The regular season championship was a good accomplishment for the Immortals in their first split as a North American League Championship Series organization. This season, however, it's championship or bust for the men in green and black, as the bronze medalists from the spring playoffs started its retribution campaign with a 2-0 weekend and an overall map score of 4-1.
Immortals dropped their first map of the last split in the dying weeks of the regular season, while it only took the first day of action to drop a map this time around. Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and his team prevailed in a close contest versus the revamped Cloud9, and followed it up on Sunday with a more convincing sweep over the scrappy newcomers from Phoenix1. An 18-0 perfect match record is still on the table with eight weeks to go, but the real prize for Immortals awaits in Jason "WildTurtle" Tran's hometown of Toronto, Canada at the NA LCS finals in the end of August.
After getting off to a nice head start this past weekend, ESPN sat down with Immortals' support, Adrian "Adrian" Ma, to get his thoughts on the new best-of-three format in the NA LCS and the team's mentality for the rest of the summer.
"I really like the best-of-three series," Ma said. "We drafted really bad the first two games [against C9] and fixed our mistakes in the third game. The better team can always adapt and fix their mistakes during the series."
The addition of the best-of-three format in the NA LCS might benefit the Immortals more than any other club. In a season where the team looked unstoppable, it was a drastic meta shift in the playoffs and a stagnant, stubborn playstyle by the Immortals in the semifinals against Team SoloMid that knocked the Immortals out runnings. Now with the ability to try innovative compositions and play around more with different styles as the league has more games, the Immortals can find different avenues to go down besides the topside of the map with Huni.
"We took our time to reset and refocus," Ma replied when asked why the Immortals were one of the only North American teams not to bootcamp in Korea this offseason. "We didn't want to burn out and play too much. We feared going to Korea really wouldn't help us, because if the [NA] teams got really good there and came back, we would learn from them, which really wasn't the case. They came back the same. No one looks way better."
So although Ma and company didn't go to Korea, they did get to see the changes in the online realm of League of Legends. Riot announced solo queue would be officially getting the axe, and dynamic queue would be the main way of playing ranked online. For the very top of the ladder, mostly chock-full of pro-gamers, dynamic queue was changed so that people couldn't group as five. Instead, the best players of each server can only solo, duo, or trio queue, resulting in longer queue times, and forcing the pro-gamers to take drastic measures.
"I really hate it," he admitted right away. "Queue times are so long. I wait an hour and I don't even get support. I can't really practice the game. We only have time to play when we scrim, actually. It really sucks, especially as a support main. You'd expect me to get support really fast, but my queue times are really bad. I'm really high on the ladder right now too, so it really sucks."
"It takes, like, about forty minutes to get into the game, and its always at support," he added.
Although not in attendance himself, Ma felt at least somewhat apart of the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai, China this past month. One of the revolutionaries of the ranged support meta in North America with his patented banana slinging Soraka, he had to watch as the likes of SK Telecom T1 and Counter Logic Gaming used the power of ranged supports like Soraka, Nami, and Sona to make the finals of the major tournament.
"I was really sad I couldn't get to play there to see how I compare to them," he said. "The ranged supports didn't look that strong, even though they [were played]. I felt like if I was there I could play them more efficiently. Aphromoo did a good job, but the other regions weren't that strong. Only Korea was ahead."
Following his answer, I inquired where he thought his region of North America stacked up against the rest in terms of overall strength.
"I've heard a lot of NA teams -- when they were in Korea -- the Chinese teams weren't even a match for them," he said. "They did really well against Chinese teams, LMS teams. They were only struggling against the top Korean teams, if they could even scrim them."
"So you'd say right now North America is the second best region?" I asked.
While that might have sounded ludicrous a few months ago, it's less crazy now. Europe and China both possess two elite teams in G2 Esports and Royal Never Give up, respectively, but the depth of the regions is still a concern. For all the issues North America has gone through over the last two to three years, the depth has never been better. CLG made the finals of MSI, TSM look better than ever with the addition of Vincent "Biofrost" Wang at support, the Immortals have been consistently strong, and the rookie organizations of Team Envy and Apex Gaming are appearing incredibly adept for challengers. All in all, outside of the empire that is South Korea's League of Legends scene, North America can stand tall beside any other region in the world.
"We have to think and be as fast as the Koreans," he said, explaining what NA LCS teams can do to compete with the LCK representatives at the upcoming World Championships. "They're always thinking ahead. They know when to [act on] their power spikes. They understand the game so well and put in so much effort. Everyone -- they all train so hard. We need to train really hard this year, and always think ahead about how to beat them."
Ma and the Immortals will be back in action this weekend in Week 2 of the NA LCS summer regular season. The club starts it all off on Friday night against the struggling 0-2 NRG Esports before heading to the Rift on Sunday afternoon in a marquee showdown with currently unbeaten Team SoloMid.