There can be no central League of Legends narrative in North America but this: North America has suffered internationally, as a region. Every season, thus, carries with it one crucial question: is this the year North America performs on the international scene.
NA or N/A
In Season 1, the narrative was a tale of new metas. The EU ADC/Support bot meta, or the NA Tank/Support bot meta. The EU meta dominated, and has gone on to define the game since. Fnatic took home the Season 1 championship.
In Season 2, NA underperformed at Worlds so hard that CLG.EU was jokingly referred to as America’s Last Hope (if you don’t get the joke, the EU in CLG.EU stands for Europe, but the team was a sister team to the CLG from NA).
In Season 3, Cloud 9 dominated North America. But what’s more, they did it largely by adapting what they could learn from the Korean scene, with champions like Kennen, Rumble, and Ryze top. Their 35-3 spree in North America led us all to believe that the NA scene had finally caught up to the international scene (or at least Cloud 9). And then Cloud 9 lost 1-2 to Fnatic and had to go home. Once again, Fnatic had thwarted North America’s international hopes.
Coming into this season, there was a lot of pressure on the North American scene to catch up to the rest of the world. To some degree, Cloud 9 has answered those pressures, beating Fnatic 2-0 at BotA, and thrashing both World Elite and TPA at IEM Katowice. Before losing 1-2 — once again — to Fnatic. It would be all too easy and simplify this to a Fnatic/Cloud 9 rivalry. But really, it’s a Fnatic/North America rivalry. Cloud 9 once again has dominated the North American scene, going 24-4 in the season
But there were also internal stories.
Season 4 saw a few European players taking the NA scene by storm. Bjergsen, heralded as one of the best mids in Europe, was signed to TSM, while Yellowpete, Krepo, and Snoopeh, 60% of CLG.EU/EG, moved to NA under the name EG.
Bjergsen was supposed to revitalize a TSM which had fallen to 3rd place in the last season, while EG was expected to be somewhat dominant, in line with the EU/NA rivalry.
In the former case, Bjergsen rocked mid lane, taking home the MVP award for the season, and carrying TSM to the #2 spot in NA.
In the latter cases, EG stormed onto the NA scene with dominant Challenger Series showings. However, they have since fallen off hard, barely securing 7th place. Their mid lane (Pobelter) and bot lane (Yellowpete/Krepo) struggled to make an impact at all. On the other hand, Snoopeh and Innox showcased spotty but occasionally spectacular play. It would seem that Krepo bit off a bit too much apple pie to handle, and EG will have little time to digest and prepare for their relegation match against Cloud 9 Tempest
A Failed Resurrection
Vulcun was a strong but spotty team in Season 3 Summer Split, taking 2nd place in the season, and being the only team to manage an even record against Cloud 9 (2-2). To this day, they remain the NA team with the most wins against Cloud 9 (3). However, they were also known for their throws. They took down Fnatic in day 1 of the group stages at the World Championships, then proceeded to throw two or three wins and fail to escape the group stages.
In the off season, they re-branded themselves “XDG” (out of hardship, glory). They also swapped Zuna (one of the top NA ADCs) to the jungle, and Xmithie (one of the top NA junglers) to ADC. With their re-worked roster, they struggled, falling to last place. Mid season, they dropped their support, picked up a new jungler, and moved Zuna around to Support before eventually returning to their Season 3 roster, with Sheep in place of Bloodwater. Their new roster managed to take down Cloud 9 and TSM in the final weeks, and despite being the last-place team, they showed that they have the potential to beat any NA team, with 1 (and only 1) win vs every other NA team. They’ll have to show off that potential vs the Challenger Series dominating LMQ, however, to have another hope at playing in the LCS.
Dignitas had a strong early start, going 6-2 with a win over Cloud 9. But a more measured analysis of their position revealed much more shaky footing than they should hope. Four of their wins had been over Coast, XDG, and EG, the shakiest of NA teams. They had only managed to eke a 1-1 split with CLG, a team who suffered from an incomplete roster. And yes, they had beaten Cloud 9, but an uncharacteristically confused and experimental looking Cloud 9, who had run Riven mid and Leona support both for the first time of the season.
Overall, the record of teams they had beaten was 18-30, leaving them with the easiest early schedule of any NA LCS team. From there, they would go 6-14, then lose to Curse in the playoffs, managing to avoid relegation with a 2-1 series over Coast.
Coast has one of the strangest stories, in that it is so normal. They have very strong solo laners who have dominated when ahead, but failed to fully carry their team. But there do not appear to be matchup issues for Coast. Many teams have one team they just can’t beat, despite being higher ranked than them. Coast was 7-1 against teams ranked below them, but 3-13 against teams ranked higher than them. If they are knocked out of the relegation, look to see other teams attempt to pick up Shiphtur and possibly ZionSpartan, as they have shown themselves to be excellent players.
CLG is famous for playing second-fiddle to TSM. Let’s ignore for now the fact that Cloud 9 outclasses them both; CLG looked poised to take the #2 spot away from TSM. They had a rough start with Dexter away for their first 9 games, and started 4-5, but rocket up to 3rd with a stunning 14-5. They managed to take Game 1 away from TSM in the playoffs, and looked poised to win Game 2, before choking and tilting to two straight losses. The team looks strong, however, so look to see them come out strong next split.
Cloud 9 came into this split with big shoes to fill. They went 24-4 last split, and were considered the best NA team by a considerably margin. However, there was some concern that they wouldn’t be able to hold such dominance. However, few would say that 25-3 and a 5-0 playoffs run suggests anything but continued dominance of the NA scene. Hopefully, they can finally earn international success at All Stars.