After a seven week hiatus, an enormous game update, and two last minute organization bans, the LCS season SIX Summer Split has finally begun. Analysts and fans alike are ready to learn how these things have affected the North American Circuit. Week One has shown us that it's going to be epic.
Spring Split champions, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) have returned from the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) with a second place finish for North America. While they were away, LoL underwent the biggest mid-season patch to date, creating an increased need for objective control and, in turn, creating more in-game tension.
Week One of the split proved that there are many new factors at play this time around, making for a tighter competition than many foresaw. Teams played from Friday to Sunday at the Battle Arena/Battle Theater in Los Angeles, California. Here is a brief rundown of what's new, what's changed, and who's coming back to the Rift! If you are new to the LoL hype, feel free to read my introductory post on the game for a better understanding of the basics.
Monsters and Marathons: New Dragons and Best of 3's
Without a doubt, the two biggest changes to NA LCS meta are the Elemental Dragons and the best of three series format. Spring Split's best of one format made for a quicker and more straight forward nine weeks. This will not be the case for the Summer Split. A best of three format leaves less room for "upset losses" and better demonstrates the skill and adaptability of each team.
To keep broadcast times manageable and within the existing weekend stream footprint, the games are played, streamed and analyzed two at a time, as shown above. As of week one, most teams have either won or lost both of their matches, and time will tell exactly how close the competition is in the following weeks as teams work on their synergy and adjust to the new match format.
One of the biggest strategies of LoL is objective control: control the map, win the game. With the introduction of Elemental Dragons in the mid-season patch, this strategy has never been more important. To explain it simply, every six minutes, a dragon spawns that possesses the power of one of the four elements: fire, water, earth, or air. Each one gives the team a different useful buff for the length of the game, potentially swaying the odds in their favor. Once the game reaches the 35 minute mark, the Elder Dragon will spawn, which will enhance the buff of each other dragon the team has slain and grant extra damage stats. For more information on how the mid-season patch has affected gameplay, check out this article from LoL's esports website.
Week One has already shown us how powerful these dragons can make a team if they use their buffs effectively. We can only expect to see team fights sparked over objective control continue to be a more frequent and ever entertaining theme throughout the Split.
New Teams, New Threats: Fresh Organizations Looking To Rival Top LCS Talent
Fans will notice two teams that seemingly came out of nowhere this split. They will also notice the disappearance of two Spring Split teams. Due to various reasons publicly explained by Riot, Renegades and Team Impulse were banned from competitive LoL play last month. Shortly before Summer Split began this past weekend, Team Envy and Phoenix1 filled the empty slots respectively. The teams retained most of the players signed by their predecessors, completing their rosters with players from Challenger Series teams and high-ranked Solo Queue pools.
At the end of Spring Split, the bottom three teams (Renegades, Team Impulse and Dignitas) went to a relegation tournament with the top two Challenger Series teams (Apex and Team Dragon Knights) to fight for their right to play for the LCS. Apex was the only Challenger Series team to promote to LCS for the Summer Split. With Apex emerging onto the Championship circuit and the replacement of two existing teams, veteran organizations have a lot more to adjust to than expected.
Two of these new additions, Apex and Team Envy, became surprise Wild Cards this week. Counter Logic Gaming, the current champions, saw a loss at the hands of Apex this week, as did NRG eSports, leaving the promoted team at 2-0 and tied for second place. Team Envy also defeated NRG and steamrolled Team Liquid, securing part of the three-way second place tie. Being new isn't holding these teams back whatsoever and they seem to be forces to be reckoned with. If anything, end-of-split outcomes are in no way as predictable as once believed and we have the newcomers to thank for that.
To Mess Or Not To Mess With Success? Roster Changes And Preservations
Following Spring Split, season after season, teams deal with one of the biggest decisions they can face: whether or not to alter their roster. A simple roster change can impact everything about a team's performance, for better or for worse. Some roster changes can't be avoided, others are strategic. Here are some of this Split's biggest roster changes:
- Team Solomid (TSM): Replaced their former support, Yellowstar, with Challenger Series standout, Biofrost. This change seems to have reinvigorated their bottom lane performance. Biofrost and Doublelift have better synergy and it shows. TSM dominated Week One, crushing Team Liquid and long-time rival, CLG, to secure the number one seed.
- Team Liquid (TL): Utilized NRG's former jungler, Moon, as a replacement for Dardoch, who was placed on suspension by TL due to behavioral issues. This change did not pay off, resulting in two consecutive losses in Week One. Dardoch was Rookie of the Split this Spring and his presence was definitely missed. His suspension has officially run its course and Dardoch returned for TL's final game in its series against TSM and is slated to return to his position in Week Two.
- Cloud 9 (C9): Switched up the majority of their roster by moving former support and fan favorite, Hai, to C9's Challenger Series team, replacing him with BunnyFuFuu and Smoothie. The two supports will switch off during the season to match the needs of the team. Balls and Rush, C9's former top laner and jungler, are also headed to Challenger, being replaced by NRG's Impact and returning C9 veteran, Meteos. The team ended Week One at 1-1, leaving the effectiveness of this roster switch a mystery for now.
On the flip side, Immortals (IMT), Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) and Echo Fox (FOX) all chose to keep their Summer Split rosters exactly the same as they were in the Spring. It is still too early to know for sure if keeping things as they were will pay off for each team. Here's a quick rundown of how things went for each team during Week One:
- IMT: Spring Split's best performing team retained their gravitas, finishing the week at 2-0. Although they did lose one lone game during their match against C9, they are still tied for second seed and will, without a doubt, set their sights on TSM's top spot.
- CLG: The Spring Split champions currently sit tied for seventh seed with NRG, finishing Week One at 0-2. Whether or not their time away at MSI and subsequently shortened time to adjust to the new patch played a role in their performance remains to be seen.
- FOX: After suffering many roster issues last split, barely escaping a trip to the relegation tournament, Echo Fox seems to be making up for lost time in a big way. The team currently sits at fifth seed with a Week One finish of 1-1. With their full roster finally here to stay, there was really no need to make any changes. Echo Fox may be a hot team to watch this split.
Out Of The Shadows: Familiar Faces Return To The Rift
Much to the delight of their fanbases, many former LCS pros are returning to play for various teams this split. Some are joining new teams, some are coming home, and all of them are welcomed.
By far the most talked about player return, Meteos, has come home to C9 to fill their jungler position. C9 fans everywhere are elated to see the player return after stepping down following the 2015 Summer Split. So far, the change seems to have positively affected the entire team.
Also returning to the LCS scene is Santorin, TSM's former jungler, who stepped down at the end of the 2015 season. After spending the first half of this season playing for two Challenger Series teams, Europe's Team Huma and NA's Ember, Santorin is back in the LCS for the Summer Split as NRG's jungler. The team also facilitated the return of Quas, Team Liquid's former star top laner, who surprisingly retired after his most successful split to date in December 2015.
Other notable returns include Phoenix1's Slooshi, who took a leave of absence from the LCS in June 2015 to care for his sick mother. He had been playing for Team 8 for two years. Former Team Liquid alum, Xpecial, is also returning to the Rift, playing support for Apex this split. He left Team Liquid in 2015 due to synergy issues. Whether you remember them or not, these returning veterans are not to be underestimated.
The Road So Far And What Lies Ahead
Week One has proven that this competition is not as cut and dry as it seems. With new teams, new updates and new rosters, it is near impossible to predict this split's outcome currently. So much remains to be seen and we can expect eight more excitement packed weeks as these teams fight for the glory as they approach playoffs and Worlds. Week Two of the Summer Split goes live on Friday, June 10th with NRG vs. Immortals at 8pm EST/5pm PST, and can be streamed on Twitch or YouTube.