The North American League of Legends scene is in full swing with the heavyweights duking it out week after week in the LCS. While it may be easy to forget about the amateur teams that are currently participating in the Challenger Circuit, rest assured, these teams are jumping at the chance to compete. Many of the current amateur teams were present at the LCS NA Qualifiers just a few weeks ago and were knocked out at the hands of current LCS contenders. However, LCS positions are still up for grabs with the mid-season promotion tournament. With this, it’s ever so important to keep an eye on the players that could very well knock some fan favorites out of their positions in a few months. Challenger Circuit teams all have one trait in common; they have everything to gain, and not much time to do it.
Major League Gaming and the IGN Pro League have been huge players in perpetuating the growth and activity of the Challenger Circuit. MLG hosts a weekly tournament known as the Rising Stars Invitational, where four amateur teams come together to compete for a chunk of cash, and a bit of fame in a single-elimination, best of three format. Additionally, the winners of MLG’s Winter Championship in Dallas on March 15-17 will be awarded a sport in the mod-season promotion tournament. IPL has partnered with organizations such as Counter Logic Gaming and Solomid.net to sponsor events that will qualify these teams for their own position at IPL 6 in March. Four teams have already been qualified for the event, with the Online Qualifier #1, CLG Premier Series, and Solomid.net Qualifier all coming to a close. However, there are still three more events that will send teams to IPL 6 as part of the “Challenger’s Series.” As with the LCS, there are some amateur teams proving to be a dominant force among their peers, while others struggle to catch up. It’s clear which teams have the veterans, which teams have the resources, and which teams are still trying to find their footing. Here’s a look at what the Challenger Circuit has to offer.
#1: Team Curse Academy
Team Curse Academy secured their spot at IPL 6 with their victory in the CLG Premier Series, and in doing so secured their spot at the forefront of the Challenger Circuit. While the roster is seasoned with ex-Curse player Pobelter, recent Curse substitute Rhux, and ex-Dignitas jungler IWillDominate, they barely secured victory in the CPS after falling to the losers bracket in round two of the bracket stage. Between having the backing and resources of Curse Gaming, a tight practice schedule with Team Curse to scrim against, and the results they’ve already shown us, Curse Academy has the highest potential to succeed right now.
The one issue Curse Academy seems to be having at the moment is execution. Their line up is strong, their team compositions are strong and they’re record is looking pretty good at the moment, but they’re developing quite a history with the losers bracket. They were knocked down in the CLG Premier Series by Azure Cats, who they would come back to 2-0, and they were knocked down in the Solomid qualifier by Dirtnap Gaming, who they would also come back to 2-0. Curse Academy can step up to the plate under pressure, but if they want to become a truly unstoppable force, they’re going to have to learn how to come out swinging.
Key Player: Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera. IWillDominate is the team’s jungler and most experienced player. Known for his aggressive jungling style, IWillDominate is the kind of player that can get the momentum going during a game and carry it through to victory. In a recent interview with, jungler Saintvicious of the main Team Curse roster named Dominate the hardest jungler to play against, saying “He is extremely aggressive so we go HAM on each other.” Coming from the jungler of the only undefeated team in the LCS, those words aren’t to be taken lightly.
So long as IWillDominate keeps his head on his shoulders in competition (and in Solo Queue), expect Curse Academy to do extremely well as a challenger.
#2: Dirtnap Gaming
Dirtnap Gaming is a team that latches on to a tiny bit of momentum, and brings it all the way home. They have been absolutely dominant in the Rising Stars Invitational, battling for the number one position over Cloud 9. While they proved to be a heavy hitter in the amateur league, they ran into some trouble in the CLG Premier Series, where they would fall to the losers bracket at the hand of Azure Cats, and was knocked out of the tournament by Curse Academy.
Dirtnap didn’t take the CPS loss hard, and they got right back on their feet snatching up wins in the Rising Star Invitational as well as successfully securing their IPL 6 invite with a third place finish in the SoloMid qualifier.
Key Player: Ainslie “frommaplestreet” Wyllie. Some people know frommaplestreet as another solo queue player, many people know him as TSM jungler TheOddOne’s little brother, though everyone should know him as the dominant AD Carry that has recently become part of the Dirtnap Gaming starting roster. Originally a substitute for the team, frommaplestreet proved his prowess on AD Carry champions such as Draven and Miss Fortune, and has been helping Dirtnap Gaming maintain their lead at the head of the Rising Stars Invitational standings for weeks.
#3: Cloud 9
In what was considered the biggest upset of the LCS North American Qualifiers, Cloud 9 lost their chances at a salaried position for at least the first half of the LCS season. While the setback may have knocked them down, they’re far from out. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them perform for a spot at IPL 6 in the CLG Premier Series, though their weekly performances in the MLG Rising Stars Invitational are promising to say the least. Cloud 9 is a top contender in the weekly bout, currently holding the second place standings next to Dirtnap Gaming.
While it is noted that Cloud 9 has a solid roster, it’s not as strong as the one we saw coming into the LCS NA qualifiers. Nientensoh and Yazuki would leave the team, rotating jungler Hai to mid lane, and bringing in players BalIs in the top lane, and TrickZ in the jungle. Cloud 9 is qualified for IPL 6 through their victory in the first online qualifier hosted by IPL in January.
Key Player: Jason “WildTurtle” Tran. Known for his mid lane play as a substitute for Team Legion during IPL Faceoff last year, WildTurtle made a name for himself with exceptional Ryze and Gragas play. He would sub again during MLG Raleigh later in the year, only this time for CLG Black, with rumors going around that he might even join the roster permanently, which did not happen. After originally playing top lane, performing multiple games in the role of mid lane, and now transitioned to AD Carry in the bottom lane, WildTurtle is a player that offers much variety, flexibility, and solid gameplay to the Cloud 9 roster.
#4: Team Dignitas
Early this month, Team Dignitas secured themselves multiple substitutes, as well as a team in the challenger circuit when they picked up the roster of Pulse eSports, who made it to the NA LCS qualifiers, but did not make it through to the LCS. What the team might lack in experience, they make up for in skill and execution. The additions to the Dignitas roster come with no big names or veterans, though they’ve shown that they can compete with the best that the Challenger Circuit has to offer.
Dignitas benefits from some of the same bonuses as Curse Academy; they have the resources of a larger organization, and internal scrimming partners in the form of the main Dignitas roster. The LCS Dignitas roster has picked up momentum in recent weeks, and it will be interesting to see if they pass along enough game knowledge and experience to give the new Dignitas members an edge among the amateur teams. Out of the top five teams, they are the only one that has not yet qualified for IPL 6. As of now, Square Duck is perfectly set up to give Dignitas a run for their money, and it’s up to Dignitas to take advantage of their powerhouse sister team as a practice and learning tool.
Key Player: Zachary “SnEaKyCaStRoO” Scuderi. While there aren’t too many familiar faces in the group of dignitas additions, SnEaKyCaStRoO has already earned himself multiple highlight clips on MLG’s Youtube channel form his Rising Star Invitational matches. As an AD Carry, CaStRoO can be a huge impact on teamfights and the swing of the games. Couple that with in-game shot calling between him and jungler Onionbagel, and you’ve got yourself a key player. While he’s known as a strong Graves player, it will be interesting what kind of champions and gameplay he’ll bring out over the next few months.
#5: Square Duck
Earlier this year, a team called Square Duck tore through the first IPL 6 qualifier, only losing only to heavy hitting amateur team Cloud 9. Tonight in the Solomid qualifiers, Square Duck was able to take down teams such as Dirtnap Gaming and Curse Academy to secure their first place victory and their ticket to compete at IPL 6. They might not have the most well known players, with their only professional veteran being ex-Dignitas support player L0CUST, but the team does not lack talent. Unfortunately, Square Duck did not compete in the CLG Premier Series, nor have they taken part in any MLG Rising Stars Invitational matches, so there hasn’t been too much to be seen of them. Hopefully they become more of a familiar face soon, but no matter what, we’ll be seeing more of Square Duck at IPL 6 in March.
Key Player: Patrick “L0CUST” Miller. In all honesty, nobody in Square Duck’s roster seems to shine above the rest, so this one I’m chalking this one up to experience. L0CUST was a long time dignitas veteran, who even has the experience of traveling to Korea for the OGN under his belt. We haven’t seen anything from him since his departure from dignitas after that particular OGN season, though he looks to have found a winning squad with his teammates on Square Duck. We’ll have to see if Square Duck’s success remains a team effort, or if one player will rise up to the spotlight position.
Honorable Mention: FXOpen e-Sports
While we haven’t seen much of these guys in the Rising Stars Invitational, they’ve had strong tournament play, and a few heavy hitters on the lineup. Old-school veterans Salce and Westrice have not disappointed so far, with a 2-1 group stage in the CLG Premier Series, and refusing to go out without a fight. While being knocked down to the losers bracket, they went 1-2 against Dirtnap Gaming, and were knocked out of the tournament by Complexity Academy after yet another 1-2. FXOpen has laid themselves a solid foundation, though they’ve recently made several revisions, such as being picked up by Azure Gaming, as well as the addition of ex-Dirtnap jungler Jdwu and Counter Logic Gaming legacy Bigfatlp.
While FXO is definitely making some nice changes, unfortunately this means that previous mid laner Salce will now be a substitute to make room for Bigfatlp, who will be moving onto the team as a starter. However, through practice and team cohesion with the new roster, FXOpen have poised themselves to succeed in as a Challenger Circuit team.
So there you have it. The four teams headed to IPL 6 so far consist of Curse Academy, Dirtnap Gaming, Cloud 9, and Square Duck. As much as each team has it’s clear strengths and weaknesses, it’s like the players themselves always say; many of these teams have the ability to beat each other in any given match. It’s really exciting to think about how the challenger circuit will pan out. Will one team attain dominance over the rest and rise to the LCS? How much work are these players willing to put in to reach their goal of becoming a professional player? Will competitive League of Legends outside of the LCS thrive, or will it die? That’s up to the players, and it’s up to the viewers. Don’t let the LCS be the only eSports event you watch in a week. You could be missing out on some great games, the growth of a superstar, or even the team that’s going to potentially replace your favorite squad in the LCS. The Challenger Circuit is heating up, and it’s only the beginning.