Game within the game

This week in Houston eSports: Updating the league of legends and overwatch

The logo for Clutch Gaming. Twitter

The concept of eSports is one that makes many sports fans cringe at the term. After all, they’re just playing video games. But like the term or not, eSports are here to stay and its following is growing on a daily basis. Games being played include squad-based shooters like Counterstrike and Overwatch, multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA) such as League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA2), fighting games like Super Smash Brothers and Street Fighter, and card games like Hearthstone and Magic. There are even those that speed run or play modified versions of console games including old Super Nintendo and NES games. Twitch.tv is the primary broadcast home for most of these events and viewership is rapidly rising. On Sunday afternoon, the Counterstrike Major tournament in Boston had in excess of one million people simultaneously watching the final match where Cloud 9 (a North American team) defeated FAZE Clan (Europe) for North America’s first win at a major Counterstrike tournament.

This column is going to focus on e-sports teams that are Houston based; the Houston Outlaws from the Overwatch League (owned by OpTic Gaming), and Clutch Gaming from League of Legends, owned by the Houston Rockets. Without further ado, let’s see how things currently stand from the initial few weeks of competition and preview the week ahead.

League of Legends

For the 2018 season, League of Legends switched to a franchise model for their North American competition. Along with the Cavaliers (100 Thieves) and Warriors (Golden Guardians), the Houston Rockets were one of three NBA franchises to be accepted as one of the 10 teams in the North American League Championship Series (NALCS). Clutch Gaming (clutchlcs.com) is the Rockets new e-sports venture with League of Legends being their first game. To build their team, they signed 3/5 of team EnVyUs to get their jungler and bottom lane (Lira, Apollo, and Hakuho). They also signed Solo from Gold Coin United as their top laner, and in probably their most significant roster move, signed Febiven from Europe’s H2k-Gaming after his contract expired. The team intends to use statistics and analytics to help the team develop and improve similar to how it has shaped the NBA franchise.

After the first two weeks of competition, Clutch Gaming sits in 5th place with a 2-2 record. In week one they defeated the Golden Guardians (0-4) and lost to Echo Fox (4-0). Last week they defeated CLG (1-3) and lost to Team Liquid (3-1). They have defeated the teams that started weak, but lost to teams that have had a strong start. The next few weeks will shore up their standing in the League.

Highlights from the first four games

Against the Golden Guardians the team had a methodical win with a 7-2 advantage in kills and a strong and steady push after taking a gold lead when Febiven on Malzahar killed Hai after a successful gank from Lira on Evelyn.

Echo Fox focused on the top lane, getting Solo behind early before having a steady push themselves to close out a 33 minute victory over Clutch Gaming.

Against CLG, Febiven got the first Pentakill of the 2018 season in the NALCS as part of a dominating 12/0/3 performance in their 31 minute victory.

Unfortunately, Team Liquid got ahead early with a kill on Lira and easily dispatched Clutch Gaming with a 27 minute victory punctuated by a 12 to 2 advantage in kills.

This week’s matchups

Saturday at approximately 6 p.m. versus 100 Thieves  (3-1) – Last week 100 Thieves defeated Team Liquid but lost to Cloud 9. Prediction – 100 Thieves uses their top lane advantage to take a victory over CG.

Sunday at approximately 7 p.m. versus Cloud 9 (3-1) – Febiven outduels Jensen and CG gets the upset win over C9.

Each weekend the NALCS airs on twitch.tv starting at 3:30 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit lolesports.com

Overwatch League

The Houston Outlaws are playing extremely well. After going 0-2 in the first week against the Philadelphia Fusion and New York Excelsior, they are 4-0 since and have not lost a single map, sweeping each of those matches 4-0 against the Shanghai Dragons, Florida Mayhem, the Los Angeles Gladiators, and most importantly, the Dallas Fusion. Any time a Houston team defeats a Dallas team, it’s a good day.

Their 4-2 record has them sitting tied for third in the Atlantic Division with Philadelphia and behind New York and London who are both 5-1.

Last week, the Outlaws took on the Mayhem and the Gladiators.

Outlaws versus Mayhem Results – Outlaws win 4-0

Linkzr and Jake combined for over 50 kills and only 15 deaths on Numbani as Tracer and Genji respectively. On Horizon, Linkzr had 21 kills and no deaths as Widowmaker while Rawkus had a great game on Zenyatta. The Mayhem got to 99% on both capture points on Ilios, but the Outlaws stopped them and scored wins on both. Coolmatt was 26/5 on D.Va in the final map, Junkertown, the Outlaws had a dominating performance with Linkzr going 50/7. Overall, Linkzr was awarded player of the match.

Outlaws versus Gladiators Results: Outlaws win 4-0

Coolmatt had a 32/3 score as D.Va on Numbani. On Temple of Anubis, the Outlaws held the Gladiators to a score of zero while defending then scored their first point on offense extraordinarily fast to win the match. Bani also had a strong match on Mercy. Third was Ilios where the Outlaws won 2-0, highlighted by Boink’s string support play on Lucian. On the final map, Dorado, the Outlaws had another dominant defensive performance and won easily once they went on offense, needing to only get to the first checkpoint to win. Linkzr again won player of the match.

Each match is available for restreaming on the website or through the Overwatch League app.

This week’s schedule pits the Outlaws and their 16 map win streak against the San Francisco Shock (2-4) on Wednesday at approximately 10 PM, and the Seoul Dynasty (5-1) at around 8 PM on Friday. Like any sport, if the Outlaws want to do well on the season, they should defeat San Francisco, and have a good showing against Seoul. Predictions – Outlaws 3 – 1 over the Shock. The Pacific Division leading Dynasty 3 – Outlaws 2.

Overwatch League has 3 matches per day from Wednesday through Saturday, starting at 6 PM on Wednesday and Friday, 4 PM on Thursday and 1 PM on Saturday. For more information visit overwatchleague.com.

Tune in next week for results and previews and an explanation of each game’s formatting/schedule.

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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