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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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