NA LCS Summer Week 2: Questions that need answering

Jess Carruthers Roar Guru

By , Jess Carruthers is a Roar Guru

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    I keep having to remind myself that it’s only week one of the North American League Championship Series, but… I can’t help but feel stunned (as a viewer) and a little concerned (as a fan) by what we’ve seen so far.

    The first week is never completely indicative of the state of the league, but the top four teams from last split went 1-7 collectively. Let’s look straight at those standings:

    1. CounterLogic Gaming (CLG): 2-0 in matches; 4-1 in games
    1. Echo Fox (FOX): 2-0; 4-0
    1. Immortals (IMT): 2-0; 4-1
    1. Team Dignitas (DIG): 2-0; 4-1
    5. Team SoloMid (TSM): 1-1; 2-2
    5. Team EnvyUs (NV): 1-1; 3-3
    7. FlyQuest (FLY): 0-2; 0-4
    7. Team Liquid (TL): 0-2; 0-4
    7. Cloud9 (C9): 0-2; 1-4
    7. Phoenix1 (P1): 0-2; 2-4

    I don’t think a single analyst would have called these standings. Some positions are more easily explained than others; C9 had a tricky couple of match ups, while DIG played against teams expected to be comparatively weak. FOX’s 2-0 victory over FLY however was out of the blue, and although it wasn’t quite as clean, NV (10th place last split) beat P1 (3rd place last split) 2-1.

    We can’t let such an unusual week one colour all our expectations for the rest of the split; most teams haven’t played competitive games for a month, and there is a lot of luck involved in who plays who.

    It’s worth remembering though that there were no major roster changes over the offseason. After the first ten games, we’ve been left with a few important questions that we should look for answers to over the coming weeks.

    Just how strong is TSM?
    In their first game against C9, TSM looked exactly as expected. They seemed to be a team revitalised with the return of their star AD Carry Doublelift, and easily finished off the series 2-0. In their series against IMT however, the opposite happened in games of 37 and 32 minutes.

    Were IMT extremely underrated coming into the split? Or are TSM (and by extension, C9) over-hyped?

    I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but IMT absolutely looked stronger than I would have expected. Xmithie made some impressive, almost Dardoch-esque plays, but more than that all of IMT played the team game. Their timing and grouping was stronger than TSM’s, especially after the baron teamfight in game one. They’ve come together with a surprising quality of synergy for such a short amount of time together

    Despite IMT making apparent leaps and bounds, this is a team that didn’t even make it into playoffs last split (although it was a very near miss). I like them, but I don’t believe that they have skyrocketed into a number one NA team. In the middle of game one, TSM had brought the game back to nearly even; last split, that would be enough for them to build an advantage into a win. Instead, IMT were able to out-macro them, winning both the game and subsequently the series.

    Maybe IMT have suddenly become superstars, and we’re about to see a repeat of Split 1 2016. Just as big of a contribution to this particular game, however, was poor midgame shotcalling from TSM, which is an issue we have seen from them time and again. Although they were able to win some fights, overall IMT was able to out play them two games running.

    I’m also growing ever more skeptical of Svenskeren. This year he has simply not looked as strong as in past seasons; he dies far too often, and has become more of a liability than an asset. Maybe he will pick back up as the season goes on, but I am not going to hold my breath for it.

    So the actual question: how strong is TSM this split? I’ve just looked at their weaknesses, but they are still absolutely able to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. That’s how they beat C9, and that’s how they got back to parity in the game against IMT. The strength of the team will really need to unfold over the next couple of weeks; they have games against DIG and CLG next week, then TL and NV in week three.

    Next week is going to be especially telling, as these are currently both 2-0 teams with some degree of roster changes from Spring. If TSM can get it together and bounce back, they may be a top team again by the end of the split, but if they lose either of these, it could foreshadow some real problems as the split goes on.

    What does the middle-of-the-pack actually look like?
    Prior to week one, there was broad agreement that TSM and C9 were the top teams, NV and FOX were the bottom teams, and everyone else would be somewhere in the middle. After two matches per team, none of these have held true. With so few games though, middling teams are far from decided, and it will definitely take a while longer before the standings work themselves out.

    In theory, with the relatively few changes made across the board, this should be one of the most competitive splits of League of Legends that we’ve seen. Based solely on week one, pretty much anything could happen. If we accept that the league will probably be able to be split into upper, middle, and lower-ranked teams, who will actually fit into those middle-places? Who will be in the lower ranks of the playoffs? Who will miss out?

    This is a really difficult question to answer, especially this early on. Remember around week four or five last split, where everyone bar C9 and TSM were within a few games of third place? We’re not even that far into the split yet.

    But we will start to see answers in the upcoming weeks. CLG and FOX’s games in particular should give us a rough idea of how different teams stack up; CLG should be pretty consistent, and after the first week I have renewed faith in FOX. These two will also play each other at 5am AEST Sunday, so we will see how they look against each other.

    This question covers a lot; depending on who you ask anywhere between three and six teams could fall into this chunk. In the lead up to the world championship though, placing at the end of summer is so important, as teams try to win the split or rack up plenty of championship points. I’m looking forward to weeks three and four, by which point we will hopefully have a clearer picture of how these teams will look as time goes on.

    Who is going to struggle most this split?
    Expectations for FOX and NV to fall to the bottom of the ladder this split failed to materialise in week one, where between them these teams took down FLY, P1 and TL. Based on results this week, if we went straight to the promotion tournament, we would be watching FLY and TL facing off against Challenger teams.

    There is still plenty of time for teams to change things and to improve, but I think we absolutely need to keep a close eye on TL. I don’t want to be too harsh on them, but I also cannot for the life of me understand what they are doing at an organisational level. League Weekly had a really great discussion on it earlier in the week, which I really recommend regardless of whether you agree with their moves or not, but this is one team we need to watch not just in-game, but in terms of what management does with the players.

    NV and FLY are, in my opinion, the other two teams of particular interest. As all the teams settle into the split, I think NV are at greatest risk of falling behind, despite their decent start. While I really do love FLY, I think they are in a similarly risky spot, and losses to DIG and FOX have not given me any more confidence in them.

    The TL vs NV game at 8am Sunday is definitely one to watch for these teams, but the outcomes of all of their games this weekend are going to be relevant. It’s early days; any team could yet find themselves in 9th or 10th, but the game play of current and potential bottom-tier teams in the coming weeks should give us a clearer picture of how the split will play out.

    We’re back into the season, there is so much to watch, and there were so many upsets this week. What games did you enjoy most? What was the biggest disappointment?