Rebuilding China: Language barrier, Uzi's buyout, and preseason exhibition

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As far as I’m aware, the problems with Chinese teams persist. The National Electron Sports Open results may be more or less disregarded, as it happened quite soon after the World Championship, but that doesn’t make headaches less severe.

Weekly hurdle: The Korean influence

There’s a Chinese proverb I’ve seen fans use when discussing what they perceive as the problem of the Korean imports meaning “to quench one’s thirst with poisoned wine,” or to seek temporary relief at a high cost. Typically, the belief is that Chinese teams imported Koreans to improve their level of talent, but in-game communication suffered. As the meta game changed, they weren’t able to play lane swaps correctly because they lacked the necessary communication.

As with all popular theories, there is some validity to these claims and some pitfalls. Initially, when Koreans arrived in China and began to adjust to the environment, EDward Gaming’s coach Ji “Aaron” Xing said he noticed the biggest difference was in the way the Korean players approached the game. They practiced more and in a different way that focused on developing their flaws.

In top teams, this approach allegedly began to rub off on the Chinese players. Players like Wei “GODV” Zhen had always practiced a lot, but some within LGD have said he changed his approach as a result of the Korean influence. Ming “Clearlove” Kai, who had always been known as a rare Chinese player for his work ethic and dedication to the game, even saw initial improvements and more development in his approach, though it may be unrelated.

Over time, as we’ve seen players like Lee “Spirit” Dayoon express frustration with the practice ethic that has been reported to exist in many Chinese teams for years, it became clear that the environment was also beginning to impact the Koreans. As some team owners and managers are quite friendly with their players, Chinese players can often get away with toeing the line of instructions from coach and staff. As soon as top Korean player discovered they could also shirk orders, their own focus declined. LGD’s Korean players took scrims leading up to the World Championship about as seriously as their Chinese brethren.

I’ll discuss solutions to what I perceive as the infrastructural problem later, but in many ways the Koreans have adapted to their environment. They’re still strong players, but in a less structured realm. Song “RooKie” Euijin’s popularity is strong given his commitment to learning Mandarin Chinese, the fact that many enjoy his stream, and his friendships with Chinese players on other teams.

Ultimately, the Korean influence initially improved the Chinese practice ethic, but over time other problems became difficult to overcome. This is something that has been acknowledged, at least in part, in discussions of the topic. As a result, proponents of this argument have included that improvements do not counter-balance the ultimate cost of the language barrier.

While I do think language barrier plays an important factor in disrupting team cohesion, it seems to have a larger impact outside the game than inside the game. One can devise a communication system to deal with even something as complex as lane swaps as long as the team understands how to execute them. Overall, the Chinese teams at Worlds were strategically behind, and the language barrier exacerbating the issue has been exaggerated.

The language barrier may have still played a part in the strategic lag. As Dignitas coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal said in an interview I conducted with him about the North American team Dignitas with both Korean and English-speaking players, he said he felt the biggest problem was communicating when players had a problem or just cooperating outside the game.

It’s possible that this problem lead to the inability of Chinese teams to quickly adapt to the meta, as discussions would have been stunted. If having discussions about the meta is a strain, and the team sports a roster of supreme quality, teams may be more likely to rely on individual skill than to develop a tactical approach.

Problems between Korean and Chinese players may be difficult to express. I’ve heard a few surprisingly damaging stories that resulted from mistranslations of comments made between players or players and staff. Some Korean players have felt less confident competing in China since they aren’t sure whether Chinese fans are cheering them on or insulting them when they meet them.

The larger problem with language barrier sits outside the game rather than ingame, and I think it’s often used as a straw man argument for why the teams failed to perform. Ultimately, other arguments like teams not playing their more comfortable strategy, as KaKAO suggested, or not practicing adequately hold larger sway and aren’t necessarily the fault of importing Koreans.

Since, however, it is certainly a problem that can be fixed, more effort can be done to teach Korean players who choose to stay in China to speak Mandarin Chinese. KaKAO said that learning the language is one of his primary goals for next year. Implementing mandatory classes like this could also go along with overall infrastructural improvements, but the act of importing Koreans is not at fault for the poor performance by Chinese teams at the World Championship.

One aspect I think is worth more investigation is the contribution of the Korean element to the stunting of Chinese talent scouting. Many young Chinese players like Yu “300” Zuxing, Zhou “Soda” Pengxian, and Chen “Cherish” Zhe have been unable to advance to LPL, and we’re seeing older Chinese talent retire with a generational gap.

Again, however, I think there is a larger systemic failure of organizations to scout or transfer proper talent either because of buyouts or a lack of effort even before the arrival of Koreans. Feng “TnT” Qingyu, for example, spent a year in LSPL after proving himself in LPL even before Koreans arrived.

Roster Rumblings

Confirmations

NESO showed us some of the first confirmations of transfer season. Wang “wushuang” Li, already announced on WE’s weibo prior to the World Championship, played for WE. Bo “Mo” Cai from Acfun appeared on Invictus Gaming’s roster as support. Bong “Republic” Guntae, a Korean player previously of Taiwan’s Machi eSports played for Energy Pacemaker All. The organization had participated in one other tournament with him before, but with EPA’s third place, it was a good chance to assess his form. King’s Dong “SinkDream” Shichun joined Oh My Dream.

More obscure regional qualifiers for Tencent Games Arena, which allows teams to compete for entry into LSPL, showed ex-Vici Gaming support Ying “Yh” Hai and the resurfacing of Gan “ChouD1” Junjie who played for Wings of Aurora in 2013 transferring to Wk.Panda.

Fans of LGD Gaming in Spring of 2014 may also remember the Riven player Fu "Star" Yang who has resurfaced alongside Energy Pacemaker All's Le "2eggs" Xiaotian to compete on Energy Pacemaker.E for a spot in LSPL.

None of these transfers are particularly inspiring, but wushuang and Republic are the most interesting. wushuang has performed well in solo queue and is largely regarded as a positive acquisition. He didn’t display much prowess in NESO. Republic looked much stronger than the team’s previous mid laner, but likely won’t contest some of the LPL giants.

Chinese Rumor Mill

As for ongoing rumors, the prevailing ones at the moment circle around Jian “Uzi” Zihao, the top laners associated with the WE organization, Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon, and the constant influx of Lee “Duke” Hoseong rumors that never seem to die.

The Uzi rumors are the top story. Some even found their way to Reddit, though the sphere of mythos has already shifted. It’s sometimes hard to take rumors coming out of China completely seriously, so I would advise caution in interpreting some of them. At the moment, the speculation revolves around Uzi’s buyout, which OMG had previously stated is quite sizable.

At the moment, rumors suggest Uzi’s buyout bidding has exceeded the minimum required and has now gone to numbers around 50,000,000RMB ($7,857,929 USD). If you recall from last week, the entirety of Qiao Gu, including LPL spot, players, and staff, is likely to go for 12 million RMB, meaning that Uzi himself would go for four times the price of the team that finished second in LPL this summer.

I can’t remotely validate the rumors of this price—it may even be a joke! The original poster was doubted by others as part of the discussion. It's worth noting OMG had previously seemed very confident that few could afford their buyout, meaning that the number is steep. While this number may not come near $7 million USD, if Uzi is sold, I imagine it breaking the transfer price record for a single player.

The poor performance of LPL teams at the World Championship has significantly raised Uzi’s stock, as he’s made the final for China twice. The rumored bidders are Royal Club, as reddit has seen, and Invictus Gaming. Royal might be the better option since they’re liable to rebuild a team around him, which suits Uzi’s play. Invictus Gaming would be—interesting. RooKie is a very good Lulu player after all, but I’d rather iG build their team around him with a more stable AD carry than break the bank on Uzi. As fans like to say, however, if iG really are involved, Wang Sicong, iG's owner, gets what he wants.

The WE top transfer rumors speculate that Jang “looper” Hyeongseok at least will remain in China and will transfer to the main team, WE, replacing Peng “Aluka” Zhenming, who will go to WEF with Ke “957” Changyu moving to Master3. I’d prefer 957, who may be the best prospect of the three, to remain on WEF rather than go to either WE or Master3. If Yang “OldB” Seungbin remains with WEF, that team could surpass both M3 and WE. If Chen “CjLear” Chen Jianliu, who has been playing jungle for WEF recently, is the starter, then perhaps 957 is better off trying to prove himself on a failing LPL team.

If this rumor is true, it suggests WE acknowledge that Aluka is a problem, which is a small positive sign for fans of the team in 2016.

If China’s forums are to be believed, Lee “Duke” Hoseong is to play top lane for every single team in LPL, just as he was supposed to last split. (Thank you, Sun “XiaoXiao” Yalong, for getting everyone excited for no reason.) Changes may, however, be coming to Najin that might make Duke’s appearance in China more likely.

The most recent rumor has more credibility than the others, as it was a hint left by Young Glory’s manager on weibo. The comment said “Welcome Easyhoon to China?” Since Snake’s manager suggested Easyhoon may be interested in leaving SK Telecom T1 before the World Championship, Easyhoon has been one of the players with the most buzz on the forums. Armanini’s follow-up post mentioned he was “bored” when he left the hint, so it’s not clear if he was merely looking to stir the pot or Easyhoon is coming to China.

A bit of old news still worth writing about

One development that has been confirmed is something I missed while traveling at the end of July. Royal Club’s new coach, Kim “vicaL” Sunmook, has worked with the organization before. In 2014 Summer, vicaL joined Star Horn Royal Club as their Korean coach, and Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup has attributed most of the team’s strategy and teamwork to him. While Siu “Chris” Keung got most of the glory, vicaL floated under the radar.

I’ve promised never to get excited about Royal Never Give Up (ex-King) again, but I’m happy to see a Korean coach acclimated to the scene return and continue to work in it.

Upcoming Events: Preseason Exhibition

The ongoing Tencent Games Carnival will hold an exhibition match between players from Snake, MG owner Liu "PDD" Mou, and LPL casters. At 6 a.m. EST on November 16th, the event will begin with a discussion by professional players and other celebrities of preseason changes. At 6:30 a.m. EST, the match will start.

Team Top Jungle Mid ADC Support
Blue PDD ZZR LoveJY kRYST4L Ella
Red Flandre JoKer U Martin  苦笑

It’s unclear if the matches will be played on the preseason patch 5.22 unless the players are using some version of the PBE, but at the very least 5.21 will show off Kindred while the commentators discuss how preseason changes will affect the game.

Originally, this was supposed to be a showmatch between Vici Gaming and Qiao Gu, but other events, such as Vici Gaming's visits to universities, conflicted.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.

Royal Never Give Up and the myth of the Uzi Worlds buff

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Until Snake’s near-miraculous run at the Regional Qualifier this year, the longest day of matches for any team in Chinese League of Legends esports was Sept. 8, 2013, the day Royal Club Huang Zu played nine straight games to qualify for the 2013 World Championship as China’s first seed. In the final series, the crowd, more lukewarm than they would have been had fan favorite Team WE made an appearance, waved blinking green batons as Royal Club and Oh My God settled into their chairs. Not only was it Royal’s third series of the day, but it was the second time they played against Oh My God; they had started their run by losing 1-2 and dropping to the loser’s bracket of the tournament.

In part because they were denied their Annie support pick, Royal didn’t choose their duo lane mid strategy for the first game. They instead used the aggressive Elise against Yin "Lovelin" Le’s farming Yorick by first ganking mid to burn Yu "cool" Jiajun’s flash, then pressuring with an invade that Royal mid laner Lo "Wh1t3zZ" Punwai could follow up with easily for first blood. The deadly Elise and Gragas combination slayed cool and snowballed from there, adding Jian "Uzi" Zihao’s assassin Twitch to the mix for a 26-minute opening devastation. Royal 3-0’d the series against China’s most dominant team of 2013, a team they’d already lost a best of three to earlier that day.

In 2013, pick compositions and deep vision reigned supreme with supports buying inventories full of wards. Oh My God started the LPL revolution themselves, but Royal took it even further with strategies that pressured the mid lane with the duo lane, using Twitch to take advantage of gaps in vision and the zoning power of Annie as a support to control the jungle. When people remember Royal’s climb from a three-way tie for second place in the LPL regular season to the finals of the 2013 World Championship, they highlight Uzi’s Vayne, the power of Royal’s duo lane and the "raise the puppy" strategy.

Royal’s innovations conveniently slip out of the narrative, as does their impressive, nine-game Regional run to claim first seed from a powerhouse OMG that went toe-to-toe with SK Telecom T1 K, the eventual tournament winners, in their first game of the group stage. When people think of Royal Club at the World Championship, they call it an inexplicable "Uzi World Championship buff." They expect that, no matter how poorly Royal Never Give Up have been doing domestically in 2016, the same mysterious Worlds Buff will re-emerge.

This buff doesn’t actually exist. Both seasons, Royal Club had upswings, in part due to synergy finally coming together, in part due to familiarity with their opponents coming to fruition, and in part due to favorable meta changes. This persistence in form carried over with them to the World Championship. The same upswing didn’t occur for Royal Never Give Up this year. Instead, they spent most of the summer split looking progressively worse.

The announcement that Uzi would return to Royal Never Give Up came after the team’s devastating defeat at the hands of SK Telecom T1 at the Mid-Season Invitational. Cho "Mata" Sehyoung informed Chinese press that, if he could choose four LPL players to face SKT again, he would select himself and the rest of the existing members of RNG, with one exception — he would change the AD carry to Uzi.

Uzi rejoining Royal seemed logical on paper. Though Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok and Li "xiaohu" Yuanhao had both had impressive moments at MSI, Royal needed a closer, and Uzi’s team fight targeting could have provided that for them. For a while, it worked out, as Royal Never Give Up used raw strength to sweep through their lanes for the early part of the 2016 LPL Summer split.

Looper at MSI (Photo: lolesports flickr)

Over time, however, Royal appeared increasingly strained. Their inability to close remained. For most of the regular season, they averaged a gold lead over 1700 against their opponents at 15 minutes, the highest of any team in the five major regions. Yet they tunneled on Baron. Their side wave control lacked, and Mata got caught out continuously warding on his own.

On the topic of Mata and Uzi, their synergy never seemed to truly set in. In the third game between Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming during the regular season, Uzi and Mata’s engage went awry in part when Uzi tried to retreat while Mata had EDward Gaming AD carry Kim "deft" Hyukkyu stunned, only one of many trade-based awkward moments for the duo.

This isn’t the first time it has taken Uzi a while for his rhythm to align with his support’s. Yoon "Zero" Kyungsup often seemed to play catchup with Uzi when he would dive aggressively in 2014, and many of Uzi’s ex-teammates from 2013’s iteration of Royal Club remember him clashing with Wong "Tabe" Pakkan. In his retirement video, Royal Club top laner Xiao "GodLike" Wang described Uzi as demanding, criticizing his teammates excessively for any misplay, and when Tabe had had enough and threatened to leave, GodLike said Uzi re-directed his ire toward the team’s jungler instead.

These factors, in addition to the perceived reduced impact of solo laners xiaohu and Looper, even when they’re over their opponents in creep totals, have resulted in several criticisms of Uzi’s stubbornness. To compound the situation, Royal’s gold distribution has drifted drastically toward Uzi in the LPL summer compared to the team’s peak form at MSI with Wang "wuxx" Cheng.

Difference in percentage of team gold from tournament average. For Royal@MSI, the average is the MSI average. For Royal in LPL Summer, the average is the LPL average.

Royal Never Give Up's Gold Distribution in MSI and LPL Summer

Role Royal@MSI Royal in LPL Summer Difference
Top 20.3 20.0 -0.3
Jungle 21.6 20.2 -1.4
Mid 23.2 21.8 -1.4
ADC 24.5 26.7 2.2
Support 10.5 11.4 .9

There is certainly some validity to these criticisms. Uzi’s laning is very confrontational. When forced to choose between contesting the opponent’s last hit and last hitting his own creep, Uzi said near the end of the 2016 Spring season, "I generally choose to harass if I see the enemy AD carry will last hit. If I do this, it’s very easy to get a CS lead and pressure out the other ADC."

Part of Uzi’s struggles against SKT in the 2013 World Championship finals came when he tried to constantly play aggressively against Chae "Piglet" Gwangjin and Lee "PoohManDu" Jyeonghyeon, at times disregarding the minion flow. EDward Gaming’s bottom lane has often been able to get advantages against Royal’s despite generally better laning technique on the part of Uzi and Mata because they always prioritize pushing out the wave, while Uzi will try to trade and lose control of the flow of the minions.

Uzi also demands jungle attention. Both Uzi and jungler Baek "Swift" Daehoon affirmed that Uzi needed more jungle attention than QG Reapers’ other ADC, Yu "HappyY" Rui. "I like to go for lane trades a lot more. Because of this, our jungler will go to bot side a lot more when I’m playing," Uzi said.

GodLike, in his retirement video, also said that Uzi’s style restricted Royal Club Huang Zu from playing more split-push oriented strategies, and they could "only play raise the puppy compositions" in 2013. While these tendencies are visible, it’s also unfair to completely blame Uzi for Royal Never Give Up’s recent decline in form.

"I think that my playstyle is different [from 2013 and 2014]," Uzi said, "in that I’m much more stable than at that time … AD carries don’t really get ahead a lot in the early game. There aren’t as many opportunities to get ahead. Usually go through laning phase, then the teamfights."

Though Uzi is far from a completely different player, his approach to teamfights has become less all-in. While he will still tunnel on the ideal target and not appear to think as much about how he can get out of the fight, it happens less often than it did two years ago, and he’s become much better at managing games from behind. Mlxg’s pathing has also been somewhat more creative than one might assume given the fact that Uzi himself has said he will frequently call his jungler to his lane.

In fact, during the LPL Summer playoffs, jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu ganked nine times in total in the first ten minutes of Royal Never Give Up’s games. Only two ganks went to the bottom lane. The majority of the ganks were directed toward xiaohu’s lane in mid.

Photo: lolesports flickr

Despite having two accounts in the Top 20 of the Korean solo queue ladder, xiaohu’s form in competitive games has been dubious. He’s made simple mistakes in trading and map positioning in the side lanes, getting caught repeatedly by EDward Gaming’s global compositions. Lissandra and Syndra, both known as strong champions for xiaohu, didn’t have the same impact as they’ve had when he has played them in the past.

Focusing more toward the mid lane may be an attempt on Royal Never Give Up’s part to give xiaohu more responsibility and confidence to carry games. So far, it isn’t working. xiaohu’s story this split has shared some similarities with that of Luck "Perkz" Perkovic’s of the EU LCS’ G2 Esports. The jungle and mid lane duo owned Royal in Spring, but he's been displaced. Two champions he relied upon heavily earlier, Azir and LeBlanc, fell out of favor, and xiaohu’s confidence plummeted, even as he was able to latch onto Taliyah.

"In my current state," xiaohu said at the press conference following the LPL final in Guangzhou, "I feel like, no matter which mid laner I face, I won't be a match for him." He has tried unsuccessfully to find a new place on a team that is increasingly bottom lane focused.

For Uzi’s successful teams in the past, the mid laner’s go-to has been Orianna. Even in an assassin-driven meta, Orianna was Wh1t3zZ's most picked champion at Worlds. Orianna was one of two champions Star Horn Royal Club mid laner Lie "corn" Wen was known to play with a high degree of competency, and at the 2014 World Championship, Orianna, Lulu and Zilean were played in 70 percent of Royal’s games.

This time around, buffs to Orianna hit on patches 6.16 and 6.17, but recent basic mistakes made by both xiaohu and Mata, two of Royal’s strongest assets at the Mid-Season Invitational, indicate it isn't likely to make a major difference. If Uzi is impacting their under-performance, it isn't directly.

The missing link for Royal, this time around, is a surge in synergy and strategy. In 2013, Tabe’s innovation with Annie support, and the team’s decision to run the duo in the mid lane to increase jungle control gave them a boost against their domestic competitors, especially the mid and jungle-centric OMG.

In 2014, despite clashes between Uzi and jungler Choi "inSec" Inseok behind the scenes, the sudden shift to the 2v2 bottom lane meta with increased dragon gold and the buffing of Lucian allowed Uzi and Zero to pressure advantages while inSec ganked bottom lane heavily. It was hard for the enemy team to punish Uzi’s over-aggression when mid lane champions like Orianna and Lulu were a staple, and the support meta swung to include the disengage and protective powers of Janna.

The 2014 Star Horn Royal Club (Photo: lolesports flickr)

2014's same perfect meta storm could come to fruition, but the thing that seems to be missing most from this iteration of Royal, however, is the ability to identify opponent tendencies and learn from them. Almost every game in the LPL this summer, Royal tunneled on the same invade-based strategies, they contested buffs, they relied on bottom lane getting ahead and hoped they could close their disorganized team fights around Baron. At this point, their play feels stale.

Though every successful iteration of Royal Club before has played around Uzi, they’ve refined their method by identifying how to destabilize their opponents. The more games they played against them, the better.

The 3-0 against OMG by Royal in the 2013 LPL Regional final wasn’t the only victory Royal had had over them that day. A nine game slog began with Royal taking the first game of the best of three against Oh My God.

Royal expected OMG's invade, presumably based on studying their VODs, and expected OMG to wait in Royal’s blue side red buff buff after laying vision. In response, Royal rushed to their own bottom side tri bush, circumventing OMG’s wards, and counter-ambushed OMG in their trap.

Royal’s efforts landed them two kills. From there, Tabe and Uzi could zone the mid lane effectively and close the game. It snowballed almost entirely off understanding Oh My God’s habits and responding to them in a creative way. Both series between OMG and Royal in the qualifier and later at the World Championship had interactions where Royal abused some of OMG’s tendencies to get the better of them.

A very similar phenomenon happened between Oh My God and Star Horn Royal Club at the 2014 World Championship. Royal Club and OMG played 12 games in playoffs and the Regional Qualifier that season prior to the World Championship. OMG bested Royal in their two best of fives in playoffs, but again lost the series that qualified Royal Club for Worlds.

In all of those 12 games, Oh My God heavily targeted inSec. Loveling invaded his jungle and denied his camps. They levied multiple bans against him, preventing him from using Kha’Zix or Lee Sin, knowing he would often then default to Jarvan IV, in which case he would engage too eagerly and trap himself to die instantly without the mobility of Kha’Zix or Lee Sin to escape.

Oh My God at the Season 3 World Championship

But at Worlds, Royal had prepared specifically for this scenario. They had Pantheon and Fiddlesticks to answer for OMG’s bans, and OMG, with internal problems of their own and disagreements among their ranks, struggled to avoid the stacked teamfight composition Star Horn Royal Club ran with Fiddlesticks.

"I have often asked myself this question," OMG’s cool said earlier this year, "Why did we lose to Royal? When we played against Royal, we had less confidence than when we played against NaJin. We had lost some matches against them in the qualifier, and even before during the regular season. I think both OMG and Royal knew each others' playstyles well. When they’re well prepared, confidence matters a lot."

Both previously successful Royal Club rosters had a pluckiness to them, a determination to find small advantages and improve against opponents they had lost to many times before. Mid laner Wh1t3zZ recalled of Royal’s 2013 run: "Before, Tabe would just go knock on [the other teams'] doors to ask if they would scrim with us. We had almost no connections. At that time, we had almost a little self-importance, but then [when we did get scrims] we basically didn’t win at all."

"Loss is a difficult thing to accept," Wh1t3zZ said, "and we also lost so much we’d fight a lot, but outside of the arguments, we all wanted to win … To sum up a bit, 34 days later, every scrim, our win rate generally increased."

In their reflections, both Wh1t3zZ and GodLike noted that in 2013, OMG refused to scrim them at the World Championship, but their laundry list of frequent scrim partners included Fnatic. By the time they faced Fnatic in the semifinals, they were well-acquainted with how Fnatic reacted to aggressive bottom lane pressure and knew to counter-pick mid laner Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez. Wh1t3zZ mentioned Royal also applied double jungling, something they had learned from OMG, to defeat Fnatic.

It’s possible, this time around, the same phenomenon can occur for Royal, but so far there hasn't been any evidence it will. They didn’t take games off their biggest domestic competitors in the LPL final or the regional this time. They didn’t display the same level of confidence or ingenuity after repeated losses to LPL's giant.

The Uzi Worlds buff doesn’t exist. There isn’t a magic incantation that will make him invincible at international events. Uzi plays to contest creeps beautifully, though sometimes at the expense of wave control or attention to the mini map. He targets well in teamfights and sometimes clashes both stylistically and argumentatively with a his teammates.

Photo: 刘一村

Uzi will and always has played his game the way he plays it. Even with the increases in consistency he has made over time, he's still Uzi. What Royal are missing this time around is the synergy that old rosters carefully developed and the perfect circumstances that allowed Royal to face the opponents with which they were most familiar in their bracket stages.

It’s still not clear what Royal will emerge from their Korean bootcamp when the World Championship begins in San Francisco, but it's clear given the stacked Group D Royal Never Give Up face, that the incline this time around is much steeper than it has ever been. To make it up the slope, they'll need more than a myth.

Header image credited to 刘一村.

Kelsey Moser is a feature writer for theScore esports. She doesn't hate Uzi. You can follow her on Twitter.

Inside EDward Gaming's training facility

theScore esports Staff 3d ago

EDward Gaming are one of the most successful organization in Chinese League of Legends, so it's only fitting they have a team house that matches their prestige.

During the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, EDG gave us an inside tour of their 8,900 square foot training facility so we could see just how some of the best players in the world prepare each and every day.

For more video interviews and highlights, be sure to subscribe to theScore esports on YouTube.

MonteCristo not invited to cast Worlds, DoA declines to attend

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In what appears to be the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Riot Games' esports division and OGN caster Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles, MonteCristo claims that he was deliberately excluded from the LoL World Championship casting team, which was announced Friday morning.

In an interview with ESPN's Jacob Wolf, MonteCristo said he was notified on Aug. 9 that he would not receive an invitation to the event. According to ESPN, both of MonteCristo's casting partners, Erik "DoA" Lonnquist and Chris "PapaSmithy" Smith, were invited by Riot to cast the event. PapaSmithy will attend to represent the South Korea region, but DoA said in the interview that he declined due to conflicting obligations in South Korea.

"Riot decided not to invite me to this year's League of Legends World Championship," MonteCristo told Wolf. "I'm sorry to my fans that I will miss this opportunity, but pleased to say that I have upcoming casting projects that I am very excited about for the remainder of 2016."

This will be the first time MonteCristo has not been involved with Riot's Worlds broadcast since he first appeared there in 2013. It will also be the second Riot-hosted event that he sits out this year, after he and his fellow OGN casters boycotted the Mid-Season Invitational in March. At the time, Monte, DoA and PapaSmithy issued a joint statement claiming that Riot offered sub-standard wages to cast the event.

Riot, which announced its casting lineup for Worlds on Friday morning, has not officially commented on MonteCristo's exclusion from the list. In his ESPN interview, MonteCristo gave no details about how he was notified about the decision or the motivation behind it.

However, the caster and ex-team owner has been vocally critical of Riot's esports policies since he and his former team, Renegades, were banned from the NA LCS in May. In a tweet following the ESPN report Friday, he implied that his exclusion from Worlds was related to his past conflicts with Riot's esports team.

In social media and in the press, MonteCristo has argued that Riot's decision to ban Renegades was unfair and non-transparent, claiming that the publisher did not give him an adequate opportunity to present a defense before issuing its ruling. Riot banned Renegades over its alleged connections with banned former team owner Chris Badawi, as well as alleged mistreatment of players and collusion with Team Dragon Knights.

MonteCristo, as the team's owner, was banned for one year from owning a team that participates in any Riot-sanctioned league, though the ruling stated it would not affect his casting career with OGN, which is not owned by Riot. In August, MonteCristo sold Renegades, which still operates CS:GO and Call of Duty teams, to Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko.

In his most recent comments about Riot — which were published after MonteCristo claims Riot notified him he was not invited to Worlds — the caster vehemently criticized the company and its co-founder, Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill, over the way it controls sponsorship in the LCS. Among other criticisms, he accused Riot of playing favorites with league teams and owners, comparing the company to a "f**cked up tyrant Santa Claus" that doles out rewards and punishments to teams it considers "good" or "bad."

In a tweet Friday following ESPN's report, MonteCristo said that further criticism would be forthcoming. "Now that I have zero business ties to Riot, I will be releasing many vlogs on my experiences with the company when I get back from vacation," he said.

Though MonteCristo and DoA's fans will not get a chance to see them at Worlds, the two are set to cast OGN's new $170,000 Overwatch league, Overwatch APEX, beginning in October. They will also continue to broadcast OGN's coverage of League Champions Korea in 2017.

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

UCI League of Legends team to feature former Team Vulcun support BloodWater

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The University of California at Irvine is set to launch an esports arena with a new League of Legends roster that features former Team Vulcun support Lyubomir "BloodWater" Spasov.

UCI's esports scholarship program is similar to most university's traditional sports scholarships, with top LoL players receiving scholarships to study at the university while playing on their collegiate teams. According to a press release, BloodWater has been awarded a scholarship for the school's computer science.

"UCI’s new eSports program gives talented League of Legends players the opportunity to study what they love and to continue their passion for competitive gaming," BloodWater stated in the press release. "When I heard about the scholarship, I was very happy to know that I had a chance to attend one of the best universities in California – or anywhere – and to earn a degree in computer science.”

BloodWater is best known for his time on Team Vulcun, with whom he attended the Season 3 World Championships in 2013. The team placed third in the 2013 NA LCS Summer Playoffs, qualifying them for Worlds. Vulcun went on to place 11th-12th after placing second in their group with a 3-5 record.

The university has three other members of their LoL team set. The players are Youngbin Chung (Mid), James Lattman (ADC), Loc Tran (ADC) and Parsa "Frostalicious" Baghai (Jungle). The team will hold tryouts for a top laner starting Sept. 26.

“We’re honored to work with UCI to create a permanent home for gamers on campus and hope this will inspire similar programs at colleges and universities across North America,” Riot Games' head of collegiate esports Ramon Hermann stated in the press release.

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

Ghostcrawler talks LoL's future in Reddit AMA

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Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street has worked on Age of Empires 1 through 3, World of Warcraft, and now, for over two and a half years, League of Legends. It's not surprising that he has more than a few fans that would like to pick the LoL design director's brain.

And pick they did, as the spectral crab took to Reddit Monday to talk about all of the above in an AMA. While much of it was unrelated to esports, he did come through in a pinch with some gems regarding the potential future of competitive LoL.

A hot topic in the competitive scene has been how lane configurations can or should work: Riot has been notoriously wary of the lane swap phenomenon, for example.

But Ghostcrawler said that he's not opposed to enabling other kinds of setups, it just isn't Riot's first concern.

"There are a lot of comps and strategies that work in 112J, and we know there are a lot of non-112J configurations that are too frustrating, snowbally or easily solved," he wrote. "We are focused more currently on making sure you have good options for whatever lane you pick or whatever champ you want to play than spending a lot of effort supporting say a 2 jungler option or a no jungler option."

While addressing diversity of lane setups may not be in the immediate future, Ghostcrawler said that champion diversity is something that the team wants to address.

When asked if there were any specific champions he wanted to see better represented, he was blunt.

"There are many. I'm not at all satisfied with pro champ diversity."

Discussing the role of items in the game, GC said that there can be tension in reconciling the two goals of the item system: rewarding players for the gold they've earned with sufficient additional power, while also offering them decisions about how to customize their character.

Despite hoping to do both, in practice these decisions often become rote as players tend to choose very similar items.

"If I could just snap my fingers and make it all work, then the best result would be that each champion has multiple build paths with interesting decisions along the way, but without a real risk of making such bad choices that earning gold doesn't help you win," Ghostcrawler wrote. "That is hard to deliver on in practice."

Another response of note dealt with how random chance impacts the game. GC explained that he considers some level of randomness to be a good thing for the game.

Crit chance is one such thing, but he doesn't feel it's done an especially good job of being a random element.

"I don't think crit chance has played out well as that thing though," he wrote. "We have had a ton of meetings on what we could do instead, or even what we would do if we were launching League today, but unfortunately we don't have an awesome solution yet."

Lead champion designer Andrei "Meddler" van Roon also chimed in that the addition of the Elemental Drakes was an attempt to add some unpredictability to the game: specifically, the kind that offered important decision-making points for both teams.

"We've been pretty happy with the system too overall and will be exploring some other, smaller sources of telegraphed randomness in the pre-season as a result," he wrote.

And esports fans need not fear a lack of new champions any time soon: in a response to a query about whether Riot would eventually stop adding champions, Ghostcrawler said that it was not likely for a long time.

"You mean will we hit a number and say 'You know, that's probably enough champs for one game?' I would say yes, we will hit that number, but at the rate we make new champions these days, not for many, many years."

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury was promised a moose! You can find him on Twitter.

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