Immortals are the latest in a line of upstart franchises who've run rampant ever since they arrived on the North American League of Legends scene. In 2013, homegrown challengers Cloud9 invigorated the North American League Championship Series Summer with creative compositions and coordinated style. In 2014, all-Chinese squad LMQ earned their way through Spring Challenger and took the NA LCS Summer by storm, forcing opponents to adapt to their reckless brand of teamfighting.
This season has seen a changing of the guard in NA. An influx of new money in the 2015-16 offseason led to the creation of four new franchises — Immortals, Echo Fox, Renegades and NRG eSports — who've pushed out NA stalwarts like Team Dignitas. The region has become a breeding ground for potential investors wanting to jump on the esports money train, each betting that their team will do well.
Immortals have done very, very well.
Now they face off against Team SoloMid — the original NA brand, who've hovered near the top of the standings since well before the LCS began in 2013. TSM are North American League of Legends; but as a new franchise made up of imported and domestic talent, so are Immortals.
Immortals gelled almost instantly, on the back of pre-existing synergy between two former Fnatic teammates, top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin. Former TSM AD carry Jason "WildTurtle" Tran has had a career renaissance on Immortals with support Adrian "Adrian" Ma, who's made use of a stable of healing and disengage supports to ensure WildTurtle doesn't pay for his oft-aggressive positioning. WildTurtle has repaid the team by dealing the most average damage to champions of any AD carry in NA LCS Spring, at 674 per minute. Mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park is steady, keeping his lane pushed, giving Reignover more room to work with.
At their best, Immortals are an unstoppable, well-oiled machine. Their near-flawless communication allows them to convert early leads into further favorable objective trades. Once Immortals get rolling, they take everything on the map and close quickly, a skill that has earned them the shortest average game time in NA at 30.8 minutes.
The only team to crack Immortals’ shell was Counter Logic Gaming. They kept up a relentless attack on Huni and Reignover to set Immortals behind early, and followed up with coordinated map movements to spread their opponents thin. In order to break the number one team in NA, CLG had to be more in-sync than Immortals themselves, something no other team has succeeded in doing since.
TSM will have to do the same to defeat them this weekend. In the regular season, they have a 0-2 record against Immortals, and the upcoming Semifinal will give WildTurtle yet another chance to exact revenge on the former team that replaced him with legacy AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng in the offseason.
Doublelift was the first of many high-profile offseason acquisitions for TSM, who retained only Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and hedged their bets on an all-star roster of seasoned talent. Yet their talented and vetted roster failed to impress, leading to the the worst regular-season finish in the franchise's storied history.
No one player was to blame for TSM’s demise. Each week it became more apparent that the team's communication was dismal, making it difficult for them to translate their early advantages into wins. Their lack of cohesion cost them games domestically and internationally, with their group stage loss to ESC Ever at IEM Katowice still standing as their greatest collapse.
It seemed like TSM was doomed to a mediocre postseason finish — until their Quarterfinal match against Cloud9 last weekend.
Where TSM's roster failed to gel during the season, C9 came into the playoffs with a 12-6 record that was good for third place and was almost exclusively thanks to their in-game coordination. They lived to draw opponents into disadvantageous skirmishes, relying on proactivity and mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to carry them.
Yet TSM surprised everyone, kicking into gear right when they needed to. Wisely, the team used their time off before the playoffs to finally adjust their overall strategy. Against C9, they stopped funneling the majority of their gold into Doublelift and turned their attention to jungler Denis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, who played a carry role on his previous team, SK Gaming.
|Team SoloMid Gold Distribution||2016 Spring Regular Season||2016 Spring Playoffs|
Svenskeren was non-existent on the map for most of the season — he failed to provide early pressure, had the worst kill participation of any NA jungler, lacked coordination with his team, and received only 17.7 percent of his team’s gold, the second-lowest in the region after NRG eSports’ Galen “Moon” Holgate. In TSM's quarterfinal series, this changed dramatically: Svenskeren's gold share grew by almost three points, giving him fuel for stunning carry performances on Graves and Nidalee. He ended two of his games with more gold than Doublelift, who became TSM’s tertiary carry at times — behind both Sven and Bjergsen, who returned to his rightful role as TSM’s famous Solo Mid. Although TSM only allotted slightly more gold to Bjergsen in their C9 games, he hard-carried the team to victory on Azir, Zed, and finally Vel’Koz.
All of TSM’s regular-season struggles, especially their inability to close games, can be traced back to their lack of a strong foundation in team coordination. Not only did they have an inadequate communication system, they didn't recognize how their pieces fit together as a team of five. Now that they've finally found a team dynamic that works, they certainly stand a chance, even against NA’s top team.
Immortals have a massive head start on TSM when it comes to understanding how their team works together. Even when they’re far from perfect individually, Immortals’ players trust each other. Under the guidance and stability that comes from Reignover’s jungling, Immortals are never completely out of a game, and they've proved they can come back from seemingly hopeless deficits. Their coordination has made everything easier, including map awareness, objective trading, and general macro play.
Watching TSM work together to stymie C9, they showed a lot of what has made Immortals unstoppable this season. Now they face a greater test: whether their teamwork can best the team who have set the standard for synergy this season.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.