With a third of the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Split in the record books, Immortals have pulled a long way ahead of their closest competition, leaving the rest of the league fighting for the all-important playoff spots. These first three weeks have seen pleasant surprises from Team Impulse, steadiness from Counter Logic Gaming, and a sprinkling of visa issues for good measure.
Twice now, Immortals have benevolently put their opponents out of their misery by destroying their nexus before the 20-minute surrender mark. That includes Sunday's quick work of Echo Fox. Both games have been against presumed bottom-tier teams – Team Impulse's defiance of expectations aside – yet the mark of a truly strong team shows in games like these. “A win is a win” isn’t good enough for a team that wants to make an attempt at competing internationally, and these one-sided stomps point towards an unshakeable mentality that refuses to drop games, even when faced with obviously inferior opponents.
As for their closer rivals, Immortals looked more fallible against Team SoloMid than against NRG eSports, partially due to the team compositions in the latter series which led to Immortals snowballing. NRG didn’t ward their flanks well, and Immortals took full advantage with decisive Teleport plays from top laner Heo “Huni” Seunghoon on Lissandra. In the TSM series, Immortals aggressively overextended a few times and were duly punished by TSM; however, crucial saves from support Adrian “Adrian” Ma turned fights in Immortals’ favor, eventually netting them the victory.
The most significant takeaway from Immortals’ performance in the first three weeks is their ability to close a game. Increased death timers, decreased vision and weaker turrets have led to awkward mid-games from most North American squads, with teams struggling to make proactive plays due to a lack of information or fear of death. Unlike most of their competitors, Immortals move quickly and decisively. In all Immortals games where Baron has actually had the opportunity to spawn, they’ve been the first team to kill it, using this objective exactly as intended: to push for the win.
NRG eSports (4-2)
One of NRG's Week 2 wins came from a forfeiture by Echo Fox, something that the team’s detractors will surely use against them when discussing their second-place standing. Gauging a team’s overall strength after a mere six games is difficult, and for NRG there's one less to judge. In spite of that, NRG still appears to be a strong team with some of the best individual talent in the NA LCS.
The team struggles with the early game, with an average 15-minute gold differential of -1153, the second-lowest of any North American team. Much of this has to do with jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate’s inability to apply early pressure to his lanes, which has been an issue for NRG in recent games – most notably their Week 3 match against Team Liquid.
However, NRG is also one of few teams in North America who picks very specific compositions and (Saturday’s Team Liquid game aside) shows that they know how they're supposed to operate, even if execution is lacking. Their scoreline against Immortals looks one-sided, but the game itself was a fantastic display of two teams who both knew exactly what their compositions were supposed to do in spite of mistakes in practice.
NRG showed off their creativity again yesterday, pulling out a composition with mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok on Zilean and top laner Jung “Impact” Eonyeong on Poppy. The result was a 31:38 minute rout where TSM failed to kill a single NRG member. With an inventive nature and the available talent on their team, NRG should be able to continue to surprise opponents for the remainder of the split, but their early game issues are still concerning, and mark a weak point for opponents to attack.
Counter Logic Gaming (4-2)
Tied for second place with NRG, Counter Logic Gaming has picked up right where they left off last season, albeit with stiffer competition for the top spot in North America. They have a generally strong understanding of the map, particularly in the early game, and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes has fit into the team surprisingly well. He lacks former CLG mainstay Doublelift’s ability to take over a game completely, but also uses four percent less of his team’s gold and cleans up when necessary.
With a strong first dragon rate (tied for best in NA LCS at 83 percent) as well as a strong first baron rate (tied for second at 67 percent) and best dragon control rate (at 79 percent), it’s obvious that CLG focuses objectives first. They occasionally lack knowledge of how to trade objectives in the mid game, but overall they're one of North America’s stronger macro teams, earning their current second-place spot. So far, they’ve had a relatively easier schedule than others – the true test of their mettle will come next week against the first place Immortals.
Team Impulse (3-3)
The surprise darlings of the 2016 NA LCS Spring, Team Impulse have defied every expectation. Their initial roster announcement was near-universally panned, and preseason speculation placed them dead last for the split.
Thus far, TiP have inexplicably overcome their talent deficiencies by not having their full roster. There hasn’t been one week where TiP has fielded their supposed starting roster on the Rift, resulting in a carousel of substitutes and role-swapping. One would think that this would be a hindrance to the team, but it’s instead given them a shocking amount of coordination, particularly in forcing teamfights.
TiP's top lane has been a revolving door. Regardless of whether it’s mid laner turned support Austin “Gate” Yu role-swapping once more or Team Dragon Knights loan Shin “Seraph” Wooyeong in the TiP top lane, teleport plays from the top have overwhelmed opponents and forced advantageous fights for TiP. In fact, TiP is second only to Immortals in average combined kills per minute, making their outings on the rift always bloody.
Oddly enough, the top laner with whom TiP performed the worst was their actual listed starting top laner, Wang “Feng” Xiaofeng. He played in the team’s first two games, both losses to Immortals and Echo Fox. In spite of their current 3-3 record – tied for third after three weeks – TiP’s luck is likely to run out, as their roster changes will hamper their synergy while other NA teams are growing together.
Team Liquid (3-3)
Throughout last year, and in their first few games this season, Team Liquid’s sole win condition was AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwangjin hard carrying them to victory. Liquid lacked any sense of how the map worked, where they should be as a team, and how to trade objectives.
But things have been looking up for Team Liquid since the arrival of jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and support Matthew “Matt” Elento. After a rough 0-3 start, they eked out a win over Echo Fox in Week 2, and showed up stronger in Week 3, posting wins against NRG and TiP.
This isn’t to say that Team Liquid have completely figured things out – although they certainly show more overall awareness of where to be – but they’ve been supplemented by Dardoch’s ability to create early pressure and Matt’s teamfighting prowess, particularly on Bard. They still rely on Piglet to carry, especially since mid laner Kim “Fenix” Jaehoon continues to be inconsistent, but now he has significantly more help.
Team SoloMid (3-3)
What a difference a few weeks make.
Team SoloMid near-unanimously won the offseason, with the acquisitions of ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, and star support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim easily setting them ahead of the curve on roster talent. Questions arose regarding gold distribution – particularly with Doublelift and mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg presumably splitting the majority of TSM’s resources – but optimism was high for this team going into their first week.
In their first three games, TSM proved to have a meager understanding of the current meta, particularly where laneswaps were concerned. The unfortunate loser in all of this was top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, who spent much of these games repeatedly showing off his best Marcus “Dyrus” Hill impression. TSM finally figured it out in their fourth game, against Team Dignitas, and following their win against Cloud9 yesterday they looked far more coordinated and synchronized than in previous matches.
Yesterday, they were on the receiving end of a one-sided drubbing at the hands of NRG eSports and their Zilean-plus-Poppy pairing. TSM weren't prepared for it, somewhat understandably, but a third loss was hardly what they were expecting going into Spring 2016, especially with the fanfare around their roster announcements. In contrast, the team seated 6-0 in first place is an arrangement of discarded North American talent – Reignover and Huni aside – including TSM’s former ADC.
A tale now as old as 2013, the ballad of Hai “Hai” Du Lam and Cloud9 tells of the greatest partnership between man and team in North American LoL history.
It’s unfortunate that “Hai’s shotcalling” has grown to memetic proportions, but it’s also impossible to talk about the Cloud9 of yesterday without touching upon how utterly lost they look without Hai loading up onto the Rift. The team is now faced with the decision to ignore the losses and continue to train Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo, or play Hai and hope that his decisive nature can lead the team to victory, knowing that they’ll not grow past a certain point.
Already, even with Hai, the team struggled against TSM and managed a win over Dignitas that came more off of the back of Dignitas's mistakes than it did any precision or calculation from Cloud9. Additionally, top laner An “Balls” Le continues to be a glaring weakness on the team with awkward teleports, ill-timed flanks, and mechanical misplays.
Dignitas often looks to be a better team than their record; however, their mistakes are usually glaringly obvious and game-losing. After living up to their team’s historical affinity for making this one mistake at Baron, Dignitas appeared to grow from this, proceeding to make their mistakes in mid-to-late game skirmishes or ill-advised objective trades. By all accounts, new top laner Billy “BillyBoss” Yu is a better fit than their prior top laner Lennart “SmittyJ” Warkus, but ingratiating him into the team may take time that Dignitas doesn’t have with their current record.
Echo Fox 1-5
Keeping recency bias in mind following yesterday's loss to Immortals – which ended in under 20 minutes without giving Echo Fox the choice to surrender gracefully – it’s difficult to judge Echo Fox, as they’ve gone two weeks without their starting lineup. Three of their five players are still attempting to resolve their visa issues, which initially meant they couldn't field a roster in Week 2 and had to forfeit to NRG. They’ve also lost key practice time, and haven’t had the TiP luck on their side regarding their substitutes.
When Renegades were successful in their one win – a Week 1 victory over a lost-looking Team Liquid – it was due to better overall macro play coupled with initiations from Freeze and support Maria “Remi” Creveling on Kalista and Alistar respectively. The two coordinated engages around Fate’s Call, and Renegades were often able to get the jump on their opponents in fights, allowing Freeze to clean up. Unfortunately, these initiations also occasionally backfired, costing Renegades map control and objectives. Freeze returned for the team’s final game of Week 3, but the Renegades’ obstacles are formidable, especially with the rumored departure of Remi.
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.