Rand: A look back at Longzhu's failings and Korea in 2016

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Thumbnail image courtesy of KeSPA / LCK Summer 2016

By Winter 2014, Korea's dominance over international competition had been firmly established. That dominance more often relied on the team as a whole than gathering five star players on the same roster. While players on these teams became stars during their race to the top — all 10 starting Samsung Galaxy players from 2014 were paid handsomely and scattered among various Chinese teams come 2015 — they didn't begin as stars. They weren't always successful. They weren't always champions. Assembling a cohesive roster was, and still is, an art.

Until recently, Korea generally eschewed the idea of a superteam — gathering big-name and high-performing players on one roster — for focusing on developing hand-picked players first. Organizations in OnGameNet’s Champions didn’t need to stockpile every proven talent within their region when they had a two-team system and the concurrent NLB tournament.

Two, or more, competitive teams gave organizations a chance to test out new talent and develop separate rosters based on communication and team synergy in addition to raw mechanics. Meanwhile, the existence of the NLB gave amateur talent a chance to prove themselves against the best in Korea — a far greater representation of how solo queue players plucked from the ladder would actually perform in a competitive environment. Teams that were eliminated from the premier OGN Champions tournament dropped down into the NLB and duked it out with qualifying amateur teams or the lesser sister teams of top-tier organizations that had failed to make it into Champions that season.

The cream rose to the top. Even if a more well-known organization didn’t expressly develop the amateur talent they wanted on their own sister teams, they had a myriad of players and rosters from NLB-level teams from which to scout new players. By the end of 2014, this system was a well-oiled machine, churning out winning lineups that were not only composed of talented players, but also focused on how those players fit together as a unit — from solo queue ladder, to amateur organization or lesser sister team, to the big-name organizations with non-endemic sponsors.

Elsewhere, the idea of a superteam was born with 2014 Europe’s Alliance roster being the first lineup to earn the title of “superteam” within the Western community. The idea was to gather as much rising, proven, or experienced talent on one team and make a run for international recognition. Korean teams’ continued dominance at international events — partially in thanks to their aforementioned talent development system — played a large role in birthing the idea of a superteam. If teams from other regions couldn’t best Korean teams at international events organically, they could simply collect big names from within their own region, and later import big names from other regions, to hopefully garner international success.

The first recognized superteam, Alliance, built their roster around the core of former Counter Logic Gaming.EU/Evil Geniuses mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and top laner Mike “Wickd” Petersen. Alliance are still known for their complete dominance of the 2014 European League Championship Series Summer split with a 21-7 regular season record and 3-1 victories over SK Gaming and Fnatic en route to the championship title. They’re also known for failing to make it out of groups at the 2014 World Championship.

With the acquisition of star AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zhihao, Oh My God fully committed to a superstar all-Chinese roster while nearly every other organization was betting their respective farm on Korean imports. OMG finished third in the 2015 LPL Spring regular season, the team’s highest finish they would earn that year. Unlike previous OMG lineups, this much-lauded one failed to even make it to the World Championship.

Last year, Team SoloMid signed a roster that had fans salivating in anticipation of their performance in the 2016 NA LCS Spring including former Counter Logic Gaming legacy AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, former SK Gaming jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, and veteran Fnatic support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim to complement superstar mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. They finished sixth in the 2016 NA LCS Spring regular season, the lowest finish of any lineup in TSM history. Although they ended up making it to the finals and barely lost to CLG, this iteration of TSM is not remembered fondly, with visible synergy issues between Doublelift and YellOwStaR.

When evaluating the failure of superteams, two main factors come into play — a lack of synergy between the star players acquired, and lofty performance expectations. Korea’s first superteam — 2016's Longzhu Gaming — had both.

In early 2015 — immediately post-Korean Exodus — most Korean organizations struggled to curate their rosters without the former two-team system and NLB tournament in place. The new LCK and Challengers Korea system eliminated the chance for amateur teams and players to cut their teeth on the heavy hitters of the Champions tournament, further separating amateur from professional. Fuller rosters with up to 10 players were allowed, but only five could start at a time — no more sister teams. This meant less competition for those who didn’t start and the larger risk of fracturing the oft-delicate balance of a strong starting five.

Initially the then-GE Tigers exploded onto the scene with superior coordination and team unity. Eventually, across both LCK splits, SK Telecom T1 rose to power, dominating the Korean landscape in 2015 summer and blazing through the 2015 World Championship nearly untouched. This increasing lack of parity within Korea itself helped spawn the idea of a Korean superteam roster.

The 2015-16 League of Legends offseason was greeted with apathy compared to what had come before. Another year of Korean talent — including proven champions and names on the ladder — flooded the international market. This is what interregional movement would look like for the foreseeable future. What began in 2014-15 as the “Korean Exodus” was now simply “the offseason.” The only difference a year made was of what region players were shuttled off to.

SK Telecom T1 was the known anomaly, whose financial investment into their LoL team, coupled with a winning environment and a second World Championship, kept players like superstar Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok happy enough to stay in Korea. Alongside mentions of SKT, and Faker’s salary, rumors of a Korean “superteam” arose.

Touted as a team of Korean stars backed with Chinese money, Longzhu Gaming had a full ten-man roster with star players like the legendary Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, Jin Air Green Wings’ 2015 star jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, and mid laner Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong, the lone bright spot on CJ Entus by the end of 2015.

Longzhu the superteam started off shakily. It was immediately apparent that the team hadn’t synergized as much as they had hoped during their offseason practice time. This wasn’t an immediate indictment of the roster, and didn’t necessarily point to failure — Alliance went 0-4 in their first week as a team and were at the bottom of the EU LCS — just that Longzhu would have a slower start than other teams. The high expectations of the roster did the team no favors. Longzhu had a mediocre 3-3 record across the first three weeks of LCK Spring 2016 but were regarded by many as an already sinking ship.

To counter the risk of lessening coordination while balancing such a large roster, Longzhu implemented a two-line strategy. Separating the team into two lines — similar to professional hockey — in top, jungle and mid while keeping the static bot lane of AD carry Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo and support Kim “Pure” Jin-sun allowed Longzhu to develop stronger synergy in two separate units while still juggling all ten players.

This all changed when Longzhu’s second AD carry Lee “Fury” Jin-yong became eligible for a starting position mid-spring. The idea of developing two lines with their own strengths, weaknesses, and synergy was abandoned, and Longzhu grasped at straws for the remainder of the season, scrambling their roster in various permutations hoping that one of these lineups would stick. None of them did. Last-place Kongdoo Monster, who lacked LCK-level talent in multiple positions, were far more coordinated than Longzhu. The superteam finished in seventh place, behind Samsung Galaxy and the surprising upstart Afreeca Freecs.

Longzhu only fared worse in LCK Summer 2016, finishing in eighth place, barely out of relegations. They continued to experiment with their ten-man roster, eventually settling on the lineup of Koo “Expession” Bon-taek, Lee “Crash” Dong-woo, Kim “Frozen” Tae-il, Fury and Pure.

Regardless of who they trotted out onto the Rift, Longzhu lacked not only coordination but a brain. Silent comms and despondent faces prevailed in the Longzhu booth. Longzhu’s players were still visibly talented. Even in their worst, hour-long slugfests, Frozen would have a solo kill here, or Pure would have a fantastic initiation there, but none of it mattered when the team couldn’t coordinate as a unit. Another League of Legends superteam down the drain.

Across League of Legends history, most rosters dubbed superteams have been doomed to mediocrity or far worse, complete and utter failure. Part of this is due to expectations of the roster in question on paper before they ever play a competitive match. A superteam is expected to not only be successful in their own region, but perform well internationally. Longzhu failed to perform well within Korea, never once making the playoffs while less impressive rosters on paper like the Afreeca Freecs rose through the LCK standings. The one international tournament Longzhu attended, IEM Oakland in late 2016, was an embarrassment.

On paper, the new Longzhu look a bit like the old Longzhu — too many players — but have made noticeable improvements that demonstrate a desire to learn from their previous mistakes. Signing three mid laners to a roster is extraneous, although having two isn’t as much of an indictment of the organization as it could be given the mid laners in question. Song “Fly” Yong-jun has an odd champion pool, and swapping him out for talented youngster Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong could depend on the meta, and what exactly they want from their mid laner at a given time.

The acquisition of Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon and Kim “PraY” Jong-in show that Longzhu will emphasize synergy over on-paper talent after an entire year of little to no unity or communication. GorillA is one of the best supports in the world, and is well-recognized for his leadership qualities in addition to his impeccable initiation and disengage timing for teamfights. The former ROX Tigers bottom lane made it a point to stay together, keeping their strong teamwork in tact.

Their veteran experience along with that of top laner Expession should provide a strong core to help steady their two mid-laners and presumed starting jungler Crash, who never developed beyond being a strong power-farmer during his time with the team last year. The roster has core veterans in at least three of their five positions, which should provide in-game leadership for Bdd and Crash, both of whom languished in 2016 with little guidance.

In the 2016-2017 offseason, the landscape has shifted again from the year preceding it. Korean teams on the whole are shelling out more money for players. Longzhu isn’t one of the monetary heavy hitters. That distinction belongs to KT Rolster — dubbed 2017 Spring’s superteam — and SK Telecom T1.

The initial Longzhu experiment was a complete misadventure in frustration, another example for the League of Legends world to learn from and avoid. This year’s iteration has a stronger focus on pre-existing synergy while developing the young talents of Bdd and Crash, a more traditional Korean roster, banking on striking that elusive and delicate balance. For Longzhu to succeed in the long tradition of Korean teams, they do not need to be a superteam, they just need to communicate.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

Riot to hold international tournament in July

by 12h ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports / Riot Games

Riot Games will host an international League of Legends tournament in July, separate from the Mid-Season Invitational and Worlds, according to sections of a Chinese press conference translated by Yahoo Esports' Kelsey Moster.

According to the translation, Riot employee Ye Qiang said that instead of shortening the spring split in order to allow for more international competition, Riot will be hosting an international event in July, which would put it in the middle of the summer split.

“We are still considering what kind of event would be the most interesting for everyone," Qiang said. "For example, can we do a World Cup-type tournament? We hope LoL events can be more diversified, can satisfy our audience, and can give everyone a better player experience, so this is what we will target for the event this year in July. Wait and see.”

The exact format of this tournament is unknown, as is the specific location, date and even how participants will be selected. While the conference was held in China, there is no clear indication that the tournament will be held in Asia.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Riot Games and Big Ten Network partner for new conference LoL championship

by 1d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports / Riot Games

Riot Games and the Big Ten Network are set to announce a partnership for a new season-long collegiate League of Legends championship, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.

The championship will feature 12 of the 14 conference schools competing in the championship, the exceptions being Nebraska and Penn State, and is set to begin on Jan. 30. Divided into two divisions named BTN East and West, teams will play in a best-of-three round robin against division opponents, with the top four moving on to a single elimination playoff bracket. The finals will take place on March 27 and will be televised by the BTN.

The winner of the BTN league will subsequently go on to compete in the LoL Collegiate Championship. For BTN, this league will hopefully allow them to reach an audience who they have not connected with before.

"As a content provider, we have obviously seen the popularity in esports grow," Erin Harvego, BTN's vice president of marketing, told ESPN. "Given the demographic that watches, perhaps this could reach a younger viewer who we haven't reached before."

This is not the first time that Riot and BTN have partnered for an event. Last April, BTN and Riot worked together to create the BTN Invitational, a best-of-five series between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans.

Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports whose journalism idol is Dino Ghiranze. You can follow him on Twitter.

Fantasy LCS: 5 Dark Horse players to draft

by 4d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Jose Silva / theScore esports

With Fantasy LCS descending upon us very, very soon, we at theScore esports have taken it upon ourselves to indulge you in what may be your breakout pick of the fantasy season. These picks are generally high risk picks with the possibility of an even higher reward. If you miss out on Bjergsen or Reignover (very likely if you're down in the draft order), you might want to keep an eye out on one of these picks. Who knows, you may strike gold and outperform the top picks of your draft....or take to Twitter to call me an idiot.

As I stressed in my previous articles, EU picks are underwhelming in the "Best Two Games" format due to the league's new format that will see some teams only compete in two games per week.

Top Lane

NA Dark Horse: Samson ”Lourlo” Jackson, Team Liquid

Steady growth is the name of the game for Lourlo. The end of summer saw him expand his champion pool and become a more reliable top laner for Team Liquid. If Lourlo can continue his growth, that, combined with the jungle pressure of Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin, could be the perfect combination to make him a top tier top laner.

EU Dark Horse: Barney “Alphari” Morris, Misfits

We simply don't know how Misfits will perform in their group, but we do know that the top lane talent in that group is fairly exploitable for the likes of Alphari. A rookie entering his first LCS split, his active laning and the support of Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon will likely put him as the top of the top laners in his group.

Jungler

NA Dark Horse: Lee “Chaser” Sang-Hyun, Dignitas

Chaser's career trajectory would rival the greatest of rollercoasters. From being one of the best junglers across 2015 and a superstar on Jin Air, Chaser was subsequently part of a Longzhu superteam that did not come close to living up to expectations. Benched for upcoming aggressive talent Lee "Crash" Dong-woo, Chaser did not perform well in 2016. In a revitalized Dignitas lineup, Chaser is the catalyst for the lineup's early game and a key factor in the performance of his aggressive sidelanes. Look for Chaser to rack up assists and/or die trying.

EU Dark Horse: Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir, Unicorns of Love

When you think of "dark horses", maybe a unicorn isn't your first thought. But, newcomer Xerxe has been hyped up by peers and enemies alike, with his entry into the jungle being a true X-factor in determining just how good the Unicorns of Love will be. If you think love prevails, you might want to pick up the jungle prodigy just to see how far he can go under the guidance of his incredibly experienced peers.

Mid Laner

NA Dark Horse: Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook, Phoenix1

Nothing says under the radar like having a Worlds semifinalist moving to a historically poor NA LCS team and people not making a bigger deal about it. Alas, Ryu and his stats can tell the whole story. Constantly in the upper echelon in the EU LCS, he benefited from Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski's aggressive jungling style. Rami "Inori" Charagh will provide similar coverage on this team, potentially leaving Ryu in familiar territory to rack up points in the mid lane.

EU Dark Horse: Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten, H2k-Gaming

There's no denying Febiven's talent. I mean, did you see him solo-kill Faker? Memes aside, Febiven is coming onto a revitalization after a disappointing 2016. His presence in H2K, matched with a new self-sufficient bot lane should see the first blood king come back to form as the playmaker he was known to be in Season 5.

AD carry

NA Dark Horse: Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, Dignitas

Seventy-three KDA in the first week, a top three KDA in his position by the end of the split, and an absurdly low 13.2 percent of his team's death. You wouldn't know it if I just said the stats, but this was LOD on a team that barely squeaked into playoffs, not Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng. With the support of the new Dignitas lineup, it's likely that he can ascend to new heights and cement himself as one of the region's best AD carries.

EU Dark Horse: Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi, Team Vitality

Steeelback is moving to a team with an undeniably higher ceiling, and communicating with his Vitality teammates will be a lot as the team fields a number of French-speaking players. His rapport with veteran support Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan will be important in establishing a solid presence in the bottom lane, and could be the catalyst in padding his already stellar statistics.

Support

NA Dark Horse: Matthew “Matt” Elento, Team Liquid

Team Liquid look poised to have a solid bot lane and jungle synergy with their two imports operating in both these positions. Matt will serve to benefit as well, being a natural playmaker on champions like Bard and Thresh. He has the chance to rack up an incredible amount of assists as a result. He may also cut down on his deaths in a better team environment with better synergy.

EU Dark Horse: Lee “IgNar“ Dong-geun, Misfits

IgNar may be new to the EU LCS, but his talent on other teams have not been questioned. He has played in the top level of North America and Korea, and will be the anchor to rookie AD carry Steven "Hans Sama" Liv. His experience may be underrated and as a result could be a solid pickup in the support position, able to rival the top tier supports in needed statistics.

Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a News Editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.

Scripting site shuts down after settlement with Riot Games

by 6d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

After a six-month court case, the hackers behind scripting service LeagueSharp have ceased operations after reaching a settlement with Riot, according to a post on their now-defunct website.

"As some of you may know, Riot Games has filed a lawsuit against LeagueSharp and has made it clear to us that LeagueSharp violates their Terms of Use. As a result of our lawsuit with Riot, we have agreed to cease development and support for LeagueSharp and any other tools related to Riot Games. You also should be aware that using third-party tools in League of Legends may result in the suspension or banning of your account by Riot Games. We apologize for any pain we've caused to players of League of Legends."

Riot originally filed a complaint, which was obtained by Rift Herald, against the five people behind the service on Aug. 5, citing breaches to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and facilitating the means by which thousands of players violated LoL's Terms of Use.

They also accused the defendants of leaking personal information about a Riot employee who they threatened and harassed on social media after Riot reached out to them to try and settle the matter out of court.

"[The] defendants or those working in concert with them disseminated personal and non-public information about a Riot employee, threatened that employee, and posted offensive comments on the employee’s social media," the complaint said.

According to the complaint, the five defendants operated through a Peruvian shell company which held the copyright to their scripting software in hopes that it would protect them from legal ramifications.

"Additionally, knowing that this lawsuit was imminent, Defendants have been quickly and carefully destroying or concealing evidence such as their most incriminating online posts and purporting to hide behind a Peruvian shell corporation created solely for the purpose of evading liability," it said.

With the settlement, the average LoL player can expect encountering a few less unwinnable battles in Solo Q as well as some balance restored to the Summoner's Code.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.

Sandbox mode details released

na.leagueoflegends.com
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Riot Games have released a blog post with more details about the long-awaited sandbox mode that's coming to the Summoners' Rift.

According to the post, commands included in the practice tool for its first iteration include auto-refresh cooldowns, health and mana, respawning the jungle and Dragons, creating dummies and disabling turrets among others.

While Riot has yet to give a release date for the tool, the post states that they will be trying to implement a "bare-bones version" of it early in the patch cycle. However, they will continue working on improvements to the practice tool over time.

Click here for the full article via na.leagueoflegends.com

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