NA LCS Mid-Season Review
1st Team Solo Mid (8-2)
The 2nd place team in our Preseason Rankings, TSM entered the split with question marks at the ADC and Jungle positions, and regarding Bjergsen’s shot calling. While Wildturtle’s laning hasn’t been great, TSM has been able to hide this weakness with intelligent lane swaps, allowing Wildturtle to make it to the mid game uninhibited. Once there, Wildturtle has been a monster, reminding opposing teams that Bjergsen isn’t the only carry on TSM. As we predicted, Santorin has meshed incredibly well with the roster. Bjergsen and Santorin form the best Mid/Jungle combination in the west, working together to take over the middle of the map and allow Bjergsen to do what he does best: Carry TSM to victory. TSM has also made the necessary transition to a duel shot-calling setup, with Santorin taking some of the pressure off of Bjergsen so that he can focus on winning lane and snowballing into the mid game. That said, TSM’s shot calling still isn’t great and they are prone to getting rotated on by teams with better shot calling, as seen in the early game of their match against CLG. This isn’t a huge issue against domestic competition as most NA LCS teams are still struggling to turn their rosters into a cohesive unit, but it will bite them in the ass against the best the international scene has to offer. Right now, it’s hard to imagine them losing a Best of 5 to any team in the NA LCS. For the time being, TSM seems destined to get a first round bye in the Summer Playoffs, guaranteeing them a minimum of 30 Circuit Points.
2nd Counter Logic Gaming (7-3)
The 5th place team in our Preseason Rankings, CLG has exceeded all reasonable expectations in becoming arguably the best team in the LCS (they’ll have to beat TSM to solidify that distinction). Link has been the most improved player in the LCS, while Zionspartan has brought another, much needed, dimension to their play. I had originally expected CLG’s strategic play to fall off a little bit with the transition from Montecristo to Scarra as he got used to his new coaching role, but they’ve been arguably better this season barring a few hiccups hear and there. Of course, the real MVP of CLG this season has been Aphromoo, whose clutch skill shots have done a great job of masking CLG’s lackluster team fighting. However, that’s a weakness they will have to fix if they want to win the Spring Split, as it allowed TSM to come back into a game they really had no business winning. Going forward, I’ll be watching CLG closely to see if they can avoid their traditional late season struggles and solidify a bye into the semifinals of the Spring Playoffs.
3rd Cloud 9 (6-4)
After starting the season in 10th place, a 5-1 stretch has Cloud 9 sitting in 3rd place, a game above a 4-way tie for fourth. While it’s too early to say they’re back, things are looking much rosier for the two time LCS Champions. Their schedule for the next two weeks is relatively easy, which should allow them to solidify their 3rd place ranking before facing Liquid and TSM in the last two weeks of the regular season. Should is the key word, as Cloud 9 really can’t afford any more trip ups if they have designs on winning the Summer Playoffs. The first round bye will be key for a team that doesn’t seem strong enough to be able to fight through three straight Bo5’s. Cloud 9 has always had the easy path through the playoffs. It would be interesting to see how they’d handle the gauntlet.
Cloud 9 still has a lot to work on. Hai continues to struggle with his Champion Pool, defaulting to Zed whenever possible despite Ahri being the stronger pick at the moment. This leaves Cloud 9 vulnerable to meta changes as their preferred play style is heavily reliant on Hai playing mobile Assassins that he can use to pressure around the map. You shouldn’t be misled by Balls Rumble game against CLG, as he remains a shadow of his former self despite Cloud 9’s best efforts to get him going. Most of their losses have started with Cloud 9 getting Balls a 40-50 CS lead in the laning phase only for him to struggle to make anything out of it. Luckily for Cloud 9, their bot lane remains a rock they can rely on, while Meteos has quietly put together the 2nd highest KDA, and highest GPM at the jungle position. This will be enough against most teams.
T-4th Team Impulse (5-5)
On the surface, Team Impulse has been the epitome of a league average team. They’ve gone 1-1 in all 5 weeks of the LCS, and they’ve struggled against the top teams in the standings. But they’ve also yet to lose a game to Team 8, Coast or Dignitas, a distinction they share with Cloud 9, CLG, and Gravity. They are clearly better than the bottom 3 teams in the League, which should ensure their participation in the Summer Split. That’s about as much as TiP could ask for considering the expected difficulty that comes with trying to build synergy in a team with three different spoken languages. The real question is whether there is enough talent on this roster for them to move up in the Summer Split. It doesn’t seem like it. Apollo and Adrian have been one of the worst bot lanes in the LCS, while Impact hasn’t been the monster some expected him to be. Rush’s struggles adapting to competitive play have been exacerbated by subpar communication and differences in play style. Because of this, TiP has resorted to a “see hero, kill hero” style of play. Their objective control is among the worst in the LCS, which goes a long way to explaining why they lose to top teams. It’s hard to imagine this changing any time soon.
T-4th Team Liquid (5-5)
The Team Liquid hype reached a peak after they dominated their opposition on the way to a 2-0 record in the first week of the Spring Split without Piglet. Most of the community assumed that once Piglet joined the roster Liquid would become far and away the best team in the NA LCS. To say that things haven’t worked out as expected would be an understatement. Liquid lost to Cloud 9 and TSM in Piglet’s first two matches with the team and it quickly became clear that their were significant interpersonal issues within the team. Piglet was benched before week 5 when those issues didn’t show any sign of improvement. But interpersonal issues are hardly the only things wrong with Liquid. Brought in to form a strong solo lane pairing with Quas, Fenix has struggled to stand out so far and currently has the lowest KDA of any player at his position. In the bot lane, Piglet and Xpecial failed to dominate their lane opponents like most of the community expected them to while Altec showed Kiethmcbrief just how far he has to go in Liquid’s loss to Winterfox this past weekend. This would be a good time to mention that Kieth’s strong weak one performances were against Apollo and Core JJ, statistically two of the worst ADC’s in the NA LCS. Liquid fans expecting their team to bounce back immediately with Piglet’s replacement are in for a rude awakening.
T-4th Gravity (5-5)
We were pretty high on gravity heading into the split. They had a good balance of experienced players and up and coming talent and, unlike the other new teams, didn’t seem to have any truly awful players. This has mostly held true. Their team fighting remains excellent and Cop’s performance has stood out all the more when compared to the ADC’s of his former team. Unfortunately, they have a problem. We had pegged Saintvicious as one of their biggest strengths heading into the split, but he’s been arguably one of the worst junglers in the LCS. In fact, he leads the league in deaths with 45, seven more than Team 8’s mid laner, Slooshi. His propensity for being caught out of position and dying has in some cases mitigated what should be Gravity’s biggest strength. It doesn’t matter how good you are at team fighting if it’s a 4v5. Gravity is a very dragon-centric team, using advantageous team fights as a launching point to secure other objectives around the map. Because of this, they tend to struggle when they aren’t strong enough to win a straight up 5v5 and are forced to find an ulterior method of victory. Regardless, they remain a team with a very strong identity and should have no problem qualifying for the playoffs. How far they go in the playoffs will depend on whether Saint is able to avoid unnecessary deaths at key points of the game.
T-4th Winterfox (5-5)
Winterfox is the most up and down team in the LCS. They hold wins over Cloud 9, Gravity and CLG, but have lost at least once to each of the three worst teams in the league. They only just fielded their full roster for the first time after having at least one sub for each of the first four weeks and the results were pretty hit or miss. Avalon has been one of the worst top laners in the LCS, while Imagine did not perform as well as Gleeb in his first week with the team. It will be interesting to see whether he improves over the course of the rest of the season or if Winterfox will regret making the mid season change. Altec has remained one of the best ADCs in the LCS regardless of whichever support he’s playing with. He seems to have matured with experience, having grown from being a sheer mechanical powerhouse to become an intellectual player capable of gaining advantages on his lane opponent with pressure and intelligent decision-making. His presence on the roster ensures that Winterfox enters every game with a chance at victory. But their current reality is far different than the one fans foresaw in the off-season. In Helios, Altec and Pobelter, Winterfox had a strong foundation to build off of, but they weren’t able to pick up any of the top tier players that were available at their positions of need, instead settling on two unproven Korean solo que players. Th experiment hasn’t worked out. The best course of action for this roster is to wait until the Spring Split ends and see if there are any potential upgrades available at the Top Lane and Support positions on either Challenger teams that fail to qualify for the LCS, or LCS teams that get relegated.
T-8th Team 8 (4-6)
Going to start this off by eating some crow. We predicted that Team 8 would win 3 games. As of this posting, Team 8 currently has 4 wins, including a surprise week one victory over TSM. They clearly aren’t quite as bad as we thought they would be, but they aren’t world beaters either. Outside their win over TSM, they’ve beaten Coast twice and Winterfox once. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak into the 7th spot, I don’t see them passing two of the teams above them to qualify for the playoffs. Their bot lane is among the worst in the LCS. Calitrlolz has been about as good as was expected, though he’s shown an occasional tendency to get in over his head as he attempts to be the carry Team 8 desperately needs. Slooshi and Porpoisepops have exceeded expectations to become solid, if unspectacular LCS players. For purely a player perspective, there’s not a whole lot different between Team 8 and the teams tied above them. The real problem has been their subpar vision control and, conversely, objective control. Frankly, it seems like they don’t always know what they should be doing. This comes from a lack of understanding of their win conditions. I’m not sure if this is something that can be fixed before the end of the season, but it may not matter. Team 8s is likely strong enough to triumph over a Challenger team if they do get relegated, which leaves them plenty of opportunity to get things together in time for the Summer Split.
T-8th Dignitas (4-6)
Before the season began, I predicted that Dignitas would not only get relegated, but lose their spot in the LCS completely. After some truly awful play, they replaced their long-time jungler, crumbz, with Cloudnguyen, resulting in a modest improvement. They have now all but guaranteed that they won’t finish up in 10th where they’d face automatic removal from the LCS. Apart from that, this is a team without realistic hope of finishing any higher than they already are. Like the other bottom tier teams, their bot lane has been pretty terrible. Shiphtur is a shadow of his former self, and it’s quite possible that he’s been riding on reputation for a while now. Cloudnguyen has brought some life to the team, but needs more time to acclimate to the LCS. Their lone bright spot has been Gamsu, who holds the highest KDA among top laners and has performed consistently well against even the strongest competition. Should Dignitas lose their spot in the LCS, he may be a possible solution for Winterfox’s top lane problem. But that would be getting ahead of ourselves. It’s still too early in the Challenger Series to know whether enemy of the teams is strong enough to take out one of the LCS rosters. Their certainly isn’t an LMQ style team among them.
10th Coast (1-9)
There’s really no point beating a dead horse. At 1-9 with eight games left to play, it’s hard to imagine Coast winning the three games necessary to tie either Dignitas or Team 8, and that’s if neither team wins a game the rest of the split. They have to be kicking themselves for the games they threw away early on in the split. Fact of the matter is that they’re going to lose their LCS spot. I can’t even begin to imagine the effect that has on the organization as a whole. Coast has been known to pull more than a few wonky roster moves, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there were major changes after the split. That process will start with figuring out what went wrong. They can probably start with the top lane, where Cris has posted the lowest KDA among top laners despite finishing week one with a KDA of 26. If you’re wondering how that happens, he’s had a .75 KDA over the past 3 weeks. Jesiz was benched after four weeks in favor of Mancloud, who played arguably worse. Impaler has tried really hard to be a play maker, and is likely far better than his KDA would seem to indicate, but there’s not much he can do when all of his lanes are losing. There’s really not much more to say here. This is a bad team, and they’ve done what bad teams do. Lose.
With past MVP’s Meteos and XiaoWeiXiao falling, Bjergsen stands alone at the top as the best player in North America and possibly the West (Forg1ven deservedly has a word or two to say about that). He’s the west’s best play maker at the game’s most integral position, and as far as North America is concerned, it’s not even close. His Champion Pool is vast. His ability to pick up solo kills unmatched. He’s capable of making even his best domestic competition look completely silly. There’s not a whole lot to say about Bjergsen that hasn’t already been said. He’s the best player in North America.
After last season, a significant portion of the community was calling for his removal. CLG tried out a number of players in the mid position and settled on bringing back Link. I think they made the right call. Link has shown increased intelligence in his play. He no longer throws away the leads he gains in lane by making ill advised roams around the map. His team fight play has been excellent and he’s shown proficiency on a decent range of champions. He’s not the flashiest player in the LCS, but he’s been exactly what CLG needed him to be.
Best Roster Move
CLG picking up ZionSpartan
Zionspartan has brought a dimension to CLG’s play that they haven’t had since HSGG was on the team. With threat’s in every lane, it’s no longer on the Rush Hour show. He’s also shown a previously unseen ability to adapt on the fly to the needs of his team, a surprising evolution from his one dimensional playon Coast and Dignitas.
(Seriously, I think TSM is going to win. They’ve been the most consistent performer in the LCS, and have a better history and more experience in best of fives than any team not named Cloud 9. Sorry CLG fans.)