and K0u as replacements. After starting the season 0-4, K0u was benched in favor of BetongJocke, H2K’s substitute jungler. They followed up with another 0-4 streak for weeks three and four, before finally getting their first win in week five versus ROCCAT.

Giants floundered their way through the rest of the split. Smittyj, Wisdom and S0NSTAR moved onto the starting roster in week eight, and Hustlin came on in week nine. Despite all of these changes, Giants finished the 2016 Spring Split in dead last with a 3-15 record. They had to enter their third Promotion Tournament.

As fate would have it, Giants had to face two Challenger teams with former roster members: K0u on Copenhagen Wolves and Werlyb on Huma. After a 3-2 and a 3-1, Giants Gaming re-qualified for the EU LCS. This was their fourth time re-entering.

Giants’ Best Split to Date

Giants Gaming in the 2016 EU LCS

Before coming back into the LCS for Summer Split, Giants took a long look in the mirror. The final member of the original cast, Pepii, left, and NighT, a Korean player from Ever8 Winners, joined. They also brought on a rookie jungler, Maxlore, to replace Wisdom. Smittyj remained in the top lane, S0NSTAR and Hustlin composed the bottom lane.

Giants started the split 0-3, leading many to write them off yet again. But a couple of wins in weeks two and three kept them competitive. A 2-0 win over Fnatic in week five, and a 2-0 over H2K in week six elevated Giants to a new level. Through the 10 weeks, Giants compiled an 8-3-7 scoreline, placing them third overall.

For the first time in its history, Giants Gaming entered the Summer Playoffs quarterfinals as favorites. They also kept the same roster throughout the whole split, which was new for them. Unicorns of Love eliminated Giants from the playoffs by winning 3-1, putting Giants in a fifth-sixth finish for the season. Like the year before, they had enough Championship Points to try the Regional Qualifiers. However, they met Unicorns of Love, yet again, who took the 3-0 win to move on and knock Giants out.

Fool Me Twice, Fool Me Thrice, Fool Me Four Times

Flaxxish and Memento played for Giants Gaming last year

Flaxxish and Memento played for Giants Gaming last year

Despite their Summer Split success, Giants entered the 2017 Spring Split with three more new players. HeaQ and Flaxxish were rookies, while Maxlore traded to ROCCAT with Memento to Giants. NighT and Hustlin stayed as starters, and S0NSTAR moved to a coaching role.

Riot introduced the group system to the EU LCS in 2017, which turned out to be a death knell for Giants. They found themselves in Group A with G2, Misfits, Fnatic, and ROCCAT. Giants began with a pair of 2-1 losses to G2 and Misfits, then followed with a 2-1 win over ROCCAT. They would not get another series win until week seven versus Origen, heading into week eight 2-7, and finishing the regular season 2-11.

For the fourth time in four spring seasons, Giants faced relegation in the Summer Promotion tournament. Origen was the only team that split with a lower win rate, so Giants easily took that match-up 3-0. However, a hungry Fnatic Academy swept them back with a 3-0 of their own. And for the second time in history, Giants Gaming was knocked out of the EU LCS.

The Recent Past

Giants spent the 2017 Summer Season in the EU Challenger Series, playing against Origen, Schalke 04, Paris Saint-Germain, Red Bulls, and Wind and Rain. In the mid-season they decided to scrap their entire roster and rebuild. Jiizuke, Gilius, Minitroupax, Jactroll and Ruin joined the team with LCS ambitions.

Over five weeks, Giants won four of five games and lost once to Schalke. Their 4-0-1 record placed them first in the standings–Giants’ first first place since 2014. This new line-up looked poised to go into promotions, and they did. Giants took down WAR 3-0, which entered them into the 2018 Spring Promotion tournament with Schalke, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Mysterious Monkeys. By taking a 3-1 over NiP and a 3-2 over Schalke, Giants re-qualified into the LCS. The cycle of qualification-promotion-relegation came full circle for the second time.

In the Present

Giants Gaming is tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

Giants Gaming is tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

All of Giants’ members, except Ruin, moved to Team Vitality for the 2018 Spring Split. Giants brought on Djoko and Steeelback from Vitality, Betsy from ROCCAT, and Targamas, a rookie. Preseason predictions put Giants towards the bottom of the field, yet they currently find themselves tied for second. The first four weeks have been a success.

Right now there are analysts and audience members who may want to believe in Giants Gaming. They may think this is their year–that Giants can do better than ever before. But remember to keep this long history in mind. Giants have finished bottom seven every Spring Split in which they have ever competed. Two of those four splits resulted in relegation out of the LCS.

But twice they have come back and reclaimed their spot. Giants has successfully defended its spot two times, as well. This split could be the split to change minds. Giants will need to overcome its past shortcomings, and win the hearts of EU LCS fans by making it into playoffs and making a deep push in this split.

credits

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, GosuGamers, Leaguepedia, Millenium.org, WindandRain.org

Historical Data: Leaguepedia

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The North American Challenger Series will revamp in 2018

How franchising will revamp the North American Challenger Series in 2018

The North American Challenger Series has operated for several reasons in the past. Established organizations sat in time-out, as they wait to re-qualify into the LCS. New players showcased their abilities on rag-tag teams. Veterans tried their hands at building a squad to relive the glory days. Others put together rosters hoping to challenge the bottom-feeders of the LCS.

2018 is going to be different. The NA LCS is franchising, which will remove the promotion-relegation system. Each organization is required to field a 10-man roster–five for LCS, and five for an Academy team. The CS will mirror the LCS as a double round robin of best-of-ones. Riot stated that their goal with this updated Challenger Series is “developing future stars of the NA LCS.” Here are the major steps towards fulfilling this primary goal in 2018.

expand the size of the league

The 2017 Scouting Grounds will introduce 10 new players into professional League of Legends

Image from lolesports.com

Since 2015, North America has fielded six teams for the Challenger Series. These teams won their way in through an open qualifier bracket, or by carrying over from a prior series. Starting in 2018 the Challenger Series will expand to 10 teams, one for each LCS team. This expansion will open up a minimum of 40 new spots for players to fill.

A shallow talent pool, a small financial pie and a lack of resources could have been problems in the past. However, with the revenue-sharing model of franchising, Riot and the 10 LCS organizations should be able to reconcile these issues. Teams will be more likely to offer higher salaries to more of their starters, pulling experienced players, like Cris, GBM, or Santorin, from CS into LCS. Investing into Scouting Grounds will further help increase the available talent pool, and this year each team is required to draft one player. League of Legends organizations must acquire 10 total players directly from Scouting Grounds. Riot can also incorporate incoming revenue from organizations buying slots into producing the higher volume of broadcasts necessary in a 10-team CS league.

Even if 16-20 players in the Challenger Series are already established, the broadened league would still present 30 or more slots for others to begin their esports careers. By simply introducing more young players into the system, Riot and the franchised LCS will develop much more talent for the future. This is just one element of the 2018 Challenger Series that will result in more North American star players.

Limit Veteran and Import Players

Riot will restrict veterans and imports in the 2018 Challenger Series

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

How can a team develop future stars when past and current stars are taking up roughly 50 percent of all Challenger slots (~16 out of 32)? If the goal of the CS is to advance players from the solo queue ladder into the LCS, then Riot will need to create clear guidelines regarding veteran and import players. They will also need to define these terms in a way that reinforces the CS space as a “minor league,” while avoiding limiting the full potential of these organizations.

Grza, Senior Manager of Riot Esports Operations, mentioned “there will be limits on the amount of veteran players and imported players that can play in Academy games,” while noting “there will be a lot of fluidity between game rosters.” For example, Riot may dictate that each Academy team must always start a majority of rookie and sophomore North American players. That would mean three of the five players in each match would need to have started one or fewer years of professional League of Legends. By this definition, CLG Academy and EUnited would be the only two teams from the 2017 Summer Split to meet the standards.

Otherwise, Riot could restrict each team to one veteran and one import, or only one veteran or import. These provisions would quickly disqualify many of the past Academy teams, but make room for several more inexperienced players. Riot should still allow imports and veterans in the Challenger Series, because playing with these players can guide budding stars in communication, out-of-game growth and overall maturity. It would also provide opportunities for talented imports to practice English or adapt to North American culture prior to entering the LCS. Veterans may get the opportunity to become leaders or gain team captain experience. Development is not only restricted to young American and Canadian players. This is all another way to develop talent in the new Academy teams.

Tie CS teams to LCS Organizations

Academy teams will be directly attached to LCS teams in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Every Academy team will have a parent organization that is fit to operate an LCS team. This association brings numerous benefits. The Challenger Series will introduce new players to esports in a way no others have in the past. These organizations will provide the same high-quality financial, legal and professional resources to their Challenger players as their LCS players.

This connection removes any opportunity for shady businesses and unscrupulous owners to take advantage of inexperienced, talented players. Organizations will not fail to pay their players, or fail to give them proper housing, or fail to provide gaming equipment. The owners and managers will treat the players with all the respect of a professional, and this is the true opportunity for development.

LCS teams were able to have sister squads in the Challenger Series in the past. For example, Team Liquid and Cloud9 owned Academy teams in 2016, but used them in different ways. Five veteran players composed Cloud9’s team, and only incorporated Contractz when Rush decided to return to Korea. It was obvious they were farming a strong Challenger team with hopes of promoting into the LCS and cashing in on a buy-out. Liquid started almost exclusively rookies, until they benched Piglet from the LCS in favor of fabbbyyy. Dardoch, Moon, Goldenglue and Stunt promoted into the LCS from this roster, which is the point of the Challenger Series. Cloud9’s 2016 roster is an example of what this new minor league will avoid, while Liquid’s 2016 line-up would be perfect going into 2018.

Remove Relegation

Relegation is removed for the 2018 North American Challenger Series

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

In 2017, Team Liquid, Echo Fox and Phoenix1 already experimented with rotating starters and roster changes in the LCS. However, they took these steps to avoid relegation, rather than developing new talent. They were not bringing in properly vetted Academy players due to proper seasoning. The organizations demoted their starters due to poor performance and fear of relegation. Riot is removing relegation and promotion in 2018, which should end this unstable practice.

This is a momentous change in the history of North American League of Legends. Audiences watch at the end of every split, as teams battle to the death for the well-being of their organizations. If an LCS team demotes, then they almost certainly fail to bring in enough revenue. Relegation is a huge loss, and promotion is a huge win for organizations trying to curry favor with sponsors. Team Liquid, Echo Fox and Phoenix1 were scrambling out of anxiety towards relegation, rather than hope towards star players.

Riot will still maintain a certain level of competitive integrity, though. According to Grza, “if a team finishes in ninth or tenth for five out of eight splits, the league can remove them.” Under these circumstances, it would take four full years before the first team is relegated. Spreading the pressure of relegation over eight splits, rather than compressed into one, makes it much more tolerable.

Organizations can focus on the big picture–branding, infrastructure and developing talent. Teams can sign multi-year contracts with players that they hope to bolster into the next big North American talent. They can experiment with coaches and other staff to provide the proper guidance necessary for growth. Owners can invest in spaces and equipment to give their roster the edge over their opponents.

Combining the expansion of the Challenger league, limiting veterans and imports, attaching Academies to LCS teams and dropping relegation, the 2018 Challenger Series will provide a more optimized environment for developing future stars. The stabilized financial system will allow organizations to make longer commitments to young diamonds in the rough. There will be fewer instances of player mistreatment that might scare some away. More slots will open for the next tier of North American players to fill, instead of meme teams and others. Think of 2018 as a planting season. Riot and the LCS is investing into the seeds of today, hoping they produce a harvest in the future.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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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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Reflecting on Pre-Split EU LCS Expectations

On JANUARY 20, 2017, the second day of the EU LCS Spring Split, I wrote a piece with my initial thoughts on four teams. I chose these four teams, because they seemed to have the widest possible range of results. The final standings would be determined by their performance. Check out that article here.

As the EU LCS finishes Week 9, it only makes sense to revisit my preseason thoughts. There has been a smaller gap between groups than expected. Some teams have performed as expected, while others have been surprisingly strong or weak.

G2 and Splyce

Preseason Thought: “G2 and Splyce decided to retain their entire starting rosters. None of the other teams seem prepared to challenge these two for group dominance. Unless the new pick-ban phase exposes unforeseen weaknesses, we expect these two teams to stay at the top.”

G2: EU LCS #1 team

courtesy of Riot esports

G2 has truly secured their spot at the top of the standings. Sitting at 11-0, few teams have even been able to take a game off of this squad, let alone a series. Maintaining the starting lineup from Summer 2017 has allowed G2 to remain dominant within EU. Even through meta shifts from patch changes, G2 has adapted to every opponent they have faced in the LCS. They may even be performing better than analysts expected.

Splyce: EU LCS #5 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Splyce, on the other hand, has seemed much weaker than last year. Early losses to H2K, Unicorns of Love, and Misfits proved that Splyce would need much improvement to reach the top of Group B. Spring has shown them beating teams below them, but losing to teams above them. Splyce currently sit third in their group, with a 7-4 record. They have generally performed below preseason expectations, but fans have seen flashes of Splyce’s former dominance.

Origen

Preseason Thought: “Origen seems to be the only team that did not catch a break in the off-season. After a 9th place finish in the Summer Split last year, the entire squad dissipated. Origen’s pick-ups each appear to be a downgrade from their respective predecessors…The floor is low on this team, and we expect that they will round out the bottom of Group B.”

Origen: EU LCS #10 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Poor Origen. Boasting a series record of 0-12, and a game record of 2-24, they have performed at the lowest possible level. The lineup has been plagued with issues this split. Substituting in the support and jungle roles has not been ideal.  Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez has had to step into another new seat. Unfortunately, Origen will be heading towards the Spring Promotion Tournament to defend their spot in the LCS. They have performed as analysts expected.

Roccat

Preseason Thought: “I am keeping my eyes on this new ROCCAT. They could get a few wins under their belt and avoid the Summer Promotion series this year. They could end up in last yet again, but everyone loves an underdog, right?”

courtesy of Riot esports

ROCCAT began the split 0-7, which had analysts believing they would be destined to return to their third consecutive Promotion Tournament. However, over the past few weeks, ROCCAT has swung back, going 5-0. They currently sit in fourth in Group A, just below Fnatic. Depending on the results of Week 10, ROCCAT can actually slip into the playoffs and boot Fnatic. Being one of the only teams to truly climb through the standings, ROCCAT have performed much better than many preseason expectations. (I kind of called it, though.)

Misfits

Preseason Thought: “If Misfits want to make an impact, they will need their remaining players to continue to play at the top level, while incorporating PowerOfEvil and KaKAO seamlessly. Barney ‘Alphari’ Morris, Steven ‘Hans sama’ Liv, and Lee ‘IgNar’ Dong-geun will need to maintain lane dominance against tougher lanes. This team does have a high ceiling, but these roster changes will need to prove themselves fruitful.”

Misfits: EU LCS #4 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Misfits have definitely made a splash in their first EU LCS split. Their 7-4 record is nothing to overlook. Misfits sits solidly in second place in Group A, four wins below G2, two wins above Fnatic. The team has looked slightly weaker in recent weeks, but should still be a force in playoffs. Barney “Alphari” Morris, Steven “Hans sama” Liv, and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun have meshed right into the professional scene. Each of them have had standout performances. Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon have proven my skepticism wrong. Misfits demonstrated team synergy earlier than expected, and PowerOfEvil looks like an entirely new player compared to last year.

H2K

Preseason Thought: “Will the momentum of last year continue, or did it fizzle in the off-season?…Febiven has proven himself to be a top-tier European Mid laner. He should be able to step in without issue. However, Nuclear and Chei are Korean imports, which could prove to be dangerous.”

H2K: EU LCS #3 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu are as good as ever. The jungler and top laner have maintained dominance while allowing Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten to have a successful split thus far. H2K was obviously disjointed in the beginning of the split, but Shin “Nuclear” Jung-hyun, and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho have assimilated into the rest of the team relatively well. This team has probably performed slightly higher than many expected, but they are nowhere near the ceiling they experienced at Worlds 2016. H2K is far from the best team in EU.

Fnatic

Preseason Thought: “This roster has a lot of combined experience. But will it be enough?…Most EU LCS fans are probably pulling for Fnatic to do well in 2017. While this line-up’s ceiling is quite high, they could also finish middle-of-the-pack.”

Fnatic: EU LCS #6 team

courtesy of Riot esports

Spring Split has been difficult for Fnatic. Sitting at third in Group A, they hold a 5-6 series record and a 14-16 game record. The same team that took games off of G2, Unicorns of Love, and Splyce also dropped games to Giants and Vitality, even dropping a series to ROCCAT. It seems the combined experience of Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, and Jesse “Jesiz” Le has proven insufficient. Substituting at the jungle position has not helped anything. Fnatic’s rookie mid laner, Rasmus “Caps” Winther, has definitely shown strong potential as a solo carry at times. Overall, Fnatic has performed lower than many analysts expected. It has not been entirely surprising, though.

EU LCS teams have one last week to settle the standings leading into playoffs and relegation. This split has had its fair share of exciting match-ups, but much of it has gone according to my preseason expectations. The group format and Best-of-3’s have brought pros and cons, but mostly stagnation within groups. ROCCAT’s recent climb has essentially been the only major action, especially when compared to the NA LCS. Playoffs should be exciting and less predictable, due to the parity between Unicorns of Love, H2K, Misfits, and Splyce. Mid-Season Invitational should be another great test of EU’s relation to the other major regions.

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Summing up what makes the Promotion Tournament stand out

The Promotion portion of the LCS season is something special. The 8th, 9th, and 10th place team in the league have to fight for their spot in the next split against the 1st, 2nd and 3rd team from Challenger.

Changes this split to the Promotion tournament have eliminated the tenth place team being automatically demoted, and has given them a chance to stay. The Promotion tournament takes place over three days. The format for the matches is best of five. Round one is a best of five between the ninth place LCS team and the second place Challenger team. The loser of this series is eliminated from contention. The second day, we see the eighth place LCS team play the winner of the first round match, and the first place team from Challenger play the 7th place LCS team with the winners of these series earning a spot in the LCS. The final round takes place between the two teams from day two who didn’t win. The winner of that series makes it to the LCS, with the losing team playing in Challenger.

Renegades, a team who went 6-11 in the LCS this season, played last summer in Challenger. (Image http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/File:LA_Renegades.png)

Renegades, a team who went 6-11 in the LCS this season, played last summer in Challenger. (Courtesy of esportspedia.com)

This Spring split, Renegades, Team Impulse and Team Dignitas will have to fight to stay in the LCS against the top two challenger teams, Team Dragon Knights and Apex Gaming. Before the rework, Team Dignitas would have been automatically demoted with Apex Gaming automatically advancing. Now, Dignitas has a chance to defend their spot while Apex Gaming has to fight their way in.

In Europe, the Promotion tournaments already happened and all of the LCS teams remained. Giants! Gaming cut it the closest, playing in 3 best of five series. The tenth place team, they played on day one and won, eliminating the second place Copenhagen Wolves. They then lost to Splyce on the second day, giving Splyce a spot in the Summer split. Then, the third day they faced Team Huma, who lost to ROCCAT the day before. Winning 3-1, Giants! reclaimed their spot in the EU LCS.

The promotion tournament as it played out. The LCS teams remained. (Image http://lol.gamepedia.com/2016_EU_LCS/Summer_Promotion)

The promotion tournament as it played out. The LCS teams remained. (Courtesy of gamepedia.com)

The new Promotion tournament is designed to do this. It even says it on the page on lolesports.com where it was announced. It was created to help “stabilize the LCS.” It is designed to keep the 10 LCS teams in, and the Challenger teams out.

Some of the reaction of this was negative, but I don’t see it that way. The LCS teams should have the advantage when it comes to staying in, after all they already worked to get that spot. They should be given the edge to keep it. If the Challenger teams want to get in with the big boys then they can win a few games.

Think about how unique of a concept the Relegation/Promotion is. This is really the only setting where something like this could work. Think about the rosters. There are ten teams of five, plus they’ll carry one or two substitutes. That means that the whole LCS is somewhere around 60 players. That is less than one football team, and it’s around 5 NBA teams.

There are great players out there who aren’t in the LCS. There is no possible way that the gap between the stars of the LCS and the stars of Challenger is that big. Not when the LCS has so few players. Plus, the players are all split up into defined roles. You’re telling me that the top ten jungle players on the North America server are the ten junglers in the LCS right now? That could not possibly be true, one of them is Crumbz. It is not unreasonable to think that the best player on the server in a certain role is in Challenger. This gives that player the fast track to the LCS.

Sorry Crumbz (Image taken from Worlds Season 5 VOD on lolesports.com)

Sorry Crumbz (Image taken from Worlds Season 5 VOD on lolesports.com)

Also, they are not geographically based, as much as I would love a world where the Cleveland Browns are in the minor leagues where they belong, robbing Cleveland of an NFL franchise would have too much of an impact on the city as a whole. However, the only thing an LCS team being demoted affects is that team. They all play in the same building, they all play on the same days. There are no home or away teams. This is truly the only sporting league in the United States where this could happen.

It’s amazing. I love every second of it. It is my favorite part of the LCS. Plus, once a team is 0-5 or 1-7, this will be the hardest game they play all split. Once they throw in the towel for the regular season, they’ll start scouting the top Challenger teams and begin preparing for this event. Will they have another chance in the LCS? Or will they have to go down to Challenger and climb back up? The revisions to the Promotion tournament have proven to keep the LCS teams in the LCS in Europe, we will have to wait and see what effect this has on the North American server.