Welcome to ESEA Season 18 LAN Finals. After a solid season of Invite play we find ourselves fast approaching the LAN event. This Saturday, April 18th, at 10:00 AM EST (and Sunday, April 19th) over on the ESEA 3 Stream, North America's 4 best teams will battle it out in a double elimination bracket to see who will be crowned ESEA's S18 champions. Notable information regarding this LAN is that this is the first LAN without Classic Mixup since S8, and that registration for S19 ends a mere 3 days after LAN concludes. Whether or not this will cause some registration hiccups remains to be seen for all divisions.
Before we get started, it's important that you know this LAN Preview was a joint effort by me and Alkaline. He started off midway through the season as an assistant writer with me and the Invite Power Rankings, but through his effort and quality writing I'm very proud to announce he's officially joining the TFTV Team as a writer for next season. With my status as a writer still in the air, he'll most likely be your (only) go-to-guy for Invite coverage in S19. Now that we have those formalities out of the way, let's talk ESEA Season 18 LAN.
1. Froyotech // Record: 16-0
- Scout: clckwrk
- Scout: b4nny
- Pocket: lansky
- Roamer: blaze
- Demoman: duwatna
- Medic: shade
The team that needs no introduction, Froyotech come into this LAN as clear favorites—no, make that the obvious favorites. Coming off a perfect regular season, the defending champions at Insomnia, GXL, and ESEA are also getting impressively close to keeping the same line up for a whole year. They also haven’t lost a map on LAN since the i52 group stages.
What makes Froyotech so dominant? The simple answer is their collective gamesense, which is simply off the charts. The core of b4nny, shade, and clckwrk has been playing together since pretty much since the start of ESEA, and all of their players have international LAN experience together.
The more complicated answer is that Froyotech have found the perfect playstyle for their team. Lansky plays Gunboats Pocket a significant amount of the time, which frees up heals that go to b4nny and clckwrk, who are without question the best Scout combo in the game. Blaze gets a significant chunk of heals in his own right, but the constant buffs he receives compliment b4nny and clckwrk perfectly to give 4G that constant edge on the flank. The downside is that poor duwatna is left crying in a corner for lack of heals, but post-nerf that’s a trend that many other teams are adopting to anyway.
So, Froyotech are set, right? Undefeated on LAN since the team's inception in S16, best player on every class, etc. etc., right? NO. The Un-Hype Train stops right here. Froyotech are the favorites, but this LAN will be close. I know that the other teams are motivated and are scrimming hard, and while I don’t know which team Froyotech will face in the finals, I truly believe that Street Hoops, eLevate, and Mad Men all have a real shot at dethroning Froyotech.
Perhaps the question isn't "How do you counter Froyotech" but "When will any of their players retire?" Jokes aside, the power of Froyotech comes from chemistry and experience. To put this into perspective, Classic Mixup was the team constantly putting up the strongest effort against Froyotech and other b4nny teams, and Mixup as a core had been together since S9. Street Hoops and eLevate didn't even exist until the last 2-3 seasons (ignoring 20b's start in Open). As b4nny said in the season opening Preview: "In my opinion experience is most important factor separating the 'top' and 'bottom' Invite teams because it allows them to swiftly make calls that are more informed and more deadly. Though no team will be able to quickly 'replace' them, as teams put in the time and struggle through Invite, the experience they gain will slowly but surely turn them into Invite contenders." It will take a while for any other Invite team to amass the experience that Froyotech has collected over the seasons.
Froyotech carries the most destructive flank into this weekend, as the statistical analysis by my partner has shown. Again, experience comes into play. Clckwrk and b4nny have played with each other for countless seasons while blaze has been a top Roamer since the srsly br0 era. Not only that, but other flanks (specifically Scouts) lack LAN experience (seymour, YouMustMike) or have yet to come out of their shells and put on strong performances (paragon, Shrugger). Looking at the team as a whole, I'm hard pressed to find a weak link on this team. At the same time, this exact roster lost twice in the regular season to the S17 eLevate lineup. Could teams find a way to replicate and abuse that glimpse of weakness?
2. Street Hoops Esports // Record: 12-4
- Scout: paragon
- Scout: cyzer
- Pocket: grape
- Roamer: ash
- Demoman: deadbolt
- Medic: ninjanick
Street Hoops have it all: a big brown man, a fruit, a ninja, a cool kid, and most importantly the Gruesome Twosome. They are the only team to match 4G in maintaining the same roster from last season, and their results show it. They split their matches with eLevate and Mad Men, but in both cases their wins were convincing 5-3 and 5-1 results, respectively, while their losses were tight 5-4’s. They also swept all of the non-LAN teams. This adds up to a more consistent performance than eLevate or Mad Men.
20b’s chief strength lies in grape. He takes a healthy plurality of ninjanick’s heals, but he gets a lot of work done with them. By the stats grape is the 2nd best Pocket in Invite this season, and I expect him to improve on his performance at LAN. Meanwhile the wondertwins deadbolt and paragon always put up solid performances on their classes, while cyzer rounds out 20b’s Scout combo very well.
However, I believe that a key and often overlooked player on Street Hoops is none other than ash. Taking almost no heals, he tops the stats in damage per heals. All while topping the charts in Medic picks per minute at 0.15. Ash is 20b’s most clutch player this season, and with LAN ping on his side I expect to see even more plays like this from him.
Street Hoops have more than just money and prestige on the line, however. When I talked with Grape, he made it clear that “we would all be interested in attending i55” but also that “we would obviously need to prove ourselves as a definitive second at this upcoming ESEA LAN in order to really feel like we deserved any crowd-funding.”
Alkaline was planning on writing an article called "10 Reasons Why Street Hoops Will Win S18 LAN" but unfortunately time chewed him (and me) up so that wasn't able to come to fruition. Despite that, Street Hoops are looking very good. They've had an excellent regular season all the while maintaining the same roster from S17. As per usual, the "main attraction" to this team is cyzer and grape. Cyzer is the only non-4G Scout with tons of experience and the strong aim to compliment. Paragon will be consistent, but unless we see a superstar showing out of him this LAN, the 20b Scout combo might actually be the weakest on paper. Someone who will rise above and beyond their paper performance is ash. As a Roamer on a top 4 team he's done impressive things this season and will continue to do so at LAN, converting (Medic) picks and opening up fights for his team.
Where does this leave the remaining 20b members? Deadbolt continues to be an admirable force on Demoman but the difference between him and duwatna / Bdonski is evident. On the other hand, ninjanick has had varied performances throughout past seasons and LANs. I want to see Nick with a legendary set of performances this weekend, but when it comes down to it I think all he has to do is play good enough and the rest of the team will make the magic happen. That's Medic after all. In the end, I see Street Hoops on the verge of a serious breakthrough, and this will be their LAN to prove it to all the 20believers out there.
3. Mad Men // Record: 12-4
- Scout: YouMustMike
- Scout: seymour
- Pocket: bl4nk
- Roamer: harbleu
- Demoman: Pharaoh
- Medic: indust
“Well, Mike and I have a history. Every team I've been on (except one) I have played with Mike. Blank is a cool dude but would probably freak everyone out, so we are going to put a muzzle on him at LAN. Harb...I honestly don't even talk to the guy outside of scrims. Pharaoh is cool, very quiet, keeps to himself. He has a cholo-text tattoo under his chin. And no, his private parts are not tattooed, I asked. Indust is a cool dude, I don't really know much about him except that he's from Minnesota. About myself, this is my first season of Invite (I played 4 matches before on a 60hz). This is also the first time I have ever committed to one class for a long period of time. So I'm hoping for a bright future. Oh and I’m bald.” - seymour.kwm
These men are mad (gee, what an innovative joke Alkaline), and they are ready to prove that the only new LAN team is not the weakest. Let’s jump straight into the action and take a look at what gives these angry gentlemen their competitive edge. First of all, harbleu and bl4nk have switched classes. This is a huge change, and in my opinion its effectiveness will determine Mad’s success at LAN. When I first heard the news, I was very surprised because Mad Men had a strong finish to the season, beating out Street Hoops and eLevate. So what did prompt this change? Here’s my take: During the regular season, Mad Men’s strength came from their flank, with YouMustMike, seymour, and especially harbleu giving even Froyotech a run for their money. In contrast, their combo of bl4nk, Pharaoh, and Indust was always solid but a tad mediocre, always lacking the firepower to really compete with the likes of grape, Bdonski, or lansky from the other LAN teams.
The Mad Men were obviously upset (possibly even mad) about their combo’s relative weakness, so they decided a change was in order. And from the scrims I’ve seen, harbleu is a beast on pocket, while bl4nk is a decent if heal-heavy roamer. That, of course, leaves Pharaoh with very few heals. Very few. Pharaoh often gets the fewest or second fewest heals on the team, in fact. This worries me. It’s never a good sign when a team still has such a concrete problem heading into LAN. Unless Mad Men figure out their difficulties (and soon!), I don’t think they will be able to stand up to the other teams in the grueling BO3 format.
As it turns out Mad Men have reverted back to their regular season lineup of bl4nk on Pocket and harbleu on Roamer. I firmly believe this is stronger than the reverse, if only because this was the roster they played the regular season with. I was getting panic attacks to S14 Tri Hards, where dummy didn't get to play LAN after having a solid season and etc. etc. Mad Men are to be feared, but I'm quite concerned with the members settling in at Dallas. Outside of harbleu and indust, none of the players have been to an ESEA LAN before. Specifically, Mike and seymour will be the newbie Scouts there, and considering how aggressive Mad Men love to be, their performance hinges on whether or not their Scouts come to play. Still, I am seymour's #1 fan meaning I have absolute faith in him and Mike. Plus, the record lately has been kind to new LAN Scouts, as arcticjoe last season had a solid performance. I see no reason for Mad Men's Scouts to be any different, if not better.
However, there is a slight problem I see in Mad Men's game. And that problem is a gentleman named Pharaoh. Quite frankly, if I'm worried about Mad Men's Scouts adjusting to the LAN environment, I'm even more worried about Pharaoh's general performance. He has put up unimpressive numbers throughout the season and with no experience on LAN, the other Demoman will tower over him on the stage in terms of both presence and output. If your Demoman isn't doing enough, it means the rest of your team has to do more. And can the men of mud afford to do that against teams they've been super close with all season? If Pharaoh can step up his game, I expect to see a very mad and very strong Mad Men this weekend.
4. eLevate TF2 // Record: 11-5
- Scout: Decimate
- Scout: Shrugger
- Pocket: alfa
- Roamer: Ma3la
- Demoman: Bdonski
- Medic: kbk
eLevate famously ended the Platinum vs. b4nny finals streak in S17 by beating Mixup in the lower bracket, but after LAN they lost cozen and rando, two of their strongest players. Kbk on Medic and Shrugger on Scout are certainly great replacements with plenty of LAN experience, but it meant that Alfa had to move to… to… Well, what class did he move to, anyway? Let me explain myself. Throughout the season, it has been unclear at best whether Ma3la or alfa was on Pocket or Roamer. Sometimes Ma3la played Pyro full-time, but generally the consensus was that eLevate didn’t have a Pocket. Anyway, the important question now is what happens at LAN. To answer that I have none other than the Sniper / Roamer / Pocket / leader of eLevate, alfa: "I'm the Pocket, Ma3la is the Roamer but we play a dynamic style where both of us can switch between our positions at any moment depending on the heals and situation. We adopted this playstyle as I like calling and Ma3la has already established himself as a Roamer.”
Back to the chase: regardless of eLevate’s Pocket and Roamer, their biggest strength is clear: Decimate and Shrugger. They have consistently put up big frag and damage numbers despite having relatively few heals. This shines through in the very important stat of frags per heals; they are actually the best scout combo going to LAN by that metric. Alfa himself has said "Our scout combo as the current meta depends on the scouts more than any other class in the game." Bdonski also represents a huge strength for eLevate, and by the damage per heals stat he is the best going to LAN (narrowly surpassing duwatna). His heals were usurped by Ma3laa and alfa, but he still managed to get work done.
“We got a few new players this season and some people are underestimating us because we finished 4th place during the regular season. I'm confident that our seed doesn't matter that much and that we can break top 3 again (if we don't choke). I'd like to thank to all of our supporters and hopefully we can put on some good games this weekend.” - alfa"
Can eLevate make another appearance at the Grand Finals? If this was last season's roster, I'd have confidently said "Yes." But the truth of the matter is, S18 eLevate is not as strong as the S17 eLevate that went 16-0. Perhaps it's the wildly unpredictable Soldier / offclass style they've adopted, perhaps it's because Bdonski isn't doing as much as last season, perhaps it's because kbk is busy fragging everyone with his Krossbow. In either case, they're just not as strong. Their performances against the other LAN teams have not been good, going 1-5 against the other LAN teams (albeit having very close games for some, like the heartbreaker Gullywash loss to 20b through backcaps). eLevate is also the most offclass-friendly team, with many switches to Pyro and Sniper on pretty much every map. While this sets them apart the other teams in terms of playstyle, I've yet to be fully convinced that this is better for eLevate overall.
The eLevate roster is sort of a flip from the Mad Men's in terms of Soldiers. I find Ma3la the stronger Pocket despite alfa's preference for calling. and if Ma3la is going to be adaptive and play with more heals if alfa is on an offclass or away, why not just have him Pocket to begin with? As Alkaline mentioned though, Decimate and Shrugger are strong Scouts / Snipers and will be key to eLevate's success this weekend. Shrugger put up some monstrous numbers of their matchups against other LAN teams this season, and if he can replicate those performances, watching the Scout battles for all 4 teams is gonna be amazing.
Alkaline: I’ve emphasized this already, but this will be a close LAN. Multiple results will hinge on crazy individual plays that are impossible to predict. However, I feel confident that my predictions represent the most likely outcome.
1. Froyotech // 2. Street Hoops eSports // 3. eLevate TF2 // 4. Mad Men
- Froyotech will drop 2 maps along the way: one to eLv in the opening BO3 and one to 20b in the Grand Finals.
- Ninjanick will drop the most ubers.
- Harbleu will be the best offclasser.
Tery: While I was spot-on with my predictions last LAN, this time around I am not quite as confident. Nonetheless, here are my placements.
1. Froyotech // 2. Street Hoops eSports // 3. Mad Men // 4. eLevate TF2
Even 20b's biggest fanboy Alkaline thinks Froyotech will claim the title, ha. At the same time, I do agree 20b will be very strong and make their way into the Grand Finals, though I do not think they will be able to take a map off 4G. Mad Men will have the best series, their BO3's against eLevate and 20b will be damn good and likely the highlight of LAN. Despite that, and Mad Men being my favorite team, they will find themselves in a similar position like Classic Mixup at the end of last LAN: 3rd. We will also probably see every offclass within the first 2 maps of LAN, no doubt thanks to the offclass-happy members like alfa, harbleu, and paragon.
Alkaline: That’s all I’ve got. I look forward to writing even bigger and better things next season and beyond, but more importantly I hope that each and every one of you enjoy what promises to be a great weekend of Team Fortress!
Tery: Good luck and have fun. And remember: everything changes after LAN.