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02
June

League of Legends Summer Split 2016: Five players to follow

There are as many reasons to watch a traditional sport as there are personalities within it. The same is true for e-sports, especially League of Legends, a game with a worldwide appeal that hosts a yearly World Championship. Sometimes, it's about the underdog. Other times, it's the superstar's overlooked, yet essential, sidekick. But one factor unites them all: the Summoner's Cup. In League of Legends' case, there are five major regions, and therefore as many as five major reasons to watch the game.



LCK: Kang "Blank" Sun-gu - SK Telecom T1 – Jungle

Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok is an obvious pick for the "Player to Watch" mention until he retires from League of Legends (or perhaps even beyond), however, Faker's success rests on team play as well as his individual play; this includes perfect coordination between him and his jungler.

In previous years, that role was Bae "bengi" Seong-woong's, but the recent jungle changes and physical ailments have sidelined him. In such a climate, Blank became the carry jungler the squad needed. A player whose potential became clear during a stint in StarHorn Royal Club in 2015, Blank became SK Telecom T1's project.

Despite lacking bengi's decision-making and ability to read situations, Blank initially compensated with raw skill. There were situations during the 2016 League of Legends Champions Korea Spring Split and the Mid-Season Invitational 2016 when Blank looked lost and benefited from bengi's guidance, or when bengi himself would falter, causing opponents to contain Faker more efficiently. There were also moments when Blank seemed to crumble under pressure, which a sport psychologist helped remedy.

But for all Blank's struggles, SK Telecom T1 prevailed at IEM Katowice, the LCK Spring season and at Mid-Season Invitational 2016 and he was instrumental to the squad's success. Perseverance and self-improvement are key to his advancement and to a potential third title for SK Telecom T1 (and Faker and bengi), especially since Royal Never Give Up, G2 Esports and others across the world are performing roster changes to stand a better chance against them.

NA LCS: Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya - Counter Logic Gaming - Top

Perhaps the only MSI participant to avoid roster changes, Counter Logic Gaming has overturned predictions and thrilled North American League of Legends fans with a region-first international tournament final since the League of Legends Championship Series era began. Much of CLG's achievement rested on Darshan Upadhyaya, whose side lane pressure translated well from a carry top meta (pre-LCS playoffs) to a tank-centric one (LCS playoffs onward), opening up the map for his teammates.

With squadmates named Stixxay, Aphromoo, Xmithie and HuHi, the odds are good that Darshan's ability to create opportunities across the map would pay off. But against SK Telecom T1, a team that specifically prepared for that occurrence, he had the opportunity to compensate for his opponents' effective containment with correct Teleport play, a matter that SK's top Duke excels at and a matter Darshan can improve at in comparison. Other teams in North America may have taken notice, and Cloud9's newest acquisition, the team-centric Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong may serve as a great test to Darshan and company.

LPL: Jian "Uzi" Zhi-hao - Royal Never Give Up - AD Carry

If you had to ask Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong about the last time he paired with a world-class AD carry, he would fondly remember the 2014 Season World Championship. Then a member of Samsung Galaxy White, the squad that barred Faker's SK Telecom T1 from defending its world title, Mata and Imp set the mechanical standard for bottom lane players worldwide. But this is not about Mata. It is about a player that faced him in that season's grand finals and that he prevented from reaching the 2015 World Championship: Jian "Uzi" Zhi-hao. Much has happened to the notoriously emotional AD carry since the world championship days.

As a member of Oh My God during 2015, he experienced the decline of the squad (a matter that led to the retirement of its founding members save for Yu "Cool" Jiajun) and nursed a shoulder injury that drove him close to retirement. Following a short stint with the Qiao Gu Reapers (currently Newbee) in the 2016 League of Legends Pro League spring split, he returned to Royal Never Give Up, complete with Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok, Liu "MLXG" Shi-yu, Li "xiaohu" Yuan-Hao and Mata, a unit that includes proven veterans and rising stars. The hyper-carry displays Uzi flashed during his domestic and World Championship campaigns may still be fresh in some players' minds, and he is about to add much more although whether he can get along with his teammates (Mata in particular) remains to be seen.

LMS: Jeong "Raison" Soo-bin - Hong Kong Esports - AD Carry

Despite the LMS's relative lack of notoriety abroad before big-ticket international competitions, the region has produced its fair share of contenders. The Flash Wolves and ahq are the most famous ones outside of Taiwan, but Machi 17 and J Gaming (formerly the Taipei Assassins) trail closely behind. HK Esports was once among the contenders, but disaster struck in the summer of 2015. In two damaging rulings, the team lost Raison for one year due to ELO boosting, a practice of inflating a player's in-game rating for money by playing on their account, breaking the terms of service in the process, and Kurtis "Toyz" Lau after contract disputes and a match-fixing scandal the team (minus him) was involved in.

While Toyz is unlikely to come back, Raison will be part of the active roster in the 2016 LMS summer season. In the process, the team has recovered its spark in the bottom lane as Raison and Olleh were considered as the best duo in the region. Raison's return comes with a price. HK Esports needed to free standout mid laner Jun "Rokenia" Young-dae as a result of Riot Games' inter-regional policy rules; two nonresident players maximum per team. Chillyz and MarS may be solid insurance policies, but their ability to contain the Flash Wolves' Maple and ahq's Chawy is unproven. In addition, the AD carry represents one of the few assets HKE currently holds pending the end of the transfer period in the region on June 2. In the meantime, Machi 17, ahq and J Gaming can improve their rosters and crush the team's hopes of reaching the regional playoffs before the season starts. Although that remains to be seen, Raison is HKE's only hope.

EU LCS: Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez - G2 Esports – Support

The EU LCS has hosted its fair share of roster shakeups between splits and seasons, and the 2016 summer offseason was no different. As one of the teams to perform changes, G2 Esports had internal conflicts as two groups splintered, and as talks of mithy and Zven joining the squad sent the community, G2 and Origen reeling before the Mid-Season Invitational began. When mithy and Zven effectively changed teams, the community met the move with an uproar.

You see, once upon a time, Origen was synonymous with mithy, as he shepherded his teammates into a 2015 World Championship semifinal appearance. He was the first member xPeke had approached in 2015, and heavily influenced the team into picking Zven (then known as Zvanillan, a promising yet untested AD carry).

But in 2016, with xPeke taking a step back and with performances going downhill, the atmosphere within the team had, according to him, deteriorated enough that he needed a change. Despite the team's late rally to the EU LCS spring finals, G2 Esports had prevailed. The move may have surprised fans, but it effectively sealed G2 Esports' place in the top of the LCS. In fact, G2 may have had a deep World Championship run in mind with the acquisition, a vision which requires commitment from all five players. Mithy's shotcalling may be the key to unlocking Kikis in terms of teleports, PerkZ in terms of timing roams and Trick as far as sharing information that can be used for better ganking is concerned. As such, he is also the catalyst for Europe's chances at an eventual World Championship final run.

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