NALCS Power Rankings: Riot Takes Visa

With the Week 2 roster issues, affectionately dubbed “Visageddon” by journalist Richard Lewis, out in the air, rumors swirled as to what caused the mass substitutions. According to multiple journalists, including Lewis, the most substantial rumor is a behind-doors meeting occurred between Riot Games and three team owners: Jack Etienne (Cloud9), Andy Dinh (Team SoloMid), and Steve Arhancet (Team Liquid) regarding the eligibility of imported players.

I don’t disagree with the need for following the law. Working in a country without the proper credentials can greatly harm a person’s chance for ever being allowed to re-enter that country. The issue I have is the obvious barrier being created between the old guard owners and the new venture capital funded teams. With rumors of issues regarding apparel rights and franchising having been discussed in the offseason, now is not the time for owners or players to turn on each other. In order for League of Legends to grow as an esport, all must work together to create an infrastructure in which everyone can coexist. Sniping at each other behind closed doors doesn’t help. If the rumors are true, it’s really disappointing that anyone would attempt to weasel someone out of not only a job, but something that we all love and want to be a part of.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a bite out of the hoagie that was Week 2 of the North American League of Legends Championship Series.

1. Immortals (4-0. Last week: 1, Difference: -)

Only four players to have played all four games have double digit kill-death-assist ratios, and three of them are on Immortals. Leading the NA LCS with a 51.0 KDA, Adrian “Adrian” Ma has continued to build on his successful 2015 as North America’s premier disengage support. Adrian’s mastery of Janna has allowed his more aggressive teammates to make riskier and riskier plays, knowing that Adrian will be there to get them out of trouble. This safety net alongside the dual compositional makeup of Immortals’ drafts allows it to adapt during the game and play directly to the opponent’s weaknesses.

Immortals has highlighted mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park and AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran’s strengths while covering up their deficiencies with a steady control of team fights. The two carrys have fit into specific roles: Pobelter providing utility while WildTurtle aggressively punishes opponent’s position mistakes. By highlighting those two players and putting them into positions of strength, the flexibility of the remaining players makes Immortals difficult to game plan for.

Opposing teams have yet to challenge Adrian’s champion pool, allowing him to play Janna in all four games. Adrian’s singular style has long been his key criticism, and teams’ fear over his teammates’ champion pools has allowed him to continue to play to his game. Immortals’ flexibility as a whole is its greatest strength, but I worry what will happen when someone challenges Adrian and removes Immortals’ one constant.

2. NRG Esports (3-1. LW: 2, -)

It was an interesting week to say the least for the Sacramento Esports, err, NRG Kings? With its Saturday game forfeited due to Echo Fox’s visa issues, NRG came into Sunday’s match against Immortals with only one game with its full line-up. NRG focused on creating a three-pronged poke composition with Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon playing disengage tanks to protect the squishy backline. But, the composition rarely was allowed to set up its strong sieges as Immortals would consistently flank and engage onto it.

Impact has continued to influence the map from the top lane, showing a mastery of teleport one would expect from a world champion. Carries Lee “GBM” Chang-seok and AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru have continued to play a measured laning phase while providing consistent damage in team fights. The biggest issue for me is the team’s willingness to shift away from its structured game plans. Against Immortals in particular, Impact would engage onto Pobelter’s Zed or Huni’s Lissandra instead of sitting back and peeling for his carries.

Overall, NRG has shown a preparation on par with what we’ve grown to expect from coach Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton. Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate still has plenty of room to grow and with the experienced squad around him it’s only a matter of time until his talent eclipses his inexperience.

3. TSM (2-2 LW: 5, +2)

It’s incredible what happens when you give your top laner a little love. After royally screwing up lane swaps in Week 1, TSM was finally able to figure it out against Dignitas. Despite the early inconsistencies, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell has taken his ability to turn something out of nothing further, building on the skills he showed last summer on Gravity. By funneling a few more resources and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen ganks his way, Hauntzer can control whatever part of the map TSM gives him and has shown one-vs-one duel potential as well as a strong team fight presence.

 

The win against Dignitas also highlighted what an engaged and aggressive Svenskeren can bring to the team. By constantly invading the enemy jungle, Svenskeren was able to shadow his opponent, counter jungling and ganking where appropriate to further TSM’s lead. Opening up the map also allowed mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg to roam intelligently and make picks. This tempered style is a far cry from the opening week, when TSM was fighting through sheer force of will rather than well structured team play.

The bottom lane duo of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Bora YellOwStaR” Kim is still trying to figure out how to play together, and against Dignitas focused more on roaming from lane to lane to push towers instead of punishing a weaker AD carry. The adaptations TSM has made in a week show a mature lineup capable of identifying problems and addressing them. Games against Cloud9 and NRG Esports will be true tests to see if those changes have stuck.

4. Cloud9 (2-2. LW: 3, -1)

Echoing last week’s sentiments, Hai “Hai” Du Lam will never be allowed to retire from Cloud9’s starting roster. After an embarrassing Saturday loss to Team Impulse — yeah, that Team Impulse — C9 returned Hai to the starting lineup against Counter Logic Gaming and once again the difference was staggering. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the kind of impact that Hai makes, but his clear decision making (as shown on Riots Mic Check) stuck out immediately.

Jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae has shown the biggest change when it comes to having Hai in game. When Hai is shot-calling, Rush has an air of focus and moves around the map with determination, but without Hai, Rush floats around the map aimlessly, often walking in circles failing to accomplish anything worthwhile. This lackadaisical play style has only recently appeared and could be the result of a lack of game maturity.

That being said, when C9 is on its game, everyone looks better. An “Balls” Le has looked salvageable as a top laner, but, the lack of maturity and focus without Hai in the lineup is a major flaw. As long as Hai is willing to play, C9 will perform. But everybody has to move on at some point.

5. Team Dignitas (2-2. LW 4, -1)

Dignitas is a slightly harder team to slot. When jungler Thomas “Kirei” Yuen is able to influence lanes and counter his opponents moves, Dignitas can create space for its weak laners to farm. Unfortunately for DIG, he’s only been able to accomplish this on Elise. His limited champion pool creates a huge dent in DIG’s core strategy.

The biggest surprise has been the improved play of Danny “Shiphtur” Le and Apollo “Apollo” Price. While still limited in their laning phase, the two carries have used Kirei’s influence to survive until the mid game and have excelled during team fights. Both of them are in the top 10 for kills and KDA and have limited their positioning mistakes during team fights, allowing for more consistent damage.

Roster changes aside, DIG has stayed rather close to average. If Kirei can find more success on champions besides Elise, who has nerfs coming on patch 6.2, and Shiphtur and Apollo can continue to steadily improve, Dignitas can find a spot in the playoffs and look to contend with the region’s elite instead of floundering in relegation.

6. Counter Logic Gaming (2-2. LW 6, -)

Three power rankings, three sixth place finishes for CLG. One can admire the consistency as its reliance on Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha’s map pressure continues to be the primary strategy. CLG’s existence as an organization has always relied on one central player, be it Michael “bigfatlp” Tang in Season 1, Doublelift the past three years, or Darshan’s recent emergence. Catering to its star is the organization’s calling card, and there’s nothing wrong with it when it works.

After Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes stuck out in CLG’s Week 1 win, it was mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun who shined last week. Huhi was able to use Corki to easily farm and provide consistent poke damage as CLG sieged Team Liquid’s towers. The pairing of Caitlyn and Corki with Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s Alistar provided safe tower pressure in one lane, while Darshan was able to apply pressure away from his team.

CLG as a whole is great, but its singular style is easy to gameplan for. Stixxay and Huhi have shown small moments of brilliance but it’s been mashed between too many lackluster ones. Once CLG can play without relying on Darshan to control one half of the map, it’ll move higher. But not a moment sooner.

7. Team Liquid (1-3. LW 8, +1)

After multiple close calls, ADC Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Team Liquid finally picked up a win against a sub-riddled Echo Fox squad. Piglet has been one of the most consistent players in the LCS since his return from the bench in spring of 2015, but he’s failed to carry TL to the promised land. The once-aggressive laner has been one of the worst ADCs in lane but has used his positional awareness in team fights to attempt to carry.

The honeymoon with rookie jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett has quickly ended, as his early aggression is a double-edged sword. When opposing teams are able to exert vision control and tempo, Dardoch has struggled to play within himself. The shot-calling has improved, but the communication issues between the rookies and TL’s two Korean veterans came to a head against Echo Fox in particular. If not for its excellent scaling composition TL could easily still be winless

8. Team Impulse (2-2. LW 10, +2)

Wait, what are these guys doing here? They won a game? THEY BEAT CLOUD 9?!?!?! Oh god, I actually have to write about them now.

 

Alright, alright. Team Impulse might actually be a League of Legends team. Austin “Gate” Yu is quickly establishing himself as a professional “fill” player and the first look at imports Kim “Procxin” Se-young and Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik had mixed results. It’ll be very interesting to see where this roster goes, and who plays top lane, but getting off a plane and hopping into a victory on the LCS stage is impressive.

9. LA Renegades (1-3. LW 7, -2)

Please come back Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek, we need you.

10. Echo Fox (1-3. LW 9, -1)

*Analysis has been forfeited since a consistent full work eligible League of Legends roster could not provided* What a wasted performance from Yuri “Keith” Jew.

All photos courtesy of Riot Games.

Freelance writer and co-host of the Rough Drafts podcast.

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