A third of the season has come and gone. Familiar faces sit atop the 2017 North American League of Legends Championship Series spring split, although perhaps not the familiar faces many were expecting. NA staples Cloud9 and Team SoloMid sit in first and third place respectively. Between them is the surprise of the split, FlyQuest — formerly Cloud9 Challenger — in second place. Along with Phoenix1's rise to fourth place above the other highly-anticipated hybrid rosters like Team Dignitas and Immortals, there's a lot to talk about.
It’s not surprising to see Cloud9 in the top spot. The promotion of rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia from Cloud9 Challenger before selling off the team was a given — a strong addition to a core of experienced players that found their stride in the latter stages of 2016 NA LCS Summer, making it all the way to the finals.
No one is questioning Cloud9 at the stop. The only surprising part is that they look this coordinated this early. Adjusting to a new jungler is a learning process for the entire team, not just the jungler themselves, and that sometimes takes time. Fortunately for C9, the current meta seems strong for Contractz, allowing him and the team to make the most of his aggressive tendencies that he learned alongside mid laner Hai “Hai” Du Lam while diving turrets on C9C.
Contractz still has a lot to learn in terms of timing, especially in the early game. There’s more he could be doing to snowball his team, and more to learn. But the team seems content to give him that space to learn, especially with a strong mid laner like Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. While in the challenger series, Contractz was known for his high team death percentage, due to aggressive invades and dives. This trend continues in the LCS with the highest team death percentage of any jungler, and third-highest of any player, at 26.2 percent. As he continues to grow with the team, expect C9 to stay a top three team in the standings.
In second place with a 5-1 series record and an 11-3 game record is Cloud9’s former challenger team, FlyQuest. Prior to the season’s start, FlyQuest were pegged as a bottom-tier team with older players like Hai, top laner An “Balls” Le, Daerek “LemonNation” Hart, and two players who had looked mediocre to awful during their last professional outing with NRG eSports: jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate and AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru.
How are FlyQuest winning?
While many pull out the memetic phrase, “Hai’s shotcalling” and Hai’s presence as a leader should not be underestimated, a greater combination of factors have led to FlyQuest’s success. The first, and most important, is the rise of Moon.
While on NRG, Moon admittedly suffered from stage fright, was unable to make necessary in-game decisions, and often overly-relied on teammates to tell him what to do. Now, after another stint in challenger and surrounded by veteran teammates on the LCS stage, Moon has left his stage fright behind, evolving into the jungler that many believed he could become a year ago. This is not only a strong meta for Moon, but he’s pulled out pocket picks like Nidalee and his signature Evelynn with success. A confident Moon is a completely different person and jungler, now one of the strongest junglers statistically in the region with the third-highest First Blood rate (57 percent) and highest experience difference at 10 minutes (275) of any jungler in the region.
FlyQuest also have had strong drafting around both meta champions and their own pocket or surprise picks like Altec’s Miss Fortune in FlyQuest’s 2-0 sweep of Dignitas. They’re clever in Champion Select and difficult to draft around, despite obvious weaknesses. FlyQuest have a tough schedule ahead of them in the next two weeks. They face Phoenix1, Cloud9 and TeamSoloMid. After these series, we’ll have an even better understanding of how strong FlyQuest are and where they might end up come end of the split.
Although they stumbled in Week 1 with a loss to Cloud9 and a closer series than they would have liked against Immortals, Team SoloMid quickly rallied to a 5-1 start, just behind FlyQuest in the standings with a 10-7 game record. They haven’t looked as coordinated as NA’s unexpected second-place team, despite retaining all of their 2016 NA LCS Summer championship team save AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.
TSM misses Doublelift, not only as a formidable presence in the bottom lane but as a voice on the team. Mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has said repeatedly that he wants to become a stronger in-game leader, but when the team leans on him too hard, he can sometimes be indecisive. There’s no doubting his skill or prowess, but TSM’s success will heavily depend on how well he can lead this unit to victory, providing that another voice doesn’t speak up.
Jason “WildTurtle” Tran is a known entity and thus far he’s performed as expected — no better, and no worse. He’s still prone to trading over-aggressively, and getting caught out in teamfights, but these are known WildTurtle traits, and he occasionally makes up for it with equalizing kills. More concerning are missteps from Bjergsen, who has been caught out once or twice in key teamfights. This isn’t to say he’s been performing badly — it’s quite the opposite — but that these missteps are visible. With the loss of Doublelift as a strong voice on the team, there’s more pressure on Bjergsen this split and seemingly no one to fill that secondary role. That being said, this TSM is still a top NA team and will continue to be a top NA team barring an unlikely and somewhat miraculous recovery of one of NA’s many struggling hybrid rosters.
In the race to see which of NA’s new hybrid rosters would come together first, Phoenix1 has decidedly come out on top. Sitting in fourth place with a 4-2 series record and a 10-4 overall game record, they actually have a higher win rate than TSM, despite dropping one more series. P1 had a sloppy Week 1, but since then have grown by the series, becoming a stronger and stronger team each week.
Much of this is owed to Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook, one of NA’s top performing mid laners alongside Jensen and Bjergsen. Ryu’s strength in the mid lane allows jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh to shine in a meta tailor-made for him. Rengar was already an Inori target ban, and this is only heightened by Rengar’s general oppressiveness and must-ban status on red side. Only twice has Inori received Rengar in draft, resulting in two wins and a combined 15/2/18 scoreline. Inori is incredibly dangerous in this meta, and has laners who can hold their own while he farms into a monstrous carry. Ivern is the only champion on which Inori has looked somewhat uncomfortable, although he only played it once in their most recent series loss to TSM.
Despite Immortals and Dignitas having flashier rosters on paper with two carry top laners in Lee “Flame” Ho-jong and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, Phoenix1 have made the most of their two imports, Ryu and AD carry Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon. Arrow has taken to living in NA very well, and Ryu was already fluent in English from his time in Europe on H2K. This has likely made communication and coordination easier for Phoenix1 than other hybrid teams.
Counter Logic Gaming
The meta can’t shift soon enough for Counter Logic Gaming, who have struggled to adapt out of the gate. They’ve improved week-to-week, but still look shaky, even in their series wins.
Support and team captain Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black has been vocal about his team’s struggles, citing the new roles that each of them have had to adjust to in the current state of the game. CLG are used to having aphromoo as a teamfight initiator, something that has been taken away from him while on popular meta support picks. Aphromoo even tried out his pocket Zilean against FlyQuest for a loss. Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun has generally defaulted to Orianna, and has been unable to roam and affect CLG’s side lanes without Aurelion Sol. Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha is still learning how to be a primary teamfight initiator rather than a split-pushing carry. Although they have coordination and unity, they often look woefully out of sorts in their new team roles.
In their two most recent losses — Week 2 against Cloud9 and Week 3 against TSM — CLG have looked better, able to take games from their top-tier opponents but not series. CLG are also known for their weak starts, as the team takes time to adjust to new meta roles and coordinate accordingly. However, CLG will have to turn their incremental improvements into actual victories if they want to make it out of this split and into the playoffs.
At 2-4 alongside CLG, Echo Fox and Immortals, Team Liquid have similarly struggled in the current meta. In the offseason, TL sought top-performing jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin to replace Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and held on to AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin.
Former TL mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun was a poor teamfighter, and sometimes made questionable mid- and late-game decisions, but he was a reliably strong laner. This allowed Dardoch to farm if he wanted, or gank if he wanted in the early game. Greyson “GoldenGlue” Gilmer has not provided the same amount of lane pressure and pushing power that FeniX did. Exacerbated by the fact that Reignover has admitted to struggling in more of a DPS carry meta — nothing new, he expressed similar sentiments in late 2016 spring while on Immortals — the map collapses onto Team Liquid far more quickly than it used to. Opponents have also taken to banning Reignover’s favored junglers on blue side, forcing him off of the Rek’Sai and onto Kha’Zix.
Another player who likely despises the current state of the game is Piglet, who desperately wants to be the carry of his team. Unlike P1’s Arrow who shines in a meta with Jhin, Ashe and Varus, Piglet wants to be his team’s primary DPS threat, mobile and able to do massive amounts of damage on the likes of Kalista, Caitlyn, Lucian or even Vayne. TL even brought out the Kalista in a loss against FlyQuest.
It’s not impossible for TL to improve and make playoffs, but like CLG, time is of the essence. Even if they do get it together, it’s difficult to see them beating a top-tier team like C9 or TSM.
Sitting in seventh place with a 6-10 record is Echo Fox. Echo Fox were generally thought of as the weakest of the new hybrid rosters. The addition of top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was a bit of a head-scratcher since most attributed his Teleport prowess to support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong not Looper himself. AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew was more of a liability than an asset, and the rest of the roster didn’t seem all that inspiring.
Yet, Echo Fox have been interesting to watch, thanks to the breakout season of jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and steady mid lane play from veteran Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. This team has looked better than expected, despite their lower rank in the standings.
The question is now whether Echo Fox can improve enough to knock off teams ahead of them in the standings and squeeze their way into the playoffs. They already handed FlyQuest their first, and only, loss. Akaadian, alongside Moon and Inori, is one of the top performing junglers in the region. KEITH continues to be a liability in teamfights at times, although his support, Austin “Gate” Yu, has had a few strong performances this split, his disappointing Taric showing aside. Right now, Echo Fox isn’t a playoff team, but a lot can happen in a few weeks.
Immortals now have more losses this season than their past two LCS splits combined. Eighth place is hardly where this team expected to be and it’s difficult to pinpoint what or where things went wrong.
Drawing the most fan ire has been rookie AD carry Cody “Cody Sun” Sun, who has not looked good in or out of lane. He’s often caught out mid-rotation or at the front of a teamfight when he should be on the backline. It’s important to note that, while in challenger, Cody Sun played a lot of Sivir and Lucian to great success. Perhaps this just isn’t Cody’s meta, and he would have taken to the LCS stage better with a different set of champions. Unfortunately, he’s having the kind of season that will cast a shadow over his career going forward, even if he pulls it out at the end.
His support partner Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung hasn’t done him too many favors. Although Olleh is capable of flashy and impressive mechanical plays, they’re sometimes made when Cody Sun, or Immortals as a team, aren’t able to follow up. Flame hasn’t been able to affect the team while on tanks, and although Dardoch often gets off to early leads, they haven’t translated into Immortals wins.
A lack of coordination is Immortals’ main problem and the only thing that will fix it is time. Unfortunately, time is not something that’s granted to a League of Legends team. If something doesn’t change soon, Immortals could not only find themselves out of playoffs, but fighting for relegation.
After Week 1 of the 2017 NA LCS Spring, Dignitas looked like a top-tier team. Ssumday and new jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun were coordinating well together. Their games weren’t perfect, and they went 1-1 on the week, but they appeared to be the hybrid roster to beat.
After three weeks, Phoenix1 is that roster, and Dignitas has continued to fall. They’re now 1-5 with only Team EnVyUs behind them in the standings. Their only playstyle or win condition appears to be Ssumday. While Ssumday isn’t unused to this position, this didn’t always work out on KT Rolster either — just look at their 2015 LCK Spring performance.
Unlike Echo Fox, Team Liquid, or even Immortals, Dignitas appear to be in a deeper hole, with no way of moving forward. Mid laner Jang “Keane” Lae-young hasn’t been able to hold mid as well as expected, especially given his improvement over the last split. Chaser doesn’t appear to have synergy with his lanes or with his team. Again, this could be a good team, but they need time and that’s not something they’ll be afforded.
Only one team was hampered by visa issues this split and it was Team EnVyUs with their Korean jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo. Since LirA has joined his teammates in NA, nV earned their first win, a 2-0 sweep of Team Liquid, and lost to first-place Cloud9.
nV appear committed to the three Koreans top side, all-NA bottom lane format that they had last year with top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong, mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo, and LirA instead of Kim “Procxin” Se-young, who was more of a liability than an asset. LirA is a significant upgrade and it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to scrim with the team until recently. In their latest series, nV looked much improved — more so than other teams towards the bottom of the standings. Although their record is the worst in NA, even nV can’t be counted out of possible playoff contention, simply because they’ve had less time together and already look stronger for LirA’s arrival.
All statistics from Oracle's Elixir.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.