With Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming tied and Team SoloMid just one game behind them, this would be a dream season of League of Legends, if only it were still 2014. In 2016, it's still pretty great, but it's also bittersweet watching the big three of NA LCS playing their guts out for a (very) distant second-place behind a 12-0 Immortals team whose only real enemy is ennui. Setting Immortals aside for a second, NA LCS has turned into the best horse race this side of the US presidential primaries. Just four games cover the spread from second place down to eighth. This is turning into a classic season, with some real stakes for teams at both ends of the "LCS peloton".
That kind of close competition is bringing out the best in the long list of "good teams that are not Immortals". Echo Fox are finally starting to rally from their abysmal start, thanks to the return of their original lineup, and may actually be a threat to do well in the playoffs if they keep this up. I still want to see them develop a track record against some better teams before I say they're out of the woods (I have trouble attaching a lot of weight to wins over Renegades and Impulse) but there's no denying that most of Echo Fox's problems seemed to go away along with the substitute players.
Cloud9 started showing flashes of the old magic this week with their comeback against Team Solomid thanks to the game-defining dominance of An "BalIs" Van Le. The 9/1/11 KDA his Gangplank posted against TSM doesn't really do justice to how important Balls' plays were, especially when C9 were under siege by TSM at their mid inhibitor and seemed like they would have no choice but to concede it (the match is great, but the important stuff starts happening around 50 minutes into that video).
That game was the perfect antidote to anyone who has felt that pro LoL has become too rote, too predictable to be exciting. Teams in C9's position usually lose in a depressingly predictable way, suffering a death by a thousand cuts as their base gets peeled like an onion and their sieging team only takes time-off to get Barons or bait an unwise engagement out of the defender. Instead, Cloud9 managed a tricky defence and then turned the entire game around with a counterattack that caught TSM completely flat-footed.
Speaking of flat-footed, are Immortals starting to show a bit of complacency? They barely showed-up to the first half of their match against Renegades, which is forgiveable considering how poorly Renegades have performed this season. But Immortals gave up an awful lot of kills that Renegades should have been able to turn into map objectives. It's probably nothing, and Immortals were never really in much danger of losing that game given how little Renegades made of their opportunities. Immortals seemed to make a special point of demolishing Team Liquid on Sunday, so they can still eviscerate an opponent at-will.
Still, you can see the rest of the NA LCS contenders are pushing each other and making each other better teams. They have good enemies, and a good enemy is a blessing. Immortals don't yet have anyone that's quite worthy of the name. With a long eight months until they face the rest of the world for the global title, they could use one.
Top photo: Doublelift and Bjergsen together at NA LCS, by Riot Games. Source