Heading into the North American League Championship Series season, there seemed to be a pretty good idea about which teams would be pretty good: Counter Logic Gaming, Immortals and Team SoloMid, with Team Liquid and possibly one of the new lineups from Cloud9 or NRG Esports making a run at it.
Now we're a week into the season and a whole lot of things have changed. CLG is in a post-MSI slump. Team Liquid looked lost without starting jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and only slightly less lost with him back in there. NRG, meanwhile, looks like it could be the worst team in the region.
Two of the preseason favorites have stood strong through the first week and still look like titans of the region, and now we're treated to a best-of-three series between them Sunday afternoon. Team SoloMid will face off against Immortals in what should be a battle of undefeated teams (if they can get past NRG and Apex Gaming, respectively, first).
The best-of-three is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT) and will be streamed live on Lolesports' website.
While TSM is perennially considered an NA LCS favorite, having made literally every single NA LCS Finals so far, there were questions heading into this season.
The team struggled early in the regular season last split after signing four new starters, and after eventually making it to the finals once again (losing to CLG for the second split in a row), TSM replaced starting support and five-time European champion Bora "YellowStar" Kim with Vincent "Biofrost" Wang, a mostly unknown North American prospect who had previously played in NA's second-tier Challenger Series.
Biofrost had quite the debut in his opening week, following up an excellent opening series against CLG with another terrific pair of games against Team Liquid, including this awesome Bard play.
Team Liquid try and engage in the top lane, but TSM turn the fight around after a great Bard ult! #NALCS https://t.co/C0NqR9oVGt— lolesports (@lolesports) June 5, 2016
Biofrost will have a tough matchup again this week against Adrian "Adrian" Ma, whose unconventional champion choices brought him plenty of attention last split. Since then, the meta has caught up to Adrian -- he only plays ranged support (even when everyone was playing tanks), but now ranged supports are firmly in the meta.
As a new team last split, Immortals unveiled a roster led by Korean superstars Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin, fresh off an 18-0 regular season with Fnatic and a European championship under their belt. With those two plus three North Americans on the roster, Immortals caught the region by fire after a 17-1 regular season record established it as perhaps the best North American team ever.
But once playoffs hit and Immortals was forced to play in a multiple-game series, the team fell apart -- against TSM.
TSM won the series 3-0, exposing Immortals' unwillingness to adjust to the meta and sending the overwhelming favorites to the third-place game. Since that series, Immortals players have admitted they entered the series overconfident, and while the team's first week of best-of-three series had some stumbles, the team emerged 2-0 after defeating both Cloud9 and Phoenix1.
Even with lessons learned from last split, Immortals still looks like the team that dominated in Spring.
Adrian's still playing Soraka and Karma, Huni's still playing damage Ekko and Riven and Reignover is playing carry champions like Graves and Olaf. Immortals seems not concerned at all with running compositions that include no natural tanks, and it worked just fine in the first week.
In both regular season victories over TSM, Immortals found its biggest advantage in the top lane, where Huni outearned TSM's Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell by a combined 6.5k gold in the two games. Huni still outearned Hauntzer in two of the three playoff games, but TSM was still able to win thanks to more efficient play from jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, keeping the game focused away from the top lane.
This series will once again be a matchup of differing styles, as each team focuses a different portion of the map. Whichever can play to their strength better will win.
With two of the best high-damage carries in NA LCS history in mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and AD Carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, TSM focuses on getting those two ahead of their opposition in-game and in the draft, spending their first pick on one of those two in every game so far (usually first pick for Doublelift, last pick for Bjergsen so he can counter the opposing mid laner).
Meanwhile, in a top-lane meta that is still largely tank-focused, Huni continues to play carries, and Immortals continues to focus efforts on getting him ahead. Immortals generally picks for Huni first on blue side and last on red side: similarly to TSM and Bjergsen, they want to give him a power pick if they can or a counter pick if a different power pick is available.
And don't forget about the last storyline in this matchup: Jason "WildTurtle" Tran squaring off against his old team.
While TSM's roster looks completely different than when WildTurtle was the team's starting AD Carry, Bjergsen remains in the mid lane and the organization's infrastructure remains largely the same. WildTurtle played with TSM for nearly three years, winning three NA LCS titles with the organization. Now he's looking to bring Immortals an NA LCS trophy of its own. But in Doublelift, he'll be faced with not only the man brought in to replace him, but the all-time kills leader in NA LCS history.
This year is almost certainly the deepest the NA LCS has ever been, and it's hard to imagine a better early season battle than this. Get ready for some fireworks.