The North American League of Legends Championship Series got off to an exciting start this season, with some of the most historically successful teams stumbling early. This continued to an extent in week two, but real story rests with the teams that have risen to fill the gap. In week one, Team Liquid claimed the spotlight for upsetting Team Solo Mid, but a different team demanded attention this week on their way to the top of the standings.
After a fairly easy pair of matches in week one, their matches against Cloud9 and TSM proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Echo Fox is one of the most talented rosters in the NALCS. We caught an inkling of this in week one, as they demonstrated their ability to win while ahead against Clutch Gaming and FlyQuest — but the best teams must be capable of staging comebacks.
Well, despite some exploitable troubles in the early game, Fox was able to do just that. They started both matches on the back-foot against both C9 and TSM. Against C9, Seung-Hoon “Huni” Heo lost the top lane in both cases, though Eric “Licorice” Ritchie had help from Dennis “Svenskaren” Johnsen. And against TSM, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s Vladimir has a good match-up into Gangplank in the early game. In their match against C9, things turned around in the mid-game once Fox was able to start instigating team-fights. They mistakenly let Sven steal a Baron, but they won the next fight despite lacking the buff. Their coordination paid off big time and helped them swing control of the game in their favor long enough for the win.
Things were a bit trickier against TSM. From the fourth minute to the fiftieth, Fox was down. And unlike their game against C9, they couldn’t seem to win a team fight during the majority of that period. This was especially a problem after TSM’s first Baron-kill, where Fox tried to stop the siege by finding a pick somewhere. But eventually, Fox picked off Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg while the teams were posturing for Baron-control. Without him around to help Hauntzer and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen survive the next fight, Fox picked up a Baron and then an Elder Dragon. And after that, Fox didn’t lose another team fight, finally looking like the team we’d seen all season up until this game. Pulling off such a comeback against a TSM that is stronger than their record reflects is an excellent sign going forward.
Despite losing to Fox in their first game of the week, the team displayed many encouraging signs. Licorice was able to keep pace with Huni, and working with Svenskaren let the LCS newcomer kill one of the best top-laners in the whole league. In fact, he ended the game with the most kills on his team. Their ultimate problem was in losing close team fights — but Echo Fox has proven especially talented in this part of the game.
Things went much better in that regard against 100 Thieves, but their excellent draft might have had something to do with that. The whole team got involved in terms of kills, too, and it let them exert so much pressure across the whole map that their control was never really challenged. Nicolaj Jensen was the biggest contributor throughout this whole game, dealing the most damage on his team with Taliyah and using her ultimate to great effect.
While their loss to Team Liquid gave the appearance that 100 Thieves might be able to challenge Echo Fox for the top spot in the league, their loss against C9 highlighted some holes in their armor. William “Meteos” Hartman was caught out repeatedly, and it seemed as if Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black was the only one who was trying to facilitate a comeback. There was also a lot of talk about how much better C9 drafted, so perhaps future opponents will really try to exploit that in the future.
Despite the weakness they showed against C9, 100 Thieves demonstrated strength against Liquid. Their willingness to let Sangwook “Ryu” Yoo push into the enemy base while the rest of the team scrapped was an example of excellent coordination and confidence. It might have cost them a Baron, but they were able to survive long enough to re-take control of the lanes and push them into a cracked base. This forced Liquid to play close to home, which hampered their ability to fight for control of the map once their buff wore off.
When Team Liquid beat TSM in week one, they did it by exploiting the team’s passivity. But then, against 100T, they demonstrated the same inability to pressure their opponents. Other than a couple of turrets and a single drake, they didn’t do much during their early advantage in the game. Instead, they gave up four kills and let 100T keep things close. No one on Liquid even got a kill until Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng popped Chanho “Ssumday” Kim at 26 minutes. They did win the game’s only real team fight, but they had the numbers advantage while Ryu cracked into their base. It net them the Baron, but they didn’t do enough with it to seize control of the game. Going forward, they’ll have to be much more active if they want to win against other playoff contenders.
Team Solo Mid
If TSM could somehow win games by just scaling up forever, they would probably try. It almost cost them against OpTic, which put up enough of a fight to make FlyQuest’s win seem like less of a fluke. Alfonso “Mithy” Rodriguez had a hard time nailing his Ornn ultimates and Mike Yeung still wasn’t playing on the same level he demonstrated as a member of Phoenix1. To make matters worse, they decided it was better to trade Elder Dragon for Baron instead of outplaying an inferior OpTic squad and win both. Then again, since that happened after the 40-minute mark, perhaps they were the best they could hope for. And honestly, despite maintaining the gold lead for the entire match, TSM might have lost if not for a big ace in the mid-lane. Since that happened after an hour of play, the death-timers were so long that they could just walk into OpTic’s base and smash their Nexus, uncontested.
Their game against Echo Fox, meanwhile, should have given them the 2-0. But instead, they did the TSM thing and could not close out the game. It was especially sad since Yeung finally seemed to figure out how to be a presence in the early game and Hauntzer did half the team’s work himself, but they just could not translate team fight wins into a game win. Perhaps they just need to be more aggressive earlier in the game, when game timers aren’t so long that losing a single fight can give their opponents enough time to wrestle control of the game from them.
Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten is amazing, and his absolute destruction of CLG is something the whole team should be proud of. Taeyou “LirA” Nam did an excellent job of catching players out, as well, and Apollo Price had a quiet but very clean game. Their draft was cohesive and scaled up well, letting them mercilessly punish Counter Logic for all of their mistakes. In the end, though, their first win of the week was less a statement about their skill and more of a statement about what a mess their opponents were. Still, considering the space Clutch is expected to occupy in the standings, wins like this are important for confidence and growth.
As for the thrashing Team Liquid gave them, well, I imagine they don’t want to think about it too much. However, if they want to push for playoff contention, they’ll need to learn not to roll over when things go badly.
Counter Logic Gaming
It kills me to see a team do so poorly that, on paper, has so much potential. And if it weren’t for that raw talent, CLG would be much lower than they are in these rankings — especially since their only win is against the worst team in the league. Even still, all the talent in the world isn’t worth anything when no one is channeling it in the proper direction. Without Aphromoo to call the shots, everyone seems a lot more prone to mistakes. Jae Hyun “Huhi” Choi and Yeujin “Reignover” Kim roamed to help get an early kill onto Colin “Solo” Earnest, but then the two make a terrible over-commitment on a mid-lane gank and are punished for it. And once the laning phase is over, they seem to have no idea where to strike.
They seemed a bit more focused on the Golden Guardians, but that didn’t stop their opponents from taking the first turret and the gold lead. It wasn’t until a team fight 20-plus minutes into the game that gave them the Baron and the opportunity to swing the lead in their favor. And if it wasn’t for Juan “Contractz” Garcia making a foolish dive, they might have stayed behind. Even then, the Guardians hung in there until a failed attempt to flank CLG gave them the ace needed to close out the game.
Yet, while it wasn’t the most competent win, it still gives the team something to hold onto. And if, somehow, they can use their momentum to steal a win from Echo Fox in week three, there’s a chance to stop their skid.
OpTic could have easily beaten TSM this week, had a single team fight gone their way. For the majority of the game, they were able to hang with one of the better teams in the league and punish them when they made mistakes. They also showed a good sense of priorities, too, by taking a free Baron when TSM decided to sneak the Elder Dragon. The loss may have stung because it was a winnable game, but hopefully, the squad took the close nature as a way to build more confidence.
Against FlyQuest, which did beat TSM, they seemed quite even. Both sides took turns winning fights, but OpTic was dictating the pace. They would get the first kill and force Fly to equalize. They got the first Baron and forced Fly to defend. But ultimately, the combination of Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Dong Hyeon “Arrow” Noh put out too much damage by working well together. And when Fly decided to try their hand at picking a fight, Akaadian significantly contributed to turning the battle into a 3-0 plus Baron. From there, despite playing it a little safer than they needed, OpTic was able to claim their first win.
Both games were a bit rough for FlyQuest this week, though for different reasons. OpTic simply outgunned them, but technical issues made their match against the Golden Guardians into a real slog. Though, to be honest, the painfully long pauses may have helped them staunch the bleeding enough to turn the game around. After all, they were losing for most of the game. At least Andy “AnDa” Hoang and Hojong “Flame” Lee came up big in terms of disrupting GG in the end, which allowed Jason “WildTurtle” Tran to rack up kills throughout the match.
Another heartbreaking week for the only winless team in the league — especially when they could have won both of their matches. Their early and mid-game was quite strong in both cases, especially against FlyQuest. Contractz’ Rengar made the right plays, and Matt Elento’s Thresh play enabled Matthew “Deftly” Chen’s Kalista pick to pick up the majority of the team’s kills. However, the team seems to fall apart once games drag on a bit. A team fight or Baron won’t go their way, and they aren’t able to bounce back. The worst part of it all is they have an incredibly difficult two weeks coming up against some of the top teams in the league. It’s very unlikely they’ll see their first win for some time.