Dwane Casey

Toronto fires Dwane Casey

Just two days after being awarded NBA’s Coach of the Year award, Dwane Casey was fired by the Toronto Raptors.

Casey led the Raptors to a franchise-best 59-23 record in 2018, securing them the East’s top seed. While they won their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, Toronto was swept by LeBron and the Cavaliers in the semifinals.

This marked the third time in three years Cleveland ousted Casey’s Raptors from the playoffs. It was also the second year in a row the Raptors were swept out of the second round. In the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Cavs and Raptors met in the Eastern Conference Finals (in Toronto’s first trip ever) before falling in six games.

Playoff woes

During his seven-year tenure with Toronto, Dwane Casey led the Raptors to playoff berths in five straight seasons. Three of those five playoff appearances ended in sweeps. In 2015 it came at the hands of the Washington Wizards. As previously mentioned, the other two were the work of James and the Cavaliers.

Dwane Casey

Casey coaches DeMar DeRozan. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Does this speak to a coach that fails to make adjustments? Or has it simply been bad luck?

The Raptors brass seems to believe it is the former. Their President, Masai Ujiri, released a statement today saying that “this is a very difficult, but necessary step the franchise must take,” as they try to get over the hump and find their way to the NBA Finals for the first time.

With the exception of a five-game dip from 2016 to 2017, Casey saw his team’s record improve with every season he was in Toronto. Culminating in the best regular season the Raptors have ever had.

Regular season records do not mean much, however, if the team does not hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Just ask the 2016 Golden State Warriors.

Coach of the Year?

Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for 2018 on May 9. Two days later he is unemployed. What is worth noting is that, while the award is his, he has not accepted it yet. That comes on June 25th, at a special ceremony, which might end up being a little awkward.

Firing the Coach of the Year because he had the unenviable task of facing LeBron James is a questionable decision at best. After all, LeBron-led teams have blown through the rest of the Eastern Conference in seven straight seasons. By that logic, every coach that has faced LeBron since 2010 has grounds to be let go.

Given his credentials and his proven ability to increase win records, Casey will probably not be out of a job for long. It would be surprising if the summer ends without him holding some sort of coaching position.

Summary

NBA fans shouldn’t weep for Casey for long. Instead, they should take the time to appreciate LeBron James. He is, without a doubt, the driving force behind this firing. Because he took Toronto to task for three straight years, Dwane Casey no longer has a job.

Dwane Casey

Casey and Raptors superfan Drake stand courtside. (Photo by Richard Madonik/Toronto Star)

Another factor could be his inability to maximize Lowry and DeRozan, but that blame should be split 50-50 between the players and the coach. Casey can draw up the offensive sets, but he cannot make the ball go in the basket. He can suggest innovative ways to defend LeBron, but he cannot stop him from being the best player in the world.

All in all, Toronto has some soul searching to do. After shaking their Game 1 woes in their first-round series, the choker label was plastered on the franchise yet again after running into the NBA’s most consistent buzz saw. Needless to say, if the Pacers had not lost in their Game 7 against LeBron, Casey might still be holding a clipboard.

Featured image by Tony Dejak/Associated Press

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0-3

Inside the NBA’s 0-3 conundrum

The NBA playoffs have already yielded one sweep in the first round. Two more semifinals series are on the verge of ending in just four games.

It is well known that the NBA is the only one of the three major American sports which feature playoff series that has never seen an 0-3 comeback. The NHL and MLB have both had this unlikely event happen at least once.

Most intriguing is that this kind of comeback seems more likely in the NBA than either the NHL or MLB. The NHL relies on physicality, goal scoring and goalie play, one of which can usually stay consistent to complete a series win. The MLB, as any sports fan will tell you, is impossible to predict on a game-to-game basis. Momentum plays a huge roll and the team in the 0-3 hole has a massive task robbing the opposing team of it. On top of that, pitching and hitting needs to be near flawless for four games straight.

In the NBA, however, teams can flat-out go cold from the floor. A defense can be exploited, and shots falling can rattle even the best teams. As Brad Stevens of the Celtics has proven, a solid game plan can defeat better talent.

Here, we will take a look at the teams that are currently up 3-0, how they got there, and what the road to history looks like for the teams trying to claw out of that hole.

History

In the history of the NBA playoffs, teams up three games to none are 129-0 in their series.

0-3

Antonio McDyess and P.J. Brown meet at the rim during the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals (Photo by Getty Images)

In those 129 series, only nine of them have seen the team down 0-3 get to a Game 6. Of those nine series, only three of them have gone to a Game 7. The most recent example is the 2007 Bulls-Pistons semifinal round when the Bulls forced a Game 6 after going down 0-3. The last forced Game 7 was back in 2003 when Portland came back against the Dallas Mavericks. Portland eventually lost by 12 points in the winner-take-all matchup.

Teams winning series after being down three games to one is much more common. In fact, in the 2016 NBA playoffs, it happened twice. The Golden State Warriors came back on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, that same Golden State team blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So where is the disconnect? Why is it so hard to win four NBA games in a row?

Common sense would say fatigue.

Of the three series that have gone to Game 7 after a team went up 3-0, the average margin of defeat in that Game 7 has been eight points. That stat suggests the losing team had enough to give to keep it close, but had spent enough to lose the hustle battle.

As stated earlier, game plans can beat talent. So playing a single team seven times in a row can allow either team to cancel out certain strategies. It is likely that this would come into play in a winner-take-all game more so than the games leading up to it.

Simply put, a lot of factors go into winning four games in a row. Defense, the ability to make shots, hustle plays and coaching. Coming back from an 0-3 deficit is not an impossibility, and the NBA will eventually see this kind of come back. It just simply has not happened yet.

0-3 Teams

In the semifinal round, both the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers are up on their opponents 3-0.

Boston, without its two best players, has bested the younger Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. All but written off, regardless of their second seed, this injured Boston team has proved NBA pundits wrong at every turn. In my series preview, I even picked the Sixers to win in six games.

0-3

Dario Saric after the Celtics lost Game 3 in overtime. (Photo by Getty Images)

In a postgame interview on Saturday night, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN alleged that Brett Brown has lost the 76ers all three of these games. The latest mistake being unable to run a play in overtime that did not involve Joel Embiid being near the top of the key. On the inbound play, down by one, the Sixers had the ball stolen by Al Horford, which demanded free throws be taken to increase the Celtics’ cushion to three points.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are up by three games on the best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors. This is due to the ageless LeBron James, and some remedying of problems that plagued the Cavs in their seven-game series against Indiana.

James has scored 26, 43 and 38 points in the first three games respectively. This includes another incredible buzzer beater in Game 3. The Raptors have a reputation of falling apart against these Cavaliers, as they have lost to Cleveland in the last two NBA playoffs.

While the Cavs can become a steamroller during the playoffs, this Raptors team is definitely stronger than past iterations. They have a great bench, two legitimate stars and two great role players. While the Raptors lifted their Game 1 woes during their series against the Wizards, it seems like Cleveland may really be their kryptonite.

Road to Game 7

While a series win is obviously the goal, first these teams will have to reach Game 7. According to history, only 2.3 percent of teams down 0-3 have reached that point. Then, they have to win that game, which no one ever has.

For the 76ers, the road starts with finding better plays in late game situations. Embiid may be their best player, but he is not their only solid option. Belinelli was clutch in Game 3, with a buzzer-beating shot to send the game to overtime. His 3-pointer to try to tie the game in the closing seconds of overtime was almost good, too. Ben Simmons is struggling, and he is a terrible shooter anyway. But he does not need to be inbounding the ball on the final play. He should be cutting to the hoop or ready to pass.

The 76ers also blew a 22 point lead in Game 2. So saying that the Sixers need to build a lead is not enough. Their foot needs to stay on the gas, and they need to forgo the early shot clock jumpers that built them the lead. The Celtics are too well coached to be out of any individual game. Both teams play great defense, but Philly’s offense has been their Achilles’ Heel.

0-3

Valanciunas goes to the floor during the Raptors’ Game 2 meltdown against the Cavaliers. (Photo by Nathan Dennette/Canadian Press via AP)

If they can find a way to stop their own bleeding and get out of their own way, they can make a comeback. As far as Game 7 goes, the Celtics will be formidable, as Brad Stevens’ game plan will almost assuredly be better than Brett Brown’s. But the Sixers have the raw talent necessary to maybe surprise everyone.

Speaking of getting out of their own way, the Raptors have to have some serious conversations with themselves about their identity if they don’t want to get swept out of this second round.

As the East’s top seed the Raptors were supposed to be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. As it stands now, it seems as if history is doomed to repeat itself. The last two years have seen Toronto be a stepping stone on Cleveland’s path towards the NBA Finals. Shockingly down 0-3, they must not only erase their own history but make NBA history in the process.

The key is to stop LeBron James. This is possibly the toughest thing any team in the NBA could be asked to do, but it is truly the only way. James is currently averaging 34.8 points per game in the entire playoffs and 35.7 points in the series. DeRozan was benched in the fourth quarter of Game 3 due to lack of production, which cannot happen again, because Lowry and DeRozan need to be the ones to stop that bleeding.

Kevin Love is averaging 13.9 points per game, as Cleveland’s second best scoring option. If Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas can play up to their potential, that would cancel out Cleveland’s small, but important, safety valve. Past that, VanVleet, Anunoby and the rest of the role players just need to contribute consistently on both ends of the court.

The formula is deceptively simple for Toronto to find their way to Game 7. If that should come to pass, then they will have to get past elimination-game LeBron, who is, somehow, even better than the LeBron they have been seeing the past three games.

Summary

In conclusion, these will probably not be the series where the NBA finally sees an 0-3 comeback. It will eventually happen, just as a 16 seed upsetting a number one seed finally happened in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but the two teams that find themselves up 3-0 are too talented and driven to lose to their opponents.

Toronto may be able to force a Game 6, as they will pull out all the stops to halt LeBron’s historic performances, but James, as he always does, will eventually get the best of them.

Philadelphia is showing its youth. The coaching is simply not good, Simmons is playing horribly and teams cannot win against a Stevens-led team with just a center and some backup wing players. The injured Celtics will continue to defy all expectations and knock them out. As far as forcing a Game 5 or 6, the 76ers may be able to pull out a close one, but do not count on it.

Featured image by Getty Images

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playoffs

Raptors vs. Cavaliers series preview (after Game 1)

The NBA playoffs feature some great second-round matchups. But perhaps more exciting than any of them is this Eastern Conference Semifinal round featuring Toronto and Cleveland.

The Toronto Raptors finally own the East’s number one seed, while fourth-seeded Cleveland needed all seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers. 2018 marks the third year in a row that these two teams have met in the playoffs.

According to sources from Sports Betting Dime, Raptors are the favorite to win (-260) against the Cavaliers (+220).

The regular season and roster point towards the Raptors. The recent history favors the Cavaliers. Here is The Game Haus’ analysis after a closely contested Game 1.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs’ up and down season carries over into the playoffs and continues to give Cleveland fans everywhere palpitations.

Coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the scrappy Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers now face the top team in the Eastern Conference. No easy task, but Cleveland has clawed its way past the Raptors in the past two NBA playoffs.

After Sunday’s Game 7 win over Indiana, LeBron James said he was tired and, “ready to go home.” This may be the very first time in James’ quest for eight straight finals appearances where he has admitted fatigue.

playoffs

LeBron James recorded his 21st playoff triple-double in Game 1. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

It makes sense, though, considering all four wins in the first round series came by only 14 points combined. If that does not paint a picture of a hard-fought series, nothing does. Add on that James had the entire roster on his back through all seven games, even rabid LeBron haters would say he deserved the rest.

Through eight games, LeBron is averaging 33.4 points, 8.4 assists and 10.1 rebounds. He has climbed to number two in the all-time playoff triple-doubles, with 21. This includes a triple-double in yesterday’s Game 1 overtime win.

Those 33.4 points per game are good for first among all playoff scorers. To put into perspective just how much The King is willing his team to victory, the next closest Cleveland player is Kevin Love at number 62.

With Game 1 decided by just one point in overtime, it is clear that the Cavaliers will have their hands full yet again. LeBron must keep scoring in bunches, and Kevin Love cannot keep disappearing if they want four NBA Finals in a row. Taking James out of the game is nigh impossible, but Cleveland struggles when he gets no help. Getting players not named LeBron should be their focus from here on out, because The King will get his.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto may have more to prove than any other team in the playoffs. They are a perennially good team, but have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. With this core, a fantastic bench and great coaching, it seems like this should be their year.

In their seven games, their All-Star backcourt of DeRozan and Lowry are scoring at a clip of 26 and 17.3 points per game, respectively. The team is scoring 109.6 points per game, which is fifth among playoff teams. Their defense is allowing 108 points per game to opponents, which is good for sixth best.

Their previous series against the Raptors came in six games. The first round series was full of double-digit wins for both sides. It seems as if when a team gives the Raptors trouble, they really give them trouble. That has been the story of the Raptors and Cavaliers history of late.

playoffs

Valanciunas and Lowry after missing several potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

As previously mentioned, the Cavs have ousted Toronto during the previous two playoffs. This time, though, the Raptors clearly have the superior roster and the better regular season record.

But their old ways reared their head again. “The North” blew a 10 point lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers have beaten Toronto in nine of their last 11 playoff matchups. It seems as if LeBron is truly their kryptonite. Their path to victory narrows with every shot he makes. The game plan for them, here should not be to take him out of the game. It should be making sure that the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster continues to play as poorly as they have been during these playoffs.

A one-point overtime loss in game one after having and missing eight second-chance opportunities in the last five minutes is debilitating, to say the least. But if they are going to advance further in these playoffs, it is poetic that they must go through the Cavs.

All in all, Toronto needs to be confident in the fact that their roster is better, and try to forget Game 1 and the past two years. This Cavaliers team is vulnerable, and coach Dwane Casey needs to exploit their weak spots.

Preview and Predictions

Although it seems like the Raptors should be the ones worrying, it really should be the Cavaliers’ lack of production that will be the focal point of this series.

The bench matchups here are what Toronto can win, and win big. Cleveland uses so many different lineups because they are unsure what will work on a nightly basis. Toronto does not have that problem. Their bench is one of the best in the NBA and they can absolutely dominate these haphazard Cavs lineups.

Since they are playing the best player in the league, DeRozan and Lowry will both have to show up every night. One needs to cancel out LeBron’s points, while the other pads the lead.

Serge Ibaka will win his matchup against Love if he can deny him the ball. Love tends to fade into the background if he does not get going early enough. Tristan Thompson is mired in off-court controversy, but he is playing some great basketball. If this trend continues, he can overshadow a clearly superior center in Valanciunas.

A prediction here is hard because so many things come into play. Including and especially recent history. Toronto has to do everything in their power to put the Cavaliers away early. Cleveland panics when down too much and takes ill-advised shots. If the Cavs can keep it close, though, it is very much LeBron time, which will probably win them the game.

If this series goes the distance, the Cavaliers will probably walk away victorious. However, faith needs to be put in the Raptors that they want to shake off the “chokers” label they have amassed through the years.

Raptors in six

Featured image by John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

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playoffs

Celtics vs. 76ers series preview

The NBA playoffs roll on, and so does The Game Haus’ coverage. Spring basketball has not disappointed thus far, and the games will only get more contentious as teams chase a championship.

Monday will hold the first game between the second-seeded Boston Celtics and the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. While the 76ers took care of the Miami Heat in just five games, the shorthanded Celtics needed all seven games to get past the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite their contrasting attitudes on the court, these two teams match up well. Assuming both teams play to their fullest potential, this could be a classic semifinal round. Here is some analysis and a prediction of what this series could hold.

Boston Celtics

Milwaukee gave Boston all they could handle until Game 7.

In the winner-take-all contest, the Celtics did not quite run the Bucks out of the gym, but came out with a convincing 14-point win. As these things usually do, the game came down to coaching and defense. Brad Stevens’ game plan may not have come to full fruition, as Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe had 22 and 23, respectively. The eternal shooter Khris Middleton also added 32.

playoffs

Tatum and Brown celebrate against the Nuggets. (Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports)

Minus their star Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ balanced attack overshadowed the young Bucks’ star power. Boston had three players with 20-plus scoring numbers, while three were in double digits or within one bucket.

All the games were closer than some of their scores might indicate. The Celtics needed overtime to stop Milwaukee in Game 1, and Game 4 and Game 5 were won by a combined total of seven points. The fact that Boston came out with a series win should be a jolt to the team because they have proven they can stop a legitimate superstar with a banged-up roster. It also solidifies Stevens’ place as the best coach in the league.

In their seven games, Boston has scored an average of 102.4 points per game, while holding the Bucks to 101.9 points. This is due to the double-digit losses the Celtics took in two of their three losing efforts. The defense is still good, but that offensive total will have to rise if they hope to beat the 76ers.

The three-point shooting has been shaky, at just 35 percent, which is only good for fifth worst out of all playoff teams. The only stat in which the Celtics claim a top-five ranking is turnovers. Obviously, the team has played well enough, but the real credit goes towards the coaching of Stevens in late game situations.

The 76ers should present even more of a challenge to them going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers and their “process” came away with a series win in five games against the Dwayne Wade-led Heat. The firepower coupled with the brand of bully-ball that Joel Embiid plays were too much for this Miami team that was seemingly without an identity.

The one game that Erik Spoelstra’s Heat managed to steal, was a 10-point win in Philadelphia. It took a vintage Dwayne Wade and five other Heat players to have double-digit scoring nights to do it. That is actually a good sign for Philadelphia. If a team has to have an incredible night to beat you, then that is nothing to hang one’s head about.

In that game, five 76ers also scored in double digits, as well. But shots were not falling at opportune times as Wade took over.

playoffs

Embiid celebrates after hitting a three in his infamous protective mask. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Their four winning games came by margins of 27, 20, four and 13, respectively. Great news, considering offense was the main concern of this team going into the playoffs. The 76ers currently rank first in points per game in the playoffs at 114.2. They also hold the top spot in rebounds per game and are second in steals per game.

It seems as if the regular season was not a fluke for this ridiculously young team. The offense and defense have carried over from the regular season to the playoffs. Embiid is not letting his orbital fracture get in the way of his play. Ben Simmons also continues to pad his stat-line without hamstringing the rest of the team.

There is no way to tell whether this is an NBA Finals caliber roster just yet, but there is certainly plenty to be excited about in Philadelphia.

Preview and Predictions

As stated before, the attitudes of these teams contrast, but their style of play is largely similar. Both teams like to score in the paint but do their best to take advantage of open jump shots, rather than pass them up for tough low-post shots.

The most interesting player matchup to watch during this semifinal series will be Embiid versus whomever Stevens wants guarding him. It could be Jayson Tatum, who has the same quickness, but neither the length nor defensive prowess of Embiid. It might also be true center Al Horford, who overmatches Embiid in defensive experience but might struggle to score against him. Keep in mind, also, that Horford can stretch the floor, as well as Embiid, can.

Ben Simmons will likely walk all over whichever Celtic guards him. Rozier is playing fantastic basketball, but the likelihood of him guarding a 6-foot-10 point guard with any kind of efficiency is low. Smart can also pick up the slack, but double-teaming Simmons will leave his passing lanes wide open.

Small forward matchups will mostly be a wash, considering the length and shooting ability of all parties. The bench matchup will likely be won by Boston, because of the brilliance of Brad Stevens and his game planning.

In the end, Philadelphia seems like a team on a mission. Their on-court presence is just as boisterous as it is off-court, and they want to prove to the NBA that “The Process” is officially complete.

76ers in six

Featured image by Michael Perez/Associated Press

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Fnatic will face G2 in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split finals

EU playoffs update: Semifinals review and finals preview

The EU LCS moved into the playoff semifinals this past weekend, with Europe’s quarterfinal winners stepping up to the plate. Splyce met G2 after defeating ROCCAT 3-0 in quarterfinals, while Vitality had beaten H2K 3-2 to face Fnatic in semifinals. Check out last week’s article to get the setup for quarterfinals and semifinals.

G2 v. SPY

G2 defeated Splyce in the 2018 Spring Split semifinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Splyce came into Friday’s match as the slight underdog, as they lost the second place slot in a tiebreaker with G2 at the end of the season. That being said, four of Splyce’s members won All-Pro honors, while only three from G2 were recognized. Splyce also dominated ROCCAT just last week, which made their match-up versus G2 even more exciting.

Their first game kicked off with Perkz giving First Blood to Xerxe’s Trundle in the mid lane. Jankos and the rest of G2 responded with a successful top lane gank and a pair of Ocean Drakes. He then turned to bottom lane for a dive, but KaSing’s Janna ultimate and Odoamne’s Sion Teleport nullified Jankos’ attempt, which turned into a death for Wadid and G2’s bottom turret. Over the next several minutes, Splyce and G2 traded rotations to take all outer turrets until G2 won a mid lane fight and took Baron. Using the pushing pressure, G2 accrued a 7,000 gold lead, but when G2 took their second Baron, Splyce traded for Elder Drake and was able to win every fight from there. They took G2’s Nexus in 42 minutes, still over 5,000 gold behind.

Game two was relatively quiet for the first 15 minutes. G2 was able to sustain enough lane pressure to allow Jankos space to take two Infernal Drakes. Wunder showcased the power of Swain, gaining around 40 CS over Odoamne and pushing down both solo lane turrets. G2 more-or-less forced their will onto Splyce for the rest of the game, sometimes a bit overzealous. Hjarnan’s Jhin and Jankos’ Skarner were able to engage onto Splyce at will, which allowed G2 to easily siege. Securing a Baron at 25 minutes was the straw that broke Splyce’s camel’s back, as G2 successfully kited any counter-engage from Odoamne’s Sion or Xerxe’s Sejuani. G2 ended the game almost 10,000 gold ahead by 34 minutes.

G2 gained the early lead in game three, by surviving a massive bottom lane gank from Splyce. They came out of it with two kills and bottom lane turret for just Wadid’s death. G2 also outplayed Splyce when they contested Rift Herald, but Odoamne, Xerxe, and Nisqy took mid lane turret in exchange. By 20 minutes, Splyce and G2 took all six outer turrets. They danced around the first Baron on even terms, but G2 secured it and a kill, which cracked open a 5,000 gold lead. After a surprise pick on Perkz’s Zoe, Splyce turned to secure Baron. Kobbe secured the objective, but G2 forced the fight and Hjarnan’s Jhin cleaned up a Quadra Kill. G2 pushed the series to match point.

Splyce and G2 remained even through the first 20 minutes of game four. However, G2 outplayed Splyce once more in a large top lane fight to take the lead. Odoamne’s Camille teleported in with KaSing’s Shen ult on him, but Wunder’s Fiora teleported in reply. Hjarnan and Wadid beat Kobbe to the lane, which resulted in a three for one for G2. Splyce pressured Baron just after 20 minutes, which resulted in a pick, but G2 staved them off of the objectives. Minutes later, Splyce sent three members bottom to kill Wunder, but G2 secured the Baron in response. In a desperation play, Splyce turned to pressure Baron again, at 33 minutes, but G2 took the fight, took the Baron, took the Elder Drake, and took the series. Hjarnan went 19-2-22 over the four games.

FNC v. VIT

Fnatic defeated Vitality in the 2018 EU LCS Semifinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Analysts were not sure what to make of Vitality versus Fnatic coming into the match-up. Fnatic were clearly the most dominant team in Europe, but Vitality had been their biggest rival during the regular season. Most expected the early game to revolve around Caps and Jiizuke in the mid lane, while Rekkles would be Fnatic’s late game ace up their sleeve. On top of that, Bwipo would substitute for SoaZ, due to an injury. The series could theoretically go many ways.

Fnatic drafted a powerful poke composition for game one, including Nidalee, Zoe, and Ezreal. Most of Fnatic’s pressure was on mid lane, as Broxah pulled off three successful ganks on Jiizuke pre-13 minutes. Although Vitality got a couple of picks on Hylissang’s Tahm Kench, Fnatic secured a 4,000 gold lead by 16:30. Caps’ Zoe roamed several times to nuke down Gilius and Minitroupax, while Fnatic also took first turret and a Mountain Drake. Fnatic took an uncontested Baron just after 20 minutes, and they finished in less than 26 minutes.

Game two saw Fnatic take a level one jungle invade, which ended as a one for one. Vitality ruled the early game this time around, as Gilius’ Skarner pulled off successful ganks top and mid. Fnatic also got outplayed in an early skirmish in their top-side jungle, giving Vitality a 2,000 gold lead around 10 minutes. Hylissang’s Braum made an aggressive play in the mid lane to shut down Jiizuke’s Taliyah and Gilius, which helped even out the game. Fnatic continued to pick up kills by punishing Vitality’s aggression towards Bwipo’s Gangplank in the side lane, gaining their own 3,000 gold lead by 20 minutes. The rest of the game was the Fnatic show, as Vitality only got one kill for the rest of the 30-minute game–no more turrets or neutral objectives.

Vitality got their first win in the third game. Gilius’ Olaf and Jiizuke’s Taliyah focused on the top side and Cabochard’s Camille pick, roaming and ganking Bwipo’s Cho’Gath twice in the first 10 minutes. With so much pressure, Cabochard was able to open up the map, taking several turrets, but Fnatic rotated as a team to match. They evened out the gold around 20 minutes, aggressively outplaying Vitality with Rekkles’ Ezreal and Caps’ Swain. Vitality pushed Fnatic off of a 20-minute Baron and took it for themselves. Fnatic returned to Baron around 29 minutes, but Gilius stole it and Cabochard and Jiizuke’s split push knocked down Fnatic’s Nexus turrets. With the next siege, Vitality closed game three.

Fnatic won out the early skirmishes of game four, mostly centered around Caps’ Swain. By 11 minutes, he was 3-0-2 with 100 percent kill participation. Vitality were active in finding picks on Bwipo’s Gangplank and shutting down Caps, but Fnatic always traded for turrets. Fnatic won the first big fight in the mid lane around 19 minutes, and they snowballed from there. Vitality contested Fnatic’s every move, but Broxah’s Trundle and Hylissang’s Braum permanently slowed their opponents, easily allowing Rekkles and Caps to secure kills. Fnatic took a Baron at 15 minutes without losing any members, and the following siege ended the game in 30 minutes. Vitality lost the series 1-3, qualifying Fnatic for their first finals in two years.

G2 v. FNC

G2 will face Fnatic in the 2018 EU LCS Finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The classic “Old Kings versus New Kings” showdown will happen this weekend for the EU LCS Spring Split title. Of the 10 total LCS championships, Fnatic won five between 2013 and 2015, while G2 has won the last four in a row. These two organizations are the most decorated in EU LCS history.

But these are very different teams than the championship winners of the past. Huni, Reignover, Febiven, Zven, and Mithy play in North America now. Trick moved to the LCK and Yellowstar coaches. Perkz and Rekkles are the only remaining members of these previous winning teams, and everyone is watching them in this final.

2018 Spring Split G2 and Fnatic have relatively similar styles. Their junglers usually wait a while to make moves, opting for safer farm in the early game. Wunder and Perkz generally gain leads from laning phase, while Rekkles and Hylissang are more controlled for Fnatic. Giving a dragon or a turret is okay for these two, as long as they are safely farming and controlling vision.

However, once Baron spawns, the game truly starts. Both of these teams jockey for vision around Baron non-stop. Caps and Hylissang are often Fnatic’s initiators, engaging onto unsuspecting targets or baiting their opponents into an unwanted skirmish. Perkz and Hjarnan stay on the backline, while Jankos and Wadid check all fog-of-war. Wunder is quick to teleport into the fight, while Bwipo tends to hesitate.

Before semifinals, this match-up would be much more Fnatic-favored. But, with Hjarnan stepping up big time against Splyce, and Bwipo subbing in for Soaz, this match-up should be extremely close. Both teams showed variations in their playstyles over their series. Fnatic showed their extreme poke composition and strong team-fighting. G2 showed they can play split-pushing with Fiora and a pick composition with Zoe and Thresh.

Expect intense drafts from these two. Braum, Camille, Swain, Zoe, and Gangplank proved extremely strong for both teams. G2 and Fnatic will most likely stick to the meta picks and opt for scaling through the first phase of the game. Once they are in-game, the victories are going to come down to five-versus-five team-fighting and macro play. It should be a historic series, as these fights are going to be explosive. G2 could tie up the trophy count five and five, or Fnatic may re-establish their dominance in Europe. Find out on Sunday, April 8.

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EU playoffs update: Quarterfinals review and semifinals preview

The first stage of the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split playoffs kicked off this past weekend, with Splyce facing off against ROCCAT and H2K versus Team Vitality. These two pairs battled in best-of-five matches to determine who would continue into the semifinals. Here is what has happened so far, and what playoffs looks like moving forward. 

SPY v. ROC

ROCCAT faced Splyce in the quarterfinals of 2018 Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Splyce was the heavy favorite coming into their quarterfinals match against ROCCAT, since they closed the regular season in third, while ROCCAT finished sixth. Splyce had four of five members voted into EU’s All-Pro team; ROCCAT had none. The Snakes finished the last four weeks of LCS with only two losses, while ROCCAT went 4-4, including one loss to Splyce.

The first game of the series began with Splyce reacting to deep invades from ROCCAT. Nisqy secured three early kills on Kassadin, two from Memento, one from Blanc. ROCCAT maintained momentum, taking the first three turrets, three dragons, and Rift Herald, until a three for zero fight in Splyce’s favor around 25 minutes. Splyce took Baron, which unlocked the map. Nisqy finished the game 12-0-2.

Top lane pressure characterized game two’s early game, with Xerxe and Memento both pulling off successful ganks. Splyce gained the momentum with an Infernal Drake, a two for zero fight, and mid lane turret secured by 17 minutes. ROCCAT were completely out of sorts from there, as Splyce knocked down three more turrets by 20 minutes. With the map opened up, Odoamne’s Camille and Xerxe’s Zac were unlocked to roam the map and engage at their leisure. Splyce took Baron and ended the game by 29 minutes.

ROCCAT started game three with early game success on the bottom side, with KaSing dying twice and Nisqy dying once pre-10 minutes. However, ROCCAT’s messy skirmishing around the bottom side allowed Splyce to grab the reins. Odoamne’s Camille wreaked havoc once again, split-pushing down turrets and catching out unsuspecting ROCCAT members. Splyce took a 30-minute Baron and ROCCAT was unable to stall long enough for HeaQ’s Jinx to come online. The series ended in a 3-0 for Splyce, eliminating ROCCAT from playoffs in fifth-sixth.

H2K v. VIT

H2K faced Team Vitality in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Saturday kicked off with fourth place Vitality battling fifth place H2K for the semifinals spot versus Fnatic. H2K looked to ride the momentum of the back half of their split, which finished 7-3 over the last five weeks. Vitality felt the inverse effect, finishing 3-7 over that same time. This quarterfinal match-up would be a nexus point between the rise and fall of these two teams.

Game one saw H2K controlling the top side with Smittyj’s Camille gaining a leading and taking the turret, while Vitality’s bottom lane gained a lead and took their turret. Both teams matched their rotations to take second turrets, but Vitality’s Infernal Drakes and superior skirmishing allowed them to take a 2,000 gold lead, their third Infernal, and mid lane turret around 20 minutes. Vitality took the Baron and sieged bottom lane to end in 27 minutes.

Vitality won out bot lane again in their second game against H2K, with Sheriff and Promisq falling to an early turret dive. Minitroupax’s Caitlyn sieged down all three outer turrets by 17 minutes. However, Shook’s Baron steal around 27 minutes was the great equalizer. H2K pushed Vitality’s bottom lane all the way into the Nexus turrets, which gave them pressure to take the second Baron. Vitality never found the proper engage between Shen, Sejuani and Thresh, and H2K closed the game.

With Caitlyn and Leona locked in, Vitality continued to index heavily on bottom lane dominance in game three. By 18 minutes, Vitality knocked down two bot lane turrets and two Ocean Drakes, compared to H2K’s single top turret. Despite their 8-1 kill lead, Vitality were unable to properly posture around Baron. H2K forced them off with a three for one fight, then secured Baron for themselves the next go around. Sheriff got caught out during the siege, which gave Vitality enough control to take the third Baron. Vitality pushed down mid, but H2K defended the inhibitor, which caused both teams to dance around the 44 minute Baron. Neither team lost members, but Vitality secured Baron, rotated and took Elder Drake, then rolled over H2K to take the series to game four.

H2K flipped the script by taking the Morgana-Caitlyn bot lane combo, killing Jactroll, and taking turret around 9 minutes. Shook ganked bot with Zac and helped secure two more kills on Vitality’s bottom lane. With Smittyj solo killing Cabochard’s Shen with Sion, H2K maintained tempo advantage. They aced Vitality in the mid lane around 18 minutes, including a Quadra Kill for Selfie’s Kassadin. A 20 minute Baron for H2K set them up for an unstoppable siege. They ended the game in 23 minutes for “silver scrapes.”

The match point game saw both teams return to top side focus. Gilius and Jiizuke visited top lane for kills on Smittyj’s Ornn in the first 12 minutes. H2K responded by outplaying Gilius’ gank to bottom lane, resulting in a Double Kill for Smittyj. They took bottom turret, then rotated top for Rift Herald, where Vitality lost the fight 0-2. H2K contested Vitality around Infernal Drake, which Shook stole, but Minitroupax’s Tristana also got a Double Kill. From there, Vitality won siege after siege, eventually taking a 22 minute Baron. Over the next 10 minutes, H2K was only able to successfully engage and kill Minitroupax once, and Vitality used the Tristana and Baron buffs to push down all the way to the Nexus. The series went to Vitality, eliminating H2K from playoffs in fifth-sixth.

G2 v. SPY

Splyce will face G2 in the semifinals of the 2018 Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

G2 awaits Splyce in Europe’s first semifinals match. The Samurai hold a slight advantage in this match-up, considering they defeated Splyce in a tiebreaker two weeks ago to secure second place. Both teams ended the regular season 11-7, with G2 winning in week three and Splyce winning in week seven.

In their first best-of-one, G2 gained a slight lead in laning phase. Most of the game held a 2-2 kill score, with both teams focusing on trading turrets and vision. Around 36 minutes G2 secured a 50/50 Elder Drake, which allowed them to win the fight and blow the game open.

When they met in the seventh week of LCS, Splyce took decisive control of the early game. Nisqy’s Galio paired nicely with Xerxe’s Ivern to wander around the map catching G2 out. Splyce also took the first turret and dragon by 11 minutes. The open map made it even more difficult for G2 to wander out of vision, and Splyce took over. Their Rakan-Galio engage combined with the buffed Baron-Banner-Ivern bush minion to mow down all of G2’s base without much resistance. Splyce almost perfect-gamed G2, who only ended with one kill and one turret.

Their tiebreaker match began with Splyce taking early control, yet again. Xerxe pulled off successful ganks in top lane and bottom lane, but a couple of uncoordinated plays in the top river cost Splyce several kills, two more turrets, and, ultimately, a 21 minute Baron. With G2 fully unlocked, they gained a 12,000 gold lead and bled Splyce out for second place.

Expect both of these teams to play standard League of Legends for the first 20 minutes. G2 and Splyce will politely lane against one another with the occasional gank from Xerxe or Jankos. They will group and rotate to contest turrets and dragons, but will otherwise avoid one another. Baron and Elder Drake will be game-breaking for these two, because once one of them secures the major neutral objective, they kick the game into overdrive and push their advantages hard.

G2’s individual members should be able to gain laning phase leads, if left to their own devices. Xerxe has been fairly successful with early game ganking in top and bottom lane, though. Over the course of a best-of-five, both of these teams should hold up. Splyce seem most likely to adapt their draft between each game, and prepare surprise strategies that could net them wins. This series should go to five games, unless Splyce or G2 heavily over-performs.

FNC v. VIT

Vitality will face Fnatic in the semifinals of the 2018 Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Vitality will challenge first seed Fnatic in the second semifinals series this weekend. Fnatic are favorites in this match-up, as they only lost four games all split. Vitality finished the season 10-8, but the back half of their spring was much less convincing than the front half. These two went 1-1 against each other over the regular season, with Vitality winning first in week two and Fnatic getting revenge in week seven.

Jiizuke’s Ryze was the star of the show in Vitality’s win over Fnatic. Gilius basically camped mid to put Caps’ Azir far behind. In response, Fnatic rotated top several times to shut down Cabochard’s Lucian. However, Jiizuke persistently pressured the side lanes with Ryze, frequently winning versus multiple opponents. Vitality ultimately feigned an Elder Drake take, but instead backdoored Fnatic’s nexus to end.

In their rematch, Vitality attempted a similar strategy, earning two kills for Jiizuke’s Azir by camping Caps’ Corki in mid lane. This pressure spilled over into bottom and top lane, as Vitality had a 4,000 gold lead by 15 minutes. Fnatic held it together long enough to sneak Broxah’s Kha’Zix into the Baron pit and steal it from Vitality. The steal brought Fnatic right back into the game, and allowed Rekkles’ Tristana and Caps’ Corki to lay siege. They pushed all the way to Vitality’s nexus turrets, then back off. Vitality responded with several picks and an Elder Drake, which they used to break open Fnatic’s base. Caps and SoaZ tried to teleport and backdoor, but Cabochard and Minitroupax stopped them. Vitality attempted to take Elder Drake, but Broxah stole that, too. The buff pushed Fnatic over the top to almost aced Vitality and end the game.

Vitality may have some weaknesses in their draft, if they try to utilize the same “camp mid” strategy every game. Rekkles has shown multiple times that he can remain self-sufficient playing into losing match-ups. Fnatic could easily force Vitality to pick Jiizuke’s mid lane champion first, and save the counter for Caps. They could also remove Gilius’ safest champions, Sejuani and Zac, and force him to play Trundle or Olaf. He would have less crowd control for mid lane that way, and less agency to gank early. Fnatic also have much more experience as a team in longer high pressure series, and should be able to adapt.

On the other hand, Fnatic will not start SoaZ this weekend. He is out with an injury, which means Bwipo will step in as their starting top laner. Putting a rookie in such a position could slightly compromise Fnatic’s chances. However, in their two games with Bwipo so far, Fnatic seemed just as dominant. They should be able to take this series quickly and efficiently, but Vitality will probably take a win in the first two games. Vitality’s unbridled playstyle should yield some exciting games, but if any team can stamp out their sparks before they burn everything down, it is Fnatic.

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Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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Team Liquid win the regular season Academy League

Team Liquid finish first in Academy; Cloud9, FlyQuest and Echo Fox to playoffs

The inaugural North American Academy League finished its first split last night. Nine weeks of competition ended with Team Liquid in first place, followed by Cloud9, FlyQuest, and Echo Fox. These four teams move on to the playoff stage of the Spring Split to battle for bragging rights.

Week Nine

The final week of the Spring Split shook up the standings quite a bit. Coming out of week eight, Cloud9 and FlyQuest were tied for first. Team Liquid followed in third with Echo Fox fourth. CLG sat fifth, while 100 Thieves and TSM tied for sixth. Clutch and OpTic tied for eighth, and Golden Guardians rounded out the league in tenth.

Day One

Cloud9 finish the regular season Academy League in second place

Image from Leaguepedia

C9 and FLY faced off on day one of week nine, which would determine who would solely hold first place. C9’s “bouncy house” composition finally came through, despite FLY’s accrued gold lead. FLY’s 8,000 gold lead crumbled quickly after C9’s Baron call around 38 minutes. Two major team fights, and C9 took the Nexus, as well as first place. The rest of Thursday’s matches went to the expected victors (Liquid, Clutch, FOX, and CLG).

Day Two

Team Liquid took their shot at Cloud9 on Friday, hoping to challenge the top spot. V1PER’s snowballing top lane Olaf went berserk, finishing 9-3-4 with the most gold in the game. With the win, Team Liquid tied for first, which would later force a tiebreaker.

The following match, Clutch versus 100 Thieves, was another crucial head-to-head between tied teams. These two, along with TSM, sat tangled in sixth with a 7-10 record. The match remained relatively even through 23 minutes, but a big Baron take for Clutch blew it wide open. Piglet’s Twitch finished 8-1-3. Linsanity’s Ryze went 0-5-2. The loss bumped 100 Thieves out of sixth.

Echo Fox finish the regular season Academy League in fourth place

Image from Leaguepedia

Echo Fox defended their playoff spot by upsetting FlyQuest in Friday’s showdown. Three early kills to FOX’s carries set them up for an easy snowball. Damonte’s Anivia, OddOrange’s Sejuani, and Allorim’s Sion combined for an incredible amount of crowd control, which FLY was unable to overcome. Erry’s Jinx never came online, and FOX closed out the game with only a single tower lost. This victory solidified FOX’s fourth place finish, as well as FLY’s third place finish.

To finish out the day, Liquid and Cloud9 rematched to tiebreak first place. Risky Riven and Kog’Maw picks put a lot of pressure on TL throughout the mid-game. C9 racked up a 4,200 gold lead by 19 minutes, winning skirmishes around Goldenglue’s Ryze. However, like the rest of the matches, TL’s Baron capture and teamfight win put them back in the saddle. C9 looked shaken, as V1PER’s Riven and Mickey’s Swain broke the team up and pushed them back. Liquid ended just under 37 minutes with nearly 10,000 gold over Cloud9.

Playoffs

Unlike the LCS, only four teams enter playoffs in the Academy League. The semifinals consists of Team Liquid versus Echo Fox, and Cloud9 versus FlyQuest. These teams will play a best-of-five to see who moves onto the finals. Team Liquid beat Echo Fox in both of their regular season face-offs, while Cloud9 and FlyQuest went 1-1.

Team Liquid v. Echo Fox

Team Liquid win the Academy League regular season

Image from Leaguepedia

Team Liquid seems the most explosive team in the league. They average .76 combined kills per minute, more than any other team, while Echo Fox averages .57, third lowest. Look for Joey and Hard to force plays, while Damonte and Lost do their best to carry. Mickey does some of the highest damage in the league, so FOX should do all they can to hold him down. According to Oracles Elixir, Echo Fox has the stronger early game, while Team Liquid have the superior mid-late game.

V1PER played 14 of 17 games on carries, such as Riven, Camille, and Yasuo, while Allorim played almost exclusively tanks, like Sion, Ornn, and Maokai. Mickey’s champion pool has been all over the place, while Damonte has mostly drafted Cassiopeia and Ryze over the second half of the split. TL and FOX’s AD carry position is probably the most unbalanced. Lost consistently outputs more damage, more kill participation, and higher KDAs than Shoryu. He is also unafraid to draft Ezreal or Kog’Maw, where Shoryu leans on Tristana and Xayah much more. This offset could be exploited over a series.

Cloud9 v. FlyQuest

Flyquest finish the regular season Academy League in third place

Image from Leaguepedia

FLY and C9 will be a much closer match-up, on paper. Their team-wide statistics generally line up, with FlyQuest looking slightly better overall. Baron and Elder Drake control are their widest gaps. C9 only takes 54 percent of Barons, while FLY takes 72 percent. On the flip-side, FLY takes 33 percent of Elder Drakes, while C9 has taken 100 percent. These trends could result in divisive games.

Keith topped the Academy League in virtually every stat. He has the highest KDA, kill participation and damage per minute, while also maintaining the lowest death share. Zeyzal and he will most likely win Cloud9 the series, matching up against Erry and JayJ. However, Keane and Shrimp will get things going early, maintaining some of the highest First Blood and kill participation rates of any jungle-mid duo. Shiro appears to be C9’s weakest member, and his reliance on Gnar could get exploited.

The rest of the league

The other teams enter the off-season for a much needed break. CLG finished fifth, only one win from fourth place. TSM and Clutch tied for sixth with 8-10 records. 100 Thieves kept eighth for themselves, while OpTic concluded their season ninth. Golden Guardians bottomed out the league at 2-16.

Without the immediate fear of relegation or promotion tournament, it is difficult to predict what this mid-season may be like. The Academy League is supposed to center around developing rising talent, so losing is not necessarily cause for change. Team pride will most likely win out, resulting in plenty of recruitment for fresh new talent. A few players may even get scouted for low-level LCS teams.

Golden Guardians and OpTic Gaming should probably make sweeping change with their rosters, as their Academy and LCS squads failed to really pull together. Xpecial, Hai, Contractz and PowerOfEvil are probably the most safe candidates for rebuilding around, but anyone is fair game at this point. Coaches and support staff may also be considered for replacement. These new organizations most likely learned a lot in their first Spring Split, which they will utilize in off-season decision-making.

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Featured Image: LoLesports.com

Other Images: Leaguepedia

Statistics: Oracles Elixir, Games of Legends

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Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 faced off in the 2016 Worlds finals

LCK innovation and flexibility could lead to a 2016 World finals rematch

The semifinals match-ups are set for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. SK Telecom T1 (SKT) will take on Royal Never Give Up (RNG), while Samsung Galaxy (SSG) faces Team WE (WE). This stage of the tournament is all about China’s Pro League (LPL) challenging Champions Korea (LCK) in a rivalry as old as professional League of Legends.

Each of these four teams had its own fantastic quarterfinals. WE defeated Cloud9 (C9) 3-2 in a back-and-forth series. SSG skunked Longzhu Gaming (LZ) 3-0, knocking out the Worlds tournament favorite. RNG punished Fnatic’s errors in a 3-1 victory. SKT barely missed losing in a nail biter 3-2 win over Misfits.

Moving into the final four phase of Worlds, these players will be pushed to their limits. SKT has not faced RNG, nor has SSG played versus WE. The second and third seeds from the LPL are facing those of the LCK, seeking redemption for domestic shortcomings. With EDward Gaming, China’s first seed, and Longzhu Gaming, Korea’s first seed, eliminated from competition, Chinese fans have turned to RNG and WE, while Korean fans look to SKT and SSG.

Only two teams move on from here. RNG could be the roadblock which prevents SKT from making their fourth Worlds final. WE could finish in the top two, despite beginning their Worlds run in the play-in stage. SSG and SKT will look for a 2016 finals rematch, which is actually quite likely.

INNOVATION

SSG showed innovation in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

SSG and WE are the two teams in the final four that have shown innovation during the World Championship. WE completely redefined the meta in Group D when they drafted Caitlyn and Jayce to create a high-pressure siege composition to combat the slow, scaling team-fight composition that everyone was drafting. SSG drafted niche picks, such as Kennen, Malzahar and Lissandra during their series against LZ.

Bold adaptations helped these two teams get this far. However, WE seem less interested in continuing to adapt. They returned to their Kog’Maw-Ardent Censer support comfort zone when facing C9, which is part of the reason their series was so close. Instead, C9’s innovations actually caught WE on the back foot through the first four games. WE even ended up banning Singed after game three.

WE did not innovate much in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

On the other hand, SSG just started coming into their own against LZ. Since SSG only needed to study a single opponent, they were able to pinpoint potential problems with LZ, particularly during the draft phase. They took advantage of the fact that LZ prioritize Jarvan IV as a flex pick and roaming mid laners for Bdd. SSG picked or banned Taliyah, and then purposefully left her up in game three to pull out Lissandra as a counter.

If C9 were able to win out during the draft phase, and just failed to properly execute their win conditions, then SSG should be the perfect team to stop WE in their tracks. SSG should be able to pull out even more champion diversity, and then follow through after load-in. They will most likely target the Mystic-Ruler and Crown-Xiye match-ups. Taric was a crucial piece of C9’s puzzle in quarterfinals, as he was for CoreJJ. Shen proved important in the C9-WE series, but SSG pulled it off even better against LZ. 

The other crucial difference between WE and SSG is their quarterfinals gold differences at 15 minutes. WE averaged 1,200 gold behind C9, while SSG averaged just over 1,000 ahead of LZ. Keep in mind, WE were still able to take the series, mostly because of their strong scaling picks, such as Kog’Maw, Corki, Cho’Gath and Maokai. Beyond a certain period in the game, these picks overcome their early game gold deficits and come online. SSG will need to be sure they cut the games shorter.

Flexibility

RNG was inflexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

RNG is facing SKT on the other side of the semifinals bracket. Flexibility, or lack thereof, is the key contrast between these two squads. RNG’s players have played an average of 4.4 total champions during the World Championship so far. SKT’s players average 5.8. Faker and Wolf have played eight and seven different champions, while Xiaohu and Ming have played five and four. This openness to adaptation will be the main catalyst for SKT to make it through semifinals.

For the most part, RNG has relied on Uzi’s late-game team-fighting on Tristana, Kog’Maw and Twitch to carry them to victory. They draft Ardent Censer supports, zoning and roaming mid laners, Jarvan IV and Sejuani in the jungle and AP tanks in the top lane. Meanwhile, SKT leans on Huni to mostly split-push, although he has played Cho’Gath three times. Blank and Peanut exclusively draft Jarvan IV, Sejuani and Gragas. Faker has shown supportive, roaming, assassin and hyper-carry mid laners. Bang and Wolf have run early pressure and late-scaling bottom lanes. Wolf even played Braum and Tahm Kench against Misfits.

SKT are notoriously good at studying single opponents for best-of-five series. Misfits became a thorn in their side when they started drafting engage supports, Ivern jungle and Karma mid. These types of bold innovations forced SKT to become pliable. RNG are much less likely to bring these shake-ups to the table, which will give SKT much more confidence.

SKT were flexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

Targeting the support and top lane champion pool is probably the best way to go. Removing Letme’s fall-back champions and opening up an opportunity for Huni to have the upper hand could puncture RNG’s strategy. Banning out Janna, Lulu and Soraka could take away Uzi’s babysitter (Fnatic’s game three win involved Ming on Morgana). Both sets of junglers will have predictable preferences, as will the AD carries. Finally, Faker has proven that he can adapt and carry in almost any match-up, even if he is set behind early in the game. He can definitely take on Xiaohu, even if he drafts Syndra, Galio or Ryze.

The gold differential at 15 minutes is much closer between these two teams. RNG starts ahead by 371. SKT falls 218 behind. Their early game trends have been slightly different, though. SKT secured first blood in four of their five games versus Misfits, but only first turret in two of five. Meanwhile, RNG took first turret in three out of four games against Fnatic, but only one in four first bloods.

This series is most likely going to come down to late-game decision-making, regardless of the drafts and early games. RNG will be more prone to forcing fights once Uzi has several completed items. SKT will be open to engaging five-versus-five, but they may also implement one-four or one-three-one compositions in certain matches. Huni has pulled off some split-pushing wins with Jayce and Trundle. Faker has drafted Kassadin. The flexibility of their composition and strategy may be the way that SKT pulls through to the finals.

2016 Worlds Rematch

Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 may rematch at the 2017 World finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

SSG’s innovation and SKT’s flexibility will most likely be the crucial factors that result in LCK wins over the LPL. The LCK has proven over the past several years that they are the dominant region. SKT and SSG have both proven so far that, though they have their faults, they come through in the clutch moments. The World Championship is an arduous tournament. While the Chinese organizations have the home field advantage, the Korean ethic has reigned supreme for some time.

These wins would result in a rematch of 2016’s World finals: SKT versus SSG. It would be the first time that two teams had a Worlds finals rematch, and the “script” could not have been written any better. These teams have tested their mettle against the best from North America, Europe, Taiwan and other regions. Now they have their Rift Rivals as their final boss before meeting again. The professional League of Legends landscape would come full circle, and history would be made. It will take innovation and flexibility to get there.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports FlickrGames of Legends

Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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msi day 1 uzi

Semifinals Spotlight: Royal squares up

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

SKT’s kryptonite?

royal squares up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

Redemption for xiaohu and Uzi

royals square up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

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

Royal: TO FOrge a Warpath

royal squares up

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

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

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

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

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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north america's prophecy

Worlds 2017: North America’s prophecy

Week Two of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship brought miracle comebacks and rookie hype. While some records were broken, others remained.

North America’s prophecy rang true; The North American representatives combined for a meager 2-9 record in Week Two of groups. With a history of defeat, what can explain NA’s consistently poor showings at Worlds? Do the players and teams suffer from some mental block? Or, is NA doomed to their prophetic losses year and again?

NA Hopes and Memes

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Each year it sounds like a broken record. “North America looks really good this year. The region is a lot more competitive this time around,” they say.

Yet, NA teams never seem to show up when it counts. At Worlds 2015, all three NA representatives failed to advance beyond group stage. Worlds 2016, only Cloud 9 (C9) moved on to quarters before falling to tournament finalists Samsung Galaxy (SSG). This year, analysts had Immortals (IMT) and Team SoloMid (TSM) as heavy favorites to advance coming into Week Two of groups. Still, the North American representatives crumbled under the pressure. Cloud 9, again, was the only team to survive.

It seems that despite the progress North America seems to make, their teams consistently fail to perform on the international stage. Domestic competition grows, but nothing translates come time for Worlds. This trend carried over the past several years, developing into a widely used meme: NA in Week Two. Week Two of group stages has often been NA’s ‘Achilles heel’. The worst part? The results do not lie.

Last week, Immortals only needed to win one of four games to secure themselves a quarterfinals spot. Instead, they crumbled to Fnatic (FNC) in an unparalleled run for the European squad. Team SoloMid fell to rookie squad Misfits Gaming (MSF) in a tiebreaker match that silenced thousands of NA hopefuls, begging the question: is North America’s prophecy a matter of fact, or has the meme grown so large that NA teams succumb to pressure on social media?

NA’s Kryptonite: Prophecies or adaptation?

north america's prophecy

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

One of the greatest benefits of participating in the World Championship is team growth. Many Worlds teams show remarkable improvement after the first week of group stage. Misfits Gaming, for example, had several clear weaknesses in Week One. Their bottom lane was susceptible to early pressure in their loss against Team WE. Transitioning into Week Two, MSF’s AD-carry Steven “Hans Sama” Liv and support Donggeun “Ignar” Lee played with a measured aggression that shined through their tiebreaker victory over TSM.

On the other hand, TSM’s most glaring weakness throughout the tournament was an inability to apply early pressure. Instead, TSM relied on a passive playstyle and scaling focused compositions. In fact, TSM’s affinity to float through the first fifteen minutes of a game led to zero first bloods in all seven of their games. Coming into Week Two, it was time to see if TSM fixed these issues. Team WE drafted an aggressive early-game focused composition meant to push TSM out of their usual scaling, late-game comfort. Team SoloMid failed to adapt as WE crushed them in 24 minutes.

TSM showed no signs of growth coming into their Week Two matches. In their games, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and mid-laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg played uncharacteristically restrained, unwilling to take risks or pressure aggressively. This lack of proactive early shot-calling proved that TSM made little progress fixing their week one problems. Similarly, with Immortals, their opponents in Fnatic and GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) both made huge strides in improving their gameplay while IMT clung to their week one formula. These two North American teams showed little growth coming into the second week of Worlds 2017.

Can C9 Smash North America’s Prophecy?

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike TSM, Cloud 9 demonstrated a clear ability to adapt to meta changes on the fly. In addition, C9 successfully indexed on early aggressive playstyles carried out primarily by rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. After seeing Team WE pull out the first “Caitlyn” of the tournament, C9 was quick and unafraid to experiment with the champion in a high-pressure match against ahq eSports Club (AHQ). With C9 AD-carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi looking increasingly in form, and Contractz overperforming at his first Worlds appearance, the momentum looks good for C9.

However, their quarterfinal opponents in Team WE also look to be rallying with the home crowd booming behind them. Both teams boast aggressive, carry-oriented junglers. So far at Worlds, we have seen Contractz and WE’s jungler RenJie “Condi” Xiang on champions like “Ezreal,” “Kha,zix” and “Graves.” These high risk, high damage junglers will define the early game between these two rosters. How will Contractz, a rookie, fair against a more seasoned jungler in Condi?

In a post-game interview, Contractz spoke to confidence as a crucial part of C9’s mindset coming into every match. With no time to worry about North America’s prophecy or endless memes, Cloud 9 is looking to show up big at Worlds 2017. As the most consistent North American team on an international stage, C9 carries the weight of an entire region coming into quarterfinals. Will this iteration of Cloud 9 be the one to break this cursed prophecy?


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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

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