Five names on a piece of paper. This, and the prior performance of those five names, are all fans, enthusiasts, and members of team support staffs have to speculate and prepare as a new season rapidly approaches.
Today was a litmus test as to how much information North America’s best had been able to soak up regarding the new patch, on which they had admittedly little practice time.
More important than ever in the current meta is a team's ability to lane swap. Lane swaps allow teams the choice of opting out of specific 1v1 or 2v2 matchups, all the while allowing for the synchronization of specific item power spikes. Trending one patch behind (5.24) in Korea is a mirrored turret push, eliminating all outer turrets in the side lanes early and this style looks to continue in 6.1. What follows that is an awkward posturing around the mid lane turret – one of the more important control points on the map – until teams attempt to take the Rift Herald and push, make a pick and push, or manage a personnel mismatch in mid and push.
Some North American teams figured this out more quickly than others, both in execution and game time.
TSM vs. CLG: Faltering in Primetime
The week's most heavily-promoted match of the day – a clash between longstanding rivals Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming – surprisingly ended up being one of the sloppiest matches in terms of lane swapping in the brave new world of 6.1.
From the get-go, TSM seemed to have little idea of how to execute the lane swap, and their actions actively set both top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen behind. Hauntzer’s Mundo was sent on an ill-advised journey top lane at Level 1 after an unnecessarily long jungle follow, resulting in a swift death reminiscent of TSM’s 2015 treatment of former top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill. In the meantime, CLG top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha’s Jax farmed freely and, more importantly, accumulated a large experience lead.
TSM had more than a few chances back into this game – while CLG understood the meta better, they were unable to execute it well past a strong early game, even in the win – but faltered at every turn. Most notably, CLG tried to initiate a mid lane team fight with Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s Bard with a mistimed Darshan Teleport flank. TSM got the upper hand in the ensuing fight, but failed to push mid or take any objectives off of it. TSM's roster looks fantastic on paper, and if they come together, they’ll be a tremendous team. However, right now they need to go back to the drawing board and work on their coordination as well as the current meta.
Cloud9 vs. Immortals: Not Quite Textbook
If the preseason rumor mill was to be believed, Immortals were the team to beat based on early scrim results. They didn’t disappoint against a disorganized Cloud9 team that once again seemed disjointed without their much-celebrated leader, Hai “Hai” Du Lam. In the cleanest game of the day, Immortals pressed their advantages once C9’s mid lane outer turret fell at 16:50.
Swamping C9 mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen earlier, Immortals drew First Blood at eight minutes, but were unable to find an opportunity to siege his turret until another eight minutes had passed. This provides a good example of how, even when teams understand the mid push, it’s difficult to gain control over the mid lane so early, resulting in the jokingly-dubbed “ARAM” style of posturing that occurs once the outer side lane turrets fall.
NRG vs. Team Dignitas: Don’t say the “B” word.
Also showing a strong understanding of the double turret trade and subsequent mid lane antics were both NRG and Team Dignitas. Dignitas took the upper hand following a pick onto Lee “GBM” Changseok at 10 minutes and immediately pushed mid. Unfortunately, this crisp decision-making didn’t stick with them for long.
Come rain, shine, snow, or sleet, Dignitas will inevitably throw at baron. Rather than the teams’ respective understandings of the lane swap and subsequent mid push, baron was the story of this game, as every Dignitas attempt to slay this particular beast was an exercise in futility.
Renegades vs. Team Liquid: It just goes on and on, my friend.
Watching Renegades in the NA Challenger Series revealed a team that had a good understanding of what they were supposed to do, even amid criticism of specific roster pieces and flawed execution. Their opposite is Team Liquid, a team that relies on the mechanical outplays of their most talented players with little to no strategy.
When the two teams met today, the matchup could have gone on of two ways. Either Team Liquid, and more specifically AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwangjin, would overpower the Renegades with flashy plays, or the Renegades would thoroughly outsmart Liquid, depending on both their intelligence and the recent addition of AD carry Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek.
The resulting game was a needlessly long, back-and-forth affair that showcased both teams’ respective styles of play. In the end, the Renegades came out on top, showing a far superior understanding of how to play the current map than Liquid.
Echo Fox vs. Team Impulse: Lack of Cleanliness
Lane swapping followed by a mirrored outer turret push found a home in North America’s last game of the day, even amidst doubts that Team Impulse’s cobbled-together roster would pull together any sort of watchable product on the rift this week.
Holding down the mid lane for Echo Fox and TiP were Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and Austin “Gate” Yu, respectively. Again, mid lane is a crucial control point of the map, especially with the side turrets falling so quickly on 6.1 —holding one’s own against their lane opponents while keeping the lane pushing is more important than ever. Gate baffled audiences today, seemingly acquiescing to Echo Fox prior to the game’s start by not taking Cleanse into the mid lane against Froggen’s Lissandra. This provided multiple opportunities that Froggen and his team took full advantage of en route to victory.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.