ggChronicle continues our “Twelve Days of eSports” series with a comprehensive profile of the Saigon Jokers. Every day between now and the World Finals, we will release one article highlighting each of the teams going to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check back daily for our new content, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
|SEA Regionals in Vietnam|
Nobody was expecting this. The Taipei Assassins had already smashed their way through their local qualifiers; the equally dominant Singapore Sentinels were heavily favored to sweep the entirety of the South-East Asian Regionals. Nobody expected the Saigon Jokers to steal the regional ticket to the world stage.
Their team mascot might be a clown, but it was the world that played the fool. All of the SEA’s so-called experts were confident in their expectations of a crushing Singapore victory. Had we all forgotten? They might be known as the Saigon Jokers, and they might have achieved a measly third place in the Garena Premier League, but the individual players in the SEA Champion team are used to the taste of victory.
The Saigon Jokers’ current lineup has approximately two decades of combined experience in MOBA games, a courtesy of their long and involved history playing Defense of the Ancients. Archie, especially, is a local legend – his former team, StarsBoba, was a dominant DOTA presence for four years, garnering first-place finishes at the Asian DOTA Championship (2008) and World Cyber Games Asia Championship (2009, 2010). NIXWATER, Junie and QTV are no strangers to success either: their former team, Masta – later changed to Friends Forever – was one of StarsBoba’s foremost rivals in Vietnam’s competitive DOTA scene.
As such, it seems strange that such a storied combination of DOTA talents had struggled in the Garena Premier League. As of this writing, they occupy the third place, eight victories behind the Singapore Sentinels. The GPL has left the Jokers helpless to overcome the Sentinels and the Taipei Assassins in its rankings. Given such a track record, it makes sense why they would be considered such blatant underdogs.
The Saigon Jokers story is much more than an underdog tribulation. Of the original Saigon Jokers team, acquired back in April, 2012, only two remain: Archie and Violet, in the AD Carry and Jungler roles respectively. Their current lineup did not exist until days before the SEA Regional Qualifiers, recounts Jokers representative Dinh “June” Hong Phuong.
Of the teams qualified to face off at the regional tournament, it was the Jokers that the Singapore Sentinels feared the most:
“To be honest, we have always held SAJ in high regard, and thought them to be the fiercest opponents. It wouldn’t look this way on paper to most people, because SAJ has been experimenting with a lot of unpopular picks which don’t work out, hence making them appear weak to the masses. However, having known most of SAJ’s players for a while, I knew that once they reverted back to using mainstream champions, their technical abilities and teamwork are definitely on a higher level than what people give them credit for.” – SGS Captain Kailing
|Rivals and Partners|
Players and Strategies
In the AD Carry position, the former DOTA support player decided that his transition to League of Legends would also be a transition to the limelight, and he has the mechanical fortitude to back it up.
His Graves game in the final match against the Singapore Sentinels was a jaw-dropping success: despite the common tradition of Caitlyn’s advantage over Graves, Archie managed to come out ahead, eventually stomping the Sentinels with repeated double and triple kills. When he’s not playing Graves, expect to see his Ezreal wield mystic energies to eliminate his competition.
As an AP carry, NIXWATER’s repertoire is rather standard. His classic Karthus, Ahri and Leblanc choices are anything but extraordinary, but quite frankly, they don’t need to be. Solid mechanics and a very reliable ability to place skill shots defines his lane presence. NIXWATER’s greedy play style favors heavy mana spending, making him claim that the mana potion is his favorite item in the game.
While his ability with Karthus is great and the global presence has made him a highly popular pick, expect to see the Jokers’ AP carry ready to counter him with an AP assassin, silencing the Deathsinger’s song.
Violet, this Vietnamese team’s jungler and occasional top laner, is well known for several champions in solo queue and tournament matches. In his hands, Maokai, Lee Sin and Malphite express themselves in the ways they know best: granting added control to their teammates’ lanes, frequently grabbing kills in passing.
As with Archie, Violet has been a permanent part of the Saigon Jokers since their birth earlier this year. The two members are a cause of success for them, and Violet’s control of the game explains why GPL teams ban junglers: he ganks early and often.
While his style brings utility to his team, be on the lookout for an aggressive Lee Sin. Carry-jungling might have fallen out of favor, but Violet remains a champion of its viability.
A converted jungler, Junie subscribes to the theory that a good support is an active support. He tries to gain advantages in lane by drawing aggression from his carry, taking the worst of the damage to his own health pool.
Junie brings his jungling experience to the laning phase, protecting his carry with a heightened awareness of gank routes and timing. Junie prefers his supports with a little meat on them, since he’s eager to enter the fray and initiate a fight. Through the strengths of Alistar, Nunu and Blitzcrank, he emphasizes zoning.
QTV loves to carry from the Top lane. In fact, he lists Fiora as one of his favorites for the role, despite admitting her weaknesses in the lane-swap-happy metagame often espoused by Korean teams.
As a Summoner, he calls upon other strong duelists and if any Top lane player in South-East Asia is capable of living up to CLG.EU Wickd’s world-famous Irelia, it’s QTV. In the Garena Match #74, his laning against fourth-place team Kuala Lumpur Hunters was a technical schooling on Irelia’s aggressive capabilities against Olaf, going 5-0 before the Hunters finally caught him.
If not playing a snowballing melee carry, expect to see QTV on his well-known Vladimir, practicing his role as a universal blood recipient.
The Saigon Jokers are aggressive, intent on garnering early kills to gain momentum. Mid-game AD carries complemented with tanky, crowd-control-heavy supports force an early bottom lane dominance, precipitating them to quick victories.
The group prefers early-game, objective-oriented strategies. Despite being considered a late-game champion, NIXWATER’s Karthus is used to taking out enemies after level six, calling sky-beams of death on anyone with a sliver of HP. Their strong lane presence extends to neutral objectives – while the high risk of such endeavors keeps other teams shy, the Jokers are willing to shoot for the equivalently large payoff.
Except for “Operation: Keep Archie Safe At All Costs,” the band have no other late-game mission. There are definite risks to running early-game strategies: they’re susceptible to siege or poke compositions, and the Jokers often involve champions with little presence and late-game scaling as a result.
As their lineup is still relatively new, there are notable coordination problems, particularly in team fights. The party lacks the snappy and deliberate outcomes seen in their competitors, such as the highly favored Moscow Five and their peers in the Taipei Assassins.
The Jokers’ most immediate rival is the Taipei Assassins, from whom they’ve never taken a game in spite of multiple confrontations in the Garena Premier League.
Because of group stage conditions, the Jokers have to face off against a staggeringly challenging set. Their very first match is against NaJin Sword, where QTV gets to test his top lane mettle against MaKNooN. QTV will also face Wickd, the original master of Irelia, while Junie battles tanky supports against Krepo’s goddess-level Leona.
Few expect the Saigon Jokers to make it out of Group B, though analysts held similar expectations for the South-East Asian Regionals. Numerous factors invalidate their GPL record, alluded to by the Sentinels’ captain Kailing. The GPL matches might as well be public practice, since they offer little tactical information about the Jokers’ true capabilities.
The most important take-away from the SEA Regionals: the Jokers demonstrated their ability to play a robust best-of-three set, crushing teams and wrestling the Sentinels into submission. While best-of-one matches might not be their strong suite, they have an unexpected strength to show upon the world stage.
If any team in Group B can surprise, it’s the Jokers. Nothing is known of their serious mode, while their competitors are well-respected, well-known, and well-researched.
They may yet have the last laugh.