With international performances considered, the League of Legends Masters Series has made a lot of progress in the last year.
Taiwanese teams have broken out of the group stage of four consecutive international events. The general level of play and concentration of talent has improved since the region’s early GPL days, but all things considered, the region itself has yet to match even the Western regions in overall depth. Experts like Clement Chu have even stated that the region’s cap of international threats would be four with the proper allocation of foreign imports to fill in the holes, as the more elite Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao players stay on top.
Statements like those are undeniably true; the player base is not large enough to support a great amount of teams and will generally result in most players finding their way to becoming trainees for the top teams, rather than playing on small-time ones. As a result, talent is concentrated well, but it is unlikely that any orgs outside of Flash Wolves, ahq e-Sports Club, J Gaming (formerly Taipei Assassins), Machi 17, or Hong Kong eSports will come out of the woodworks and win an LMS title.
The first two have dominated the circuit for some time — with the exception of HKE’s rise last summer — and have seen all recent international play. Both teams have received praises as relevant international threats, after a two-year bout of mediocrity from the region, but a small misconception has also been spread among the masses as a result. It is generally believed that Flash Wolves and ahq are the only competitive teams within the region, as they are the only ones to make it to recent international events. The LMS is not rich with depth, but it isn’t some sort of mythological barren wasteland where Flash Wolves and ahq merely stomp everyone’s bones.
Last split, the teams nestled below ahq and Flash Wolves in the standings were J Gaming and Machi 17. J Gaming in particular hotly contested ahq and Flash Wolves (even beating Flash Wolves 2-0) with close games all split and definitely showing the talent to match both teams, but it inevitably failed due to absent player roles. Machi 17 had a rough start but played both teams well with raw talent in the early game before falling behind in the later stages because of the strategic disparity that existed in the earlier parts of the split. Neither team was a pushover and would likely have been in the same 3-6 zone in either League Championship Series region.
Still, the mid tier lacked the one or two things necessary to truly contest Flash Wolves and ahq for the LMS crown, and without some changes, might find it hard to be able to do so this split. Last season, as TPA, J Gaming excelled at the early lane swap and was one of the best laning teams in the league, with Chen “Morning” Kuan-Ting, Chu “FoFo” Chun-Lan, and Chang “BeBe” Bo-Wei all incrementing steady CS advantages. But the team’s inability to coordinate engages, exacerbated by Morning and Li “Jay” Chieh’s poor play on tanks, kept them from even placing top three by the end of the split. J Gaming has been recently backed by Jay Chou dollars, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be in the market for a star quality support or top laner to bolster their abysmal engage ability. They will most likely teeter between being top tier and mid tier again, on the backs of FoFo and Chen “REFRAIN” Kuan-Ting’s strong solo performances once more.
Machi 17 comes in as the truly promising “mid tier” team and might very well eclipse ahq e-Sports Club this split. The team had always boasted strong individual talent with star support Tseng “Dreamer” Chien-Hung and mid laner, Hsieh “Apex” Chiah-Wei leading the charge, but it generally struggled from the mid game on. A few tweaks in strategy come the middle of the season, and the rise of their rookie jungler Lin “Taizan” Ching-Chia and top laner Wang “BoBo” You-Lin had Machi vying for top-tier status. Flash Wolves had them outclassed in the most recent playoffs, but considering the individual talent on the roster and the spring trajectory, it’s difficult not to be excited about Machi. In the event Machi improves the AD Carry position, moving away from the more mediocre Chen “Dee” Chun-Ti, the team has a real shot at being a top-two team and making it to the fall’s world championships.
The issue of depth in the LMS isn’t some ill-perpetuated statement of “ahq and Flash Wolves are the only teams that exist,” but rather that teams are just falling short of taking down the kings. The resources aren’t quite there to support a four-team race, and without the influx of more sponsors and more imports, one might never take form. But the competition isn’t necessarily poor. Machi and J Gaming would have done well in either LCS region. Expect to see the likes of J Gaming and Machi 17 give Flash Wolves and ahq a run for their money once the season begins June 9.
Photos courtesy of Garena Esports.