Coming next on my checklist of teams are the Golden Guardians. Entering 2019, they were very optimistic, often describing it as their “championship year,” according to esports personality Locodoco. And while they managed more success than any previous year, they still only managed a couple of sixth place finishes, and ended in a much lower place than they would’ve liked. Following that high-spending, Froggen-filled season, they took another step back toward the seemingly-lower-budget style of a couple years ago, which has many (including me) questioning their potential.
To me, the Golden Guardians’ roster is very similar to the Immortals’ in their talent dispersal. The first of these similarities is the pretty strong top-lane carry in Hauntzer. While he hasn’t been able to shine the past year or two, being on rosters such as the Golden Guardians, his performance and experience have continued to show. Becoming a staple in the old TSM roster built a strong game knowledge into him, but more importantly, gave him the ability to play an amazing weak side; as we all know the constant island that is TSM’s top-lane (sorry Dyrus). But when given a lead, he is able to push it pretty far. He reminds me of the American sOAZ. His highs are not as high, but when he’s not being shoehorned into tanks (which he is admittedly good at), he shows a strong mechanical basis. Which is probably why Gnar is in my opinion his best champion. The ability to play back and be a good initiator and tank is there, but if he gets a kill or two in lane, he can build full AD and kick the crap out of you. I think I still have PTSD from watching him destroy NA LCS with that little yordle.
Hauntzer landing a 5-man Gnar ultimate against Flashwolves.
Something not-so-similar to Immortals is the new and unproved jungler in Closer. After two whole seasons of Contractz leading the league in deaths, they finally made the decision to replace him. But rather than getting an Xmithie, Svenskeren, or even Dardoch, they got Closer: former Turkish jungler for Royal Youth. What is there to say about this guy? Not much so far. The past season he ended up winning the TCL and making it to the World Championship, where he performed relatively well, but still did not make it out of the play-in stage. Prior to that, there’s not too much data on the guy. He only came into the pro league two years ago, and didn’t even have a starting job at first, so it’s unclear if he will be good or not. Until we see him on the LCS stage, I see him as a low-middle tier jungler.
Juxtaposing this unknown variable in Closer is now the staple NA mid-laner, GoldenGlue. While he hasn’t held a consistent starting spot in North America for some time, he’s existed in the league for longer than many even remember. Starting for Complexity in Spring of 2014, he continued a trend of being one of the worst mid-laners in the league for about 2-3 years. After his on-and-off stint with TL, he landed on C9’s Academy roster, where he’s spent a majority of his time since late 2017. Throughout this whole process, he’s undoubtedly blossomed as a personality and as a teammate, but his play itself hasn’t necessarily wowed many people. His position on Cloud9 in 2018 as a sharing-starter was very successful for the team, but that, to me, was due to his jungle duo in Svenskeren, who he’d developed a great rapport with. When it showed, it showed, and they destroyed their opposition, but I still never saw him as the/a carry on the team. And I don’t see him being that on GGS either.
Goldenglue, several years ago, playing for Dignitas.
Finally, we have the bottom lane duo of FBI and Keith. And this is… interesting to say the least. FBI is starting for his second year as the ADC for Golden Guardians, and I wouldn’t say his first year was incredible. However, as many have pointed out, he has been given possibly the worst history of supports out of any ADC in the league, with Olleh and eventually Huhi. Even a great carry, if they have a bad support, can be weighed down and unable to perform. So I’ll give him that excuse for now. And I’ll continue to give him that excuse because this year, he was given yet another role-swapped teammate in Keith. Keith is I would not say an unsuccessful player in the league. However, I will say he is not a very strong team, mental-player, and being slotted into perhaps the most important role on the map has me questioning this decision greatly. Unless he can showcase his raw mechanical ability on complex champions like Thresh, I see him as being by far the worst support in the league. Sure, he has stage experience, but unlike Hai’s semi-successful transition to support, his makes no sense. He’s not known for shotcalling, for rotating around the map, or anything. And this new, unfitting place on the team can only end poorly in my mind.
Their lack of substantial talent is worrying, so what can teamwork and coaching do for it? Not a lot, in my mind. Having a new jungler that’s not only new to the team, but to the region, is very worrying. In a meta that’s reliant on jungle-mid and jungle-support, the ability for him to work with the team is necessary to success. So unless they can quickly build a good working relationship, they’re gonna have a lot of work to do. Speaking of jungle-support, we once again have Keith bringing the team down. He’s never been in this role, so navigating it with a brand new teammate will be interesting to see and most-likely disastrous. Originally I was going to argue that with the Hauntzer + FBI relationships of the past year, they have a stronger basis than new teams like Immortals, but I don’t know how true that is. Firstly, they’re both on completely opposite sides of the map so their ability to work together is pretty inconsequential. And second, Xmithie’s vast experience gives him a much easier time melding to an environment than a established, imported player like Closer. So I have much more faith in that roster to build relationships than this one. The best thing Golden Guardians have is the established and lovable personas of Hauntzer, GoldenGlue, and Keith, but that can only go so far.
Coaching is something I’m torn on. Inero; their head coach for the past two splits; I’ve heard nothing but positive opinions about, but simultaneously, I’ve seen little to no success from him. The rosters he’s been given have been pretty lackluster, but coaches like Zaboutine I think were given similar or worse rosters and found as much if not more success. So my confidence is not very high. If a sixth place finish is all they could muster last year, with the same coaching staff, then this seemingly-worse roster can only be seen to perform worse in my mind.
Inero before working with Golden Guardians, on Echo Fox.
I wish I could buck the trend of placing the Golden Guardians in last place this season, but there’s very little to be optimistic about. I suppose unlike Immortals’ known, stale talent of Eika, Altec, and Hakuho, they at least have some new potential talent in Closer and even FBI. Technically, if you count Keith’s role swap as a potential success, that as well. But the veterans are not even as veteran as they are on the previously-mentioned squad, they have less historical success, and I have perhaps less confidence in their coaching staff. This past year was filled with mediocre play, despite it being the Froggen show for a majority of the time. Now that they’ve lost Froggen and replaced him with GoldenGlue, they have even less carry potential than in the past. Closer I don’t see being a carry, as jungle carries are incredibly rare nowadays, and even if FBI can transition to that role, Keith is weighing him down like his past two supports have. At the end of the day, unless this team develops some outstanding teamwork and an identity much like Clutch of last year, they’re entirely screwed for the beginning of this upcoming year.