The start to what promises to be the most competitive League Championship Series (LCS) split America has seen is in the books.
It’s too early to plot the winding path this season will surely take, but we did learn a few things after watching new lineups and new teams clash to open the season.
Cloud9 will still be Cloud9 without Hai
The biggest roster move in the offseason—and perhaps in years, at least in the Western scene—was the replacement of Cloud9 captain Hai Lam with Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen. The Danish mid laner made his live tourney debut against Team SoloMid on Saturday. But more importantly for Cloud9, it was their debut without Hai at the helm. Could they still showcase their knack for mid and late game rotations without their fearless leader?
The short answer is “yes.” Cloud9 still looked like the team of old with William “Meteos” Hartman taking over more of the shot calling duties. They weathered an early storm from Team SoloMid and kept apace with them by expertly securing towers to reach the late game where their team composition entered its wheelhouse. They overcame a shaky early performance by Jensen himself, eventually capitalizing on a positioning mistake by Team SoloMid to deal a fatal blow.
But it isn’t all roses for the Hartman-led Cloud9. It certainly wasn’t on Sunday when they faced Dignitas. Cloud9 looked to come out of the pick-and-ban phase with exactly the lineup they wanted, but they were not prepared for Dignitas’ early aggression. The team doesn’t seem to know how to score an early lead, and part of that comes down to Hartman himself. They failed to secure a single Dragon in either of their two games, though one was ripped away due to a ridiculous steal by Dignitas top laner Noh “Gamsu” Yoh-jin.
Of course, many of the same mistakes and issues Cloud9 seemed to suffer were present last season with Hai at the helm. The 1-1 week is a little disappointing after topping Team SoloMid, but that’s similar to their inconsistent starts in each of the last two splits. At least this time they have a more valid excuse: working in a new player.
NME is a playoff contender
Every season, one or two new teams enter the LCS amid dire prophecies of their future demise. And every season, those predictions prove to underestimate the new talents entering the league. Last season, according to most, Team 8 was destined for last place, a near lock to suffer auto-relegation—until the season actually began and Steven “CaliTrlolz” Kim and company played like playoff contenders.
After one week, NME looks like the best team to exit Challenger in North America since LMQ reached the LCS last year.
Of course, NME actually has a bit of hype as a team that absolutely dominated the Challenger Series on their way to earning an auto promotion into the LCS. Many already have them pegged as a team that should make the playoffs in that fifth- or sixth-place spot.
Beating Gravity Gaming in a lengthy and close bout where they needed to come back from a deficit shows that NME has the mettle to survive in late-game situations against more experienced squads. They even did it with little practice with their five-man lineup, as jungler Jonas “Trashy” Andersen was missing for two weeks due to visa problems.
NME’s loss to Team SoloMid put them at 1-1 for the week, but that match was a close bout where Enemy kept themselves in striking distance until late. It was a solid debut for Tyson “Innox” Kapler, Brian “Otter” Baniqued, Cuong “Flaresz” Ta and company.
Incarnati0n is not an incarnation of god
Jensen, hailed as Europe’s best player, had little chance of living up to the massive hype built around him heading into the split. But there was always that niggling in the back of your mind that maybe there was a chance.
Things certainly did not go as planned as he took Kog’Maw into the mid lane against Bjerg’s Viktor. While that’s certainly a losing matchup for the Kog’Maw, Jensen fell into a deep hole in farm. But once the late game rolled around, he showed he could be strong in team fights.
Jensen had never played a match on stage and faced perhaps the best Western player in his debut. It certainly wasn’t a great performance, but it wasn’t too dire either. He didn’t give up kills, like his predecessor Hai Lam often did. And he did his job, reaching the late game and dishing out damage. Jensen may not be the monster people were scared of before the season, but he’s got potential to reach that level once he gets more games under his belt.
CLG is still an enigma
An easy 2-0 start to the season, including a victory over contender Team Impulse, should be encouraging for a Counter Logic Gaming featuring new mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. But really, it’s more of the same.
Last season Counter Logic Gaming got off to a similar hot start, and their mid laner at the time, Austin “LiNk” Shin, looked unstoppable. The regular season has never been Counter Logic Gaming’s problem. We won’t learn if anything has changed until the playoffs.
And while Park played well, posting a 13/2/20 KDA line in the two games, the most important change for Counter Logic this offseason should be its coaching staff. That, however, won’t pay dividends until the team has had time to massage the communication issues and personality conflicts that dog the team. Sure, this may be the season Counter Logic finally breaks through, but it’s just too early to tell.
Teams need to plan better for visa issues
Thankfully, week one of this season wasn’t the substitute-filled fiesta that marred the opening to the Spring Split this year. But one team was forced to use three substitutes because they failed to secure visas in time—Team Dragon Knights. Part of the issue is that they like hadn’t finalized their roster until shortly before the season, but that just belies the need for teams to plan ahead before the season and make sure these issues are behind them.
The substitutes played better than everyone thought they might, but the Dragon Knights still exit the week with two losses. Those two losses may be two more than they can afford in what should be a tough regular season. One match could decide whether your team reaches the playoffs, whether your team avoids relegation, or whether you avoid auto relegation.
Granted, working with the U.S. government is certainly no picnic, but with the prevalence of problems plaguing this professional league, both teams and Riot Games need to make a better effort to end these issues once and for all.
The NA LCS returns on Saturday with a slate of games that should help clarify the standings. SoloMid faces two of last split’s top four teams, Counter Logic and Team Impulse, providing a stiff test for all three squads. The new Gravity Gaming, featuring jungler Kang “Move” Min-su, who already showed a new dimension for Gravity by simply playing Lee Sin, will battle Team Liquid and Cloud9. Team Liquid themselves opened the season 2-0, but faced an easy schedule against two teams playing substitute players—Team 8 and the Dragon Knights. Next week, when they play Gravity Gaming and Enemy, we’ll get a better idea of whether they can turn their hot playoffs into more consistent success.
The new 18-game season implemented at the start of this year goes faster than you think. Don’t miss any of the action this weekend.