The action from the 2016 North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split has been intense throughout the regular season, and we've reached the point in the season when champions are made -- the playoffs.
Everything that's happened over the course of nine weeks of play can be traced all the way back to before the season, and in an effort to trace the paths of success or the lack thereof, we're taking a look back at everything from the preseason through the most recent games played.
All of the teams were busy in the leadup to the 2016 Spring Split. Many spent the offseason bolstering their rosters with talent from Europe and Korea, while other teams prepared for their first seasons in the LCS.
Immortals was one of the most-hyped teams in the offseason, having purchased Team 8's LCS spot prior to the start of the Spring Split. The hype was eventually proven to be real, but it's even more incredible when you look at where they all came from. Prior to the Spring Split, this is a squad that had never played together, with the notable exception of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Kim "Reignover" Ui-jin who, in 2015, played for the best team in the European LCS, fnatic. The rest of the club was put together with castaways from other teams:
Eugene "Pobelter" Justice Park played for Counter Logic Gaming and lost his starting role to Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun, despite helping the team win the Summer Playoffs and make a trip to Worlds
Adrian "Adrian" Ma put together lackluster results on Team Impulse in 2015
Jason "Wildturtle" Tran was the AD carry for Team SoloMid last year, but was replaced by Yilang "Doublelift" Peng in the offseason
These discarded NA players grouped up with two of EU's top players to make up one of the best teams that the NA LCS has ever seen. The team won its first 12 games of the season and just missed tying an NA LCS record by one game. It's not a generalization to say that all of Immortals' players have had great splits, as each of the starters finished with the best or second best KDA ratios at their respective positions. Just take a look at some of their statistics:
Pobelter, Immortals' mid laner, finished with a 8.5 KDA ratio -- the best amongst his position
Wildturtle led all North American AD carries with a 7 KDA ratio
Reignover's 8.3 KDA ratio was the top mark for junglers
Adrian finished with the best KDA ratio among supports, clocking in at at 8.7
Huni was the only player on Immortals who didn't have the best KDA ratio for his role (5.1), but that was only because Renegades' top laner Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong's 7.9 KDA was boosted, thanks to playing in only nine games this split
Few experts or fans expected Immortals to dominate the competition to this degree. The team showed that it knows how to play the meta well, and the great macro play helped maintain gold leads early in games despite falling behind in kills. In what was arguably its most impressive win of the season, Immortals showed off its skills on the Rift, beating Team Impulse in record-setting fashion in a blitz of skills and strategy -- winning the contest in just over 18 minutes while managing to avoid losing a tower or recording a single death.
Immortals' win streak became "the" story for much of the LCS, but the streak came crashing down and the momentum briefly halted in the first game of Week 7. Reigning NA LCS champion Counter Logic Gaming was able to get its top laner, Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha, a lead in lane, which helped him split push Immortals to oblivion and saddle the dominant club with its only loss of the season. Considering Immortals developed a potentially damaging habit of starting games off slow, it wasn't surprising that the team finally did lose a game. It's interesting to note that Immortals' support Adrian predicted CLG could be the team to end the win streak in a post-game interview on Day 1 of Week 6.
While Immortals had huge success with its European imports, other teams weren't quite as lucky. Leading into the second week of the Spring Split, Riot performed a behind-the-scenes audit of players' work eligibility and found that some players didn't have the correct paperwork needed to compete in the LCS region they were playing in. Former NBA player Rick Fox's team Echo Fox -- in its inaugural season, no less -- was the North American team hit hardest in this audit.
Let's take a step back. The former Los Angeles Lakers forward entered the esports scene by purchasing Gravity Gaming's LCS spot, building and rebranding a new team in the form of Echo Fox. The team was designed around two foreign players who were stars in their respective countries -- Henrik "Froggen" Hansen and Park "kfo" Jeong-hun.
Riot's crackdown on paperwork forced Echo Fox to forfeit their game against NRG esports in Week 2 because they couldn't even field an eligible roster.
While this was the only game the team had to forfeit, it was forced to play the next five games without their star overseas duo, having to replace each of them with Challenger Series players. The results were predictably putrid, as Echo Fox went winless over the next five games after starting the season with a 1-1 record. Once the paperwork was sorted out and Froggen and kfo returned to the lineup, Echo Fox naturally began to win games again.
Froggen carried Echo Fox to victories in the first four games that he was back in the lineup and set the world record for highest CS in a game with 764 during Week 8's match against Team Dignitas. Echo Fox ended the split in seventh place with a 6-12 record, just three wins shy of a tie for the bottom seed in the playoffs. It's tough to say what would have happened if Echo Fox was allowed to use its full roster for the entire season, but it's easy to imagine a scenario where it could have been among the six teams in the playoffs fighting for the title had things played out differently.
While the 2016 Spring Split was a first for many organizations and players, it was also notably the first time a woman competed in the LCS. Maria "Remi" Creveling helped Renegades earn a spot in the LCS after winning the 2015 North American Challenger Series playoffs, but played just three weeks with the team during the Spring Split before stepping down. Renegades only managed to win one of its six games during the stretch before Remi cited personal issues as one of the main reasons for the move.
On Renegades' subreddit forum she delved into the decision further, stating that she only wanted to make it to the LCS and didn't care much about the actual competition. She had already completed her goal of being the first woman in the LCS and decided she should move on and pursue her other options. As a fan of the game, it was exciting to see that League of Legends didn't have to be a "boys only" club, even if it was only for a brief period of time in the LCS -- and there's hope that Remi's rise to the top level of LoL inspires more women to pick up the game, especially at a competitive level.
Now that the split is over, the top six teams in the standings are preparing for the playoffs. In this best-of-five single elimination tournament, each team competes for the right to be named the first North American team to qualify for Worlds this year.
Cloud9 and Team SoloMid face each other in the Quarterfinals, with that winner advancing to play Immortals in the Semifinals. While Cloud9 and TSM split their season series matchup, neither team was able to knock off Immortals -- making their potential route to the championship all the more difficult.
Team Liquid and NRG esports square off in the other Quarterfinals matchup, with that winner slated to face Counter Logic Gaming. Team Liquid stomped on NRG esports in their first game of the split, but NRG returned the favor in the second. CLG's most successful strategy throughout the season has been split pushing, but that didn't work well for it in the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament, where teams adapted to it and were able to best CLG in a best-of-3 series. If CLG reaches the Semifinals, it'll be curious to see whether or not Team Liquid can identify a formula to beat CLG in what has the potential to be an instant classic.