Avant Gaming’s former name Avant Garde may have misled you in the past. Instead of the new and fresh ideas that such a name might lead you to believe, the organisation put forth “decent” roster after “decent” roster that seemed specifically designed to make, but win no matches in the playoffs. In fact, when you look at it like that, you can make an argument that 2017 was the most successful performance in Avant’s OPL history as they managed to win *two* games in each of their playoff appearances instead of their usual one…or none. But all of that may very well be buried in the now three-year history of the OPL as Avant have looked to the future with some of that new-age thinking as they build around a stable botlane and two of the brightest young lights that the OPL had on the free agent market.
Looking first at what hasn’t changed, and that’s Charles Wraith returning as coach, and Myles “Blinky” Irvine along with Jayke “Jayke” Paulsen as their bottom lane. Retaining Wraith, to me, is a case of “The Devil You Know” as he has been decent enough without blowing me away with his efforts. Avant’s own AV Life production has on occasion highlighted deficiencies in his approach. That said, he does have the marquee victory over Legacy that I personally attribute a great deal to his preparation as a great feather in his cap and I know for a fact the work and effort he has gone to in order to attempt to develop as a coach. that sort of commitment to improvement can be infectious which is perfect for a young team like Avant’s.
Jayke will be entering his third OPL year and has made a name for himself as sound leader of young men. He has quietly developed as a support over the last year after spending 2016 with what I called the worst ADC in the league in each split. With the stability to continue to grow alongside Blinky for another year and what was a breakout performance at League of Origin, Jayke is a sneaky-good option to step up into the pantheon of top 3 OPL supports with the departure of EGym and the unknown status of Destiny. Jayke held a perfect pocket pick Malzahar throughout the course of 2017 but had an indifferent record on his most played champions. This will be the final piece missing from his play to take that next step.
The retention of Blinky is a move I would describe as “Okay-plus” which may be damning him with faint praise but I think Oceania’s ADCarries are probably our deepest position, talent-wise. It’s a competitive field that he is neither at the top nor bottom of. He was below 50% win rate on Varus, by far his most played champion (10 more than second and third most played), and not even in the top 5 best-performing champions, per best.gg. He also had underwhelming performances against competition that he should have done better against, as we’ve written about previously. All this being said, it was his debut year in the OPL and he did show flashes on certain champions, particularly Kalista, so with a more productive trip to Korea and a dedication to training we could see a much improved Blinky. I don’t think we’ve yet seen his final form.
Moving into the positions where we actually saw changes, adding Jackson “Pabu” Pavone to the top lane is a massive upgrade and, at the risk of calling it early, the most impactful move that will be made this offseason. For every great game Avant got out of Ceres they received at least two complete stinkers in return. Before Pabu came of age, your team either had Chippys, Swip3rr or Tally, or your top laner was irrelevant. The closest anyone came to breaking the holy triumvirate was Paradise/ZZZ. But with Pabu you have a competent top laner who has room to develop into something so much more. The only concern is that I think as the season wore on, Pabu and Abyss lost sight of what makes him a special prospect, but I’m backing Avant to correct this pretty quickly. This was going to be the best top laner on the domestic free agent market outside of the big three, and Avant have done a tidy piece of business securing his services.
Looking at the jungle we find an odd roster move to assess. The change of Sybol into Jordan “Only” Middleton I would classify as an investment in talent rather than taking the best-producing player, which may have seen Avant retain a player like Sybol. To peruse Only’s Gamepedia match history would be to paint a bleak picture of 7-29 in OPL games over the course of his 2017 season. But it is often said that one’s W/L record is not reflected of their skill at the best of times and being attached to the sinking-without-trace TM Gaming roster is far from the best of times. His gameplay throughout the year belied the mere wins and losses in that stat. He had a standout League of Origin and started freshly in split 2 before becoming “patched out” and tailing off to an extent while the TM staff were unable to set him up to transition him to success. In the immediate term this swap is a downgrade but I’m backing the Avant staff to do a much better job of shaping the talent that Only displayed at his peaks into a competitive jungler. I like the pickup, I really see it paying dividends as the season plays out.
It can’t all be sunshine and lollipops for this roster though and so with all this said we move to their midlane pickup in Leon “Frae” Lee. In fairness to the Avant leadership, they were losing one of the top 4 (top 3 with the retirement of Phantiks) mids in the region, so unless they managed to land Swiffer or Ryoma to replace Triple, they were going to downgrade. There is absolutely no shame in being worse at League of Legends than Triple. Most of us are. My area of concern is that he has been a standout player on a number of very bad teams and I have questions as to his impact on those teams. Few who have watched him doubt his mechanical prowess, but trailing after his wake are stories of a player who is less than pleasant to deal with when things turn south. It will be up to his (ample) abilities and the rest of Avant to keep this from happening and if they can’t it will be up to Frae to show that these stories were either wrong or a thing of the past. I’m extremely hesitant about this pickup from a “fit” standpoint, though it does bare mentioning that if Avant wanted the most talented free agent available to fill Triple’s void, then Frae is certainly towards the very top of that list.
Avant did good, early business to secure these players overall. I don’t have the on-paper roster cracking the top 3. So until we see these teams play some League of Legends my personal take is that they’re “the best of the rest” and are the most likely team to cause a ruckus among the top 3 of Dire Wolves, Chiefs and ORDER.