"If we win the next game against Dignitas, we will have played against every team. It means we're winning against every team, even if it's just one match, and then if we just repeat we can go 18-0."
Jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeujin smiles as he says this, rocking back and forth on his heels following another Immortals win.
Before the start of the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Split, the name on everyone’s lips was Immortals. Rumors of the team crushing opponents in scrims shadowed their 2-0 opening weekend, praise and excitement mounting with each passing victory.
Now, nearly at the halfway point of the season, Immortals sit comfortably atop the NA LCS standings, undefeated at 8-0. Questions are flying about all the NA teams, but the most common is: Will Immortals lose a game this split?
When can their glory fade?
Immortals owe much of their success to jungler Reignover, who's dismantled his opponents in impressive fashion. Against Team Liquid rising star Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, Reignover applied stifling pressure, stopping the normally aggressive jungler from helping his lanes.
Reignover and his top laner partner Heo “Huni” Seunghoon, veterans of an undefeated domestic season, work in tandem to provide more overall presence, pinning opponents on their own side of the map before slowly driving them back. This can mean everything from diving the top lane turret together, to Huni holding his own while Reignover sets his sights elsewhere.
Huni doesn’t always receive the earliest jungle pressure (in spite of Reignover’s attention to top lane against Team Liquid, which boosted Huni's First Blood participation rate to 63 percent). That honor has usually fallen to AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma who, prior to today’s matches, were sitting at 71 percent participation. Reignover himself has been a part of every Immortals' First Blood, further proving his importance to their early game plan.
Above all other North American teams, Immortals are proactive, moving without hesitation. This goes a long way in a region where so many teams are overly concerned with making as few mistakes as possible. While most teams wait for their opponents to drop the ball before taking action, Immortals don’t give opponents an opportunity to think — they jump in as a unit.
Reignover attributes their unity to the players' willingness to sacrifice for the team. "Everyone is a team player and everyone is not a KDA player. I think that’s why everyone is full-hamming when they have to full ham and everyone is peeling back when they have to be peeling back.”
Immortals aren’t without their weaknesses. However, much like Fnatic during their 18-0 EU LCS Summer run, the team seems to know how to bend without breaking. An Immortals loss is easy to imagine outside of their matches — in pre-game interviews and analysis — but infinitely more difficult to envision once the team has loaded up onto the rift.
Boldly they rose and well
After an 0-3 start, Team Liquid rose up the standings with a four-game win streak before falling to Immortals today. Lost in their first three games, TL suffered many of the same problems that ailed last season. In their 2015 games, they kept placing top laner Diego “Quas” Ruiz on tanks, and Kim “Fenix” Jaehoon proved to be an inadequate secondary carry on any champion that wasn't Azir or Viktor. That left only AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwangjin as damage dealer, a weakness TL has yet to remedy in 2016. New top Samson “Lourlo” Jackson picked up the TL top lane tank mantle, taking to the rift on the likes of Tahm Kench and Poppy. In Sunday's game against Immortals, he played the slightly off-meta pick Maokai.
TL needed to switch something up, and new jungler Dardoch and support Matthew “Matt” Elento have been just the change they needed. Contributions from both players led TL on a four-game streak.
Dardoch has been one of North America’s strongest junglers, in spite of being thoroughly dismantled at the hands of Reignover yesterday. First in kill participation for any starting jungler in the region at 87 percent, Dardoch is the entirety of TL’s early game. When he is pressured out of the game, and TL can’t get their lanes' initial advantages, the team suffers. Their teamfight coordination is still awful — although Matt has been a marked improvement in this regard — and no amount of Piglet firing from the backline will net a Liquid victory if his entire team dies around him.
Shattr’d and sunder’d
NRG eSports have an early game problem. Following yesterday’s loss to Cloud9, they have an average gold difference of -1018 at 10 minutes. While they try to make up for it with scaling late-game compositions, this doesn’t always work in their favor. All too often, jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate fails to provide early pressure in the face of stronger presence from his opposition. This affects all of NRG’s lanes, especially if they’re already in losing champion matchups. In their most recent loss, Moon's weaknesses were exacerbated by positioning errors that gave C9 an insurmountable lead going into the mid-to-late game.
NRG's lack of cohesion in the early game is particularly frustrating to watch because they have such incredible pieces in place. Their lanes are flexible in both playstyle and champion pool, opening up possibilities for creative compositions like their Zilean-plus-Poppy combination that stymied Team SoloMid.
Ours is but to do or die
“Everything didn’t go well," says Team SoloMid support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim following TSM’s dubious victory yesterday against a piecemeal Echo Fox. "I think there is a confidence issue right now but we need to work on it. We need to improve faster than that.”
TSM hasn’t lived up to the preseason expectations of their star-studded roster, and Saturday's near-loss to Echo Fox was further evidence of just how little TSM has developed. Even with YellOwStaR insisting his team needs to improve at a quicker pace, TSM didn’t put on a particularly impressive show on Sunday either, nearly dropping a game to Renegades.
These are not teams that a squad with the talent and experience of TSM should be struggling with. Echo Fox and Renegades are tied for last place at 1-7. The former has yet to field their actual lineup since Week 1, while Renegades has also suffered through roster substitutions, with support Maria “Remi” Creveling stepping down, and Cuong “Flaresz” Ta stepping in as top laner over underperforming Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta.
It’s apparent that TSM's players don’t wholly trust each other, and this lack of synergy is impacting their performance, even against NA’s worst teams.
“I don’t think anyone feels happy about the victories because it’s one of those things where it’s expected that you win,” AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng says about their near-loss to Renegades. “It’s all about the manner in which you win, and both of our games yesterday and today were really bad.”
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.