Contenders for the Crown: A Horse, a Ghost, and a Faith

by theScore Staff Jun 14 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Monotony has been the name of the game the past four seasons in the NA LCS, each campaign ending the same: a TSM vs. C9 Grand Final. Cloud9 won the first two, only dropping seven games total in their first year of competition. TSM have come back recently with the last two season victories, propelling C9 to shake up their roster for the first time in over 100 LCS games.

This season looks to break in the redundancy, Cloud9 dealing with growing pains due to their change in personnel. Meteos has taken over the starting job as the main shot-caller with Hai moving into a management role, struggling in the early part of the season to regain C9's once unbending coordination.

Incarnati0n, their rookie mid laner, is always attempting to make a difficult transition, trying to transfer his skills from the online realm to the higher stakes world of being a pro gamer. With all the mishaps and betting on coming together later in the season, they've gotten off to their worst start in franchise history, 1-4 and losing their past four games.

TSM, while currently sitting at a much healthier 3-2 record, are also not a lock for their sixth straight NA LCS Grand Final. Last season, even when it felt like they were in cruise control for half of it, TSM still managed to land the top spot in the league through Bjergsen's innate skill and the team's sturdy late-game management.

This season, they'll need to do a lot more if they want to grab a top two bye into the playoffs, being the only team to lose to the new C9 in the first game of the season, and then adding another loss today to the surging Team Dignitas. It would be short-sided to think TSM won't find themselves in a top three spot by the time the regular season closes, but the competition below them has risen during the offseason.

With almost one third of the season already finished, three teams currently sit tied for the top spot at a record of 4-1. One of them were expected to be here. One had the faith they would be here. And the last one was a game away from being eliminated from the NA LCS only a few short weeks ago.

Team Liquid: Masters of Time

All Team Liquid needed was time.

When it was announced before the 2015 season that Liquid (at the time Curse) signed former world champion AD carry Piglet, it was supposed to be the announcement of a new NA superpower. The bottom lane duo of Piglet and Xpecial had the potential to be the most potent combo in the LCS, and the team around them was good enough to make Liquid into an all-powerful title contender.

The Spring season turned out to be a reality show for TL, Piglet feeling like a wrongly placed piece being forced into a puzzle that wasn't fit for him. Keith, Liquid Academy's AD and the team's AD sub, came in and did fantastically during his time on the team, playing a background, utility role to Piglet's preference of being a main carry and a focal point of the squad. This went on all season long, Piglet being benched, brought back, and finally succeeding by the playoffs came around where TL finished 3rd only behind TSM and C9.

So far this season has shown that TL's handling of Piglet was the right course of action. The puzzle piece that they spent months trying to hammer into place is ultimately fitting like a glove, the team getting off to a quick 4-1 start with Piglet stepping up as one of the league's premiere carries. After almost getting to the NA LCS Grand Finals last season, losing to C9 in a reverse 2-3 sweep, there is no reason why Liquid can't grab a top two place this time around.

Curse/TL have been around since the beginning of the LCS, and this is their best chance at grabbing a championship since the inaugural season of NA's premiere domestic league.

Dignitas: Phantoms of North America

One of the teams least expected to be in 1st place after five games, Dignitas have shocked the NA LCS by bringing back nearly the same roster from last season and excelling so far. The first two weeks appeared to be an illusion, Dig's 3-1 record looking good on paper, but their three wins coming against teams with a combined record of 1-11.

Team SoloMid was their biggest test of the season to see if they might be the real deal, and they passed with flying colors. The biggest change was at the jungler, the Zac maestro Azingy being traded out for former Champions Korea winner Helios. Although Dig did well with Azingy in the roster, Helios brings in a more well-rounded game with veteran experience that didn't fit as well as it could have on his former team Winterfox.

The game against Team SoloMid was a competitive one, Dig showing that they can play against one of the better late-game teams in the West. Instead of getting ahead early and blowing the game open due to early-game mistakes, their close victory showed that Dig can work like a playoff team when the tensions get high versus the best squads in the league.

It's still too early to say they are championship contenders, but it's about time we move them from playoff pretenders to a team that should expect to make the postseason. Consistency was something that kept Dignitas at the bottom of the table last season, sometimes looking like a legit team one game and then reverting back to their mistakes for the next four.

If Helios can come in and play around high damage carries like his older days on CJ Blaze and NaJin Black Sword, Dignitas are suddenly one of the most dangerous teams in the league on offense.

Counter Logic Gaming: Manners Maketh Man

CLG's clash with TSM last weekend was important, but it wasn't the result that mattered. Win or lose, the biggest takeaway from the game was to see if CLG could come back the next week and play with the same orderly, straight-forward style that has made them one of the best regular season teams over the past three seasons. They did to TSM, and Saturday's game against Gravity was to see if CLG could keep their cool after a disappointing loss and crumble following one single loss.

While their blowout win against Gravity doesn't mean CLG are on their way to a Grand Finals birth, it is a good sign for the weeks to come. They were undefeated against TSM, a team that they went into the series looking better than for the first few games of the season, and they lost in agonizing fashion. It was another map they could have taken from their long-time rivals, but TSM prevailed in the end through better late-game management and team fighting.

Last season their gut-punch loss sent CLG into a spiral that resulted in them dropping from a top two spot in NA, getting swept by TL in the first round, and their 'Golden Age' becoming more of a joke than a reality.

Although the game against Gravity was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach in the first few minutes due to CLG's early kills, it was still a clean and crisp performance from CLG. Since the early part of 2015 where they would gain big leads in the laning phase, extend it to 5k+ gold in the mid-game, and then mess around when it was time to close it out, CLG have matured their game style. Now when they get a massive lead and advantages through objectives, they rotate the map with efficiency and give the opposing team little hope for a comeback.

Order, manners, proficiency. As long as CLG keep up their streamlined style of play, they should—wait, this is CLG.

Let's hold off for a few weeks.

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.