Welcome to the final week of the NA LCS summer season — everything is chaos.
The other four major regions (EU, KR, CN, TW) all have a king at the top of their standings, creating order for the rest of the league to follow.
The European LCS have Fnatic, the defending champions that just completed the first perfect season in LCS, finishing off the Unicorns of Love to end the split 18-0.
China is ruled by the mighty EDward Gaming, whose track record this year has been almost flawless, with their domestic win in the spring, Mid-Season Invitational title following that, and the top spot in the current LPL regular season.
ahq were a surprise in last season's LMS playoffs, making a run through the tournament to win the split and make it to MSI. They've continued their success in the summer, sitting atop of the standings heading into the postseason.
And SK Telecom T1 are the kings in Korea, going on a five month domestic undefeated streak before finally falling last night to CJ Entus in a close 2-1 loss. Even with their loss, they were the first team to qualify for the 2015 World Championships, locking down their spot for the Champions Grand Finals in a few short weeks.
North America? No one is ruling anything. There is no order in the NA LCS this split, with six teams having a chance to take one of the two first round byes. The reigning champions, TSM, have been in disarray as of late, making transactions in their starting line-up and now the coaching staff. Although it appears they've come to the decision that WildTurtle will be their starting ADC for the rest of the season, there is still questions surrounding their overall communication and coaching situation.
Two weeks ago, Gravity, the current top team in NA, looked to be the team that could finally take the reins from Team SoloMid and Cloud9 to be the region's new elite team. As with the rest of the league, Gravity hasn't been able to break away from the pack, losing to Team Dignitas last week and needing Move to steal two Barons against non-playoff squad Team 8 to keep their No. 1 standing into the final round. Gravity are still a good team and very well could emerge as NA's greatest hope at Worlds this year, but they need to prove in the last week and in the upcoming postseason that they can continue to adapt in a marathon best-of-five series.
Coaching changes, player suspensions, and a team already eliminated from the playoffs still having a shot at Worlds. The NA LCS might not be the best league in the world right now in terms of play, but you can't deny that they know how to bring the excitement and intrigue.
The North American Ladder
1. Gravity: 12-4
The red capes are coming..the red capes are coming! The leaders of our ladder for the past few weeks, Gravity hold a 9-0 record in all their red side games this season. Gravity are the best team in the league when it comes to playing flexible and loose, their lynchpin coming in the form of Keane, their starting mid laner who has no qualms about trying any champion at his position.
The team that went out in the first round last split could do something historic with a 2-0 round this weekend; if they can exit Sunday as the top team in the playoffs, Gravity will be the first team to win the NA regular season that isn't Team SoloMid or Cloud9.
2. Counter Logic Gaming: 11-5
Consider this an extremely wary second place ranking for CLG going into this weekend. They've bounced back from an awful slide in the mid-season to win their last four games, clinching a playoff spot in the process and putting themselves into a perfect position to qualify as a Top 2 team. But, as always with CLG, it's the final week of the season, and that usually means it's time for their bi-yearly collapse heading into the playoffs. It happened a year ago when they took a nosedive down the standings in the final two weeks, and last season was the same story when C9 beat them in a tiebreaker to wrangle away the all-important first round bye.
CLG, luckily, look like they switched out their final week implosion for a blow up in the middle of the split. All eyes will be on the Counter Logic Gaming as they head into the final two games of the season. They lead all teams when it comes to early-game power, tower pushing, and objective control with their orderly-like fashion of play, yet...this is CLG.
Who knows what could happen this weekend?
3. Team Liquid: 11-5
Team Liquid, albeit not as publicized as CLG, is also a team that has troubles when it comes to the playoffs and finding the extra gear to get to Worlds. Unlike CLG, however, Liquid (as Curse) has never made it the World Championships, always cutting it close but never being able to get over the final hurdle to qualify. They were inches away from getting to the dance last year before falling to LMQ in a heartbreaking match for the final NA seed, and they continued their gut-punch playoff loss streak by getting reverse swept by Cloud9 in last season's semifinals.
While CLG's playoff woes are more of the blowout variety that lead to heavier criticism by fans, this has to be Liquid's year to qualify. They're in a strong position in the standings going into the final week of the split, and with C9's falling off in the summer, their 3rd place finish last campaign looks like it could send them to Worlds without competing in the daunting last chance gauntlet. It's time for Liquid to shed the archetype of being the tortured loser that falls by the tip of their fingernails and finally ascend as one of NA's three teams going to Europe this autumn.
4. Team SoloMid: 10-6
TSM are the antithesis to the last two teams on the ladder. They're not playing that well and could have been in deep trouble in terms of seeding if it wasn't for their stabilizing win against Dignitas to round off last week's games. Yet, we can't forget that this is Team SoloMid. They have never been afraid to air their issues out or change rosters even when things are going well, and they've always succeeded in getting the ship righted by the time the postseason starts.
They're the opposite of their rivals Liquid and CLG. SoloMid can look like they have no business being anywhere near Worlds for a few weeks, and then they'll flip a switch that gets them right back to the LCS Grand Finals and a spot as one of NA's three teams at Worlds. Until they have a playoffs where they utterly crumble under their changes, they'll get the benefit of the doubt as NA's most consistent team for the past four years. On an international level, however, they'll need to do a lot more in the next month to make anyone think they have a chance of repeating their Top 8 finish of last year.
5. Team Impulse: 11-5
You could rank this team anywhere this week and it could be right. In terms of current play before this weekend, Impulse were the top team in the league. They were on a big win streak, their firepower-style of play was working against the league, and teams weren't respecting Rush's playmaking champions enough to ban him out. Everything was coming up Impulse.
Then, out of nowhere, it came out that former-MVP XiaoWeiXiao was under investigation for ELO boosting and suspended until more details came out. It was also noted that Rush, the team's shot-caller and the player the team's whole persona is built around, is also being looked into for playing alongside XWX's boosting account. Not only that, but that means Gate, their new support, now has to go back to his original position of mid, and they have to bring back Adrian, the support that stepped down from the team after weeks of speculation if he was being forced out of the team.
Without XWX, Impulse can still do damage in the playoffs as long as they have Rush and Impact. They're the true one-two punch on the squad, taking over XWX's main role as carry from his days on LMQ. If Rush does get suspended however, then we're looking at an Impulse team losing two of their best players and an elite Western jungler that has picked apart weaker competition in NA. Without Rush, Impulse really wouldn't be the Impulse we've come to know for the last year, and that's a thought TiP don't want to think about as they head into their final two matches.
6. Team Dignitas: 9-7
The wild card in this whole mess is Team Dignitas. They have the least amount of pressure of the six teams that are going into the playoffs for NA. Dignitas were almost out of the NA LCS entirely just a few short months ago, needing to go to a final game in a Bo5 series against now-disbanded Team Fusion to win their relegation round to get back into the premiere domestic league. Since then, they've been playing with house money, going on a hot streak in the first half of the season to get into a good playoff position before falling back to earth the past couple of weekends.
With no expectations comes less stress, meaning that Dignitas can relax knowing their spot in the LCS is safe for next year and head into the postseason knowing that they can upset the teams above them. That was apparent last weekend when they took a game off league leaders Gravity before reverting back to their preseason expected form of being cleanly beat by the equally slumping Team SoloMid.
While the fan bases of the other five playoff teams will be sweating it in two weeks, all scared their team will choke in the playoffs, Dignitas fans will be relaxing in their recliners and enjoying the wild ride their Cinderella team brought them this split.
7. Cloud9: 5-11
C9's chances at a fifth straight LCS Grand Finals are dead, but their dreams of making the 2015 Worlds are still real. Their 2nd place finish last season to TSM gave them enough circuit points that they will very likely qualify for the last chance gauntlet for the third and final NA Worlds seed if they can end up in seventh place by Sunday's end. The problem Cloud9 is facing is that Riot rules dictate that any team who is forced into the relegation rounds in the summer split will also lose all their circuit points, instantly killing any dream of going to the biggest tournament of the year.
The once Western powerhouse will get two more games to keep those faint daydreams of Europe alive, with the team currently sitting in the seventh spot, Team 8, having a difficult schedule on the climactic weekend. Although C9's record hasn't shown it since Hai rejoined the team as jungler, the former NA champions are playing like a team that is actually communicating once again. Incarnati0n's development has shown rapid improvements since the player he replaced came to help him on the team, the young European online standout finally feeling like he is becoming apart of the team instead of an add-on like at the start of the campaign.
8. Team 8: 6-10
Team 8 have no aspirations of making Worlds on the final weekend. The only thing going through their heads is survival and knowing that the seventh spot will automatically qualify them for next year's LCS. A team that was pegged to already be back in Challenger by this point and forgotten, T8 have been the plucky underdogs all year long, scrapping with the bigger named teams in the league and gaining respect from the rest of the league.
Last season they were a single game away from qualifying for the postseason, but they fell to Team Liquid in a gut-wrenching tiebreak that kept them from the final six. This season a terrible start of the season kept them from ever really being in the playoff picture, starting off 0-4 before achieving a respectable 6-6 up to the ultimate weekend of the split.
CaliTrlolz, T8's sturdy top laner that has carried the team to countless wins this season, will be playing his final LCS games this weekend. Going back to school after a year break, he could leave his friends with a gift of a 2-0 weekend that would cement his squad's place in the LCS for at least for one more split in 2016.
9. Enemy eSports: 4-12
There isn't much to talk about Enemy heading into the final weekend. They have almost no shot of grabbing the seventh seed and a direct pass into next season's LCS unless for a 2-0 score and an epic collapse from both C9 and T8. Also, with TDK's confirmed demise and heading down to the Challenger circuit, last season's Challenger champions don't have to worry about being auto-relegated on the final weekend. They're all but confirmed a spot in the relegation rounds that will pit them against the second or third best team in this season's Challenger competition.
Enemy have the potential to be a good team in the NA LCS, and they have the players that could bring them there with time. Their awful early-game and knack of finding themselves down huge in the first 10 minutes will need to be fixed if they want a chance to make up for a disappointing rookie split.
10. Team (Zombie) Dragon Knights: 1-15
The Dragon Knights are now zombies. They're the living undead, slowly chasing down teams on the final weekend to try and take them down with them. TDK's biggest game remaining this season will be against Cloud9 on Saturday. If the Zombie Dragons could somehow beat the upward treending Cloud9, for all intents and purposes, it would eliminate C9 from having a chance to go to Worlds.
They're going down to Challenger, and there is nothing they can do about it. Might as well and kill one of the league's favorite times while doing so, right? Watch out Cloud9, a zombie Seraph is behind you, wanting to take you down to the depths of hell with him.
The All-NA LCS Team (Week 8)
Top: CaliTrlolz (Team 8) 6/6/19 in 2 games
On his possible final weekend as a pro-gamer, Cali enters it coming off one of his better performances of the split. Team 8 took their first game of the weekend and were a mere smite or two away from upsetting Gravity on Sunday, which would have put them in a position where they would have only needed a single win or C9 loss on the final weekend to clinch 7th.
Jungle: Rush (Team Impulse) 8/5/21 in 2 games
Team Impulse could still, with a good bracket run, make it to the NA LCS Grand Finals and Worlds without starting mid laner XWX. If they lose Rush, however, and it might be all over for TiP. Rush has been one of the best junglers in the West the second half of the LCS season, putting himself right up there with Reignover in Europe and Move in NA. Teams will need to focus in on his Lee Sin and Nidalee if they want to stop Rush this weekend.
Mid: XiaoWeiXiao (Team Impulse) 6/2/18 in 2 games
...Okay, maybe Team Impulse are in a big trouble. It's easy to overlook XWX's impact on the team in the past year when his role on the team has shrunk with the arrival of the Korean duo Impact and Rush, but he is still one of the most mechanically gifted players at his position and a true hard carry if he can get rolling on one of his marquee champions.
Gate will have big shoes to fill to make sure Impulse's win streak doesn't end with his suspension.
AD Carry: Doublelift (Counter Logic Gaming) 12/2/12 in 2 games
No matter how well the top half of the CLG roster is playing, their squad's chances will come down to the bottom lane. Doubelift as the carry and Aphroomoo as the shot-caller, and when the two of them are playing well together, CLG have been near impossible to stop this season. Last weekend was another example of this, Doubelift leading all ADC's in GPM and leading his team alongside Aphromoo to another 2-0 round.
Support: LemonNation (Cloud9) 4/6/27 in 2 games
A lot of Cloud9's late season success can be accredited towards Hai returning to the squad as the leading voice and captain, but Lemon's gone from being a complete non-factor the first half of the split to being a pivotal part of the team the past two weeks. As with Doubelift and Aphromoo on CLG, when Sneaky and Lemon are gelling in the bottom lane and in good condition, there is a reason why C9 were back-to-back champions in the past with an undefeated streak in the playoffs.
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.