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My favorite thing about this list being ordered alphanumerically is that some TSM fan (it is always a TSM fan) will think it’s a power ranking and rage about their team being in last place. Well, you could make a strong case for them being the worst team in the league at the moment. Their three game slide places them right next to Clutch Gaming’s four game slide as being the biggest disappointments of this split so far. Both jumped out to quick starts and then got blasted by Green Shells and Red Shells and Bullet Bill and Karthus. Meanwhile, Liquid is in first and actually outrunning the Blue Shell. Can anyone catch them? Here’s 10 thoughts going into Week 4!
1. TEAM LIQUID [6-0] — Slow and steady
This team is like a lawnmower in that you might spend a few minutes revving the line to get it started, but once it starts, it cuts through everything. There is no “other side” where the grass is greener. There is no grass at all. There is only Liquid. But that means they’re also like an anime character that takes a lot of time to power-up mid battle — always I ask why not just attack them before that happens? You know… just punch the lawnmower before it starts. The trajectory this team feels like they’re on is eventually they’ll run into a super aggressive early game team at an international event and get punched in the face early and often. And I wonder if they’ll be able to weather that kind of storm. I look this far ahead because it doesn’t seem like anyone in NA is capable of punishing them, which is unfortunate. Liquid isn’t bad in lane by any means — their early game is very sturdy even. It’s just that compared to how frightening they look in the mid game, it makes me wonder if they’re capable of turning it up a notch early when needed. Maybe it’s a product of being flashy (and TL being not), but if you watch a team like G2 or Griffin play and compare it to Liquid, it’s hard not to become a little worried. Especially because these regions have multiple teams that look strong, and NA has a super cluttered field below TL (bring in Marie Kondo!!). So I ask — is Liquid really this good or is NA as a region kind of weak right now? I think maybe a reassuring thing is I don’t feel like TL has actually revealed all of their cards — I just don’t really know how those cards will play out.
2. CLOUD9 [4-2] — What shape do you see in the clouds?
If Liquid is the best team in NA, then I posit Cloud9 is the most entertaining. If winning Worlds is the ultimate goal (and it should be for everyone), then ideally regional play is a chance to iterate on new strategies and champions. This is not entirely separate from winning, either — sure, sometimes you’ll fumble, but in general learning new things makes you better, and being better should mean you win more. I feel like C9 is doing this more than anyone else in NA right now. This is the exact same shit that helped them make it to the Semifinals at Worlds, and I’m glad they continue to embrace it even with a new mid laner. They’re the only team I can reasonably see challenging TL in an extended set at the moment — being able to throw multiple looks at TL will be critical, and being able to execute on those multiple looks even moreso. But I also want to see this matchup because the romantic in me sees these two teams’ outward personalities as being opposites. If Liquid is the crisp bad boy genius (let’s call them Sasuke), then C9 is their goofy and aloof rival (Naruto?).
3. 100 THIEVES [3-3] — Approaching 100%
100 is now on a three game winning streak to bring their record back to .500, and in that span Ssumday has only died once. Which reminds me of last year when they put him on tanks and more supportive top laners over and over, which might have been the correct meta decision then, but it just felt like a waste to not put him on a carry. As has been shown during this little run. There are still a lot of concerns for this team — their wins were 41 minutes and a 51 minutes last week, so they’re still having trouble closing out games, but that’s a preferable place to be in than not winning at all. I’m also glad Aphromoo was given a chance to kind of address his bad mood after Week 2’s games — sometimes I think we expect our pros to be in a cheery mood or be “professional” all of the time, but I think it’s fine for them to be curt sometimes. Like, yeah, interviews are maybe part of their job requirement, but maybe we should also learn as fans to embrace that they are multidimensional people. Here’s an instance where we can learn from other sports — where some of the grumpiest players and coaches are celebrated or revered even for that very thing. Aphromoo’s been around since Season 1 — I say let him be the grumpy old man. You could call it his Aphromood (I’m going to patent this shit)!
4. COUNTER LOGIC GAMING [3-3] — Playing against the wall
The duality of CLG means that when they are winning a game, no matter how hard, part of you still thinks they could lose it. It also means that when they are losing a game, though, that you think they might also find a way to win. For example, in the loss against 100, CLG was down 8k gold by 25 minutes, which is absolutely a substantial deficit. The game should have ended within the next five minutes or so, but CLG managed to hang on until the 41 minute mark. Any time a game stretches into the 40 minute graveyard territory, it only takes one bad fight for the game to completely flip on its head. And there may not be much skill involved in falling to a massive early deficit, but there is skill involved in being able to survive — generally this is an indication that your team is good at responding to threats but is not as good at being proactive. If such a thing as “defense” existed in this game, then this is the best equivalent — the tennis player who returns everything and waits for you to make an unforced error. This is fine if your goal is to be in the middle of the pack, but I hope to see some more early game aggression from CLG as we enter the middle of the season. In particular, I think they might have more success if they give PowerOfEvil a more mobile champion that can pressure multiple points on the map.
5. ECHO FOX [3-3] — Rushing ahead
Saturday FOX is a generic gaming chair. Sunday FOX is a gaming chair made by SecretLabs, official sponsor of LoLEsports (this message brought you by someone who would like his yearly bonus to be bigger aka me). I kind of hope this just continues eternally, even if 9-9 isn’t exactly a stellar record. I bet if you had asked people before the split to guess the number of wins this FOX roster would accumulate by the end of the split, three wins would have been a pretty popular guess. They didn’t have much fanfare or flare or any of that kind of thing, and yet they’ve somehow stumbled into a brand(?) of sorts and a .500 record. So they’re my favorite underdog story so far this split. There’s a very grassroots feel to them. Their schedule has been pretty light so far, though, and the coming weeks feature matches against TL, C9, and 100, so we’ll see quickly here whether this team is actually capable of making a dark horse run or if they’re barely hanging on. To me, that’ll hinge mostly on Fenix, who’s been performing better than I expected — if he keeps playing well and improving, he could be the surprise catalyst for this team.
6. FLYQUEST [3-3] — Flocks of different feathers
Week 3 was the hardest possible schedule for FLY — not only did they have to face Team Liquid on Saturday, who as far as I am concerned are incapable of losing (none of you have proof otherwise), but they also had to take on the juggernaut that is Sunday FOX. Frankly, it was bullshit. FLY actually played the early game fine in both of these games and even looked like they could be in position to win the games, but they’re still not on the same page in terms of comms. I remember two plays specifically by Turtle against FOX — the first at 13:30, you see Turtle force a no-Flash Rush into a bad position, but no one turns to convert on that kill (instead they continue to focus on Swain). The second is around 17:15 when Turtle flashes over to channel his ultimate, which was probably an individual mistake, but also that no one else committed means they weren’t on the same page. They followed by dropping the Rift Herald and then not protecting it as it died, which was a really strange (bad) decision. To me these are indications that they don’t have a rallying voice in-game right now. Ultimately, I think play would be a lot cleaner if you just followed one shot-caller (maybe one macro caller and one team fight caller) and had everyone else funnel information to them. FLY just looked way too disjointed once when they had to group, which is really wasting the advantages the accrue early, which may end up being a microcosm for their season.
7. CLUTCH GAMING [2-4] — Big slump
So… Clutch is now on a four game losing streak which has them trending all the way to the bottom of standings. All four teams at 2-4 have some massive problems at the moment, and Clutch’s is that they are just dying way too much and falling into early holes. Huni and Piglet both lead the league in deaths for their respective positions and LirA is only one death behind Rush for that claim as well. Because these lanes are on opposing sides of the map, that makes it really difficult for LirA to properly assist both of them, and what I thought would be a strength for them is now a bit of a liability. Clutch needs to be better about pulling their foot off the pedal when they don’t have nearby support from teammates. They clearly have some mechanical prowess still, and they showed off an innovative (style which already got hot-fixed) Zilean pick and paired it with a Jayce jungle. So I don’t think it’s entirely doom and gloom for this team, but they need to realize they’re 2-4 and it’s only going to get worse if they don’t make some adjustments to individual playstyles. That or stick them on Karthus and Sion and Kog’Maw and whatnot so that they’ll still have some presence even in death.
8. GOLDEN GUARDIANS [2-4] — Froggen presses R
One of my earliest memories of watching professional League of Legends is of Froggen stealing the old Wraith camp as Karthus, so it’s very nostalgic to see him on the champion again. He sports an 86% win rate on the champion in professional play now, which is probably something to consider in the pick/ban phase (hello teams, allow me to be your Silver Reddit Analyst). Karthus doesn’t have very many counterplay options that are good, so team fighting against it feels kind of like when you’re trying to carry a hot tray of food to the table before it completely burns your fingers off. And then when you finally make it to the table, a bolt of lightning strikes you anyway. The two wins for GGS this weekend were massive — in any context really — but especially considering their next game is against Team Liquid. Even losing one of these games would have been devastating with a game against TL on deck. I don’t like seeing winless teams, so I’m glad they got their act together, and now they can really put the 0-4 start behind them by knocking off Liquid. This is just a really tough matchup to have when you’re starting to build momentum. It’s the type of game that can really set the tone for the rest of their split — win and they may roll all the way to playoffs, but lose and they’re rooted deeper into the bottom of the standings.
9. OPTIC GAMING [2-4] — It’s just a little too late, a little too wrong?
The good news is that OpTic finally debuted their main roster. The bad news is they got beaten pretty badly in both games. I guess it’s not fair to expect synergy to come together quickly, but they don’t really have the luxury of playing the long game when it comes to improving over the course of the season. With a third of the games out of the way, there just isn’t much time, and there really weren’t too many good takeaways from the losses last weekend. They just kind of got thumped. And the thing with this main roster is that I feel like they don’t even have the rest of the season to synergize — if they go 0-2 again, for example, you kind of figure management will at least consider making a few swaps here or there, right? Especially because they’ve fiddled around with the lineup already. I feel like there’s probably going to be a lot of added pressure on these players to perform — whether that increased sense of urgency will help them play better or not is to be seen. This is a bit of a self-discovery year for many players on this roster — while the veteran three in Meteos, Crown, and Arrow are trying to recover old mojo, Dhokla and Big are trying to establish their own identities. It’s just kind of unfortunate that they didn’t have any sort of prep time before the season to get a head start on it.
10. TSM [2-4] — Misplaced aggression
Disclaimer for TSM fans who skip all way down to here to read just their blurb — this is not a power ranking. Your team just picked an unlucky letter to start their name. But if it were a power ranking, I would probably still place them near here, and honestly you don’t have much ground to argue against that. TSM is on a three game slide where their players are just dying a lot — at 99 total deaths this year, they out pace number two FOX by 16 deaths, which is at least a testament to their willingness to brawl this year. I mentioned last week that’s probably a good thing for a team that’s trying to redefine itself, but maybe also there is a happier middleground here. Both of their games were super long slugfests (45 minutes each), and you still see moments of brilliance, especially from their carries, but also sometimes you see their engage just go in and die. That’s a combination of not having follow-up and not communicating intent — it’s fine to die if more of them die than you, but that’s not happening right now. Honestly I kind of hate having to type this out considering I was pretty vocal about their passivity the last couple of years, but TSM needs to exercise a bit more patience right now. It’s okay to be aggressive, but make sure you’re on the same page first.