Emily Rand's NA LCS Roundup: The fight for the sixth and final spot

by theScore Staff Jul 26 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / NA LCS Summer 2016 / Riot Games

Team SoloMid’s undefeated reign over the 2016 North American League Championship Series came to an end this past week against the most unlikely of opponents: Phoenix1.

Prior to starting jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh’s arrival, P1 lacked a serious carry threat. Mid laner Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik looked ill-suited to be an LCS mid-laner, Brandon “Mash” Phan was unable to get into teamfights, and top laner Derek “zig” Shao didn’t appear to know when to join with his team or when to split push.

Inori’s arrival has transformed Pirean into a legitimate carry threat on top of Inori’s own stifling jungle pressure. The two have coordinated surprisingly well, and their dynamic was a crucial part of P1’s victory over first-place TSM — that and Inori completely taking over Game 2 with his Rengar. With Inori, P1 is a proactive early game team, and forced TSM into making mistakes during the laning phase.

The TSM loss draws them closer to the 15-1 Immortals, with only their current head to head record — TSM beat Immortals in Week 2 — and two fewer games lost keeping them in first place above Immortals. A Week 10 sweep of TSM would put Immortals in first place, presuming that both teams beat their final opponents of the split as expected. TSM and Immortals play NRG e-Sports and Phoenix1 respectively.

After a crushing defeat to Counter Logic Gaming, Team Liquid stomped NRG to secure their playoff spot on Sunday, while Cloud9 beat Team EnVyUs to clinch their spot. The fight for NA’s final summer playoff spot comes down to two teams with a surprising amount in common: Apex Gaming and Team EnVyUs. Both sprinted out to quick starts in Week 1 thanks to immediately recognizing their respective team dynamics. While their opponents — NRG e-Sports played both teams and Apex faced CLG while nV played TL — were still finding their bearings, Apex and nV had strong showings out of the gate before opponents could figure them out.

Team EnVyUs

Record: 7-9 (14-23 overall)

Remaining matches: Phoenix1, Echo Fox

Team EnVyUs 2016 Summer Percentage of Team Gold Gold Difference at 10 Minutes CS Percentage after 15 Minutes Percentage of Team Damage
Seraph 20.8% -74 25.4% 18.4%
Procxin 19.8% -43 14.2% 18.9%
Ninja 22.7% 26 27.8% 26.6%
LOD 24.3% -122 28.8% 24.8%
Hakuho 12.4% 64 3.9% 11.4%

nV initially relied on neutral objective control and late-game 5v5 teamfighting. Mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo and top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong reacted in unison with Teleport, augmenting jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young’s engages. Support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent would then follow up with additional crowd control while AD carry Benjamin “LOD” deMunck dutifully dealt free damage from a safe backline, protected by the rest of his team. nV was one of the better teams at controlling the elemental dragons when they were first introduced at the beginning of the split, and made a point to stack dragons early in preparation for their late-game teamfighting. Initially, in the first few weeks of 2016 NA LCS Summer, nV had arguably the best dragon control in NA since they prioritized dragons specifically and forced other teams to fight them at the dragon pit, rather than simply taking them due to accrued laning advantages.

This teamwork has fallen off significantly as of late, and nV has looked off since their Week 4 losses to C9 and TSM. That strong coordination that was a hallmark of the team in the early weeks of the split has fractured. Seraph and Ninja’s Teleports are no longer on point, Procxin is a coin flip in the jungle and takes an unnecessary amount of team resources in relation to his overall impact, and nV’s strong 5v5 teamfighting has mysteriously vanished as the weeks have worn on.

Fortunately, they only have to win one series to lock up the playoff spot. However, with the way nV have been playing as of late, this might be easier said than done, despite their presumably weak opponents.

Phoenix1 is going to be a difficult matchup for nV. Looking far more coordinated than nV has lately, P1 also have a strong advantage in the jungle matchup — a crucial disparity that could tip the scales in P1’s favor. One of nV’s larger problems as of late — team synergy issues aside — has been Procxin’s inconsistency and inability to translate his individual leads into teamfight victories.

One of Procxin’s largest issues on Team Impulse last split was his complete lack of awareness and initiation sense. Almost always significantly behind or ahead of his team, Procxin would go into fights and die before his team could make use of his crowd control or show up late to the party, unable to chain said crowd control with the rest of his team or deal any significant amount of damage.

Procxin’s overeagerness appeared fixed on nV in the first few weeks of 2016 NA LCS Summer. nV thrived on their team dynamic with three Koreans in the top, jungle, and mid positions and the North American bot lane of LOD and Hakuho. They had a strong neutral objective focus and were able to stall games out in order to reach a tipping point where their late-game teamfighting could take over.

nV can still stall out games and win fights, but their map control has been weak and they’re not often on the same page. Procxin has returned to his overaggressive ways, which makes nV unable to capitalize on any advantages he does manage to get early. He does the second-most percentage of his team’s damage of any NA starting jungler at 18.9 percent and has third highest raw amount of kills at 88, yet it’s all for naught when he mispositions and dies in teamfights before aiding his team.

The chance that nV will miss playoffs is slim, but without significant changes within their team dynamic and coordination, they’re unlikely to make it far in playoffs should they get there.

Apex Gaming

Record: 6-10 (17-23 overall)

Remaining matches: Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming

Apex Gaming 2016 Summer Percentage of Team Gold Gold Difference at 10 Minutes CS Percentage after 15 Minutes Percentage of Team Damage
Ray 23.9%* -19 29.6%* 22.6%
Shrimp 19.1% 92 13.6% 17.6%
Keane 24.1% -46 28.8% 30.8%
Apollo 21.6% -60 24.1% 23.5%
Xpecial 11.3% 5 3.8% 5.5%

*first of all NA top laners

Procxin and nV’s team dynamic questions aside, they have an easier schedule than their adversary for the sixth-place playoff spot, Apex Gaming. nV also have one more series win than Apex and own the head to head matchup, which is counted first in a tiebreaker situation above overall winrate — surprisingly, Apex has the higher game winrate at 17-13 to nV’s 14-23. Apex has to win both of their series and nV has to lose both of theirs in order to secure the playoff spot.

Apex were able to beat CLG in Week 1, but that was a long time ago and a different CLG. Despite their struggles against Team Liquid last week, CLG look far more coordinated and playoff-ready than they were in the first week of competitive play when they were gripped by a post-MSI hangover.

That being said, Apex looks stronger than nV at this point in time. They still have an over-reliance on top laner Jeon "Ray" Ji-won carrying them through both teamfighting and split pushing, but only Immortals Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon deals a larger percentage of damage for his team of NA tops. Mid laner Jang "Keane" Lae-young has stepped up admirably this split as a strong carry threat for Apex who cannot be overlooked. No longer is he confined to the weird and wacky off-meta picks like Urgot and Hecarim, and the expansion of his champion pool has benefitted Apex immensely.

Most importantly, Apex are one or two major decisions away from having at least a 7-9 record to match nV, possibly an 8-8 record.

Against both C9 and nV in Week 7, Apex appeared to lose a mental battle with themselves, rather than their opponents. They currently look like a stronger team than nV — despite nV's 2-1 Week 7 victory — with more easily identifiable weaknesses. Where nV struggles to regain their once-famous synergy, Apex has suffered from poor Baron and splitpush calls where sticking together or avoiding teamfights would have been the far better option. nV seems to have reached the limits of their potential while Apex appears to have more room to grow. Unfortunately, they'll have to beat two stronger teams and rely on Echo Fox beating nV in order to prove it in the playoffs.

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