Thumbnail image courtesy of Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports
NRG eSports is getting some attention from big names in mainstream sports.
Former NBA star and part-owner of the Sacramento Kings, Shaquille O'Neal, New York Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez and Chicago White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins have all invested in NRG, the organization announced Thursday.
Meanwhile, O'Neal made sure his esports entrance was a little more animated.
"I feel it legitimizes the space a little bit, it helps legitimize the idea that these guys really are athletes when other athletes recognize them," NRG co-owner Andy Miller told theScore esports. "There's lots of things that we as weekend warrior athletes will never go through, and they realize that these people are athletes.
"They're putting everything they have, their whole world into becoming the best at what they do."
Miller says that his existing relationship with O'Neal as co-owners of the Sacramento Kings helped them get him involved.
"He was really interested in the space, he was involved in the Turner, TBS esports pavilion, this was something he was participating in," Miller said. "He's a co-owner with me of the Kings as well as my co-owner Mark Mastrov, and he and Mark have a great relationship so he said, 'Hey I want to do this, let's figure it out,' and it was a no-brainer."
O'Neal is also not the only ex-LA Lakers player to enter the world of esports. His former teammate, Rick Fox, founded Echo Fox last year, and currently owns a League of Legends team and a CS:GO team.
Meanwhile, Miller says Rollins approached them after getting interested in the esports scene.
"He'd played a little League of Legends, thought it was amazing, read some articles said this is something he thought paralleled a lot of what he saw in the sports world and he wanted to become an investor," he said. "He was amazing to talk to, really knowledgeable, and well-thought out."
Finally, Mastrov also had an existing relationship with Rodriguez, who they approached because of his personal brand.
"We thought he would just be such a great fit because of his experiences, his longevity and being a player on a big stage at such an early age, very similar to our guys," Miller said.
GBM joined NRG in November 2015 after leaving the Jin Air Wings. According to the translation, the mid laner admitted that he transitioned to the NA LCS to take advantage of a weaker scene, but found himself taking on more than he bargained for with the team.
Whereas GBM used to focus on farming and teamfights, on NRG, he says he had to shot call, keep track of summoner spells and jungle pathing, and serve as the teams initiator as no one else wanted to.
According to the translation, GBM was also confused by NRG's front office, who GBM alleges approached him after the spring split to construct a team around him, offering up Alan "KiWiKiD" Nguyen and Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen as examples. When GBM said they should not be brought on, NRG told him that they were already contracted. As a result, GBM now believes that teams should have a former player in the front office to help make decisions.
In regards to his NRG teammates, GBM says that he is unwilling to play with Kiwikid again professionally, though he does like him as a person. In regards to Santorin, GBM was impressed by how much the jungler improved over the course of the summer split, but that the improvement came too late in the season.
Team Liquid's coach Choi "Locodoco" Yoon-sub cautioned to take GBM's words with a grain of salt, as some of the things he said were rumors that multiple teams have heard before.
Santorin also responded to GBM's statements, saying that he and his former teammate have different perspectives on NRG.
GBM is currently a free agent after leaving NRG following the teams relegation in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Promotion tournament.
Sandbox mode on the horizon: Riot Games begins work on "single-player training mode"
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports / Riot Games
Riot Games have begun work on the much requested in-game practice tools, or sandbox mode, for League of Legends, starting with a "single-player training mode," according to a joint blog post from Andrew “Riot Aeon” Brownell and Rowan “L4T3NCY” Parker posted on Friday.
Riot's proposed practice tool will allow players to have infinite gold, reset their cooldowns, lock their level and freeze minion spawns. A full feature list is still in the works, but they have stated that they're "currently not looking to develop a multiplayer training tool for organized team drills or pro-play specifically.
"Once we get the first version out, we’ll pay close attention to see if we missed anything in terms of how to become better by yourself," Aeon and L4T3NCY said in their blog post.
The news comes a year after Riot's blog post where they stated, "we never want to see a day when a player wants to improve at League and their first obligation is to hop into a Sandbox." In Riot's recent blog post, they admit that their initial thoughts were not in line with the rest of the community.
"A year ago, we shot ourselves in the foot with our first attempt at Riot Pls," Riot Aeon and L4T3NCY said in their blog post. "Back then we said that a practice tool — an environment where you could train solo, without restraints — wasn’t something we wanted to do. You disagreed, and we heard you."
No timeline is stated for the release of Riot's Practice Tool, but further updates are promised throughout the 2017 pre-season.
Here are some initial community reactions:
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking AbaddonSlardarClinkzMedusaOracleaP90 my Souvenir Negev. You can follow him on Twitter.
Na`Vi drop Saulius, Doxy from LCL roster
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore eSports / Natus Vincere
Natus Vincere's League of Legends roster have dropped mid laner Saulius "Saulius" Lukošius and top laner Rafael "Doxy" Adl Zarabi, and said that the future of jungler Ilya "Lasagna" Melkumov is uncertain.
The Ukraine-based esports organization announced Tuesday that they were beginning their offseason roster overhaul while the 2016 World Championship is still ongoing. Na`Vi finished 3rd-4th in the LoL Continental League Summer Playoffs after a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Vega Squadron.
"First of all this is related to the fact that in 2016 the roster failed to achieve good results — that is to win the Continental League," team manager Yaroslav "N1ghtEnd" Klochko said in the release. "Some might say that we should keep on practicing and retain the line-up. However, in the current situation it is impossible for us."
Klochko called Lasagna's future with the team "yet under question" without further elaboration. He said that the new lineup will be announced once it has been finalized.
At the 2016 LCL Summer Playoffs, Doxy played Gangplank twice and Ekko, Irelia and Gnar once each, averaging a 3.0 KDA. Saulius played Viktor twice and dabbled in LeBlanc, Zed and Gangplank en-route to a 3.4 KDA.
Frustration Fuels the Future: Takeaways from North America's showing at Worlds
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen
Thumbnail image courtesy of 2016 World Championship / Riot Games
The 2016 World Championship was supposed to be North America’s turn to make its stamp on international League of Legends. Instead, the NA LCS delivered just one team to the quarterfinals, where the torch was snuffed out in a clinical 3-0 loss to Korea’s third seed, Samsung Galaxy.
This wasn’t how the year was meant to end. Counter Logic Gaming raised the bar for NA by reaching the finals of the Mid-Season Invitational, taking a game off of SK Telecom T1 in the group stage along the way. North America’s momentum only grew through the summer split, as CLG were surpassed by Team SoloMid, Cloud9 and Immortals, all of them showing the potential to hold their own internationally.
When the dust settled from the summer playoffs and regional qualifiers, TSM had taken North America’s first seed, CLG were through as the second by virtue of championship points, and Cloud9 had proven themselves worthy by running the gauntlet. With the EU LCS and LMS looking like they had taken a step back from where they were 2015, hopes were high that North America could step into the void.
It wasn’t to be. TSM stumbled in the group stage, CLG’s tendency to trip over their own shoelaces resurfaced in two losses to international wildcards Albus NoX Luna, and although Cloud9 reached the quarterfinals, their level of play never truly impressed.
It’s easy to spin NA’s 2016 showing as another example of the region thinking too highly of itself and overestimating its international relevance. But on closer examination, the NA LCS has many reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Three Up, Three Down
None of the three teams that represented North America will be entirely happy with their results, but each of them had high points that are worth remembering alongside the lows.
Group D, 3rd with a 3-3 record
Ahead of the World Championship, North American fans were buzzing about TSM's chance to replicate the 2015 semifinals runs of Fnatic and Origen. Armed with NA's first seed, TSM would have had to badly drop the ball to lose in the group stage. Would a group win assured, TSM would either be drawn into a tough quarterfinal matchup that could sink them, just as Royal Never Give Up were sunk by SK Telecom T1, or they would be given a boost with a less intimidating opponent, a la H2K-Gaming (who earned their softball by winning their group).
Unfortunately, TSM didn’t get the chance to test their luck in the second stage, because they did, in fact, end their group run in defeat. Blame is abundant: Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s positioning issues and TSM’s drafting have been thoroughly picked apart already.
Excuses are cheap. It is little consolation that TSM were drawn into the most challenging group; Samsung Galaxy and Royal Never Give Up were both beatable opponents, and besides, there isn’t much satisfaction in advancing if the path is too smooth.
The hard, simple truth is that TSM didn’t play well enough to advance. That said, one should always be wary of “simple” truths. TSM's results alone paint too negative a picture of the team’s efforts — the soft, complicated truth is that TSM played well at Worlds, just not well enough to emerge from Group D.
Statistically, TSM were one of the more impressive teams in the group stage. They achieved a gold percent rating (GPR) of +0.71, meaning that on average TSM held 50.71 percent of the game's total gold at any given moment, good for fifth best in the tournament to date. They also netted a 55 percent dragon control rate and averaged +1,559 gold at 15 minutes. Unfortunately, key mistakes at crucial moments, committed against high-quality opponents, cost TSM the chance to convert on their hard-earned advantages.
TSM fans have a bitter pill to swallow. The fact that their team looked so competitive in defeat only makes the result that much more difficult to accept. But given time and space to reflect, TSM and their supporters should not see this World Championship as a colossal failure. Victory was within reach, but this was the one that got away. Better luck next time.
Counter Logic Gaming
Group A, 3rd with a 3-3 record
CLG were technically North America’s second seed, but their qualification on points came in spite of a fourth-place summer finish that left them looking inferior to both Immortals, who beat them out for the bronze, and Cloud9, whose weak spring showing forced them to play through the gauntlet. CLG earned their place at Worlds, but they still had a lot of work to do to win the faith of North American fans.
In true CLG fashion, the team over-achieved and under-achieved at the same time. They bagged two wins over G2 Esports, the number one seed from Europe, who were almost universally ranked ahead of them as favorites to emerge from Group A. In an echo of their MSI group stage upset over SKT, CLG also took a game off of the ROX Tigers. (Something no one in their right mind would have predicted, right?) In those three wins, CLG looked like far more than a North American also-ran. They looked like the most cohesive and best-prepared team in their entire group.
Unfortunately, CLG threw those achievements away by dropping both of their games to Albus NoX Luna, enabling the scrappy wildcard team to climb out of the group in their place. CLG’s Jekyll-and-Hyde mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun was up to his usual tricks, making error after error in the ANX games and offseting whatever credit he earned by snowballing out of control on Aurelion Sol against the Tigers.
It’s hard to know what to make of CLG’s results. Taken as a whole, CLG performed about as well as expected, finishing third in their group but looking like they were in the hunt. They were able to beat teams they weren’t supposed to beat, but lost to a team that shouldn’t have threatened them. The takeaway for CLG should not be disappointment so much as frustration. Like TSM, success was right in front of them, but they were unable to close their hands and grasp it.
Quarterfinals, 3-0 loss to Samsung Galaxy
Cloud9 were the last North American team to qualify for Worlds, and the only ones to make the trip to Chicago to play in the quarterfinals. It was a respectable finish for a third seed, especially after Cloud9 were drawn into one of the more imposing groups alongside SK Telecom T1, the Flash Wolves and I May.
During group play, Cloud9 won where they were expected to win, taking down I May 2-0, and lost where they were expected to lose, going 0-2 against SKT. Splitting their series with the Flash Wolves 1-1 wasn't surprising either. Granted, it took Cloud9 70 minutes to win their first game against the LMS’s top seed, but unlike TSM and CLG, they finally found a way to get the job done.
Despite reaching the quarterfinals, Cloud9’s overall body of work was less convincing than their regional counterparts. Unlike CLG or TSM, Cloud9 failed to record a win over a Korean opponent, and their 0-3 drubbing against Samsung Galaxy was much less encouraging than TSM’s 1-1 group stage split against the same opponent. Ultimately, Cloud9 earned the same group stage win-loss record as TSM and CLG, but they budgeted their results more efficiently and had a more fortunate outcome.
With all of that in mind, Cloud9’s end result was right on target, fitting very closely with expectations. If they had finished third in their group, it may have been a mild letdown — depending on your opinion of the Flash Wolves — but a quarterfinals appearance was never out of reach.
When the results are tallied, North America had a much better showing in 2016 than in 2015. But they failed to reach the mark set in 2014, when both TSM and Cloud9 made it to the quarterfinals before dropping 3-1 sets to the Samsung sister teams.
NA LCS Results at World Championships
Group Stage Record
Teams in Bracket Stage
Bracket Stage Record
1 (C9 bye)
By simple results, then, 2016 was an unsuccessful year. However, taken in context, it was not a disaster. Cloud9 and CLG more or less met expectations, though they went about it in different ways. TSM missed their target, but they looked competitive in the process. When the chips were down, North America did not deliver, but at least they were in play.
It can’t be said that TSM or CLG were not good enough to reach the quarterfinals. NA was not out-classed. Both teams let themselves down with their inability to seal the deal and find the one extra win that would have pushed them over the top.
In the end, the North American experience at Worlds was one of disappointment and frustration, but it should not be one of discouragement. NA did not get blown out of the water; it did not look like its teams did not belong. They were on the verge of breaking through.
North America is growing stronger. Infrastructure, practice environments and the talent pool are developing, and with more and more funding flooding in via venture capital and big-budget ownership, time is on NA’s side. The record may not have made that clear this time around, but the narrow margins by which CLG and TSM missed out on advancement tell a more positive story, and give the region something to build on.
The only failure now would be to take a step backwards — to be disheartened by the near miss and lose motivation to do better next time. As a wise man once said: “If you have no faith, why are you guys even here?"
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.
A Place on the Map: Comparing Cloud9's Jensen and Royal's Xiaohu at Worlds
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games / 2016 World Championship
"If you want to prove yourself," Cloud9 mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen told Riot Games to kick off his second World Championship, "you have to beat Faker, and that’s what I’m going to do."
The hopeful mid laner’s aspirations were crushed almost instantly in his first game of the Group Stage, just shy of the six-minute mark when SK Telecom T1 jungler Bae "bengi" Seongwoong collapsed on an over-extended Jensen, granting Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok First Blood. What followed was a near-complete dismantling of Cloud9 from the mid lane, as Faker overtook the game; Jensen ended around 90 CS behind the World’s greatest mid laner, with a score line of 0/5/4.
Though Jensen spent most of the year improving and is regarded by many as having the best laning phase of LCS mid laners, he lacked the same impact in the Group Stage, and was unable to reliably gain laning leads against Faker and LMS star Huang "Maple" Yitang. In games where he did manage to secure a modest lead, he wasn't able to convert it into pressure.
Unlike Jensen, the tournament’s only Chinese mid laner, Li "Xiaohu" Yuanhao, has already had a strong showing against Faker, at the Mid-Season Invitational in May. Xiaohu’s first MSI match started with a mid lane gank orchestrated by himself and jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu. When Faker cockily remained in lane, Xiaohu went in to finish what he started on his own. As the match progressed, RNG's mid continued to wear the Korean superstar down, picking him off in side lanes with Leblanc flanks.
Yet, although Xiaohu said before Worlds that he wanted the world to see what Chinese mids are made of, his story in the Group Stage was eerily similar to Jensen's. "Underperforming" was a frequent refrain among critics. Despite their fundamentally different styles and storylines, both mids failed to supply much-needed pressure for their teams across the rest of the map. Jensen didn’t convert his leads well, and Xiaohu fell behind or lagged in roams when he tried to make a move, partly due to poor team coordination.
To an extent, however, both mids redeemed themselves in their quarterfinals appearances. Though their teams both bowed out in the Round of 8, the two had some of their best showings of the event. In dissecting their performances — even their best games — it’s easy to see how both of them fell short of meta expectations at Worlds.
Xiaohu's struggles have been different from Jensen's, because he now plays a much more secondary role on his team. Heading into the summer season, Xiaohu was a contender for the title of the LPL's top mid laner, but he flared out abruptly. By the time Royal qualified for the World Championship, he was regarded as a glaring weakness on the lineup. After the LPL final against EDward Gaming, Xiaohu himself said, "In my current state, I feel like, no matter which mid laner I face, I won't be a match for him."
When Xiaohu was at his peak at the MSI Group Stage, he roamed frequently in conjunction with Cho “Mata” Sehyeong and Mlxg. Royal’s frequent skirmishing presented opportunities for Xiaohu to thrive, as he looked for flanks and openings in fights. On Friday, in Royal’s Worlds quarterfinal against SKT, that side of Xiaohu peeked through again. He played Vladimir in fights like he did Lissandra earlier in the season, searching for engagement opportunities that maximized the number of enemies he could impact.
His play was notable in part because of how much of a departure it was from the Royal style that has evolved over the course of this summer. After MSI, they altered their winning formula, in part because of the addition of lane-dominant AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zihao. Royal became much more focused on the laning phase, with each lane attempting to brute-force independently across the map. This hasn't gone as well as it could have, and they have had trouble with early coordination across their lanes.
Xiaohu in particular isn't as comfortable in a laning-focused role, because he lacks proficiency in the 1v1 that other mids like Jensen have honed. Moreover, in locking Xiaohu down in his lane, Royal have neglected one of their most underrated core components from 2016 Spring — that is, Xiaohu and Mata’s chain-crowd control on engage picks. With Mata staying bottom more often, the team’s overall coordination has dropped significantly, making Xiaohu much more awkward.
Royal's weak early-game coordination looks a lot like what troubled Cloud9 in the Worlds Group Stage, and for much of the summer before that. The American team has long been focused on brute-force laning of just this sort. Jensen has never been a roamer — he remains an almost permanent fixture of his mid lane domain. His strength is his near impeccable 1v1 style: his ability to dodge skillshots and trade efficiently while he farms. He thrived in a "win lane, win game" environment, averaging a 2.5 CS lead in the regular season, 31.1 percent of his team’s damage, and 25.9 percent of team gold with relatively low coordination with his jungler — the highest percentage of his team's gold of any Worlds mid laner during his regular summer split. Cloud9's resource allocation also shows how central he has been to their strategy.
Yet Cloud9 have had a problem with fragmented laning for much of the year. Their lane swaps often featured an isolated Jung "Impact" Eonyeong falling behind in CS and experience because the team didn’t know how to reallocate pressure to support him. The removal of lane swaps made this problem less obvious, but it was still there.
In their quarterfinal against Samsung Galaxy, Jensen did what he normally does. Though he individually outperformed Samsung’s Lee "Crown" Minho, he almost never left the mid lane. He did not pop his trinket ward, though he would occasionally venture to place a pink ward near the mid lane, either by wraiths or in a river bush. He would take his blue buff, or join a dragon take with the dragon almost completed by his team, but in general, Jensen didn’t roam for ganks or change his lane assignment in the first 15 minutes of any of Cloud9's three games. He simply pushed out.
If his opponent left lane for some reason, instead of following him, Jensen would push for another wave of minions under the turret. This tradeoff could be risky, especially if his flanks weren’t warded. With such plays, teams with better mid-jungle synergy, like Samsung, suddenly had an opening to gank Jensen and set Cloud9 substantially back on their lead.
Moreover, Cloud9's side lanes suffered from a lack of pressure, both from jungle and mid. Something as simple as Jensen ducking into a river bush could have caused the enemy top and bottom lanes to play more reserved, for fear of him roaming to gank after he disappeared from the map. But Jensen almost never considered the option of giving up mid lane pressure to create opportunities for his side laners to make plays.
C9's lack of cross-lane synergy seems to have also reinforced Meteos’ power-farming style, rather than pushing him to better coordinate. Against Samsung, Meteos would venture towards a lane, gank without much setup from the laner, and either force the opponent laner back or waste time. This awkwardness allowed Samsung to quickly adapt their pressure and set up for objectives better. It wasn't Meteos that made himself a non-threat, but the fact that Cloud9 almost never coordinated with him, which also nullified any impact Jensen could have.
Royal had very similar problems with fragmented coordination across lanes, especially in the Group Stage, but Xiaohu’s more successful games highlighted the pressure he can bring (and hasn't for much of the summer). In RNG's first quarterfinals game against SKT, Xiaohu changed his lane assignment to allow his side lanes to continue to pressure strong matchups after SKT attempted a swap. He also roamed top lane for a game-winning flank on Vladimir.
It was when Xiaohu didn’t leave his lane, or was slower than Faker to react to possible plays, that disaster struck. In Games 2 and 3, Faker secured better pushing lane picks like Varus, so he could roam to the bottom lane more proactively than Xiaohu. In Game 4, Xiaohu had an impressive initial impact with a roaming Aurelion Sol, but a key top lane play was countered by Faker’s roam bottom when Xiaohu backed and returned mid to catch the wave. That was the moment when the game turned back in SKT’s favor, and RNG ultimately lost the series.
Xiaohu’s growing discomfort through the summer split seems to have been a result of Royal's transition to a lane matchup team like Cloud9. As the season progressed, their new, more isolated laning-focused style of play became a drain on Xiaohu, who, without the opportunity to coordinate with Mata and Mlxg to make plays, averaged the lowest percentage of team gold among mid laners in the LPL and started falling behind in CS more often.
Mlxg has started attempting to power-farm much more like Meteos, but his inefficient pathing reflects the same fundamental lack of communication between laners and jungler that Cloud9 suffers from. Both junglers have commented on the importance their teams place on winning lanes outright — Mlxg, in an interview after the Group Stage, explained that the team relies less on his roaming with Mata so that they can have stronger lanes to stand up to opponents. “The reason we decided to change our strategy is that we noticed a lot of teams are playing really strong bottom lanes, so they can have a lot of advantage in the lane,” he said. That sounded a lot like Meteos, who in his own post-Groups interview said, “Going into Worlds, stuff like Karma and Nami bot lane looked really really strong because, in scrims — bot lanes would just play full aggro all the time not caring about the rest of the map.”
Jensen is an obviously more comfortable laner than Xiaohu, and Cloud9 domestically gained a lot of advantages from his laning skill, but he still has much room for improvement. In an interview after their loss to SKT, he acknowledged that he has faults, but pointed out how far he has come since Worlds 2015. “In the beginning, I was just like — I wouldn't say brainless, but I would say I was just way too over-aggressive," he said. "It bit me sometimes, but I think I came out smarter and understood the game better on a macro level ... I'm still one of the best mechanical players, so I just need to become better in that aspect.”
Especially in the current Worlds meta, better macro understanding means being able to play around and with the jungler. Even though it looked like Samsung Galaxy won every lane at once, it wasn’t because Cloud9’s players were unskilled, but because they couldn't convert a lead in one lane to pressure on the other side of the map — either by Teleport use, deep vision, or a mid laner who roamed with lane control rather than relentlessly pushing turret.
Jensen had an exceptional individual summer, and Xiaohu a poor one, but their similar struggles with game impact and World Championship trajectories provide hope for both. They fell short in map positioning more than anything else, which is something they can fix with their teammates.
Maybe next year they’ll both return the better for it. And if Jensen wants another shot, it’s clear Faker isn’t going anywhere.