The third week of the League Championship Series saw two teams ascend to the top of the standings, with a middle class duking it out below them. In the third week, the fog of the early season begins to lift, and season-long narratives start to take form. This is what we learned last weekend about the best League of Legends teams in North America.
1) CLG and TSM are the best teams in the league
The two oldest and most storied franchises in League of Legends sit tied at the top of the standings with 5-1 records, a full two wins ahead of their closest challengers.
Everyone expected Team SoloMid, the defending league champions, to continue their reign at the top. On the other hand, Counter Logic Gaming, one of the few all-American squads left in the league, were nearly relegated last season.
But now they’re sitting at the top. To some, that isn’t a surprise. Team SoloMid’s mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg told the Daily Dot last month that Counter Logic Gaming was the best team they played in practice. Marcus “Dyrus” Hill recently echoed that sentiment last week. Heck, Counter Logic Gaming’s Peter “DoubleLift” Peng said that “people are underestimating how good CLG is right now.” He was right.
The three core players held over from last season are all playing at the top of their game. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black is landing insane skill shots every match. Peter “DoubleLift” Peng is his usual lane dominant self. Austin “Link” Shin is playing like the best mid laner in the LCS.
The two new additions, Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, are living up to their hype. Upadhyaya really is a top lane weapon capable of carrying games himself. And Puchero, once considered a jungler to rival Cloud9’s William “Meteos” Hartman when he last haunted the LCS as a member of XDG, looks like he might be back at that level after a year long exile to the challenger scene.
Everyone forgets that in the Spring split last year, Counter Logic placed third and likely should have beaten Team SoloMid in the playoffs. The roster of this team is more talented than that one. So it should come as no surprise that they’re playing like it.
As for SoloMid, Bjerg showed he’s in incomparable form against Team Impulse. But it sure helps when your marksman pulls off the dragon steal of the century:
Impulse never had a chance after committing so much to secure a “free” Dragon. Ouch.
2) Gravity Gaming: overrated?
Entering the season, Counter Logic Gaming marksman Peter “DoubleLift” Peng was irked that some people ranked Gravity Gaming ahead of his team in their power rankings.
The team featured a roster with solid veterans like Brandon “SaintVicious” DiMarco and David “Cop” Roberson flanked by up-and-coming talents like Lae-Young “Keane” Jang and Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurlyo. The team featured no real stars, but no obvious weak points.
They started the season well, recovering from a disappointing loss to Winterfox to beat Cloud9 in week one, followed by wins over Dignitas and Team Coast in week two. That ranked them atop the standings at 3-1. But this week, the team fell to both Team Impulse and Counter Logic Gaming in two matches that exposed them as a product of a weak schedule.
In the Impulse game, the rag-tag bunch of Korean, Chinese, and American rookies and veterans showed that Gravity Gaming doesn’t have the individual mechanical skill a squad like Impulse brings to the table. Impulse just outplayed them in multiple team fights. Against Counter Logic Gaming, perhaps a bit of a grudge match for Peng, the team was sorely outmatched, letting Counter Logic walk all over them.
Gravity Gaming is by no means a bad team; they’ll likely challenge for one of the back end playoff spots by year’s end. But the people ranking them near the top of the league got ahead of themselves, and this week showed that.
3) LiNk: the top player in the LCS so far
Few players invoke the vitriol of Austin “LiNk” Shin, the controversial mid laner of Counter Logic Gaming.
He chokes under pressure. He only has big games against weak teams. He plays too much Hearthstone. He doesn’t stack up to other world-class mids.
So far this season, he leads the league with 42 kills, four ahead of Team SoloMid captain Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and 12 ahead of the next highest player.
Shin has looked unstoppable in most of Counter Logic’s games, putting out those star-level performances in every match, instead of the one-in-three he usually managed in past seasons. Perhaps he’s more comfortable with his new teammates and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero in the jungle. Perhaps he’s just more focused on performing after the criticism against him last season.
Whatever the case, the invigorated LiNk is a good sign for Counter Logic Gaming. But fans may need to reserve their judgment for the playoffs—If Shin falters there again, it really may be curtains for him.
4) Team 8, not destined for relegation after all
The team slated for the bottom of the LCS in every ranking conceivable at at the start of the season now sits with a 3-3 record. with a win in every week of the season so far.
Team 8 entered the league a heavy underdog, but they’ve acquitted themselves well. And it isn’t because they’ve relied on “cheese” strats, something they seemingly had a reputation for before the season started. They’ve won games with equal parts coordination and skill.
During the first week of the LCS, Andrew “Slooshi” Pham told me in an interview after their second match that he felt his team was underrated by the community as a whole, in large part because Team 8 doesn’t value the solo queue ladder the same way most of the other players do. They aren’t very high ranked, but that’s not because they aren’t skilled, according to Pham. It’s because they aren’t really trying to rank on the ladder.
Pham himself was a primary driving factor in Team 8’s recent wins, showing that he’s capable of carrying matches with solid play, even against teams like Team SoloMid in week one.
The team may not be challenging for the championship any time soon, but if they keep playing the way they’ve been, they’re hardly destined for relegation.
5) Dignitas looks better without Crumbzz
Last week new team captain Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo stepped down from Dignitas, announcing his decision in a video that looked like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. The shot caller failed to instill confidence in his teammates, leading to a team environment where nothing got done and nothing worked.
Dignitas called in Stephen “CloudNguyen” Nguyen as his replacement, a jungler with little professional experience, to take over both jungling duties and shot calling. Apparently, experience wasn’t the hangup in getting the team to follow Rengifo.
It was maybe just volume. At least, if mid laner Danny “Shiphtur” Le can be believed. “”He yells in the game,” Le told lolesports. “He’s a really dominant voice. It’s a good thing that he has a dominant voice because we do need that assertive shotcaller.”
That assertive shot calling saw Dignitas look better than they have all season long. While the team lost their Saturday match against Team SoloMid, they were much more proactive and actually challenged the league leaders. Then they pulled off a victory against Team Liquid, in large part thanks to their decisive play, weaving
Nguyen showed his inexperience with some calls against SoloMid, but he also lead Dignitas to a much improved performance. Marksman Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, famed for his mechanics when he was picked up by the team, finally showed them off with an outstanding week.
Whether Dignitas picks up Nguyen full-time and the team continues their success with him remains to be seen, but this week was the first glimmer of hope for a Dignitas team that hasn’t had much since early in the offseason.
Thanks to Riot Games’ new condensed schedule, one third of the season is already in the books. What used to be a marathon 28-game season is now an 18-game sprint. Teams can’t afford to falter at any point in the season.
So far, some, like Counter Logic Gaming and Team 8, have exceeded expectations. Others, like Team Liquid and Dignitas, have struggled. Unlike last year, however, there isn’t time to turn things around. It’s time to show up or get out.
This week, Team 8 plays Team Liquid and Dignitas, a chance to show whether they’re better than a bottom tier team. Gravity Gaming faces both Team Liquid and Team SoloMid, their chance to show that perhaps they really are a top four team in the league. And Counter Logic Gaming finally battles Team SoloMid, a game that will determine who sits atop the LCS.