Here we are again: With more than a little déjà vu, North American clubs are 6-3 after the first week of games at Worlds. It's the same three teams -- Team SoloMid, Counter Logic Gaming and Cloud9 -- and the same overall regional record with the second round-robin looming.
Last year, the North American trio crashed and burned in the second week of Worlds, finishing 0-10 with none of them making it out of the group stage. While it'd be hasty to say, "Don't be worried. Everything will be fine," there are differences that make the 2016 North American trio different from its predecessor, even if the logos, team uniforms and a majority of the players are the same.
There is hope, North America.
Last year: 1-2
This year: 2-1
The easiest team to calm the nerves of North American hopefuls, TSM is a completely different group from that of the 2015 World Championships. Last year, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg was saddled with the responsibility to not only output almost all of his team's damage but be the main shotcaller as well. The funny thing about 2015 TSM, though, is that they were unexpectedly promising for large parts of the first week. In all three of its games in the first week, TSM, with better, decisive shotcalling, could have exited with a 3-0 record. TSM had leads going into the mid-game of all three contests that first week, and it was the miscommunication from the team members and porous play around objectives like Baron that plagued the squad.
In 2016, Bjergsen has an upgraded team around him in almost every position, and most importantly, when looking back at last year, he's been given help with the shotcalling in the form of his star AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng. Although the team lost to China's Royal Never Give Up in the opening match after gaining a lead in the early game, it isn't really comparable to last year's blunders. Mispositioning and getting caught out is what led to RNG winning the game over TSM, which is something that can be easily fixed. TSM lost last year due to a fractured team that couldn't get on the same page, and that is something much harder to fix, especially in the middle of a tournament playing against the top teams in the world.
TSM's win against Samsung Galaxy at this year's World Championships is what should give TSM fans (and North Americans) hope that this is a team that can get out of the "Group of Death."
During an interview with Flash Wolves' ace jungler Karsa, I asked him why his team continually has trouble with North American teams, and he answered: "With North American teams, once they get an advantage in the game, they're really good at snowballing atop of it and capitalizing on [chances]." That's what the North American teams at this tournament have shown at their brightest moments. For TSM, that was in the game against Samsung where it got a lead early and continually nurtured its lead in a healthy fashion before watching it become a blazing fire of a blowout. TSM were up almost 4k gold leaving the early game, near 9k by the 20-minute mark, and then almost 12k gold by 30-minutes.
The Baron, which plagued TSM throughout the 2015 World Championships, was taken a little after the 30-minute mark, and the North American champion had the game won before the clock hit '34' on the timer. Explosive, clinical, and efficient. We're not talking to the level of SK Telecom T1 or Samsung White at their peak, but TSM, when it plays like it did against Samsung, is a problem for any team in the competition, including any of the South Korean or Chinese teams.
Last year: 3-0
This year: 2-1
Cloud9, as weird as it sounds, look stronger going into Week 2 at a 2-1 record -- one of those wins coming from the opposing team showing its ineptitude to close the game -- than it did last year when it was 3-0 when the second round-robin began.
Last year, C9 (and CLG) used a quick turret pushing strategy in the first week of the tournament centered around the likes of Tristana and a mid laner like Veigar or Azir. The strategy worked, the teams didn't adapt, and the two teams, especially C9, profited from the clubs slow on the uptake. Going into Week 2 of that year, I thought that C9, a team known for its ability to pull rabbits out of their hats in terms of strategy, would have something new to surprise opponents. C9 didn't, and it lost four straight games, getting knocked out of the tournament.
Regardless, Cloud9 that year was never supposed to be at the World Championships. The team's roster was like a leaky boat plugged up with a lot of various objects found around the house. For a while, the boat was able to sail next to the other prized boats in the sea, yet, when the conditions started to test the craftsmanship, the bandages blew off, and the vessel sank.
This year, however, Cloud9 is actually sturdy. The team wasn't thrown together at the last minute, and it has a starting five that has consistently gotten better as the summer split progressed. The enforced standard lanes has let them focus more around its star top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, a former world champion and a force in the early game with threats in all three lanes.
C9's game against I May was similar to TSM's dissection of Samsung Galaxy, albeit a bit less impressive. It got the lead through an impressive early game kick started with a gank in the top lane, enabling Impact. C9 snowballed it from there, taking victories across the map while controlling the objectives. After giving up an early dragon around the eight minute mark, C9 was spotless throughout the mid game, not allowing the Chinese team to knock down its first tower until after the 30-minute mark.
Despite Flash Wolves bungling its game against C9 in the middle of the matchweek, C9 isn't winning with gimmicks this time around. The big matchup for the boys in blue and white will be the rematch against the very same FW. If it can get Impact a winning matchup and get him (and the team) ahead early, the team's composure and wherewithal to close out a game should lead them to at least a second-place seed leaving Group B. Issue is, if the Wolves can grapple away the lead early out of the laning phase and get its fast-tempo pace going that even stymied SKT T1, C9 can't count on another 70-minute game where the Wolves can't unlock the opposing base.
Counter Logic Gaming
Last Year: 2-1
This Year: 2-1
CLG, like C9, abused the fast-pushing strategy before being figured out in Week 2. This year, the Mid-Season Invitational finalist appears to be a better prepared and well-functioning team across the board.
In all three games CLG has played this tournament so far, it has had a chance to win. Its two wins were, no doubt, controlled and punched away accordingly. CLG got leads against G2 Esports and the ROX Tigers through nifty ganks in the bottom lane. Against G2 Esports, it was a perfectly timed flank by Darshan's Poppy that started CLG's snowball, and it was Huhi's Aurelion Sol roam against the Tigers that began rolling it in that game.
Although on paper CLG lack the individual firepower C9 and TSM possess pound-for-pound, it makes up for it in intuition and impeccable teamplay. In CLG's wins against G2 and ROX, both games ended under 37-minutes, and the North American club did its due diligence in gathering vision, setting up objectives, and never letting the opponent have an opportunity to pull a fast one on them. G2 was only able to manage a meager three turrets (no mid tower) with no other objectives, and ROX was only allowed to grab a single turret (again, no mid tower) and one dragon for its trouble. In both of its wins, CLG didn't allow the opposing team to knock down its mid tower, and thus blocked any easy entry point for its opponent to access its jungle.
When Flash Wolves lost to CLG last year, it still managed six turrets, three dragons, and one Baron. Even Pain Gaming, who lost in a quick 30-minutes, considerably shorter than either G2 or ROX this year, got four towers and a dragon before losing. CLG were winning games, but it wasn't controlling them.
This year, like TSM and C9 have in their marquee victories, CLG is taking control and playing like a team worthy of the quarterfinals. That's not to say all three will get out -- SSG and RNG are formidable oppositions for any team in the tournament -- but unlike the disaster of 2015, the three North American teams are equipped to advance past the group stage.
No gimmicks. No one man shows. No one-trick pony strategies.
Win or lose, North America will go into Week 2 with legitimate contenders for one of the first times since the early days of League of Legends. We'll see how far that gets them.