Immortals rampaged through the regular best-of-one season in the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Split, dropping only one game to Counter Logic Gaming. The former Fnatic top lane and jungle duo of Heo “Huni”Seung-hoon and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin nearly reprised their 18-0 perfect season in another region, this time with rookie organization Immortals in North America.
Despite their undefeated regular season performance, Immortals famously fell flat in the playoffs against a rising Team SoloMid, leaving fans and pundits alike wondering about the strength of a best-of-one season along with Immortals’ mental state.
Going into their spring semifinals match against TSM, Immortals were undefeated in scrims. They continued to stick with their own playstyle, despite recent meta shifts towards tankier top laners and DPS carry junglers, and were quickly dispatched by TSM in a 3-0 sweep that was known more for Huni’s failed Lucian top lane pick than anything else. Their disappointing, one-sided defeat to TSM became a breeding ground of criticism for the Immortals’ top laner, and the team as a whole.
“People talk about our team as if we can only play one style, or we’re stubborn, and I don’t think that’s accurate,” Immortals coach Dylan Falco said following their third-place victory against Team Liquid in April. “We just are passionate and believed in what was our strongest strategy at the time.”
The summer season became their quest to find balance.
As much as Immortals succeed due to Huni's carry potential and Reignover's jungle dominance, Huni is seen as a double-edged sword — unable to play meta tank picks. Immortals' search for balance started with Huni and finding a playstyle to make the most of his assets while sticking as closely to the meta as possible.
“There’s a misconception that Huni is a greedy player or that he’s stubborn,” Dylan said after Immortals' 3-2 win in the summer's third-place match.
“The thing about Huni and our team is that sometimes the strategies that we’re having the most success with and that we honestly feel are better for our team are not the meta styles. It’s not the same thing that everyone else is winning with. We have to honestly find what’s strong for us, not what’s strong for everyone else.”
Yet another season ended in yet another disappointing semifinals loss for Immortals this summer, and their quest for a domestic title will have to continue.
Team SoloMid owned the 2016 NA LCS Summer regular season, but Immortals were close behind in second place. Their only series losses of the season came at the hands of TSM. Throughout the split, Immortals were a team on a precipice — games that appeared out of their control suddenly weren’t due to a strong individual performance or better objective trading.
Again, Immortals were favored in their semifinals matchup, this time against Cloud9. Cloud9 had improved significantly over the course of the regular season, but hadn’t yet performed at a level that was strong enough to defeat Immortals, especially where their map play and knowledge of trading was concerned.
Again, Immortals faltered, winding up in another third-place match after a lengthy 3-2 defeat to C9. Again, Immortals watched the finals as spectators rather than starring in them on the stage floor.
“We were really disappointed after we lost to C9,” Dylan said. “We still think that we’re a top team in NA so losing just made our path to Worlds that much harder. That being said, we were actually really confident going up against CLG. We thought that we would win more decisively than we did. I thought they played really well.”
Unlike their quick sweep of TL in the 2016 NA LCS Spring third-place match, Immortals and CLG went to all five possible games in a grueling back-and-forth series. Huni went a long way towards silencing his critics with phenomenal Ekko performances in Games 2, 3 and 5, earning the series MVP award.
“It’s important to note that the top lane viable champion pool right now is fairly small,” Dylan said. “It becomes a lot more difficult to play around top lane picks when there are a lot of bans. We obviously picked up Ekko for this week and Huni played really well.”
While dropping into the third-place match both seasons is hardly what Immortals wished for, it is in these matches where their hard work and game-to-game adjustments have been most evident. Their most recent series against CLG featured not only Huni’s Ekko, but support Adrian “Adrian” Ma’s Taric. Last split, Adrian drew community criticism for sticking with mage supports like Soraka and Janna but has proven to have a far wider champion pool than his critics have claimed. Adrian’s Taric was a key reason behind Immortals’ Game 5 victory — the quickest game of the day due to Taric’s diving potential partnering perfectly with Immortals’ overall aggression. Part of Immortals’ necessary adjustments have involved balancing their near-recklessness with the defensive nature of recent meta shifts.
“Initially after the patch change people were playing really crazy. There were a lot of four-man, five-man dives. And people adjusted really quickly,” Dylan said. “Now characters that are really defensive and really hard to dive are becoming really highly valued — things like Ekko and Tahm Kench. That’s why you’re seeing full defensive comps from both sides. It’s hard to play early-game stuff when both sides are playing full defensive comps and forced standard lanes. When there was still a laneswap, comps would be really uneven — one for the laneswap and one for the standard lane. For right now, the optimal strategy seems to be a lot of defensive picks and games are just going really long.”
Now, Immortals turn their attention to the upcoming 2016 NA Regional Finals, in the hope of securing the third seed for NA and accompanying TSM and CLG to the 2016 World Championship. With TL’s recent roster changes and Team EnVyUs’ poor showing against C9 in playoffs, Immortals’ gauntlet finals opponent will most likely be C9, the team that recently beat Immortals on their way to their own finals appearance.
Should Immortals face C9, all eyes will once more be in the top lane, especially after Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong’s monstrous performances throughout C9’s 3-1 finals loss to TSM, as well as his dismantling of Huni in their semifinals match.
“Our last set against Cloud9 was really close. I think with a few pick/ban adjustments and honestly just having a better day, I think we’re favorites to win,” Dylan said. “That being said, every series is going to five games now. I think the gauntlet is going to be full of long, close games because that just seems to be the way the game is going right now.”
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.