As the race for a world championship berth reaches its final stages, the NA LCS will ramp up to the end of the 2015 season in an exciting fashion. Compared to past splits the competition this time around can be seen as pretty much equal. Each team has shown dominance this split in their peaks as well as embarrassing lows in their slumps. The potential is there for any team to come out on top in a Best of Five series.
I feel it is an understatement to call the summer split for North America as a whole “rough”. The North American region has been under an endless barrage of criticism and jokes after Team SoloMid’s surprisingly dismal performance at the Mid Season Invitational in May. Since then each and every misplay, missed smite, failed flash, incongruent draft and downright confusing decision making confirmed in everyone’s minds that North America was edging further and further into wildcard territory and their rivals across the Atlantic were now the only hope for the west on the international stage. There is no doubt that the criticisms are warranted; but in the final stages of the regular season, a few teams started to rise from the ashes of regional mediocrity (TiP) while the rest continued to smolder (Dig).
Regular Season recap:
Team Dignitas (10-8):
Team Dignitas came out with all guns blazing after an early decimation at the hands of CLG. They surprised pretty much everyone (including themselves) when they started the split at 4-1 and then finished the first half at 7-2. Azingy’s Zac play was the catalyst for the chaotic shenanigans that went on in those first few weeks and when he got benched for OGN and LCS veteran Helios, it was presumed that the fun was about to end. They began to shock everyone again when they simply outplayed reigning NA champs Team SoloMid even without Azingy’s bouncing blob of death. This win showed that Dignitas, with Korean import Gamsu at the helm, was actually a force to be reckoned with. That is, until the long awaited mid-season slump. Typical Dignitas early success is always followed by typical Dignitas slumps. This split was no different. They faded slowly from as high as second to sixth throughout the latter half of the split with glimpses of their early split dominance seen here and there. They are coming into the playoffs with basically nothing to lose but will still want to prove that they can be a dark horse if they regain their early form.
Team Impulse (13-6):
Team Impulse was frustratingly inconsistent in the first half of the split. They were stuck in a groundhog day scenario of 1-1s each week until they went up against each team a second time around. From there winning became second nature for them. They only dropped one game in the second half of the split in what was to be an almost miracle come from behind victory over eventual regular season winners Team Liquid if it wasn’t for leaving their nexus wide open for what couldn’t be even called a back door. During the middle of their streak there was a controversial roster swap drama when Adrian was subbed out for a midlaner called Gate. This was actually resolved when an even bigger issue involving their starting midlaner XiaoWeiXiao getting caught ELO boosting on the eve of playoffs. Team Impulse are coming into this Quarter-Finals with their eyes set very much on that worlds first seed prize and will be dangerous
Head to Head:
These teams are 1-1 against each other in the regular season. The first game in Week 4 was a win for Dignitas off the back of Gamsu’s legendary Hecarim play and some ballsy Twisted Fate engages from Shiphtur. The draft was very atypical of Impulse’s usual style. Rush picked away from his aggressive champion pool with Rek Sai, Impact was unable to make game changing plays on Ekko and Apollo’s Sivir was banned by Dignitas so he picked Graves instead. Even with the less-optimal picks, TiP had more gold on every player across the board before a beautiful match winning double teleport play from Gamsu and Shiphtur that snowballed the game to the point where even a Baron steal could not recover the lead that Dignitas gained. Gamsu finished with one of the most impressive top lane scorelines this season with a beastly 11/0/10 on Hecarim.
The engages from Dignitas were the key factor in this win. Gamsu and Shiphtur’s synergy with their teleports evaporated Impulse in fights but Team Impulse would get revenge later on.
Their second meeting took place in week 7. The draft was much more within Impulse’s comfort zone as they prioritized their Sivir and Lee sin early and turned the tables from last game by picking support Shen and Twisted Fate for global presence. Adrian gave up an early first blood by dangerously warding Helios’ blue but Rush picked up the solo revenge kill only minutes later. Rush never looked back after that kill on Helios as Team Impulse jungler seized control of the map from then on. Team Impulse narrowly outplayed Dignitas in the following skirmishes but it snowballed too far out of reach for them to recover with Rush ending the game with a scoreline of 8/2/13.
Comparing the Teams:
If you look at how these teams match up there’s actually not that much discrepancy in the lanes. Excluding the junglers, it could be said that it’s pretty much even across the board with TiP being a little bit better in each position and Shiphtur having the advantage over Gate in mid.
The main difference is definitely in the jungle where Rush has had another blistering season with his aggressive champion pool proving to be the driving force in a lot of TiPs wins. However, unlike the Spring Split, he is almost completely unrivaled as the best jungler in North America. Helios on the other hand is one of the least impressive in the role but he has been a solid enough foundation for Dignitas to build on in their wins unlike Azingy who, as exciting as it was, was more of a one trick pony with his Zac.
Team Impulse has the most gold per minute as a team and on every player except Apollo in the league who is considerably behind the elite AD carries of the region. Multiple meanings can be derived from this but it generally means which means that they generally have more kills and objectives per minute and thus more map control in their wins. They gain advantages through kills off the superior skirmishes and team fighting. Dignitas has 109 less kills than Impulse with only one less game played due to the tie breaker. It’s not like Dignitas wins through smart macro play and strategy. They have a similar kill-focused style; it’s just that TiP is much better at pulling it off.
Continuing on, I have to point out that It’s very worrying for Dignitas when you look at the statistics regarding average game time. Team Impulse and Dignitas have among the lowest average game time in the region (3rd and 4th respectively). This would suggest that these teams win convincingly right? Well for TiP it does, for Dignitas…not so much.
I looked at the game times for each match for both teams and I noticed that Dignitas usually takes a long time to pull out a win but lose extremely quickly, usually getting demolished in the process. The main problem that Dignitas will have against TiP is that they can’t close out games that cleanly. For example: after Shiphtur got a thrilling 12 minute Ahri pentakill against Gravity the game should have been pretty much over then and there. It took Dignitas almost an hour to win a game when it actuality it should have been half of that time. On the flip side, Dignitas loses games really quickly, with most defeats against playoff teams coming under 35 minutes, sometimes in the range of 20-25 minutes.
The final nail in the coffin for Dignitas is that TiP actually plays pretty well from behind. Their come from behind win against CLG in week 7 and their almost come from behind win against Team liquid in week 9 makes it pretty evident that TiP knows how to fight from a huge gold deficit as well as capitalizing on the mistakes of the enemy team when playing from behind.
So just by looking at these trends Team Impulse could hypothetically lose the early and mid game but still have a high chance of taking the win.
Lane Match ups:
Gate vs Shiphtur:
Team Impulse comes into this quarter-final with only 3 games played with Gate as their starting mid laner. Gate was welcomed into the mid lane by Keane (twice) and Fenix on arguably his best champion; Azir. He was a moderately adequate substitute for Impulse in these games as his addition did not seem to slow down team play but his own mechanical play on stage will have to improve a lot in the past week if he will want to ensure a victory against Dignitas. Despite this I have to say that I don’t think that Gate is that much of a disadvantage compared to the under performing XiaoWeiXiao.
His inexperience against top tier mid laners will have to be exploited by Dignitas if they have any chance of winning against Team Impulse. The big problem is that Shiphtur has had very noticeable problems of his own in regards to laning. it seems on a regular basis he either falls behind or has gained a sizable health advantage from an early trade against the enemy mid laner but then he consistently misses cs to lose the advantage in the long term.
The most notable of these examples was in their second showing against CLG where Shiphtur won a trade against Pobelter at level one; forcing him to recall. Shiphtur just didn’t make the most of the potential gold and experience lead as he was overtaken by Pobelter in CS by 8 minutes and then the deficit grew and grew until the game ended in a convincing CLG win. Despite any efforts to overcome this issue, I have doubt that it will be enough to overcome his own habit of remaining too passive in lane.
It must be stressed that despite having a disappointing laning phase for such a long standing player, Shiphtur is not a bad player in a mechanical sense at all. Dignitas have won their fair share of games strictly off the play of Shiphtur and Gamsu alone, most importantly in their win against TiP in week 4.
Impact vs Gamsu:
Impact and Rush have been a very influential duo in their wins. Impact started off this split impressively and ended impressively. Unlike the majority of North American top laners Impact has remained consistent and reliable. His Shen and Gnar play in week 9 definitely deserved the MVP recognition he received. His mastery of Shen was very reminiscent of his Season 3 dominance and has me excited to see if he can continue this level of play into a very worthy opponent.
Gamsu has been a shining star for this team since he joined, it’s just that now the rest of the team is solid enough for him to fully show off his carry potential. His pocket pick of Jarvan IV is always a danger but he is extremely solid on Gnar and Hecarim. Unfortunately for Dignitas his carry potential will be nullified because no matter how hard Gamsu will try to carry, Impact will always be able to match him. If he does pick Jarvan, he needs to make sure it can win the game otherwise it’s possible that TiP could just ban it in the next game to remove any opportunity for Gamsu to solo carry.
For the sake of time I will spare you the majority of my infatuation with Rush but I have to do it just a little. Unlike all other North American junglers, Rush is the identity of his team. Rush is so special to me, to TiP, and to North America as a whole because he truly is the one that gives Impulse their dynamic personality. Team Impulse isn’t created around the carry potential of Apollo, Gate or Impact, it’s based on the ability of the jungler to make plays and create advantages through kills. He is able to do this consistently and it just makes the game much more fun to watch and I love him for it.
My fawning over Rush doesn’t make him immune to criticism however. While has shown proficiency on the likes of Lee Sin, Nidalee and Evelynn; he has been very underwhelming with the cinderhulk junglers. I know that those champions don’t fulfill the same role as his preferred champions but if Dignitas bans out his most threatening champions, Rush will be forced to play something he isn’t as comfortable carrying on. Remember Dignitas did defeat Impulse when Rush had an underwhelming showing on Rek Sai.
Kiwikid & CoreJJ vs Apollo & Adrian:
Adrian has been arguably the MVP support of this split. He wards considerably more than any other support in the league and there’s no apparent trade off for play making ability. He’s still consistently able to do all the jobs a support has to do at a level that no other support has really surpassed regionally this split. Adrian can sometimes get caught out trying to deep ward in the early game but as a result of his deep warding, Rush has more of an advantage over the enemy jungler so it’s not entirely a bad thing.
Apollo is It’s no secret that Apollo is the resident Sivir player on this team and Dignitas cannot underestimate the importance that TiP places on that champion. It is evident in a large amount of Team Impulse’s games, especially against the playoff teams, they have picked Sivir in first rotation of the draft. Apollo is extremely comfortable on this champion and even when the bottom lane meta is slightly shifting out of her favor in China, there is little doubt TiP won’t quickly pick Sivir when they have the chance.
The AD carry meta shift actually benefits Dignitas because CoreJJ will be in his element. He has always preferred playing Corki and more recently Kog Maw and now is a good chance to show proficiency on them. Despite this CoreJJ is obviously the least prioritized carry out of the three lanes and this means he will probably perform his average, serviceable self that’s much like Apollo without Sivir.
Kiwikid has been a double edged sword for Dignitas for his entire career. He can make a string of game winning plays but he can also make a string of game losing plays. If he’s lucky enough both can happen in the same game. He has improved drastically over his tenure as Dignitas’ support and has shown, when it counts Dignitas can put him on a tanky, crowd control heavy champion like Alistar, Thresh or Braum and he can create plays more than he can’t.
Both of these duo lanes are pretty underrated. They have shown great 2v2 skirmishing skills against bottom lanes of CLG and TSM but can also far pretty far behind in CS against the better AD Carries of the league. CoreJJ is statistically better in the laning phase but I would pick Adrian as the deciding factor between the two duos solely due to his vision control already on top of more reliable play making abilities than Kiwikid
As I’ve said above, I just have to give the advantages to Team Impulse in every department apart from middle lane. There could be games where Dignitas pulls ahead in lane but they haven’t shown consistency in closing games out whereas Team Impulse has shown that they can always win, against better opposition too.
Winners and Losers:
After beating around the bush I have to concede that Team Impulse are indeed my heavy, heavy favorites for this match. Their huge streak at the end of the season solidifies them as the most “in-form” team right now and I honestly think that Gate will not be as much of a hindrance as I originally suggested. Barring any last second play style changes like last split, Helios will be unable to repel Rush and slight leads will amount across the board of Team Impulse. They’ll power their way through to CLG in the Semi-Final in a convincing fashion with a lot of steam that could power their way even further towards potential worlds qualification.
Dignitas reminds me of the Tour de France where in any given stage of the race, 4-5 cyclists will speed away at the start only for the peloton to catch up towards the end. To me it seems that it isn’t going to one of those occasional times where they end up winning the race, wearing their yellow jerseys on top of the podium. Unfortunately for Dignitas, the ride is over but they will have that early break away to show for it. Dignitas fans should be proud of their team. They almost got relegated by Fusion if it weren’t for a clutch play from Kiwikid. They managed to claw their reputation back from predictions of auto-relegation embarrassment into playoff participants.
Team Impulse 3-0
Any statistics and information used were drawn from oracleselixir.com, lol.esportspedia.com and lolesports.com