Having a leader, as we've found out this season in the North American LCS, is important.
Cloud9 and Gravity are two of the biggest stories of the season for similar reasons with drastic difference in results. Cloud9 were the West's standard bearers when it came to consistent play, as their teamwork, shot-calling, and team fighting was respected by the best teams in the world. That two year honeymoon period finally came to an end last season, as C9 decided to change the starting roster for the first time in the LCS by replacing their mid laner and captain Hai.
Gravity were a rookie team last season that proved to be dangerous but strong enough to make Top 4. With the retirements of veterans Cop and Saintvicious in the offseason, the team was forced to make changes in terms of shot-calling and leadership. They brought in two new players in Altec and Move, hoping that they would fill in for the their lost experience. The head shot-calling role was given to neither of the two new recruits but Bunny Fufu, their young playmaking support who was still trying to find his way in the LCS and having to adapt with a change in the bot-lane with Altec.
Cloud9's change in leadership failed miserably, as Meteos stepped away from his starting role on the team as a player and shot-caller two weeks ago. He was replaced by their former general Hai, the former Playoff MVP transitioning back into a jungle role he hadn't played professionally since C9 qualified for LCS in 2013. They picked up an important win against Team Dignitas last weekend, but they're still sitting at 4-10 with four games left in the season and little hope to make the playoffs.
Gravity's changes have worked in spades. Bunny has grown into a leader alongside Altec in the bottom lane, as the former Winterfox AD Carry is putting on an MVP-like season in his first campaign with his new team. Move, their Korean import from China's secondary league, has shaken off a weak first week of play to solidify himself as the best vision jungler in North America and possibly the strongest player at his position in the west. Cop is behind them all, the former Gravity AD carry directing his well-coordinated team to the current top spot in the league as a rookie coach.
Leadership became even more prevalent this week with the struggling defending champions. Team SoloMid are on their worst run of LCS games in 2015, the team going 0-2 last weekend and falling down the standings to find themselves out of a precious first round bye spot. Former mid laner of the team and current owner, Reginald will be stepping in as a temporary head coach to try and get the team on track while Locodoco tries to work out his problems behind the scenes. The back-to-back champions have proven time and time again that they can switch on the fly and make things work with quickfire changes, and we'll see if Reginald's return can do anything to change their team's stagnant results.
It's Week 8 of the NA LCS.
Two weeks left.
Four games to go.
And only one month until two teams battle through the rest of the competition to finally complete the road to New York and face-off at Madison Square Garden for the NA LCS crown.
The North American Ladder
1. Gravity: 11-3
Curse Academy have finally graduated.
The boys in the leather jackets have already clinched a playoff spot and are only a few wins away from locking up an all-important first round bye. Bunny is making plays and leading well, Move is dissecting teams with his rapid movement and vision control, and Altec, along with Hauntzer and Keane, are carrying the team through damage and gold.
We still need to see them play a Bo5 against a top team to see if they're really North America's best hope at Worlds, but right now they're a team no one in the LCS wants to face. They all know their roles, play unselfishly, and have little trouble adapting or flexing in pick/ban to counter the opposing team's strengths.
2. Team Liquid: 10-4
The former Curse might be below their former academy team, but Team Liquid have little to feel bad about. They're on a roll following a small road bump in the middle of the season, and a bye in the first round is only four straight wins away due to TSM, CLG, and Dignitas falling off in the past couple of weeks.
On a team level, no squad in North America is playing near Gravity's level at the moment. But with Liquid, they have the individual pieces that can go up against and even beat Gravity if they get rolling in the early game. Quas, Fenix, and Piglet make up the scariest carry threat trio in the league, and TL believe that by the time the playoffs role around, Gravity will remember the difference between the main team and the academy squad.
3. Team Impulse: 9-5
It is the year 2XXX. League of Legends 3 has just been released and Team Impulse are still in the Galactic LCS. Rush is still leading the team and picking Lee Sin even with 5,000 different junglers introduced by this time. The rest of the team still follows him into each battle, and they still don't have the best communication after playing together forever. Apollo is still lagging in the background, pressing 'R' on Sivir to go faster while trying to catch up with the rest of the team before they get themselves killed.
Impulse will never change the way they play. They've had troubling rough patches where their over-aggression and attacking style has left them in trouble of falling behind in the standings. Yet they persist and always go back to what they do best: covering the map in blood, Rush making flashy moves, and Apollo pressing 'R' on Sivir so the team can go faster.
Long live Impulse. Long live the bloodshed and carnage.
4. Team SoloMid: 9-5
Ah, the oldest rivalry in sports history: the coach vs. the star player.
What side does the team take? Do they stick up for the coach and take their side, making sure the battle pieces on the field know who is boss? Or do they side with the star of the team that is the face of the franchise, makes all the plays, and is often the reason why the team is able to escape impossible games with victories.
TSM are figuring out what to do this week in terms of strategy, leadership, and coaching, Locodoco temporarily benched as head coach while owner and former mid laner himself Reginald takes his chance at leading the troops. The team's Runeglaive Ezreal strategy centered around Bjergsen hasn't worked since Gravity broke it down a few weeks ago, and the team needs a turnaround in direction if they want to keep any chance of a top two shot alive by the end of next week.
5. Counter Logic Gaming: 9-5
Counter Logic Gaming stopped the bleeding last weekend, taking two wins against bottom teams to distance themselves from those squads and all but confirm a spot in the postseason. Their end of the season isn't the toughest, as CLG's last big game of the season comes this weekend against Team Liquid. That game will be a perfect opportunity for CLG to quiet naysayers going into the playoffs and edge their way back into a first round bye.
As always with CLG, we can talk about their performance until the end of time, but none of it will matter when the playoffs role around. Now that they've gotten their place in the Top 6 almost locked up, it'll now all come down to how they perform in their first season. A best-of-five victory will bring new life to the team and let them exhale from the pressure, and a first round loss will send them spiralling down another mile-long walk of shame while everyone criticizes them for choking once again. No matter how well CLG do in the first eighteen games of the season, none of it will matter if they can't defeat the demons of playoffs past.
6. Team Dignitas: 8-6
If you were about to buy your special edition Team Dignitas 2015 World Champion t-shirts, I'd hold up on putting in your credit card information. The team that surprised the entire league by escaping relegation by one game against Fusion and then flying to the top of the standings is now coming back down to earth following a few tough weeks of losses. Let's be clear, they're not a terrible team — at least in terms of current North American play — but Dignitas are falling where they probably belonged all season.
Good news for Dignitas fans is that T8 started the season off slowly with roster changes, Enemy don't know what a laning phase is, Cloud9 imploded, and Team Dragon Knights are really mad at the American government for their visa issues. All those problems have helped push those four teams to weak records with only four games remaining, meaning that Dig's fast early part of the season will most likely get them a first round playoff game and important circuit points.
Thanks American Government.
7. Team 8: 5-9
You could make a strong case that Team 8 are one of the best four teams in NA. They started off the split terribly, losing their first four games and experiencing growing pains from trading out passive AD Maplestreet for a main carry in Nien. The team was appearing to be an easy candidate for auto-relegation going into Week 3 with TDK's full line-up still not having played a single game as a team.
Ever since they're awful beginning, they've been incredibly average, going 1-1 the past five weeks. Meaning, in terms of NA LCS where teams are blowing up like firecrackers every other week, they're one of the only true somewhat-kinda-I-guess-positive teams in the entire league. They need a complete Dignitas collapse and a 4-0 finish to the season to get into the playoffs, yet stranger things have happened this season.
Team 8, the straight C student of the NA LCS. Not too great. Not too bad. Still get to eat the food backstage every weekend. Good on you, Team 8.
8. Cloud9: 4-10
Cloud9 are pretty much out of a playoff spot unless the stars align and a miracle happens that allows them somehow to get into a Top 6 spot. We're talking about the same odds as Faker joining Team Dragon Knights next season or CLG fans not shaming their team if they lose a close playoff series. The odds are extremely low that they'll see any postseason play for the first time in their five full seasons, and it would be the first season since they qualified that the final wouldn't be C9 vs. TSM.
Luckily for C9, all they really need is seventh. That spot would not only get them out of playing in the relegation rounds, but would give them the opportunity to most likely play in the gauntlet to see which final team from NA will join the other two to play at Worlds. It seems pretty unlikely that the current iteration of Cloud9 could pull themselves together to make a Disney-like run to Worlds through a gauntlet where Incarnati0n beats Team Impulse in a Game 5 on Zed to qualify, so I'll start writing the fanfiction for C9 fans to read to cry themselves to sleep.
Hey, there is still a chance, right?
9. Enemy eSports: 4-10
Here is the best stat in League of Legends this season: Enemy eSports are averaging a 1,082 gold deficit at 10 minutes. The second worst team, Team Dragon Knights, are only averaging a 231 disadvantage and they've only won one game the entire season.
Enemy are the worst laning phase team of all five professional regions. They get crushed in the first 10 minutes. The give up first blood 86% of the time in their games. Their lanes consistently lose in CS. They get absolutely dominated, slapped around, and embarrassed in those first 10 minutes.
...yet somehow they have four wins. Somehow they still have a chance at the playoffs in an outside spot. And somehow they can still pass by relegation, get seventh, and drink samosas on the beach during their break while the bottom three teams need to worry about their futures.
10. Team Dragon Knights: 1-13
Team Dragon Knights are not 1-13 bad. Unlike what I thought two weeks ago, they're also not 9-5 good or even 8-6 good. If they had their whole team all along, they would be around where Team 8 is in the standings, giving Dignitas a run for their money in the playoff hunt but still showing communication issues.
In good news, they do way better than Enemy in the first 10 minutes of the game. That's something they can always cherish if they get auto-relegated.
The All-NA LCS Team (Week 7)
Top: Hauntzer (Gravity)
The unsung hero of the league leaders, Hauntzer is possibly the most underrated player in the entire league. His rookie season last split, like Gravity, was a decent one. He did well, got bounced by better and more experienced top laners, and gained valuable experience to come back in his sophomore split. Last week was another strong round for Gravity's rock in the top lane, 5/1/21 in his team's four victories.
Jungle: Rush (Team Impulse)
Rush likes to fight.
9/4/26 last weekend and a position leading KDA in Week 7 make sure you never forget that.
Mid: FeniX (Team Liquid)
The patient Emperor of the Sands led Team Liquid to another perfect round last weekend. FeniX has improved tremendously from his up-and-down first season that only started to produce results when his Korean teammate Piglet started to figure out his role as well in TL's staring lineup. He exited last weekend with 15 kills and 3 deaths in Liquid's two wins, the highest kills and lowest deaths of any mid laner in the round.
AD Carry: Apollo (Team Impulse)
It's easy to call Apollo a Sivirbot — he has played nine of TiP's 14 games on the champion — but that takes away from his influence on the team. A lot of times he's the only calming and level-headed presence on a team of players who like nothing more but to fight constantly and dive towers that are trying to murder them. From a terrible rookie season with Team Coast over a year ago, Apollo is a player that won't carry a team to the NA LCS championship, but he can certainly be an important piece to a championship winning squad.
Support: Aphromoo (Counter Logic Gaming)
Bringing the narrative back to leadership, CLG will only go as far as Aprhoomoo can lead them. Last weekend, when CLG needed a 2-0 to stop the team from completely flying off the rails, Aphromoo had one of his best statistical weekends of the season. He went 0/2/30 in CLG's two victories, getting his team back to a solidified playoff spot and shot-calling them back into a hunt for a first round bye.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.