"It was definitely hectic. Hard to adjust, but really I did it out of necessity. I didn't want to play three roles. But I think so far, I would just have more time on support, if anything. That's what I would like. That's my starting role for the team anyway."
As the only remaining member from last year’s Team Impulse and this year’s squad, Austin “Gate” Yu has seen a lot. Initially used as a support substitute, Gate made his North American League Championship Series debut in Week 8 of the 2015 Summer Split, when TiP inexplicably benched starting support Adrian “Adrian” Ma. Following the ban of former TiP mid laner Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian, between Weeks 8 and 9, Gate rotated to the mid lane and Adrian returned to his own starting spot.
Without XiaoWeiXiao — a powerfarming laner with the highest KDA (5.9), and highest CS per minute of any NA mid last summer — TiP were perceived as dead. There was no way that Gate would have a similar laning presence to XiaoWeiXiao.
Fortunately for TiP, their initial transition from XiaoWeiXiao to Gate was accompanied by the graceless fall of summer darlings, Gravity, from first place to fourth, ending with a placement tiebreaker won by TiP. Team Impulse went on to win their first playoff series without XiaoWeiXiao against Team Dignitas, but were then swept by Counter Logic Gaming en route to the latter’s NA LCS Summer 2015 title.
Summer 2015 wouldn’t be the first time that Team Impulse defied the admittedly low expectations set for their roster.
It was announced late in the 2015-16 offseason that Team Impulse would remain under the same ownership rather than being sold off to another organization. The lateness of the statement meant that TiP had very little time to gather a roster. Gate watched his teammates disappear around him, bound for Immortals (Adrian), NRG eSports (top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong), Team Dignitas (AD carry Apollo “Apollo” Price) and Cloud9 (jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae). Team Impulse finally declared their 2016 starting roster a mere nine days before the start of the Spring 2016 season, and their assortment of talent was almost universally panned. In contrast with other NA organizations' star-studded acquisitions from other regions, TiP was a list of no-name solo queue players or presumed washed-up players who weren’t even particularly well-known on their respective competitive ladders.
Now as the anchor of the team, Gate returned to the support position from mid, with the unknown Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik taking his place. Former MKZ and DetonatioN FocusMe jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young, AD carry Brandon “Mash” Phan and NA solo queue player Wang “Feng” Xiaofeng were also announced. Due to the lateness of these acquisitions, the team had little to no time to practice prior to Week 1 of this split, and began without Pirean and Procxin, using substitutes Meng “beibei” Zhang and Kenneth “Ken” Tang for jungle and support respectively while swapping Gate back to mid. This placeholder squad, for a TiP team that wasn’t perceived as good regardless, performed as expected in Week 1, dropping both of their games, the latter of which was a historically quick loss to Immortals.
“We had two losses and one was the fastest in LCS history — I personally was a part of it, so you can blame me,” Gate later joked in Week 3. “We were really low-practice at that time, and it was only up from there."
Team Impulse’s first victory this season was a Week 2 upset against Cloud9. Notably, C9 was not starting their crutch, support Hai “Hai” Du Lam, so many considered this a dubious win at best. TiP followed up this win with victories against Renegades and Dignitas before falling to Team Liquid, NRG eSports and Counter Logic Gaming. Going into Week 5, TiP stands at 3-5, tied for seventh place in the overall standings. This isn’t a particularly impressive start, but due to the abysmally low forecast set for TiP from their disorganized-at-best offseason, their performances defy expectations, and often, logic.
The first baffling fact behind the new Team Impulse is that neither of their junglers have been able to create any sort of jungle pressure, even in their wins. Of all North American teams, TiP is last in gold difference at 10 minutes with an awful -2080 — a full -596 behind the second-worst team, Echo Fox, who have yet to start their actual lineup since Week 1 — and have only been able to secure First Blood in a quarter of their matches. TiP also controls the second least percentage of their jungle of nearly any team in North America with a mere 47.3 percent of their games’ average jungle share. Starting TiP jungler Procxin has been an improvement over beibei, as the latter still has the worst gold differential at ten minutes of any jungler who has started a game this spring.
Another interesting TiP tidbit is that they’ve yet to win a game with their listed starting top laner, Feng. Top lane has been a revolving door for Team Impulse with even Gate, who is definitely not a top laner, boasting better statistics than Feng in the former’s one game played up top for the team. Across his four games with the team, Feng has the worst KDA of any NA top (0.9), and the highest percentage of TiP’s deaths (27.3). In contrast, his primary substitute, Team Dragon Knights’ Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong, possesses the highest KDA of any top laner to start a game in North America with 7.8.
With all of these mediocre-at-best statistics now on the table, the question is then of how on earth Team Impulse actually goes about winning games.
Strength of schedule must be mentioned when speaking of TiP. Their first game was against Echo Fox’s actual roster — TiP would likely have enough to best Echo Fox’s substitute lineup as both teams stand currently — and their second against the still-undefeated Immortals. During their three-game win streak, TiP met a Cloud9 team that looked woefully lost without Hai along with Renegades and Dignitas — two of the worst teams in North America. Conversely, they looked especially bad against Immortals, and more recently Team Liquid, NRG and CLG. All three of these teams, particularly the last two, know the map better than TiP. They also have stronger individual talent that can outplay Team Impulse at a one-on-one level.
A Team Impulse win comes off of the back of catching their adversaries by surprise and fighting, even when it is decidedly disadvantageous to do so. Proactivity goes a long way in the NA LCS, and TiP will dive turrets to fight their opponents. When Seraph was a substitute — and not-so-coincidentally present for two of TiP’s three wins — TiP forced skirmishes off of the back of Teleport plays that created uneven matchups. Additionally, while beibei and Procxin have failed to provide early pressure from the jungle, they both have strong kill participation at 95.2 and 70.5 percent, respectively. This means that they’re still present for the majority of TiP’s kills. Team Impulse is also North America’s second-bloodiest team with a 0.75 combined kills per minute, only one tenth behind Immortals at 0.76.
Team Impulse’s next matches are against Team SoloMid and Dignitas. Neither are an assured victory for TiP’s opponents, which is a vast improvement over preseason expectations. Tied with Dignitas for seventh place, it’s safe to say that TiP aren’t a particularly good team; however, they can be an interesting one to watch. Opponents certainly cannot take them lightly.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She actually finds Team Impulse entertaining to watch. You can follow her on Twitter.