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Emily Rand's NA LCS Roundup: too many cooks in the playoff kitchen

by theScore Staff Feb 29 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / NA LCS Spring 2016 / Riot Games

There are only two weeks left in the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Split, which means an ever-sharpening playoff picture. Week 7 proved interesting with Immortals' first fall, continued inconsistency from NRG eSports and Team SoloMid, and the rise of Counter Logic Gaming over Cloud9 for the current second-place spot.

That being said, not much has changed overall in the NA LCS standings. Many teams are vying for playoff berths while others already look to clinch a bye into the Spring Playoff Semifinals.

Immortals

Current record: 13-1

Remaining matches: NRG eSports, Dignitas, Team SoloMid, Team Impulse

Immortals have spent the better part of the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split proving that they are not only the best team in their region, but a strong team that may be able to compete on an international level despite NA's historic lack of success. They’ve been adaptable when needed, deviating from their comfort picks if forced. They’ve been resolute in their mindset, stomping inferior teams and maintaining their focus. They’ve shown that they can come back when pushed, particularly in their second match against Cloud9 and their first match against CLG.

However, as an unbeaten team, Immortals were unable to cross off one crucial item on their “good team” checklist: dealing with a loss. They had their first taste of defeat this past week when CLG earned the NA LCS field’s only victory against Immortals.

Criticism often levied against Immortals is focused on a perceived over-reliance on certain champion picks, particularly support Adrian “Adrian” Ma (Soraka, Janna) and AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran (Lucian, Kalista) in order to keep the latter safe from both opponents and his own aggressive tendencies. In their game against CLG, Eugene “Pobelter” Park – who had played Lux in four of their six previous games – was once again relegated to waveclear duty while the carry duties were delegated to WildTurtle’s Lucian and top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon’s Quinn. CLG attacked this, removing Reignover from the early game while ensuring that Huni fell behind his laning opponent Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha. More importantly, CLG didn’t leave many openings for Immortals to capitalize on as they had when the teams previously met in Week 4. In spite of a strong performance from WildTurtle in particular, CLG set up a 1-3-1 split push that led them to victory.

Immortals still looked a bit shaky on Sunday against Echo Fox, initially lacking the clean execution that had buoyed the team during the first half of the season. They easily fell into their groove in the early-to-mid game, with Reignover, Huni, and Pobelter – now on a comfort pick in Syndra – all returning to form. Immortals varied their draft up a bit with their Syndra and Ezreal choices, strongly hinting that their commitment to certain champions isn’t out of necessity, but rather opportunity. There’s no good reason why the team should diversify their winning playstyle, provided that they are later able to adapt when necessary.

With their victory over Echo Fox, Immortals take one step further towards a seemingly inevitable first-round bye. The only team that could possibly give them trouble on their calendar is Team SoloMid, who have been wildly inconsistent and ended Week 7 on one of their worst performances of the split.

Counter Logic Gaming

Current record: 10-4

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

Going into Week 7, the story of the NA LCS, aside from whether Immortals’ unbeaten streak would end, centred around Counter Logic Gaming and whether they could seize sole possession of second place from Cloud9. CLG not only went 2-0 this past week, but did so against their two toughest opponents: Cloud9 and Immortals.

Previously, both of these teams capitalized on CLG’s reluctance to pressure their own advantages. CLG shored up these weaknesses by becoming a stronger, slightly more diverse team without losing their strong objective trading and map awareness. This time, when pressed by both Immortals and C9, CLG bent without breaking, and eventually split pushed their way to victory on the backs of Darshan and jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

A key factor in CLG’s newfound early pressure, Xmithie impressed on Udyr this weekend, continuing his proactive streak that started in Week 6 on Nidalee and Gragas. Gragas returning to the regular rotation of jungle champions is excellent news for Xmithie, as it was one of his strongest champions last year, but even better for the jungler and his team is Xmithie’s new, decisive play style. His aggression was supplemented by equal forwardness from support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, whose Bard harassed opponents in their own jungles, giving Xmithie ample time to farm into relevancy.

CLG have a 3-1 record against their remaining opponents, with the odd Week 1 loss to Dignitas standing as the team’s only misstep. None of these teams have a winning record – Team Liquid has the highest win percentage at 50 percent – and the only caveat is that CLG have yet to face the starting lineup of Echo Fox. When the two teams met in Week 3, Echo Fox still hadn’t resolved their players’ visa issues, so it should be interesting to see the two rosters go head to head for the first time.

Cloud9

Current record: 9-5

Remaining matches: Renegades, Team Impulse, Echo Fox, Team Liquid

Cloud9 have an uncanny knack for forcing opponents to play to their tempo. An assertive and proactive overall play style goes a long way in both the NA LCS and in the current meta with extended death timers starting in the mid game. No team has this market cornered quite like C9, who dictate the pace of all of their games in which support Hai “Hai” Du Lam plays.

This was notable this past week in their game against CLG. At times, CLG looked more disorganized against Cloud9 than they did against the first-place Immortals. Prior to CLG handing Immortals their first defeat, it was Cloud9 who made Immortals bleed in a Week 5 slugfest, dragging the then-undefeated team through the mud. With Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen taking over the mid lane in every C9 game while jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae is having a career split, C9 skirmishes are a mainstay on the NA highlight reels. Yet, C9 struggles with their overall map decisions and teamfighting synergy, often relying on Jensen, AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, or more recently top laner An “Balls” Le to carry them with an individual highlight outing. Against a more coordinated team like Immortals, or this past week CLG, C9 is unable to translate these solo performances into actual wins, as the organization of their opponents either chokes C9 out, or matches them in aggression with superior synergy.

Fortunately for C9, they have a winning record (3-1) against the remainder of their schedule. Their only loss to these four teams in the front half of the Spring Split came against Team Impulse in Week 2, which was also the last game that the team started support Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo over Hai. It’s difficult to imagine C9 going worse than 3-1 in the final two weeks, and it’s highly improbable that they drop out of the top four.

Team SoloMid

Current record: 8-6

Remaining matches: Team Impulse, Renegades, Immortals, NRG eSports

In the interview announcing his signing with Team SoloMid, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim said that he chose TSM because it was a team of veterans he believed could perform on a high level both in NA and internationally. Presumably YellOwStaR didn’t want to start over again, as he did last year on Fnatic. Among rumors that he was going to retire, he joined a TSM team with three out of four positions filled by veteran players.

Perhaps he would have been better off raising another batch of rookies, as this SoloMid squad is teetering dangerously before the playoffs while most of the league is ramping up. It may have required more energy, but YellOwStaR also would have likely been given authority over a young team, rather than battle it out with hard-headed veterans. As it is, there are too many cooks in the TSM kitchen, and a democratic approach to shotcalling doesn’t appear to be sitting well with YellOwStaR.

SoloMid's bottom lane as a whole has been disjointed at best, and awful at worst. Their abysmal Week 7 outing against Team Liquid further showcased AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and YellOwStaR’s lack of synergy or even a remotely similar playstyle. Doublelift’s focus on laning is at odds with YellOwStaR’s roam-heavy style, making the two an unfortunate mismatch.

TSM has good players, but have yet to become a good team. The loss to Team Liquid only serves to further questions of whether they’ll ever be a complete team, or simply another discarded superteam that failed to pan out. They do have a relatively soft schedule – the only team with a winning record is Immortals – and an even 2-2 record against their remaining opponents. It’s unlikely that TSM will miss playoffs, but in their current form, it’s doubtful that they’ll get very far in the postseason.

Team Liquid

Current record: 7-7

Remaining matches: Counter Logic Gaming, NRG eSports, Dignitas, Cloud9

Unlike Team SoloMid, Team Liquid took a chance on two rookies: jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and support Matthew “Matt” Elento. Sunday’s win over TSM rewarded that trust with a stunning 5/1/11 performance on Lee Sin. Dardoch still has the highest kill participation of any NA jungler at 76.3 percent, showing that nearly everything TL does goes through Dardoch or is facilitated by his early pressure. Dardoch also does the second most damage per minute of any jungler in NA at 367, repaying the resources that TL allots him – Dardoch also receives the second-highest percentage of his team’s gold of any NA jungler at 20.2 percent.

Not to be outdone, Matt has the second-highest kill participation of any NA support with 78.6 percent. His initiation sense is crucial in TL’s teamfights, and Sunday he showed off his disengage prowess on Janna. If Dardoch and Matt perform well, it guarantees the success of Team Liquid’s carries, ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun.

Aside from the upset victory against TSM and a Week 6 loss to Echo Fox, TL are exactly what their record shows. TL typically wins games against teams below them in the standings and loses to teams above them. They’ll have two tough matches against CLG and C9, but presumably easier games against NRG and Dignitas, whom they have already defeated once each this season.

NRG eSports

Current record: 7-7

Remaining matches: Immortals, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Team SoloMid

NRG eSports is in a particularly precarious position. Following AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru’s departure for personal reasons, the team picked up Ember’s Benjamin “LOD” deMunck as a temporary substitute. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference either way, as the team played similarly regardless of their AD carry. In their victory against Renegades on Saturday the team still failed to accumulate any sort of gold lead. Third worst of any team in North America, NRG is -1187 gold behind their opponents on average. NRG fared far worse in second game against Team Impulse, a game that they desperately needed to win when considering their tough schedule.

Something has to change. This team has the talent – the much-maligned Galen “Moon” Holgate had a strong performance on Gragas against TiP, in spite of the loss – but randomly falls apart. They continue to show coordinated and methodical play one game, while the next will call into question whether they talk to one another at all. It’s not one particular player, rather that the individuals of NRG take turns having their bad games, even in their wins.

The worst news for NRG is that their remaining schedule is packed with three of the Top 4 teams in North America, are currently tied with in fifth place. They have a 1-3 losing record to this group, with their only victory coming against Team SoloMid courtesy of NRG’s Zilean/Poppy debut.

Echo Fox

Current record: 5-9

Remaining matches: Dignitas, Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud9, Renegades

It’s honestly disappointing that Echo Fox was unable to play without their starting roster for so long. Their forfeit to NRG eSports increasingly stands out as NRG continue to struggle, and Echo Fox shows signs of life. One can only wonder how good Echo Fox might be if they’d had their listed lineup for all of their matches, allowing the team to further gel as a unit.

Strong teamfighting is how Echo Fox wins games, but this heavily relies one composition that built around initiation from top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun. Echo Fox have stumbled without kfo on Malphite or his pocket Kayle. Even with the Malphite pick, Echo Fox failed to get anything going against Team SoloMid on Saturday, their teamfights showing a lack of synergy for the first time since the starting roster returned. Going forward, they’ll have to discover better coordination and map control if they want to be a strong playoff team.

The majority of Echo Fox’s gold is given to mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen with good reason. Froggen is having a strong split, dealing the highest damage percentage for his team (36.9 percent) and has the highest kill participation of any starting player in North America at 87.5 percent. This works well with AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew, who is far better in a secondary carry role where he is allowed to clean up teamfights.

Echo Fox have to face two of the top three teams and the two worst teams in the region, so a 2-2 outcome is most likely. They’re 1-3 against these four teams, but with losses to CLG and Dignitas both coming without Echo Fox’s starting roster.

Team Impulse

Current record: 5-9

Remaining matches: Team SoloMid, Cloud9, Renegades, Immortals

If the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split ended today, Team Impulse would be out of the picture as they have an 0-2 record against Echo Fox. That being said, TiP refuses to go away, making their presence known to the league once more in a win against NRG eSports

The problem is that TiP aren’t a particularly strong team. They’re good at capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes, especially if it means TiP can then force teamfights, but they don’t have a strong overall understanding of the game. On top of this, a few of their players have yet to prove themselves, especially top laner Wang “Feng” Xiaofeng. TiP has a win percentage of 20 percent with their starting top, and Feng had yet to show any sort of comfort on a champion other than top lane Graves until his Nautilus game against NRG.

It’s unlikely that TiP comes out of the last two weeks with anything higher than a 1-3 record with their only victory coming against Renegades, although a win against TSM is not out of the question if TSM plays like they did on Sunday.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She highly recommend both Counter Logic Gaming matches from this past week. You can follow her on Twitter.

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