Bigger and Badder: NA's Much Improved LCS

As Cloud 9 depart for IEM Katowice, NA LCS results show a vastly improved division.
Cloud 9 LoL team at NA LCS Super Week 1
Cloud 9 at NA LCS Super Week 1 © Riot Games
By Rob Zacny

Europe might be in a state of absolute chaos, but North America's LCS standings are reassuring in their orderliness and predictability. The best teams coming into the season, Cloud 9 and Team SoloMid have performed almost exactly according to expectations, with TSM narrowly leading the division by a game over Cloud 9.

Counter Logic Gaming have finally fought their way back to relevance thanks to good roster changes and a strong emphasis on training and analysis. The poverty of strong teams that led to Cloud 9's 25-3 massacre of NA last summer is a thing of the past, and that's a huge relief for fans who worried about America's relevance in the global title chase.

Team SoloMid are on the verge of reclaiming their crown as North America's top LCS squad, atop the standings with an impressive 17-3 record and powered to the top by their sneaky, hard-to-kill mid laner Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. Bjergsen himself looks like he'll be a permanent fixture in NA, as he just got a five-year athletic visa from a League of Legends fan at the state department.

But it's not just Bjergsen. All of TSM are are at the top of their game right now, and they won all their games over the weekend with Andy "Reginald" Dinh subbing in the mid lane while Bjergsen handled his visa. TSM are once again playing like an all-star team after taking a drubbing at Worlds.

 Winning Consistency

The interesting thing about TSM's lead over Cloud 9 is that, head-to-head, Cloud 9 still appears to be the better team. They have won two of their three meetings with TSM, and it's remains hard to argue against Balls, Meteos, and Hai one of the smartest and most coordinated groups of playmakers in North America.

The thing is, TSM doesn't drop games to underdogs. With the exception of a single upset loss to Team Coast, TSM's only real foe has been Cloud 9. Cloud 9, on the other hand, have lost games to both CLG and Dignitas. Strong teams (especially CLG), but they're not quite in TSM's or C9's league just yet.

But the real canary in the coal mine for Cloud 9, whose next test is the international tournament at IEM Katowice this weekend, was their loss to XDG last week. With a record of 5-15 and rumors of a dysfunctional organization behind it, XDG is not the kind of team that should be a threat to Cloud 9. These kinds of lapses may not matter to Cloud 9 who are guaranteed a playoff spot, but they're the frustrating blemishes on what could be a near-spotless record.

Speaking of consistency, if there's one team with breakout potential for the final stages of NA LCS, it's got to be Dignitas. While they have a ways to go to catch up with CLG, they remain a sub-.500 team that often looks like a serious contender. Their game against CLG in the Super Week typified their struggles: they looked brilliant in the big teamfights, and almost had CLG on the run, but they just did not have the gameplan the needed to get the W. If they can just turn those tactical victories into map objectives and vision control, they'll rise in the standings.

What Katowice Means

Cloud 9 is North America's only representative at the IEM World Championship this weekend. They'll be playing against ace teams from around the world like Gambit, Korea's KT Rolster Bullets, and the Taipei Assassins. WIth a $60,000 prize on the line, obviously there's a lot to fight for. But Cloud 9's performance at Katowice will also be a telling indicator of how much the North American region has really improved.

Are Cloud 9 and TSM leading the division by a wide margin because they're truly great teams, or because NA remains a soft scene? The struggles of Evil Geniuses, who came in from Europe at the end of last year, hint that NA might be better than people gave it credit for being. But the problem for NA the last couple years has been an international stage that's left it far behind. Cloud 9 were shut down hard by Fnatic last year, and TSM haven't ever had a good showing at Worlds. Now, at IEM Katowice, Cloud 9 and NA are finally being measured by an international yardstick.

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