North American League of Legends Challenger Series Preview

With the North American Challenger Series beginning tomorrow, Gfinity has decided to break down the teams competing in the league, as well as focusing on their strengths, weakness, & giving a rough estimate of where they might end up towards the end of the split.

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Initial rumours, which are now confirmed, stated that top laner and jungler, Jonathan "Westrice" Nguyen & Thomas “Thinkcard” Slotkin would be joining the organisation, creating a significant amount of hype around the team. Alongside them, it was announced that Brandon “Easy” Doyle would be their mid lane, with Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes at AD carry and Kenny “Kenny” Nguyen at support.     

Arguably, Westrice and Thinkcard are the two most established players on the team, with Westrice formerly playing for Complexity during their time in the LCS and Thinkcard previously representing Evil Geniuses and Counter Logic Gaming as a substitute.

Essentially, the team is built around Thinkcard (Slotkin) and they absolutely crushed Rock Bottom Gorillas & Team Liquid Academy in the Spring Qualifiers. Personally, I expect CLG Black to perform extremely well, as expected from the strong roster they currently boast.

Thinkcard & Westrice are extremely talented compared to the rest of the competition in their respective roles, at least for the Challenger Series. Additionally, Stixxay is also a high profile character in his role, having previously received offers to play AD carry for LMQ (now Team Impulse) & support for Cloud 9’s challenger team, Cloud 9 Tempest.

Although, we’ve never seen Kenny in the support role, results seem to be going well (from talk amongst the scene). In addition to this, rumours suggests that fairly unknown mid laner, Easy, has also been performing extremely well.

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Enemy eSports is arguably one of the best teams in this split of the Challenger Series. Originally playing in the Expansion Tournament, they were unfortunately placed into the same bracket as heavy favourites, Team Fusion; although now, Enemy have made several roster changes and their prospects are looking very promising

When Evil Geniuses announced they had parted ways with top laner, Tyson “Innox” Kapler, it was unclear as to where he might end up. Thankfully, he joined Enemy eSports in the mid lane, replacing Michael “Wolfe” Taylor.

In addition to this, the organisation would also welcome former LoLPro & GamesterGear member, Cuong “Flaresz” Ta, in place of the Team Liquid Academy departing Andrew “cackgod” Smith, while up & coming Danish Challenger talent, Jonas “Trashy” Andersen, formerly of H2K & SK Gaming Prime would replace Jungler, Rami “Liquid Inori” Charagh.    

Despite three alterations, which have strengthened their roster, Enemy have arguably retained the services of the strongest pieces from their previous squad. This would be none other than AD carry, Brian “otter” Baniqued and “hand-picked” support Adam “Bodydrop” Krauthaker.

The team as a whole is absolutely monstrous. Innox is a former LCS tier top laner now transitioned into the mid lane and the synergy between him and jungler Trashy is visible for all to see. Flaresz has been one of the better top laners in the Challenger scene for a while and the bottom lane of this team is one of the best in the series as well. I expect great things from Enemy; specifically a top three placement (more than likely first or second place).

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Final Five was one of the organisations who made it to the top four during the Expansion Tournament. Much like their adversaries, Team Fusion, Final Five didn’t quite hold enough ground to overcome Team Coast & Curse Academy.

However, the loss automatically qualified them for the upcoming Challenger Series 2015 Spring. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen roster changes, the current line-up does not look like they will fare too well within this split, especially following the departure of Jungler, Ryan “ShorterACE” Nget.

Via reddit, the team announced (without Shorter knowing), that he was removed from the team, alongside AD carry, Marko "Prototype Black" Sosnicki. More information on that move can be found here.

Although ShorterACE was not the sole reason behind the team’s recent success, he did make some beautiful plays in the tournament, specifically against Complexity.Black, as Final Five exceeded their expectations.

Though a mess of changes occurred, two of Final Five’s remaining players are actually quite good. Top laner Keenan “Rhux” Santos has formerly represented iconic squads such as Team Curse & Team Coast and is one of the most experienced top laners in the series. On the opposite end of the spectrum, AD carry Kim "Veritas" Kyoun-gmin is a diamond in the rough, but rumoured to be extremely good.

However, the current red flag for the organisation is that of Support player Brice “Rule18” Wilkerson, who possesses one of the lowest KDAs in the Expansion Tournament offline portion (out of all the supports competing) and an extremely inconsistent play-style. Additionally, he’s known for only playing one champion at a high Challenger skill level – Janna, an issue which may prove to be problematic.  

As a team, Final Five should most likely place no higher than 4th, unless a fluke occurs. Their competition is of extremely high calibre and they have yet to announce their replacement Jungler (after well over a month’s time.) Their squad is lacklustre compared to the likes of Enemy eSports, CLG Black, & Team Fusion – therefore it would not be surprising if they end up last.

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This team was formed for the upcoming qualifiers and therefore I’m uncertain as to how good they truly are. On paper, the roster is quite shaky and unknown, but they recently made it to the final of the ESL Major Pro Series XI, losing to Team Fusion 0-2. So who are Team Dragonknights, what are their histories, & what can we expect from the team?

From past events, we know Kina & Kez pretty well but we’ve also seen KonKwon during his time at GamesterGear. Although the name “Kina” may not be familiar, before his ID change, he was in fact a well-known and established player, specifically for his time with Counter Logic Gaming. Kina is none other than former CLG Top Laner, Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong. The Korean import performed extremely poorly with Counter Logic Gaming in the Summer Split of last year and has now joined MSI TDK. We’ve only seen him in the ESL PS tournament, and in the finals, he struggled versus Fusion Top Laner, Chunky.

Likewise, in struggling, is Jungler Kevin “Kez” Jeon. Kez is best known for his time with Complexity/Complexity.White, replacing Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal, when he unfortunately encountered visa issues. Kez’s champ pool is slightly limited from his past showings, mainly playing Elise & Evelynn in the jungle, with his common Sightstone build. 

The main uncertainties of this team lay with mid laner, Seo “Kyle” Ji-sun and Lee “LouisXGeeGee” Sung-jin. However, in their limited amount of broadcasted playtime (versus other North American Challenger teams), they seem to be the stars of the teams, Kyle especially, who is notable for his Syndra play (and Jayce in Korea - not much since his arrival). But with the recent nerfs issued to the champion, it’ll be interesting to see what else Kyle has in store for the Challenger Series this split. It's also notable to mention Louis is formerly a sub for the Jin Air Green Wings OGN team.

I expect to see a series of mixed results from TDK; their Top Laner & Jungler have unperformed in the past and are very limited with their champion pools. The carries are relatively unproven & unknown, but they seem to be quite good. Their support player isn’t anything too special, but he seems to be consistent. They are a dark horse - it’ll be interesting to see how they perform.

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When this team originally formed, it was one of the favourites to win the North American Expansion Tournament. Unfortunately, they failed to win the event and thus failed to for the NA LCS, losing to Team Coast & Curse Academy (now Gravity.)

Due to their failure, the team made some roster changes. Top laner Yoon “MakNooN” Ha-woon left the team towards the beginning of the year, with his replacement being in house substitute, Joshua “Chunky” Kesrawan. Likewise, support player, Nicolas “Gleeb” Haddad also left the organisation, being replaced by Lawrence “Trance” Amador.

However, despite the recent roster changes, the teams has also possessed other larger concerning subjects, specifically the health issues suffered by Jungler, Joshua “NintendudeX” Atkins. Unfortunately, NintendudeX has experienced two seizures while at the gaming house and has therefore decided to temporarily move back home until he figures out his current situation and adjusts to his new medication. The team has yet to announce whom they’ve been working with in his place, so it’s hard to judge Fusion as a whole in its current state.

Despite the unfortunate events, Fusion’s roster is still a solid Challenger team. Mid laner, Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun, formerly of Korean team Bigfile Miracle, is a fantastic mid-laner. He has proven himself in several team and solo tournaments, most notably reaching the finals of the “Best Zed NA”. Likewise, the other carry of the team, Zach “Nien” Malhas, is one of the better AD carries in the NA Challenger scene. Although he recently moved back to the ADC position, he still owns a wealth of vital experience. Personally, I view Fusion as a ‘middle of the pack’ team, possibly placing 3rd or 4th (out of 6 teams).

For more information regarding players to watch in Both European & North American Challenger Series, be sure to check out Howspiffing's "5 Players to watch in the 2015 Spring Challenger Series".

Unfortunately, the 6th team in the series, Cloud 9 Tempest, is rumoured to be disqualified for fielding a ringer (an illegal substitute) on a starting player’s account during the Challenger Series Qualifier Tournament. Riot Games have yet to confirm this; however, multiple players on the team have spoken about it via Twitter. It is uncertain as to who will be replacing them; rumour has it that it’ll be Team Confound, the team C9T beat in the finals.

Gfinity will keep you update on all news Challenger Series related. Make sure to stay tuned for more announcements, previews, & recaps.

If you enjoyed this content, feel free to follow its author at @BrayllCS

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