Low Economy, First Class: Jin Air's TrAce

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13.5.

That is the current highest KDA in Korea’s OGN Champions Spring 2016 after two weeks of play. Fresh off of his 15.8 overall KDA performances, the best of all regular starters at the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, SK Telecom T1 AD carry Bae “Bang” Junsik is an obvious candidate, yet he currently sits in second place to Mister 13.5, with an 11.0 showing across six games.

One would further assume a KDA this high is that of an AD carry or mid laner, as they are typically afforded the lion’s share of team gold, yet it belongs to a top laner. With former SK Telecom T1’s Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan left Korea, natural guesses fall to KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chanho, ROX Tigers’ Song “Smeb” Kyungho, or even MaRin’s replacement, former NaJin e-mFire top Lee “Duke” Hoseong. All of these aforementioned tops had breakout years in 2015, particularly Smeb and Ssumday; however, Mister 13.5 is none of the above.

The owner of the aforementioned statistic, on the precipice of his own breakout year, is none other than the Jin Air Green Wings’ generally apathetic-looking top laner, Yeon “TrAce” Changdong.

Naturally, KDA isn’t everything – in fact, many League statisticians would argue that it means next to nothing beyond a flashy number – and more remarkable are TrAce’s other Spring 2016 statistics. His average creep score differential at 10 minutes is 10.8, third best in Champions Spring to AD carry Bang (14.2) and Longzhu top laner Koo “Expession” Bontaek (15.2). In eight games, he’s only died four times and has an impressive 71.1 percent kill participation, second-best of all top laners outdone only by SBENU Sonicboom’s Lee “SoaR” Gangpyo with 71.4 percent.

What’s more interesting is how TrAce is achieving these numbers, eschewing the monikers of “low economy” and the more derogatory “washed up,” that were ascribed to him throughout the majority of both Champions 2015 seasons.

Last year’s Jin Air Green Wings roster was centered around mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok. A shoo-in for Korea’s most-improved player had Smeb not existed, GBM showed up to 2015 Champions with a more diversified champion pool than in years past. This was coupled with a newfound ability to not only hold his own in lane, but steadily accrue advantages on his opponents until late where he boasted monstrous performances on the likes of Xerath, Ahri, and Viktor. GBM was complemented by the Green Wings’ bot lanes, where the team swapped between their two AD carries, veteran Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyungwoo and up-and-comer Na “Pilot” Woohyung, and two supports, Lee “Sweet” Eunteak and Choi “Chei” Sunho. The entire team was brought together under the constant guidance of jungler Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun, who controlled the map and orchestrated the Green Wings’ early game. While Chaser, and the entire 2015 Jin Air team, often faltered in the mid game, they showed cool heads under pressure, often winning due to their resiliency come late game.

TrAce was a crucial part of this game plan, but an oft-forgotten component of the Jin Air Green Wings. He rarely stood out, living up to his low economy label by receiving the least amount of relative gold of any starting top laner in the regular season at 20.2 percent. For reference, SK Telecom T1’s MaRin received 23.8 percent – the highest of all Korean top laners in Summer – while KT Rolster’s Ssumday was given 23.4 percent of his team’s gold. Jin Air hardly needed another carry, with GBM in mid, the Pilot or Cpt Jack rotation at AD carry, and Chaser receiving more relative gold than any other jungler in Champions Summer 2015. What they needed was someone who would not be a detriment to the team with a minimal amount of resources. TrAce fit himself into this role perfectly.

Of his 42 games in Champions Summer 2015, TrAce spent 17 of them on Rumble and 13 on Maokai for a combined 71 percent of his games on those two champions. While his top lane compatriots MaRin and Smeb also played these two for the majority of their Summer, their performances were supplemented by a larger quantity of resources – be that the previously-noted gold discrepancy or more jungle attention top – and a few more carry performances on the likes of Fizz, Riven, and Hecarim. TrAce stuck to those champions that Jin Air required him to play and still managed respectable numbers, finishing with a fifth-best KDA of Summer 2015 tops, and a strong 68.5 percent kill participation for his team, fourth-best for Korean top laners in Summer.

When it was announced this past offseason that teammates Cpt Jack and Chaser along with TrAce were simultaneously leaving the Jin Air Green Wings, most Jin Air fans mourned the loss of Chaser – one of the best junglers in the region alongside SK Telecom T1’s Bae “bengi” Seongwoong. There was also additional melancholy at Cpt Jack’s departure. Having built a longstanding fanbase since his Maximum Impact Gaming days, it was thought that he would likely retire from competitive gaming and attend university.

TrAce was all but forgotten, and attention quickly turned to the new Jin Air top, Kim “SoHwan” Junyeong. Formerly of Korean Challenger team Pathos, SoHwan was known as an aggressive Riven main, the perceived opposite of the low-economy and boring TrAce. Unfortunately, SoHwan’s recklessness and champion pool issues became immediately apparent during his appearances in both the KeSPA Cup and IEM San Jose. Much of his struggle was attributed to the lack of jungle presence, as Chaser’s prior substitute and now starter, Park “Winged” Taejin, also failed to make much of an impact on the map for SoHwan or the Green Wings.

About two-and-a-half weeks after his departure, TrAce re-signed with the Green Wings on Dec. 18, 2015, and it was thought that he would split top lane duties with SoHwan, presumably mentoring the rookie. In their first series of Champions Spring 2016, Jin Air still appeared undecided as to who they wanted to start top, swapping from SoHwan in Game 1 to TrAce in Game 2, both resulting in losses to Longzhu. However, against SK Telecom T1, the Jin Air Green Wings pulled out a two compositions that revolved around TrAce’s top lane Graves, a pocket pick for the versatile top. In a surprising 2-0 sweep of the reigning world champions

While many may point to the fact that Game 1 saw SK Telecom T1 start mid lane substitute Lee “Scout” Yechan and jungle substitute Kang “Blank” Sungu, this hardly takes away from TrAce’s monstrous 18 KDA across the two games, along with a 69.2 percent kill participation. Teams have subsequently banned or picked Graves away from TrAce in all but one of their following matches. These Graves performances were only the beginning of TrAce’s renaissance as a carry top, as he more recently boasted a 3/0/3 Quinn demolishing of e-mFire top laner Suk “Hipo” Hyunjun. TrAce also returned to top lane Morgana – another pocket pick – for a 1/1/13 showing against the Afreeca Freecs, in which his all-important Dark Bindings precipitated Jin Air teamfight wins and successful turret sieges.

TrAce’s recent carry performances mark a bit of a return to form for TrAce, whose initial 2013 Champions debut was accompanied by a reputation for odd, somewhat off-meta picks on which he could carry his team like Cho’gath or Rengar. On his first Champions team, AHQ Korea, in 2013 Spring, TrAce drew consistent top lane Rengar bans that carried over into Champions Summer 2013 and his ensuing time on the Jin Air Green Wings Stealths.

The 2014 Stealths are where TrAce first began to mold into a more utility top for his team, particularly when the resource-hungry Cpt Jack joined in late Jan. 2014, and Chaser was swapped over from the Falcons that May. In a somewhat shocking turn of events, the Stealths eked into the Champions Summer 2014 playoffs where they were promptly dispatched by Samsung Galaxy Blue in three games.

Even in the waning moments of the Summer 2014 group stages, the more talked-about Jin Air top was the talented Falcons’ Kim “Rock” Huichan, who retired shortly after the season to the disappointment of many. TrAce stuck with Jin Air when the Stealths and Falcons merged, fading into the aforementioned background with the rise of GBM and Chaser.

Now, in 2016, TrAce looks to reinvent his career once more, bursting back onto the scene as the quirky top he was previously for ahq Korea in 2013, before adapting to what his successive Jin Air squads required of him. Now, Jin Air has room for a more of a hard carry top laner, and while most looked him over for the Riven-main in SoHwan, TrAce has thus far proved that he can carry with the best in his region. TrAce may have been low economy for the past few seasons, but he’s always been world class.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.

MonteCristo not invited to cast Worlds, DoA declines to attend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghostcrawler talks LoL's future in Reddit AMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riot execs say League of Legends has hit 100 million monthly active users

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League of Legends has cracked the 100 million monthly active users mark, according to an interview by Polygon's Phil Kollar with Riot co-owners Marc "Tryndamere" Merill and Brandon "Ryze" Beck.

Both the article and an accompanying article on The Rift Herald (an SB Nation blog which is owned by Vox Media, Polygon's parent company) state that Merrill and Beck gave Kollar the estimate in their interview, though it has not been publicly announced by Riot.

The last time Riot released playerbase estimates was in January 2014, when Forbes reported that LoL saw an average of 67 million active users each month and 27 million each day. That number is also featured on Riot Games' official website.

Two years prior to that in 2012, Forbes reported that Riot estimated 32 million average monthly users. That works out to an average annual growth rate of 33 percent per year from then until now.

By comparison, Valve announced that Dota 2 broke 13 million monthly active players via an in-client message in June this year, while Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is played by roughly 9.8 million each month, according to Valve's blog. World of Warcraft, which reached peak global users in 2011, had 12 million monthly active users, though that number has since fallen below 5.5 million as of November 2015 (at which point Blizzard announced it would no longer release estimates).

With an order of magnitude more players than its next closest competitor, League has entered the ballpark of some of the world's largest online networks. It's on par with the 100 million monthly active users that browse Twitch each month, and has roughly one third of the 313 million monthly active users on Twitter and one fifth of the 500 million on Instagram — though all of those combined do not add up to Facebook's 1.71 billion users.

One hundred million people is also larger than all but twelve countries. The Philippines has just 3 million more citizens than LoL's active monthly player base, while Vietnam falls 8 million people short. The number is also close to double the entire population of South Korea, the country known for providing some of LoL's most dominant competitive teams.

There is one other game that is as popular as LoL. Microsoft announced in August that Solitaire broke 100 million unique users. But League probably doesn't have too worry too much about competition, since its users can always play Solitaire while waiting in dynamic queue.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. He can count to 100 million on his fingers and toes. It just takes him a while. You can follow him on Twitter.

LoL community reacts to the 2016 World Championship group draw

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The 2016 World Championship group stage draw has concluded, with the sixteen teams set to compete at the event divided into four groups. Players, coaches, owners and other personalities have since reacted to the results, with some happier than others.

For some, the draw was a good reason to celebrate their good fortunes.

Group D, featuring Team SoloMid, Royal Never Give Up, Splyce and Samsung Galaxy, is regarded as the toughest group at World's this year. Though not quite a group of death, it looks to be the closest there is to one.

Others had some suggestions on how to improve the group draw system.

Though the event is still several weeks away, that hasn't stopped some from sharing their predictions on who will make it out.

The 2016 World Championships group stage is set to begin on Sept. 29 in San Francisco.

Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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