Welcome to The Road to New York, a new weekly feature where I will be breaking down the week that was in the North American LCS. From the chaotic ladder of teams to the best players of the week, The Road to New York will be here every Monday to assess the week's NA LCS action and get you up to speed for the upcoming week.
The first week of NA LCS action was a litmus test for all 10 teams, including the defending champions, Team SoloMid, who were coming off a disastrous performance at the Mid-Season Invitational in Tallahassee. Sure, only two squads exited Week 1 with undefeated records, but there is still a long way to go before we start fathoming the idea of an NA LCS Grand Final without either TSM or C9. With that being said, the NA LCS looks to be the most wide open its been since it was created in the spring of 2013.
With the recent announcement of the NA LCS Grand Finals taking place at the historic Madison Square Garden in New York City, we are on the road to the highest stakes NA's history. Which two teams will have what it takes to make it all the way to the Empire State to fight for NA supremacy and book their ticket to the World Championships?
Here's what we know so far.
The North American Ladder
1. Team Liquid: 2-0
We need to be cautious about Team Liquid seeing as they got off to a 2-0 start last season and then went on to have a topsy-turvy campaign where roster drama plagued their split. The big difference between their 2-0 start last season and this one is the fact that they managed to do it with Piglet, the enigmatic AD Carry who spent a large amount of last season trying to find his way in North America.
The talent and ability to be a championship contender was always there for TL, but they weren't able to put together their starting five until the final week of the regular season. When the playoffs came around, they managed to easily dispatch CLG in the first round and gain a 2-0 lead on C9 in the semifinals before falling victim to a reverse sweep. Now with some postseason experience under their belt and Piglet adapting to his teammates' style of play, Liquid are starting to show the consistency and skill that they were lauded last preseason.
2. Counter Logic Gaming: 2-0
If last season was CLG's Golden Age, I guess we can call this season their Goldener Age. As with TL, we can't start writing TL vs. CLG down as our New York City matchup for the NA championship, but you can't discredit them for taking care of business and looking strong with their new line-up. Pobelter, stagnant for the final part of his tenure on Winterfox, was one of the best players in Week 1, sliding in perfectly with CLG's orderly fashion of playing and taking objectives. His Azir play against Team Impulse stymied the wild and mechanically proficient squad, protecting his teammates countless times with his Emperor's Divide and setting up fortified sieges with his passive sand turrets.
We all know CLG can get it done in the first half of the season, so their job will be to keep up that play into the postseason and beyond. They've shown that they have the potential to beat the elite teams in the NA LCS, and now, it all comes down to their ineffectiveness in the playoffs and falling apart against the best when it counts the most. Hopefully for the Goldener Age, this is the season where they welcome the playoffs instead of fearing them.
3. Team SoloMid: 1-1
While I'd usually give the benefit of the doubt to the reigning champions and place them at the top even with a 1-1 opening weekend record, TSM didn't have the strongest of games following their exit at MSI. They lost to Cloud9 in the first game of the season, beating their finalist rivals in the early-game and controlling the map for the most part but crumbling in the late-game with poorly positioned team fights. They bounced back with a win over the Challenger champions, Enemy eSports, to close out the weekend, battling with the rookie team in the mid-game before their experience and handling of the late-game tipped the scales in their favor at the end.
Fans of TSM shouldn't be too worried about their placement after Week 1. TSM are a team that, like Cloud9, can meander in the early days of the season and find themselves in the Top 3 by the season's end. They will most likely find themselves back in that position by the time the regular season closes, but they'll need to show more flexibility in strategies and compositions if they want to make their NA LCS three-peat a reality.
4. Team Impulse: 1-1
The so-called "Boys of Summer," Team Impulse are a team that were supposed to take the next step in their evolution with an LCS season under their belts. They still showed the same crazy style that they've been playing since last season, but they've matured as unit. Instead of aimless skirmishes and disjointed team fights that split the team, they've improved their team fighting to the point where they all seem to be on the same page — even if that page is complete and utter chaos.
Although they lost to CLG, their polar opposite when it comes to playstyles, Impulse still have the league's most skilled trio in the top lane, jungle, and mid lane. In order to shoot up the ladder and become a consistent squad that can compete for the NA championship, Impulse will need to learn how to figure out teams like CLG, who play a controlled, safe style that won't conform to their devil-may-care style of playing.
It's easy to beat teams when they come down to your level and try to beat you at you're own game, but it's an entirely different story when you have to beat a team that will slow down the pace and won't let you strong-arm your style on them.
5. Cloud9: 1-1
As the biggest storyline coming into this season, Cloud9 debuted their new line-up this weekend with Incarnati0n holding down the mid lane. The launch of their new look starting five saw Cloud9 take out TSM in the first game of the season, only to get blown out by Team Dignitas on Day 2.
For his part, Incarnati0n played AP Kog'maw in both games. His first game saw him fall 100 CS behind Bjergsen, eventually escaping the hole in the late-game and helping his team through assaulting TSM from the back lines with his long-range poke. The second game saw him farm nicely while the rest of his team were getting killed early and often. Before long, he met the same fate as his comrades, getting picked off in the middle lane while his CS advantage over Shiphtur was rendered meaningless by the time Dignitas were up 5k+ gold int he mid-game.
Cloud9 aren't one of the Top 4 teams to start the season, and that should be expected. The team themselves thought they would have a slow start, Meteos needing to adapt to his new roles as the squad's main shot-caller and captain, and Incarnati0n having to move from the world of amateurs into becoming a pro-gamer. Nerves were obvious in the first two games of the season, and those growing pains are going to be the main narrative for the next month or two. C9 are playing for the late-game with Incarnati0n. While they may be potentially sacrificing a Top 2 spot and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, they're hoping that their postseason team will be strong enough to take down every team in the league with a confident and battle tested Incarnati0n as their aggressive ace.
6. Enemy eSports: 1-1
The Kings of the Challenger scene, Enemy eSports had an impressive opening weekend. They beat Gravity to get their first professional victory, and while they did lose to TSM on Sunday, they were competitive and forced TSM to win the late-game in order to capture their first win of the season. A team made up mostly of names from NA solo queue, Enemy are an aggressive, fast-paced team that have a triple threat squad that deploys Flaresz in the top lane, former EG top laner Innox in the mid lane, and Otter in the bottom lane.
Enemy's biggest problem will be learning how to play with the top teams in the mid and late-game. They played an incredible laning phase against TSM, picking up kills and showing their mechanical talents that carried them through the NACS last season. That didn't last though as TSM fell back on their experience to come out on top. Enemy were the green rookies, over committing with plays, not knowing how to react, and eventually falling behind. They're an explosive team that have a good shot at making the playoffs if they get more practice time and learn how to grind out wins in close games.
7. Team Dignitas: 1-1
A bottom tier team that had go to the relegation rounds last season, Dignitas looked to be going down the same path after their first loss of the summer season. They didn't grab a turret, looked lost on the map, and appeared to be an early favorite for the Team Coast auto-relegation spot. That narrative was flipped on its head Sunday, as Dignitas defeated Cloud9 by pulling off nicely timed ganks involving Azingy's Zac all the while playing a complete and dominant game.
It's too early to say if Dignitas can go from being one map loss to Team Fusion away from being relegated to a playoff contender, but they deserve recognition for their performance against Cloud9. While Cloud9 aren't as good as they'll be later in the season, these are the games that Dig were crushed in last season, and if they can keep it up, we'll be talking about the men in black and yellow fighting for a playoff spot come July.
8. Gravity: 1-1
It wasn't an easy first week for the new Gravity squad with Altec and Move, as they lost to Enemy on Saturday before pulling out a late-game victory against Team Dragon Knights (who were playing with three substitutes). Move, their new Korean jungler, didn't have the best first week, getting his team into trouble constantly with his over-aggression. He still made big plays when his team needed to beat TDK, but those mistakes will be punished against teams who aren't playing with three subs.
Altec was a bright spot for the team, fitting in perfectly with his new squad. Simply put, his partnership with Bunny was the best news for Gravity this weekend. Gravity are going down the same path as C9, knowing that the selection of Move is going to take a month or two to really pay off, and they hope that by the time he has acclimated to the professional scene he can follow in the footsteps of Rush and be one of the most mechanically gifted junglers in the West.
9. Team 8: 0-2
Unsurprisingly, the two teams playing with subs are the two squads that exited the weekend without a win. Nien will be playing for Team 8 starting next weekend, but Maplestreet made his final starting appearance with Team 8 by going 0-2. It's hard to really analyze and talk about T8 since Nien is a forward, carrying-style of AD that will become one of the main focuses of the team when he comes in next week, but Team 8 did do enough against an elite Liquid squad to keep them from the bottom of our rankings. We'll see if they can rise up the rankings next week with their new AD Carry in the starting five.
10. Team Dragon Knights: 0-2
They played with three subs, as two of their biggest threats, Emperor and Ninja, were sidelined due to visa issues. TDK didn't embarrass themselves with three subs, Bischu even showed off some good moves and play in the mid lane, but it's impossible not to rank them last. Visas are the greatest weakness for new teams who import Koreans, and TDK found that out the hard way with back-to-back losses in Week 1. We'll check on them next week with their real squad if the all powerful visa doesn't stop them from performing in week two.
The All-NA LCS Team (Week 1)
Top: Quas (Team Liquid)
Top of the standings and the top lane, Quas showcased his potential to dominate and carry from his position on the first weekend of play. His Gnar and Rumble play were two of the highlights of the weekend, and TL are a seemingly unstoppable team if Quas and Piglet can both play well in the same game.
Jungle: Azingy (Dignitas)
There were junglers with better KDA and stats, but Azingy is a player that was criticized heavily in the previous season. After going through Crumbzz and then CloudNguyen, Azingy was the jungler that Dig picked to play with and the team struggled to end the season, almost getting eliminated by Team Fusion in the relegation rounds. Azingy's play in Week 1 was solid, his Zac performance against Cloud9 on Sunday being the driving force of his team's upset win over last season's runners-up.
Mid: Pobelter (Counter Logic Gaming)
Pobelter came into the season with a secondary mid looming behind him wanting CLG's starting mid spot and disbelievers thinking his hype was nothing but smoke, and he had a start that should quiet some of his doubters for at least five more days. He finished the weekend with the highest KDA in all of NA, only dying twice while picking up 13 kills and 20 assists to lead CLG to a 2-0 start.
AD Carry: Piglet (Team Liquid)
Following the theme of being doubted last season, Piglet put up big numbers in his opening weekend with Team Liquid. After the drama last season where he was benched, brought back, and having to compete with Keith for the starting job, Piglet is starting to look comfortable in NA and is putting up the stats to prove it. As said before, if Quas and Piglet are on the same page and playing at their peaks, Liquid are the best team in the league.
Support: Aphromoo (Counter Logic Gaming)
Aphromoo has been given more shot calling and leadership responsibilities with the exit of former mid laner Link, and he appears to be the leader CLG needs if they want to turn their playoff nightmares into success. He leads all players in assists after the first round of play, and he came up big again and again for CLG throughout the weekend, setting up plays and letting his carries of Pobelter and Doubelift get rolling.
Game of the Week: TiP vs. CLG
The first week didn't have a lot of close games, but Team Impulse vs. Counter Logic Gaming showed off two of NA's premiere teams with differing styles. The old adage is that styles make fights, meaning that depending on the styles of the teams, the game could be a boring, drawn-out match or the differing of playing the game makes the match a spectacle you need to watch.
TiP vs. CLG was the latter, the devil-may-care attitude of Impulse going up against the orderly, by the book way of playing from Counter Logic. It was the timeless match-up of speed vs. slow and steady, the two teams wanting to prove that their way of playing is the superior method in League of Legends. CLG took the victory this time around, their Azir composition being too much for the diving and skirmishing TiP, CLG grabbing objectives and kills every time TiP would make a single flashy play. While Team Impulse might have ended the game with higher moments of play and more highlight reel plays, CLG won the game through steady and fortified synergy, breaking down Impulse's flanks and blood thirsty movements by using Azir's zoning and siege prowess to its maximum capability.
This wasn't the first or last times these two teams will meet, and that's for the best. Anytime the Team of Chaos faces the Squad of Order, a good game is almost always guaranteed between these two championship contending teams.
The Road to the Empire State continues next week, readers!
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.