Star Wars: JEDI Fallen Order: made with love

I just finished the newest Star Wars game, JEDI Fallen Order and I have…thoughts.

This game absolutely blew me away. I had purposefully kept myself away from spoilers or watching any extended game play because I didn’t want to get over-invested or spoil it for myself due to performance issues upon release. That said, this is easily the best AAA game I have played in long long while that deserves wholehearted praise for the attention to detail and the integration of its many game systems into such a fully fleshed out product. Functionally, it performed great on my system, I know many many people had problems with frame drops and some bugs but I had very very few experiences with bugs and virtually no frame drops (I have a Ryzen 2700X and a 1070Ti), I know for many people the experience trying to play any game can play a huge part in what you take away from enjoying the game, but thankfully I had no issues.

From the beginning, you are greeted with the standard homage of a space ship floating across the screen (no yellow text crawl) and the music kicks off. Immediately I noticed the music was not what i expected, somewhat foreign and ritualistic, almost like it was daring you to continue watching. The cinematic sequence is short, but beautifully crafted and the voice acting, as well as the character modeling is translated realistically from screen to eye, in a way that very very few games actually care to do. Here, the studio seems to embrace the narrative direction and really focus on the actors’ and models’ closeup so you can see their reactions. We’re only 30 seconds in, my hesitation to really welcome this game is still holding but I think I already see why people liked it since release.

The world building put in by the narrative and story design really was something to marvel at. You are Cal Kestis, former padawan in hiding in an industrialized scrap yard on Bracca, In the first 20 minutes, you go from post-clone wars industrial worker to outlaw as an unplanned accident forces you to reveal your force using abilities to one of your coworkers named Prauf and you begin to plan your departure. Cut short, the empire’s arm of specialized Jedi hunters descends upon the planet and issues to you and the few around around you an ultimatum, reveal yourself or you all die. Prauf tries to rouse the group when he is killed right before your eyes forcing you to reveal yourself. A heavily scripted series of events leads to you tearing through a train car by car until you face off against your foil of the game, the Second Sister of the Inquisitors. This sect of the empire hunts down force users to either kill or indoctrinate. After successfully warding off the initial fight, you disembark on your journey through the galaxy to rediscover your Jedi abilities and restore the Jedi Order.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - Tips to be the best Jedi

Gotta admit, I wasn’t fully into it yet. The writing seemed good, the acting was more sufficient to capture viewer’s attention, the tutorial was not that challenging for a newbie and you seemed powerful at the very start. The environment design seemed mostly on rails because you’re playing a heavily scripted sequence so I wasn’t sure if that was how the whole game would go. Shortly after escaping, you meet your companions, Cere and Greez. Cere reveals that she was a Jedi, past-tense, who now cannot use the force because she has cut herself off, much like Luke had in Last Jedi. Greez is captain of the ship Mantis. You were a young padawan when your Master Jaro Topal was killed during Order 66 and you’ve been in hiding ever since.

When you embark on your first exploration of the planet Bogano, the scenery dramatically changes from the first area you saw. Gone are the industrial pipes and trenches, landscapes of ships being scrapped and machinery around every corner. No, now you are in a plateaued wet green grassland, wide open for your adventure to unfold. You meet a droid called BD-1 who becomes your companion while on mission. All of this sounds neat, and perfectly Star Wars as experienced in other games of the franchise, KOTOR comes to mind the strongest, but I hadn’t let my guard down until leaving the planet. After the initial skirmishes with the wildlife, exploring nook and cranny I could, the discovery of various short stories told in 1-2 sentence snippets BD-1 scans or you feel through the force, you finally ready to leave with a new mission. A dead Jedi Master named Eno Cordova alienated himself from the order during the clone wars to explore far sacred places connected to the force, and he hid a Jedi holocron (basically a memory card for whatever you want) that contains a list of young force-users who have not been discovered by the Empire. You must go to these places and retrace his steps to uncover the mystery of how to access the holocron. As I boarded my ship I was thinking to myself, “Well, this seems interesting enough, I guess,” when I selected the next planet to go to and went to the cockpit of the ship. The companions are chit chatting about their history when the stars outside the ship start to form the iconic pulling lines right before a jump into hyperspace and I thought “Holy shit, they did it. This is Star Wars.”

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review | New Game Network

At the end of that initial sequence, I fucking cried. It has been so long since I felt invested in a Star Wars story that didn’t happen in theaters. I was an avid reader of the expanded universe before Disney bought the IP and I have not read since, feeling burned by investment I’d made only for all that time to be rendered pretty much useless since Disney axed any possibility of retaining those incredible stories for future use. I knew I was being taken in for a wild ride seeing how seriously and devoted the production design was.

This is a Dark Souls-like game, and for the record it is the first in my experience. For anyone unfamiliar, Dark Souls created a series of games heavily focused on challenging combat meant to test player’s reaction times and planning. I genuinely loved the combat loop, almost any enemy can take you from 100 to 0 health if you misplay the encounter. Within this reaction based combat is a dodge and block-parry system. Your dodge is not perfect, you can still be damaged and you give the enemy an opening to attack when you come out of your dodge animation. You can also block basic attacks, but your block will be broken if you block too many hits and lose your poise. The enemies also have strong attacks which cannot be blocked at all so you either dodge or lose a chunk of your health. If you block any enemy during their basic attack as it connects with your lightsaber, you earn a brief opening to attack. Likewise, they can block your basic attacks, and you can wear down their poise meter. It is a very balanced system between player and enemy, and I really appreciated this.

Another thing that makes it Dark Souls-like is the consequence for dying. When you die in combat you lose a significant amount of experience which you would bank for skill points to level up Cal’s abilities or add new combos to your roster. The only way to get that experience back is to hit the enemy you died to.

Some things frustrate me about the combat. The biggest gripe is that it is hard to feel like your abilities you invested in actually pay off because when you try to combo, either the enemy dies before you can complete it or you get repeatedly interrupted because they parried something, dodged something, or just decided to use a power attack while you were on the offensive and completely mess you up for thinking your weak ass combo could ever finish. Another thing is that as you progress through the game and encounter dozens of different enemies, you learn their strengths and weaknesses in a tactical data menu BD-1 accumulates, but you hardly ever get to exploit these weaknesses because of how aggressive the enemies can be. This is a double sided note because it is extremely rewarding when you nail it, and bittersweet when you win through sheer attrition because you never got the chance. I also loved the finisher animations, but I wish there was more variations and a clearer way to activate these.

Usually I play games with the music volume very low, or sometimes off because I find it annoying or overpowering other narration or scene dialogue, but here I found myself wanting more music to fill some of the spaces I was traveling through. All of the mixes are new takes on the instrumentals dreamed up by John Williams and elucidate themes that fit with the environments you’re in, peace and tranquility in Bogano, wonder and mystery on Kashyyk, danger and foreboding on Dathomir. I was surprised to find the soundtrack cannot be found online in Spotify because it is one of the few game soundtracks I would like to hear again while not playing the game. Unfortunately, the tracks don’t quite loop so if you play in a particular space too long, looking around or replaying fights over and over the music just stops and you’re listening to the ambient and scripted sound effects of the game. The ambient noise isn’t bad either, as each space feels “lived in” in some way, by birds chirping or creepers crawling or people talking or structures creaking. You always feel like you are a guest in the world you’re visiting, as opposed to a chore the creators have to keep entertained.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order': The Force is Strong with This One
Dathomir is a devastated wasteland of foul creatures and heartless survivors

Perhaps the most impressive thing to me was the pacing of the story as it intertwines with your own personal skill set growth. The bigger game changing skills such as force pull or push, breathing underwater and a double bladed lightsaber are earned as you progress through the game on your personal journey, relayed to you through flashbacks so you can remember the padawan you once were. The aspect of acquiring new traversal skills is one that has been played out since before the days of Mario on Super Nintendo but today is referred to as Metroidvania and while their use becomes more intermixed as the game tests you with different puzzles, ultimately I felt a little disappointed in the limited number of skills at my disposal in the open world. For instance, you acquire lightsaber throw pretty late in the game, but this skill is not utilized once to unlock shortcuts or secrets, where you almost always wall run or push/pull an object to progress. For me, these challenges weren’t complex or requiring of enough effort to really feel like being a Jedi made much of a difference. You don’t even run very fast (your running animation looks very silly and slow for no explained reason) which makes going from one side of the map to the other a very cumbersome feat.

Back to the story, there was some tropes among your crew, Greez is revealed to be an indebted gambler (sound like anyone we know?) and Cere is a compromised Jedi that has cut herself off the from the force because she touched the dark side (anyone?). One of the more interesting characters joins your crew far later on to the point that you get barely any time with them but they would probably be the most complex character to learn about if you had more time with them. BD-1’s relationship to his previous master Eno Cordova is revealed through hologram journals that BD reveals when you come to notable areas and at times they get pretty emotional as you listen to this ostracized Jedi recount his/your adventure and his conclusions of what will happen to the Order. Since the sequels and prequels came out, I have been pretty disillusioned with the way droids have been used in Star Wars since the originals, but I think they absolutely nailed BD-1’s personality in its interactions with Cal and Eno, reminds me a lot of R2-D2 in the original trilogy and BB-8 in the sequels.

STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order™ Game | PS4 - PlayStation
The Second Sister Inquisitor becomes your foil throughout the game

The roster of enemies you face is as interesting as the world the creators built. The Inquisitors and the Second Sister are more bureaucratic and tormented than you’re initially led to think and the night sister Merrin of Dathomir who blames the Jedi for massacring her people turns from tortured soul to loyal friend as you and she share stories of survival as children. The Haxion Brood is a clan of bounty hunters that pit their quarries against exotic creatures and will constantly appear in levels at random points to give you an added challenge. One of the characters I wish I got to spend more time with was Taron Malicus (isn’t that name the most evil thing you’ve ever heard?) who survives order 66 only to turn to the dark side completely separate from the empire, I would have liked to see him meet the empire or face one of the Inquisitors, that would have been dope. You also run across Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker in Rogue One) as he leads a rescue mission on Kashyyk. Cal’s master, Jaro Topal reappears many times in your flashbacks but he’s definitely not what you expect from a Jedi in that he looks and behaves completely like a war machine and not so much as the kind sentimental oldie that most Jedi’s have been depicted to be in the series, it kind of annoyed me his attitude toward Cal as a student, but that doesn’t mean it was bad, it just wasn’t explored enough actually. The Second Sister also has a partner called the Ninth Sister that appears briefly for one fight and some other cinematics but you don’t learn too much about her before she’s dispatched, we honestly didn’t need two of the same kind of character.

Forest Whitaker believes Saw Gerrera embraces the dark side of ...
Saw Gerrera as played by Forest Whitaker in ROGUE ONE

Level design was incredible. As I mentioned before, you unlock different abilities which can unlock different playable parts of the map. These maps are gigantic, you think you’ve completed the course and surely it can’t get bigger but it does, every time. In many areas, the creators devised ways to short cut through some of the expanse they created, but not enough to quickly go from place to place in any kind of fast travel. If you complete your main objective on one side of the level, and you head back to your ship, but then want to grab some collectable later back on that side of the map, too bad. You have to fight through all the stuff and run through all the obstacles you’ve done already to get back there, and then do it all again on your way back to leave. So that part was not that fun. Visually, each area is eye-grabbing and I found myself stopping to pause and just tilt the camera in different directions to take in the environments around me. Some of the vistas you come across are just some of the finest artistry in any video game made all the more exciting because its Star Wars and then even more exciting because something catches your eye and you realize “Holy shit, I can go there!”

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order | January 15th Patch Notes : FallenOrder

In the last few years, it feels like every game launches with some DLC content sold around the time of release, then those games become packed with micro transaction cosmetics or god forbid loot box mechanics that encourage gambling or spending actual money on game money to buy items, but here there is nothing like that…and it honestly kind of sucks. No, I don’t want any kind of loot box mechanic but the customization options in this game were surprisingly limited, and really questionable. You can customize your outfit, your poncho (what?), your BD-1 droid paint job, and your ship’s paint job and your lightsaber, which of the five has the most extensive options but still feels lacking in the colors department. I don’t know why we didn’t get more interesting costumes for you, or your non-binary companions at all, but it feels weird to have 28 ponchos and only 5 under outfits which just change the shade of your clothes, not the clothing style. It’s good that this part of the game doesn’t take away from one’s enjoyment of playing it, but by the time you finish collecting everything and realize your options are still so limited, it feels kind of bad to know you did all that work hunting all those down for very little pay off.

STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order's Gear Customization Is Useless
Character customization is limited

The thing that really put this game over the top for me was the attention to detail. I read a lot of those expanded universe books, and seeing events appear on screen finally that had been written long before Disney even bought Star Wars was absolutely a gift to experience. Doing away with some aspects of Star Wars lore, such as the idea that Darth Maul had the only double sided lightsaber in existence, makes the universe more interesting again because you never know when these things are going to pop up, and we may see new variations in the future. I could tell that the people invested in the world building actually cared about the work that came before in the space and were trying to pay homage to some of that incredible work and that’s what ultimately opened me up to play this game for 40 hours in less than 5 days.

So I wanted to say, at the end of this whole essay on why the game is great, thank you to everyone involved in this game’s development. From the writers, to the artists, to the musicians, to the production, to the publisher, to the directors and actors, and everyone else not captured in the above, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you, for making this game with love.

 

 

 

State of Decay 2 moments & musings

At this point in time, I have 64 hours invested in State of Decay 2. I have not played all of the maps or even tried all of the difficulties, or even completed a single community yet but from what I have gathered reading online and throughout my own play is basically all there is to the game (if you disagree, i don’t care).

On my first community, I reached basically the end of the mode right up to the last plague heart and have the best base on the map, set up to provide resources each day so it’s self sustaining, a bunch of rare and powerful weapons, every character maxed out–what I’m saying is there isn’t much more for me to do and that’s the problem.

I kind of want to keep this community exactly where it is and never progress, so it just feels relaxing every time i play and I don’t have to worry about scavenging or missing out on missions. Nonetheless, it feels like there’s basically nothing else to do anyways, so why can’t I bring myself to finish this campaign?

Diminishing returns

When you start the game, there is so much to learn and do, the game gives you a tutorial that covers almost nothing in terms of coming to understand the macro management parts of the game. For better or worse, that makes you feel like there’s a bigger world out there for you to figure out, and you will with time. As I got acquainted, I learned what vehicles were important to me, the importance of allies on the map, the tiers of weaponry provided, all this despite no real explanation in the game how these things work. As your knowledge gap between where you start and where you end up contracts you reach a point where you either finish the game whenever you want in one hour or drag it our indefinitely. That’s because there is basically no story elements in this game. Each character has side stories for you to do, about 3-4 each, but they’re pretty meaningless unless they grant you some item you didn’t have before, they don’t change anything for your play through aside from that, you complete it and you’re done. You reach this point of “Why do I bother?” All those things you did in the beginning, grinding for resources, building your community with valuable members, forging alliances with neighbors, guarding your territory from hostile communities, its much less fulfilling when you’ve done each things 50 times and now you don’t need to do them at all.

This is not The Walking Dead

I’ve got no idea what fascinates me so much about the zombie genre, but when The Walking Dead t.v. show came out I was thrilled to have such compelling story-telling, drama and character development occur in a modern-day landscape. When I played State of Decay Year One, there was an immediate sense of, “oh man, this is so close to being a Walking Dead clone!” and over time, you realize the game is much much much less than that. So when they announced a second one was on its way, I thought, “Alright, if that was the plain version I can’t wait to see what they do with more funding and stronger direction the second time round.”

Missions are so stale. Once you’ve done something once, you’ve done it a hundred times. It never gets harder, or more surprising, or more fun. There’s dozens of ways the game itself could throw some wrench in the mission formula, or a benefit, but you’ll be disappointed to expect much variety or consequence to your actions. Even enemy factions never really do anything to hurt you, you just might get shot at if you go over there, but not a one-hit kill, so you can pretty much avoid them easily or trespass whenever you want provided you’re not actively trying to die. It would be so interesting if the hostile factions were more of an element of chaos in this game, or foils to implement story-building elements into as what happens in The Walking Dead. An easy way to do this is just to have your actual home base come under some sort of threat if an enemy faction is angry enough, or perhaps if they’re left alone enough then that makes them overconfident? All they do is exist somewhere on the map until a member of your community or a random mission points out they’re alive and that you should kill them. Even exiling someone just exits that character from the entire map, instead of them creating a hostile or allied faction of their own and maybe generating new missions from that experience.

This is not Left4Dead

Since the main conflict in the game is not your community vs. enemy community, naturally you would think the main conflict is your community vs. the zombies. Well, not really. The zombies are there, they are obstacles to overcome but once you get a leg up either through your in-game advantages or the knowledge you’ve built from doing the same thing over again so nothing really surprises you, they really aren’t much of a factor. It’s hard to describe the exact error, but I think the fact zombie events are so telegraphed is a huge part of the problem. I never felt dread walking into any situation that meant conflict with zombies. There were times I was worried I might lose a character due to a combination of my not going out with the necessary precautions and a stubbornness not to retreat from a fight, no matter the odds. And for all that, I still came out victorious every. single. time. (I only lost two characters on my first run because it was the very first time I met a hostile faction and I was completely not aware of what they would do or even that they would become hostile).

When I first played Left4Dead, it became very very clear that the game does not care at all what you experienced just 60 seconds ago when you played this exact same part of the level and died. No, this time you’re gonna be fine! Or it’s gonna be worse. A lot worse. You literally never know, and you have no time to recalculate your choices because everything is happening so fast. Here, you have so much time to consider what you’re stepping into, because the map is so open to a fault, there are no linear areas that could trap you and there’s no attempt to give you dungeons/buildings which you would need to explore or fight through that limit your options for escape. They gave us a huge map with a bunch of homogeneous buildings littered with enemies that you can see 100 meters away.

So what is the game?

I am convinced that State of Decay 2 is a base management game. The base management aspect of the game is easily the most complex and rewarding part of the game when you figure it out. Balancing morale, resource income, facility options, mods, ally bonuses, community traits, labor, weapons, consumables, this is the game. It didn’t become more clear to me than when I acquired the best base on Providence Ridge, which allowed me to be fully self sustaining, which allowed me to clear all of my side missions off the map, including infestations, which allowed me to max out all of my character stats for all of my characters, which allowed me just do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because the “game” was beaten. The whole impetus for your community to survive is the struggle to attain resources, once you figure out how to make the base work for you to do this on its own, because there is no story driving you to complete the map, you’ve basically hit the endgame.

This would be more fun and interesting if the choices weren’t so obvious. Your group has too many people? Find a bigger base. You have the biggest base but too many people? Exile a survivor (there’s no consequences anyways). You need one particular resource? Use the radio to find some for you, or build a facility to produce that resource, or claim an outpost that contributes those resources to your community. Eventually, its very easy to not only survive but sustain once you have the right size community. Each survivor contributing different key skills is nice, but not necessary to thrive.

The fun parts

That said, I’ve had a decently good time playing the game, getting to know my thin character stories, and figuring out how to survive and thrive. I’ll never forget the first time I encountered other hostile factions that blew up at me because I ticked them off during a negotiation. Making allies of other groups that contribute skills or resources is interesting and useful. There’s also these sick finishers that your survivors can use when you unlock them for heavy weapons and sharp weapons, but why they didn’t implement finishers for blunt weapons I will never understand. Helping friends is rewarding and a nice getaway from the problems of your own game, kind of puts a hold on using your resources while you pick up things in their session.

In the end

These fun moments aren’t enough to sustain the game experience. The pitfalls of continuing amount to too much of a known outcome. I had a fun time playing, and I will probably return, but the formula doesn’t lend itself to much more play. The bounty system is fun, makes things easier when you have reputation to buy your winnings with, but its not a core part of the game anyways, and kind of breaks the system by easing the difficulty of scavenging to survive. All in all, this game is a modest but poorly executed sequel to the first game, and delivers barely anything new to the franchise besides a great coop experience.

Why Worlds 2017 is the best Worlds Yet. And That’s a Very Good Thing.

NOTE: This was something I was really working hard on right after Worlds 2017 ended but I never got around to finishing it. I think it’s important for me to keep and remind myself of what could have been if I had stuck with it. Can’t possibly hope to recapture the thought process and motivation I had when I originally started writing this, so I won’t attempt to complete it.

It’s been two weeks since the League of Legends World Championship concluded. I have been thinking nonstop of all the games, the crazy upsets, the confidence of individual play and brilliant teamwork it took to complete this month-long journey to crown this year’s champion. It has been nothing short of exceptional.

Through all of this, what made this Worlds better than others, from spectator point of view and a dedicated LoLEsports viewer for years, was the monumental storylines and arcs that developed organically through years of previous play. I’m talking about regional gaps closing of skill, ever closer and ever closer, teams’ failures to overcome high pressure situations and others literally defying all expectations to come back from the brink of elimination. Perhaps the most fun to watch were the rivalry rematches we were able to enjoy again, some with the same results, and others shockingly different.

How can we trace the making of this Worlds adequately–how can we do the players and teams the justice of importing to the audience what this all means?

It all began in 2013.

In North America, the third season of domestic competitive play was coined the League Championship Series (LCS). TeamSoloMid (TSM) had emerged with a dominating show of force at international and domestic tournaments before being relegated to second in summer by Cloud9, who went on to set a record for most consecutive wins in a regular season and made the jump from Challenger series (sort of the minor league to the LCS) to North America’s first seed. TSM and Vulcan, another team that entered LCS from the domestic Challenger series entered the group stages confident that North America was ahead of the meta compared to the eastern regions of China and Korea, and that only Europe would be a real challenge for them based on the fact the players and regions had a longer history of playing each other and also that Europe pioneered the standardized role assignments to lane meta (1 top, 1 jungler, 1 mid laner, and 2 bottom) we still play by today. Despite their assumptions, the Chinese and Korean squads decimated North America with stronger team-based play and macro strategies that crippled individual outplay potential with superior vision control and rotational objective play that choked the map. North America’s hopes were high in the first week of groups, after closing the week with a 3:5 record, the chances of accruing a 50/50 record and forcing tie breakers or taking second in both groups seemed like a possibility. Then, what would become an internet meme was born: North America international performances on the second week of play. This infamous meme/curse/history was demonstrated for the first time in a 1-7 record in the second week of play, with numerous reasons given why the over-confident contenders had been eliminated from entering the bracket stage with their North American champion. Things did not bode well for Cloud9 either, as European Champion Fnatic (FNC) went on to eliminate the boys in blue from contention all together. While C9 and TSM ultimately came up short, their taste for international competition would not be sated with the result. Cloud9 would go on to win smaller international tournaments IEM San Jose and the Battle of the Atlantic in 2014, while TSM was crowned IEM Katowice World Champion (Intel Extreme Masters Season IX

Across the world, in the Esports mecca of South Korea, another legacy was forming. Lee San-hyeok was developing his skills and understanding of the game on a completely new level. Rising to top of the solo queue ladder in South Korea at the age of 17, arguably the best roster acquisition of all time saw Lee joining SK Telecom T1 2 (SKT). Debuting in the Olympus Champions Spring 2013 tournament, Lee, having now adopted the infamous moniker “Faker,” picks up his first kill in his campaign to be the best against opposing veteran CJ Entus Blaze midlaner Ambition. Faker ended the game with a scoreline six kills, seven assists and zero deaths against the tournament favorites. SKT would go on to place third here, and then take first as SK Telecom T1 K in the summer, by now having garnered the acclaim of one of, if not the most famous outplay in League of Legends history. Ambition fared worse, having come second in the spring Olympus tournament to MVP Ozone, a team that would be bought by Samsung Electronics, placed6th in the Summer, and knocked out of their final chance to make it to Worlds in the Korean gauntlet. At the Season 3 World Championship, SKT quickly became the favorites to win it all, and under the leadership of Kkoma, they would. Though SKT won, and went on to have an unprecedented, never replicated undefeated spring split in Korea, the Season 3 world champions would be eliminated from even competing in the Season 4 world championship by the newly named Samsung Ozone, which became Samsung White, the season 4 World Champions. Decimated, devastated, and defeated, SKT was forced to rebuild, retaining only their Jungle Bengi and Midlaner Faker. CJ Entus struggled to regain its early season 3 form, and never quite recovered, Ambition was eventually swapped to the jungle role from mid, and later switched teams to join what had become Samsung Galaxy in 2016.

The first European Dynasty of Fnatic has reigned, briefly replaced by the first super team Elements.

China’s Worlds Contender Uzi fights faker in Worlds Finals, coming short.

fast forward to 2017.

The Final Hour. Fnatic’s reign has been overcome by G2, Fnatic has the best regular season using “animal style” playing around bot lane and lose at rift rivals to NA dynasty TSM who played a mid-centric style “showing EU the way” Fnatic tried to Adapt, G2 and Unicorns of Love rise to the top, G2 wins their 5th final against new challengers, rising red tide of Misfits, a team chasing “the perfect game” https://slingshotesports.com/2017/04/27/misfits-coach-hussain-moosvi-perfect-game/

The Contenders. In China, RNG makes it to finals but the domestic curse of Uzi never winning domestically again becomes true. Suspected World Elite, a team that Knocked out KR team Gamma Bears from IPL5 and went to the final to battle TSM, is supected to be the best CH team with rookie star Mystic at adc. China is known for raising strongest ADCs, and the region is favored in Ardent censor meta

The Weak Link. In North America, TSM returns to former 2016 roster to 3-peat in their region against the new challengers Immortals who almost matched TSM game for game in regular season, carried by a strong bot lane and veteran jungler. Cloud9 goes to worlds through the Gauntlet run once again. TSM hopes to break the NA curse and TSM curse of bombing in groups, talked all year of bringing out a variety of strategies practiced during the regular season at worlds to be more dynamic and adaptable. TSM is playing still mid centric with a strong bot lane in ardent censor meta.

The Favorite. Korea, the SKT super team is forced to play through their playoff gauntlet and rises to the finals, where they play LCK champion Longzhu, featuring a seemingly unstoppable and true super team. Longzhu plays with a dominating top laner that plays carries in a tank meta, a mid laner with one of the best K/D/A scorelines since Faker himself, a veteran Bot Lane that took Gamma bears to IPL5 and challenged SKT last year while on their former team, the ROX Tigers. Their only weakness is their rookie jungle Cubbz who plays a more supportive role to the team. Samsung Galaxy has struggled since meeting SKT at Worlds 2016 finals and staying together to try again, while making it through Spring in poor shape, becomes the 3rd best team in Korea.

The wildcard. Wildcard regions are all but relegated to fail when Vietnamese American kryptonite Gigabyte Marines once again disprove expectations and break out of Play-Ins into groups. In their first international appearance at MSI 2017, they upset TSM and knocked them out from the tournament showing their willingness to take every and any fight and catch opponents off guard.  The prevailing theory was that Gigabyte Marines would play upset to whichever group they would land in, but not be true contenders to get out of groups and into the bracket stage.

Gigabyte Marines Challenge Longzhu and Fnatic and Immortals with a variety of unexpected strategies and display a successful defiance of the meta.

Fnatic comes back from 0-3 week 1 as predicted to fail out of groups and gets to bracket stage in miraculous

TSM bombs out of groups 3-4 not showing any of their practiced strategies through the season and Misfits wrestles out of a tie-breaker match exploiting TSM’s early game weakness developed from G2 Weldon’s philosophy

SKT drops a match in groups

 

 

 

 

 

ReportPlayer Ep. 3

12/15/18 Dan, Drew and Nick break down the latest news in video games, tech and cybersecurity in the newest episode of ReportPlayer Podcast!

silver 2 edit

Dan, Drew, and Nick talk about Heroes of the Storm going in “maintenance mode”, Riot Games having a grabby COO, the Epic game store and the new Razer Mining Program. Nick then goes on a random tangent about Taylor Swift’s concert surveillance program and how only ICP and Juggalos can avoid it.

Video Games – 00:18
Tech – 26:44
Security – 52:29

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ReportPlayer Ep. 2

12/6/18 Dan, Drew and Nick discuss the new console from Souljaboy and a few of the Video Game Awards winners

End of Spring Split final standings and thoughts on Mid-Split predictions

“While C9 has the playoff series advantage of experience, Dignitas is our favorite for winning this quarterfinals matchup, bringing the right mix of player-counters to topple the North American dynasty.”

Just after the mid-split tournament Rift Rivals took place, RiftStory wrote a Power Rankings and playoff standing predictions. Whenever we produce a piece of content such as a Power Ranking, we want to return to our own results and rate them based on actual end match record and teams’ final standing. This score is 2 points per team, 1 point for each of those items, across 10 teams for a maximum of 20 points total.

Related power ranking: NA LCS: Mid-Split Power Rankings & Playoff Seeding Predictions

Team Liquid

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Standing prediction: 8th Final standing: 10th
Match record prediction: 4W – 14L Final match record: 4W – 14L
1 of 2 points

In a surprising turn of events, Team Liquid reclaimed their nomadic Jungler Dardoch as he returns to the team he debuted on, leaving behind a team making its way into the playoffs. In addition to the new trade of this superstar North American Jungler, Team Liquid created more excitement when they acquired Korean Midlaner Mickey, formerly of KT Rolster. What looks like preparation for an Academy team has had little success on the LCS stage where match wins matter. If Team Liquid, like other teams in this list, can manage to implement a coherent consistent strategy for picking a starting squad and using substitutes then they will find more success. The inability to nail down a core starting 5 makes their problems more inconsistent and harder to fix.

One of the consistent under-performers on the squad, AD Carry Piglet, has somehow gone untouched throughout this split, despite a recurring theme. Team Liquid continues to run Protect the AD Carry compositions and keeps coming away unsuccessful, and this could be due to two controllable factors: 1) the team is not prepared to put their AD in a position to carry them, either with poor composition or mechanics. Or 2) their AD is unable to find the right spaces to do damage safely given their champion pick. Piglet is an exceptional player, a World Champion, but he is not infallible. The only consistently starting player, aside from Top laner Lourlo, remains on the squad and continues to have games played around his lane. This pays off in the Promotion/Relegations tournament, but against LCS teams with more knowledge and mechanical prowess to make targeted plays, Protect the AD Carry has been very easy to punish. It doesn’t help that almost every other game for the last year Team Liquid hasn’t given Piglet a standard group/composition to pull out, but the fact this strategy keeps appearing begs a lot of questioning.

Phoenix1

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Standing prediction: 5th Final standing: 9th
Match record prediction: 8W – 10L Final match record: 4W – 14L
0 of 2 points

After a dominating show of strength at Rift Rivals, Phoenix1 seemed to be on the rise–before their season came crashing down around them. At the time of writing the Mid-Split predictions, Phoenix1 had 3 wins and were riding a morale high from their international tournament coupled with net-positive roster swaps. As we enter playoffs, it is all the more surprising that P1 only managed to scrape together a single match win, even against the other teams in the bottom half of the ladder. Looking back, the singular play style of the team is a start reminder of another international breakout team from this year: Gigabyte Marines from Vietnam at the Mid-Season Invitational. The rapid-fire aggression only gets you so far before teams draft comps to counter your primary carry.

For P1, like Gigabyte Marines, that ended up being their Jungler, MikeYeung. On top of that, what seemed like a positive meta for AD Carry Arrow actually put him in a worse position to carry with the hotfixes to strong lethality items and an overbearing super-tank meta. These issues could have been resolved, as we saw in Europe, but Phoenix1 chose not to enable their 2017 Split Split MVP by banning against the meta. By the end of the season, frustrated with the direction of the team and losing mental focus shown by uncharacteristic mistakes, the P1 Midlaner Ryu asked for an unexpected break, shuffling the roster for a few games and shaking up team synergy before returning. P1, unable to find their bearings after being countered in play, slow to adapt to the meta, and visibly losing morale went on to have the worst second half of the split of all the LCS teams.

Echo Fox

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Standing prediction: 9th Final standing: 8th
Match record prediction: 4W – 14L Final match record: 5W – 13L
0 of 2 points

Opting for a new strategy to fully incorporate their Challenger Series roster as part of a 10-man LCS squad, Echo Fox took a big risk. Making regular substitutions of 2-3 players every week, Echo Fox seemed to struggle to find team synergy in-game, which especially hurt their mid to late-game calls as members of the team were inexplicably caught out of position where they shouldn’t have been, or the team’s map pressure gained in the early game slowly sunk away from them against coordinated opponents. While the Echo Fox “backline,” as Rick Fox called them, was able to match their opponents in some cases during the lane phase, the veterans on the squad teetered out trying to put their teammates in a position to ultimately hard carry the game. The confused play shows through in mismanaged team fights and baron calls, base sieges and inability to execute their split push compositions. On the flipside, Echo Fox looks best prepared to acclimate to the upcoming format of the LCS Franchise, despite falling short of playoffs this season. With a longer time to prepare and build a core philosophy for in-game decision making and teamwork, this team has more experience than any other squad in LCS with a full roster of substitute options.

FlyQuest

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Standing prediction: 10th Final standing: 7th
Match record prediction: 4W – 14L Final match record: 6W-12L
0 of 2 points

The greatest minds in all of North America couldn’t pull the faltering early game of FlyQuest into a win condition that they intended to play. The two unexpected wins came in the last week of the regular season, against the bottom two teams that-as explained above-ultimately failed to live up to expectations for a variety of reasons. Avoiding relegations, FlyQuest still has a narrow shot to go to Worlds if EnvyUs can manage to lose to Counter Logic Gaming in the quarterfinals round of Playoffs, and then FlyQuest would have to win the Regional Gauntlet to appear in Shanghai as NA’s third seed. It wouldn’t be the first time members of this group have pulled that off, but lacking a star player in the likes of Cloud9’s Jensen, the former Cloud9/Cloud9 Challenger squad will find the gauntlet to be as insurmountable as the Summer Split against stronger squads with multiple standout performers.

Team EnvyUs

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Standing prediction: 6th Final standing: 6th
Match record prediction: 8W – 10L Final match record: 8W – 10L
2 of 2 points

Landing right where we predicted, Team EnvyUs has a strong core group of players in nearly every role, but they fail to outperform the other teams in the playoffs due to their easily exploited top lane. Teams in the upper half of the standings have correctly identified the weakness of Team Envy, and that is folding the top half of the map into the jungle and then the mid lane down to bottom lane. As Seraph fails to join his team quick enough, or at all in some cases, for team fights in the bottom lane or mid, Lira is getting constantly invaded and pressured by enemies with knowledge of his position on the map and engaging on his other teammates he has little to no chance of reaching in time. The only improving factor here since our mid-split rankings is Nisqy.

Since joining the squad, Nisqy has shown a wider champion pool, stronger mechanics, and more willingness to make plays elsewhere on the map besides his own lane. This has been somewhat of a boon for their AD Carry Apollo and roaming support Hakuho, who frequently makes visits to mid lane to get Nisqy an advantage, and Lira, who-as mentioned before, is under more pressure than ever to keep his own camps and use his game knowledge to affect the map. Nisqy is also in the running to steal Rookie of the split from early bird and fan favorite P1 MikeYeung, and rightfully so. For playoffs, EnvyUs has a unique opportunity to upset Counter Logic Gaming, a team that is also weaker on the top side of the map now with the sudden change to their rookie Jungler, Omargod. If Envy is to win this quarterfinals series versus CLG, they will need to find ways to incorporate Seraph earlier while flexing Lira’s veteran strengths on Omargod across the map.

Team Dignitas

Standing

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prediction: 7th Final standing: 5th
Match record prediction: 7W – 11L Final match record: 11W – 7L
0 of 2 points

Dignitas played upset to our earlier predictions, upsetting 3 of the top four teams above them: CLG, TSM, and Immortals. Since bringing in Adrian and Altec to remedy their struggling bot lane lane, this team is on an absolute tear through the standings, going on a 6-2 record since Rift Rivals. While Ssumday has been playing champions that scale poorly, he has been outputting worlds of difference in pressure for his lane and transitioning his lead to others very effectively, a complete polar opposite of Seraph’s performances on Team EnvyUs. The real game changer for this team however doesn’t come from their exceptional Top laner, but from their recent Support pickup before roster deadlines closed.

Adrian has been conspicuously absent from pro-play since his falling out from Phoenix1, and then his short stint with Doublelift on Team Liquid, but he is about to enter the meta of his dreams. With the changes to Ardent Censor pushing many of his well-known champions into priority picks, having the quintessential healer/disengage support that helped push Immortals to their dominating Spring and Summer splits of 2016 is looking like it may just be the counter to Cloud9 that DIG needs to overcome the C9 play makers starting in every role. While C9 has the playoff series advantage of experience, Dignitas is our favorite for winning this  quarterfinals matchup, bringing the right mix of player-counters to topple the North American dynasty.

Counter Logic Gaming

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Standing prediction: 2nd Final standing: 4th
Match record prediction: 15W – 3L Final match record: 12W – 6L
0 of 2 points

The last time we wrote about Counter Logic Gaming, there was a lot of warning signs that we haven’t seen from the oldest North American organization in a long time, and it seems one particular meme has made a return: roster changes. In the pre-season, CLG made a hugely risky-but widely heralded as net-positive-trade League of Legends Esports, possibly the entire year in Esports. Despite that positive press, the results weren’t transitioning to the stage, with some initial exemplary victories with their veteran Jungler Dardoch early on, the new-team fire seemed to die out very quickly. In a now notorious press release by the organization, CLG sold Dardoch back to his original squad Team Liquid and immediately replaced him with their substitute Jungler, Omargod. Touting his superior team play, his green thumb status has been exploited in multiple series by more experienced Junglers, and his champion pool thus far as been very team-centric and selfless. While this may be a benefit given the current meta of CC super tanks, the inability to show more complex compositions or risky carry potential from their Jungle role makes CLG seem weaker than they looked earlier in the season.

At one point, CLG was the sole occupant of first place in the standings mid-way through the split, now they sit at 4th just before the playoffs. Whatever the case may be, they are about to play one of the strongest early game teams in the league, Team EnvyUs, which also happens to have one of, if not the most respected Jungler in the NA LCS right now besides potential MVP pick IMT Xmithie. In order for this squad to win, Support and Shotcaller Aphromoo will need to be on his A game, directing his pieces across the board to stay even or ahead during the first 15 minutes of each game, because if Stixxay doesn’t have time to scale on the current meta of AD Carry picks, then CLG may find themselves dropping some of the quickest matches in playoffs history.

Cloud9

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Standing prediction: 3rd Final standing: 3rd
Match record prediction: 14W – 4L Final match record: 12W – 6L
1 of 2 points

On the rise to a potential return to form, Cloud9 has shown some recovery in the second half of the split, turning in a 6 match win streak in the last 3 weeks of play to reclaim their spot as top three of the ladder, knocking off stumbling CLG. Lead by the carry performances of Jensen and Contractz, the boys in blue have adapted to the meta well, with Impact playing his comfort tanks, Contractz free to gank any lane and invade the enemy’s jungle while Jensen solo kills his opposing laner and makes a surprising amount of roams to other lanes, their bottom lane Support Smoothie playing hard engage champions like Alistar and Taric, and Sneaky putting up consistently strong performances.

The real problem with pressuring Cloud9’s carries is they require so many resources to kill, with Jensen dodging skill shots so expertly, and Sneaky forcing the enemies to burn their summoners or else lose their life instead, Cloud9 plays a very controlled lanes, safe plays-with-vision game. However, no team with without weakness in this list and Cloud9 is the same. In a changing meta where playmakers and hard engage are about to countered with disengage enchanter supports, Cloud9 may be ill-suited to show their mechanical prowess when all of their damage and tools are wasted due to the heals and shields of enemy support picks, DIG Adrian’s forte. Counting out Cloud9 would be a mistake however, as this team is very experienced in best of five series, the high-pressure environment of playoffs, and has the single most powerful carry in the NA LCS: Jensen. If Cloud9 can keep Jensen in the driver’s seat as he has been in the past, they should crush Dignitas through buckling the DIG mid lane and transferring that map advantage to the bot lane of the map.

Immortals

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Standing prediction: 4th Final standing: 2nd
Match record prediction: 13W – 5L Final match record: 14W – 4L
0 of 2 points

Call it anything but luck. Throughout the season, it looked like other teams would retain a top two spot over IMT and knock them out from a first round bye in the playoffs. However, week after week, game after game, Immortals displayed confidence, comfort, and adaptability to each opponent that they were able to regain their spot atop the ladder and prove they deserve to be there. Jungle Xmithie has made the most of the trade to Immortals in the off-season, rebuilding his Mid-Jungle synergy with former teammate Pobelter, who has also had a standout split once again on the Immortals squad.

Immortals is holding onto two of the most talked about players in contention for MVP, Xmithie and Support Olleh. A Support being talked about for MVP is incredibly rare, the only other Support ever to come into discussion was 2016 CLG Aphromoo. Olleh has displayed a wide champion pool, practiced buddy roaming with Xmithie to gain vision, and a willingness to use his Flash to secure a kill not seen by any other Support in the LCS. Communication issues discussed while Dardoch was on the team are nowhere to be found: this team is crisp, coordinated and ready to topple their next opponent in the semi-finals to be the first new team since 2015 to challenge TSM in the finals, joining an elite group and erasing their poor performance of the 2016 season. The way teams will challenge Immortals will be through startlingly aggressive play a la 2016 regular season Immortals, or contesting their vision gains across the map so that Xmithie can’t pinpoint where the enemy’s Jungler is and Olleh is punished for his out-of-position over aggression.

Team SoloMid

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Standing prediction: 1st Final standing 1st
Match record prediction: 15W – 3L Final match record: 14W – 4L
1 of 2 points

TSM reunited the dominating 2016 Summer starting squad that swept the regular season, dropping only one match of 18 games, and eventually securing the Championship trophy. This split has not been the same level of dominance from last year, as they struggled to adapt to some of the meta changes, the relative skill and determination of the other squads has risen to match their own as teams gird for a Worlds spot, and they slowly found their style of play. It doesn’t help that mid lane will be slightly weaker going into playoffs with a slew of nerfs targeting Bjergsen’s gigantic champion pool. The TSM botlane has struggled to find their bearings in this split as Doublelift returned from streaming along with some bad habits and Biofrost ceded some vision control to play more for lane dominance, leading to unexpected enemy ganks and giving up early kills. The stable parts of the map, surprisingly, come from Top lane Hauntzer and Jungle Svenskeren these days.

During the Mid-Season Invitational, Sven was bombarded with criticism regarding his risky invades and early on this split Hauntzer was being dived under turret and forced to play from behind the rest of the game. Those issues seem to have been corrected as Hauntzer has been receiving support from his team to reinforce his position to counter incoming dives or laneswaps from the enemy and Svenskeren has focused more of his play around ganking/counterganking for lanes instead of invading areas of the jungle the team has no vision in or pressure for. The ability to carry through the mid lane may be lower than it has been previously in the season, but Bjergsen’s game pressure across the map is touted as the single most reason why he is the best player in the league split after split. TSM is going to need that dominant performance now perhaps more than ever as the bot lane meta favors late-game scaling ADs Doublelift is known for. It’s TSMs tournament to lose as they head into playoffs with the first place seed once again. Expect some new picks from this veteran squad that may surprise some teams, overall this playoffs patch looks to have widened dramatically the available options for mid lane, AD Carry and Support roles. TSM will have the unique opportunity to play a variety of team comps and come away with victories if they can execute them at a high level of play.

Prediction accuracy rating: F

5/20 points = 25% accurate

Prediction

1st seed: Team SoloMid
2nd seed: Counter Logic Gaming
3rd seed: Cloud9
4th seed: Immortals
5th seed: Phoenix1
6th seed: Team EnvyUs

Actual

1st seed: Team SoloMid
2nd seed: Immortals
3rd seed: Cloud9
4th seed: Counter Logic Gaming
5th seed: Dignitas
6th seed: Team EnvyUs

Playoffs Predictions

Quarterfinals Dignitas v. Cloud9: DIG 3-2
Quarterfinals Team EnvyUs v. Counter Logic Gaming: CLG 3-1
Semifinals Immortals v. TBD (DIG or CLG): IMT 3-2
Semifinals Team SoloMid v. TBD (DIG or CLG): TSM 3-1

Finals Matchup TSM v. IMT

Photo credits go to LoL Esports Photos’ Flickr. Please support them.

NA LCS: Mid-Split Power Rankings & Playoff Seeding Predictions

“Echo Fox got dealt a bad hand with the end of this split, with most of their easier games behind them, only one word describes their current situation: unlucky.

With the conclusion of Rift Rivals across the world, we turn to NA for our first ever look at where America’s League Championship Series teams stand and conclude with a brief look at their expected Playoffs seeding.

Note: RiftStory Power Rankings may not reflect official/current standings in the ladder. Rather, these are almost always predictions or estimations of teams’ strength among their competition and should not be taken as fact.

10. FlyQuest (FLY) 3W-7L

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Our 4th place team from last split has performed almost as badly as everyone’s expectations of them at the beginning of the Spring Split. Unlike spring, FlyQuest has not made a compelling case for being a top tier team in the summer. Their macro game has been slower and riskier than previously seen, and their solo laners are unable to stay even with their opponents.  That said, the meta is only just now accommodating their players, with Corki mid rising in priority for Hai, and Tristana showing resurgence in the bot lane for Wildturtle, enabling his risky forward-positioning play-style. Last split, FlyQuest showed us teamplay and objective trading was their strength. This split nothing looks as clean as it used to. Unfortunately, even their surprisingly strong  team fighting and god tier macro from last split can’t carry them out of huge gold deficits amassed from the lane phase. By the time they take a few turrets or hit critical item spikes for their next engage, their opponents have done that sooner, gotten even bigger leads from just farming creeps, or simply out-stat them in elongated skirmishes, diminishing their options for winning in almost any scenario. At this point, Flyquest’s only win condition is  their opponents not to having one. Expected end result: 4W-14L.

9. EchoFox (FOX) 4W-6L

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EchoFox has looked like a disaster. For a team with such exceptional players in every role, their games last the longest of all teams and they seem to have no clear identity other than outlasting the other teams in pure endurance tests of who will make the critical mistake that loses the game post 40 minutes. Unable to close gigantic leads, poor understanding of lane pressure and an inability to close out games with Baron buff on five members, Echo Fox has floundered this Summer with seemingly poor communication and few team-fight victories. Opting into a split-push strategy has actually weakened them in the mid to late game with solo psuhers getting caught out or the rest of the core group getting chased down due to poorly drafted team comps for engage/disengage strategies. Without a consistent strategy for winning, EchoFox looks to be a contender for worst team of the split with little chance of returning to form this late in the season. While the wins they have acquired may double the next team on this list (currently), the poor understanding of how to close out games or properly set up macro plays is especially disheartening to see from a roster of experienced players like Looper and Froggen. Add this to the fact their remaining schedule pits them against the 6 highest placed teams in NA for seven of their remaining eight games with only one match against a team with worse position in the standings than their own: Phoenix1. Unfortunately for them, P1 is a team they lost to in week 4 of the split, and also a team which has had significant success both domestically and internationally since the acquisition of their new Jungler. Echo Fox got dealt a bad hand with the end of this split, with most of their easier games behind them, only one word describes their current situation: unlucky. Expected end result: 4W-14L.

8. Team Liquid (TL) 2W-8L

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In Team Liquid’s games, one cant help but see stark similarities to their Spring split performance, although this summer it seems like there are actually more teams sitting at or below their level (#PARITY). That being said, this is a team that can find victories with certain comps and win-conditions (like Galio + Olaf) and that should be reassuring. This is a team that can close out leads (if they get one, and hold it) post mid game. Liquid’s standing depends as much on their closest competitors losing as it does on their players working together, which is lucky considering the bottom half of the NA LCS standings are crowded as is, and positions can flip during any weekend. Expected end result: 4W-14L.

7. Team Dignitas (DIG) 5W-5L

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Dignitas hit the ground running for their Summer split, showing off a lot of the same win-conditions we’ve seen before (snowball topside->win the game) featuring a new face in the Jungle, Shrimp. Having already made some changes to their roster, it seems DIG still wasn’t comfortable and has now made additional changes, this time to their botlane: benching LOD and replacing him with former FlyQuest ADC Altec. Still, DIG hasn’t looked as strong as initially suspected. Already, Dignitas has dropped two games to weaker teams and is struggling to find wins in coordinated team play. At this level, shutting down their singular win condition is enough to shut down Dignitas, and that is troubling for this squad. If the teams below them conjure any consistency, Dignitas could be the one team with the hardest drop in the standings of all the teams that had a positive record this season. Expected end result: 7W-11L.

6. Team EnvyUs (NV) 5W-5L

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Midway through the split, Team EnvyUs has a lot of tools and options to win games with: an aggressive and innovative Jungler, a stronger, more well-rounded mid lane pool, and a rising bot lane duo outplaying their opponents left and right. Last split, NV’s Jungler Lira was in discussion for MVP based on how important his contributions were to his team and the entire league in terms of identifying strong ganking paths and new jungle routes to gain level advantages. Now, NV seems to be a team that can play through almost any role, their recent additions to the midlane have shown some carry potential while their botside has risen to the top of some conversations as best in the league. Their ADC Apollo especially has stunned on several occasions with clutch 1v1s on priority targets even when on the initially disadvantageous side of the trade. Because of this strength enabling their Marksman to be in lanes alone, Hakuho their Support is free to roam and create plays elsewhere. This roster is stronger than last split’s in every way except the top lane, the only clearly exploitable factor as their top laner Seraph is uncharacteristically selfish, taking minions in the face of the enemy top laner or simply refusing to teleport to his team for an engage or to save allies. However, unlike Dignitas, the other roles on this team are able to over perform and secure leads, playing to other places on the map besides just their toplane. Expected end result: 8W-10L.

5. Phoenix1 (P1) 3W-7L

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The worst is behind Phoenix1. With a few roster swaps in Support and Jungle, Phoenix1 has found a team comprised of veteran players and young motivated talent. Now finally stabilizing their bottom lane after a series of four different Support player swaps, an experienced Support, Xpecial, can cover for AD Carry Arrow’s weaknesses. Luckily for Arrow the meta is also returning his roster of Marksmen champions during his MVP split in spring back into priority picks, further complimenting the P1 botlane’s ability to carry and style on the enemy team. However, the single biggest influence on the team’s upswing seems to have been the addition of the newest young NA talent in their jungle role, since selling off one of their most popular Jungler players and allowing the other to sit out the rest of the split. Since MikeYeung,  the frontrunner for Rookie of the Split, was signed, Phoenix1 has been on an upward trend of wins, culminating in a dazzling performance at Rift Rivals between North America’s top three teams from last split and Europe’s top three. Phoenix1 surprised all when they overtook C9 in W/L in the tournament and looked to be challenging TSM to represent NA in the finals. These hugely net-positive roster swaps, coupled with a meta shifting in their favor, makes it seem like Phoenix1 has a high probability of picking up more than a few wins in the coming weeks ahead, even topping some higher seeded teams along the way. Expected end result: 8W-10L.

4. Immortals (IMT) 7W-3L

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As far as trades go, this has to be the most surprising result in League history. Never before have both teams benefited so much in a net-positive result that both teams then rise to be the contenders for top four in the split. Now the Immortals veteran Jungler, Xmithie, is paired with once again with former Counter Logic Gaming teammate and longtime friend in the midlane Pobelter. With him has come a clean slate, motivating the players around them and developingof a more safe play style that punishes enemies heavily for making mistakes. Alongside his fellow former CLG teammate, Pobelter himself has been returning to his Spring Split 2016 Championship form regaining control of the midlane, making proactive roams, and using the buddy-system with Xmithie invade the enemy jungle and relieve pressure elsewhere. Having finally integrated their Korean Toplaner Flame fully into their communication system, the infamous farm heavy carry is able to bolster their avenues for victory with the option to split-push or suffocate the enemy Toplaner out of farm and kills. The IMT botlane Cody Sun and support Olleh, despite a poor start in the beginning of spring, were in contention for best bot lane of Spring Split by the end. This play making Support and stable AD Carry have not stopped impressing, putting out invaluable pressure and controlling their lane expertly with 2v2/2v3 skirmishes and knowing when to hold turrets to counter enemy dives or roam to top lane to trade objectives. IMT have shown that their level of teamwork and individual carry potential can match that of the other top teams on this list, despite some calling their fortunate season just a bit of luck. Expected end result: 13-5.

3. Cloud9 (C9) 6W-4L

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C9 was a story of two Tops last split: one being defensive, team-oriented, and stable–that’s Impact. The other, Ray, was known to be wild, aggressive, with more potential to outplay his opponent and carry. While the meta certainly favored the former last split, this split the latter is seeing more dominant play. Featuring incredible stand out performances from Cloud9’s Midlaner Jensen (Formerly Incarnation), C9 with a lead adopted a play style of blitzing the enemy team with hyper aggressive duels and securing small gains rapidly until their lead has become overwhelming; insurmountable without C9 taking unnecessary risks while ahead. Their Jungler Contractz has ceded his carry potential somewhat to better enable his Mid and Top laners to carry and spill over their leads to other parts of the map, and the C9 botlane AD Carry Sneaky has always been consistent with positioning, champion pool growth/flexibility and damage output. C9 knows how to make plays around vision control: their Support Smoothie places more wards on the map than any of the other top four teams’ supports. There’s a reason C9 has been in the finals and at the top of the standings so many times since entering the LCS: they know how to play the game at a structured, high skill level and can execute comps others would struggle with. Expected end result 14-4.

2. Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) 8W-2L

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The surging squad of CLG had one of the highest profile trades happen in the off-season, one that has changed the entire play style of the team since. Split-pushing strategies? Gone. Winning through side lanes? Gone. Immaculate team fighting? Gone. So what have they changed that’s allowing them to win games? Their games have become incredibly scrappy and filled with cross map trades for objectives or kills. The addition of Dardoch in the Jungle in place of (now IMT) Xmithie has resulted in a more aggressive play style. Determined to invade camps, snowball Huhi‘s midlane, and pressure baron, Dardoch has stayed true to self while becoming more team-oriented alongside strong players in every role. Guided by Aphromoo‘s shotcalling and macro understanding of the game, CLG has managed to secure victories through picks on priority members of their enemies’ team and minion control. Stixxay however, has had trouble finding his place in this meta it seems, not delivering the same kind of performance he treated us to during his debut just one year ago in Summer Split 2016 on similar meta champions. The majority of their stand-out play is done in the mid game, when lane advantages become less important as the botlane and toplane begin rotating around the map and shifting their points of strength to cover their playmaking Jungler. While Dardoch has in some cases been caught out for playing too aggressively, the fact CLG sits atop the standings right now shows the rest of the squad is able to play around this by trading other objectives or kills in his stead. In fact, the team is enabled by Dardoch drawing pressure into the enemy team’s jungle and forcing the enemy to either protect their Jungler or cede their side of jungle camps, putting their Jungler further behind in the face of the Dardoch powerhouse. The only reason they won’t take first on this list is TSM has the head-to-head advantage, and is expected to win again because…Expected end result 15-3.

1. TeamSoloMid (TSM) 7W-3L

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This time, TSM has taken a new approach to the game in practicing newer, stage untested compositions which put one or several of their players on picks they may be uncomfortable with or cede some of their carry potential on in favor of others’. Post-Rift Rivals, we can see the fruits of their labor have benefited them immensely despite public outcry for their standard dominating performance of years’ past. What this has done, while still demonstrating they can 2-0 most teams with their standard compositions, is given them a new set of tools that has made their team more flexible and even more threatening before playoffs even starts. That being said, TeamSoloMid has had a bit of a rocky start to the split. After reassembling their near perfect 2016 summer roster for 2017, expectations were certainly high for the reunited squad. Bjergsen, while not having quite the year of C9 Jensen’s, stat wise, is still in contention for MVP of the split yet again because of his well-rounded play style: strong roams, continuous warding, covering for his Jungler’s invades, on top of widening his champion pool with crowd-hating picks that helped the team secure an 8-1 record at Rift Rivals in victory over Europe. Bjergsen has shown an ability to carry teams of composed of weaker teammates to a championship victory, but TSM is completely stacked in every role. There are four other huge threats in the TSM lineup, with Hauntzer, the crowd favorite for MVP last split, Svenskeren, leveling up his play and returning to dominant form in the jungle, Doublelift bringing back the decisive decision-making attitude and bot-lane dominance paired with his handpicked Support Biofrost, who is coming into his own again as the meta shifts away from mage supports to play-making tanks. TSM has a lot to prove heading into playoffs, and possibly Worlds after. If they secure the match record we predict here, they will be better positioned than ever to break out of group stages and move onward to the bracket stages. Expected end result: 15-3.


Play-offs seeding predictions

1st seed: TeamSoloMid
2nd seed: Counter Logic Gaming
3rd seed: Cloud9
4th seed: Immortals
5th seed: Pheonix1
6th seed: Team EnvyUs

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