Early season success is nothing new to Counter Logic Gaming, as they have gotten of to strong starts over the past two regular seasons, topping the standings and fighting for a first round bye up until the final games of the season. But like clockwork, CLG shrink whenever the playoffs come around, their players fail to live up to expectations and they've been sent packing in the first round of the last two postseasons.
Last season was the 'Golden Age,' and this season is the 'Faith Age.' The faith that this is the season, with Pobelter as their new mid and Aphromoo as their main shot-caller, that CLG will breakthrough their playoff troubles and make the Grand Finals. We are three weeks into the season and Cloud9 are lagging behind at the bottom half of the table, TSM are dropping games, and CLG sit 5-1 following a 2-0 weekend that saw them dispatch Gravity and Enemy eSports.
With the rest of the league on their heels and the pressure growing with each passing round, can CLG finally live up to their never-ending potential?
Or will their faith end up like the past few CLG seasons: a show of promise, a swell of fanatical support, and then a disappointing, anti-climactic end?
The North American Ladder
1. Counter Logic Gaming: 5-1
As mentioned above, CLG are in the driver's seat following the end of week three. Their only loss of the season was against TSM, their long-time rivals who are coming off their second straight NA LCS championship. CLG bounced back from that loss without looking like they lost a step, beating a tough Gravity squad in the first game of the week and then completing the weekend sweep by taking home a win over Enemy eSports in a back-and-forth affair. Aphromoo's transition into the head shot-calling role has been seamless, his Bard play in their win versus NME being one of the best executions of the champion to date in professional play.
It's way too early to start buy plane tickets for New York City, but it's impossible to discredit another impressive start by Counter Logic. Now we'll see if they can actually keep it going throughout the split.
2. Team Liquid: 5-1
It wasn't easy, but Team Liquid got through a tough weekend of play unscathed and kept up with CLG atop of the NA LCS standings. They grabbed a bit of revenge from last season's playoffs against Cloud9 on Saturday, piling on the team that knocked them out of the semifinals in the Spring season. With C9 still adjusting to their new line-up and shot-caller, TL were able to power through the ailing former NA champions by a scoreline of 23 kills to C9's eight. Liquid closed out the weekend in a closer contest, beating Impulse in a game where neither team exhibited their best games. In the end, TL, behind a 6/4/1 outing by Quas on Hecarim, pulled out the victory against the wildly aggressive TiP.
3. Team SoloMid: 4-2
Team SoloMid's weekend didn't start out as expected, as they lost a game they were expected to win versus the surprising Team Dignitas. It was a game that TSM would normally win by falling back on their late-game prowess like they'd done countless times over the past two seasons. Except this time it didn't work. TSM lost to Dig in a 40-minute game that pushed the defending champions to a 3-2 record. TSM got back on the right foot to end Sunday with a win against the short-handed Dragon Knights, but it wasn't the one-sided stomping you'd expect from a reigning champion facing off against a winless team that started two substitutes.
Like always, TSM will find themselves in the thick of things by season's end, yet their cruise control method of last season isn't working as well this time around. They're working on new strategies and prioritizing other parts of the map that aren't the middle lane, and that's good, but they'll need to be better if they want to complete their NA LCS three-peat.
4. Gravity: 4-2
The third round wasn't a simple one for the reloaded Gravity lineup, kicking off the weekend against CLG and then needing to take care of the unexpected Dignitas. All in all, the week can be considered a wash, as they got pummelled in their first game against CLG. Luckily, they stopped the short skid and bounced back into the win column with a confident, clean win versus Dignitas to propel themselves back into second place. Similar to CLG, Bunny has taken over the shot-calling role for Gravity this season and is excelling. Gravity's bottom lane continues to be one of the best in North America.
5. Dignitas: 4-2
Team Dignitas might not be placed in the top of NA's teams when it comes to skill or how they'll end up by the time playoffs roll around, but you can't really place them any lower following a win over TSM. Their loss to Gravity was a reminder that this squad still has a lot of holes they need to clear up if they want to contend for a playoff spot at season's end.
Helios, Dig's new jungler, had mixed results in his first week, not really gelling with the team when it came to ganks and being less effective than the team might have hoped for. As with other teams in the league, Azingy might be the better choice for the current lineup, but Helios, if it works out, can give Dignitas the experience and skill they need in the jungle to make a real run at the playoffs come the final week of the season.
6. Team Impulse: 3-3
The direct opposite of Dignitas, Impulse are a team that possess the skill of a Top 3 team and should be in a comfortable playoff spot by the time the playoffs roll around. Unfortunately, their results don't match Impulse's perceived skill, sitting at a mundane 3-3 after the first three rounds. Week three was a perfect representation of Impulse this season. They put up the biggest blowout of the season gainst TDK on Saturday, not allowing a single tower or kill in a one-sided shellacking. Then, to close out the weekend, with all eyes on them in a match with Liquid that could have put them back into the upper half of the standings, they failed to deliver and lost in a half-hearted effort.
Impulse are fun, exciting, and through all their mishaps, a capable squad. One thing they aren't this season, and maybe most importantly of all, is consistent.
7. Cloud9: 2-4
Welcome to another week of Cloud9 overreactions. It's true that they aren't a great team currently, and, yes, there is also a chance that the Incarnati0n move never works out. But the 2-4 start is something that the team probably expected, saying in preseason interviews how it was going to take a large chunk of the season to get to where they want with their line-up. A team that was built around their shot-calling, quick decisions, and brilliant team fighting, replacing Hai is something that isn't going to be a quick fix.
We'll be back next week when they're 3-5 or 2-6 with another update on whether or not the sky is actually falling.
8. Enemy eSports: 2-4
The Kings of Challenger didn't have the brightest round, laying a goose egg in the win column after back-to-back losses to Team 8 and Counter Logic Gaming. The loss to CLG can be written off as an experienced, championship contending team taking a back-and-forth match against a greener rookie who is hoping to squeeze into the playoffs. The more concerning loss was giving Team 8 their first win of the season, which brought Enemy back down to the bottom side of the pack while the other teams racing for the playoffs are getting a step on them.
They can still turn the ship around and fight for a top six spot — they're certainly individually talented enough — but the meek performances against relegation fighters Team 8 and Team Dragon Knights aren't exactly confidence boosters.
9. Team 8: 1-5
Team 8's season got even worse with the news that their starting mid laner Slooshi will be exiting professional play for the time being due to personal family reasons. This comes off the heels of their move from Maplestreet to Nien in the AD Carry role, as hey wanted the former Fusion ADC to bring in a powerful carrying presence that T8 lacked last season when barely missing the playoffs. Nien's gotten off to a less than ideal start, having 10 kills in the first four games compared to a staggering 18 deaths. They did get a win against Enemy to make sure they finally got a victory, but the road to any other victories is going to be even more difficult with one of their better players leaving the lineup.
10. Team Dragon Knights: 0-6
Every week in this feature I talk about how next week will be the week where TDK finally debut their Korean import duo of Ninja and Emperor. And every single week a story comes out that the two can't play in official matches due to visas or emergency issues. They've been practicing with the two players, but the team is at the point where they are in such a hole that the two players will need to be elites at their position from the start to bring TDK back into the discussion for a playoff spot.
Ninja and Emperor should debut this week, except this time I'm not holding my breath. Bring on more Bischu and Lattman, TDK!
The All-NA LCS Team (Week 3)
Top: Dyrus (Team SoloMid)
This was a week where Dyrus was allowed to play League of Legends. Team SoloMid's proverbial sacrificial lamb, Dyrus came out this week and put up big numbers for the first time in a long while. He finished second in kills only behind Quas (11), died a paltry six times, and led all top laners in assists on the weekend with 22. It wasn't the best week overall for TSM, but if this is the Dyrus they can utilize in the playoffs, it gives the defending champs another dimension to their static playstyle.
Jungle: IWillDominate (Team Liquid)
Not a big round on the kills, but Dominate facilitated well this weekend, grabbing 27 assists in two games and only dying five times in the process. With Quas and Piglet two of the elite carries at their positions in the league, Dominate's utility and setting up of plays is what is allowing Liquid's stars to pick up kills and bring them to an overall 5-1 record.
Mid: XiaoWeiXiao (Team Impulse)
The transfer from the all-Chinese LMQ to the melting pot Team Impulse hasn't been easy for former NA LCS MVP XiaoWeiXiao. His kills have been down, his insane CS numbers have dropped, and he's no longer the big ace on a team where communication was simple and easy. Week three was a bit of a reverse back to the LMQ days, XWX going 9/1/9 in two games and helping his team blow by the Dragon Knights in the biggest blowout of the season so far.
AD Carry: Doubelift (Counter Logic Gaming)
It won't make up for the past failures in the playoffs, but Doubelift's been back to his old ways at the start of the split. This round was no exception, leading all ADC's in kills and assists this week, and his death total of three is the second fewest in the round behind Liquid's Piglet. As long as Doubelift is shooting the opponent's down and Aphromoo is leading the troops in an orderly fashion, this new 'Faith Age' should continue mowing down the competition towards their most dangerous adversary: the playoffs.
Support: Aphromoo (Counter Logic Gaming)
Leader, shot-caller, and playmaker, Aphromoo takes the honors for the best support of the week, bringing his team back from a lackluster lost to TSM and commanding them to a 2-0 weekend. The match against Enemy wasn't the prettiest and wasn't the businesslike finishing we've come to expect from CLG whenever the playoffs aren't around the corner, but his engages on Bard and decision making in the late-game got his team through a tough match.
Game of the Week: TSM vs. DIG
A set that featured the four most recent champions implemented into the game — Ekko, Bard, Kalista and Rek'sai — it was the first professional game for Bjergsen on Ekko. In a losing effort, he went 7/1/6 on the boy who rewinds time, Dignitas winning the game through a late-game won team fight that turned the tables.
One of the few games this LCS season where the losing team ended up with more kills, Dignitas battled through a tough early and mid-game to take their biggest regular season win of the 2015 season. Although the 43 minute game wasn't the cleanest of games by either side, it did show that Dignitas, while getting through the first two weeks on an easy schedule, are a legit playoff contending team capable of standing up to a topflight NA squad.
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.