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.

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The absence of gods: Gauging xiaohu and xiye's ability to finally meet expectations

by 4d ago

The camera missed it the first time. Six minutes into the opening game of the semifinal best-of-three between GE Tigers and Team WE, Su “xiye” Hanwei’s Leblanc dove Lee "KurO" Seohaeng’s Ezreal and eliminated his health bar while spectators watched Peng “Aluka” Zhenming’s Maokai Teleport lazily back to lane. Shocked silence followed as viewers awaited the replay.

xiye continued to pressure GE’s KurO throughout the match, but WE didn’t win that first game — they just won the next two. The last place League of Legends Pro League team upset the first place League of Legends Champions Korea team in the most unexpected series in LoL history. Throughout the series, xiye received overwhelming praise from commentators for his gall and daring the first time on the international stage.

None of that mattered in the final against Team SoloMid. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and the rest of his team came prepared for xiye’s willful initiative and quelled his snowball before before it could coalesce. In the late game, WE’s lack of coordination in teamfights reflected on their mid laner, who relied too heavily on simple outplays to carry the new team to an international victory.

At the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, history repeated itself with another Chinese Leblanc player. Royal Never Give Up’s Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao took advantage of a seemingly cocky Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok lingering in lane with health below Leblanc's combo threshold. The stadium in Shanghai erupted as Royal Never Give Up carried the momentum to destabilize the best team in the world in SKT's first loss at MSI.

Like xiye, xiaohu faltered in the last leg of his team’s run in the tournament. Faker took his own revenge in the MSI semifinal as xiaohu stubbornly attempted to brush with the game’s most celebrated player and fell to pieces on the rift.

Beyond dizzying heights and tragic slides on the international stage, xiye and xiaohu’s histories mirror each other in startling ways. From as far back as 2013 in particular for xiye, both players were pegged before they joined the LPL as heirs to the LPL mid laner legacy. In the last two years, they have had some of the best individual performances on the international stage, but also exposed prominent gaps that reflect the will-they-or-won’t-they sentiment that has encased their careers.

As the 2016 LPL Summer playoffs loom, the voices saying “they will” grow louder and louder. 2015’s gods, Yu “cool” Jiajun (from early spring), Heo “pawN” Wonseok, Wei “We1less” Zhen, Ceng “U” Long and Song “RooKie” Euijin, have all dropped to bottom teams or have spent the better part of the season sitting on the bench. 2016 Spring served as an incubation period, but xiye and xiaohu are out of time and out of excuses to take up the mantel. As they compete to lead the next generation, they don’t just compete against the reputations of last year’s gods, but shadows of their own making.

The Twisted Fate at the top of Ionia

Twisted Fate and topping the Chinese ranked ladder are two things synonymous with one of the greatest Korean what-ifs in the history of the game, Jeong “Apdo” Sanggil (also known as “Dopa”). But before Apdo joined Chinese servers, xiye spent the better part of 2013 through 2015 as a Twisted Fate main in the Top 10 of the Ionian solo queue ladder. His prowess tipped him off to WE, an organization well known for yet another Twisted Fate player, Yu “Misaya” Jingxi. He joined the organization’s Academy team in March of 2013.

The whirlwind of promises commenced. WE Academy became a living legend in third party tournaments featuring LPL and Tencent Games Arena teams in the wake of the flagship team’s turmoil and eventual split. WEA placed Top 4 in almost every offseason event between 2013 and 2014, including a victory in G League in which xiye outperformed cool as he subbed in for Young Glory, Invictus Gaming’s sister team.

WEA only placed third in the Tencent Games Arena that qualified LGD Gaming and Vici Gaming for the LPL qualifier that year. Ardent WEA fans considered this a fluke and instead watched WEA trounce other secondary teams in the first ever split of the League of Legends Secondary Pro League in 2014 Spring. WEA automatically qualified for the LPL, and xiye featured as a centerpiece. Capable of besting nearly any LSPL opponent on every champion and frequently drawing Twisted Fate bans, players already in the LPL even acknowledged him in their lists of top Chinese mids.

The freighter that carried excitement for xiye and the rest of WEA lurched to an abrupt halt as xiye eventually found himself replaced by Son "Mickey" Youngmin, a then-fresh-from-solo-queue mid lane Lee Sin main. xiye’s niche picks like Annie looked like spoiled cheese as WEA’s win-lane-win-game formula utterly failed to translate in the LPL.

Some of WEA’s fans blamed internal drama and the departure of support and Team Captain Liu “AhrI” Xudong at the start of the 2014 LPL Summer split. Regardless of the reason, xiye’s LPL debut hardly rippled, and with the exception of playing to keep WEA (later rebranded as Masters3) in the LPL in the 2015 Spring promotion, xiye would return to his roots as a fixture of Ionia’s Top 10 for nearly a year and transferred to Team WE as a mid lane substitute.

xiye at 2015 IEM Katowice

Except that the 2015 Team WE roster only experienced atrocious results in the LPL. Amid powerful Korean upgrades, WE’s thrown together group of legacies dragged to the bottom of the standings. They started to pick up two to three weeks before the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships, a tournament for which WE qualified with a different roster, but when scrim results improved with the addition of xiye and Korean AD carry, Jin “Mystic” Seongjun, Korean mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geonwoo allegedly asked management to bench him right before IEM.

xiye more than likely only joined the roster because Mystic represented a major upgrade over Qu “styz” Ziliang and the team couldn’t run more than two Korean players. Yet with Mystic, Lee “Spirit” Dayoon, and xiye, WE’s roster held the top three players on the Ionian ranked ladder, and polished individual outplays gave WE the largest upset win in the game’s history over GE Tigers. It was a lack of synergy and cohesive teamfighting that dropped them against Team SoloMid in the final.

Back home in the LPL, WE experienced modest success, narrowly qualifying for playoffs after spending most of the split in last place and dragging EDward Gaming to five games with their substitute mid laner. Even at their heights, the same problems were obvious. With more match wins, WE’s team play didn’t improve. They still played to crush lanes and snowball, but even midtier LPL teams could slide back into the game against them from a deficit.

One could distribute fault evenly throughout WE, but xiye’s apparently narrow pool of champions and his awkward cooldown timing in teamfights were made increasingly apparent when WE, after only a support player change, again tumbled to the bottom of the LPL standings in 2015 Summer. Their lack of coordination in team fights became almost embarrassing to watch as players on the team turned more and more to solo queue, streaming and isolation.

xiye’s 1v1 destruction of KurO, a player not even known particularly for his laning phase, looked increasingly like it would stand out as the highlight of an otherwise pockmarked career.

The Syndra who failed to qualify for the LSPL — more than once

xiaohu, like xiye, has spent a significant portion of his time in the LPL kissing the floor of the standings. Unlike xiye, xiaohu didn’t have to rub elbows with Ionia’s Top 10 to get noticed by a pro team. xiaohu had barely secured Diamond I on the sixth Chinese server before he joined his first esports club.

As a friend to the staff of MD E-sports Club, xiaohu, the Diamond I Syndra one-trick-wonder joined the team as a substitute in 2013. With constant grinding, xiaohu eventually made himself into a fortuitous investment and started for MD with four other players who crested the top of the ladder.

Excited fans began to speculate that MD would qualify easily for LPL after a split in the LSPL, but MD failed to qualify for the League of Legends Secondary Pro League three times, dropping out as early as the TGA regional qualifiers twice. They still received an invitation to the 2014 Summer Demacia Cup where xiaohu, then known as AngelBeats, gained the most notoriety.

Gamtee bought the entirety of the MD E-sports Club roster in all of its uncoordinated glory, but only started xiaohu. xiaohu’s masterful Zed performance in World Game Master tournament debuting for Gamtee unhinged the then-imposing Team King, showing the first signs that King, like WEA, wouldn’t keep promises made by offseason tournament success.

As a 15-year-old at the start of the 2015 spring season, xiaohu watched his teammates struggle through the first two weeks of LPL before his 16th birthday when he donned the metaphorical Gamtee panda jersey (they had stopped wearing the jerseys at that point, but the suggestion lingered). xiaohu had a slightly more promising start than xiye, as in an early match against Masters3, he took advantage of Bae “dade” Eojin with Fizz into Azir.

That didn’t stop Gamtee’s bleeding. The young team went on a string of 1-1 splits, and when things looked most bleak and Gamtee had no chance of making playoffs, staff advised them to just have fun in their matches. xiaohu showed off a peculiar champion pool with picks like Lucian and Irelia. “I didn’t actually think we’d win those games,” xiaohu laughed, “but we did.”

A niche champion pool and 1-1s wouldn’t provide relief for Gamtee. Though they re-qualified for the LPL, xiaohu felt far from confident in his team, but when Royal bought the spot from Gamtee, they assured xiaohu he would have a place on Royal Never Give Up.

Despite condensing some of the best Chinese talent from Gamtee and Team King into Royal Never Give Up’s roster, RNG’s LPL Summer was just as disappointing as Gamtee’s LPL Spring. xiaohu took the blame for his team’s poor results, saying he believed that even if he didn’t practice, Royal would still do well.

Royal played the promotion tournament, and xiaohu again narrowly helped his team requalify. A second near-relegation from LPL for xiaohu marked a turning point in his attitude. His practice ethic improved rapidly, and over the course of 2016, with the help of new team captain Cho "Mata" Sehyeong, xiaohu would begin to think more critically about his own performances in-game.

The absence of gods

While xiye and xiaohu sunk lower and lower in the LPL standings in 2015, League's leading mid laners wrote their own ballads in the blood of their opponents. Oh My God’s cool built high damage assassins to start the year, blowing through competition until Oh My God splintered critically and dropped near the bottom.

After a spring of absence, U jump-started Snake eSports and nearly pulled them to the World Championship with consistent and safe play in the mid lane and game-turning late game team fighting. pawN’s boldness provided the ultimate diversion for EDward Gaming’s carries to get ahead in the laning phase. RooKie and We1less became figureheads of the league, headlining with mesmerizing duels and risky plays they could force with an alarmingly high success rate.

xiye’s 15 minutes of fame against KurO at IEM Katowice, and xiaohu’s occasional domestic flash of brilliance barely registered on the scale of what the LPL’s most prominent mid laners could achieve. Throughout the year, both were repeatedly outshone and outdone, settling in their bottom tier teams with, at best, mid-tier performances.

In a near systematic unraveling of the LPL’s top mid laners, however, xiaohu and xiye slowly gained minimal recognition in 2016 LPL Spring. cool’s form dropped off irreparably with the exception of the occasional game-winning Twisted Fate play. U’s style conflicted with the team identity Snake wanted to project, so he found himself benched again, this time for Park “TANK” Danwon.

pawN has returned to EDG's mid lane, but will he stay, and will he regain his peak form?

At the 2016 LPL spring final, pawN looked more like a liability than a world-class mid laner, hampering himself in lane and failing to hold waves or time his split-pushing well. He reacted poorly to xiaohu’s all-ins and spent the better part of the summer in Korea seeking medical treatment for persistent back problems.

We1less’ descent is perhaps the most tragic, as he never seemed to be able to pick himself up fully following a humiliating run at the 2015 World Championship. Also citing health reasons, he has taken all of 2016 LPL Summer off.

Things appeared truly dire in Week 6 of the LPL Summer when RooKie switched to AD carry for Invictus Gaming’s series against I May. For that week, all of LPL’s 2015 mid lane giants had vanished entirely. Even with RooKie back to the mid lane, he had one of his worst weeks in recent memory in Week 7, and iG remain out of contention for playoffs for the time being. Who will carry the mantel of LPL’s mid lane legacy? Two names finally leapt to mind, but far from the same way that cool, pawN, RooKie and We1less in particular did in 2015.

2016 LPL hasn’t been about turning xiaohu and xiye into mid lane monsters, but filling some of their greatest chasms: making them consistent team players. Both xiaohu and xiye have been obviously talented since they started playing competitively, but only watching a selection of their games wouldn’t necessarily convey that before 2016. This year, almost any VOD of xiaohu or xiye — with the exception of the latter’s wilting at the hands of the greatest player to ever touch the game in the MSI semifinal — will give the viewer an impression that this player knows how to influence the game positively for his team.

xiaohu’s sense for engagement makes him capable of splitting the opposing team with Azir or Taliyah, looking for an opening to assassinate the enemy with Leblanc, or positioning Lissandra into a choke point. Royal Never Give Up allocates the lowest percentage of team gold to mid lane of any team in the LPL, but xiaohu performs best when he leads the charge in fights and coordinates engagements with Cho “Mata” Sehyeong.

xiye has shored up his teamfighting weaknesses considerably, excels when he’s rotating around the map as a distraction, split-pushing with Teleport or holding the mid lane while jungler Xiang “Condi” Renjie farms. He still receives consistent Twisted Fate bans, and he holds down most of WE’s early game. When he cannot facilitate mid lane control on his own, WE fall apart, but he can still use his teamfighting and split-push pressure to help the team back into the game.

Perhaps xiaohu and xiye's greatest competition for best mid laner of the next generation is Game Talents' RepubliC

Both xiye and xiaohu have finally hit the right notes of consistency and team play after many of their supporters had given up, but there’s one major knock against them — they still aren’t the horrifying threats last year’s mid laners were.

Part of this comes from the fact that RNG and WE feel well-rounded as teams, and both focus much more on their junglers and bottom laners as threats. Jian “Uzi” Zihao receiving the lion share of RNG’s gold and much of WE’s extended laning phase existing to facilitate Condi’s farming don’t necessarily make xiaohu and xiye less impressive, but there’s less pressure on them to pull out the game-winning outplay, so they do it less often than their forebears.

LGD and iG both made conscious decisions in the past to funnel gold onto their mid laners. We1less faltered when attention shifted from him. RooKie doesn’t have the luxury of sharing the burden. cool similarly struggled sharing the limelight after years as OMG’s main damage threat. pawN’s very function is to draw attention by making ostentatious plays.

If xiye or xiaohu simply tried to outplay for extra flair, they could jeopardize their teams with a misstep. Much more well-rounded units can find success with conservative strategy rather than relying on their midlaner to outplay. That seems to be the formula RNG and WE have looked for this split, aligning xiye and xiaohu much more with U, a mid laner who seldom received his deserved recognition as one of the greatest LPL mids during his time as a starter for both EDG and Snake.

xiaohu and xiye aren’t the only mid laners in the running to lead LPL’s new generation. Game Talents’ Bong “RepubliC” Geuntae is more than worthy of recognition with a much more central role as a threat. RepubliC’s impressive laning phase from 2016 LPL Spring has persisted this Summer, but he’s evolved more facets of his play to carry Game Talents to wins they shouldn’t have achieved. He receives most of his team’s resources and turns fights both in early and late game with his team fighting.

Depending on one’s perspective, this is a massive slight against xiye and xiaohu, but there are others that are more severe. Without a champion that obviously takes advantages of opening for flanks, xiaohu doesn’t have as strong of an impact. When he selects Viktor, RNG can struggle to find an engagement and over-force fights. This also makes it much harder for the team to close if xiaohu doesn’t snowball on these picks.

Don't be fooled by his Malzahar games against LGD — RooKie has still got it

WE’s strategy relies on xiye to hold mid lane and follow up Condi’s invades, but xiye doesn’t always predict the enemy jungler’s advancement, and he appears to get cold feet and exert less pressure in games WE lose. While xiye’s team fighting has improved considerably, it still doesn’t rival some of the greatest mids of the region, and while his strength is splitting map pressure, he doesn’t always abuse this fully.

But xiye and xiaohu have regained momentum. They’ve finally cashed in on some of the expectations from 2013 and 2014. One can see the development of these players from game-to-game, and xiye’s perseverance and growth in particular has been truly miraculous this year after three disappointing near bottom LPL finishes in a row. xiaohu’s commitment to practice has remained from the end of last year, and he recently procured first on the Korean ladder as a result.

Even with iG slipping more permanently toward the bottom of Group A, RooKie will likely retain the title of best mid laner of the LPL for at least a little longer. pawN's return may also rejuvenate the talent pool if he's regained his form from last spring. But for xiye and xiaohu, the abrupt mid lane talent vacuum of 2016 has served as a nested training ground to prepare them to finally start hitting the ceilings they hinted at for so long.

With last year’s altars of the greats all but empty, time has run out for xiye and xiaohu. By the end of the year we’ll know if they’re finally ready to fill them.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports who spent 2015 railing against xiaohu and xiye hype only to eat her words in 2016. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Kelsey Moser's LPL Review: The Unfortunate Bottom 5

by 6d ago

At the conclusion of the intergroup round, one team remains undefeated, one team has only lost a single best-of-three, and the scramble for second place in each group remains heated. Teams unused to stylistic matchups clashed. The shine fell off the Snake’s apple. I May stole match wins against Group A teams.

Group B finished the intergroup round with 37 points to Group A’s 29. It looks like Group B is the superior of the two, but the results aren’t worth throwing away the group format just yet.

Top Story: The Bottom 5

Unlike last split, I’m happy to definitively conclude that Group B is the overall stronger group (with the exception of the unassailable EDward Gaming, a team that has proven themselves against every possible opponent in both groups). With Royal Never Give Up at the top of the group and both I May and WE, two of the three teams with designs on third place, Group B is undeniably stacked. Even Vici Gaming have performed considerably better than nearly every team in Group A besides EDG and Snake eSports.

Meanwhile, three of the five bottom teams reside in Group A. With Trundle denied from them, Game Talents have descended down the ranks. Invictus Gaming, with their new fresh-from-dynamic-queue bottom lane, seem even worse off than before.

Nonetheless, the way the LPL's groups have broken down doesn’t really feel like a tragedy. It’s less an issue of good teams being shut out of the playoffs by the format, and more that the LPL has five teams — not four — that don't deserve a playoffs spot. Whichever Group A bottom team (it’s looking increasingly like it will be Newbee) advances to playoffs and avoids playing Promotion, they almost certainly won’t win a single game.

That doesn’t mean that if the teams at the bottom of Group B had the opportunity, they would do better than Newbee. They probably wouldn’t. The bottom five teams are all just as bad. LGD have gotten a few extra wins out of camping their top laner, but outside getting Jang "MaRin" Gyeonghwan ahead, they don’t have a plan and lack coordination mid game. Newbee continuously draft weak lane matchups and fail to take the initiative, with both Yu “HappYy” Rui and Bae “dade” Eojin sitting near the bottom of the rankings in CS differential at ten minutes. They also don’t know how to play around their top laner, even when Bao “V” Bo continuously gets ahead.

Oh My God lack anything resembling team or map play; their approach is simply win-lane-win-game. Saint Gaming have two gimmicks — either Choi “acorn” Cheonju solo carries the game or Qu "Styz" Ziliang picks Caitlyn and mows turrets. Neither strategy is executed with finesse, and their few wins were full of aimless meandering and thrown leads. Invictus Gaming’s true tragedy is a rotating bottom lane full of underperformers, and mid laner Song “RooKie” Euijin’s poor performance this week hasn't helped. His Malzahar play made spectators finally question his motivation.

It doesn’t matter if Group B is ultimately better than Group A. Those eight extra points come from having one extra bottom level team, and none of the bottom level teams are currently worth “imbalanced group” outrage as long as Vici Gaming, I May, Team WE and Royal Never Give Up all have spots in the playoffs.

Recommended watching

Do yourself a favor and only watch EDward Gaming’s series this week. EDG vs. I May takes the top with IM playing the map well early on and successfully countering EDG’s predictable 2v2 lane ganks. They can’t read the rest of EDG’s formula and fail to predict their Baron control at 20 minutes. I May also fail when it comes to setting up for dragon and fall to Heo “pawN” Wonseok’s Vladimir, but one can enjoy both EDG’s lazy early game getting punished as well as their sharp mid game play taking them home.

With additional time, Game 1 of EDward Gaming vs. LGD Gaming shows that even bottom tier teams can take advantage of EDG’s lax control of top lane in standard lane scenarios. Following an early game snowball, LGD repeatedly isolated and assassinated EDG’s main threat in Kim “deft” Hyukkyu. Yet following Game 1, EDward Gaming opted into lane swaps and used their better understanding of macro play to actually focus on getting Chen "Mouse" Yuhao ahead. This is a new development that EDG’s critics will find worth watching.

Why do EDG (outside Royal Never Give Up) only seem to drop games to bottom tier teams? That’s a topic for another day.

Most Valuable Player: meiko

This looks like a retroactive MVP since I’m also heavily considering Tian “meiko” Ye’s Braum play from EDward Gaming’s 2-0 over WE last week, but as the meta shifts progressively more into the engage support realm, meiko’s value comes through stronger. As the third EDward Gaming member to earn a coveted MVP honors from me this season, meiko rounds out the current high-performing trio of Ming “clearlove” Kai and Kim “deft” Hyukkyu. This week’s win is less a reflection on this week’s performance and more “he was overdue.”

With relentless Thresh hooks, multi-man Alsitar pulverizes, directing ward placement, increased roams and the highest kill participation of any player to play in more than five LPL matches, meiko is doing a lot of work for EDward Gaming this split. After EDG pulled off yet another 2-0 week, meiko is up for praise, and he has earned it.

That’s so China pick of the week: Ezreal

After conducting my investigation into different regional pick priorities, one champion in particular stood out from the League of Legends Pro League. Not only is the LPL the only region to choose Ezreal in more than 40 percent of games on Patch 6.12 and Patch 6.13, but Ezreal is present in more than 50 percent of games as of last week.

Ezreal saw less play this week, but still appeared for Invictus Gaming and Saint Gaming. The largest Ezreal offenders include Vici Gaming, Royal Never Give Up, Newbee, EDward Gaming, Saint Gaming, and Team WE. Each of these teams have an AD carry known for his Ezreal (with varying degrees of notoriety) who can carry games with the champion.

As a relatively safe pick, one can choose Ezreal early on in the draft, allow him to scale, and then kite. He works well in pick comps, paired with champions like Karma mid and doesn’t require a significant amount of peel. Ezreal doesn’t necessarily have a lot of early lane pressure, however, and ultimately doesn’t provide as much utility as the major AD carry selections like Jhin, Ashe, or Sivir.

Ezreal’s popularity appeared to wane slightly, but since Gao “WeiXiao” Xuecheng, the champion will always be a staple of the LPL. Many of the Koreans that have joined the league have also heavily favored Ezreal. When heading to the international stage, opponents should always keep an eye open for the pocket Ezreal from Chinese teams.

Standings summary

Placement Group A Score Group B Score
1. EDward Gaming 11-0 Royal Never Give Up 10-1
2. Snake eSports 6-5 I May 7-4
3. Game Talents 5-6 Team WE 7-4
4. Newbee 4-7 Vici Gaming 6-5
5. Invictus Gaming 2-9 LGD Gaming 4-7
6. Saint Gaming 1-10 Oh My God 3-8

Group B's Top 4 have positive win-loss records next to only two teams in Group A. I May have changed their fates drastically from their time in the first intragroup round when they could only defeat LGD Gaming and Oh My God. Have they improved, or will they drop again when they come head-to-head with their own group mates again?

Team WE play Royal Never Give Up again at the start of the new intragroup stage. Last time, Team WE took a game from RNG. This time around, Team WE have descended slowly. As the support meta shifts away from Yoon "Zero" Kyungsup and into heavy engage supports, his ability to engage fights and make plays for his team will increase, but his game-winning plays on his preferred range champions might not shine through as well. WE lost 0-3 to Royal in Demacia Cup's quarterfinals in an underwhelming series. I May might shoot further ahead.

The shine has fallen off Snake's apple as more teams start to decipher their play. They nearly lost to Vici Gaming, but relatively week opposition in their own group will allow them to stay comfortably in second place. EDward Gaming have not only locked in a spot in playoffs, but the worst they can place in their group is second, and Snake don't seem likely to take first from them.

Can LGD make a bid for playoffs? They look like the bottom team most capable of transcending their status, but MaRin's somewhat limited pool of counterpicks and other behind-the-scenes issues make me think they'll stay in the bottom. Invictus Gaming may have been better off keeping RooKie as an AD carry, and the gamble might give them the ammunition to rise above Newbee in their weaker group. The rest of the standings seem fairly cemented.

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

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Checking Riot's lane swap assumptions: Part 1

by 2d ago

Riot recently released a statement on impending changes to the game, targeting the frequency of lane swaps. As a prolific League of Legends writer, this game and its appeal to both viewers and the teams who play it competitively is important to me. I want to assess claims made in Riot’s original statement as well as community response, not to decide whether lane swaps are valuable, but to understand why Riot have decided this change and the timing of the change is necessary and gauge whether the changes they propose will provide the solution they want.

In Riot’s original statement, they made the following opening assumption:

“Laneswapping, while difficult to do successfully, is starting to feel pretty formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs. As it’s become more prevalent and teams do it more efficiently, it’s led to passive turret trading and less direct early conflict. When laneswapping becomes a default opener, it creates a non-interactive early game with [sic]. We’ll be making some changes in the upcoming patch to address this."

The key assumptions here are:

1) Lane swapping is formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs
2) Lane swapping is the “default opener” of games
3) There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps

Default start

While the first point is more nuanced and will require a deeper discussion to address, Points 2 and 3 are somewhat easy to support or undermine statistically. Eike “Timbolt” Heimpel and Florian “Bridgeburner” Dorner run a website called League of Analytics looking to deepen the metrics available to people who want to analyze League of Legends. They’ve developed a metric for lane swaps that they believe captures 95 percent of all lane swaps in professional play. One can look at this metric to get a very comfortable sense for how frequently lane swaps currently occur in professional League of Legends in four of the five major regions.

According to their metric, lane swap games only account for 48.7 percent of total games played this split so far (up to the second day of the EU LCS Week 8), and only 17 pro teams in the NA LCS, EU LCS, LMS and LCK combined lane swap in 50 percent of more of their games. I counted the lane swaps in the fifth major region, the LPL, by hand. In this case, I count any instance where the number of players on one team differs from the number of players on the other team in top and bottom lanes at three minutes. My definition of lane swaps differs from theirs, so the data is kept separate. It is assumed that using either definition will give relatively comparable results Only one team — LGD Gaming — lane swaps in more than 50 percent of their games as of the end of LPL Week 7 with a total of 61 lane swap games in 156 games played (39 percent).

This suggests that the majority of professional games actually do not have lane swaps as the “default start.” Perhaps, instead, Riot Games intended to say that lane swaps are the “ideal start,” meaning that, at the highest level of play, teams will always choose to lane swap. The less than 50 percent lane swap rates only exist because not all teams are at a high enough level to know that they should be using swaps as their default start.

Team ROCCAT love lane swaps more than any other team in the five major regions

Looking at the list of teams that lane swap in more than 50 percent of their games, however, only three are ranked in the top three of their regions: Fnatic, G2 Esports and J Team. In fact, teams near the bottom of their regional ranking feature prominently in this list. Team ROCCAT has the highest lane swap rate in any of the five major leagues of 73.3 percent, and of the 18 teams in the five major regions that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time, 10 are actually in the bottom four of their respective regions.

While it does seem like, based on this information, lane swapping is not considered the “default” or “ideal start” by most teams in professional league of legends, it does seem that teams that lane swap with a high frequency are much more common in the West. Seven of the 18 teams are European, and five are North American, — 12 of all teams in the five major leagues that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time are western teams with only three Korean, two LMS and one LPL team lane swapping more than half the time.

Looking only at Western teams, the EU LCS has a lane swap in 54.7 percent of games, and NA LCS has a lane swap in 51.9 percent of games. While these numbers are greater than 50 percent, it’s far from an overwhelming majority and not enough to refer to as a “default start.” The only region in which it could be argued that lane swapping is considered ideal is Europe, with more than 50 percent of teams lane swapping more than half the time, but even then G2 and Fnatic, two of the three top teams, only lane swap in 56.7 percent of their games. Still, given the likelihood Riot, as a western gaming company, look more at western regions, this could partly explain their assumption that lane swapping is the “default start” in competitive, though it's a slight stretch.

There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps

If it turns out that lane swaps are not actually the “default start,” then it’s important to understand how they do impact strategic choices. Most have interpreted Riot's wording of "direct conflict" to mean skirmishes or kills. Some of those unhappy with the change in the community have expressed that they don’t believe that standard lanes are necessarily related to higher kill early games, as constantly moving around the map creates more opportunities for skirmishes and players getting caught out. Head Coach of top Brazilian team, INTZ, Alexander “Abaxial” Halibel, made a public statement on the League of Legends subreddit to this effect.

“Swaps create long lanes and greater risk for teams to handle. It's easier to chase people down or set up buff invades when outer turrets are down. Winning skirmishes in these situations is higher reward than standard lanes and* it's easier to avoid risks in standard lanes (as there is less pressure to make macro decisions).”

To try to better quantify the argument, I contacted the owners of the League of Analytics website to ask them for additional data on lane swap scenarios. They provided me with the timing of the first blood in and out of lane swaps for each region as well as the Combined Kills Per Minute (the total of all kills in a region divided by total minutes played in a region, inspired by OraclesElixir.com) in lane swap games versus non-lane swap games for each region.

Region Lane swap (Y/N) Time of first blood (minutes) CKPM (5-15 minutes)
EU LCS N 7.2 .48
EU LCS Y 7.4 .39
NA LCS N 5.9 .55
NA LCS Y 8.3 .37
LCK N 6.1 .40
LCK Y 8.7 .30
LMS N 6.7 .37
LMS Y 9.5 .29
LPL N 5.0 N/A
LPL Y 7.1 N/A

Note: CKPM is not available for LPL games.

In all regions except Europe, there's at least a two minute difference in timing of first blood in lane swap. vs non-lane swap games with first blood occurring earlier in non-lane swap games. This implies that the action tends to start earlier in non-lane swap games.

Yet, this doesn't actually imply that early games have more conflict without lane swaps, just that first blood will happen earlier. This is why CKPM are inlcuded. Even Europe, which doesn't have an appreciably different first blood timing, has roughly .09 higher CKPM between 5 and 15 minutes of the game in standard lanes games. All four regions have about .10 higher CKPM in standard lane games, which does support the idea that there are more kills or conflicts in standard lane games.

This .10 only accounts for about one extra kill (for one team) in the span of ten minutes. So the answer is, yes, lane swaps do seem to be correlated with higher kill early games and earlier first bloods. As a result, this seems to be the more likely explanation for Riot deciding to take action to reduce the frequency of lane swaps than to prevent it from being the "default start" to games. One must now ask whether one extra kill in the span of ten minutes warrants radical changes to the game this close to playoffs and World Championship qualifiers.

The final assumption regarding strategic tradeoffs requires a more detailed examination and is much less clear-cut, so I'll cover it in a second article. Based on the data available, however, we can at least conclude that decision-making that goes into whether to lane swap or not isn't as straightforward as is implied by the initial statement. If no strategic tradeoffs are made, then teams would much more uniformly choose to lane swap or not.

Either way, so far we've learned that lane swaps are not the default or even the ideal start, and they are only the majority start in western regions. Even then, games where lane swaps occur or don't are close to 50 percent. Riot stated, "Our goal is not to eliminate laneswapping but to make it a strategic choice with actual tradeoffs." Considering how split the frequency of lane swapping is, it seems like that already exists.

But if Riot's goal is increasing the action in games, the data supports that there is a positive correlation between standard lane instances and combined kills per minute. The correlation only amounts to about one additional kill from five to fifteen minutes on average per game. Additional study would have to be done to determine causation.

Thank you to League of Analytics' Timbolt for help with Part 1. To be continued in Part 2.

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

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EnVy someone else: NA LCS Week 8 staff picks

theScore esports Staff 3d ago

theScore esports' League of Legends experts have tapped into their inner oracle for the eighth week of the North American LCS Summer Split and offer up predictions for each of the games.

2016 NA LCS Summer Season Records: Kelsey Moser (51-19), Emily Rand (52-18), Tim Sevenhuysen (49-21).

Friday Rand Moser Sevenhuysn
IMT vs. NRG IMT IMT IMT
EF vs. APX APX APX APX
Saturday Rand Moser Sevenhuysen
CLG vs. TL CLG TL TL
NV vs. C9 C9 C9 C9
TSM vs. P1 TSM TSM TSM
APX vs. IMT IMT IMT IMT
Sunday Rand Moser Sevenhuysen
 NRG vs. TL TL TL TL
TSM vs. NV TSM TSM TSM
C9 vs. P1 C9 C9 C9
EF vs. CLG CLG CLG CLG

Counterlogic Gaming vs. Team Liquid

Rand: CLG are coming together at the right time — immediately before playoffs. Their rise has been coupled with inconsistent performances from Team EnVyUs, Apex Gaming, and even Cloud9. Against Team Liquid, CLG have a chance to prove that they're a top team in North America once more. I can see either team taking it, although I'm siding with CLG, since they seem to have figured out their team dynamic again. More than anything, I'm looking forward to the jungle matchup between Dardoch and Xmithie — both have been key components in their respective teams' successes.

Moser: This is actually somewhat difficult given some slight upticks CLG displayed last week. Still, I'm not convinced that a CLG win is a reliable expectation since some of their successes relied on specific champions like Aurelion Sol, and though Team Liquid have had some growing pains, they still feel like the better team for now.

Sevenhuysen: CLG are finally beating teams above them in the standings, but both EnVyUs and Cloud9 were slumping before CLG beat them, so there’s still plenty of room for doubt. Fenix vs. Huhi is a big mismatch in Team Liquid’s favor in the laning phase — Fenix has been the best 1v1 mid in NA this split — so CLG will need to look to their team play, and maybe try to snowball Stixxay. Darshan vs. Lourlo is another intriguing head to head, and Lourlo may have the edge. Imagine writing that sentence last split! I’m expecting a close series and a 2-1 victory for TL.

Team SoloMid vs. EnVyUs

Rand: We'll likely have to wait for Week 9 to see if Immortals can take down TSM. Team Liquid seemed like a fairly strong bet until TSM swept them last week, and nV have looked disorganized as of late. They started off the season with a strong understanding of the meta and team dynamic, but have failed to improve since.

Moser: EnVy are no longer enviable. A drop to NRG exposed even more issues in keeping the jungle in check as NRG played much more strongly around neutrals. Though Team SoloMid had a few hiccups against EFX in Game 1, their assertiveness should easily set NV on the back foot.

Sevenhuysen: EnVyUs barely outlasted Apex last week. There were some signs that they may be getting back on track, but realistically, it would be surprising if they took a game off TSM. With Biofrost showing off an impressive Alistar against Team Liquid, any lingering questions about his versatility should be put to rest. TSM’s list of potential weaknesses keeps getting shorter.

EnVyUs vs. Cloud 9

Rand: This is the series I had the most trouble picking this week, and am still unsure of who will win. I chose C9 because I think their talent is more prone to individual outplays that can eventually carry a game, but both teams have looked messy in recent series. These will not be clean games unless one or both of these teams have made significant improvements in the past week during practice.

Moser: Cloud9's largest problems are playing outside standard lane scenarios. While I do think C9's shirking of the top lane could be an advantage Seraph can exploit, I don't think NV have enough coordination at the moment to fully take advantage of C9's lane swap weaknesses.

Sevenhuysen: Cloud9 have some big issues lately, making mistakes across the board, from their rotations to their lane assignments to their game planning. Impact gets starved too often, and Sneaky has been faltering. That leaves Jensen to do most of the work, and he’s had inconsistencies of his own. Cloud9 are capable of 2-0ing the series if they’ve practiced efficiently this week, but EnVyUs will win if they maintain the controlled, intentional play they started to bring back against Apex, if they keep their drafts clean and if Procxin flies under the radar. Neither team has been consistent enough lately, so I’m predicting a 2-1, but I’m slightly favoring Cloud9.

theScore esports compiles staff picks for different leagues weekly. Let us know what you think by tagging our Twitter or liking us on Facebook.

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Pastrytime on the NA LCS region: 'I don’t know if they can challenge the strong Asian teams just yet'

William "scarra" Li 4d ago

This season, the NA LCS's caster desk welcomed a new face: Julian "Pastrytime" Carr.

theScore esports' William "scarra" Li got the chance to catch up with the Australian play-by-play caster to discuss why his move to North America took longer than originally planned, his strengths as a caster and how he thinks the NA LCS teams stack up against the international scene.

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

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