Four teams went into 2016 North American League Championship Series Summer Week 2 with undefeated series records and only two emerged with their streaks still alive. Although an undefeated record means considerably less in the early days of the season, both EnVyUs and Team SoloMid have leapt out ahead of the NA field.
More interesting is the middle of the pack, which features spring regular season champions Immortals, a rising Cloud9 roster, upstart Apex Gaming, and NRG e-Sports tenuously holding at sixth place following their first series win this week. Conspicuously absent from the top of the standings, and even the middle, are both Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid — two teams that finished in the top four last spring.
Team Liquid are seemingly still ironing out their internal issues with previously-benched jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett returning to the team after only three game losses in Week 1. Despite Dardoch’s return, TL still appears less coordinated than they were at the end of last split. Meanwhile, CLG still looks lost, especially with top laner Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha visibly underperforming compared to last split and their second-place finish at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational.
These standings certainly aren’t what was expected prior to the start of 2016 NA LCS Summer, but the region looks all the stronger for it, with even winless Phoenix1 able to give middle-of-the-pack teams some trouble.
TSM emerged the clear favorite after another 2-0 week that included a fantastic series with Immortals on Day 3. Their choice of Vincent "Biofrost" Wang has seemingly provided exactly what TSM was missing last split: a support to stay in lane with AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, augmenting Doublelift’s early laning prowess. Biofrost has shown a surprisingly cool head under pressure, especially for a rookie, exemplified by his teamfighting. His game-saving Bard ultimate in the Immortals series is just one of many examples, and Biofrost has already acclimated himself to joining Doublelift in the AD carry’s oft-reckless aggression or saving him from his forward positioning depending on the situation.
One of the major problems with TSM last spring was that they lacked an identity. They spent most of the regular season giving the majority of their gold to Doublelift, who was not on the same page as his support Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim — the latter wanted to roam and layer a vision net while applying his own pressure while Doublelift wanted to accrue early advantages through laning. This was exacerbated by a complete lack of early presence from jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen who seemed doomed to a similar fate as Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider and Lucas "Santorin" Larsen of fading into the background while part of NA’s most recognizable brand.
This changed in the playoffs when TSM shifted focus back towards iconic mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and gave more resources to Svenskeren on DPS carries in the jungle. This gold came directly from Doublelift’s pocket, but it worked, especially with him on Kalista.
Now in 2016 NA LCS Summer, TSM has once again shifted, now with a dual-pronged attack from two of these three players — Doublelift, Bjergsen, and top laner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell — at any given time. Hauntzer looks to have the best season of his career, especially now that TSM are far more aware of what they need to do on the map early so that Hauntzer isn’t set behind his top lane opponent. With the wealth of talent on this roster and Hauntzer finally coming into his own, it’s difficult to see another NA team pushing TSM out of the top spot just yet.
While TSM were an obvious top three choice prior to the season’s start, the fact that EnVyUs’ is currently tied for first place with a 4-0 match record after Week 2 is unexpected. Relying on pre-existing synergy between top laner Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong and mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo has worked in nV’s favor, supplemented by their jungle pickup Kim "Procxin" Se-young. Procxin can be a bit too overeager at times, but with dive buddies in Ninja and Seraph, skirmishes usually work out in nV’s favor, especially with Ninja’s teamfighting prowess, which only seems to improve by the game. AD carry Benjamin "LOD" deMunck and support Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent have also showcased strong coordination with each other and the team, holding their own in lane and grouping for fights when necessary.
Of all teams in NA, nV has a first dragon rate of 70 percent and an overall dragon control rate of 76 percent — second only to TSM. nV has the second-longest game time in NA at 39.2 minutes but the second-lowest combined kills per minute at 0.54. With Procxin and Seraph, nV were expected to be an aggressive, reckless, and scrappy team, but instead they’ve made a name for themselves through their early objective focus — they also have the highest three-turret kill rate at 90 percent — and fairly controlled map play.
Apex’s Rough Week
Undefeated in Week 1, this weekend was a test for Apex Gaming, one that they did not pass. Down the road with more practice and coordination, they may be able to stand up to North America’s top teams, but in the second week of 2016 NA LCS Summer Season, they fell flat against two of NA’s toughest adversaries: nV and TSM.
Unlike the previous example of TSM, where one of three players can carry at any given time, Apex only has one primary carry, that being top laner Jeon "Ray" Ji-won. It’s easy to see why Apex would funnel their resources to Ray — when he carries, he carries hard, steamrolling his opposition in teamfights and 1v1 side lane duels. No other member of Apex has the same carry potential save their jungler, Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon.
Of all top laners in NA this split, Ray receives the largest share of his team’s gold after 15 minutes (28.9 percent), despite having the lowest gold differential at 10 minutes (-247). Ray regularly falls behind early and Apex does everything possible to ensure that he catches up in the mid game, meaning that their lane assignments and general positioning on the map reflect this. Shrimp is also a factor in Ray’s lack of early-game prowess, as he doesn’t often apply a large amount of early pressure, preferring to farm and control the jungle so that he can have a hand in carrying the team late. Thanks to Shrimp, Apex has the strongest jungle control of any team in NA at 55.1 percent, a full 2.3 percent ahead of their next-closest adversaries, Immortals and Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin.
Apex’s other choices for secondary carries aside from Shrimp are suboptimal. Mid laner Jang "Keane" Lae-young receives the largest amount of Apex’s gold share at 23.1 percent, yet his champion choices and laning make him more suited for providing utility for the team. AD carry Apollo "Apollo" Price has been in the NA LCS since 2014 Spring, yet has always gravitated towards more of a tertiary utility role as well.
Compared to a team like nV — who have obvious issues yet overcome them with coordination and different members of the team stepping up at various times — Apex is one-dimensional. Fortunately, they have an entire split to continue to grow, although they’re going to have to start finding other carry options besides Ray in order to develop into a legitimate playoff contender come season’s end.
Series to Watch
Team SoloMid vs. Immortals
If you watch any one series from North America this past week make it this one. TSM eliminated Immortals from championship contention in spring, and bested them again this past week. Both teams made mistakes during the series, but also showed glimpses of just how strong they’ll both become with more practice.
Apex Gaming vs EnVyUs
Like the TSM and Immortals matchup, Apex’s best-of-three bout with nV is riddled with highs and lows from both teams, laying groundwork for the region’s hope of continued growth throughout the summer split. Ray’s Game 2 top lane Jarvan IV performance is a callback to his LSPL days, while Ninja returns to one of his own favorite champions, Anivia, in nV’s deciding Game 3.
If you just really love Illaoi: NRG e-Sports vs. Echo Fox Game 2
Since last split, NRG e-Sports has been willing to try out more creative champion picks and compositions with either disastrous results or overwhelming success — the Poppy/Zilean combination their crowning achievement of the 2016 Spring split. Illaoi has been seen four times in competitive play thus far, first played by Nova eSports’ top laner Olof “Flaxxish” Medin in the NA Challenger Series this past week for a win and twice seen in the European LCS for two losses.
While NRG top laner Diego "Quas" Ruiz has been a weak point for NRG thus far, his Illaoi performance on Saturday was stunning. Poor Echo Fox top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun didn’t know what hit him, and NRG were able to turn Quas’ early advantages into their first series victory of the split.
Player of the Week
Team SoloMid’s Vincent "Biofrost" Wang
Despite YellOwStaR’s struggles while on TSM, Biofrost had some big shoes to fill, especially for a rookie. Stepping into the support position of one of the most beloved teams in North America comes with its own spotlight and microscope — many players would crumble under the pressure.
Yet, Biofrost has dutifully risen to the challenge, not only occupying the TSM support role but making it his own with clutch ultimates, timely crowd control for his AD carry, and a surprisingly small amount of rookie mistakes. The transition has been seamless, and TSM looks stronger than ever thanks to their acquisition of Biofrost.
Immortals vs. EnVyUs
In Week 3, Immortals look to bounce back from their loss to TSM and prove that they’re still one of NA’s best by taking out undefeated nV. Immortals will be nV’s toughest test yet since they will be able to match nV’s map movements while Reignover should be able to get the upper hand on Procxin.
Cloud9 vs. Team SoloMid
The two teams that reigned over North America since 2015 Summer and the rise of CLG, Cloud9 and TSM should be an interesting series. Cloud9 still suffers from some coordination issues with their new roster, but they look better by the game. Meanwhile, no team has looked as strong as TSM both in individual, on-paper talent and in-game synergy. When TSM make a mistake, they almost immediately rectify it by gaining advantages elsewhere. This will be an uphill battle for the new C9 roster but should prove explosive regardless, since both teams are on the higher end of combined kills per minute in the region.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. If you're wondering why she didn't write about CLG, she has a feature on them coming later this week. You can follow her on Twitter.