As an Upstate New Yorker, I’m a huge Buffalo Bills fan. Outside of esports, football, much to the chagrin of my fiancee, takes up most of time. Be it watching games on Sundays (and Mondays…and Thursdays…and the occasional Saturday), or taking in numerous articles and statistical analysis to win fantasy football games, but when it comes to Buffalo I’m pretty blind. Our team, frankly, has not been very good for well over a decade, yet the interesting thing is no matter the heartbreak of the previous year, when training camp comes around we are a starry eyed and hopeful bunch.
Enter Week 1 of the North American League of Legends Championship Series, where everyone comes in with a clean slate and almost anyone can win it all. Week 1 has provided a clearer insight into how North America may look come the end of the season, but most fans can stare into the horizon, expectations still lofty and the taste of championship glory on the tip of their tongue.
Except Team Impulse. Sorry. (But not really).
1. Immortals (2–0. Last week: 3, Difference: +2)
Impressive. Despite it coming against one of the worst teams in LCS history, there’s no other word to describe Immortals’ Day 2 victory. A sub-20 minute game is one thing, a perfect game is another, but a perfect game in under 20 minutes needs to be appreciated no matter the opponent. Moving on.
Day 1 was slightly more contested but nearly as impressive. Cloud9 played without primary shot-caller Hai “Hai” Du Lam and Immortals took advantage. After settling into the side lane tower taking meta, Immortals took advantage of positioning mistake after positioning mistake from C9 to propel themselves ahead. Jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin showed the same patience that he exhibited with Fnatic and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma’s use of Janna’s disengage tools allowed the aggressive style of play to flourish.
In both games, Immortals showed an adaptability with champion pools and strategies. The overall team numbers are skewed because of the victory over Team Impulse, but Immortals’ warding numbers in particular are troubling (bottom two in all three categories). Immortals made up for that by constantly pairing and grouping, but better coordinated teams will be able to abuse its lapses in vision. Overall the team looked good against lesser competition, but the real challenge starts this week with Team SoloMid and NRG Esports.
2. NRG Esports (2–0. LW: 2, -)
Impact. Not the verb, the player. What a difference having your full roster can make. After barely holding off Team Dignitas thanks to not one but two baron steals from Lee “GBM” Chang-seok, the return of Season 3 world champion Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong made all the difference. Taking advantage of a Renegades composition and its rookie top laner, Impact was able to bully his way through the laning phase and set up a devastating split push threat Renegades was ill prepared to handle.
NRG solved many of the problems that cropped up in Day 1 by simply using its full roster. Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate in particular was able to have more of an impact controlling his jungle through vision and well thought out pathing.
Laning has never been GBM or AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru’s strong suit, and against Renegades in particular, they had trouble controlling their respective lanes during the laning phase. Both were also caught out a number of times, and while GBM’s escape is highlight material, it is a slight worry due to the high rotational play teams have exhibited. Both are team-fighting monsters and once they were able to dictate the split push and create team fights, they excelled.
NRG’s sunday matchup with fellow undefeated team Immortals will answer questions about its chances against higher level competition, and getting a better grasp on the early game is vital. Very few teams will lose barons to Viktor lasers more than once.
3. Cloud9 (1–1. LW: 4, +1)
Cloud9’s Week 1 performance led to only one solid conclusion: shot-caller Hai “Hai” Du Lam is doomed to never retire. C9’s safety blanket quickly turned around a team that on Day 1 looked disjointed and disorganized into an efficient well-tuned fight force on Day 2, furthering the narrative of his shot-calling prowess. Cloud9 took a chance, starting Michael “Bunny Fufuu” Kurylo, but quickly came to the same conclusion it did last summer: the team cannot succeed without Hai.
The team’s inability to move on from Hai seems to be one of the organization’s biggest flaws and will cost it in the long term if a solution cannot be found. By signing Bunny, C9 has already begun to look past the Hai era and all efforts need to be made to impart his good decision making on Bunny and jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae. Rush in particular was night and day, with erratic pathing and failed ganks highlighting Saturday’s loss to Immortals.
Cloud9 still has a glaring hole in top laner An “Balls” Le who, in this split push dominant meta, needed multiple ganks to get enough of a lead to bully Echo Fox’s rookie top laner, Park “kfo” Jeong-hun. Luckily for C9, it can continue to play Hai and experiment with occasionally subbing in Bunny to test his growth. The downside is C9 must continue to deal with Balls’ continued deficiencies and funnel time and resources to its worst player simply because the meta says so.
4. Team Dignitas (1–1. LW 8, +4)
Baron Nashor: “the purple worm,” “the game ender,” “the throw pit,” and a curse on one North American team. That team — both unfortunately and hilariously — is Team Dignitas. A quick Google search brings up 11,000 results for the phrase “Dignitas baron throw,” and the humor is not lost. Twice the buff was stolen away from DIG against NRG, and even when DIG was ahead against Counter Logic Gaming on Sunday, baron wasn’t even so much as glanced at until four members of the enemy team were dead.
Jokes aside, Dignitas performed admirably to hold a lead against NRG by taking advantage of its substitute jungler Shrimp before taking multiple failures at baron. Daring any CLG member besides Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha to beat it was also smart. Head coach Barento “Raz” Mohammed
created an intelligent game plan for both games and his team executed it fairly well. Rookie jungler Thomas “Kirei” Yuen and veteran support Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen have formed a formidable roaming duo helping pressure lanes so that the team’s more passive members have room to farm.
Week 1 definitely shows Dignitas is no pushover, but its aggressive jungle and support duo can’t always help their laners get leads. Mid Danny “Shiphtur” Le and AD carry Apollo “Apollo” Price need to take an immense step forward when it comes to aggressing on their opponents in lane if DIG wants to have any shot against NA’s best.
5. Team SoloMid (1–1. LW 1, -4)
It wasn’t pretty, but somehow Team SoloMid was able to get out of Week 1 with a victory. Shot-calling and team cohesion issues aside, TSM was gutsy, resilient and just as close to winning the game against CLG as it was to losing to Team Liquid. The team is immensely talented but shows major weaknesses in communication and general knowledge when it comes to playing together as a unit. Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s mistake to walk under tower into a lane swap at level one should never happen. Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim’s mistake of disabling his tower in the middle of a tower dive, should never happen. These are fundamental mistakes that don’t even begin to touch at the deeper problems the team showed.
But it won a game. There’s progress to be made. YellOwStaR and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng will get better as they create their own play style. Hauntzer and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen will gradually get better at dealing with lane swaps and controlling team fights, and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg will shake of the rust with the weight of shot-calling lifted.
As a fan, of course I’m worried, but this team has too much talent, too much invested into it to just burst into flames. Lucky for TSM, the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if it doesn’t win spring, TSM should be looking towards improvement going into the summer and a potential worlds spot.
6. Counter Logic Gaming (1–1. LW 6, -)
So CLG did beat TSM, but to call the victory anything more than sloppy on both sides would be exaggeration. CLG took advantage of multiple TSM mistakes in the early game to create openings for free objectives. In the mid game CLG and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black in particular had positioning mistakes that, though inconsistently punished, gave small opportunities for TSM to get back into the game. In the end, Darshan’s pressure on Jax and TSM’s inability to deal with it lead to a win.
Day 2, however, was perfect example of CLG’s biggest flaw: when Darshan can’t carry who will? The answer was a resounding “no one,” as Dignitas punished Darshan’s Jax and dared Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes to beat it. Unsurprisingly, the two rookies were unable to accomplish much outside of Huhi’s repeated teleports to aid his top laner’s duels.
When Darshan is able to influence the game through his split-pushing prowess, CLG has success, and maybe as it runs into more and more scenarios requiring its rookies to carry will succeed. But the first test was resounding failure.
7. LA Renegades (1–1. LW 5, -2)
Renegades’ first week in the LCS was a mixed bag, as the team showed only one strategy: create a front line for Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin and Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek and team fight. Freeze, support Maria “Remi” Creveling, and jungler Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo created a three man squad that constantly applied pressure on its opponents, looking for picks and stealing jungle camps. The constant rotations left Alex and top laner Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta largely to their own devices. Alex matched up well against his lane opponents; RF did not.
Renegades very obviously set RF up for failure, first picking Mundo in both games, which allowed the opponents to counter-pick easy split push-style champions, Gnar and Fiora, to overwhelm Mundo in lane. When RF was able to push out his lane and join the team on their pushes, he provided a brick wall to protect his carries, but a failure to set RF up for success in stopping the split push forced the Renegades to adapt and send a teleport-less Alex on Ryze to deal with them.
The one-dimensional play style that Renegades showed in Week 1 will not work against better teams, as the loss to NRG showed, and putting further pressure on RF to succeed in disadvantageous situations may stunt the rookie’s growth. The bright spot is that while her Alistar wasn’t perfect, Remi showed an ability to absorb bans in champion select and open up power and pocket picks for her teammates. Dignitas may prove to be a challenge but matches up nicely for the Renegades’ play style, while Team Impulse on Sunday is just frosting.
8. Team Liquid (0–2. LW 8, -)
Team Liquid showed two teams in Week 1. Against Renegades, TL played slowly, allowing Crumbz and Remi to control the map getting pick after pick while Kim “Fenix” Jae-hoon and Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin were relegated to wave clearing. When TL was finally ready to attempt to team fight, Renegades were simply too far ahead for any amount of farm to matter.
Day 2 saw jungler Christian “IWDominate” Rivera and support Andy “Smoothie” Ta replaced by Team Liquid Academy players Joshua “Dardoch” and Matthew “Matt” Elento. Dardoch immediately made his presence felt, invading and ganking TSM leading to a two for none tower dive after a misplay by TSM’s YellOwStaR. TL’s lead would balloon to six thousand gold but a fatal misplay would lead to TSM steamrolling through mid lane to end the game.
Mistakes aside, TL might have finally figured out a combination of players that empowers its two stars, Piglet and Fenix. The aggressive play style of Dardoch opened up the map for the entire team to make plays. Fenix is still prone to position mistakes and Piglet is constantly looking for kills, but Matt and top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson were able to successfully peel for the pair. The loss to TSM was heartbreaking, but the overnight improvement of replacing IWD with Dardoch cannot be ignored, and the team faces a rather easy week against CLG and Echo Fox to see if lightning can strike twice.
9. Echo Fox (1–1. LW 9, -)
It’s going to be a rough season for Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and the rest of Echo Fox. Froggen continues to show his fabled ability to farm, posting the highest CS differential at 10 minutes for mid laners and second overall behind Huni. AD carry Yuri “Keith” Jew excelled in Saturday’s victory against Team Impulse, his “clean up” style of ADC meshing well with the utility built into the Echo Fox team composition. Day 2 was a different story, as a well-organized Cloud9 roster dismantled Echo Fox’s rookies.
Echo Fox is going to have numerous growing pains, the biggest so far being with top laner, Park “kfo” Jeong-hun. Echo Fox has purposefully placed him
on utility style champions to lessen the burden of the heralded Korean solo-queue prospect, but his in-game sense and positioning mistakes were easily exploited by Cloud9. Jungler Tony “Hard” Barkhovtsev has been nearly as disappointing, but he’s playing within himself by focusing on hard farming and controlling vision while he adjusts to the intricacies of the being an LCS jungler.
Overall, Echo Fox is not a good team, but the changes to the promotion system may save it from relegation. Constant improvement should be the goal for the rookies along with scouting for potential replacements if they simply are not the right fit.
10. Team Impulse (0–2. LW 10, -)
18 minutes, 15 seconds…sigh…