This year’s Korean pro ‘League of Legends’ scene might be the best yet

In our new column, "First Blood," Ferguson Mitchell dissects the week that was in League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world

Photo by artubr/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In our new column, “First Blood,” Ferguson Mitchell dissects the week that was in League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world.

The boys are back in town

The Korean League of Legends pro-scene started back up this week, and in some aspects, it’s like it never left. Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok and his team, SKT T1, are already on top of the league only two matches in, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles is back behind the casting desk, and clips of the Korean pro games are already starting to propagate throughout the community.

Many fans are excited because the return of the Korean pros to competition means a return of some of the most talented players in the world. Korea’s win at All-Stars and SKT T1 K’s win at the World Championships proved that the best of the best are playing in Korea. The region’s premiere tournament, OnGameNet’s Champions, wrapped up its Winter Season in January. But now, OGN has returned with a brand new format.

The tournament, called simply Masters, will be much longer and meant to run alongside the Spring Champions season, which should begin in March. Masters puts a new twist on the old format, and in a way that requires these teams to have more than just one or two excellent players.

Most Korean e-sports teams have multiple rosters. Typically, the “A” team, which competes at the highest levels, and a “B” team, which might focus on a different style or strategy, might feature a player whose talents don’t fit well into “A,” or might just function well as practice partners for the “A” team. Masters requires all ten members in this new format.

It works like this: Team 1’s “A” team plays against Team 2’s “B” team. Then, Team 1’s “B” team faces off against Team 2’s “A” team. Then, the team can field a combined roster of any combination between their two teams in a final match.

Typically, “A” teams will always beat “B” teams, so the match goes 2-1, earning one point for whoever has stronger overall roster. However, if your team manages to win all three matches, you win three points.

And just two matches in, SKT T1 has done just that. They won their first series with a solid 3-0, and it really speaks to the team’s strength that their “B” team took a win over their opponent’s “A” team.

This new tournament will run with two sets of games each week for the next five months, and fans are already drooling over what will happen when these teams merge rosters for super teams each week. SKT’s teams have clearly already shown some superb skill, but they’ll definitely be pushed as others adjust their own rosters.

At the end of the season, the top four teams go into a sudden death single elimination bracket, where the number two and number one seeds wait above the rest with bye rounds.

Masters is unique because it offers teams opportunities to really test where their strength comes from and try out possible rosters while not putting their regular Champions standings at risk. Fans, of course, get the benefit of watching some of the best players in the world work together in brand new ways. Keep an ear out for any major upsets within Masters—successful combinations could very easily spill out into Champions play and would have major implications as the World Championships near in the fall.

For now, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the fun.

Cloudy weather

One of the best North American teams last year is having a serious identity crisis. The causes may be one of many, but one thing is clear: Ex Duris Gloria (XDG) have got a lot of work to do from here. Their 3-9 record stands in stark contrast to their 20-8 last fall. Last place is the last place these players wanted to be. So what exactly went wrong?

The biggest change was the notable position swap between Christopher “Zuna” Buechter and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero. Buechter was moved to the jungle to fix XDG’s “lack of a shot caller,” according to team manager Julian Collins’ announcement on Reddit last month. Despite Puchero being “one of the best Junglers in the world,” fans hoped this change would bring only further success to the powerful team.

The change appears to have done the exact opposite.

Perhaps the biggest tell is the sudden change to mid laner Zachary “Mancloud” Hoschar’s stat lines. In 2013, he set the record for the most amount of kills in the LCS (167). This year, he’s lucky if he can even end with more kills than deaths. The mid laner’s vulnerabilities in the middle of the map are often covered by having a strong jungler who can set up early ganks and help to “win the lane.” Could Buechter’s inexperience in his new role have something to do with Hoschar’s fall from greatness?

If he is the weak link, it’s hard to say he’ll be removed from the team anytime soon. His brother, Kenneth, is the team’s head coach.

Still, it’s hard to point the finger at just one player. The whole team is severely underperforming. Fans have launched several Reddit threads in an attempt to figure out what’s really gone wrong. Redditor WebLlama puts it bluntly:

“The game changed in a bunch of ways that XDG has absolutely refused to adapt to.”

Other fans prefer different cause: The team’s long break from the game during the off season, or lack of current practice. Maybe the team just wasn’t that good in the first place and got lucky. Asking “what happened” is less important than focusing on what’s about to.

North American semi-pro teams are on the rise, with powerful players coming soon to challenge the lowest-seated teams in the League Championship Series. The one team that everybody seems scared of, the Chinese LMQ, swept through the first Challenger Series with a big win over CompLexity Black on Sunday. The team seems hungry for a spot in the LCS, and if their solid play continues, they’ll be the number one challenger come the Summer Split.

XDG will want to avoid having to play LMQ to hold onto their spot at all costs. But at this rate, a fateful matchup between these two teams seems inevitable. And a loss means certain doom for the pitiful XDG.

Power rankings of things I like

1) ROCCAT – Zeroes to heroes in what, six weeks? These guys are great role models for other challenger teams who hope to achieve success. Stay tuned for more as these guys aren’t going anywhere.

2) SKT T1 K – Who else? One game in, and already on top in Korea. Winning all three matches in their Masters series shows an impressive depth and consistency in their management.

3) Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg – Team Solomid’s mid laner is possibly one of the best at that position in the world. His performance last week (21 kills, 3 deaths, 13 assists) was mindblowing. If TSM finishes in first place, he’ll be a large reason why.

4) Will “Chobra” Cho – His emotional blog about being a player manager is a fascinating read, and I have really enjoyed his casting during OGN Masters. Keep up the good work yourself, sir.

5) CompLexity Gaming – Their recent acquisition of North American challenger teams (Skyline and Determined Gaming) has definitely paid off. Both teams are in the top three after the first Challenger Qualifier and have good shots at reaching the promotional stage to get into the LCS.

6) Jesse “Jesiz” Le – Another skilled mid laner, on SK Gaming over in Europe, had an outstanding week against Fnatic and Gambit, two of the top teams in the region. His KDA for the week? 19.0.

7) Richard Lewis – Completely nails “negative feedback” on the head with his article over at EsportsHeaven. Players are competitors, but they are also entertainers and role models. Learning how to deal with (or ignore) unconstructive criticism is part of the job of any public figure.

Social of the week

“Skill cannot be bought. Just keep playing, judge your own gameplay, instead of other players. If you are able to understand your mistakes, you will fix it, and always get better.” – Cairne61 via Reddit.

His thread on Reddit about lessons learned as he slowly climbed his way up to the highest levels of the game is outstanding. That quote above is spot on, and probably the best lesson anybody can learn who wants to get better at, well, anything.

Picture of the Week

No clue who made this, but as you’ll remember from last week, Marcel “Dexter” Feldkamp (photoshopped in) lost four weeks with his team after being turned around in a U.S. airport. Smite, in this context, is an important spell that Junglers like Feldkamp use during games to secure large monster kills (and in turn, gold and experience for their team). Missing a Smite is a critical error for any jungler, but as proven by Feldkamp, missing a flight can be far worse.