The Angel and his Shadow: Seraph and Ninja

After a year playing together, Seraph and Ninja are finally playing like a team.

Seraph and Ninja first joined forces on Team Dragon Knights in the 2015 Summer Split. The promising TDK roster paired the well-known Korean import from North America with two other Korean imports who had travelled around the world. Ninja played for famous Chinese organization World Elite and Emperor had played in Brazil after leaving CJ Entus Blaze. Joining the Korean trio were the affable and support oriented jungler Kez and support Smoothie. Seraph’s many fans had hoped that playing alongside fellow Koreans and team-oriented players would provide a comfortable situation for a promising import who had struggled badly with team environment problems on his first team, CLG.

Unfortunately, visa issues marred the Dragon Knights roster, and they only received their full line-up midway through the season. Although the team was able to upset the playoff bound Team Dignitas in their first match, the team was unable to avoid relegation through a combination of their poor start with substitutes and the team’s own failings. While it’s true that Team Dragon Knights started with a 0-9 record, they only finished the season 3-6 and failed to defeat Team Enemy to force a tie-breaker.

While it’s unfair to judge a team which only had half a season to play together, it was also clear that TDK struggled in part due to fundamental team synergy issues. All three of their Korean players wanted to be high-resource damage dealers. Although the Season 5 meta generally called for tankier top laners, Seraph frequently picked off-meta damage dealers such as Vladimir and Kassadin and demanded the lion’s share of jungler ganks. This strategy ran in direct contrast to how Emperor and Ninja wanted to play. Emperor played a very aggressive style of AD carry, and frequently found himself dashing in on champions like Lucian or Tristana. Because Seraph’s off-meta champion choices couldn’t support Emperor’s aggression and Emperor was unwilling to become more cautious, both players found themselves in an inherently precarious position.

When Seraph tried to fix the problem by playing more supportive champions, such as Maokai, his individual performance suffered. On the contrary, Ninja fit well into the team but found his impact diminished by the team’s top-focused system. Seraph’s team fighting has always been inconsistent, and with Emperor unable or unwilling to play safely, Ninja found himself as the team’s primary damage dealer. Ninja rose to the task and dealt over 700 damage per minute, second only to TSM star Bjergsen. Unfortunately, he had to do so without the benefit of jungle ganks as the team’s primary efforts were focused on snowballing Seraph. While the team’s short time together undoubtedly contributed to their synergy issues, it also seemed like the team had their work cut out for them. They had to choose between Seraph and Emperor and focus more of their efforts towards the reliable Ninja.

Emperor would leave TDK in the off-season and find success on G2, going on to win the EU LCS title in his first and only season with the team. In the meantime, TDK would try and replace him with an even more exciting KR import in ohq. Unfortunately, Ninja was banned from competition until the NACS playoffs due to a competitive ruling, and Seraph once again found himself struggling to fit his damage-oriented style around a star AD carry, even though the meta had finally shifted towards top lane damage dealers for the first time in his career.

Despite predictions that TDK would easily make it into the LCS, they found themselves in third place when playoffs rolled around, and their chances of making it into the league were uncertain. However, Seraph and the now unbanned Ninja would find themselves traded to the main Renegades roster, joining Freeze, Crumbz, and Hakuho. Although Freeze was yet another star AD carry, his lower resource and calculated playstyle proved to be a good fit for Seraph and Ninja’s more high econ playstyles. TDK closed out the season on a 4 game win streak and easily swept TDK to return to the LCS. In the team’s wins, Seraph was much more willing to play tank and supportive champions, and Crumbz used a much more equitable jungle path than Kez’s constant returns to the top lane. Seraph himself had some strong carry games, especially when playing Gangplank against TiP, but he was also able to support his teammates with Lulu or take a lower econ split pushing role on Graves, leaving more farm to Freeze and Ninja to carry team fights. Renegades entered the off-season full of promise, but soon suffered a series of misfortunes. First, talented AD carry Freeze left the team, then the entire organization was banned by a competitive ruling from Riot. It seemed like Seraph and Ninja would once again find themselves cast to the winds.

Fortunately, organization EnVyUs would come to the rescue, picking up the remaining Renegades members Seraph, Ninja, and Hakuho (Crumbz decided to retire in the off-season). The team would be joined by team members seemingly custom fit for Seraph and Ninja’s ways. The pair had frequently tried to join a talented Korean AD carry, but what they really needed was a strong Korean jungler with the game knowledge to snowball advantageous matchups. Former TiP jungler Proxcin had established himself as a dangerous if not well known player in the previous split. Also joining nV was the affable and hardworking LOD. LOD was content playing a lower econ playstyle, but he had shown flashes of potential as a primary carry in his long Challenger career. 

In the team’s first 2 matches in the LCS, the team’s new formula worked like a charm. While TDK had failed under a strategy focused entirely on Seraph, the team’s diverse strategies allowed them to triumph over both NRG and TL in the first week of the LCS. Key to the team’s success was their imported Korean trio. Proxcin repeatedly found successful ganks for both Ninja and Seraph, and when their Korean solo laners jumped into the lead, they would help each other or Teleport bot to get LOD ahead as well. In the late game, Seraph would use his strong 1v1 skills and great Teleports to focus on split pushing, while leaving Ninja and LOD to focus on team fighting. Although the team has yet to try their new strategies against top shelf competition, it seems like nV has finally discovered how to best use Ninja and Seraph as a team.