GPL Spring 2014 Spotlight: Saigon Jokers

GPL Spring 2014 Spotlight: Saigon Jokers

Winter 2014 standing: No. 4
Winter 2014 record: 6-5
World Championship standing: N/A
World Championship record: N/A

Saigon Jokers
Lineup
Top Nguyen "QTV" Tran Tuong Vu
Jungler Huynh "Safety" Van Tan
Mid Tran "Optimus" Van Cuong
AD Tran "Archie" Minh Nhut
Support Tran "Junie" Huu Nhut Minh
Substitutes Mai "Lovida" Viet Long (Mid), Le "Egg" Hoang Nga (Jungle)

THE MAVERICKS

It doesn't seem possible to make pulling upsets a habit -- surprise people often enough, and they should stop being surprised. Yet the Jokers insist on being the wild cards of the Southeast Asian circuit, finding ways to beat teams and finish well beyond what they seem capable of.

The Singapore Sentinels, once the stalwart silver medalists of the Garena Premier League, were the first to fall victim to the Jokers' turnabout play. The Jokers were heavily favored to represent SEA alongside the Taipei Assassins at the Season 2 World Championship, but instead came charging out of the loser's bracket to take a surprise win despite a one-loss handicap in the regional finals It was shocking that the Jokers had such strength at all- their performance in the GPL had been mediocre throughout Season 2, and just about nonexistent in Season 3, giving no tells to their potential.

Perhaps those extended periods of mediocrity were crucial to their success. They put up middling group stage results yet again over Winter 2014 -- and yet again they surprised casters and players alike with sudden dominance in the elimination stages. Hong Kong Attitudes had been able to suppress the Singapore Sentinels and even take games off of Taipei Assassins, but were soundly thrashed in the quarterfinals. The Assassins were certainly not expecting to struggle mightily in a full best of five series to get past the semifinals, yet barely survived.

They might be the perpetual underdogs, but never tell the Jokers the odds. No matter who they face, they are still the wildcard, and they will demand respect.

KILLING JOKE

Vietnamese teams have generally stepped up their aggression in the 2014 season, very likely off the back of the coaching provided by Korean esports guru Lee In-chul, who was hired by Garena to ramp up the overall skill level of the scene. His efforts were especially apparent with the Jokers: three-man jungle-supported objectives pushes were not a common strategy for the team in prior years, yet were a crucial reason why they gave eventual winners Taipei Assassins so much trouble during the semifinals.

But not just any team can adopt a 3v1 push strategy and expect to thrive. For it to work, the team must have absolute trust in the performance of their top laner, and QTV answers well with a domineering Jax and Olaf, freeing up his team to focus their efforts elsewhere on the map.

Overall, the Jokers are in the midst of optimal play and share many characteristics of their Taiwanese peers and rivals. They've even shown the sharpened individual mechanics needed to rival them: Junie, in particular, has a nearly prescient Death Sentence with Thresh that dominates lanes and fights alike, setting up Archie's kill-streaks. But while their overall strategy is now strong enough to challenge for the GPL title, they have demonstrated a weakness in their tactical shot-calling.

The dramatic loss to AHQ in the 3rd place match clearly illustrated the Jokers' lingering problem. The Jokers' strategic sense allowed them to cleanly outmaneuver their opponents against the Hong Kong Attitudes, whose individual players were of the utmost caliber but otherwise had poor team synergy.. This was not the case against AHQ, whose tactical judgment is possibly the strongest in the circuit.

PLAYER TO WATCH: OPTIMUS

The Jokers' most-recent successes lay largely in their improved strategic sense, but access to that strategy could have only been made available by rookie mid laner Optimus. His best champions all share long-range siege capabilities – Orianna, in particular, is a vulgar threat to any defensive tactics, aggressively securing lane advantage and converting the gold into devastating Shockwaves placed perfectly to drag opposing players into kill range. Others may excel in close-range combat, but there are few that can compare to Optimus's instinctive grasp of range and effect radius.

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