The road to the New York City Grand Finals is heating up, and Counter Logic Gaming is not slowing down their push. CLG fans are still holding their breath as the season gets closer to the postseason, but the reconstructed CLG squad have gotten off to one of their best starts in franchise history with a 7-1 record.
Week 5 will be another test to see if they're the real deal, or if it's time to start watching the CLG express crack under the pressure. With games against league contenders Team Liquid and reigning champions Team SoloMid, this week presents more than just a chance to further separate themselves from the pack. TSM are the only team that's defeated CLG this season, and a victory against their arch-nemesis could be the thing Counter Logic needs to keep up their momentum heading into a possible first round bye in the playoffs.
After a season that ended in a full-fledged collapse and a sweep in the quarterfinals by Team Liquid, the moves CLG made in the short offseason have paid dividends. Pobelter has stepped in as the starting mid and been one of the league's brightest stars this season, and CLG's greatest strength, coordination and team play, has become even stronger under the command of Aphromoo's head shot-calling at the support role.
Cloud9's changes at the mid lane and head shot-caller role haven't been as seamless, as they've limped to a franchise worse 2-6 record to begin the split. Incarnati0n's been dealing damage and performing admirably as a green rookie plucked from solo queue, except that his biggest plays have been coming in games where Cloud9 are already on the brink of defeat. Meteos' move to the head shot-calling role has been a rocky one, as the team's once chess-like movements across the map have been reduced to a disjointed, sluggish version that have been beaten by more than half the league.
C9 knew that their season would start off slowly and hopefully pick up steam as the playoffs came closer, but time is running out with each game they lose. There is still time for them to come together as a team and find pieces of the old C9 that ran NA and the 2-6 squad start out their week against the winless and substitute-loaded Team Dragon Knights. With that being said a loss to the aimless TDK could kill any hope the team has left of turning things around.
With four weeks behind us and the fifth round of the season about to begin, here is how the ever-changing North American landscape looks heading into the second half of the campaign.
The North American Ladder
1. Counter Logic Gaming: 7-1
There is still a second half of the season to worry about, but there's little question which NA team is atop the ladder after the first four weekends. CLG only have one loss this split, which came at the hands of the reigning champions Team SoloMid in another back-and-forth battle between the long-time rivals. Pobelter's come in and fit in perfectly with CLG's safe, teamwork style, carrying a 6.9 KDA into their games against Liquid and TSM.
Orderly and coordinated play is the core of CLG's success, as every player on the team has over 72% kill participation. All five players can make plays on their own, but CLG are at their strongest when all five are grouped together, making crisp movements along the map, and working as an unbreakable unit.
2. Team SoloMid: 6-2
Things aren't perfect for TSM.
WildTurtle is being pushed to lift his play in the coming weeks as the team brought in Liquid Academy AD Carry Keith as an in-house tryout to see if he could be the team's new starting damage dealer. They are looking up at Counter Logic Gaming in the standings, and are tied with Team Dignitas after falling to them in a comeback loss a few weeks back.
But they have Bjergsen, and he is the two-time NA LCS MVP and the league's best player. No matter how many issues the team has around them, they'll always be around the top half of the standings with their ace performing well in the mid lane. To add to Bjergsen's success this season, Dyrus is bouncing back from a terrible, death-filled spring split by turning into a positive, influential piece to TSM's charge for a sixth straight NA LCS Grand Final appearance.
3. Team Dignitas: 6-2
Dignitas are the biggest surprise this season, as they were on the verge of being knocked out of the NA LCS by Team Fusion only a few short months ago. Now, the team is sitting alongside back-to-back champions TSM in second place, and they've already tied last season's win total in only four weeks. Helios has come in to be the team's new starting jungler, and while he doesn't bring the constant ganking and early-game pressure that Azingy did, the former CJ Blaze jungler brings strong shot-calling and a veteran presence to the squad.
We've seen the success and failures of teams trying new head shot-caller this season, and Helios is making sure Dignitas fits in the former category.
4. Gravity: 5-3
Another team that changed their head shot-caller this season, Gravity are doing well with Bunny Fufu in his new role. Altec, like his former Winterfox teammate Pobelter, is making a case for the best transaction of the offseason, as he leads all AD Carries in Damage Per Minute (DPM) with 596, beating out both TL's ace Piglet and CLG's Doubelift. Move, their second big offseason acquisition, is getting acclimated to North America and his aggressive style meshes well with Gravity's upbeat play.
5. Team Liquid: 5-3
Alongside Gravity, Liquid are the only other squad in the NA LCS where their team isn't being led by their mid laner in the DPM category. Piglet is fulfilling the role that he was expected to when he came to NA. Dominate's accepted his role as a facilitator with a top lane carry threat and an aggressive AD Carry in the starting lineup, as he's participated in 81% of Liquid's kills this season and helped them to a satisfactory 5-3 start.
6. Team Impulse: 4-4
Team Impulse were supposedly the 'Boys of Summer,' a team that was expected to have a slow first season but come out strong in the later half of the year to roll into one of the three NA LCS spots for Worlds. So far, their season has been a constant barrage of 1-1 weeks, as the ultra-aggressive Impulse sometimes look to be title contenders as well as a random solo queue team that have never played together before.
The talent is obviously there to get them back into the upper echelon of the standings. It's Impulse's job to start living up to their talent in the second half of the season.
7. Enemy eSports: 3-5
The former Kings of Challenger are keeping themselves away from one of the three relegation spots, but they'll need to tighten up their five man play if they want to make the postseason. They're similar to Impulse, fighting a lot and enjoying a good scrap across the jungle, but they also have the same problem as Impulse: they die a lot. Otter, Innox, and Flaresz are all grabbing their kills and having moments to look like the legit threat they can be. The problem is that the team dies a massive amount, only trailing the winless Team Dragon Knights and the 2-6 Team 8 when it comes to deaths.
8. Cloud9: 2-6
No more benefit of the doubt for Cloud9. For weeks I've ranked them above Enemy and teams with worse records than them, saying that it'll take a few weeks for them to truly shine with their new roster. We're now heading into the second half of the season and C9 are not improving where they need to. Their superb macro play is gone and a team that made Worlds two straight years is on a knife's edge of not even qualifying for the NA LCS playoffs.
I'm not throwing dirt on Cloud9, and I still think they'll find a way into the Top 6 by the time the season closes, but it's time to face reality — Cloud9 can't live in the past. They need to prove that they're good enough to be ranked above the other teams in the league with their current roster.
9. Team 8: 2-6
Nien was brought in to be an ace for Team 8. They almost made the playoffs last year, holding on to one of the tickets into the postseason until the very end of the season when they lost to Team Liquid in a tiebreaker. A team that shared the wealth and had a new player come up big seemingly every game, Nien was their chance to bring in a player that could change the whole dynamic of the team.
The change hasn't worked out so well thus far, as Nien sits at 22 kills compared to 25 deaths following his first six games of the season.
10. Team Dragon Knights: 0-8
What's the point of talking about Team Dragon Knights anymore? Emperor and Ninja might not even exist and just be figments of our imagination. Bischu, the sub for Ninja, left two weeks ago and was replaced by Mancloud. Lattman is still there and has died 33 times in the first eight games of the season.
TDK's two Korean imports are looking like they'll never play for the team, and Seraph in full-on despair mode with a team that could beat Coast's infamous 1-17 record last season.
I don't even know anymore. At least Emperor lives in our imaginations, I guess.
The All-NA LCS Team (Week 4)
Top: Gamsu (Team Dignitas)
Gamsu was everywhere for Team Dignitas in Week 4, participating in over 90% of the team's kills and finishing the week with a remarkable 17/4/22 scoreline in only four games.
Jungle: Xmithie (Counter Logic Gaming)
It's easy to point out Xmithie's missed Sejuani ultimates and small misplays, but he's been a rock for a team that has mechanical talent at every other position. He went 8/2/29 in Week 4, totaling an 18.5 KDA in CLG's two wins last weekend.
Mid: Mancloud (Team Dragon Knights)
This is a weird choice seeing as TDK are 0-8 and on the road to becoming one of the weirdest and saddest stories in LCS history, but Mancloud somehow had more kills than deaths in Week 4. He went 10-7-12, and on a team like TDK that is being hamstrung by visa issues, that's good enough to get kudos for stepping into a shaky situation and performing decently.
AD Carry: Doubelift (Counter Logic Gaming)
Doubelift wasn't even expected to play last weekend, but he did and helped his team keep their pace as the top team in league. 16/8/17 and the highest GPM of all AD carries last weekend is good enough to give the nine-fingered carry a well deserved spot on Week 4's All-NA LCS team.
Support: Kiwikid (Team Dignitas)
One of the weakest points for Dignitas last season, Kiwi has stepped into more of a leader role and done well with the surging Dignitas. Kiwi went 1/6/28 in Week 4, solidifying himself as strong partner alongside his sophomore Korean import AD carry, CoreJJ.
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.