Immortals owned the spring split. The newcomer organization nearly ran the table during the regular season, dropping only one of their 18 total games. Despite bombing out in the playoffs to Team SoloMid, Immortals' postseason blunder was somewhat forgiven due to the NA LCS' best-of-one format. The 2016 North American League Championship Series Summer split shone in the distant horizon, revamped with a shiny new best-of-three format that promised a grueling regular season to force adaptation.
Ironically enough, the only team that managed to beat Immortals last split was none other than Counter Logic Gaming, who outmaneuvered them on the map with a smart 1-3-1 split push built around Jake “Xmithie” Puchero’s Udyr. That regular-season win over Immortals acted as somewhat of a springboard for CLG. While Immortals fell completely flat against Team SoloMid in their semifinals series, CLG played a close best-of-five series against Team Liquid and narrowly beat out TSM in the finals, en route to a second-place finish at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational.
Both teams were heralded as North America's best going into the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split. CLG were touted as the crown jewel of the region — a team with strong macro play and immaculate understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Immortals were still regarded as one of the strongest teams in the region despite their playoff stumble. They had acknowledged that they hadn’t adapted to the meta shift and had roared back, crushing TL in the spring third-place match and vowing to do better next season.
CLG immediately fell flat against TSM in their first series of the summer split and struggled throughout the first part of the season, finishing in fourth when all was said and done. In the end, TSM took the title of NA’s best team and Immortals were a distant second despite the fact that their only series losses came against TSM.
All that said, both teams have a lot to prove on Saturday. After getting pummeled by TSM last weekend, CLG are hoping to show the world that they’re still a top team in NA. A TSM victory in the finals will also mean second seed secured for CLG at the 2016 World Championship. Meanwhile, Immortals' second consecutive playoff collapse following a dominant regular-season points to an unfortunate developing trend rather than a one-off fluke.
All focus will be on the top lane Saturday, where Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon takes on Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha. With mediocre to poor showings in their respective semifinal matches, the performances of these two tops act as a microcosm for the overall playstyle of Immortals and CLG.
*best of NA starting tops in 2016 NA LCS Summer
While mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun has borne the brunt of CLG’s criticism due to his champion pool and mechanical errors, Darshan has been a shadow of his spring self. Much of CLG’s success throughout the 2016 NA LCS Spring playoffs and the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational was their knowledge of their own team dynamic. This led to the Aurelion Sol lock-in for Huhi which, despite two losses at the 2016 MSI, perfectly suited his playstyle. CLG’s run through the 2016 NA LCS Spring Playoffs and 2016 MSI was further proof that communication and in-game team dynamic trumps names a roster on paper.
Yet, in order for CLG to work, all of their players need to do their parts. Similar to how KT Rolster heavily relies on top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho to be a consistent carry presence, CLG relied on Darshan to to be a carry or split-pushing threat in order to draw pressure and allow CLG to move about the map more freely. This
Darshan has simply been underwhelming which, among many other factors, is one of the key reasons for CLG’s decline from their spring heights. By contrast, Huni has always been a coin flip. He has the ability to be a monstrous carry, but has a high-risk, high-reward playstyle that TSM easily punished throughout the split and was on full display in Immortals’ semifinals series against Cloud9.
In Game 1, Huni hopped on one of his best champions, Rumble, and pulled out a fantastic carry performance. He synergized well with Pobelter’s Taliyah and his Equalizers turned teamfights in Immortals’ favor. However, his Game 3 Kennen told a different story. C9 top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong solo-killed Huni in lane and snowballed an insurmountable advantage from there. By 20 minutes, Impact was 4/1/1 on Gnar while Huni was 1/4/0 on Kennen.
Immortals give Huni a lot of resources to ensure his success. Of all NA top laners, Huni receives the third highest percentage of his team’s CS after 15 minutes and the third highest gold share. He pays this back by dealing the most damage per minute and has the highest damage share for his team of all NA top laners in the 2016 Summer split. His coordination with Reignover is still fantastic, but an over-reliance on Huni has hurt Immortals in both of their NA playoff series as his playstyle is still fairly binary and, if his champion picks are anything to go by, he insists on being a damage carry rather than defaulting to a more utility role that might better suit a specific meta. Due to his carry prowess, it’s understandable why Immortals put so much effort into ensuring that Huni gets ahead, but it also leaves them vulnerable when Huni isn’t able to carry.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.