On paper, and following the first week of the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring, Immortals and NRG eSports have a great deal in common.
A venture capital outfit supported by some prominent monetary backers, Immortals purchased Team 8 and revamped the entire roster. Starring on Immortals' stacked lineup are the famous former Fnatic duo, top laner Heo “Huni” Seunghoon and jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeujin. They are accompanied by mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, and AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, with rising support Adrian “Adrian” Ma tying the team together.
Meanwhile, Team Coast – an organization with more cracks at the LCS than any other North American team has been afforded – sold off their 2016 NA LCS Spring slot to NRG eSports, another new outfit backed by the co-owners of the Sacramento Kings. In hand with the NRG announcement was an almost entirely new lineup, with former Team Coast support Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon the sole survivor of the cuts.
Both teams’ new star-studded rosters showed their prowess on the Rift this past weekend, sprinting out to quick 2-0 starts. For Immortals, one of these wins was an 18:15 minute stomp over Team Impulse, while NRG’s top laner, Jung “Impact” Eonyeong dazzled audiences on Fiora against the Renegades.
Another commonality between these two teams are their support players – both rising stars who have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disorganization while playing for other rosters. Week 1 presented an opportunity for KonKwon and Adrian to prove themselves with their new teams, NRG eSports and Immortals respectively, and the two did not disappoint.
Touted and celebrated as the first player to transition from a college team and eSports scholarship – in this case, the RMU Eagles – to a professional setting, Adrian joined LMQ in November 2014 prior to their rebranding as Team Impulse. Team Impulse finished with an 11-7 record in 2015 NA LCS Spring Split, and made it to the semifinals of the spring playoffs before falling to spring champions, Team SoloMid.
Throughout, Adrian continuously proved himself by vision control rather than overly flashy plays or aggressive laning with his partner, AD carry Apollo “Apollo” Price. Second-highest in overall wards placed per minute (1.26) and wards cleared per minute (0.29) of all starting NA supports in the regular season, Adrian quietly helped TiP by organizing their vision net, allowing mid laner Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian and then-top laner Impact to roam and skirmish while Apollo cleaned up teamfights and knocked down turrets.
His mastery over vision only improved in the summer split, where he then placed the most wards per minute (1.48), while compiling a whopping 80.8 percent kill participation, the best of all NA supports that season. Adding to this is the fact that TiP jungler Lee “Rush” Yoonjae was the second-worst warding jungler in the NA LCS, leaving the vision burden almost entirely to Adrian. These impressive statistics were oddly paired with Adrian’s mid-season benching for mid laner Austin “Gate” Yu in Week 8. Adrian’s time off was short-lived, as XiaoWeiXiao was subsequently banned for elo boosting, precipitating Gate swapping back to the mid lane and Adrian once again starting as the Team Impulse support.
Once again, TiP made it to the semifinals. This time, they fell to Counter Logic Gaming and finished fourth for the second season in a row. In the Regional Qualifier a week later, they lost to Cloud9 in the latter’s somewhat miraculous gauntlet run. In spite of strong performances from Adrian and Impact, TiP without XiaoWeiXio was not the same team, and their own disorganization – which had been there previously, but masked somewhat by XiaoWeiXiao’s ability to hold the mid lane – bested them.
Now on Immortals, Adrian is tasked with keeping an untamed laning partner at bay in Wildturtle while coordinating vision with jungler Reignover. It’s only been a week, but Adrian seems happier than ever with a team whose communication and understanding of the current metagame appeared significantly stronger than that of their Week 1 opponents.
The lone straggler from Team Coast’s qualifying roster, KonKwon has been through his fair share of Challenger teams and woes. Banned from competitive play for an ancillary association with ladder team Kimchi Dos Spicy for matchfixing, KonKwon had to forfeit a chance at becoming a substitute for Counter Logic Gaming while attempting to have his ban lifted. At this time, he received an offer from Team Dragon Knights, who picked him up once his ban was lifted. His time on the team was short-lived. Citing issues with the team’s practice schedule and his own personal happiness – or lack thereof – KonKwon left TDK after a few weeks.
After TDK, he bounced from Final Five to Team Coast, where he was the starting support for the Coast team that qualified for 2016 Spring. NRG eSports subsequently purchased their LCS slot and replaced all but KonKwon for their starting lineup. With Coast in the 2015 Summer Challenger Series, KonKwon placed the second-most wards per minute of any challenger support in the regular season at 1.37. Interestingly enough, comparing this with NA LCS supports, this number would have placed him second in wards placed only to the aforementioned Adrian.
Also like Adrian, KonKwon appears happy with his new LCS team. By all accounts he is both talkative and communicative with his new teammates, feeding them information constantly and contributing to their overall game plan.
Immortals and NRG eSports, and their respective supports Adrian and KonKwon, will meet each other on the rift this coming week. Both are tied for the highest KDA of not only all supports, but all players after NA LCS Week 1. KonKwon tops NA supports for the most wards placed per minute at 1.79 while Adrian sits at a respectable 1.09 – the latter's games include the aforementioned sub-20 minute blowout of his former team. Adrian was a key part in the drubbing of Team Impulse with impressive Janna play, including a clutch early tornado to save WildTurtle from a gank and a fantastically-played teamfight at TiP's bottom inhibitor turret.
While this isn’t a headlining rivalry, or even a matter with all that much buildup, it’s an early chance for one of the teams to stake their claim on the title of best team in North America. Their respective supports will certainly play a large part in whoever comes out on top.
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.