When Delta Fox, Echo Fox’s challenger team, revealed their summer split 2017 roster including the likes of Marcus “Dyrus” Hill, William “Scarra” Li, Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana, Danny “Shiphtur” Le, Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani, and, of course, Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman as their Head Analyst/Coach/Master Strategist, I had to double check my calendar just to make sure it wasn’t a late April Fool’s joke. If a couple years back you had told me that a bunch of ex-pros turned streamers were coming out of retirement to play professionally again, I would have called you crazy. It sounded like an impossible dream. However, it’s now a reality.
My initial reaction was full of hype. After watching all these streamers for so long, seeing them return to the big stage (maybe more like a medium sized stage) was bound to be exciting. But a question still stood after the dust settled. Why would Echo Fox put their Challenger Series spot on the line considering that their team could perform poorly?
The new order
Big changes are coming to the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) next year. An article on the LoL Esports web page highlights three major areas of focus to be taken into consideration for the 2018 season. The one that gives the most insight on Echo Fox’s decision to field this streamer roster refers to the modifications affecting the league structure. In short, the NA LCS will be moving towards a franchising system. What this means is that teams will now hold a permanent slot in the league and, unless they pull a Team Liquid for an incredibly long amount of time, cannot be relegated.
Riot Games will decide which teams acquire said spots through an application process where they intend to find the best candidates for a long term, sustainable partnership, while identifying organizations that place the interests of pro players first. The article includes a set of questions that serve as indicators of what a long term partner would be like, but for all we know they could just select the teams with the most Twitter followers and the deepest pockets.
In addition to that, the Challenger Series (CS) is being completely transformed. No longer will it be a place for new orgs to construct veteran rosters with the hopes of securing that sweet, sweet LCS spot. Instead it will be turning into an academy league, meant to scout out NA talent and help it grow. Each team in the NA LCS must have an academy team and fully support it.
With this in mind, Echo Fox’s selection of players for their CS team doesn’t seem so bold after all. The organization’s management is betting on the fact that they will most likely get selected by Riot Games to be a permanent part of the NA LCS. Their stream meme dream team is an incredibly smart publicity stunt that promises to benefit Echo Fox greatly. They get to grow their team brand and attract more fans, all while making little to no investment.
The same content
With the removal of promotion/relegation, the Challenger Series faces its last split of existence. A few changes have also made their way into the NA CS with the intention of elevating the competitive experience for pros. Series are now played in a Best of 3 format over two days instead of a point based Best of 2 format. In addition to that, adjustments to the broadcast schedule and VODs have been implemented.
Due to the nature of the NA CS and its lower viewership numbers, Riot broadcasts significantly less games. The change of format had a minimal effect on the total amount of games to be livestreamed in any given week. However, it did reduce the variety of teams you could watch on the day. This was done to avoid showing an incomplete series. Under any other circumstances, most people wouldn’t care about these changes. Nevertheless, the growing interest in a certain dream team had fans demanding that more of Delta Fox’s games were streamed.
Producing a quality broadcast for the Challenger Series is certainly no easy task and the idea of livestreaming every single series is ludicrous. Even if Riot Games isn’t a small understaffed indie company, events like these take time and money to coordinate, resources that would be better allocated to the NA LCS. Yet, this new schedule would make it so only one of Delta Fox’s series out of the ten played would be streamed. This would never satisfy the fans and, thankfully, after a couple of weeks of competition, it was announced that more of Delta Fox’s games would be broadcast, though they wouldn’t be live.
Another minor inconvenience that originated from these changes was the retirement of NA CS VODs. Alternatively, Riot is providing the teams with said VODs and working in conjunction with them to help them produce content. This profits the teams and specially the streamers allowing them to make highlight reels and upload them to platforms like YouTube. Taking away access to complete VODs only affects a miniscule part of the fan base, but having the best of both worlds wouldn’t hurt.
The old guard
Clearly all the players on the roster are veterans of competitive League of Legends. Some of these guys were around even before the LCS was created. First up, let’s talk about Dyrus, who is, without a doubt, the most decorated member of the squad. During his career, he secured three NA LCS championships under the Team SoloMid banner and was one of the few players to attend every single World Championship up to his retirement in 2015. Furthermore, he was the victim of countless top lane dives to the point where they made a meme out of it.
Imaqtpie, Scarra, Shiphtur and Voyboy were all once members of Team Dignitas, although not at the same time. Imaqtpie and Scarra both participated in the Season 2 World Championship but obtained very poor results. Imaqtpie is better known nowadays for being the most popular League of Legends streamer on Twitch and the self proclaimed best AD Carry in North America. After Dignitas, Scarra coached Counter Logic Gaming for a while and to this day still makes some appearances on the NA LCS analyst desk.
Shiphtur was a part of Team Coast prior to playing as mid laner for Team Dignitas. In 2016, Dignitas was relegated and Shiphtur didn’t find a starting position on any team for the following split. Voyboy was notorious for his time on Team Curse with unconventional picks like Akali and Yasuo. He was also extremely close to qualifying for the Season 4 World Championship but was unable to do so after getting reverse swept by LMQ. Just like the rest of Delta Fox, he’s a full time streamer and content creator.
Last and definitely not least, Mark Zimmerman supports the squad as their head analyst and coach. Previously he worked with Team Liquid to then move on to be a part of the NA LCS analyst desk. The official LoL Esports web page list a couple more players as subs, such as a once Mid Season Invitational finalist, but I’d take that information with a grain of salt. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see them play.
The last word
The Delta Fox squad definitely had potential to perform well in the Challenger Series. Maybe even make it to playoffs. In spite of that, it’s safe to say that the expectations of them going into the split were unreasonably high. Even the official announcement made it sound like the team was going to completely smash the competition. And don’t get me started on the amount of times Imaqtpie said on stream that he would demolish everyone if he came back to play professionally. However, the results they’ve obtained are far from that. Very far.
Delta Fox went into the last week of the NA CS with a 0-8 series record. That’s right, they’ve not been able to win a single series and their total game record sits at 1-16. The majority of their games are a mixed bag. In some of them, they get early leads but fail to grow them further and end up throwing at the later stages of the game. In others, they simply get stomped and their enemies close out the game in under 30 minutes. Their only game win came from a spectacular performance from the bot lane. Through Shiphtur’s playmaking on Bard, Imaqtpie got extremely fed and was able to carry the game against eUnited. Unfortunately, the series still ended in a loss due to some questionable decisions in the following games, like role-swapping Scarra to support and Shiphtur to jungle.
Speaking of which, did I mention that Delta Fox has three mid laners? Voyboy, Shiphtur and Scarra all main mid lane, whilst Dyrus and Imaqtpie main top and ADC respectively. This situation drew tons of criticism and flame from fans, as Scarra and Shiphtur would have to play off roles. In every post game thread, you didn’t have to look too far to find a comment suggesting the squad should alter their role assignment. To the team’s credit, learning a totally different role and attempting to play it at the highest level is more complicated than it seems, especially when your competition knows the ins and outs of the very role you’re trying to learn.
It’s not just playing an off role that put Delta Fox at a disadvantage. The teams they’re playing against are better prepared in almost every way by comparison. Other teams live in gaming houses were they dedicate most of their time to VODs reviews, scrimming, developing strategies and, of course, playing Solo Queue, whereas Delta Fox’s preparation was never really optimal. Furthermore, by watching the highlight reels with in-game comms, you could tell the team was rarely on the same page when trying to make plays.
In addition to that, MarkZ is the sole staff member of Delta Fox. His job would usually be handled by multiple people, but for Delta Fox he has to be the coach, analyst, master strategist, moral supporter, and everything in between. Now I’m not trying to excuse their poor performance, but from the get go, this team was fighting an uphill battle that no amount of Solo Queue practice would ease. Even when they tried to practice in Flex Queue, their opponents were severely underskilled.
Another situation that felt like a wasted opportunity was Delta Fox merchandise and, in general, content. Echo Fox offered their default jersey with the streamers’ names printable on the back. However, that didn’t feel like it was enough. I honestly expected Delta Fox bracelets, mousepads, posters, graphic tees, plushies, cleaning supplies. A team up as big as this doesn’t happen everyday, but it didn’t seem like Echo Fox wanted to capitalize on it. Also, announcing the pre orders for the Delta Fox jerseys right after the team had lost multiple series probably wasn’t a smart marketing move. And don’t get me wrong, I love game highlights as much as the next guy, but the video content produced by the team, including the weekly vlogs that were exclusively posted on Echo Fox’s Facebook page, felt lacking.
I’m disappointed that Delta Fox turned out the way it did. It was an impossible dream turned reality, but some dreams are better when they stay that way. Yet I’m grateful for the opportunity of being able to see these washed up ex-semi pros play again, even if they’ll probably finish 0-10 (Never forget, NA at Worlds 2015). As Delta Fox prepares for their last games of the season, I just hope it’s not the last we see of this Stream Dream Meme Team.