Tenacity: Part 2 in a review of YellOwStaR's career

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Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / EU LCS Screengrab

Even if a professional player never makes waves, he always experiences periods of downturn. Every League of Legends player in the history of competitive play has had moments where he doesn’t play well, where his form deteriorates. In the game’s infancy, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim excelled, he earned accolades, he could be referred to as one of the game's best. As a more sophisticated understanding of League of Legends developed, and more players acquired aspirations of “going pro,” the competition increased. As an AD carry shotcaller, YellOwStaR juggled his own performance against his team’s and found himself lacking — and then he found a way to change that.

“People were not playing as good as they are now,” YellOwStaR said in a 2014 Reflections interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields. When asked if he thought he could perform as an AD carry again in 2014, as he had in early 2013, YellOwStaR said he didn’t think he could.

The swap and the mediocre support player

2013 EU LCS Spring regular season champion picks

Champion Games Wins WR (%)
Thresh 6 4 66.7
Sona 5 4 80
Draven 3 2 66.7
Leona 2 2 100
Fiddlesticks 2 0 0
Nami 2 1 50
Caitlyn 2 0 0
Varus 2 2 100
Lulu 1 1 100
Tristana 1 0 0
Twitch 1 0 0
Nunu 1 0 0
Shen 1 1 100
Ezreal 1 0 0

Fnatic went into the 2013 European League of Legends Championship Series having just won the first ever LCS split. High spirits followed the team, but steeper competition brewed on the horizon. Beginning as early as the playoffs, chatter of green squads rising and creating struggle for European giants like Gambit Gaming bubbled. Three new teams joined the LCS that summer: Lemondogs (qualified as Sinners Never Sleep), Team ALTERNATE, and Meet Your Makers.

During parts of the LCS that summer, both Lemondogs and Team ALTERNATE looked like the best teams in the league. Team ALTERNATE went undefeated in the five game super week of Week 1, beating staples like Evil Geniuses and SK Gaming. The team played a team fighting-oriented and aggressive style reminiscent of the Chinese league with tinges of inspiration from Oh My God as they drafted picks like jungle Hecarim.

By contrast, Fnatic lost three of their five initial games to Evil Geniuses, Meet Your Makers, and Ninjas in Pyjamas. Fnatic lost to an explosive invade from Team ALTERNATE in Week 2. In Week 3, they were defeated by an equally-struggling Lemondogs when support Bram "wewillfailer" de Winter had an improved roaming game over Fnatic’s Christoph "nRated" Seitz.

While some had previously called YellOwStaR a Top 3 AD carry in Europe, players new to the LCS like Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert, Jakub “Creaton” Grzegorzewski, and beginning in Week 3, Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek exposed very obvious gaps between YellOwStaR’s mechanics and the new generation. Compiled with nRated’s alleged loss of motivation, Fnatic made the decision to execute what became one of the best role swaps in the history of the game.

Prior to Week 4, after losing six of 10 games in the first three weeks, Fnatic announced that they would add substitute AD carry, Johannes “puszu” Uibos to their starting roster and move YellOwStaR to support. As these changes coincided in timing with some of Counter Logic Gaming’s more egregious role swaps in North America, the initial declaration was met with skepticism.

Fnatic wanted to retain YellOwStaR’s vocal presence and motivation, but he struggled to keep up with other AD carries. LCS caster Martin “Deficio” Lynge, then the support for Ninjas in Pyjamas, recalled while describing Fnatic during the 2015 European LCS Final that when YellOwStaR was an AD carry, he would try to last hit and type cooldowns between CS. As YellOwStaR became more comfortable with the role in 2014, he said of his swap, “It's easier for me to pay attention to what we are doing on the map and shotcall.”

While his play as an AD carry in 2013 made it obvious YellOwStaR couldn’t keep up with flashy prodigies, his debut games as a new support were abysmal. In his first game against Meet Your Makers, YellOwStaR died twice in the first two minutes. His one-dimensional warding habits meant he over-warded, dropping greens in both lane bushes when far enough forward. He and puszu hugged turret and found themselves pushed back by MYM’s duo lane.

puszu, YellOwStaR's first AD carry lane partner

But they won, which was more than could be said for Fnatic’s earlier encounter with MYM that summer. In Week 4, Fnatic secured a 3-0 record over MYM, Lemondogs, and a Team ALTERNATE with Matti “WhiteKnight108” Sormunen subbing in the mid lane.

It’s difficult to say what worked for Fnatic immediately with YellOwStaR entering the support role. Perhaps his ability to focus more on the rest of the map in his new position freed up more of his faculties, and puszu’s hunger to advertise himself on the competitive stage made up for their depressingly lacklustre laning phase. puszu showed the same affinity for Varus as YellOwStaR had, and the two developed a rhythm of poking from afar on Sona and long ranged AD carry picks.

When asked about YellOwStaR’s transition, Deficio said, “His change to support was super clunky. It was during the Summer split and he got Puszu as ADC who was also new to the scene so facing them during the Summer Split was super easy. They were a teamfight focused bot lane who almost just ff'd the lane if you got 2v2 against them, but they got solid in lane and then did well outside of lane as a team during playoffs and Worlds.”

In Week 4, Team ALTERNATE gave way to Lemondogs in the running for upstart team of the year. Creaton suffered an injury, and substitute WhiteKnight108 moved to the AD carry position in Week 5. Coincidentally, one of YellOwStaR’s greatest rivals in 2015 entered the LCS the same week in which he transitioned to the support role. Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez replaced wewillfailer on Lemondogs, and over time, many attributed their surge to first place in the regular season to that roster change.

Tabzz and mithy ran an exceedingly aggressive lane (for the time). mithy debuted with Fiddlesticks support, and was able to find key locations to hide in fog of war and spring traps on Fnatic. YellOwStaR finished his first deplorable competitive Thresh game with missed skillshots and 10 deaths, clearly outclassed by Europe’s new support talent.

But, again, Fnatic still won.

Over the course of the 2013 League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split, YellOwStaR learned support in front of stream spectators. Some of his initial flaws beyond predictable warding included strict adherence to the 2v2, uncoordinated back timings with puszu that opened opportunities for the player left behind to die 1v2, and playing scared and far back in fights in order to avoid getting caught out and dying so frequently.

xPeke and sOAZ were Fnatic's stars in 2013

It’s ridiculous to consider how little YellOwStaR’s individual performance mattered to Fnatic during the 2013 Summer split and the team’s subsequent World Championship run. Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez were one of the most threatening solo lane packages, and their supremacy was seldom in question.

Perhaps by focusing less on CSing, YellOwStaR was able to aid the development of Fnatic’s team-play. During this time, they became known for several signature strategies in Europe: the “Fnatic death bush” or hiding in the bush on the top right side of the map for comeback ambushes, borrowing mid lane Teleport use to constantly chip at outer turrets and look for picks, and early group pushes, as in the team’s game against Gambit in Week 6.

In Week 7, Fnatic expressed an increased sense of confidence and flexibility as a unit. sOAZ and YellOwStaR swapped positions for one game. YellOwStaR, known to enjoy playing Shen, and sOAZ, a fan of selecting Blitzcrank, lead Fnatic in a heavy roaming game with frequent picks and dives. sOAZ roamed as a support considerably more than YellOwStaR, leading to a faster game. From that point on, the team seemed much more aggressive and comfortable with YellOwStaR and puszu.

In Fnatic’s third game of the split against Lemondogs, they executed an invasion strategy with YellOwStaR playing Thresh. mithy seemed to have a larger abundance of wards, and YellOwStaR ended the loss with eight deaths instead of 10. Lulu turned team fights in mithy’s hands later in the game.

Relative to mithy, YellOwStaR bad begun execute more overzealous engages. When their initial matchup was reversed, and YellOwStaR played Fiddlesticks, he refused to leave his team in grouping phase to find a flank from fog of war, and he could get easily picked off.

mithy tended to use more pink wards than YellOwStaR — though pink warding in general was still undervalued — and he placed them more often in the enemy jungler, while YellOwStaR favored far more defensive warding. mithy’s ability to secure vision in enemy territory allowed his lanes to play further forward.

Throughout the season, YellOwStaR continued to make steady improvements. By the time of the final game against Gambit, YellOwStaR placed fewer wards in lane and tended to allow wards up river to guard the team’s laning phase efficiently. By then, he also seemed to work out proper positioning on Sona in team fights and had game-changing Sona ultimates to seal Fnatic’s spot in second place in the regular season.

mithy entered the LCS the same week YellOwStaR transitioned to support

Fnatic’s 2013 season culminated in a final series encounter with Lemondogs. Both teams had secured a place at the World Championship by defeating their semifinal opponents. As with Gambit the previous split, Fnatic entered the series with a 1-3 record against their fellow finalist, but they reversed the standings by triumphing over Lemondogs. Though mithy still laid deeper vision, aggressive play in Game 2 up the lane allowed Fnatic’s bottom lane to start off the game with a rare double kill. At this point, it became obvious that even with a lead, puszu and YellOwStaR didn’t have the best concept of how to pressure a lane. mithy traded for a double kill of his own.

Despite this, Fnatic was still entirely the sOAZ and xPeke show. Jungler Lauri “Cyanide” Happonen had very high lane presence, making it easy for Fnatic to snowball, and then they simply ran Lemondogs around the map. Fnatic secured the World Championship's first seed and their second consecutive playoff victory.

Royal Club and the Leona

2013 World Championship champion picks

Champion Games Wins WR (%)
Leona 7 4 57.1
Zyra 6 4 66.7
Sona 1 0 0
Shen 1 1 100

YellOwStaR made a much larger dent in the bracket in his third World Championship appearance than he did in his second.

First seed into the World Championship for Europe amounted to very little in 2013 as, having placed last at All Stars, Europe lost their first seed quarterfinals bye, and every team had to play in the group stage. Fnatic evaded the group stage heavyweights of Group A in SK Telecom T1 and Chinese team Oh My God by placing in Group B with third place European team Gambit Gaming, Korean team Samsung Ozone, North American Team Vulcun, and Philippines hopefuls, Mineski.

Vulcun started the group with an aggressive invade on Fnatic. Level 1s had gotten Vulcun two of the three prized wins against North American favorites, Cloud9, that summer and a Level 1 invade gave Vulcun a spiral to win over Fnatic. Lyubomir "BloodWater" Spasov demonstrated warding technique that would become standard at Worlds with invading to set out three wards and buying an early Oracle’s Elixir.

Fnatic rebounded against the wildcard team, Mineski, and catapulted into Samsung Ozone. The “dade award” for underperformance at a World Championship originated from Bae “dade” Eojin’s play at the 2013 World Championship. His champion pool had been stunted by a patch change, and he and most of the rest of Ozone showed abysmal form due to having failed to properly prepare. Gambit Gaming gave Ozone their first loss of the group, and Fnatic gave them their second.

During the World Championship, the support triumvirate of Zyra, Thresh, and Sona reigned, but YellOwStaR had different ideas. He has become known for his Leona play, though perhaps in a somewhat comical fashion. Leona wasn't heavily favored at the World Championships because of her lack of range, and the fact that she couldn’t help take down turrets in lane swaps or harassing. Fnatic and other teams (especially the Chinese squads) compensated by executing very early turret dives with Leona’s engagement instead.

More aggressive play allowed YellOwStaR to gather a 1/0/3 scoreline in the first 10 minutes of their rematch against Vulcun. Fnatic obtained the first seed from Group B into quarterfinals and drew North America’s first seed, Cloud9.

Despite YellOwStaR’s increased aggressive play in the group stage as Leona, he still warded primarily defensively within Fnatic’s own jungle when Tier 1 turrets fell. Against supports Daerek “LemonNation” Hart of Cloud9 and especially Pan Kan “Tabe” Wong of Royal Club Huang Zu, who tended to place more invasive words, this contrast caused Fnatic to make more misplays.

Fnatic’s series against Cloud9 was a close one. A game went into each team’s favor before Cloud9’s duo lane was caught out, resulting in a very large snowball for Fnatic that won them the best-of-three. After Royal Club Huang Zu defeated their fellow Chinese team, Oh My God, YellOwStaR would once again drop out of the World Championship as a result of “Chinese aggression.”

Though Leona didn’t conform to the World Championship meta, Tabe brought forth an even more outlandish pick that demanded bans: Annie. Tabe and Jian “Uzi” Zihao found success bringing the duo lane mid with Annie’s stun threats as capable backup while their jungler invaded. If a team tried to counter this aggressive style, Tabe would collapse with an Annie stun.

Supports performed much more actions in the first 10 minutes in this series than YellOwStaR had in his games in the European LCS. By toning down some of their over-active play, Fnatic could actually use YellOwStaR’s defensive wards to punish Royal’s over-extensions. The one game Fnatic won, puszu fell back on Varus, and Fnatic relied on the utility of counter-engage of their bottom lane with Leona and Varus to actually turn fights.

In an explosive Game 4, Fnatic let Annie through, opening Royal’s preferred style of play. This was the most back-and-forth game of the series, but Royal managed to find objectives after they won teamfights and ultimately advanced to the final over Fnatic.

Outside just the bottom lane matchup, Royal’s mid laner Pun Wai "Wh1t3zZ" Lo expressed a wider champion pool and decimated xPeke in farm totals by counter-picking him. This series loss gave Fnatic a lot to mull over, and a very different team would appear in the 2014 European League of Legends Championship Series the following year.

2014 and the time Fnatic lost the LCS

Fnatic had advanced little as a team in order to participate in one of the least satisfying interim international events following the World Championship, the Battle of the Atlantic. Cloud9 got their revenge, and Fnatic underwent changes before the new season began.

2014 EU LCS Spring champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Leona 6 2 33.3
Morgana 6 5 83.3
Karma 4 4 100
Thresh 4 1 25
Annie 4 3 75
Lulu 2 1 50
Alistar 1 0 0
Nunu 1 1 100

2014 was not a particularly good year for European League of Legends teams or Fnatic, as they lost their only split in three years, but it was a very important year for YellOwStaR. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson had turned 17 and could start for Fnatic in the first week of the Spring LCS. Immediately, commentators noted the drastic upgrade to Fnatic’s bottom lane, but Rekkles wasn’t the only one dropping jaws.

YellOwStaR adopted the Annie pick that had bested Fnatic at the World Championship. Changes to the support role in the preseason made Annie even more viable, and she worked her way into the champion pools of supports internationally. YellOwStaR and Rekkles began playing further up in lane than puszu and YellOwStaR ever had. Fnatic went on a seven game win streak, and their bottom lane lead the KDA ratings.

YellOwStaR finally understood the power of a support’s threat zone and dictated the pace of the lane the way he never had in 2013. Fnatic suddenly didn’t have to find creative ways to maneuver around the map; they could perform much better in team fights with an AD carry who could position well enough to secure kills and add onto the damage provided by sOAZ and xPeke. This slowed some of their strategic advancement, but made them more threatening in a skirmishes and team fights.

Then things went very, very wrong.

Fnatic's win streak came to an abrupt end against Gambit Gaming. Vision changes meant a general reduction in vision placement by European teams, and Gambit quickly learned to abuse the meta growing pains with an Evelynn rework. Gambit themselves began maximizing their pink ward placement, but Fnatic's map was very dark by contrast.

As a result of stagnation, Fnatic then went about losing to every single team in the LCS after having already beaten them. They topped their seven game win streak by going on an eight game losing streak. High Fnatic KDAs shattered, and they began to grasp for strategies that would work. The public mocked sOAZ's Lulu top fixation, but no single player seemed at fault for the collapse.

Even with a slacking form, Fnatic managed to make the finals of the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship. They bested Millenium, Cloud9, and an Invictus Gaming barely treading water before being utterly humiliated by a lagging KT Bullets in the final.

Eventually, Fnatic found an answer.

Fnatic changed their luck in Week 7 against Gambit Gaming, the team that started them on their losing streak. Fnatic built a poke and disengage composition that allowed them to move around the map quickly with Sivir. They applied the disengage power of a new support popularized by rising Polish squad, Team ROCCAT: Morgana. Gambit could't keep up with the speed of Fnatic's composition and promptly lost.

Despite struggles with Fnatic and Team ROCCAT's initial rise, Fnatic's main 2014 Spring rivals were SK Gaming. SK developed an intelligent approach to the game that focused on setting up fights around dragon by herding teams into the pit and creating space for AD carry Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann to take advantage. Though CandyPanda didn't stand out, his team had means of impaling the opposition on his Vayne, and they developed a flavor for split-pushing.

Having rewatched games closely, I believe the 4v0 meta of 2014 Spring had a huge impact on YellOwStaR's playstyle. YellOwStaR seemed to lose some confidence around Week 9, as he and Rekkles reverted to more passive laning, but the evolution of the jungle-duo lane-top laner push meta opened up the map much more. In order to lane after taking down outer turrets, more jungle vision was required, which kept YellOwStaR roaming frequently. He picked up support Karma to move more fluidly around the map and started to fall into place as the roaming and vision-oriented support we’ve come to know him as.

After overcoming their hump, it seemed Fnatic engaged with the game much more creatively. During semifinals, Fnatic ran a series of entertaining compositions, including the Soraka/Kayle/Janna composition that served as a maddening counter to Alliance’s catch and Karthus composition.

Despite these advancements, Fnatic were wholly unprepared for the blunt objects that knocked in their teeth at All Stars in Paris that year. By once again winning the LCS in 2014 Spring, Fnatic were invited to the All Stars tournament to compete with the top teams in the five major regions.

Fnatic lost to every single team except the GPL’s Taipei Assassins. It became clear that the Chinese and Korean teams had developed a counter to the 4v0 meta that allowed them to freeze the minion wave top to get an advantage on the AD carry. Completely lacking an advanced concept of wave control, Fnatic fell hard against SK Telecom T1 and got run over by the team fighting prowess of Oh My God.

Perhaps in one of the most memorable humiliations in League of Legends eSports history, SK Telecom T1 fielded a roster of their World Championship skins, despite those champions not synergizing particularly well nor being in meta.

Like KT Bullets, SK Telecom T1 hadn't been performing well in Korea, but they demolished every opposing team at All Stars, demonstrating the full extent of Korean dominance. Sure, the game wasn't a stomp, but given how poorly those champions fit in the meta at the time, Fnatic should have won.

2014 EU LCS Summer champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Morgana 11 8 72.7
Thresh 11 8 72.7
Nami 3 2 66.7
Braum 1 0 0
Zyra 1 1 100
Alistar 1 0 0

Following All Stars, Fnatic returned to the European League of Legends Championship Series and picked up their first analyst in Alvar "Araneae" Martin Aleñar to contend with having fallen behind strategically. Yet Fnatic had even bigger problems in Europe.

Alliance, the super team that only managed to acquire two-fifths of the initially proposed roster, had finally begun to look like a dominant force. Fnatic lost to Alliance and SK Gaming in the first week of the summer split, foreshadowing events to come.

Of Fnatic, Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, the central figure of Alliance, said "Fnatic would rather go between lanes and get kills than focus objectives." This proved to be a very apt description of how games between Fnatic and Alliance would play out.

In response to YellOwStaR roaming more often, Rekkles began to follow. YellOwStaR got picks on champions like Morgana or Thresh, and Rekkles eliminated them with Lucian or Twitch. Alliance held lanes, pushed out, and use hyper scaling champions to chip at turrets and avoid direct confrontation until late game. Kog'Maw was favored by Alliance AD carry Tabzz and seemed to appear in every match against Fnatic to punish their lack of objective focus.

All summer, Alliance relied on other teams making mistakes. Very few squads took it upon themselves to force anything from Alliance, so they simply waited for openings. YellOwStaR himself said that he believed Alliance really capitalized on Fnatic’s mistakes (see video above). Alliance shut down Fnatic 3-1 in the LCS final that summer, handing Fnatic their only LCS loss in six splits to date.

More troubling than Fnatic’s lost summer split was the fact that they didn’t even look like the second best team in Europe. Fnatic barely bested Team ROCCAT in a five game series, and SK Gaming’s close games that met Alliance in objective prioritization made them look better than Fnatic. They secured the second seed into the World Championship, but Fnatic looked like only the third best team in Europe.

2014 World Championship champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Janna 2 1 50
Thresh 2 1 50
Nami 2 0 0

Following the 2015 European League of Legends Championship Summer final, sOAZ told theScore eSports in reference to 2014, "I've said it many times before, but the atmosphere on the team was really bad for the month leading up to Worlds. I was a bit down, but I still tried to focus on what I could." It certainly showed.

It's remotely possible YellOwStaR has an even year World Championship curse because, just as he did in 2012 with SK Gaming, YellOwStaR fell from the tournament in the group stage. During the World Championship, Fnatic displayed both a high ceiling and a disastrous low. Fnatic's highlight moment was their definitive dismantling of Samsung Blue, likely the strongest team in the world for most of the year in 2014. They simply hit the go button from spawn time, Rekkles ended with an impressive Lucian KDA of 8/1/5, and YellOwStaR a score of 0/1/9 on Thresh.

On the low end of the spectrum, Fnatic participated in one of the most strategically void games played at a World Championship against OMG. I haven't actually counted the number of bad trades of an inhibitor for Baron, illogical backs, or canceled auto attacks, but it's actually just bad, and in the end, Fnatic lost.

Naturally, lolesports awarded that game "Game of the Year" in 2014. It's fun to watch if you suspend critical thinking.

Despite the disaster of Fnatic's 2014 World Championship, I think of it as a unique time in YellOwStaR's career up to that point in which he was the single best performing player on his team. Even in the series against OMG where his teammates made terrible misplays every which way, YellOwStaR could make a highlight reel of Nami disengages.

Some would reflect and call Rekkles the best performing member of Fnatic at 2014 Worlds, but he really only excelled on Lucian. Even in losses, YellOwStaR landed the right Thresh hooks and used the right skillshots on Janna and Nami. While xPeke, Cyanide, and sOAZ struggled depending on the game, YellOwStaR maintained a powerful form and ended the tournament having out-warded every support he faced in the group, including Samsung Blue support, Lee "Heart" Gwanhyung.

By the end of 2014, YellOwStaR, a player who had never been a truly elite AD carry, despite the accolades he received, had become an elite European support. Yet Fnatic was in shambles. YellOwStaR had overcome his own battle for relevance after finding himself unable to compete as a shotcalling AD carry. Unfortunately, despite the high level of skill on the Fnatic roster, the team of sOAZ, Cyanide, xPeke, Rekkles, and YellOwStaR had reached a point where it had begun to tear at itself.

Many in the public sphere knew of the discontent within the Fnatic roster. Changes were coming. In the coming months, YellOwStaR would have to make a decision.

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

Spirit leaves Fnatic

by 1d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Andrea Sznajder / IEM/ESL

Lee "Spirit" Dayun has left Fnatic, the organization announced Wednesday.

"Moving into 2017, we are looking to significantly rebuild our team and the structure of Fnatic League of Legends, whilst Dayun wishes to take on exciting new challenges," the organization stated in a press release. "Therefore, we have mutually agreed to part ways."

Spirit joined Fnatic in December 2015, along with Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin. He replaced Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin on the roster, who had helped the team achieve a perfect, 18-win season in the 2015 EU LCS Summer Split.

However, Fnatic was not able to replicate their incredible 2015 results this year. They placed sixth in the 2016 spring split and fifth in the summer split. They then placed third in the 2016 European Regional Finals, after a 3-0 loss to the Unicorns of Love.

“Working with Dayun for the last year has been an absolute pleasure,” Fnatic manager Finlay “Quaye” Stewart stated in the press release. “Never before have I seen a player with such intense amounts of dedication and attitude towards a single goal of winning. Even after living in a foreign country surrounded by an unusual culture and losing his two closest friends on the team, Spirit gave it his all day in, day out.

“I have no doubt that he has a long future in the League of Legends scene. His jovial personality brings joy and happiness to all those around him, whilst his passion for the game has never dwindled. The Spirit story is far from over.”

Spirit finished the summer split with a 4.69 KDA, around average for EU junglers that season. According to Oracle’s Elixir, Spirit also maintained a 19.1 percent death share, the lowest in the league, though he also had the lowest first blood rate of any jungler in Europe that season.

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

Riot Esports directors talk sustainability, building a premiere sport and third-party arbitration

by 6d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Riot Games' Esports co-directors, Whalen Rozelle and Jarred Kennedy, discussed community feedback and sustainable business development with Yahoo Esports' Travis Gafford following the announcement that team revenue-sharing and crowdfunded prize pools would be coming League of Legends esports in 2017.

RELATED: Riot reveals revenue-sharing for teams, crowdfunding for Worlds and MSI prize pool

The hour-long conversation was wide-ranging, but Rozelle and Kennedy were especially clear on two points: that League of Legend's tremendous growth must be managed carefully and that they need to communicate with the community better.

"The goal is: how do we go from where we've been over the past several seasons, which is multi-platform distribution on a regional basis to potentially multi-platform distribution plus maybe some global sponsors, right?" Kennedy said. "Could we do that, could we have a sponsor that goes across leagues? potentially. what would that look like, how would it be structured? how would those flows work? We've got thirteen leagues around the world so it's hard to solve these types of problems at the business level but we're actively working towards it and we're excited about the potential."

The duo also talked about exploring new revenue opportunities beyond digital goods, such as skins and icons, to more physical merchandise, such as jerseys. They stressed that Riot's plans go much further than 2017 and that their goal is to make League of Legends a sport on the level of the NBA or MLB.

"One common factor is we have to set up a system where everyone is incentivized for the success of the league and everyone has to be thinking along the same time-frame," Rozelle said. "Whether it's split over split or five or ten years out, right now I think we have a system where you know its not bad but at the same point there are these problems where maybe not everyone is incentive for the long term success of the league versus thinking short term because of the relegation system we have now but how we navigate out of that is incredibly complex which is why we stated it's going to take some time to figure out, the solution is going to differ from region to region."

While the new announcement seemed to hit on many of the points brought up by team owners during the public feud between Riot president Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill and Team SoloMid owner Andy "Reginald" Dinh, Rozelle and Kennedy say these plans were in the works long before the firestorm erupted.

"This is not a direct response to any one thing, as we mentioned in the post, we've been on this journey for a long time and we've been targeting getting to the status of being a premiere global sport," Kennedy said. "But we could have done more to share how we were thinking about things and help teams understand that path."

RELATED: Reginald on how Riot’s major patch changes hurt LoL’s competitive scene

While Riot's relationship with its community has become strained as public figures, such as Duncan "Thorin" Shields and Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles, criticized the company during the Tryndamere-Reginald debate, Rozelle says they go to great lengths to listen to the community and take their feedback.

“I’m proud we do react to the community, right?" Rozelle said. "Whether it’s the community blowing up and getting angry at us, I’m proud to react to that. I’m proud when the community has a great idea and we’re like ‘yeah, that’s a pretty good idea, let’s integrate that” into whether it’s our broadcast or our game or something, I’m proud of that."

Rozelle and Kennedy also say that the new revenue-sharing opportunities are the first steps in building stronger partnerships with LCS teams, but they are not ready to talk formal arrangements, such as franchising, until 2018.

"I think in general we want to move away from the supplementing model, where the teams are able to go and thrive independently and also in partnership with Riot and with the league they’re a part of," Kennedy said. "And we’re always looking at our schedules, we’re always thinking about what’s the right way to structure this. We have an entire dedicated to try and optimize this for that ultimate goal, which is to get us all to the place where we’re a sustainable premiere sport that lasts a really long time."

Beyond discussing yesterday's announcement, the two responded to a community question about Riot's controversial arbitration system and announced early plans to look into third-party arbitration for major decisions, such as banning a team from the LCS, as early as 2017.

"Since essentially the Renegades/TDK ruling and onward is that, y'know look, we believe in the ruling, right? We believe in the policies that we have, the process that we have, but we also think that, y'know, this is not the ideal situation, we believe it can evolve as well," Rozelle said. "And so, we believe enough in the ruling that we have that we're willing to begin exploring how can we bring in a third party to help validate, or arbitrate, we don't know exactly the system yet, but we do want to do that as early as 2017."

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

Riot reveals revenue-sharing for teams, crowdfunding for Worlds and MSI prize pool

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Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports / Riot Games

Riot Games has promised some major changes for LoL esports in 2017, including revenue sharing for team-branded in-game goods, and increases to Worlds' and MSI's prize pools through skin sales.

"As we move into 2017 and beyond, we’re continuing to take steps towards a future where top LoL players have very well paid, long careers doing what they love - and where LoL esports team organizations are thriving businesses led by empowered owners who share responsibility and accountability for the long term prosperity of the sport," the announcement says.

"To help get us there, we’ll share LoL esports revenue streams and collaborate with our partners to develop new business models and actively shape the league. We want these partners to have permanent stakes, to be invested in a stable future and to profit from the continued success of the sport."

While the statement says revenue sharing will begin with 25 percent of Team Championship skin revenues going to the teams they're based on beginning with this year's Worlds, Riot will also be introducing new team-branded in-game content in 2017 and increasing the percentage of summoner icon revenue that goes to the teams.

In addition, 25 percent from Championship skin revenue will go towards increasing the prize pool for Worlds, similar to Dota 2's Compendiums and Capcom's Capcom Pro Tour DLC pack, which added $90,000 to this year's Capcom Cup prize pool. Twenty-five percent of Challenger skin sales will also be going towards the Mid-Season Invitational prize pool.

"As we invest and build towards the future, we recognize that the current ecosystem isn’t consistently profitable yet for team owners or for the league. Costs have risen — namely in the form of player salary increases and support for those pros — mainly as a direct result of significant external investment and interest in the scene," the statement says.

"This part of the journey isn’t unusual; escalated investment is a natural occurrence in a growing ecosystem, and is a sign that our initial approach has been working. However, we recognize that we can help rebalance the scene by accelerating some of our longer-term economic tactics to help address short-term pain felt by many of our partners."

As new revenue-sharing ventures find their feet, Riot will also be giving teams a lump, minimum income in 2017, to be determined on a league-by-league basis.

"In 2017 each league will set aside a guaranteed minimum to each of its teams as it determines appropriate based on regional needs. For example, the EU LCS will have a minimum revenue amount of €100,000 per team for the full season, of which 50% will go to players as supplemental income on top of their existing salaries. Even without counting the retroactive payments to past champions, this will contribute millions of dollars in additional revenue to teams and pros each year."

The promises of revenue-sharing and increased prize pools could go a long way towards alleviating the concerns of LCS team owners brought up during the public feud between Riot president Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill and Team SoloMid owner Andy "Reginald" Dinh that resulted in several in several LCS teams sending a proposal to Riot for better cooperation.

RELATED: Reginald responds to Tryndamere: 'It’s irrational to invest even more money into LCS, given how restrictive LCS is'

While Merrill ultimately apologized for launching personal attacks on Reginald on Reddit and promised new revenue-sharing opportunities for teams in 2017, today's announcement tiptoes around actually giving teams a say in the LCS through formalized partnerships. While the statement says the company is building plans for partnerships, nothing major will happen on that front until 2018.

"Nailing fandom and strong economics is important for a thriving sport — but stability, with partnered organizations and the right structure, helps create a healthier environment in which our sport can grow and evolve over the longer term," the statement says.

"We’re not yet at the stage where we can describe exactly what long-term org partnerships will look like; we’re not sure how they’ll work, or even if there will be the same structure in each region. Creating long-term partnerships across the globe is complicated — legally, financially, operationally. That said, the first step is securing those partners and putting the right structure in place. We will be looking to make this step in 2018."

However, Riot acknowledges that these moves are the first steps on a longer path towards developing a mature sport and a mature business model.

"We believed the future was bright for LoL esports in 2012 — and it’s even brighter today as we take our most significant steps yet. As we face additional challenges and future unknowns, we’ll continue to stick to our core beliefs; to put esports fans first, to build a great ecosystem that keeps the sport you love around for the long-term, and which fans, pros & teams all aspire to," the announcement says.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Their Time is Now: Team SoloMid in 2016

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Thumbnail image courtesy of Jose Silva / theScore esports

Like 2015 Fnatic and 2014 Cloud9 before them, 2016 Team SoloMid now enters the World Championship as the Western team to beat. A quick glance over the past four World Championships tells a tale of Korean dominance with China not so far behind until their dramatic collapse at the 2015 tournament. Since the Season 2 World Championship, five of the eight total finalists have come from Korea. China has produced two Worlds finalists, and Taiwan’s Taipei Assassins took home the Summoner’s Cup in 2012.

No North American team has reached the semifinals of a League of Legends World Championship, since TSM made it to the losers' finals in Season 1. Now, TSM aim to change that narrative.

Team SoloMid were the clear winners of the 2015-16 offseason. Once again centering their team around star mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, TSM acquired talent from both Europe and North America to produce a stacked roster that had fans and analysts slavering to see in action.

Their two most notable acquisitions formed what looked to be one of the West’s strongest bottom lanes in Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim. A former rival of TSM, Doublelift, was ousted from Counter Logic Gaming — an organization almost synonymous with his own personal brand — and appeared on TSM’s doorstep within 24 hours, eager to prove them, and the world, wrong. New TSM top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell was a rising NA star from the now-defunct Gravity Gaming and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen had dazzled EU LCS audiences even as SK Gaming fell further in the EU standings and viewers’ esteem.

The question for TSM going into this past spring was not of when the team would come together, but how quickly. Most fans expected another strong regular season from TSM. The team's previous iteration had run its course. Between TSM’s 2015 World Championship group stage exit and top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill’s retirement, it was time for the team to move on. On paper, the organization's celebrated new roster seemed to herald an even brighter future for one of NA scene’s founding fathers.

Instead, TSM could never get all of their pieces to fit together, and finished the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split in sixth place, their lowest finish in NA LCS history. The playoffs proved to be just what TSM needed to find their stride, but, by the time the finals rolled around, they were still slightly behind CLG in terms of coordination. CLG had slowly improved throughout the course of the split, and relied on a strong team dynamic, smart objective trading, and efficient management of their resources to secure their wins. To paraphrase CLG’s comms prior to their Game 5 showdown with TSM at Mandalay Bay, TSM had just learned to be a team, whereas CLG’s teamwork had been honed throughout their regular season and playoff run. CLG went to the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational and performed well above expectations, finishing the tournament in second place just behind Korea’s SK Telecom T1. Meanwhile, TSM went back to the drawing board.

It’s unlikely that rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang was the only puzzle piece that TSM needed to succeed. TSM’s 2016 NA LCS Summer Split dominance is a product of a myriad of factors, most of which are impossible to know from the outside looking in. Yet Biofrost’s arrival ushered in a new era of communication and coordination that made a dramatic difference on the Rift. TSM lost only one best-of-three series in the regular season and only dropped a single game to Cloud9 in the 2016 NA LCS Summer Finals en route to another North American title.

This has led to no small amount of anticipation for their performance at the 2016 World Championship, where they're expected to do the best of all western teams in attendance.

TSM were similarly thought of as favorites to go far at an international event at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational. The results couldn’t have been more contrary to their initial favorable outlook.

Surprise winners of the 2015 IEM World Championship at Katowice, TSM were touted as the best western team in the world at that time. The 2015 EU LCS Spring Split Finals series between Fnatic and Unicorns of Love had been a 3-2 bloodbath that made both teams look shoddy, whereas TSM were coming off of a 3-1 finals win over C9. Yet, Fnatic rose to prominence throughout the 2015 MSI tournament, taking Faker's SK Telecom T1 to five games in their semifinal bout. They performed well above all expectations, relying on the duo of top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin along with then-Fnatic support YellOwStaR, who stood out as their team visibly improved the deeper they went into the tournament. TSM only managed to take one game during the round robin group stages — a victory over Turkish International Wildcard representative Beşiktaş e-Sports Club.

While Fnatic took teams by surprise as they grew their coordination and map movement, TSM appeared stale. Teams figured them out easily and TSM were ill-prepared to shift their gameplan. Thy bore no small amount of criticism for sacrificing Dyrus, placing Bjergsen on the likes of Ziggs and Urgot, and generally struggling to find a playstyle that opponents could not take advantage of early. It was impossible to tell prior to the tournament that teams would so easily best TSM — little by the way of their Summer performance, and Fnatic’s performance, previewed their diverging paths at the 2015 MSI.

Now TSM are fresh off of one of the organization’s most dominant regular season stretches, and only dropped one game to C9 in the Finals and they have to deal with the rising hype and promotion that surrounds their upcoming 2016 World Championship appearance. Similar buildup accompanied NA teams in the past, only to see them shown the door time and again during the Round of 8.

For North American fans, the conversation now shifts from this specific iteration of TSM’s journey to the 2016 World Championship to how they could potentially break North America’s Worlds Semifinals-less streak.

The first, and most obvious, fact cited in talk of TSM as a possible semifinalist is that the current metagame appears to fit TSM like a glove. Strong lanes are where TSM have thrived over the past split. Doublelift has been incredible this past summer with Biofrost by his side. Bjergsen can smoothly transition from DPS carry, to waveclear and zone control, to ruthless assassin, to teamfight maestro depending on what TSM wishes him to be for that particular game. Svenskeren learned how to stymie his adversaries in their own jungles and has became TSM’s primary teamfight initiator while Hauntzer also had a career split. TSM’s bread and butter was already strong lanes that overwhelmed opponents early, allowing them to snowball their advantages to inevitable victories. Now, the time has come to see how their lanes stack up against international competition in a meta that wholly supports their preferred playstyle.

Amidst the rise of Hauntzer, Doublelift’s stunning split, and Bjergsen’s continued reign over the NA mid lane, has also been the much-improved performance of jungler Svenskeren.

A glance at Svenskeren’s pathing while on his former team, SK Gaming, reveals a distinct lack of understanding of how to facilitate his teammates in their lanes, rather than becoming the team’s carry. As SK Gaming crumbled around him, Svenskeren went to work. When SK Gaming won a game in the 2015 EU LCS Summer — all six of them, good enough for a ninth-place finish overall — Svenskeren had something to do with it. Of all EU junglers that split he did the most amount of damage per minute (305) despite having fairly mediocre numbers across the board.

Upon arriving to TSM, his adjustment took time and no small amount of effort. He often looked lost on the map and coordinated poorly with his lanes. It wasn’t until the 2016 NA LCS Spring Playoffs that Svenskeren began to look comfortable, and these matches deferred to his preferred carry playstyle. Becoming a DPS carry for the team meant greater resources that allowed him to take over games on Graves and Nidalee. Yet this dynamic was not sustainable for TSM in the long term, especially with how many resources it took away from other members of the team, mainly Doublelift, as the meta shifted away from carry junglers.

This past summer, Svenskeren has once again faded into the background — no longer a DPS carry but still a key part of TSM’s gameplan. He has a significantly better understanding of how and when to affect his side lanes, partnering with Bjergsen for ganks, dives and teamfight initiation. His increased presence on the map eased enemy pressure on TSM’s lanes, allowing them to exert their own pressure or farm more freely.

The question now is how TSM will continue to play their game against stiff international competition. Their group — composed of Splyce, Samsung Galaxy and Royal Never Give Up — is already tough one, but a necessary challenge for a team that wants to be the best. It’s now up to TSM to eschew the narrative that North American teams either choke, or are simply outclassed come Worlds quarterfinals.

Their time is now.

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

Introduction to EU LCS, LPL and LMS jungle pathing assessment

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Thumbnail image courtesy of 刘一村 / LPL / 刘一村's album

The jungle is playing a massive role in the upcoming World Championship. Speculation ranks this year's talent pool as one of the deepest jungle pools at a major League of Legends event in history.

But exploring how junglers work within a team is difficult and nuanced. The days where junglers were solely rated on their ability to impact their lanes have waned. Using junglers as a more integrated part of the team has become the norm, and assessing what decisions a jungler makes and what style he plays can give an individual insight into how a team operates.

As an experiment, I looked at the junglers from three regions (the EU LCS, the League of Legends Pro League and the League of Legends Master Series) that will attend the World Championship. I went over and took pathing notes based on the decisions and types of actions each jungler made for the first 10 minutes of every game on Patch 6.15 (the region's playoffs and Regional Qualifiers). There was a focus on the first 10 minutes, since it is at this point in the game that the junglers are generally on an even footing. The early game also provides the most insight into a player's jungling style, as opposed to after more turrets fall, and the jungler's role more resembles that of his teammates

Due to the time required to path these junglers, I limited my approach to the junglers I was most familiar with and LMS junglers. As a next step, one would want to expand the sample to NA LCS, Korean, and Wild Card junglers.

This exercise helped me better understand how each jungler works with his team and also how the patch may have started impacting how teams play around their junglers.

Methodology note:

Each jungler's decision-making was tracked in Google Sheets, and then gone over to note what the jungler did in tandem with his opponent. Qualitative assessments will be discussed by jungler along with simple quantitative notes.

In a somewhat crude attempt to quantify jungler decision-making, types of actions were counted. This is mostly supplemental to the exercise of pathing and observing junglers from more qualitative perspective, but it’s a guide that can help one judge subtle differences in what a player prioritizes.

An action is mapped as “farm” if a jungler clears a camp or clears a wave in a lane. If a jungler only gets part of a camp or a wave due to splitting it with another player on his team or counterjungling, this is half a clear.

An action is mapped as “vision” if a player places a ward or kills an enemy ward. Securing a scuttle crab is counted as a warding and not a farm action because it provides relatively less experience. An action is a “buy” action if the jungler backs to base to buy, but not if he dies first.

Confrontational actions include initiating a gank, hovering around a lane as if to look for a gank, or answer an opponent jungler if he ganks first. Ganks can be simple entries into lanes to force a laner to back off or surprise ganks with the obvious intent to go for a kill, but won’t include simple “pass through” actions.

All data are subject to interpretation and recording error, which is why these measures should only be considered crude observations supplemented by analyst observations. Detailed pathing sheets will be linked in each jungler’s section for further observation. Note that, because of limited data, some observations will be more complete than others (for instance, junglers with only five games on the new patch vs. junglers with 20 games). Observations will also be supplemented with general notes on jungler tendencies from the regular season.

Average amount of action lines in the first 10 minutes by category for EU LCS, LPL and LMS junglers at Worlds

Jungler Farm Vision Buy Confrontation Gank Countergank K/D/A
Avoidless 12.96 9.14 1.93 4.43 1.64 0.43 2.36
clearlove 12.88 10.50 2.00 3.38 1.00 0.75 1.63
Jankos 13.30 9.17 2.25 2.67 1.75 0.25 0.67
Karsa 13.63 11.00 1.75 2.50 1.13 0.13 1.25
Mlxg 12.94 7.75 1.88 3.13 1.13 0.63 1.38
Mountain 13.64 8.21 1.86 2.57 1.21 0.00 1.36
Trashy 13.93 8.79 1.86 2.86 1.43 0.50 0.93
Trick 14.63 8.75 2.00 3.63 1.88 0.63 1.13

These values will be discussed in more detail, especially pertaining to proportion of jungler actions, in each individual player's section.

EU LCS junglers

LPL junglers

LMS junglers

Image credit: 刘一村

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

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