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  • Edward Brady

UNT LoL Varsity is Playoff Bound

On February 26th, the UNT Esports League of Legends varsity team played its final regular season match against the 10th seeded Texas A&M Aggies. The trajectory of the season for these two teams has almost been identical. They crushed their early season opponents, upset someone they were not expected to beat (#4Florida for UNT, #9UT Dallas for A&M), but took a tough loss to one of the top dogs (undefeated #1 University of Saint Thomas for UNT, Undefeated #3 Florida State for A&M).

As such, the stakes for this game were simple. Win, and make the playoffs. Lose, and fall into the abyss. With both teams working incredibly hard for their runs, and with UNT seeking their first playoff berth in LoL program history, this was sure to be a match to remember, one way or the other.

Game 1 kicked off with a standard draft to start. UNT first picked the Graves on blue side (a notoriously powerful pick in top and jungle). A&M picked an incredibly powerful combo with an Olaf that can get sped up by a Karma and a Jinx that can take advantage of her shields. Rainy was forced off Leona with a ban and opted for the Nautilus.

Then everything changed in the 2nd phase of pick ban.

Yep, UNT decided to start out the series that would quite literally define their season with a Xerath bot lane. The Graves ended up going mid while Arsenals got a Gnar. A&M was far more standard, picking up Gragas to neutralize the top side and a Corki for poke.

With a grand total of 1 AP threat on the team, a Plated Steelcaps buy for all of A&M would heavily negate almost the entire team. To make this comp’s win condition work (landing anything bot means the opponent never moves between Xer/Naut) PuertoJew would have to be on point with his skill shots.

Fortunately, he was more than up to the challenge. For that matter, every member of UNT showed up and fired on all cylinders. There were very few of their trademark mistakes that cost them so dearly against Saint Thomas. The aggression was far more measured. They played the map incredibly well. They didn’t give A&M many lifelines back in. Thanks to Flick being anywhere and everywhere he needed to be, and Rainy’s willingness to sacrifice his own life and stats to give UNT a good fight, PuertoJew and the solo laners had plenty of room to work. Lil Nate’s Graves mid silently but surely popped off. While the Corki was the biggest (also only) threat on the side of A&M, Lil Nate kept pace with a 6/1/7 score line.

One of the biggest heroes of the game was Arsenals. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the KDA, but he was an absolute menace on the Gnar. With the Hullbreaker build and his own stellar mechanics, A&M never stood a chance. He took top tier 1 tower, top tier 2, bot tier 1 (while his team sent herald mid), bot tier 2, and a nexus tower. BY HIMSELF.

He also did THIS.

Yes, that Corki used the Package on one person while a dragon was up, yes he evaded 4 people by himself for almost a minute. Yes, he still got 1 kill in return and almost got a 2nd. It is little wonder why the Gnar was banned out for the rest of the series.

Off of a very dominant game 1, UNT were riding high. The game didn’t even last 30 minutes, everyone was on the same page. Even with the Gnar getting banned out, they still picked up an incredibly strong mid/jungle duo in Leblanc and Xin Zhao. With the Leblanc/Irelia lane that Lil Nate had to play, it was great that they got something that could affect it early while A&M had to draft a Karthus for some AP threat. Given that Karthus is very weak early, and that UNT seemingly had more points of power, surely UNT was going to close out the season with a sweep.

Then Karthus got an early kill on an unsafe invade by Flick. Then he got another when Rainy overstepped.

And then he got another… and another… and another… and soon enough he was unstoppable. Texas A&M decided to put almost all their eggs in the Karthus basket and boy did it ever pay off. 11/1/7, 22k damage. For reference the most damaging members of UNT (Arsenals, Flick, and PuertoJew all did around the same) only did 11k. He had 34% of his team’s damage. And even if UNT somehow managed to kill him, their Irelia got the better of the mid lane matchup and the only reason she wasn’t the star of the show was because of how fed Karthus got. As the 1v3 at top lane that went in the 1’s favor can tell you, that pick was a massive threat all on its own.

With two relative stomps by each side, the entire season would come down to a deciding game 3. UNT’s playoff hopes came down to quite literally the last game of the last week of the season for CLoL.

With those kinds of dramatics and excitement, you can’t get much more on-brand for this team.

For the game 3 draft, both teams decided to live and die by what got them there in the first place, while making adjustments based on how the series went. The Gnar was still stuck on the banlist for UNT while the Mean Green targeted support and top lane. UNT got the Graves which became such a power pick in the series (A&M used it top lane about as well as LiL Nate did in game 2). With his Xin Zhao stolen away, Flick opted for the Trundle while PuertoJew got one of the most powerful ADC’s in Aphelios. A&M picked up another member of the Holy Trinity of ADCs in the Zeri and more importantly, picked up the Cassiopeia.

Their mid laner had been easily the most impressive member overall, keeping his team in the game almost singlehandedly in game 1 and ripping through UNT on Irelia in game 2. Thus, they rewarded him with one of his comfort picks before it could get banned out like the last 2 games.

In the second phase, UNT banned out both power picks that A&M stomped them on in game 2, but A&M took away Rainy’s Nautilus and Arsenals’ Gwen. UNT decided to run back the Graves mid while putting Arsenals on Malphite and Rainy on Blitzcrank. Texas A&M picked a carry top in Jayce, and a Morgana as counter-pick with the Black Shields.

With the stage set for the final showdown, UNT would do what they do best: come out swinging. Only 5 minutes in and UNT already had 3 kills on the board thanks to some excellent early ganks from Flick and some great hooks and roaming from Rainy. The action never stopped as after a quick role swap, Aresnals flash ulted onto the Jayce to give Lil Nate his 2nd kill of the game.

It can not be overstated just how good UNT’s early game was. By the 15-minute mark, UNT had 6 kills onto Lil Nate, 3 and 5 assists onto Flick, no deaths on either, and a 5k gold lead.

That Cassiopeia pick was obliterated by Lil Nate. It was all but useless as the man in the mid lane dodged, ducked, and dipped all around her skill shots while dropping her in just a few autos. With Baron taken on spawn and an inhibitor broken by 21 minutes, UNT repeated the Florida mistake and got a little bit too excited. Arsenals hit a massive Malphite ultimate… under an enemy tower. With the tower shots ramping up, Texas A&M’s Zeri was finally starting to come online. They had a bit of fight in them still, and they were using the 2nd chance to the fullest.

Fortunately, much like that Florida game, the mistake was not fatal. UNT snuck the 2nd baron with only 2 players while the 3 kept A&M distracted in the mid lane. Rainy had the entire map lit up like a Christmas tree (showing why he is 2nd in the conference in wards placed) and was automatic on his hooks. Flick somehow only had 1 death despite spending every fight either on the frontline or in the faces of A&M’s carries. Arsenals was the hard engage the UNT needed in the critical fights. PuertoJew was massive on the Aphelios, and Lil Nate was unstoppable on Graves. It all culminated in one final fight at the Texas A&M base at 28 minutes with Baron Buff online.

After 3 straight years of being 1 win away, the North Texas Mean Green are playoff bound!

I have nothing but the highest amount of respect and congratulations for every single member of the squad. The 3 starters they ran back from 2021 (Rainy, PuertoJew, Lil Nate) went above and beyond this year, fixing the mistakes that cost them a shot at the title while homing in on what made them a consistent threat. The new CLoL starters (Arsenals, Flick) stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. They blended with the experienced players almost flawlessly. Coach Ryan Lucich, who much of UNT LoL’s success has been attributed to, finally gets to see the playoff stage after 6 years between being a player and coach and being 1 series away 4 times.

While this is the UNT LoL program’s biggest accomplishment yet, their season is not over yet. And with play like that and the drive to win they have shown in every game this year, hopefully it won’t be over for a while longer.

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