With three weeks left in the 2016 North American League Championship Series Summer Split, two teams have already locked in their playoff spots. Both Team SoloMid and Immortals have a comfortable lead on the rest of the field, with TSM sitting at 12-0 and Immortals right behind them at 11-1. Their next closest opponents, Cloud9 and Team Liquid, are a full four series back, tied at 7-5 with TL currently holding the tiebreaker over C9.
Now that it's crunch time for those teams in the middle of the NA pack, here’s a look at the third through sixth place teams, their upcoming schedules, and what they need to work on in order to make a significant playoff run.
Series Remaining: Apex Gaming, Counter Logic Gaming, Phoenix1, Team EnVyUs, Echo Fox, Team Liquid
“Reactive” has become the new buzzword to describe Cloud9’s play, and while it fits the team’s recent style, it doesn’t give much insight into what they’re actually doing on the Rift.
Rather than simply writing off Cloud9 as a reactive team, their problems arise when they make a few ill-timed aggressive moves early on, get punished, and completely back off afterwards as they fall further behind in the mid game. In Week 5 against Team Liquid, C9 were set behind at Level 1 due to a face check from Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi that could have easily been avoided had C9 anticipated TL’s vision coverage or simply respected their ability to chain crowd control with Jhin and Braum. This is a particularly egregious example, but it acts as a microcosm for C9’s recent problems as a team. Due to Sneaky’s death, both summoner’s spells burned for Sneaky, and Flash used for Michael “BunnyFuFuu” Kurylo, they are forced to play reactively thanks to their botched Level 1 and are pushed back to their turret.
C9 is still a strong laning team with a fairly good early game. They average 258 gold ahead of their opponents at 15 minutes and can defeat most NA teams simply by sticking to their lanes and allowing William “Meteos” Hartman to have an early impact. Despite their recent dip in early game gold advantages, C9 still have the second-best First Blood rate of any team in NA at 67 percent. In fact, in the same game against TL where Sneaky dies at Level 1, Meteos gets in an early Level 3 gank in the bottom lane, giving an early kill to top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong’s Irelia.
Their problems arise in the mid game when it comes time to take neutral objectives and turrets off of advantages gained in the early game through laning or Meteos’ jungle pressure. C9 reacts to what their opponents do rather than recognizing when they can fight, when they cannot fight, and when they are open to take an objective — be it a turret, Dragon, or even Rift Herald/Baron. It’s not their statistical control rates — C9 actually have the third-best first Baron rate (69 percent) and third best Baron control rate (66 percent) in NA — but when they decide to fight for these objectives and what they give up in return that earns them their “reactive” moniker. For a third-place team, C9 cede a surprising amount of jungle control to their opponents even with Meteos’ early proactivity — currently sixth in jungle control of all NA teams at 49.9 percent — and choose inopportune times to fight. They’re not a wholly passive team, but often don’t know when to fight or take objectives, allowing other teams to take advantage of them.
Going forward, C9’s schedule is in their favor since they’ve already faced first-place TSM and second-place Immortals twice. Their toughest opponent will likely be TL in Week 9, following by CLG, who looked somewhat improved this past week. While they’ve struggled against more proactive teams like TSM, Immortals, and more recently TL, C9 should still be able to finish in the top four.
Series Remaining: Phoenix1, Team SoloMid, Counter Logic Gaming, NRG e-Sports, Cloud9, Apex Gaming
Tied with C9 at 7-5 — they currently own the head-to-head matchup against C9 with their victory in Week 5 — TL have a chance at wresting the third-place spot away from C9, depending on the latter’s performance and their second head-to-head meeting in Week 9.
TL’s most contentious decision this split was to once again bench star AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin in favor of having Jovani “fabbbyyy” Guillen partner with Matthew “Matt” Elento in the bot lane. Jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett has remained on the starting lineup since their second series in Week 1, despite his initial suspension prior to the split — the team cited irreconcilable differences and insubordination as the reasons behind his suspension. These differences have apparently been reconciled, and Dardoch was subbed in for their second game against TSM.
When looking at Liquid, all attention goes to Dardoch, who has become a primary carry option. Dardoch receives the largest share of his team’s resources post-15 minutes than any other jungler in NA (15.9 percent). He makes up for this by dealing a larger percentage of his team’s total damage (22.2 percent) and the highest damage to champions per minute (444) of any jungler in the region.
The recent shift in TL’s team resources are due to fabbbyyy’s role as a secondary carry on Sivir, Ashe, and Jhin. Last split, Piglet did the third-most damage per minute of any NA AD carry at 618, and was the second highest damage-dealer on TL, responsible for 29.7 percent of his team’s total damage, right behind mid laner Kim “Fenix” Jae-hoon at 30.5 percent. In a distant third was Dardoch at 18.2 percent of his team’s damage. In the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split, Dardoch focused more on making things happen for his laners and earned the highest kill participation of any NA starting jungler at 78 percent during the regular season.
This split, Dardoch deals the second most damage per minute on his team, behind Fenix’ who sits at 647. Below him is fabbbyyy at 367, the lowest of any starting AD carry in the region. Fabbbyyy has taken on more of a utility role, which has allowed Dardoch to become the team’s next-strongest carry threat to Fenix in the mid lane. While it’s unfortunate that a talented player like Piglet is now off of the starting lineup, this new iteration of TL works incredibly well together and is a legitimate threat to NA’s top teams due to Dardoch’s fearlessness on the Rift.
Counter Logic Gaming
Series Remaining: Immortals, Cloud9, Team Liquid, Echo Fox, NRG e-Sports, Apex Gaming
With recent victories against NRG, P1, and nV, CLG have looked slightly more coordinated as of late and now sit at an even 6-6 series record — tied with nV in series but with the significantly better game record of 15-14.
While CLG haven’t been assigned the same “reactive” buzzword as C9 by the community, their problems are actually similar to those of NA’s third-place team in that they don’t often choose the best times to fight or press their advantages. This was something that plagued CLG in their first series against Immortals last split, and additionally during their time at the IEM Season X World Championship in Katowice. CLG would gain early leads, only to throw them away with a reckless turret dive or over-pursuit of an adversary for a kill. This led to their opponents pressing CLG back towards their own nexus for an eventual loss.
They shored up these weaknesses prior to their 2016 NA LCS Spring Playoff run and subsequent second-place showing at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, yet these same problems are now cropping up again. CLG was known as a team that knew themselves better than anyone, making up for their relatively poor mid lane control with creative strategies, lane swaps, and spreading opponents thinly on the map with 4-1 or 1-3-1 split-pushing.
As the meta has continued to shift away from the AD carry position, Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes hasn’t been able to showcase the same amount of teamfighting prowess that put him on the map during Spring playoffs and MSI. Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun has borne the brunt of community criticism against CLG. Now that mid lane control is more crucial than ever, CLG has failed to find similar creative ways to mask Huhi’s laning deficiencies. Additionally, top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha has been slumping, despite more carry options available to him in the current top lane meta. Of all starting NA top laners, Darshan has the second-worst KDA at 1.9 and receives only 24.3 percent of his team’s resources past 15 minutes, also second from the bottom. Unlike other NA teams, CLG still relies on their AD carry to do the most damage per minute. Stixxay is the only NA AD carry that currently does the most damage per minute for his team, with all other teams’ mid laners doing the bulk of their damage to champions. Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has stepped up his efforts to become a stronger carry threat, but CLG has still seen more success when he is a facilitator and teamfight initiator on the likes of Elise, Rek’Sai, and even Kindred.
CLG average the second-worst experience differential in standard lanes at six minutes at -166.4, and are seemingly more comfortable in the swap with an average of 213.9 experience ahead of their opponents at six minutes — fourth-best in the region. Much of this is due to their aforementioned lack of mid lane control, a common factor in evaluating nearly all of their team statistics. In order to become a legitimate playoff threat, CLG need to find a creative way to overcome their mid lane woes and shore up their previously strong map control.
Series Remaining: Apex Gaming, NRG e-Sports, Cloud9, Team SoloMid, Phoenix1, Echo Fox
Team EnVyUs sprinted out to a strong start on the back of pre-existing team synergy from top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong, jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young, and mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo coupled with the all-NA bot lane of Benjamin “LOD” deMunck and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent. They prioritized early dragons while preferring to scale into the late game in order to best their opponents teamfighting and allow Procxin to farm up on Graves or Rek’Sai.
Many of nV’s problems stem from Procxin, whose jungle play is the eternal double-edged sword. Occasionally he showcases incredible bursts of mechanical skill, but more often than not he costs his team skirmishes, objective control, and sucks up resources by inexplicably taking kills in teamfights that would be better served on LOD, Ninja, or Seraph. Of all NA junglers, Procxin is tied with CLG’s Xmithie in receiving the second-largest percentage of his team’s total gold at 19.9 percent. nV’s lane swaps often set Seraph behind early, making his mid-game Teleports less effective. With Procxin preferring to farm into a carry threat more often than not, the bulk of initiation duties fall on Ninja, Hakuho, or Seraph. Seraph and Ninja have played a whopping 15 and 14 champions respectively in their attempts to find what works best for nV.
nV will likely make playoffs. Although they have their second series against C9 and TSM looming in Week 8, their upcoming Week 7 against Apex and NRG will both be important, since they can firmly distance themselves ahead of both of these bubble teams with consecutive Week 7 wins. However, nV won’t make it far in playoffs the way they are now — still misunderstanding where to allocate their resources and how to make the most of any early game advantages they do manage to secure.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.