Mix and Match

The off-season and roster swaps

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The off-season. That extraordinary part of the year in the League of Legends competitive scene where a Twitter follow means a player is bound to join another team, and a sarcastic Twitch comment from a retired pro signifies that he’ll be replacing your favorite ADC.

Some predictions are more educated than others, citing well-known (or vague) sources to back up their statements. Nevertheless, most unconfirmed roster swaps spawn from fans trying to piece together information, crafting possible theories. Doublelift just retired and FORG1VEN is taking offers from other regions? Well, now we know who TSM’s new ADC will be.

However fun it may be to put on a tin foil hat and start pondering what the 2017 LoL Esports scene is going to bring, there is always a list of confirmed, probable, possible and unlikely  things that can happen.

The Confirmed

Let’s start off with what has been formally confirmed by either players or teams. Easily a dozen players have announced free agencies, which basically means they aren’t under contract and are open to offers. The list includes names like FORG1VEN, Wunder, Sencux, Power Of Evil and Freeze from Europe, and Gate, Brandini and BIG from North America. Two other notable players that have left their former team are sOAZ and Amazing from Origen. These players could end up in anywhere, so until an official statement is made it’s hard to say who they will play with next split, if at all.

Over on the other side of the world in China’s LPL, Edward Gaming lost their AD Carry Deft and mid laner paWn, Mata left Royal Never Give Up and Dade departed from Newbee. These were the most talented players in the 2014 season and, to this day, hold up rather well against their competitors. With Deft and Mata expressing their desire to go back to Korea to compete, the LCK is going to get very interesting in 2017.

Speaking of the LCK, Arrow and Hachani, KT Rolster’s bot lane, have left the team. Finding a proper replacement doesn’t seem hard, as two top tier korean players just left China. In other news, ROX Tigers has allowed their players and coaches to take offers from other teams, with the exception of Smeb and Peanut, who weren’t mentioned.

With all the players who are known free agents out of the way, we can take a look at who’s already signed, or renewed, with a team. First up are Jankos and Odoamne, who both renewed their contracts with Europe’s H2K, as well as Trashy and YamatoCannon stating that they will remain with Splyce. Former ROCCAT AD Carry, Steelback, will now be playing for Vitality. G2 Esports and Unicorns of Love renewed contracts with all their players, which means that their rosters will most likely remained unchanged for the spring split.

In the NA LCS, the Immortals’ roster is suffering some big changes. Their star jungler Reignover has officially left the team and their support Adrian signed with Phoenix1. Team Liquid also parted ways with their jungler, Dardoch, more or less confirming the reports of Reignover moving to TL.

Regarding changes to teams, Apex was bought by the Philadelphia 76ers and merged with Team Dignitas. Also, the Cloud 9 Challenger team has yet to announce who they will sell their LCS spot to. The Challenger scene is also showing some promise and growth. In the EUCS, Schalke 04 and Paris Saint-Germain are going all in. The PSG even hired Fnatic’s former support player who retired from pro playYellOwStaR, as their new head of Esports. Two times NA LCS Champion, Counter Logic Gaming, is also looking to form a Challenger squad. Furthermore, YouTube and Twitch personality Trick2g has announced a new team, Team Gates, that will be competing in the NACS Qualifiers.  

The Probable, the Possible and the Unlikely

Unlike confirmed statements, these next ones are based purely on speculation and hazy facts. While some could be seen as credible and seem quite possible, others will come of as just flatout unreal. To start, let’s look at what can realistically happen next year. With ROX Tigers openly discussing their future plans, it’s a possibility that they disband or at least lose most of their players. On the other hand, KT Rolster could pick up both Deft and Mata, which would propel them to be one of the best teams in the LCK.

For the EU LCS, the only accurate prediction that can be made is that both Fnactic and Origen will rebuild, or mostly rebuild, their rosters from the ground up. After such a disappointing performance in the last splits, these two teams have their work cut out for them. As for NA, Dardoch will most likely join Echo FOX. He was previously set to join the team, but due to Riot’s regulations the deal was cancelled.

Apart from what’s been confirmed, nothing is true until proven so. Will Faker finally take that sweet retirement money and go play in China? Who knows. Will kkoma switch teams to prove his coaching prowess? Maybe. Is imaqtpie going to come out of retirement to be TSM’s new ADC? Probably not. Will anyone other than Korea win Worlds? Doubtful. Will fans continue to string together theories after X player follows Y team on social media? Most definitely. But the most important question that is yet to be answered is: Will the 2017 LoL Esports season reach a new height of competetition and create compelling storylines involving players and teams that will most certainly increase the fans’ viewing experience? We’ll have to wait and see.

Burnout or Paradise?

Evaluating the pros and cons of a pro player’s dedication

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Most star players don’t come out of the blue. It takes years of hard work, dedication, and even sometimes a bit of luck to build up a reputation. Even then, it can become incredibly hard to create and keep a fanbase. One slip up and it all comes crashing down. For Team SoloMid’s former AD Carry, Yiliang Peter Doublelift Peng, the path to stardom has been full of ups and downs.

Double what? Doublelift

Maybe you’ve been a Doublelift fan since his debut in 2011 or maybe you’ve never even heard of him up until reading this article, but the first time he showed up on the map for a lot of people was back in 2015 when he, as a part of Counter Logic Gaming, won the North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split.

Following almost four years of not being able to secure a single championship and finally doing it flawlessly against defending champions, Team SoloMid, was an overwhelming achievement for Counter Logic Gaming. This victory also ensured that CLG would participate in the upcoming League of Legends World Championship, as North America’s first seed. However, regardless of how dominant CLG looked domestically, the World Championship is a completely different beast. During the second week of said tournament, no north american team was able to win a single game, establishing a 0-10 record that would forever haunt the region. For CLG, a great victory was followed  by an even greater defeat.

If you fall, stand back up

Once the conclusion of the World Championship gave way to the off season (the period of time in a season were no major tournaments are held), roster changes started to take place. The most surprising one was, without a doubt, that Doublelift would no longer be on Counter Logic Gaming and would rather start as the new AD Carry of Team SoloMid. These two organizations were know to be enemies, so naturally fans were outraged and shocked when CLG let their star player go to their #1 rival. Yet for both orgs, this would be the best decision they’d taken in the off season.

As the 2016 Spring split was approaching, the Team SoloMid roster was looking incredibly strong. Additions like SK Gaming’s star jungler Dennis Svenskeren Johnsen, ex-top laner for Gravity Gaming Kevin Hauntzer Yarnell, and EU LCS veteran Bora YellOwStaR Kim made TSM look like an unstoppable force. However, the team was off to a slow start and placed 6th with a 9-9 record. Many fans thought that TSM would not be able to make it through the playoffs, but to everyone’s surprise, they were able to dominate the competition and advance to the finals.

The match for the championship title was a repeat of last split’s. It was defending champion Counter Logic Gaming versus Team SoloMid, just that this time Doublelift was playing on the opposite team. After five exciting games, it all came down to one last team fight. For the final game, CLG drafted around their rookie ADC, Trevor Stixxay Hayes’ pocket pick, Tristana with Guinsoo’s Rageblade. With CLG’s new starting mid laner Choi HuHi Jae-hyun on Lulu, a champion famous for enabling AD Carries and keeping them alive, Rageblade Trist was a success and CLG secured their second NA LCS title.

Even if this felt like a failure for all of Team SoloMid, it meant that they would have to come back stronger than ever for the Summer Split, with hopes to achieve their long term goal, to win Worlds. TSM took advantage of the mid season to bootcamp in Korea, where they could practice on the korean solo queue ladder and with korean teams.  Also, YellOwStaR had returned to Europe to play on Fnatic once again, so tryouts were held for a new support player. Synergy with Doublelift was crucial in order for the TSM bot lane to succeed.

After the mid season ended, Vincent Biofrost Wang was incorporated into the TSM roster as the new support player. His debut as a rookie was spectacular, showing he was able to seamlessly mesh with the team and compete against other, more experimented, players. This iteration of TSM looked more coordinated and skilled than the last, and many thought that was impossible. TSM proceeded to crush the Summer Split finishing 1st with a 17-1 record and, after a convincing playoff run, they won their 4th NA LCS Championship. Victory would not elude TSM any longer and with the NA first seed secured, they could set their sights on the next hurdle, Worlds.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Team SoloMid was getting hyped up to be the strongest western team in the 2016 World Championship. Many fans and analysts believed they would make it out of groups quite easily and even the team itself stated that anything other than a Top 4 finish would be a failure. The first week of play looked solid, all the hype surrounding TSM seemed to be justified and taking first place in the group was a real possibility. But all that crumbled in week two.

TSM started the second week with a 2-1 record, but after a sloppy game against Korea’s Samsung Galaxy, the eventual runner-up of the tournament, the dream of securing the first place of their group appeared increasingly darker. On their next game against the EU LCS’s Splyce, TSM’s mid laner Søren Bjergsen Bjerg carried the team to victory with his Syndra pick, an extremely contested and powerful champion, that was left unbanned. Team SoloMid was one game away from making it to the quarterfinals. Their final match of the day was against China’s second seed Royal Never Give Up, which had already defeated them the week before. An aggressive play in the bot lane gave RNG’s AD Carry Jian Uzi Zi-Hao three kills. TSM tried to fight back but Uzi’s Ezreal, one of his best champions, was too strong. TSM lost that game and finished third in the group due to the head to head against RNG. A year of hard work and demanding practice schedules would leave TSM empty handed.

The weight of the world on your shoulders

Team SoloMid had to return home defeated and “fans” didn’t make it any easier for them. All the players got their share of hate, but it felt mostly targeted towards Doublelift. The internet unjustifiably cried for his retirement. Some of the same fans that cheered for TSM in the groups stage where now booing them online.

Shortly after the World Championship ended, Doublelift made an announcement. He wouldn’t be retiring per se, he would instead have a hiatus from pro play during the 2017 Spring Split, where he will focus primarily on streaming and creating video content. His reasoning behind this decision was based on two things. The first one was the increasing demand of time it took to be a pro player.

Earlier this year, Team SoloMid had opted into a practice schedule similar to the one korean teams use. This meant that players would play upwards of 10-12 hours a day, with only one day a month of break. Of course, this new system allowed TSM to dominate domestically but it also took its toll on the players. In an interview with Yahoo Esports, Doublelift explained how, in the long run, being a pro player under this regime can be extremely exhausting and affect both your physical and mental health. He also emphasized that the gratification for all of the hard work a player puts in is almost never there. “99% of pro players don’t win” he said.

The second topic he touched on was income for pro players. As of right now, popular pro players can generate much more revenue for their team if they stream or produce video content. However, under such demanding practice schedules, these alternate sources of revenue are a secondary focus. It’s a sacrifice of personal time and income for higher competitive play.

Game Over? Not yet

With Doublelift officially taking a break, Team SoloMid will need to find a replacement AD Carry.  The team has already stated that they’ve been approached by many veteran players and that they plan to announce said AD Carry by the time Intel Extreme Masters Oakland comes along on November 19th. If it all goes well, the roster at IEM Oakland will remain the same for the 2017 Spring Split. However, for TSM, the Summer Split is looking dubious.

Doublelift has previously expressed his desire to return to professional play in the 2017 Summer Split, be it through a substitute system with the new ADC or through having to fight for his spot on the team. Yet, a lot can happen over the course of the Spring Split. Maybe Doublelift does return to play for TSM in the Summer Split. Or maybe he simply decides that streaming and producing video content is better for himself and his team. Regardless of whatever path Doublelift decides to take, he has already made his mark on the League of Legends competitive scene as one of the best north american AD Carries of all time.