AlphaDraft Challenger League Primer and Week 1 Power Rankings
With the Ranked 5s ladder lock for NACS looming next month, challenger action is starting to heat up again, as teams begin the grind to improve through ranked 5s, scrims, and tournaments. While longtime tournament organizers, notably ESL, are absent from challenger this year, new tournaments have taken their place. League One, organized by Wazabi Productions, was one such tournament. Since that league concluded with Cloud 9 Tempest taking the crown, the AlphaDraft Challenger League has quickly taken its place with tougher competition and a very similar double round robin league format.
The league is sponsored by fantasy site AlphaDraft and run by WellPlayed Productions. Matches are played from Tuesday to Friday, starting at 4PM PST, and is cast by Tsepha (play by play) and Froskurinn (color) at twitch.tv/wellplayed. You can also catch the vods at youtube.com/wellplayedproductions.
Personally, it has been exciting for me to see the new crop of challenger teams going at it in a serious league format that almost harkens back to the NACL days. There are a lot of interesting stories, teams, and players worth following in their own right, and you never know which “random challengers” will be next year’s LCS stars. If you want to add even more “fun” to your viewing experience, you can try your hand at the actual AlphaDraft fantasy leagues for ADCL. There are leagues with entry fees ranging from free, to ten cents, to $100. I’ve had a bit of fun with it but I must warn you to only play with as much money as you can reasonably afford. For full disclosure, I’m not sponsored by AlphaDraft.
I took to the task of ranking the teams to give my perception of the standing of the league to any new (or current) viewers. Ranking the teams was not extremely difficult, as record and head-to-head tell most of the story, but there is a bit more detail to it than the standings suggest, which is why I wrote this.
1. Misfits (4-0)
Writer Bias: I have worked with and am friends with with the current coach of Misfits.
The #1 spot ought to have the least debate; Misfits is inarguably the best team in ADCL. Their victory over C9T on opening day cemented this position, though I already believed them to be the strongest before that. There was cause for concern in their sloppy early game play against Inertia and Dreamek, which was characterized by overaggressive plays in the duo lane and miscued ganks from Alberto (better known as Crumbz). If anything though, it shows that they were able to dominate midgame rotations even from an equal position, which is better than the vast majority of teams which struggle to win games without snowballing early advantages. Additionally, Alex Ich has been a monster, performing at a level above every other midlaner in this league. It’s hard to imagine them dropping games to anyone besides FFG.
2. Frank Fang Gaming (4-0)
Writer Bias: BrandonFtw is a substitute player for and friend of Team 8, the team I coach.
This incarnation of Frank Fang Gaming is chock-full of familiar challenger scene veterans such as captain and AD carry Lattman, but the the more interesting narrative of the team to me is the rise of their relatively unknown top/jungle duo, BrandonFtw and 14a. Brandon came into the team with some competitive experience, having played on a Cognitive roster which included LoveLova and TranceTherapy among others, but 14a comes straight out of solo queue as an aggressive Rengar/Nidalee main. In a meta where Nids and aggressive junglers are going extinct, Nid play continues to thrive in challenger with players such as 14a and C9T's Hard.
FFG has looked quite dominant in all of their wins, and every player, even support player BonQuish (formerly BabyZeus), brings their own element to the team’s aggressive dynamic. They’ve only played bottom-half teams so far though, so next Tuesday’s match against the league-leading Misfits will be the first and hardest test of their mettle.
3. Cloud 9 Tempest (3-1)
C9T had an average week. They established that they’re better than Cerberus, who also finished the week at 3-1, but struggled and lost against Misfits. Mid laner Yusui attributed their loss to a poor draft, saying it “didn’t play to our team’s strengths” in an interview with Gamespot. In that game, Solo played Kennen top and Yusui was on Corki mid, picks that many would call outdated in a meta defined by tanks and hypercarries. But I wouldn’t call those picks outdated. I agree with Yusui that the picks weren’t optimal, but in an environment such as NA challenger, I think determined, single-minded teams can win with any number of styles. To get to the point, I think he blames too much of the loss on their draft, when they simply bungled the early/midgame, and their solo lanes died needlessly. When they face Misfits again later in the season, I look forward to C9T coming back with not only better draft strategy, but also smoother early/midgame play. As a final note, I think Sheep was a great addition to the team and am anticipating watching his synergy with the rest of the team grow.
4. Cerberus eSports (3-1)
Cerberus is my favorite team to watch, as a kind of underdog team looking to climb from a mid-challenger level of play to an NACS level, and I think they have the tools to do so. There aren’t really any big names on Cerberus--the most recognizable one would probably be Rakin, the mid Morgana main who once did an AMA on r/LoL, and that’s a bit of a stretch. Yet, they find themselves in the upper half of the standings, solidified by a close win over Crewcade. In that game, Crewcade jumped out to a quick three tower lead backed by a large amount of gold, but Cerberus’ Jinx, Kog’Maw, and Maokai picks enabled strong defensive rotations and waveclear in order for those picks to outscale and out-teamfight Crewcade. What separates Cerberus and the top four teams from what I’ll call “the rest” of the teams is that the top teams know much better how to win with early advantages and rotate effectively in the midgame, while the rest often squander such advantages until the game is won by the team with the better late game teamfight. Moving forward Cerberus will still have to put in a lot of work, prepping for other teams as well as improving their own play, to try to steal a game off the teams above them, and I’m hoping they can rise to the challenge.
5. Crewcade (2-2)
There is a clear reason I have Crewcade labeled as the best of “the rest”. In their games, including the one against Cerberus mentioned above, Crewcade showed above average grouping once they gain an advantage, and strong teamplay tendencies--almost too strong, and that’s why they are where they are. They have run very reliable, meta comps with WildWang and Wiggily showing good performances on Sion and Gragas respectively, serving as an immovable frontline. They move around the map as a ball, controlling vision utilizing the threat of their teamfight. But they are too reluctant to split up and make more side wave-based plays, and that seems to be their biggest weakness. While this grouping style may prove effective against lesser teams, they’ll need to step it up if they want to improve their standing in ADCL and more importantly make a run at NACS qualifiers.
6. Storm (1-0)*
Storm’s official record is 2-2, because they inherited the record of Escalate Legion Gaming after the latter team was disqualified from the league, but I have marked it as 1-0 for practicality’s sake. They defeated Elomingle in their first game last Friday in a fairly competitive game. Storm's last incarnation was seen this past December with many of the same players (mancloud, babyeator, xPecake), but the team went their separate ways after failing to make the live portion of the Expansion Tournament. It's great to see that this squad has come back together, but what's odd to me is that they had been playing ranked 5s with Lourlo in the top, but are now using Dardoch for ADCL. I actually think both players show a decent amount of potential, but Lourlo already has past experience with Storm and has more experience in general, having played with CLG Black in NACS. Otherwise, I'll be keeping an eye on Storm's new jungler Mimo, whose last team experience was as a sub for Fusion. I can easily see Storm returning to their pre-Expansion form, and I only have the team as sixth because they haven't had the chance to prove they deserve any higher (which they probably do).
7. Team Dreamek (1-3)
I am not sure what to make of Dreamek. They don't have any standout players, though some might remember jungler xSojin and his association with TSM Darkness, and Ecco, formerly mid for Marn and other teams, is back from the dead. Their AD carry Neko also puts up strong scores, but with a somewhat inconsistent roster, Dreamek has failed to gain any traction in ADCL. They were supposed to be running Cackgod in mid, but he has only played once while Sion extraordinaire TheItalianOne has now subbed one game at mid and one game at support. Their one win was over a hapless Elomingle, and one of their losses was in a bizarre lost base trade against now-disqualified ELG. Dreamek could easily be 2-2 right now, but I don't think that changes the fact that they can't match up with the top teams in ADCL.
8. Elomingle (1-3)
Most of Elomingle's players are quite talented--Arcsecond is one of the better mids in challenger, Ron is a strong up and coming top laner, and Biofrost is a dominant Thresh--but this team can’t seem to put wins together. In their most recent game against storm, Elomingle jumped out to a decent early lead, but then dropped two barons in a row and suddenly (well, I guess it wasn’t that sudden) their initiative was gone. Whether or not they build an early advantage, they seem incapable of translating that into barons or deeper towers. Zaryab recently replaced Shorterace in the jungle, but I don’t think it will do much to change this team’s course, positively or negatively.
9. Inertia Gaming (0-4)
10. SYNRGY Gaming (0-4)
These teams don’t matter too much in the grand scheme of this league or NA challenger. They either lack the skill or teamplay fundamentals required to compete with the rest of the teams, but there are some bright spots. Inertia has stayed competitive in all of their games, including against Misfits, and are a better team than their solo queue ranks would suggest. Trigger (formerly EvanRL) is their strongest player, and together with his support Memer they form Inertia's biggest playmaking threat. With the volatility of the games between bottom half teams, there's an outside chance either team could steal a game off Elomingle or Dreamek.
This all being said, it's still only the first week of a five week season. I made a lot of conclusions for such an early point and am always happy to be proven wrong by teams that work hard and show improvement, but I still don't expect much movement from the rankings I have here. Check back in a few weeks, as I'll probably make two more editions of these power rankings throughout the rest of the season.