Starting on February 3rd, 2015, eight North American Challenger teams will square off in the final matches of four separate brackets for the opportunity to play in the newly revamped North American Challenger Series and a chance at LCS glory. I have decided to give a rundown of each matchup and team, as well as talking about who looks poised to take home the prize.
Bracket A – NME vs Darkness
In the first bracket, Enemy eSports (stylized as NME) faces off against Darkness. NME, after failing to beat Team Fusion in the NALCS Expansion Tournament, lost key components to their shotcalling with top laner Cackgod (now Ennui), jungler Inori, and mid laner Wolfe deciding to leave the team. To compensate, they brought on Trashy, former jungler for SK Gaming Prime, Evil Geniuses’ top laner, Innox, who would be switching to mid lane, and promising solo queue talent Flaresz (known for a brief stint on Team LoLPro), who would be playing in the top lane. Overall, their play has been quite impressive and the team is seen by many as one of the top challenger teams at the moment.
On the other side of the Rift, Darkness comes into this match as the underdog. Their single claim to fame thus far was in beating Brawl.NA in the first round of the tournament. Making up their roster is BabyZeus in top, Chaullenger for jungle, Wahoolahoola in the mid lane, with Tails and Minibesta making up the bot lane as AD and support respectively. Behind them as their coach is long-time EU top laner Mozilla, most known for his play on Fnatic.Beta and SK Prime. BabyZeus is their most known player, having recently played in various NACS rosters, including the Wazabi Gaming / XDG rosters. The bot lane of the team both play for the main collegiate team of the now well-known Robert Morris University in Chicago, giving them experience and synergy with each other. Their two unknown members are the midlaner and jungler. Both are relatively well known Challenger solo queue players and it will be very interesting to see how they show up.
Based on their performances in the offseason in tournaments like the Black Monster Cup, as well as throughout the ranked team ladder climb, I’d have to side with the majority and give this one to NME. I see them as one of the top Challenger teams with a quite a decent upside. However, I do believe Darkness have the skill and ability to pull out the upset. They definitely deserve respect from NME in that regard and cannot be slept on. Overall, this matchup will all depend on who comes to play that day.
Players to Watch: Trashy, Innox
Bracket B – TDK vs Storm
This matchup leaves me torn, mainly because both sides have built up solid rosters and have shown play worthy of the North American Challenger Series (NACS).
Team Dragon Knights (TDK) boasts former CLG top laner Kina (formerly Seraph), Complexity’s former jungler and famed Sightstone lover, Kez, Kyle (Narakyle of GBKTV) in mid, and LouisXGeeGee and KonKwon filling out the roster in the bottom lane. TDK is said to have one of the most talented rosters in the upcoming NACS. Kina has impressed with his strong laning, and shouldn’t have issues with communication this time around, mainly due to his teammates’ ability to speak Korean. Kez has kept up his warding and continues to play supportive junglers at a high level. Kyle is a bit of a wild card, but has notably scored a couple of solo kills in the first round of the tournament, which should intimidate future opponents and make him a player to watch, at least for now. His Jayce play in particular has been quite crafty. Louis, from what I’ve seen, is the weak link on the team, but not by much. He seems to hold his own for the most part. Finally, KonKwon has shown up with some nice Janna and Thresh play, as well as a refreshing Nami pickup every now and then. However, KonKwon has been banned from competitive play until February 17th due to collusion with a former NACS team. Therefore, replacing him in the qualifiers tournament is Smoothie. Smoothie is a player with a similar pool to KonKwon, but overall unkown to the scene.
Storm comes into this matchup with Lourlo in the top lane, Doomtrobo in the jungle, former Vulcun/XDG and Curse Academy mid laner Mancloud, and the duo of xPecake and Babyeator, ADC and Support respectively, in the bot lane. Due to Lourlo being too young for the Spring Split, Storm decided not to participate in the Expansion Tournament and instead spend a split in the NACS. They played in the NACL, taking games off of Final Five and Cognitive without much hassle. Their weak point at the moment is Doomtrobo, who has made many questionable in-game decisions. Other than that, the team is filled with both upcoming talent and veteran leadership, which should balance out nicely.
Overall, due to how both teams have played so far, I give the match to TDK. As a unit, they seem stronger than Storm, and if Kyle and Kina can get rolling, their strong mechanics alongside the vision control of Kez will lead them to a nice victory.
Players to Watch: Kyle, Kina
Bracket C – TL Academy vs CLG Black
Welcome to the clash of the LCS organizations.
Team Liquid Academy (TLA) was a squad held in mystery following the dissolution of Team LoLPro after the Expansion and the selling of Curse Academy. No one knew who was going to be on their roster until close to the ranked team ladder deadline. In the end, the team emerged with Zig in the top lane, Beibei (Waiting for U) in jungle, Ennui role-swapping to mid, Keithmcbrief as their AD, and JoJo on support. Keithmcbrief is a highly skilled Challenger ADC, having shown flashes of greatness on Team Liquid as a sub for Piglet. Ennui is a very flexible player, having played top and jungle before. His mid play has shown tons of promise and many who have worked with him state that his return to mid will go fine. Zig was one of the players rumored to join Team Impulse during the offseason, but he is yet to show his strength on anything besides Jayce. However Jojo and Beibei are unknown variables. Both have not seen the spotlight and, like many other little-known players in the bracket, will have to prove that they belong in this league.
Counter Logic Gaming Black (CLG Black), on the other hand, has a lot of well-known players, as well as being together for longer. The team is led by the CLG sub jungler Thinkcard, who recently played at IEM Cologne with the main team. Rounding out their roster is veteran Westrice in the top lane, the highly praised Easy, formerly of Zenith eSports, in mid lane, Stixxay on AD (having recently left C9 G2A due to not wanting to switch to support), and I KeNNy u playing support. Despite some of the grumbles due to KeNNy not being the top laner for the team, CLG Black is seen by many in the Challenger Scene as the favorite in this matchup. Expect solid play from every lane..
While I do believe this will be a series, CLG Black seemingly has been together for a longer time, so I give them the edge in synergy and strategy. These advantages should pay off in this round, which is why I’m choosing them to prevail over TLA. I see TLA as an investment that will pay off in the long term. However, if the team does disband, I can see Keith and maybe Ennui getting picked up by other challenger teams.
Players to Watch: Keithmcbrief, Thinkcard
Bracket D – C9 G2A vs Team Confound
Finally, the C9 challenger squad will be fighting Team Confound for the final NACS spot. C9’s roster is one of the newer challenger teams, but features one of the most promising rosters. Starring former Zenith Esports top laner Solo, Hard (formerly 9JX / FamilyPuss) in the jungle, former LoLPro mid laner Yusui — one of the most promising players in the Challenger scene, a role-swapping LOD as their adc, and Fade (Intense) as their support. Put together by Charlie through tryouts, the team has performed quite well and recently 2-0 sweeped Roar.
Team Confound is a different story. Led by frequent NACS participant Azingy in the jungle, the roster also consists of top laner Big Ol Ron (a player well known for his Irelia), mid laner Arcsecond, AD JJackstar, and Azingy’s former teammate Indivisible in the support position. This is yet another roster Azingy has performed on, all of them failing at some point or another. Arcsecond and Big Ol Ron have both come up big in games and we will have to see how they, Azingy, the Confound bot lane play.
To many people, the winner of the bracket would be the victor the C9 G2A vs Roar matchup. I have to agree with this popular sentiment. While both squads contain their own share of talent, I have a lot of respect for the skills of the C9 G2A players and believe that a better team was put together on their end. They will do well in the NACS, and it’s not likely for Confound to take the win.
Players to Watch: Azingy, Yusui, Big Ol Ron
Photo credit: Riot Games