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The Road to New York: Gambling the World

by theScore Staff Jun 9 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / theScore eSports

The second week of the NA LCS has wrapped up, and in the biggest shocker since Fnatic made their fifth straight EU LCS Grand Finals, Team SoloMid are back atop the standings in North America. Coming off of an average start to the season that saw them lose to Cloud9's new-look roster, TSM came into Week 2 with one goal in mind: beat arch rivals CLG to close out the weekend and extend their win streak to three. On the flip side, C9, who started out the season with a win over TSM, limped to the finish line on Sunday by suffering their third straight defeat.

With the road to the New York City Grand Finals in full swing, here is what we know after the first two weeks of the split.

The North American Ladder

1. Team SoloMid: 3-1

Who would have guessed this? After a disinterested looking effort to begin the season following their embarrassing results at MSI, the second round of the summer season couldn't have gone better for the reigning champs as they prevailed against two of North America's strongest teams in Team Impulse and Counter Logic Gaming. It wasn't only two more wins on the scoreboard and moving up into a logjam for first place in the standings, but it proved TSM could handle two top teams with extremely different styles. Impulse plays a wacky, fast-paced style that can appear to have no rhyme or reason at times, while CLG like to slow down their games, rotate across the map as a unit, and create distinct zones with the tools they pick in their composition.

I guess it doesn't matter how your opponent plays if you have the best player in the league who can get rolling early on an assassin.

2. Counter Logic Gaming: 3-1

Another strong start to the split, and another loss to TSM in the early part of the season to bring them to a halt. This is where we will see if CLG have grown from their last few seasons of faltering after a big game loss. They're still 3-1 on the season and in a good spot to make a run for a Top 2 standing to get a bye in the first round, but they'll need to see the loss to TSM as more of a learning experience than proving they aren't a good team. Last season's loss to TSM wasn't treated as such, as CLG crumbled from their mistakes in the game and let the defeat linger for the rest of their season.

Zion, Pobelter, and Doubelift are one of the best triple threats of possible carries in the West, and the team, when on point, is well-coordinated and have a capable leader in Aphromoo. If they can get over the mental hurdle of shaking off big losses and rebounding even stronger, there is no reason why CLG can't be playing at Madison Square Garden in their first NA LCS Grand Finals.

...If.

3. Team Liquid: 3-1

It was a disappointing second week for our former No. 1 ranked team, as Liquid dropped their first game of the season against their former sister-team Gravity. Their game against Gravity can be written off by the gigantic blue wizard that shielded for days and got so powerful in the late-game that even Piglet's best attempt at Vayne mechanics were blown up in seconds. The letting go of Ryze to the red side was a mistake that Liquid will most likely never make again this season, but it does bring back memories of last season where they had trouble prioritizing in draft and fell behind early through their pick/ban phase.

On pure talent alone, Liquid can match up against any team in the Western scene, Fnatic and Origen included. Week 3 will be a test to see if Liquid can solidify their position as an elite regular season squad, as they will be placed up against a struggling C9 team and then with an unpredictable Team Impulse.

4. Gravity: 3-1

The biggest movers in our ladder this week are Gravity, who were No.8 last week but rocketed up our standings with a perfect 2-0 Week 2 record. Since adding Move and Altec, I've been calling them Cloud9-lite. Gravity with Cop and Saint probably would have been good enough to grab the sixth seed and get into the playoffs, but most likely not good enough to make the Top 4 or a Worlds berth. Bringing in Altec and the differing jungle style of Move was a gamble, as Gravity hoped that their distinct roster changes could push them from being a fringe playoff team to a title contender.

Gravity's first week wasn't the greatest, as they needed to go into the extreme late-game to topple the rookie Team Dragon Knights, who were playing with with three substitute players.

5. Team Dignitas: 3-1

Why hello there, Team Dignitas, fancy seeing you here. Last season was a disaster for Dig, getting out of the gates early and having a revolving door in their jungler position. They finally stopped the carousel on amateur player Azingy, but his debut was marred with mistakes, picking AP runes accidentally for his Vi in one of his first games and getting smashed for his mess up. The team fell into relegation and needed to go to a final set to keep their seat in the NA LCS, almost falling to Team Fusion. The team had talent sprinkled across the roster, except it didn't matter when the group as a whole was disjointed in their play and exceedingly inconsistent.

Unlike other teams who made sweeping changes in the offseason, Dignitas stayed the same, believing in the growth of Azingy, their now sophomore Korean imports, and Rico, their recently added head coach. Dig's season has gotten off to a hot start, as their players have performed at a higher level than they did all of last season. But with that being said, it's too early to say if they're a certified contender in NA. While the four teams above them made the playoffs last season, Dignitas' three wins this season are against teams with a current combined record of 1-11. TDK and T8 are the bottom two teams in the league, and their premiere victory, C9, is looking less impressive with each loss from the former giants of the west.

Still, it's a good start from Dig and something they can build on. Time will tell if they can pick up wins against the bigger teams in the league, but they've already grabbed half the wins they had last season in only two week's time, so a Top 5 spot is deserved for at least this round.

6. Team Impulse: 2-2

Are Team Impulse better than sixth in North America? Yes.

Do they deserve to be ranked higher at this time above the teams ahead of them? Not really.

Their two wins so far this season have been against Team 8 and Cloud9, and those teams combined for a 1-7 record after two weeks. They were given a shot at standing out and grabbing a higher spot in the standings with games against CLG and TSM, but they lost both of those key match-ups. Those losses once again proved that Impulse has difficulties playing against teams with adept rotational play who won't devolve into savages that want to constantly pick fights. In terms of fighting and mechanical skill, Impulse might beat out CLG and TSM but their cohesion and shot-calling isn't near the levels of those top teams at the moment.

Impulse are extremely fun to watch and can make highlight plays from anywhere on the map. Unfortunately, getting your plays in YouTube dubstep reels doesn't always result in victories. Impulse should rise through the rankings in the coming weeks — they have too much talent not to — but the question of them being possible champions will linger until they can decisively beat teams that slow the pace against them.

7. Cloud9: 1-3

Well this is different. Cloud9, the team that only lost seven games in their first two seasons in the NA LCS, have lost three games in their first two weeks. They did grab a win against Team SoloMid to begin the season, but have gradually gotten worse after each game and are now on a three game losing streak which sees them at the bottom of the standings with Team Dragon Knights and Team 8.

While this may be alarming to C9 fans who have only seen them more or less dominate for two years, this should have been expected. If they kept Hai as mid and shot-caller, C9 might have flipped results of what they have now, losing to TSM and winning the three others. Picking up Incarnation and moving Meteos to the captain and shot-calling role wasn't a move for the regular season. C9 expected to struggle in the early days and most likely gave up a Top 2 bye for the chance of being in top form by the time the playoffs rolled around. C9's hope is that Meteos will have matured into his new role and Incarnation will be capable of carrying games with his assassin-filled champion pool.

Until the sixth or seventh week of the season, C9 might roll around at the bottom of the standings, mirroring the regular season Team Liquid went through last split. Liquid almost missed the playoffs, but turned it on in the final week of the season, took a tiebreaker over T8, and ended up third in the playoffs when Piglet started to feel comfortable with his new team. Between Meteos' shot-calling and Incarnation's play over the next few weeks, C9 will almost certainly face their share of criticism but that's the gamble they took.

C9 don't want to simply make another NA LCS Grand Finals, lose, and then have a decent showing at Worlds. They want to win in New York, go to Worlds, and make a run at the Summoner's Cup. That might seem farfetched at the second with their woes against the middle of the pack in NA, but none of this is unexpected. The dice are still rolling for C9 on their gambit, and they're hoping that the great risk turns out to be a great reward when the postseason comes around.

8. Enemy eSports: 2-2

Week 2 was a rough one for the new kids in the NA LCS. Although their record looks respectable at 2-2, that doesn't tell the whole story. They played well against TSM last week and pushed the defending champions to a competitive climax, but this week saw some sloppy play from the Kings of the Challenger scene. Enemy got rocked in their match against Team Liquid, and then played their worst game of the season so far against fellow rookies TDK. In a game that was a battle of throwing the win back and forth like a football, Enemy finally escaped with a victory against a squad that is still missing their starting mid and AD Carry.

Enemy have a better record than C9, but they also don't have the same pedigree of players like Meteos and Balls. We know that even when they're bad, that C9 can bounce back. That might have changed with the loss of Hai, yet they've proven more over time. The Red Devils are a good team and should battle for a playoff spot, except they can't have any more games like they had versus TDK or they will be losing a majority of their outings.

9. Team Dragon Knights: 0-4

We now get to the two teams without any wins. While neither of these squads have been impressive in their first four games of the season, TDK at least have an excuse for their losses. Playing with three rookies the first week and then two in the second, they've still been slightly, somewhat competitive in games. Not that you would call any of Dragon Knights games high level compared to the rest of the league, but they were fun in a haphazardly wacky way.

Next week should (hopefully) see the debuts of Emperor and Ninja, so we'll know more about TDK's overall strengths. If they do badly next week, they will most likely find themselves at the bottom of this ladder, but until they actually play a game with a full line-up, there is still hope for the Dragons.

10. Team 8: 0-4

With their new starting roster, Team 8 somehow looked worse than their first week where they went 0-2. The new roster will take some getting used to for T8, Nien a more carry-focused AD Carry than Maplestreet, and T8 needing to change their usual top and mid resources to include Nien. But, how much time can we really give them? At least for the Dragon Knights the all powerful visa is keeping them from fielding their full roster and their two new Korean imports. Team 8 have been on the downturn since the end of last season where they lost the tiebreaker to Team Liquid to miss the playoffs, and their losing ways have continued to start this season.

The All-NA LCS Team (Week 2)

Top: Hauntzer (Gravity)

He started the week by beating Balls' Ryze, proving that the overpowered blue wizard is not impossible to beat.

He then picked the powerful blue wizard in the second game, beat last week's All-NA LCS top laner Quas, and then deleted Piglet at the end of the game with Ryze's almighty power.

Jungle: Azingy (Dignitas)

For the second straight week, Azingy has made the All-NA LCS team as the jungler. Teams keep giving him Zac, and he keeps wrecking on the champion, setting up plays and bouncing all over the enemy team. I'd like to say teams will start banning out Zac next week and stop Azingy's placement on this team, but I'm not certain teams remember what a 'Zac' is before Dig's jungler picks him in champion select.

Mid: Bjergsen (Team SoloMid)

The best player in the NA LCS played like it this weekend. His two games on LeBlanc carried his team to two important victories, including a rivalry match-up against CLG. He went 20/5/9 in his two combined games on LeBlanc, reminding people why even when TSM doesn't look at their strongest, it only takes one big play from Bjergsen to turn the game around.

AD Carry: Altec (Gravity)

Altec played two games on Sivir, not dying once in either affair and helping his new squad grab two wins to put them at a tie for first place. Coming over from the relegated Winterfox, Altec has slotted in perfectly alongside Bunny in the bottom lane, and the two have picked up here Cop and Bunny left off last season.

Support: Lustboy (Team SoloMid)

He picked Bard and won. Lustboy frolicked, roamed, engaged, and stunned his way to a victory, making up for his lacklustre performance on Bard at the Mid-Season Invitational. Coming up on four years of professional play, Lustboy continues to be one of the most consistent players in the game's history, having won a domestic title in Korea and North America.

Game(s) of the Week: TSM vs. CLG / NME vs. TDK

Week 2 was not the best week for close or high level games, so you have two choices, friends. You can watch TSM vs. CLG, which was a close, exciting match between two long-time rivals and a pair of the best teams in North America. It featured Lustboy on Bard, Bjergsen going crazy on LeBlanc, and a lot of intricate team fights that led TSM to picking up the win.

You can also watch Enemy vs. Team Dragon Knights, a game that will live in infamy for seasons to come. It was crazy, made little sense, and both teams decided they wanted to create one of the messiest games possible until Enemy came to their senses and closed the game out. Compared to TSM vs. CLG which was like a nice dinner out with gourmet food, this game was the fast food of the NA LCS: it was bad for you, and you shouldn't have consumed it, but you did it and enjoyed it until your stomach started getting upset forty minutes in.

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.

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