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Meet the Challengers: NA

by theScore Staff Aug 4 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Four teams and three LCS spots potentially up for grabs. The Challengers are decided, the matches are set. All that’s left is to play them out.

At least one of the four Challenger teams in the playoffs will be auto-promoted to the LCS, while two more will face Team 8 and Enemy eSports for a shot at a spot of their own.

But if you’re not familiar with the Challenger teams you might soon be watching in the LCS, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

Cloud9 Tempest

Top: Colin “Solo” Earnest

Jungle: Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev

Mid: David “Yusui” Bloomquist

ADC: Benjamin “LOD” deMunck

Support: Jamie “Sheep” Gallagher

Seed: Fourth (5-5)

First Round: vs. Team Coast

It’s certainly been a rough road for Cloud9 Tempest, but in this case, perseverance pays off. They've had to fight through plenty of problems, but after nearly eight months of trying they have finally earned their shot at a potential LCS spot.

The team’s issues started shortly after the roster formed, when it was discovered that they had used a ringer in their qualifier matches for the Spring Challenger Series. One ban later and C9T was forced to sit out the Spring season. Retooling their roster by bringing on veteran LCS support Jamie “Sheep” Gallagher, C9T once again qualified for the Summer CS. However, they had to do so without mid laner David “Yusui” Bloomquist, who was suspended for four weeks for buying botted accounts. It took until Week 2 of the Summer Challenger Series for them to play a competitive season match together.

All of which is to say that after fighting hard to earn their spot, it’s a shame that C9T is still a long shot.

But let’s start with positives. All five of C9T's players are very skilled, especially as individual laners. They were brought together as top solo queue talents, and it shows. As a top laner, Colin “Solo” Earnest has the rare ability to get involved early and often as he boasts the highest kill participation for a top laner at 71%. Sheep brings some much needed veteran experience to the team, while Anothy “Hard” Barkhovtsev, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck and Yusui are all up-and-comers who need an opportunity to shine. But while the team is made up of great pieces, they don’t yet quite fit together as a whole.

At its core, Cloud9 Tempest is still a developing team. Although they have shown flashes of brilliance, they are still plagued by poor decision making and indecisive play.

They’ve been a much more cohesive unit since moving into a team house together, but it might be too little too late to topple the dominant Team Coast, let alone compete against an LCS team. Should Cloud9 Tempest continue to receive the sort of attention they need, I see no reason why they couldn’t become an LCS team come Spring 2016 (or perhaps even sooner). You might even see one or two of their players receive offseason LCS offers.

Team Coast

Top: Cristian “Cris” Rosales

Jungle: Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon

Mid: Isaac “Pekin Woof” Marconis

ADC: Brandon “Mash” Phan

Support: Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon

Seed: 1st (8-2)

First Round: vs Cloud9 Tempest

Forget what you know about Team Coast. The team that went 1-17 in the Spring Split is no more.

Cruising to an 8-2 record in the Summer Season and beating the Renegades in a tie-breaker match to claim first seed overall, Coast is a strong favorite for to be promoted to the LCS.

Coast’s revival is largely thanks to the man who has a little name but plays big. Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon was a complete unknown prior to moving to North America from South Korea, but his name has already become synonymous with dominant victories.

Comparable to Gravity’s own import Kang “Move” Min-su, Shrimp gets his team ahead through a high-farm, high control style that slowly crushes the life out of his enemies with relentless counter-jungling.

It’s not pretty and it’s not flashy, but when it works it works well.

As a team, Coast control nearly 60% of the total jungle farm and that’s mostly due to Shrimp’s efforts. He also leads all junglers in kill participation (82.4%) and CSD@10 (4.8), and has the highest GD@10 of all junglers with more than two games played (255.8).

Helmed by the experience of LCS veterans Cristian “Cris” Rosales and Brandon “Mash” Phan, Coast combines the minor advantages earned through smart map movement and vision into overwhelming team fights and ultimately suffocating wins. Credit also goes to coach Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco for taking what could have been a rough roster rebuild and turning them into one of the Challenger scene's top strategical teams.

Even on paper Coast are impressive as they boast a ridiculous 91% First Blood rate to go along with a 2.39 team KDA. Their strong focus on objective and vision control is reflected in their starts, and they lead all teams in Wards Placed Per Minute (3.6), Dragons Per Game (3.9), First Dragon (73%) and First Baron (81%).

The biggest question mark for Coast is mid laner Isaac “Pekin Woof” Marconis. Although he has been poking at the fringe of the LCS for some time, Pekin Woof has yet to distinguish himself as a top talent and needs to step up if he is to have any hope of going toe-to-toe against world-class players should Coast’s LCS bid be successful. He’s actually the only member of Coast with negative Gold@10 and CSD@10, has the second lowest average kill participation (58.3%) and contributes the lowest damage % of all CS mid laners (29.3%). Thankfully for Coast, he still plays his role well despite receiving the lowest amount of gold of all mid laners, and his team hasn’t needed him to do anything more than he already has in order to win.

The main knock against Coast is that they can be one-dimensional. So far they've only played one style and one style only, and any shift in that plan could create serious difficulties. If Coast are unable to grind out minor advantages over the course of the early game, they can quickly fall apart. That being said, that one style is polished to a mirror shine, and their core players are certainly experienced or otherwise talented enough to grow further if given the chance. The LCS is the perfect next step for this squad.

Keep an eye on Coast, if for nothing else than to see a potential superstar jungler emerge right before your eyes.

Renegades

Top: Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuzuita

Jungle: Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo

Mid: Alex “AlexIch” Ichetovkin

ADC: Karim “Jébus” Tokhi

Support: Maria “Remilia” Creveling

Sub/ADC: Ainslie “Maplestreet” Wyllie

Seed: Second (8-2)

First Round: vs Team Imagine

Misfits no more - Renegades fit in right alongside Coast at the top of the Challenger table.

Brainchild of LCS veterans Alex “AlexIch” Ichetovkin and Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo, Renegades is a team which gathered solo-queue and Challenger talent to complement the leadership of their ex-LCS players. True to their name, most of the team are maligned ex-stars, crowd favorites who have never found a home or talented solo-queue outcasts.

In game, Renegades are head-and-shoulders above just about every other team in Challenger, with the exception of rivals Team Coast. Their early game is very strong thanks to the individual skill at all positions, and they have an impressive 1,259 average gold advantage at 15 minutes. While they have shown some signs of weakness after a nearly flawless 6-0 start to the season, it’s hard to argue that Renegades aren't a top contender heading into the playoffs and possibly towards the LCS.

AlexIch has been playing up to expectations, dealing a ridiculous 38.8% of his teams’ damage and leading all mid laners with 43 kills in 11 games. He’s involved in almost everything Renegades does, with 66.8% average kill participation (most among mid laners with more than four games played). The other LCS veteran, Crumbzz, has also put his Dignitas struggles behind him and boasts a solid 5.5 KDA, all while leading all junglers in vision stats (wards placed and wards cleared).

A point of weakness statistically for Renegades might be their bottom lane. Despite receiving 26% of his team’s overall gold, Karim “Jébus” Tokhi deals the lowest percent of damage of all active ADCs in the league (21.8%). Ainslie “Maplestreet” Wyllie is right behind him at 20.7%. Jébus plays well and is a promising young up-and-comer, but the team relies very heavily on Alex and Crumbzz to make things happen.

Statistics aside, Renegades might be the most LCS ready team of the bunch. They have a great balance of strategic knowledge, experience, raw talent and drive to win. If there’s one thing holding the Renegades back from true greatness, it would be themselves. They can get a little cocky and underestimate their opponents, and their players have a reputation for being highly emotional in both a positive and a negative sense, feeding off of momentum to become an unstoppable force if things are going well or slipping into bad habits and frustration in times of difficulty.

The stability of the roster may also become an issue in the long term given the more volatile nature of the players. Former team owner Chris Bawadi has already been banned by Riot until the 2017 season for attempting to poach LCS players, not to mention the fact that the AD Carry position has been a revolving door since the team’s creation. Thing seemed to have settled down in the Renegades’ camp with Jébus’ visa issues finally being sorted out, but given the team’s history it’s still a concern.

So yes, the Renegades are a gamble in many respects. Personality issues, roster changes and difficulty with the mental aspect of the game have all been a factor and yet despite all of that, they find ways to win. On an individual basis, their players have what it takes and the results speak for themselves: third overall on the Challenger ladder, a successful run through the bracket to qualify for the Challenger Series and an 8-2 Summer season.

When they show up to play, Renegades are the real deal. But if they underestimate their opponents and allow themselves to tilt, it could be a rough road. Either way, believe in RNG, because they're almost certainly a shoo-in for Top 2.

Team Imagine

Top: Joshua “Chunkyfresh” Kesrawani

Jungle: Galen “Moon” Holgate

Mid: Zachary “mancloud” Hoschar

ADC: Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi

Support:Terry “Baby” Chuong

Seed: 3rd (6-4)

First Round: vs Renegades

Another team with more than their fair share of roster issues, Team Imagine is the definition of a dark horse. But in a rare case of good fortune, Imagine’s roster swaps have actually helped rather than harm their efforts as they head into the playoffs as the third seed.

LCS fans will recognize a number of names on Imagine's roster. First and foremost of which is AD Carry Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi, who came over to North America following his removal from Fnatic after the Mid-Season Invitational. In fact, other than jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate, every single one of Imagine’s players has experience playing either in the Promotion Tournament or on the LCS stage.

Overall, the new Team Imagine are a motley collection of players that are weaker strategically but team fight like the seasoned pros they are. Relying on the mechanical ability of Steeelback and Zachary "mancloud" Hoschar to come out on top in skirmishes, and leaning on Joshua "Chunkyfresh" Kesrawani as their main initiator and tank, Imagine have shown surprising growth over the past few weeks.

Since completely retooling their team in Week 4, Imagine are 4-2 with clean series victories over C9T and Winterfox. Unfortunately for the surging squad, their late-season push has put them on a collision course with Renegades in the first round of the playoffs (Renegades are the only team they have lost to after the roster update).

Unlike most other teams in this meta, Imagine are a highly ADC-centric team, with Steeelback receiving not only the lion's share of the team's gold, but also dealing by far the most damage of any ADC (31% of his team’s damage). He also has almost double the DPM of most other ADCs in the league at 609. Like on Fnatic, Imagine rely on Steeelback to play safely, farm up, and then clean up fights after the rest of his team initiates. As a result, Chunkyfresh and mancloud are both on the lower end of damage percentage for their positions and are often behind in terms of gold early into the game.

Simply put, Imagine are weaker in lane but make strong pushes in the mid game when they can group up and win skirmishes. Moon has shown tremendous talent as a playmaker, Chunkyfresh’s signature Sion pick works perfectly into the team’s strategy, and Steeelback’s positioning in team fights is still top-notch. If they can improve their early game and strategical play to complement their already solid team fighting, the ceiling for Team Imagine is very high.

But sadly, just like C9T, I don’t think this is the time for Team Imagine. They’ve only had two weeks of competitive play together and they’re staring down the dominant Renegades and Team Coast on their way to a shot at the LCS.

If they stick together and practice, Team Imagine could be a force to reckoned come next year.

Right now they’re definitely promising, but still underdogs and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Stats compiled in this article were courtesy of oracleselixir.com.

Nic Doucet is a News Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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