A look back (at Worlds) and a glance forward (at the NA LoL scene)

Greetings, everyone!

First off, let me apologize for my absence. I’ve been busy with other things as of late, primarily getting re-positioned at my job. So life has been a bit hectic. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with things! So, let’s get started with today’s post.

Secondly, I would like to say congratulations to SK Telecom for their shutout victory over Royal Club. Both teams were very good during the playoffs, but SKT just really drove it home for that finals match. The reason why? Well, it primarily goes down to picks and bans. If we see over here at each of the three games, we can solidify a few things about the picks and bans:

  1. The consistent Jax pick by SKT. Jax is a beast in the Asian theatre of LoL play. He’s a great counter-pick to such champions as Aatrox and Vi, but he also has kill potential against most of the champs that RC brought to the table–Elise, Orianna, etc. Granted, Impact’s KDA for all 3 games wasn’t terribly high (Piglet gets that award), but his threat potential and zoning potential were just massive in all three games.
  2. Piglet was never out of his comfort zone. One of the secrets of Asian LoL play is that players typically have a larger champion pool that they’re comfortable with (avg. NA champion pool for a player is 3-4 champs, where as countries such as Korea have 5-7). However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a player out of his comfort zone, which RC never did to Piglet. Piglet, if you notice the stats on the Esports page, had the highest KDA and highest GPM out of the entire world cup player pool. Not just the Asians, or just versus RC, but overall. A player like that has to be your biggest concern (though Faker would be almost as important). Can you completely ban him out? Once again, probably not, but you can definitely force his picks into something that you’d have a normal advantage over. He picked Corki twice (another big sleeper pick out of Korea) and Ezreal once. He never died more than twice in any of those final games. His Ezreal play had 12 kills. RC has more experience with players who have Piglet’s style, and yet they just let him walk around unhindered. That’s a no-no.
  3. Faker was never counterpicked. Now, while you could focus on trying to shutout one player in terms of champion selection, that means that other players have to be dealt with in different ways. Faker is one of the best mids (if not the best mid) in all of the world. His aggression and total map awareness make him a ruthless and nearly flawless player. If you look at his stats over on his Leaguepedia page, during the OCN 2013 Summer he had over a 50% win rating with every champion he played except Karthus (who isn’t quite as popular in Asian play as he is in NA). In particular, you’ll notice his Gragas and Zed win percentage at 100, or at least you should. Why? Because those are the two champions he played in the final match against RC, picking Gragas twice and Zed once. Wh1t3zZ, his RC counterpat in those games, picked Orianna, Kassadin, and Fizz. Gragas can easily shutdown Orianna, zoning her out with his Q and his early game sustain. Zed is easily one of the best hard counters to Kassadin while still maintaining team synergy (even though Wh1t3zZ’s Kass did have an 8/5/8 KDA the second game, out doing Faker’s Zed). Gragas doesn’t necessarily counter Fizz, becoming more of a skill matchup, but Faker still won that one. So at best, out of one game, Faker was “countered,” but never truly outclassed.

And a few other factors play into it, but these were the biggest three from my own observations. Simply put, SKT had their shit together while RC did not. That’s not to say RC isn’t a great team (they are), but I’m fairly confident that the Korean hype train even got to them, this time. Oh well. It was a great World Cup overall, and I loved every minute of it! Good job to all of the teams involved.

Now, we move on to the second part of my post, and the elephant in the room: the NA LoL scene. Already, we’re seeing team changes in the NA scene post-WC; Saintvicious of Curse has stepped down to coach, and Curse itself has now become three distinct teams: Team Curse, Curse Academy, and Team LolPro. Other teams are making big changes as well (Team Coast’s AD has stepped down to substitute, for instance). Though, you could say “Well that’s just the teams who did badly, of course they’re making changes!” Well, to some end, you’d be right, but let’s take a look for a moment at the team that held the hype train here in NA this year, and our only team to make even a slight impact in Worlds, Cloud9.

After winning the NA regionals, C9 landed the comfy position of not having to go through the bracket gauntlet and started in Semi-Finals. Their opponent in the first (and last) match was Fnatic of the EU scene. Fnatic trashed C9 in two of their games, making clear and decisive victories by the end. Why was it a clear Fnatic victory though? Well, other than the fact that they were the S1 champions with tons of experience (which could be dismissed because of the state of the game that early on), their team play was just out-and-out better. Fnatic utilizes many tools, but the main one is mobility: the mobility of each champion, of their team, of their formations. How do we know that mobility is what won them the match? Well, if we look at the one game in which their team wasn’t as mobile (no Kass, no teleports, no Shen, just a meager Twisted Fate), they lost quite clearly.

For Cloud9, their mobility has always depended upon their star jungler, Meteos. During the NA scene Meteos broke more than one record, being a passive but mobile jungler, prioritizing champions such as Nasus and Zac, who farm passively but can mobilize for team fights in a heartbeat. In their match, Meteos was never able to pick his best junglers against Fnatic, instead relying upon Nocturne and Elise. While Nocturne definitely brings something to the table, it’s not a jungle pick that Cloud9 has put much effort into in the past outside of scrimmaging. He was shutout by Cyanide in both the games they lost, which clearly points to it as being one of the issues. The other big issue? LemonNation. Lemon is considered one of the best supports in the NA scene and one of the top strategists in the world (his infamous notebook). However, in each game versus Fnatic he was shutout consistently. The primary cause of this is that he wasn’t really doing much of a job warding (in fact, Lemon has been criticized before for his warding abilities). This is risky in general, but especially risky against a team that utilizes teleports to get into a teamfight. This allowed his ADC, Sneaky, to be more-or-less shutout of the game as well. Combine this all with the fact that they never got their dreaded Ashe-Zyra combo, and we have another glaring reason as to why C9 just was plainly inferior as a team to Fnatic. Once again, that’s not to say C9 is a bad team–by all means, they’re arguably the strongest team in NA for the time being. Which is what brings me to the big point here.

The NA League of Legends scene has to change if it wants to be relevant in an ever-expanding hyper-meta for competition. The reason that C9 beat out the other teams so badly in the Summer Split this year was because of their willingness to adapt and to learn from other metas. Other teams don’t really do this (though Vulcan and Velocity could be argued to have a more outside-the-box approach than C9), and that’s what’s killing us as a region. Fnatic utilizes mobility to win. SKT utilizes focused aggression to win. C9 utilizes hyper-carrying to win. What are the other teams really bringing to the table? At the end of the day, nothing. In fact, I’ve compiled a list here as to why I believe the NA scene is doing so badly, and what they need to change:

  1. The NA feeling of pride. Let’s go ahead and get this ugly one out of the way. I believe that the NA scene has trouble dealing outside of their meta because of pride. Riot is an American company, and in Season 1 we were nearly unstoppable. It’s because of these facts there’s a feeling of entitlement for us–we were here first, and we should be the ones to set the standards. This is all well and good… if you’re capable of doing that. However, for the time being, we need to admit that we’re the worst in the world post Season 3, and we need to humble ourselves and learn from others, so that we can become (once again) a superior region. So you’re the best team in NA–who cares? Especially when the Asian players at multiple points have said that their average skilled players are on par with most of our best (and I believe that, too). Let it go and learn for a minute.
  2. The crippling NA champion pool. Most of the pro players in the NA scene have a small champion pool-let’s just be honest with ourselves. Case in point, TSM’s Dyrus was considered one of the best top-laners around for a while, but what happens when you ban out Renekton, Rumble, and Shen? His KDA and ability drops. That’s only 3 champions (admittedly he had 4 when Jayce hadn’t been nerfed, but everyone played Jayce) out of at least a potential 15 top lane champs who are competition worthy. Yes, I realize that he became the mid for TSM, but his champion pool remained practically the same. It’s not just him either–other NA players focus on 3, maybe four champs at best, and this is what kills us. Other teams from other regions can look at our teams, realize the most valuable player in that game, and just ban them out. We must be willing to play other champs, build other team comps, focus on more soft tactics (focused aggression, lane v. objective pushing, etc.) rather than hard tactics (champion compositions, champion pools, mechanics, etc.).
  3. Our stale NA team building. No, not talking about champions here, I’m talking about players. Individually, our NA scene has some of the highest skilled players out there, no matter what the Asians or whoever else says. However, a single player does not a team make. We’ve had some legendary teams in the past (who didn’t like Chicks Dig Elo?), but as we move forward, it appears that most of our players are retaining their team positions due to legacy more than skill. I think the best example of this is Team SoloMid. TSM has been around for quite some time in the NA scene (one of the longest running teams, in fact), but their composition hasn’t changed much since their inception (in fact, they’re one of the teams with the fewest former players, pointing to realization that they don’t think their team needs much change). Why do this? Why not try out other players? Reginald used to be amazing, but his Season 3 was very, very loose and TSM could have potentially tried out another player in his position. Part of this for most teams has to do with ego (TSM), and some with the management (Curse). The NA teams need to learn that once in a while, maybe you need to substitute a player, or just change your roster outright–especially if you haven’t done any major changes in a year or two. These up-and-coming LoL players are becoming better by the day, and are hard to deal with if you’re stuck in an old mindset. In fact, some of the Asian teams bring multiple members so that they can switch out between games. This isn’t because they’re unsure of their ability, it’s a legit strategy to have players who excel in areas where others do not so that you can have an ideal team composition. Now there’s a lot of people who argue that it’s because those teams are already so good as they are. Really? Prove it. Go to Worlds, and make it past the Day 1-6 bracket, please. People have to learn that there may be a better person there for their position, and have the grace to step down. It’s time for a team change, guys, and you know who you are.

Anyway, with all of that negativity being said, I don’t think the NA scene is a failed one. In fact, I believe that Season 4 will be our big moment. It’ll be our time to make or break the LoL scene. I think that, the teams that are really willing to make sacrifices and make changes and come up with new ideas will be the ones to shine this season–not the old guard, sadly. This pains me because old teams such as Curse and TSM have really valuable experience to bring to the table, but an inability to be flexible. Curse is finally realizing this, and I hope other old teams do the same, soon.

In the meantime, let’s all enjoy ourselves and work towards bettering our region, and preparing for the next LCS and Worlds. Who knows? One of you reading might be the next player to make it big. Remember to learn, to adapt, and to have fun.

Until next time, see you on the Rift.

Is the Realm really reborn? (A review of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn)

Hello all!

Today I’ll not be posting another character guide. I’m actually going to review a game today. Now, as with any review, don’t let this be the de facto word on whether or not you’ll play a game–I encourage that everyone should give a game a chance, regardless. It’s just, if you resonate with me on what I like/dislike about a game, then these are the things that are probably going to concern you. So, let’s get started.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

FFXIV is the long-awaited relaunch (and reboot) of the game of the same name that was launched in 2010, and received horrible reviews (the game was almost unplayable). A Realm Reborn sought to change that. What the game is now, is closer to your WoW or Tera style MMOs. The gameplay is button and cast based, it has the same basic features such as a character panel, inventory, etc. The questing in the game is also pretty standard for most MMOs. The music will sound familiar, because it’s reminiscent of music you find in any Final Fantasy title, including the victory tune for defeating monsters. The graphics are lush and rich in detail, offering eye-candy to all of its players.

Now, here are the things that I personally found great about this game:

  1. The variety of class/job options are customizable. What this means is, if you start the game as a Thaumaturge (a dark caster), you don’t have to necessarily stick with it–you can change up by changing your weapon! And the abilities that you gain can be equipped to different classes in certain situations, making the “role” system here flexible and fun.
  2. The Log system. In ARR, you have logs that contain particular lists of items or creatures that you can go out into the wild and obtain (or kill). The logs definitely give you an option of something to do in your downtime, especially if you’re not big into crafting (like me). I especially like the Hunter’s Log, because it lets you go around your particular region and see the beautiful landscape, and fight the interesting creatures that inhabit Eorzea.
  3. The FATE (Full Active Time Event) system is also a nice touch. If you’ve played Guild Wars 2 or Rift, then you’re familiar with these kinds of events already. A FATE is an event that takes place in certain locations on your world, which invite all players in the area to take part in, typically to kill or gather certain things. You get better rewards for these events than you do off of a regular quest. Also, because of some of the locations, if you’re trying to grind out that little extra XP to the next level, it may be just what you need before you go on to the next quest.

So, the game does offer some pretty good positives. However, there were also a few things that really got to me as a longtime fan of MMOs:

  1. The instancing was annoying. What I mean by “instance” is a pre-loaded zone on a map that, while being a part of the area, exists in its own zone that you have to load, and may only contain your character, or a group of characters. In this particular situation, I’m addressing the instancing between the parts of the cities. We’re at a point in technology and gaming now that we don’t need instancing between the west part of a town and the east part–this is something that should be whole and fluidic. Granted, the load times aren’t very much (usually just a few seconds) but it feels very reminiscent of the original Guild Wars game. Now, I can understand instancing say, the underside to a city, because it’s basically its own map, but I shouldn’t have to enter a new zone when I take a flight of stairs to the next building over.
  2. The questing and storyline were very bland. I mean, I was intrigued by the opening cinematic and the backstory overall, but not enough to be engaged. And I think that this is a problem with most MMOs out there right now, if not all of them–the storyline just doesn’t matter to me. When I initially started playing MMOs, what got me into a game was a story, and what kept me there was the gameplay, the continuing advances, and the community (in most cases). There isn’t that level of depth or engagement in FFXIV, and in many other MMOs I’ve recently played (Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, etc.). And the same goes for the questing. I need to feel like I’m accomplishing something, not being handed a reward on a silver platter. Now I know some people argue that “this is a more casual MMO,” but I don’t want a casual MMO. I want an engaging, cerebral experience in my MMO, that will inspire emotion and energy to play. FFXIV just doesn’t have that.
  3. There’s a distinct lack of voice acting here. Most of the quests and scenes are eerily silent except for background music. I know that Square-Enix does this with a lot of their games, but that’s a line you don’t cross in MMO territory. Once again, we want to be a part of the world, and when I say world, I mean an engaging and fun one–not the Twilight Zone. So yes, this bothered me quite a bit. Now, what little voice acting the game does have is well done, even humorous when considering the emotion and energy that some of the voice actors put into their characters. But, when only 10% of your game has voice acting, there’s something to be said. Namely, that you dropped the ball.
  4. The game is subscription based. We’re not into an age of MMOs that often times don’t require a subscription, or end up going F2P (free-to-play) after only a few months of doing so. When you have so many F2P or B2P (buy-to-play, meaning you buy once and you’re done) MMOs in the market, you really, really need to make an exceptional product if you want to even consider being subscription based. The sub charge here is $12.99, which is a buck or two cheaper than WoW and the remaining sub based games, but then you have to ask yourself if the game has that much appeal to you as a player. See, I often times feel conflicted about sub games, because I feel obligated to keep playing them, even after the fun is gone and I just want to run around. It starts to feel more like work, or duty, than fun and entertaining. Sub games are dying out, and I hope that FFXIV makes a change over before it’s too late.

These are the major things I found to be good and bad about the game. I think at the end of the day, FFXIV is fun and entertaining to some end, but just not enough to get me to pay $30+ and a monthly fee of $12.99 (seriously, subscription MMOs are coming to an end, just please stop making them, and make it B2P or F2P). I think that if they had taken a few more months and done some extra steps (more voice acting, no loading, etc.) the game would feel more complete, but right now it just isn’t quite there. Though, I will admit it is a huge step up from FFXI and the original FFXIV, which were embarrassing failures and almost cost Square-Enix their livelihood (especially FFXIV).

So there’s my two gil on the subject. I encourage everyone to give the game a try, but for me, this will be a no buy.

Just a head’s up!

Hello all!

As you may or may not know, the League of Legends LCS Super Week is this week, so don’t expect a post until Saturday. But I promise, when I get to it, you’re going to enjoy this week’s post–it’s something I’ve been working on for a bit now.

Later days!