Hauntzer is North America's most underrated player
For some reason, fans are quick to dismiss Gravity top laner Hauntzer when discussing the best players in the region, perhaps due to Gravity's inconsistent play and their reputation as an Altec-centric team. In a recent Reddit poll of the best top laners in the region, Hauntzer received a paltry 67 votes, and his name is almost never mentioned when discussing the best top laners in North America.
But even though fans are quick to place names like Impact, Quas, or even Balls ahead of Hauntzer, a deeper look at Hauntzer's summer split reveals a player who not only outperformed his so-called superiors but who did so on a team not at all conducive to top lane success. Before dismissing Hauntzer yet again, fans should take a deeper look at a player who could soon become North America's premier top lane talent.
Examining and contextualizing statistics
Before diving deeper into the context of what makes Hauntzer one of the best NA top laners, let's take a quick look at his statistics compared to his top lane rivals. A lot of these statistics are extremely surprising, and would catch fans off guard.
Regular Season Statistics:
*To save space, the top laners on the bottom 3 teams were removed.
A few trends (which we will later discuss in-depth) immediately reveal themselves. Hauntzer generally deals a very high amount of damage (although his gauntlet statistics are skewed because he played Gangplank), earns a lot of gold (although not shown, his percentage of his team's gold also ranks very high), and participates in many of his team's kills. However, he also has very poor CS@10 counts and a mediocre KDA.
Hauntzer's great kill participation and damage stats, which only fall behind ZionSpartan and Impact, widely regarded as the two best top laners in the region, already make a fairly strong case for his status as one of the best top players. However, statistics need context. For instance, Seraph (not depicted on the table) actually outdamaged all other top laners, but this was in large part due to his unorthodox champion pool of damage-oriented champions such as Vladimir and Kassadin. High kill participation can also be meaningless, as a top laner on a teamfight centric team will almost always have higher kill participation than one on a split pushing team.
Similarly, many of Hauntzer's poor stats can worrying. It's interesting that a player could seemingly perform so poorly in lane but so well in teamfights. Is it possible that Hauntzer's poor laning is what keeps him from North America's upper tier? To gain a better understanding of these statistics and what they mean, we should look into Gravity's team context.
Examining Gravity's Team Context to Access these Statistics
Taking a look at Gravity's team context could provide strong insight into Hauntzer's extremely lopsided statistics. Gravity is a very bot-centric team, and AD Carry star Altec is often their only damage dealer in teamfights. As a result, Gravity will frequently lane swap to ensure that Altec is farmed up for teamfights. The biggest issue with this strategy is that Gravity actually struggle at lane swaps. Because of the team's devotion to getting Altec ahead, they will frequently Hauntzer into empty lanes or bad match-ups. Fans complained mightily when CLG "starved" Seraph or TSM "abandoned" Dyrus, but the situation with Gravity and Hauntzer is much worse simply because Gravity's poor understanding of lane swaps means that Hauntzer isn't even receiving global gold from his team taking objectives. To make matters worse, GV jungler Move generally prefers to play an invasive skirmish style rather than ganking for his laners. Not only does Hauntzer frequently lose out in lane swaps, but help rarely comes from his teammates.
This poor understanding of lane swaps was highlighted in their series against TSM. In Game 1, Gravity swapped Hauntzer's Shen into Dyrus's Olaf (a counter match-up in favor of Olaf, who punishes melee champions) when Hauntzer was down nearly 2 full creep waves. In Game 3, a botched tower dive by GV gave Dyrus a free kill onto Hauntzer. Another mistimed lane swap by GV spotted Dyrus an additional advantage of over a creep wave. Gravity's horrid understanding of lane swaps was particularly punished by TSM and C9, but it had been an issue throughout the season. Gravity consistently failed lane swaps during the regular split, and although Hauntzer was able to battle back and generally even up his gold deficits in swaps, it was a far cry from his whopping 530 gold advantage in standard lanes, a gold amount worth nearly two kills.
Hauntzer's ability to excel in the 1v1 lane match-up is also what plays a large role in his ability to make up for his team's poor lane swapping. The regular season frequently saw Hauntzer battle back from deficits to break even with his opponents by the 15 minute mark. The defining characteristic of Hauntzer's play is his ability to contest small advantages. He will rarely allow an opponent to take a creep unhindered, and whenever he burns his opponent's Teleport, he will always go on the lookout to punish them further with a Teleport play. Over the course of a game, Hauntzer's ability to push small advantages has led him to gain some of the best gold amounts in the league. Because of how important a man-up advantage with Teleport is, almost every top laner, even nominally "supportive" ones, will receive farm in split-push situations. Hauntzer's strength in the 1v1 meant that he was frequently able to find advantages in spite of his poor starting point. A quick search for "Hauntzer" on Dyrus's tumblr will show endless praise from North America's most respected veteran for the rookie's dominant laning phase. Against better teams in the play-offs, Hauntzer struggled harder to make up for his early deficits, but frequently was able to make it up through teamfight play.
One of the impressive statistics is Hauntzer's high kill participation. This is because Gravity's system frequently involves jungle skirmishes and invades from BunnyFuFuu and Move. Normally, a top laner would have quite low kill participation in this system, but one of Hauntzer's best attributes is his ability to recognize appropriate times to assist his teammates. In the aforementioned Game 1 loss to TSM, Hauntzer still largely outrotated Dyrus in spite of a 50+ cs deficit. In Game 2, Hauntzer put up a fantastic carry performance on Shen, drawing a ban in Game 3 with his global presence. Hauntzer's global pressure is not limited to Shen - he is one of the best Teleport players in North America. While even veterans like Impact waste their Teleport Homeguards (although this may be due to communication issues) Hauntzer is consistently able to flank and outmaneuver his opponents. In Game 2 against Cloud9, multiple flanks with and without Teleport allowed him to decimate C9's backline on Gnar, a particularly difficult champion to manage engages on. One of Hauntzer's most memorable failures, his missed Rumble ultimate against TSM (although Challenger player Prototype Black and others pointed out that it was probably a bug), came off the back of what would have been a back-breaking Teleport flank.
In spite of his clear strengths however, Hauntzer isn't without weaknesses. One of the most common criticisms of Hauntzer is that he isn't a consistent player. His great statistics and consistent ability to battle back from notable deficits suggests that over the course of the season, Hauntzer has been very consistent. The truth is that Hauntzer is inconsistent, but not in the typical fashion. "Inconsistent" generally suggests a player who alternates between good and bad games. This isn't the case with Hauntzer. Rather, Hauntzer is a player who almost always plays well, but every once in a while will have moments of bafflingly poor play. In Gravity's upset loss to TDK, Hauntzer would Teleport into the first dragon fight, land a perfect ultimate onto TDK's backline, and then proceed to try and solo the 1500 HP dragon instead of helping his team win the teamfight, a terrible decision which cost him over 50% of his health bar. In another Gravity game, this time against Team8, Hauntzer's fat fingered Ekko ultimate ruined what would have been a game winning Homeguard Teleport. (Gravity ended up winning this game anyways.) These misplays are extremely notable, and, for whatever reason, consistently happen every few games. Critics may gravitate to these moments, but it's important to be accurate when discussing them. Hauntzer isn't a typically inconsistent player who alternates good and bad games. Rather, Hauntzer is a player who almost always plays very well, but who very occasionally plays extremely poorly.
Although his team doesn't know how to properly support him, Hauntzer is already one of the most impactful tops in North America. His teamfight presence is immense, and his skill with Teleport makes him fairly unique in the North American region. It's quite telling that both top laners with statistics obviously better or comparable to his (ZionSpartan and Impact) play on teams heavily centered around the top lane. It's hard to say whether or not Hauntzer has already surpassed these players, particularly when considering Zion's dominant play-off performance, but Hauntzer's strong play means he simply cannot be ignored when discussing the region's premier top lane talent.
Considering how much he has accomplished with so little, and how infrequently he is praised for it, it's hard not to consider Hauntzer one of, if not the most, underrated players in the North American LCS. He is strong in almost all aspects (laning, teamfighting, supportive play, dealing damage) and can fit into almost any roster. On Gravity, Hauntzer was successful but largely unnoticed. On a team with either a stronger understanding of lane swaps or the desire to unleash Hauntzer's devastating 1v1 play, one of America's youngest and brightest stars will be truly unleashed.