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Emily Rand's NA LCS Roundup: Stuck in the middle with you

by theScore Staff Feb 22 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / NA LCS Spring 2016 / Riot Games

Immortals clinched the first 2016 North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring playoff berth this past week, and look likely to take the No.1 seed even with three weeks left to play. It's far too early for full-on post-season bracketology, but not too soon to start discussing playoff possibilities for NA's current middle-of-the-pack teams — which means nearly everyone except Immortals.

Cloud9

Current record: 8-4

Remaining matches: Dignitas, CLG, Renegades, TiP, Echo Fox, Team Liquid

Tied with CLG for second in the standings, Cloud9 has regained their uncanny ability to win even when the odds are stacked against them. Case in point: a grueling 46:50-minute victory over TSM on Saturday, where Cloud9 managed to stall the match out until top laner An “Balls” Le could reach the full power of late-game Gangplank.

Support Hai “Hai” Du Lam’s ability to corral his teammates and herd them towards a win has reached near-mythical status. It now nearly overshadows strong performances from other Cloud9 members — like former TiP jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae, who's had a strong season start with the third-highest kill participation (73.9 percent) and the third-best gold differential at 10 minutes (226) of any starting NA LCS jungler. He’s also shown a fairly diverse champion pool, performing well on the likes of Elise, Graves, and Nidalee while also throwing in the odd Lee Sin or Nunu to great effect.

Mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen is also having a career split, living up to the promise that made him such a high-profile pickup for Cloud9 last year. Having a strong jungler helps, since it gives Jensen the freedom to roam around the map and apply his own pressure on the likes of Twisted Fate, Orianna, and Corki.

Cloud9 has an important match against CLG on the back end of Week 7, which will likely determine who will sit in second place going into the final two weeks.

Counter Logic Gaming

Current record: 8-4

Remaining matches: Immortals, Cloud9, Team Liquid, Echo Fox, NRG eSports, Dignitas

Counter Logic Gaming’s performances often leave little to be said, which in this case is far from a bad thing. They know how to make the most of their players' individual strengths, while masking the majority of their respective vulnerabilities. Above all else, CLG plays a team game, and if every member does their part, they'll most likely take the win (provided their opponent isn’t Immortals). As one of the few teams that trade objectives well, CLG takes early control of the map and rarely relinquishes it, preferring a slow, methodical style of play.

This isn’t to say CLG doesn’t have any weaknesses as a team. Slow and methodical sometimes translates to indecisive and overly cautious. More proactive teams have exploited this, even with CLG’s tendency to make up for losses by taking something else on the map. Additional soft spots include mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, who's vacillated between exceptional and mediocre, and jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, who's received criticism for lackluster jungle performances early in the split.

Xmithie went a long way toward silencing his critics in Saturday's game against TiP, going 5/0/8 on Nidalee. He'll also likely perform better with Gragas returning as a strong, viable jungle pick, who's provided some of Xmithie's best performances. Xmithie already picked up the Rabble Rouser this past weekend against Renegades, ending 2/1/13 with 79 percent kill participation in the win.

CLG have an important week ahead of them if they want one of the coveted top two spots in the regular season. Their upcoming games are against the first-place Immortals and Cloud9, who are tied for second place with CLG. Xmithie’s newfound proactivity is a good start, but in order to manage an upset, CLG will have to be more decisive, as both Immortals and C9 have bested CLG in their previous matches.

Team SoloMid

Current record: 7-5

Remaining matches: Echo Fox, Team Liquid, TiP, Renegades, Immortals, NRG eSports

Things were looking up for Team SoloMid, who came into the homestretch of the Spring Split with important wins against TiP and CLG in Week 5. TSM jumped up to second place overall, even with some unbelievably sloppy victories over Renegades and pre-Froggen and kfo Echo Fox in Week 4.

On Saturday and Sunday, Cloud9 and Dignitas hit TSM where they were weak by fighting them head on. TSM AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng on Kog-Maw positioned dangerously far forward against Cloud9, and the entire team fell prey to aggressive initiation by Dignitas support Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen on Alistar and top laner Billy “BillyBoss” Yu on Malphite.

TSM’s difficulties can't be blamed on any single player — they're chock-full of talent in every position. Something in the team dynamic still isn’t working, and it’s possible even TSM aren't able to identify what that is. Next week they face an ascendant Echo Fox, who've shown a surprising level of coordination in teamfights — exactly where TSM struggles. Their second matchup is against Team Liquid, who seem to be on a downward spiral of their own, so it's likely that TSM can secure at least one win and remain in the top half of the standings.

NRG eSports

Current record: 6-6

Remaining matches: Renegades, TiP, Immortals, Team Liquid, CLG, TSM

NRG eSports are quite possibly the most infuriating team to watch in North America. With an even .500 record and a wealth of talent on their lineup, one game they’ll look like one of the best teams in the region, and the next they’ll resign themselves to falling behind early and losing without a fight — an NRG special.

Week 6 showcased the best and worst NRG eSports has to offer: creative compositions and erratic execution. Game 1 against Dignitas marked the 2016 debut of Karma, courtesy of mid laner Lee “GBM” Chang-seok. The pick gave a much-needed punch to NRG eSports’ poke composition, spearheaded by AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru’s Ezreal. NRG's poke rarely missed its intended targets, largely thanks to Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon’s Alistar and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong’s Poppy hitting successive multiple-man knockups during fights and turret dives.

Less than a day later in their game against C9, the team forgot every ounce of coordination they possessed in the Dignitas game. NRG went with a similar composition designed around poke from Karma and Ezreal, but by mid game, they floundered, fighting without unity and at times seeming to resign themselves to the loss.

Every game from this point forward counts for NRG eSports. The bottom half of the NA LCS standings are tight, and NRG is faced with a potential future where their talented roster doesn't even make playoffs.

Team Liquid

Current record: 5-7

Remaining matches: TiP, TSM, CLG, NRG eSports, Dignitas, Cloud9

Although Team Liquid had a disheartening 0-3 start, Rookies Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Matthew “Matt” Elento have breathed new life into their performances. Dardoch has provided much-needed early pressure while Matt’s teamfight initiation and crowd control have been exactly what AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin needs to turn his impressive personal statlines into team victories.

Unfortunately, Team Liquid still looks hopelessly lost at times, especially against teams that understand how to play around objectives efficiently —whether this means taking a fight or trading for another goal on the map. Team Liquid have had a rough two weeks, with losses against rising star Echo Fox, second place Cloud9 and the undefeated Immortals. Echo Fox’s timely march upwards through the bottom of the standings has put Team Liquid in a precarious position, tied for the final playoff spot.

A lot can happen in six games, but Team Liquid must prove that they’re a team deserving of a spot in the postseason — not just another Liquid iteration that has talent but no coordination.

Echo Fox

Current record: 5-7

Remaining matches: TSM, Immortals, Dignitas, CLG, Cloud9, Renegades

NA’s Cinderella narrative early in the season was TiP, whose rotating roster gave them a three-game win streak; but now that Echo Fox's starting lineup is no longer plagued by visa issues, they've wrested the underdog title from TiP’s grasp. Veteran mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and company are 4-0 in their past two weeks.

Echo Fox's wins have been a bit messy, often coming on the back of mid- or late-game teamfight victories. They may not always know which objectives to take or where to be on the map, but their teamfighting is surprisingly strong given how little on-stage time they've had together. Led by timely engages from rookie top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun, Froggen and AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew stay safe in the backline for maximum damage output while jungler Anthony "Hard" Barkhovtsev and support Terry “BIG” Chuong apply necessary crowd control and peel. Occasionally they still have timing errors — even as individuals prove they know exactly where they should be in a fight — but these are proving less frequent with every match they play as a unit.

Crucially, Echo Fox’s four wins have come from Renegades, NRG eSports, Team Liquid, and Team Impulse. None of these teams have a winning record. Only NRG is higher than Echo Fox in the standings, currently at an even 6-6, and Team Liquid is tied with Fox for sixth place at 5-7.

Echo Fox have a tough upcoming week, facing Team SoloMid and Immortals. Their comeback has been fun to watch — albeit infuriating when you consider where they'd be if they'd played with their full roster the entire split — but these next few weeks will tell if Echo Fox is a flash in the pan or a legitimate, playoff-caliber team.

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.

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