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My favorite thing about watching Soraka is the start of a sentence that I will never be able to complete. After another action-packed weekend of League of Legends, the battle for second is as muddy as the bottom of a customer’s shoes who enters your fast food restaurant six minutes before you close and fifteen minutes after you just mopped the floor. Here are nine thoughts on the LCS and one thought on Cloud9, who transcends the LCS.
Cloud9 (8-0) — The 10 Towers
Here is a fun fact: Cloud9 has lost 10 towers so far this split (that’s about one per game). The league average is 53.2 towers. To put that into even more perspective, teams can lose and have lost 11 towers in just a single game. We are soon approaching the point where we shift from asking whether or not C9 will go undefeated to whether or not it will be disappointing if they don’t, which is to say they are extremely good. This is one of the most dominant starts to a season — ever — by an LCS team, and in my memory only 2013 Cloud9 and 2016 Immortals matches them in terms of how badly they clobber their opponents. Every critique I can muster up about this team is a futile attempt to make everyone else have some hope for their team, and all of it is non-tangible things, like, “Well… they’ve never won anything before…” But the flipside is this iteration of five has also literally never lost, and no other iteration of five in the LCS right now has won the whole thing before either. I do want to give a special shoutout to Nisqy, though — it feels like his aggression in particular is the ignition that revs up the rest of the C9 engine, and it’s been nice to see his willingness to forgo laning to make plays elsewhere on the map. No team has even come close to showing us a blueprint of what it would take to beat this team, and until that happens, I think it’s fair to hype yourselves up. The forecast is stable with a lot of clouds.
FlyQuest (5-3) — The Power of Evil
TreeQuest likewise had a 2-0 week with wins over TSM and 100, even if the TSM game in particular was a bit of a… uh… messy game. Some call it a fiesta. I call it avant garde. A resilient win after an extremely long question-mark-spam kind of game is, for better or worse, the kind of game that PowerOfEvil has thrived on since he came to NA. I think, generally, that kind of game is more one that TSM lost than one that FLY won, but FLY did a great job of hanging in there and not breaking completely. It’s not a skill you really want to practice, but it’s definitely useful to have (like an anti-death passive on Diablo). IgNar continues to impress me as one of the best supports in the league, and in a post-game interview over the weekend, he said he was hoping to stand out as one of the only aggressive supports in the region. I think that’s an admirable goal, and I hope the trees continue to enable him towards this end — in general more aggression in NA will elevate the overall level of the league. PowerOfEvil ranks near the top of the standings among mid laners in every major statistical category, and as long as that continues to be true, I expect this team to remain near the top of this table. Aside from Liquid, I don’t feel like any of the teams below them here really inspire much confidence, so I feel like they’ve started to solidify themselves as a Top 4 team this split.
Immortals (5-3) — Putting the X in Xmithie
Xmithie had what was maybe the single best performance from any player all split (and ever in the entire history of LoL) against TL, which served as the perfect manifestation of all our fantasies about flexing in front of our exes. Xmithie did it for us. In spoiling Broxah’s debut with TL, IMT looked like a real contender and not “the worst 4-2 team ever.” I felt really good about them, and then the next day came and we were all reminded that the biggest problem with this team is their inconsistency when they got blasted by EG of all teams. So lives “the worst 5-3 team.” I hope they win the split so the narrative becomes “the worst champion ever” — all the way to Worlds Finals. One of the biggest narratives this split that fans have latched onto is whether or not the mid lane trio of Eika, Ry0ma, and Jiizuke “deserve” their import slots. I’m not saying the three of them have played well, but it feels like the criticism is tied less to their play and more to the fact that Pobelter and Damonte were left out, which is also weird considering how much flame Pobelter in particular receives when he is playing. It just feels like Eika could go out and have a decent game and you’d still find people talking about how he’s not literally Pobelter or Damonte. The most alarming thing about Eika right now to me — and of course stats don’t tell the whole story — is that he sits at 51.4% KP, which is a whopping 11% below the next lowest person and 24% below the highest (Froggen, who is thought of as a sit-in-lane player). If IMT wants to help Eika flourish, then I think they need to find ways to get him more involved in their game plan — mid lane is way too important a role to be left on an island.
Dignitas (4-4) — Digging Holes
Grig carries one game (and gets no credit) and then feeds the next and people call for his head. The scene is fickle! Let me just say I never really expected Dignitas of all teams to put Huni on Soraka and Froggen on Ornn — it always felt like they’d have to rely on those two to carry the game more. And while I realize that tanks and supports can and often are the primary reason for a team winning, at the end of the day they can really only lead the horse (damage dealers) to the watering hole. There’s a reason the “best” players in history are generally on the damage dealing roles — mid and particularly AD are the two roles that can flip an entire fight onto its head. So DIG putting their two best players on supportive champions felt like a really interesting look at just how flexible they can be, which is something I’ve marked as a concern for this roster. Getting bopped by Golden Guardians after that win, though, is par for the course in the LCS, where everybody loses to Cloud9 specifically but also to everyone else. Johnsun was also thumped in that game, which means his hot start as a rookie has officially cooled off — how you respond to adversity, though, is what defines your career as a pro. It’s not a huge setback or anything, but this is a good chance for him and for the team to recalibrate. There are clearly good things about this roster, but there is also clearly an inability to consistently play through those strengths.
Golden Guardians (4-4) — It’s Closer Time, One Last Call For…
The Golden God is here and he is here to stay. Before the season started, I bet the average over/under line for GG wins would have been around three if you polled a bunch of analysts in the scene, which means GG has officially stuck it to these hypothetical analysts that I have conjured for this argument. They could lose out and finish with an awful record and that would not be the most surprising thing in the world, but the way they’ve played this split tells me they’re going to be alright. It’s still very hard for me to envision them as world-beaters or anything even close to that, but this is very clearly a solid team. They have a strong early game thanks to Closer that lets them have a chance at winning every single game, which is huge in an LCS world where nobody seems to have any clue as to what they are doing. GoldenGlue has also escaped the “DAE Damonte Pobelter” peanut gallery by turning in a solid season. They’ll only continue to improve as Keith slowly acclimates more and more to his role — in fact, he has clearly improved more than anyone else this split, and if he continues at this rate (which surely he will), then I suspect he’ll be able to 1v9 with ease by the end of the season. KeithMcBrief is coming and you are not prepared.
TSM (4-4) — ThrowSM
Last week I heaped a lot of praise onto TSM and suggested they had an outside chance of becoming the best team in the league if they were able to topple C9. This week I will not be doing any of that. In fact, last week’s article was simply a prank. TSM’s mid-late game struggles continued after they threw a game against FLY not once but twice (some would argue even more) — they held a 5k gold lead at 15 minutes and then a 6k gold lead later in the game as they secured Baron. A lot of talk has centered around the game being lost at draft, but that feels unfair to me — any team that is able to open up leads like that should be able to close out. TSM played the mid and late game poorly, which resulted in FLY being able to claw back with a superior late-game comp. You can’t just ignore the early game when making an analysis of the draft! I don’t think this is an entirely awful thing for TSM, though — obviously getting a win is better, but in the context of trying to improve and be a better team, I think being able to build early leads is a much more important skill than being able to “hang in there,” which is less a skill and more of a thing that just happens. I think mid and late game macro are things that can be taught much more easily than early game, which (I am simplifying this) is often just “who is better at laning?” I wouldn’t count TSM out yet — they know exactly what they need to work on, and that’s not a bad place to be in at this point in the season.
100 Thieves (3-5) — 100 problems on the wall
In their loss against FLY, the game was 5-1 in kills in favor of FLY as they were hitting on the Nexus with four 100 members alive in the fountain. First off, let’s be clear that 100 would have lost 99% of their engagements at that point (in review, they should focus on things that happened way earlier), and let’s be clear that them not doing anything there doesn’t really affect the final result. Let us also then be clear in asking what the hell do you have to lose in forcing something, then? It’s like when you are playing Counter-Strike and no one wants to be the entry fragger, and it’s extremely frustrating to see. 100 has a lot of issues right now, and one of the biggest ones is a lack of coordination on when to fight or when not to fight. Stunt sometimes looks like an LPL support who is stuck in an NA team — not in terms of skill level but in terms of how he’s seemingly always trying to fight and his team is not. That’s resulted in him getting caught out and dying a lot, but personally I feel like I’d rather see the team accommodate his engages and play some sloppier games. Right now they’re one of the most passive mid-game teams, and Stunt doesn’t fill well with that (but I do think passive play is the wrong thing to focus on). Right now they’re five players on 100 different pages.
Evil Geniuses (3-5) — Which Jiizuke?
I should have done this from the get-go, but if you ignore the game EG played against C9 (which honestly all of us should do if we are trying to get a better reading on the rest of the league), then EG looked really good this weekend! Unfortunately for teams we live in a world in which you cannot ignore C9, even if (as is the case with EG), they are your ex. Unlike Xmithie, Svenskeren and co were not unable to upstage their past. Jiizuke is still a pretty hit or miss player (sometimes within minutes in the very same game), and it’s made me wonder what I’d rather have on a team: a consistently mediocre mid laner or an inconsistent mid laner who sometimes shines but sometimes looks really bad? I think over the course of a long season, you’d probably value inconsistency more, but if it’s a single game or set, then Jiizuke is clearly the better option, right? If I put myself in the shoes of his teammates, then I know two things: first is he will always try to make a play, so we would not roll over and do nothing as we die, and second is sometimes he will hard carry a game (or hard int a game). I think I’d prefer to know that my teammate has highs he is able to reach because theoretically he can string those highs together as opposed to a mediocre player who is always going to be capped at what he can output. That’s the silver lining to the (mostly deserved) criticism that hits Jiizuke at the moment. Overall EG’s solo laners have struggled to perform, and that has impacted Svenskeren (who we know can be an MVP-caliber player) — until these issues with their early game are resolved, I expect EG’s success to ride almost entirely on the kind of game Jiizuke has, for better or for worse.
Team Liquid (3-5) — Double Lifts
Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Broxah. Just in case you weren’t sure who I’d focus on talking about this week for Team Liquid, it is, in fact, Doublelift. Even before their star jungler finally had his visa cleared, I think you weren’t wrong to expect that a team with Doublelift on it should still be able to look good (if not great), and Doublelift’s early season struggles were one of the big reasons TL suffered. A crazy stat is that Doublelift currently ranks last among all ADCs in damage per minute, which sometimes is a result of how the team plays (and Doublelift struggling on Senna). So when he finally dominated lane and was able to rotate was when TL picked up their cleanest win of the season — albeit a win over CLG. TL’s bread and butter has always been their bot lane winning and then rotating around the map to generate early tower advantages, and it’s good to see them return to that formula. Broxah’s arrival should mean they are able to more consistently win their lanes, and I think it’s fair to expect their look against CLG to be the reference point for what the rest of their season should look like.
Counter Logic Gaming (1-7) — 100% guarantee they will beat C9
CLG — at 1-7 — is indisputably the worst team in the league right now. They have looked mostly awful in their losses such that there is very little silver lining to even cling to as a thread of hope. This week, they will face undefeated Cloud9, who is absolutely demolishing everybody, for the first time this season. You are new to the LCS if you don’t know how this one will pan out, which is that Counter Logic Gaming is about to play to their namesake. C9’s dreams of an undefeated season will die. CLG are five players who looked good at various points of last year, and for the five to come together and look this bad speaks more to team synergy issues than to any specific player. I think fans will often try to pin one scapegoat, but the reality is no one on this team has looked good. At this point in the season, for a team that’s this bad, players either rally and try to salvage something together or they play even more for themselves (like a public tryout for their next potential team). I hope it is the former for them, and I hope their morale is higher than their record.