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Clement Chu's LMS Summer 2016 preview

by Clement Chu Jun 8 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Garena eSports

Welcome back to another split of the League Master Series! The biggest change to the LMS has been the forming of the Elite Challenger Series(ECS), which has introduced a place for teams to pit their trainees and built a more rigorous selection mechanism into the LMS. With CGE out and Team Mist in, no team is likely to have a sub-20 percent win rate this split, compared to other splits which featured at least one, or even multiple instances of such teams. Much like Kelsey Moser’s “Elements tier” in EU, CGE kind of deserves its own tier as a historical reminder, but at the same time I’m glad it doesn’t exist now. The league now feels like a gradual ramp into the top echelons rather than a steep drop-off from top-half to bottom-half.

The split gets started on June 9 at 7 a.m. EDT and 1 p.m. CEST. But before the action starts, these are the three tiers of teams currently:

Hold on to the Thighs”: Team Mist, XGamers, Midnight Sun

Thighs contain the femur, the strongest bone in the human body. In Taiwan, this saying also equates to holding on to the person doing most of the carrying. These three teams have one or two talents that keep the team standing, but lack the overall talent to go higher. M1ssion and CorGi for Midnight Sun, Rins for Team Mist and SuwaKo for XGamers are players to look out for. What I like about this split’s thigh huggers is that they all present enormous growth potential and will likely rise in coming splits. Many of the players not mentioned will grow into the stars of tomorrow, but for today, just hold on.

Playoff Playmates” J Team, Machi

These are the teams that will bully the previous tier and take games off of the tier ahead, but like the title suggests, they’re ultimately friends you won’t remember once you grow up and go to Worlds. J Team is the TPA of spring under a new owner, and they still look like a third-place team in the regular season. But it is hard to ignore their history of being miracle workers for their enemies split after split after split. Reverse swept by FW at IEM, missing playoffs by one game, upset by Machi. Faith requires change, and slapping on a shiny new logo doesn’t really count. Machi is more interesting, because their changes make sense on paper, but they’re headed down a rough road in the meta. Expect fun games and unlikely heroes, just don’t invest your heart in it.

Worlds Contenders”: ahq e-Sports Club, Flash Wolves, HongKong eSports

These are the teams I see as having a legitimate shot at representing the region at Worlds. To no one's surprise, I’ve put ahq and Flash Wolves here, but also included HongKong eSports. I want to explain my reasoning a bit here — while I think the overall strength of the team is notably weaker, they’ve historically had a good matchup versus the Flash Wolves. This is especially true of the bot lane of Raison and Olleh against NL and SwordArt. HKE swept the Wolves in last year’s playoffs 3-0 and went the full five in the qualifiers. The key here is whether Gear can refrain from feeding Maple, and whether the meta will give Dinter low mechanical champions to play, but I do see a possibility if the bracket allows it. Below are the teams, more in-depth based on the tiers.

Team Mist

Roster: Top: Rins // Jungle: Benny // Mid: K // ADC: Breeze // Sup: Rain // Sub: Zor

Flash Huskies swept COUGAR E-sports in the promotion tournament to gain a spot in the LMS. With Flash Wolves already in the league however, they were required to sell. The end result; Team Mist. Four members of the original team were kept, but crucially Flash Wolves retained star jungler Betty. Rins(FW top laner) and K(Gash Bear mid laner) also join as veterans. In many senses, this is a version of Flash Wolves light. From players to coaching, everyone aside from K were members from the Flash Wolves organization. Team Mist is owned by Gama Tuning, a Lamborghini retailer. As they are relatively new to esports, it is safe to say they will be taking many cues from Wanin as they grow their own team.

Betty was the main star of the Husky team, reaching sixth on the Korean ladder and dominating the enemy jungle during promotions. With his absence, the key players to watch will be the more veteran members. Rins shined on split pushers like triforce Trundle and Fiora on Flash Wolves, and this may be his meta once more. K was known as an aggressive mid lane player with talent, but never had the team around him to succeed. Overall, I see this roster having a rocky start as they transition away from being a Flash Wolves B team and look to set up their own structure, but has the talent pool and the Flash Wolves model to rise to the top of this tier.

Midnight Sun

Roster: Top: Ninuo // Jungle: Wulala // Mid: M1ssion // ADC: CorGi // Sup: Kaiwing, SkuLL

Midnight Sun returns with the same roster and roughly the same expectations. Their greatest strength is their high pressure laning duo in CorGi and Kaiwing. Together they hold an 7.8 CSD at 10, highest in the league for bot lanes. However, their weaknesses also tend to nullify their strengths. M1ssion’s most successful champions tend to require scaling(Kassadin, Viktor), while Ninuo has the lowest GD at 20 of any player not playing for CGE. So despite having the highest positive bot lane, MSE as a whole has came out of the laning phase with one of the worst gold differentials at 20 minutes.

If they can give up less in their top and mid, these lynxes actually have a good teamfight come mid-game. M1ssion’s teleports and damage output are very underrated in my eyes, while CorGi has always been a noteworthy teamfighter. Macro wise, they’re also considered to be stronger than third-place Machi. I’m looking for more aggression to snowball bot from jungler Wulala, and a bit more care from Ninuo. Final verdict: this team has a clear path for improvement and the personnel to do so, but looking at the other teams they feel outpaced in improvements. We will likely see them play in relegations.

XGamers

Roster: Top: Nexus // Jungle: Yo // Mid: SuwaKo // ADC: LBB // Sup: Suki

XGamers looked sharper and more in-control during the promotional tournament against Taipei Berzerkers, winning their way back into the LMS in four games. A promising young team that started the spring split on a five-game win streak, but latter fell all the way back to relegations, XGamers was a team that felt figured out. “Camp Suwako” was a favorite destination for many junglers, and as the meta shifted to carries, Yo’s pool was unable to dislodge campers.

The key thing this team is looking for is continued growth from their star players in SuwaKo. He needs to learn to play within the boundaries of Yo’s protection and Yo needs to act more like Bengi to facilitate his midlaner’s aggression. Suki will also be taking on more of a shotcalling role to allow Yo more reaction time to his immediate surroundings on the rift. Overall though, this is a team that looks like it will be hitting their stride with a Cinderhulk jungler for Yo and mages for SuwaKo.

Machi

Roster: Top: BoBo, Vayn3z // Jungle: Taizan // Mid: Apex // ADC: Dee, Breaker // Sup: Dreamer

Machi has been my favorite team to watch in the past split. They’re disjointed and frustratingly bad when it comes to map play. But they’re the team in the LMS that will most likely do the unconventional. Malzahar mid, Kayle top, or just flat out copying the draft from TPA to upset them. “We know they’re terrible at engaging, so we just took their poke comp,” said Dreamer in the postgame interview. It’s the simplistic but brutal answers that characterize this team. Get kills in lane, hard engage, win the game off massive battles. It’s the Machi way.

This time around, though, the meta seems to be against them. Dreamer is the main engage on the roster and they don’t look like the same team with him on ranged supports. Taizan, who had a small pool to begin with, now sees his Kindred gutted in the coming patches. They really need some boost out of newcomers Vayn3z(previously known as Lat) and Breaker to remain in playoff contention.Both are multi-role players, and could be used to buff Dee’s lack of damage in teamfights. As of now though, I’d place them fifth.

J Team

Roster: Top: Morning, RLun // Jungle: REFRA1N // Mid: FoFo // ADC: BeBe // Sup: Jay

Previously known as the Taipei Assassins, J Team has retained the entirety of the old roster alongside with Coach Sim. Owned by Asian mega-popstar Jay Chou, the organization has shown strong commitment to the esports scene by signing dozens of streamers and professional gamers from different titles. What should have been a showcase of good investment sense for the popstar turned to sour however as Machi upset the Assassins in playoffs. TPA has always been a great regular season team, but with poor big stage performances. Morning and Jay have long been touted by teams as monsters in scrims, and then gone on to perform considerably worse under pressure.

J Team is still a reasonably safe bet for playoffs, but once again I find it hard to see them gaining a Worlds ticket. Thier laners individually are all of a high caliber, which makes falling behind difficult. Morning and FoFo lead CSD at 10s in their position and BeBe being the CSPM king. But the team overall is aging (essentially the same team from S4 Worlds) and lacks enough changes to warrant much faith. In the new season, they are looking for Rookie of the Split FoFo to inject more aggression, and ask for his best champions during playoffs. As for the other members, one can only hope that they will feel liberated from the expectations that followed the World Championship team and be born anew under the J banner.

Hong Kong Esports

Roster: Top: XiaoLiang, Maplesnow // Jungle: Dinter // Mid: MarS, Gear // ADC: Raison // Sup: Olleh

The return of Raison is probably the most anticipated storyline of the split. Unanimously voted as the Rookie of the Split in 2015 summer, HKE’s second Korean import tore through enemy bot lanes with dexterous maneuvering. He is one of the few marksmen that live on the razor's edge, fighting in the frontlines while still managing to dance around skill shots. Raison’s rookie split was almost too good from an inexperienced player, and it would soon be revealed why he never pursued progaming in Korea. Mounting verbal abuse reports lead to an inquiry which uncovered Raison as a serious elo-boosting offender in Korea, and he was therefore issued a cross-region ban from Riot.

With Raison back in the lineup alongside Olleh, HKE arguably has the best bot lane in the LMS. If the past is to be considered, Raison places HKE one good carry away from contesting top two. Toyz, though hinting at being active once more, is not likely to rejoin. Rokenia now plays in the LJL, and Chillyz is no longer on the roster. Gear was the top ranked player on the TW servers in Season 5, and has some LSPL experience. Overall though, we’re not quite sure what he will look like in competitive. The HKE organization however, is confident enough with his addition. “We’ve upgraded the Mid and Bot lane” says manager XiaoMi when asked about the goals of the split, “In my estimations, we’re sitting at second peeking in at first.”

ahq e-Sports Club

Roster: Top: Ziv // Jungle: Mountain // Mid: Chawy, Westdoor // ADC: AN, RD // Sup: Albis

The ahq dynasty met an untimely end, massacred by the Wolves in the Spring Finals 3-0. The problem was, ahq had simply been winning too long, enjoying a 90 percent win rate for the past year domestically. In the end ahq showed up under prepared and lackluster. After the defeat, many promises were made from coaching staff — a tighter leash on players, roster rotations based on solo queue standings, fines for tardiness etc.

This split for ahq is about locking down their six-man roster for international competition.The two key positions they need to shore up are marksman and jungle. Both AN and Mountain would be ineligible to play in the LMS due to their solo rank dropping below the required Diamond III, and they’re the ones that need to be pressured more by a back-up. RD is in the ranks already for ADC and with Baybay having no appearances on IM so far in the LPL, there could be a possibility of them taking the jungler back. Westdoor/Chawy mid is also still nagging on the sides. I expect them to show up ready for the split, and they’ll at the very least take second with their teamfighting, but it will take management to solve this puzzle in order to compete at Worlds.

Flash Wolves

Roster: Top: MMD // Jungle: Karsa // Mid: Maple // ADC: NL // Sup: SwordArt

This offseason for the Wolves feels like unfinished business as they currently have only five players. This is likely due to coming home from MSI late and the sale of the Flash Huskies. The Wolves have always worked with substitute marksmen in previous seasons and I expect them to once again take in new blood behind NL. With Karsa displaying interest in playing abroad, they might also try out Betty once he turns 17.

Flash Wolves, taken from their current MSI form, will likely be a quarter finalist at Worlds once more. Without serious reforms from ahq I also see them as the top team in LMS. But they should be aiming higher. They got the job done at MSI, securing a first seed for the region, but it also revealed numerous hurdles for them on the international stage. While they possessed the macro game to make Deficio proud, and the micro to out-skirmish SKT, they were unable to take these traits to the extremes of the likes of CLG and RNG.

As coach Steak puts it in an interview after MSI, “We need to find a more defined style.” What works in the LMS may not always work at Worlds, and the Wolves need to tailor their play to the maximum potential of the meta rather than the opposition they face in the LMS. I want to see them explore more compositions and try to find more workarounds to weaknesses, rather than just putting NL on Ezreal for half the split.

Clement Chu is a Garena LMS caster. You can follow him on Twitter.

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