North America has begun the 2017 League of Legends World Championship with a bang, with all three NA representatives going 2-1 in the first week of the Group Stage. The strong start in Wuhan marks the third year in a row NA has ended week 1 of the Worlds Group Stage with a 6-3 record.
Don’t cut into that apple pie yet, though. In 2015, NA went 0-10 in week 2, capped off by Cloud 9 losing a fourth straight game in a tiebreaker with AHQ to advance to the quarterfinals. In 2016, Cloud 9 was the only North American representative to advance to the Quarterfinals, and only by the skin of their teeth before being swept off the bracket by a surging Samsung Galaxy. NA hasn’t had more than one team in the Quarterfinals since 2014.
Will this be a threepeat of a disappointing week two, or will this be the year NA finally gets a team past quarters? Let’s check in with Group B NA representative: Immortals.
Immortals CEO Noah Whinston has to feel pretty smart right about now.
Despite fielding a star-studded roster for their inaugural season, Immortals came up short when it mattered most, failing to qualify for the 2016 League of Legends World Championship despite only losing five matches the entire year. Immortals went full rebuild, resigning only one player from their previous roster in Mid Laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. Hopes weren’t high for Immortals in the 2017 NA LCS (North American League Championship Series), and when the 2017 Spring Split ended with Immortals in 7th place, the placing was met with murmurs and disappointed nods, not shock and outcry. The newest NA LCS powerhouse had vanished as quickly as it arrived; a failed attempt at shaking up the triumvirate of NA elite squads TSM, Cloud 9, and Counter Logic Gaming.
When Immortals traded volatile star Jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett to CLG for veteran Jake “Xmithie” Puchero before the 2017 NA LCS Summer Split, the community raised a collective eyebrow. Dardoch, while enigmatic, was the only high point of the spring split for Immortals, and Xmithie was viewed as the weak point of a declining CLG. However, the trade fell right in line for an organization committed to the long-term — Xmithie’s veteran presence would serve well in developing rookie AD Carry Cody “Cody Sun” Sun, and his leadership and experience was expected to help the team gel and build towards long term success.
Xmithie wasn’t interested in waiting.
Immortals flourished immediately, finishing 2nd in summer off of the back of a career defining split by their new Jungler, as well as MVP caliber performances from Support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. With a new Head Coach in Korean mastermind Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, Immortals possessed the best team play in North America. After qualifying for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship with an attempt to dethrone defending champions TSM, Immortals finished second in the 2017 NA LCS Summer Playoffs, making their first ever Grand Final as an organization.
Representing North America at Worlds as the 2nd seed, Immortals found themselves in a group with Longzhu Gaming, Gigabyte Marines, and Fnatic, losing to the former and defeating the latter pair and finishing the first week of group stage play in 2nd place.
After edging out an impressive early lead over Longzhu Gaming, a brilliant baron call in the mid game by the LCK (League of Legends Champions Korea) Champions sealed Immortals’ fate in a matter of minutes.
However, Immortals repeated the strong early game performance against Gigabyte Marines, this time transitioning it into a smooth methodical victory in the late game. Against Fnatic, Immortals faltered early on, giving far too many kills to star AD Carry Martin “Rekkles” Larson, who loomed as a huge threat on Twitch for the entirety of the 50 minute showdown. However, Immortals showed superior macro play and kept pace with Fnatic at only a slight deficit, using Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong’s advantage in the top lane to punish Paul “sOAZ” Boyer over and over again.
After a deathless game, Rekkles got greedy, flashing forward for a kill on Pobelter only to be deleted by the rest of Immortals. His death ended up being the difference; Immortals were bowing to the crowd just moments later.
Of the three NA representatives, Immortals has the clearest path out of the group stage. Group B is unique in that all four teams march to the beat of the same drum — they are all about the early game. While the focal points or specific strategies in place may vary from team to team, the entirety of Group B is looking to play an aggressive early game and snowball from there. Since all four teams have a strong early game, the most crucial factor is the staying power of each team’s strength as the game goes on.
Longzhu beat Immortals in 30 minutes despite losing the game for the first 25 minutes because of superior late game shotcalling. Immortals never let Fnatic close the door despite having their best player on a a 6/0 Twitch for 20+ minutes because Immortals was so good at eeking out little advantages around the map to mitigate the losses. Longzhu is far and away the best team in Group B, but Immortals has a significantly higher level of macro play when compared to the representatives from the GPL (Garena Pro League) and the EU LCS (European League Championship Series).
Immortals will exit this group as the #2 seed, and that sets up some very interesting potential matchups in the Quarterfinals. Let’s break down the likely possibilities:
Immortals vs. Samsung Galaxy
This is a matchup Immortals would almost certainly lose. Samsung’s late game is world renowned, and while Immortals may snowball a game, their players don’t possess the firepower to consistently overrun Samsung’s players on an individual level. This matchup would almost certainly see Immortals going down in the Quarterfinals.
Immortals vs. Royal Never Give Up
Not the worst matchup, but definitely in favor of RNG. Liu “mlxg” Shi Yu might be the most one dimensional jungler at the tournament, but if he’s one step ahead of Xmithie to the bot lane this could turn into “The Uzi Show” pretty quickly. However, if Olleh and Xmithie can establish deep vision in the early game, mlxg’s predictable routes will be lit up like a Christmas tree. mlxg is the Tasmanian Devil, and Xmithie will have to be a pretty crafty Bugs if Immortals is going to have a chance.
Immortals vs. TSM
An NA LCS Summer Finals rematch would be one of the better Quarterfinals draws for Immortals. TSM’s early game has been atrocious thus far at the World Championship. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has been a heavy anchor for his squad, serving best thus far in his own words as “the sacrifical lamb” of TSM. TSM’s early games woes are mostly due to Svenskeren’s struggle to curb the over aggressive tendencies that plagued him throughout the year. However, backline stars Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg have had a fantastic start to the World Championship, and they’re no strangers to late game melodrama. If Immortals fails to accelerate the early game enough to crack the nexus before the late game, TSM will be in its zone, and Immortals will once again watch the throne.
Immortals vs. Team WE
This is the best matchup Immortals can hope for.
WE and Immortals have similar points of strength. Both rosters possess world class junglers, and both rosters favor playing through the bot lane. While WE is the stronger team on paper, its level of play has a far higher variance, occasionally looking completely anemic in the early game as shown in the play-in stage against Lyon Gaming. Immortals may have the slightly lower ceiling, but it is the more consistent of the two teams.
Immortals will have to change its game plan if matched up against Team WE in the Quarterfinals. Despite all the hype around legendary RNG AD Carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, Jin “Mystic” Sung-jun was the best ADC in China this summer. Regardless of which Support player WE pairs with Mystic, Cody Sun and Olleh will have their hands full. Pobelter is a good player, but against a player of Li “Xiaohu” Yuan Hao’s caliber, going even will have to be enough. IMT should look to play through the top lane. Flame is the only Immortals laner with a definitive skill advantage over his counterpart, and mlxg plays far more to the bot side of the map than the top side.
If Immortals can draft strong carry champions in favorable matchups for Flame, then he may be able to turn the clock back to 2013 and send WE into the horizon. However, the snowball must start rolling early — when it comes to late game team fighting, Team WE is second only to the top Korean teams. Immortals will have to focus on making sure their advantages from the early game continue to accelerate into the mid game for a swift victory.
Immortals vs. SK Telecom T1
Yeah, that about sums it up.
Immortals is the most likely of the three NA teams to advance to the Quarterfinals, but after that, things start to get dicey. Almost all potential matchups end in their likely defeat. A rematch with TSM could lead to a semifinals berth, but WE remains the best matchup, even if it is 50/50 at best.
Immortals will escape Group B as the #2 seed, but they will meet their end in the Quarterfinals.