Cloud9 Rampages Through the ELEAGUE Boston Major

Cloud9 burst into the ELEAGUE Qualifier in Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, tearing their way through to a 3-0 first-round qualification for the main event group stage. After beating EnVy (16 – 11), Sprout (16 – 5), and mousesports (16 – 5), Cloud9 felt confident going into the New Legends Stage the following weekend.

Cloud9 started off the group stage with a disheartening, but forgivable loss to G2, the only other team from the qualifier to also qualify on a 3 – 0. The Cache match started out with G2 taking 10 of the first 11 rounds on CT side. Ultimately, Cloud9 could not bring the score back and lost 16-8.

The next day, Cloud9 narrowly missed making the comeback against Space Soldiers on Cobblestone; after going down 4 – 11 on CT side, they could only push back to an eventual 16 – 13 loss.

The first loss hadn’t seemed so bad until they dropped to an unexpected 0 – 2 scoreline. In the Swiss round system, 3 losses is elimination. On the verge of going home, Cloud9 had reached the low point. There was nowhere left to go but out, or up.

If they were to go on, Cloud9 would have to put their losses behind them and focus on the three straight maps they would need to win. They would have to come out of the valley. “3 in a row is very possible,” RNG’s Noah “Nifty” Francis encouraged Jake “Stewie2K” Yip on Twitter.

Nobody knows what happened that evening, but something clicked on. They faced Virtus.Pro first on Mirage, a team that had been responsible for many of their previous Major group stage eliminations. C9’s growing confidence was palpable in the way they played; Stewie played aggressively, bordering on disrespectfully; Timothy “autimatic” Ta’s sprays were deadly. They ran out of a 10 – 5 CT side straight into a 16 – 7 finish and lived to play another day. It was almost as if they had forgotten they already had 2 losses and one map could send them home; a different, reckless Cloud9 had come out to play.

Cloud9 rode the momentum and did not look back. They ran over Astralis the next day on Train in much the same fashion. Will “RUSH” Wierzba played as solid as a rock in A main and Ivy, while Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham’s AWPing started to come alive. Tarik “tarik” Celik’s role as in-game leader did not slow him down at all in fragging. They carried that momentum into their Round 5 game that evening, closing Mirage against Vega Squadron 16 – 4. The hyper-aggression left Vega Squadron paralyzed and unable to make any plays. They had completed the reverse sweep; Cloud9 qualified for the New Champions stage with their backs against the wall, 3 – 2.

They had already made history. Cloud9 would finally make a major playoffs appearance. Skadoodle broke a streak of being sent home in his last 8 major group stages. After Liquid had exited the major early in the group stage, Cloud9 was the only American team left. The Boston, Massachusetts home crowd needed someone to cheer for.

The reborn Cloud9 was playing to their maximum capability: RUSH as the rock solid rifler who could hold bombsites on his own, Skadoodle returning to a top-of-the-line AWPer, and the versatile, bloodthirsty trio of Stewie, autimatic, and tarik, who could all interchange entry, secondary AWP, and lurking duties.

The casters kept calling it “confidence.” What they meant was “hyphy.” With a measure of respect and mental fortitude, nothing could stop C9 from continuing their rampage.

The draw did not go easy on them. Their quarterfinals match was against G2, who had made it through to the New Champions stage unscathed, on a perfect 6-0 run. Looking for vengeance from the group stage, Cloud9 took Mirage 16 – 8 and Overpass 16 – 7.  The extreme aggression allowed to CTs on Overpass played right into the style C9 had been using. Every one of the five players was making doubles, triples, and quads. Add in a roaring loud Boston crowd, and G2 didn’t stand a chance.

Their semifinal matchup was against SK. “It’ll be a tough match,” said tarik after their G2 match, “but Cloud9 will win the major. This is our major right here.” It was looking good when C9 choked SK out of Mirage 16 – 3, but Cobblestone was a more of a wild ride. SK took 7 straight rounds, then C9 took 7 straight rounds, and then SK took 9 more, only letting C9 reach 8 – 16. However, the fatigue for SK really started to set in; after a 5-hour struggle to win their quarterfinal earlier that day, another 3-map match was just too much, and Cloud9 ran into the finals 16 – 9 on Inferno.

Their opponents were FaZe Clan, the superteam that finally came to fruition. They were the heavy favorites coming into the tournament to win it all. No one would blame Cloud9 if they lost to FaZe Clan. Making it to the finals and getting past G2 and SK could have already been a story for the books. In an esport dominated by European and Brazilian teams since the beginning, a North American finals apperance would be remembered forever. No one had expected C9 to make it to the finals–not even RUSH or Skadoodle. But like true competitors, Cloud9 was not satisfied. Nothing but the win would be enough.

Sunday, January 28. The first map told a different story from the projections. On their map pick, Mirage, C9 drove the scoreboard up to 8 – 1 before FaZe slowly started swinging the momentum back. C9 held on until 12 – 7, when FaZe choked their economy out and ran away with 8 straight rounds to take it to 12 – 15. There was a glimmer of hope when C9 took 2 more rounds, but ultimately FaZe stole C9’s map pick in a deathly close 14 – 16.

Fans could have given up then, with Overpass coming up, one of FaZe’s best maps. The deal looked sealed. But Cloud9’s confidence did not waver. With the crowd at their backs, cheering for every kill, they stole a 12 – 3 CT side and reached map point at 15 – 4. FaZe put up a big fight to come back to 15 – 10, but ultimately C9 only needed the one round and stayed alive to see a map 3.

At this point, it felt like C9 had been narrowly robbed of Mirage, and they had smashed FaZe on their own map. It was an easy judgement to say C9 was playing better than FaZe. The trophy was in sight.

FaZe rose to the challenge and made Inferno into an absolute thriller. C9 took 4 rounds after losing the pistol, but Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács’s AWP started to shut down round after round for C9. Skadoodle and crew kept it close, but FaZe held onto the lead to force match point at 11 – 15. FaZe were one round away from winning the major and everything would be over. C9’s economy was wanting. It looked extremely improbable.

And they did not despair. In four clenchingly close rounds, tarik clutched. Stewie clutched. They refused to give up. It was a fairytale unfolding before Boston’s eyes; Cloud9 drove the game into overtime. Neither team was ready to give it over. Stewie’s sentiment rang true; after coming so far, they couldn’t lose now. And FaZe wasn’t going to give it to them.

Cloud9 burst through the CT side of overtime, taking the first three rounds. They were one round away from winning the whole thing, after coming back from 11-15. But in a fourth round bizarre smoke walk by, the fast banana control was thrown off and they lost the round. The fifth round came down to a 1v2 clutch by Stewie2K, and he lost by a single bullet. The sixth round came down to a 2v3 clutch, which they turned into a 2v1, which they lost. It went into double overtime.

They kept their cool. After losing the first round by a bullet and half a second, it went into overdrive. An ace from tarik’s AWP. Disadvantageous peeks won in apartments. A team hold in A. A scuffle in B site that settled into a 2v1 for Cloud9. And it was Skadoodle with the final AWP shot to win it all. Boston went wild, and so did fans all over the nation and the world.

It couldn’t have been a better 3-week journey, the final could have not been any more thrilling, and it could not be a more historic moment. North America was victorious. Cloud9 was victorious. All the striving had come to a happy ending.

Image credit to HLTV.

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LoL: Why Flash has such a high value, and why that might change

One of the attributes of League of Legends that has kept it interesting and relevant over seven years is the ever-changing and evolving nature of the game. Not only are there constant new patches which change the power levels of different items and champions relative to each other, but also new champions come out with new abilities, as well as new mechanisms (most recently Rift Herald and jungle plants). These continuous changes keep the game different and fresh while still maintaining the same basic objective.

However, there is one thing that has remained constant for some time now: the value of the summoner spell Flash. Even while the entire game changes around it, it has always been considered compulsory to take Flash as one of the two summoner spells on any champion.

The high value of Flash is evident in the number of uses it has. On a basic defensive level, it can be used to make an escape, put distance between you and your aggressor, or get over an otherwise impassable wall. On the offensive side, it can be used to get in range of someone, or follow someone who has flashed away over a wall. In combination with skills, Flash can become deadly. A skill can be used immediately on someone before they know what is happening. Sometimes it can be used for a small, but unexpected reposition or dodge. This video by the LoL wiki gives a few demonstrations of the power of Flash in combination with skills. The number of uses Flash has, both offensive and defensive, give it a very high value.

It’s also taken by almost every champion for every single Summoner’s Rift game (the one exception that comes to mind is Jungle Olaf, which prefers Ghost, and I’m sure there are a couple other exceptions, but they are not coming to mind). Why? Firstly, there is a need to match. Should someone Flash away, you need to have the ability to also Flash after them. This is the same principle as Smite–if nobody on your team has Smite, there is never a chance of contesting large objectives or ensuring they are not stolen. Another reason Flash is always taken is that none of the other available summoner spells match its high value and power. Heal, Barrier, and Cleanse are almost singularly defensive, and only help in a few situations. Exhaust is mostly defensive, and it simply has less power and clutch factor. Ignite is offensive, but its power pales in comparison to Flash. The remaining two are Teleport and Smite, which are usually only valued once per team, maybe twice in the case of Teleport. Basically, Flash has no competitors; nothing that can warrant having two spells which are not Flash. If, for some reason, someone values something #1 over Flash, it is very unlikely they value Flash less than #2.

So Flash is always taken, and it’s very powerful. However, I want to talk about the factors causing the recent decline in value of Flash, and discuss whether Flash can ever be dethroned from its number-one spot.

There are a number of reasons Flash is losing meaning and value; I’ll discuss three. One is that more and more skills are like it. The list of dashes is extensive; a number of meta champions have the ability to dash and bypass walls without Flash (LeBlanc, Ezreal, etc.). Out of the five champions reworked in 2017, four were either given better dashes and blinks or given new dashes and blinks (Warwick, Galio, Urgot, Evelynn). Out of the eleven champions released in the past two years, seven have powerful dashes and gap closers/escape abilities. Out of the other four, two are immobile AD carry champions and ASol can fly over walls and Taliyah can ride very fast walls. The frequency of the new Blast Cones give anyone the ability to ignore walls at any time, without the need for Flash. Even Hexflash has been added recently. If anyone can go over walls, or if other things can be substituted for Flash, that reduces its value as an escape tool or a gap-closer.

Another reason that Flash is losing value is the recent shift towards hyper-mobility (Zoe, Rakan), limiting escape (Jarvan IV, Urgot, Camille), and disrespect of walls (Kayn, ASol, Blast Cones), which can counter some of the escape power of Flash. There are a lot of ways to catch up to people escaping from Flash, evade people using Flash on you, and reel back people who have “got away”.

The last is that many people are learning how to specifically counter and predict flashes. Here’s one right here. Predictions are getting sicker and sicker, because people have learned to expect Flash, not only by smart thinking, but even with unconscious instinct. If more people are learning how to nullify Flash use, then stock could go down.

So, there are some reasons that Flash is losing value: other things can be substituted for it, mobility is going crazy, and people are learning how to counter it. But will we ever see it fall from glory? That is, will we ever see a world in which Flash is frequently not taken? If Flash ever loses its high seat, that means that something has to come in and overtake it. What could possibly make it irrelevant? The rise in Zhonya’s? Resurrections? We already said no existing summoner spell comes close to matching it. I don’t have any ideas.

Admittedly, although many abilities come close to countering Flash, Flash still maintains an element of instantaneous unpredictability in any direction that nothing else has. Although something like Ezreal E can come close, Ezreals still take flash too, because Flash is valuable in its own way.

In the end, I doubt Flash will ever lose its place among the most powerful and most valued components of League of Legends. It has already been accepted as a permanent selection for summoner spells; most people never question it. Even if Flash continues to lose value, there is just nothing that will come up to match it if it comes down far enough.

Postscript: I originally had the idea for this essay because I wanted to examine whether Zoe could be ever considered not OP, but ultimately, it’s not her ability to follow Flash that makes it crazy, it’s also the ability to Ignite, Barrier, and randomly Teleport?? She’s broken for sure.

Op-Ed: League of Legends All-Stars 2017 Will Not Fly

Riot Games announced that this year, 2017, the All-Star Event is returning to an inter-regional tournament between “dream teams” from eight regions. Say ta-ta to tandem mode and ten Blitzcranks; the latest change from LoL eSports is not only no longer any fun, but is doomed to fail.

This year’s All-Stars will feature a group stage between the eight regions–the traditional five “major regions” (NA, EU, China, Korea, and Taiwan) as well as three other smaller regions who have outperformed other minor regions in recent international tournaments (GPL, Turkey, and Brazil). Four teams will advance to a semifinal and final knockout stage. Besides this, only 16 out of the 40 attending players will be selected to compete in a 1v1 tournament.

Riot’s first priority for this new format was clearly competitiveness. In their justification for changing the format, they first declare that “our 2017 All-Stars will be playing to win,” then cite that as a reason to not include fun modes, which would be distracting. However, it is not made clear what incentive there is to be competitive. “Regional pride” is not enough. Perhaps there is a prize pool that has not been mentioned to the public, but otherwise, there does not seem to be any advantage to trying and winning this tournament. Take the Major League Baseball All-Stars game, for example. In past years, the reward for winning was the home field advantage in the World Series, but just this past year, when that incentive was lifted, the game quickly turned back to a fun showmatch. Without reward, there will not be any serious degree of competitiveness.

The second biggest glaring issue with this year’s event is the selection process. From the information provided by lolesports.com, the players from each region are selected by the caucus of that region only. Something voters will not catch on to, especially for this first year of the format change, is that the new goal is to vote the strongest players from your region.

However, the All-Star vote has always been a bit of a popularity contest, and even a bit of a meme. Froggen, during his EU tenure, was voted into the 2015 All-Star event, despite only being on the 7th place team that year (admittedly, his career before that was more impressive). Dyrus was voted into the 2015 event post-retirement, because of how much the fans loved him, even through his obvious and self-admitted decline in performance. At the time of writing, MikeYeung leads the NA jungler vote for this year as a rookie, even though he was unable to save his team from going to relegations and did not even attend Worlds. PowerofEvil is currently running a self-declared “full sellout” voting campaign to be the midlaner from EU (regardless of whether or not he is the best from the region, he is pandering to the popularity contest aspect of the current system). Fans are unreliable in voting in a competitive roster, and with this imbalanced system, some regions may show up to the LA studio with a meme team, unarmed to take on a well-built opponent dream team.

One possible solution is to have the players chosen only partly by fan vote, leaving half of the decision to the players themselves. This is a more reliable, and also fair way to introduce some stability into the decision, rather than leaving it entirely up to the fanbase of a sport that is, truth be told, built on memes. It is a good point that the player base per-region is not very big–at the moment, only 50 players would be available to choose 5, but it is better than nothing. It has been mentioned that the players are already being polled to choose the coach for the region, so adding ballots for the players would help ensure the desired “dream team”.

If Riot fails to fix the lack of incentive and the reliability of the voting system, the All-Star Event could very well be a big flop.

Besides this, there may be other issues with entertainment value for the audience. Firstly, the entire event seems redundant. It’s as if they’re holding a second, tinier Worlds with a 1v1 tournament tacked on. Even Rift Rivals has already been added for extra interregional competition; the quota for NA vs EU has been fulfilled for the year (no I am not afraid we’ll get beat in the rematch).

In terms of who will be at the All-Star event, fans have already spectated most regions’ best players at Worlds duking it out on a big stage. The All-Star Event would be like a discount version of Worlds, with many of the same players in attendance. Regions like Brazil, Turkey, and Southeast Asia only have so many superstars to send. Fans might even be less interested if their favorite teams or players are not represented across the 40 attendees.

Most apparently, it’s set up to give Korea another award, and rob small regions like Turkey and Brazil of any meaningful chance at success. Back in 2013 and 2014 when the format was more similar to this year’s, Korea won both times. The previous set-up with Teams Fire & Ice worked better, because it helped balance out the IWC with some of the stronger regions. It seems unlikely that this tournament will bring any new excitement after Worlds.

But most of all, Riot has robbed us of the one thing that has characterized the All-Star Event in recent years–fun. A little joy for the holiday season. I personally remember tuning in for double snowballs-into-fountain, creations like Baker, and Zilean auto-attack battles; on the other hand, I had a hard time paying attention to the inter-regional matches. I watched almost solely for the fun modes. One fan provided testimony of how Tandem Mode hooked him into the rest of LoL eSports last year.

All-Stars has been a time for pros to form some inter-regional camaraderie on Teams Fire & Ice, and enjoy playing their favorite game together in laid-back fashion. It’s arguable that League of Legends is one of the most taxing games to be professional in, since pros must be constantly playing the evolving game for weeks and weeks on end, 10+ hours a day. To finally have some fun and mess around is not only relaxing and enjoyable for the pros, but entertaining to the fans. I, for one, don’t see myself getting excited about this year’s event, and I may not even watch it.

It’s clear League of Legends wants to keep progressing as an eSport and be taken more seriously and professionally, but one thing that isn’t going anywhere is what I’ll call “Twitch Chat Culture”. We’ll always be there to meme our favorite players on, upvote spicy Reddit roasts, troll a little bit here and there, and retweet the heck out of Twitter trashtalking. It is a wonderful element of the gaming community that should be embraced and integrated into the eSports world, because it’s not going to be separated anytime soon.

Bring on the fun.