The first week of a new split is a flurry of activity as fans and pundits rush to snap predictions after only a few matches or series. There’s a lot of season left to go, yet impressions fly fast and furious, especially with some teams playing close to a third of the amount of their entire 2015 Spring Split in one week.
Keeping that in mind, here are some first impressions of the 2016 NA LCS Summer field, which looks to be the region’s strongest in its competitive history.
It should come as no surprise that Team SoloMid is at the top of the NA standings. What may be surprising is how quickly it happened — they are undefeated following a Week 1 that included matchups against reigning champions and MSI darling Counter Logic Gaming, and Team Liquid. TSM managed to find their footing during their 2016 NA LCS Spring Playoffs run, but their preceding regular season struggles cast doubts that they would be able to immediately gel, despite only acquiring one new player.
If homegrown support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang had any nerves going into his first NA LCS matches, he certainly didn’t show them and he appears to fit his laning partner Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng well. He played a large role in TSM’s teamfighting success, providing key crowd control for the team especially on Nami and Bard against TL.
It’s almost as if TSM hasn’t missed a beat since their playoff run, continuing to steadily improve throughout the offseason. Their understanding of the map was strong, and they prioritized objectives well, including the new elemental dragons. Mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen make up both the core of this team and their newfound map control.
TSM player to watch: Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell
Biofrost will continue his time under the microscope as TSM’s latest addition, but last season’s domestic pickup Hauntzer could be on the precipice of a breakout split. Unlike 2016 NA LCS Spring, where Hauntzer was often sacrificed in a poorly-executed laneswap, TSM’s early map movements did not set their top laner woefully behind, allowing him shine in lane. Hauntzer enjoyed an average 174 gold and 13.3 CS at 10 above his opponents in TSM’s four games, the best numbers he’s had since joining the team. He also did the most damage to champions per minute of any NA player this past week (677) and currently has the second-highest KDA in the region (11.0).
Prior to the season’s start, Apex Gaming announced a 10-man roster — something that has to succeed yet in any region. Time and time again, teams have proven that it’s far better to form a five-man unit from available talent and focus on developing coordination with that specific lineup. The post-sister team world is littered with failed attempts of larger rosters, with Longzhu Gaming as the latest disappointing example. Apex’s 10-man roster was met with a healthy dose of skepticism.
However, the lineup initially chosen for Week 1 looked strong, albeit with a few communication issues, as is expected of a new unit. The jury is still out on AD carry Apollo “Apollo” Price, who appeared lost in teamfights at times. Mid laner Jang “Keane” Lae-young had a few obvious missteps that cost him his life, but was primarily placed on the strong, scaling, AOE picks of Swain and Vladimir, making him an obnoxious nuisance in teamfights and allowing Jeon “Ray” Ji-won to flank and destroy Apex’s opponents.
Ray was indubitably Apex’s star of this past week, and a star of the 2016 NA LCS Summer Week 1 as a whole. Recognizing his mechanical brilliance, Apex put a great deal into ensuring that Ray could carry them late. Ray had the worst average CS differential at 10 minutes of all NA top laners in Week 1 (-13), and the third-worst gold differential at 10 minutes (-147), but was given the majority of Apex’s mid and late game farm. Of all top laners this past weekend, Ray received the second-largest share of his team’s available farm past 15 minutes at 27.9 percent. He would have had the largest share of NA tops had it not been for mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen’s one role-swapped game for Echo Fox.
Apex player to watch: Alex “Xpecial” Chu
While Ray dazzled fans with his individual Fizz outplays, Xpecial quietly controlled teamfights on Alistar, Braum and Thresh. He showed excellent understanding of target prioritization as well as a great sense of initiation, paving an easy path for Keane’s AOE damage and Ray’s impressive burst.
Rising along with TSM through League of Legends’ infancy and TSM’s “baylife” heyday, Xpecial has flown under the radar as one of NA’s most experienced professional players. His departure from Team Liquid was seen as a passive acceptance by the NA LoL scene that Xpecial was past his prime. Now on Apex, Xpecial has a chance to prove his doubters wrong.
Top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong has had an interesting journey through the LCS. First picked up by Counter Logic Gaming for 2014 Summer, he joined what became a noxious stew of internal issues and infighting. This was followed by his time on Team Dragon Knights in 2015, who played without their intended starting roster due to visa issues for both mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo and AD carry Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun. TDK had their momentary flashes of brilliance, but failed to to coordinate well enough to avoid relegations. With the goal of having an all-Korean speaking team in North America, TDK imported AD carry Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min and turned their attention to the NA Challenger Series.
All the while, Seraph substituted for LCS teams throughout 2016 Spring, including Renegades — now his current team, EnVyUs — and Team Impulse. His performances on TiP were strong due to his willingness to Teleport instantly, and synergy with jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young.
This coordination between Seraph, Procxin and Ninja has carried over into the new EnVyUs, and forms the core of the team. It’s important to see where nV’s pieces have come from to understand how the team works — the three Korean players are in top, jungle and mid with a domestic bot lane of AD carry Benjamin “LoD” deMunck and support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent.
Communication between jungle and mid is important for controlling the map early, especially with the new elemental dragons, and nV is off to an excellent start with Ninja and Procxin’s matching aggression. Seraph doesn’t hesitate on his Teleports, which makes this nV team scrappy and dangerous, even in the earlier stages of a match. Of all teams in the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split thus far, nV has the strongest dragon control at 76 percent and a 100 percent first Baron rate, contrasting with their 40 percent First Blood rate, which is on the lower end of NA teams. nV may be known for their aggression, but they know when to fight and what objectives to fight over, making them a formidable unit.
nV player to watch: Kim “Procxin” Se-young
Procxin bounced around for a bit after his time on MKZ — later Xenics and then back to MKZ — landing on Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe where he played two fairly underwhelming games despite a win on Nidalee in one of them. Expectations of his 2016 Spring arrival onto Team Impulse were fairly low, matching expectations of the team as a whole.
When paired with Seraph as his top lane substitute for starter Wang “Feng” Xiaofeng, Procxin came alive on TiP. Having a dive buddy or two makes the most of Procxin’s oft-overly aggressive style, even if the jungler is prone to a few mechanical misplays along the way. Much of the team’s success will rely on whether Procxin can continue to apply early pressure, allowing nV to target objectives.
The top team through the 2016 NA LCS Spring regular season, Immortals’ fall from grace in the spring playoffs was well-documented, now used as another example of a team’s hubris in sticking to a specific game plan rather than adjusting to large meta shifts.
Immortals proved that they can adapt — even top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon — from their quick playoff adjustments that earned them third-place over Team Liquid, after being unceremoniously swept by TSM the previous week. Their spring stagnation isn’t likely to happen in the brave new world of best-of-threes, but Immortals will remain under close scrutiny after a sloppy performance against Cloud9 in their first series.
Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin is still one of the best junglers in the region, and the bot lane duo of AD carry Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Adrian “Adrian” Ma continues to produce impressive results. Eugene “Pobelter” Park remains most comfortable while on wavec lear duty in the mid lane — although his Varus positioning left much to be desired. For Immortals, the trick will be combining their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses with the current metagame and finding a happy medium between the two.
IMT player to watch: Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon
Huni naturally draws others to him both on and off the Rift, with impressive carry performances from the top lane and his bouncy, upbeat nature in a post-game interview after a win. Yet, Huni’s insistence on pure damage as a carry also sometimes strains his team, limiting their options and forcing them to play around his style. Fortunately, he’s still accompanied by Reignover, who facilitates Huni well while often shutting down his jungle opponent. Immortals are a smart team, and can bend to Huni’s high-risk, high-reward playstyle, but with a significantly stronger field in 2016 NA LCS Summer, Huni might have to bend and acquiesce to playing a more utility-oriented role if necessary, before he breaks his team.
Visa issues kept Echo Fox's intended starting roster from gelling last split so the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split marks a fresh start for the team. After only two series, Echo Fox looks to be one of the more creative and intriguing teams in North America. They tried out an interesting role swap between top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun and mid laner Froggen, and while it didn’t result in a victory, it showcased the flexibility that this team could have with more practice and time.
If Echo Fox wants to make the most of their players, they’ll need a stronger early game and better lane assignments. A team that prefers to scale into the late game and either teamfight 5v5, or send kfo to split push, Echo Fox ceded a large amount of early objective control in nearly all of their games, often setting both AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew or kfo woefully behind their lane opponents — Echo Fox had the second-worst gold differential at 15 minutes of all NA teams this past week (-1631). With the team’s commitment to the late game, they’ll have to learn how much they can give up early without allowing opponents to snowball their advantages.
FOX player to watch: Yuri “KEITH” Jew
KEITH recently received a burst of notoriety due to his Korean solo queue exploits during Echo Fox’s bootcamp, replacing his “le toucan” meme with the now-viral “RIIIIIIIICK FOOOOOOOOX” while reaching top ten on the Korean solo queue ladder. Never known for his strong laning phase, his solo queue exploits in Korea were seen as a measurement of his individual improvement, and hopes were high for Echo Fox entering this first week of competitive play.
Hopes are still high for the team, but KEITH has a lot to improve upon after this first week. His teamfight positioning, usually his greatest strength, was uncharacteristically poor in Week 1, especially in Echo Fox’s series against C9. This was exacerbated by Echo Fox’s sometimes baffling early lane assignments and level 1 maneuvers, which put KEITH at an average deficit of -325 gold at 10, the worst of any NA AD carry.
This season marks C9’s second foray into playing without their known shotcaller Hai “Hai” Du Lam. A similar attempt was made last summer following Hai’s retirement and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s arrival, but the team’s inability to coordinate without Hai led to the return of their former mid laner as a jungler. This past spring, Hai filled the role of support for C9 permanently after a mere three games with Michael “BunnyFuFuu” Kurylo. Now, since Hai is tasked with heading up C9’s challenger squad, it’s time for the organization to rip the bandaid off once and for all, moving forward without their figurative security blanket.
Week 1 results were mixed for C9, but lean in a positive direction. Their willingness to fight this past week showed more proactivity than the 2015 Hai-less iteration of the team, with jungler William “Meteos” Hartman taking more of an aggressive role. Now they just have to do a better job translating teamfight victories into objectives and recognize when they can push their advantages further. While C9 was good to capitalize on Echo Fox’s mistakes, they won’t be given as many windows of opportunity by NA’s top-tier teams.
C9 player to watch: William “Meteos” Hartman
Once one of the most well-known junglers in the world, Meteos’ stock fell drastically in 2015 Summer, leading to his eventual departure from the team, allowing for Hai’s return to the team and C9’s eventual 2015 World Championship appearance.
This split is Meteos’ redemption story if he can grasp it — one of the best Western junglers returning to his team after having to step down due to internal issues. Jensen may be the star of this team, but it’s Meteos who will be charged with dictating the pace of C9’s early game. He currently boasts the highest kill participation (75.3 percent), the highest KDA (10.0), and second-highest gold differential at 10 minutes of all NA junglers (239). Meteos spent five of his six total games on Rek’Sai, so his true test will come when opponents ban or pick it away from him, forcing him outside of his presumed comfort zone.
Counter Logic Gaming
The current iteration of Counter Logic Gaming, and their recent success in 2016 Spring as well as the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, is built on the idea that team dynamic and knowledge trumps individual mechanical prowess or 1v1 outplays. CLG has shown an impressive understanding of what their players’ respective strengths and weaknesses are, often leveraging the former to overcome the latter. It’s definitely shocking to see them at the bottom of the standings after Week 1, and their team looked very sluggish on the new patch. Of all NA teams, CLG are last in first dragons with an abysmal zero percent — unacceptable given how strong the elemental dragons are in the current meta — and last in first barons with a similar goose egg in that category. They have middling dragon control at 55 percent, but cede a good amount of their jungle, especially in the early-mid game.
CLG have proven that they have a strong staff and a generally good attitude about moving forward and growing as a team. This is sure to be tested against a significantly stronger field, but CLG fans need not hit the panic button just yet.
CLG player to watch: Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha
In the early, preseason stages of this year’s CLG lineup, Darshan was relied upon to spread opponents on the map with splitpush pressure. All too often, Darshan became an unkillable menace on Fiora or Jax, taking down enemy inhibitors and nexus turrets while the rest of CLG occupied their adversaries. This later turned into a strong 1-3-1, once Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes found his footing with the team and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero explored different jungle options, becoming another unkillable machine for CLG’s splitpush operations.
Yet, Darshan had a rough Week 1, outclassed by both Hauntzer and Ray in CLG’s two series while dealing the third worst amount of damage of all NA tops at 337. CLG is often a team where individuals take turns stepping into the spotlight, but the team needs to be able to rely on Darshan to keep his opponents occupied while the rest of the team takes objectives.
Seeing NRG e-Sports down at the bottom isn’t as surprising as their company — CLG and TL — especially given their abysmal playoff performance against TL in spring. However, NRG has assembled an interesting lineup that could potentially be a playoff contender if they come together in time. The tricky part for NRG is that they might not be given that time due to stronger-than-expected showings from both Apex and nV. Although his stock is at the lowest it has ever been, AD carry Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min is still incredibly talented, and Lucas “Santorin” Larsen looked sharper than expected, so look for these two to make an impact should the team come together.
At times, NRG showed signs of improvement, but similar problems to last season plagued the team, even with their new roster. NRG has the third-worst gold differential at 15 minutes of any NA team (-1490), and this is coupled with poor dragon control — 23 percent, second-worst in the region — and the worst jungle control. Despite dealing the largest amount of his team’s total damage, Lee “GBM” Chang-seok struggled to control the mid lane, and top laner Diego “Quas” Ruiz was wholly outclassed by both Seraph and Ray, especially in Teleport usage.
NRG player to watch: Lucas “Santorin” Larsen
Santorin comes away from Week 1 with less-than-impressive statistics, but showcased a cool head under pressure as well as some smart decision-making as his jungle collapsed back towards him due to the loss of mid lane pressure. NRG made some odd lane assignment choices that set their side lanes behind, and going forward, Santorin will have to have more of an early impact alongside better decision-making from the team as a whole. Yet, Santorin had a few flashes of brilliance, especially when applying crowd control in NRG’s teamfights.
Winless in their first week of summer was certainly not where Team Liquid wanted or expected to be, although an initial struggle isn’t altogether unexpected. The late offseason benching of their rising star Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett placed a large burden on TL to find a suitable replacement with very little time to do so.
Responsible for TL’s aggressive early game since his arrival last split, Dardoch appeared to be just what TL needed to push past their renowned fourth-place finishes and make a serious run at representing NA at the 2016 World Championship.Galen “Moon” Holgate looked better with TL than he did for the majority of his time on NRG last season, but still failed to apply the same amount of early pressure. Without it, TL’s side lanes suffered. Although Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Matthew “Matt” Elento can easily crush a 2v2 matchup on their own, having jungle pressure still helps stave off attention and ganks from opponents. Top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson looked significantly worse without Dardoch’s presence as did mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-hoon.
Perhaps this is why, after only three games, TL decided to return to Dardoch. Dardoch provided much-needed early-game presence, but the team still lost to the far more coordinated and proactive TSM. It remains to be seen as to what effect Dardoch’s return will have on the team’s already unsteady dynamic, and if TL will stick with him regardless of their offseason issues, focus on Moon, or search for another jungle alternative.
TL player to watch: Samson “Lourlo” Jackson
With more hard carry-oriented options joining the top lane champion pool, Lourlo and TL may have to switch him off of preferred tank choices which could additionally hinder the team’s coordination. Lourlo seemed to struggle the most without Dardoch, and will additionally be facing stiff competition from Huni, kfo, Hauntzer, and Ray. Piglet and Matt can still be relied on to win their lane, and FeniX will always excel at waveclear champions that generally keep the mid lane under control, which leaves Lourlo as the team’s largest question mark, right next to the question of who TL will use as their starting jungler.
While it sounds premature after only Week 1, Phoenix1 has a rough road ahead of them to avoid relegations if NA continues to be as strong as it was this first week. Although their early game looked stronger than expected, expectations were generally low and Phoenix1 struggled to find any semblance of an early-mid game, losing countless objectives in the process.
P1 player to watch: Derek “zig” Shao
Alongside jungler Kevin “Zentinel” Pires, zig was one of the lone bright spots on Phoenix1 this past week, and could make a case for himself as a strong top laner if given the opportunity. Often considered one of Team Liquid Academy’s strongest players, zig’s LCS debut has been highly anticipated by followers of the NACS, and it will be interesting to see how he handles NA’s increasingly strong top lane talent.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.