Envy Us? A look at NA's rising star

by theScore Staff Jun 24 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / NA LCS Summer 2016 / Riot Games

Twenty percent.

This was all that remained of the Immortals’ nexus as Team EnVyUs made their final push for a Game 2 win that would tie up their match score 1-1, sending the series to a third game. In a split call, nV jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young focused the nexus while his AD carry Benjamin “LOD” deMunck was locked down by Immortals' Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon on Lissandra.

The decision of nV mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo and top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong to fight Immortals rather than attacking their nexus led nV to their first series loss of the 2016 North American League Championship Series Summer Split.

“We’re a new team going into a team that’s been playing together for about a year,” nV support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent said after the loss. “The experience and coordination they have already is usually an advantage. I didn’t really feel it in game ... our teamfighting had some issues, which better coordination like Immortals lets them get ahead in teamfights. I think the ending to that game was due to miscommunication. We knew Lissandra was a really big threat, but she got to come from the side, insta-kill me, and lock down the AD. Over time it will get better.”

Amidst the ongoing arguments against dynamic queue, and inevitable discussions of who is the best player in a specific position, on a team, or in a given region there is one, unassailable truth looming in the background: League of Legends is more of a team game now than it ever has been in its six competitive seasons. Decisions like this nexus call in nV and Immortals' second game take team coordination, a unified call, and make the crucial difference between a win and a loss.

Irresistibly attractive rosters on paper can be made useless on the Rift due to miscommunication, an inability to coordinate, or a general lack of team identity. No organization in North America exemplifies this like the current Team SoloMid. While no one would begin to compare the achievements of a storied veteran like Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim to a rookie like Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, the latter has been far better for TSM than the former, seemingly gelling instantly with his new teammates and propelling them to an undefeated first place position. Even prior to TSM’s dominant summer start, Team Liquid made the decision to initially bench jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett due to behavioral issues, another small decision based on team dynamic rather than in-game individual performance.

Professional LoL teams have increasingly been required to keep team identity at the forefront of their decision-making, sometimes above individual prowess. nV did just this with their current roster and now lurk just behind Team SoloMid and Immortals in the 2016 NA LCS Summer standings with their close loss to Immortals the only blemish on their series record thus far.

Born of the remnants of Renegades — a team that had to fight their way back into the NA LCS from relegations — nV built their new LCS team around these ideas of coordination and team identity, relying on the core of Seraph and Ninja who had been together on both Team Dragon Knights and later Renegades. To complement the two, nV picked up former Team Impulse jungler Procxin who was seen as a flashy wildcard at best, and a player who could cost his team the game due to his poor decision-making at worst. Rounding out the roster was LOD, the Team Ember ADC who had substituted for Renegades, TiP, and NRG throughout 2016 NA LCS Spring, and Hakuho, another remnant of the previous Renegades squad.

On paper, the roster was suspect. LOD had proved an adequate substitute, but wasn’t in any way an individual standout talent. Hakuho was regarded as an acceptable Challenger-level support due to the fact that nV’s import slots had already been filled by Ninja and Procxin. Despite their pre-existing synergy, many questions surrounded the Ninja and Seraph duo. Seraph was fresh off of a poor run through the 2016 NA Challenger Series Spring while putting up monstrous numbers in his LCS substitution gigs. No team that he was on for a stretch of time, like TDK, was able to use his strengths well, while his aggressive Teleport manuevers and skirmishing style provided much-needed punches to struggling LCS teams. Due to a competitive ruling, Ninja was banned for the majority of the 2016 Spring Split, making it difficult to adequately gauge how well he would do on nV despite strong showings on TDK in 2015 NA LCS Summer.

Then there was Procxin. Jokes surrounded the jungler upon arrival to TiP in NA, originating from his unimpressive showings on DetonatioN FocusMe in Japan. His only competitive experience prior to the LoL Japan League was on MKZ in Champions Summer 2014, a team that bombed out of Group D with an almost-win over CJ Entus Blaze their only, admittedly dubious, achievement. While on TiP, Procxin was known for his reckless style and only saw wins on Rek’Sai and Nidalee, the latter of which was his best champion. Not only did his aggressive ways often cause him, or teammates, to be killed, but he was also prone to mechanical misplays.

Despite their weaknesses on paper, nV’s individuals as a unit are one of the most formidable teams in 2016 NA LCS Summer. They’re resilient, and surprisingly objective-focused, especially given the aggressive nature of a few of their members. The Seraph/Procxin/Ninja dynamic works quickly to get early leads, backing each other up through Teleports and Procxin’s jungle pathing while relying on LOD and Hakuho to hold their own in standard lanes. "Me, Procxin, and Ninja stick together,” Seraph said after their 2-1 victory over Apex Gaming. “I've been with Ninja for one year and us three have stuck together for six months so I think our coordination was way better than Apex's."

This coordination has helped nV become one of the most objective-focused teams in the region. While frontrunner TSM will prioritize a Dragon or a turret due to their leads, nV often get their leads through taking Dragons and turrets. nV are also adept at laneswaps and tend to focus on early Dragons, earning them the second-best Dragon control rate in NA at 69 percent.

NA LCS Summer Combined Kills per Minute First Blood Rate First Dragon Rate Dragon Control Rate First Turret Rate First to Three Turrets Rate First Baron Rate
Team EnVyUs 0.63 47% 67% 69% 67% 80% 80%
League Average 0.66 49% 50% 50% 50% 50% 49%

Contrary to the bloody reputation that both Seraph and Procxin have earned from their previous LCS stints, nV has a middling to low combined kills per minute at 0.63, below the average of 0.66. They’re far more likely to focus turrets, and are overwhelmingly the first team to kill three turrets at an 80 percent average, the best in the region. nV also have the best first Baron rate at 80 percent and the longest average game time in NA at 39.9 minutes. This is a team that focuses objectives almost exclusively, sometimes only opting into teamfights once they’ve ramped up as five in the mid to late game.

This teamfighting was on full display in a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Counter Logic Gaming in Week 3. Fresh off of their loss to Immortals, nV were eager to prove that they had learned from their mistakes and were ready to move forward. “Because of the loss to Immortals, we were able to reduce our mistakes for the CLG game so I think that the experience helped a lot,” Ninja said following the CLG win.

Against CLG, nV still made obvious mistakes. Some of their calls were visibly split, and they lost Game 1 because CLG was able to punish these weaknesses. Games 2 and 3 were also hard-fought, but nV’s increased coordination through teamfighting shone through. The more that this team is on the Rift together, the more everything begins to click.

"I thought we were going to be middle of the pack by the end of the split, but we're almost a top team right now which was unexpected,” Seraph said. “I don't think we're a true top team right now. We need to figure out our strategy and more coordinating. We need more practice, more time."

The nearly-destroyed nexus of Immortals is that elusive 20 percent, the small breakdowns in communication that keep nV from becoming an elite team within their own region. nV are a top-tier team in North America only 80 percent of the time, but they have the most important part, their team dynamic, already figured out.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.