State of the LCS: TSM atop the standings as other teams make roster swaps

by Xander Torres

After three weeks of League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) action, stories are beginning to develop as teams find their footing this summer. There have already been big roster swaps, meta changes and teams sliding both up and down the standings. The state of the LCS is always changing and these are the biggest stories of the first few weeks of the summer split.

Musical chairs

This summer, LCS teams haven’t been afraid to pull the trigger on a roster swap or two. With spring records carrying over into the summer (unlike previous years) and eight out of the 10 teams qualifying for the 2021 LCS Championship, there appears to be a greater sense of urgency.

After a single loss, Team Liquid announced the benching of star top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris for Team Liquid Academy top laner Thomas “Jenkins” Tran. Just before the split began, Cloud9 opted to start Oceanic AD carry Calvin “k1ng” Truong in favor of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, who had performed well at the Mid-Season Invitational last month. Dignitas -- despite being fairly successful in the spring -- also made changes mid-split as they benched Max “Soligo” Soong and Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett after a couple of weeks of LCS play.

Read more: Jenkins discusses how ‘surprised’ he was to get called up by Team Liquid

It feels like a game of musical chairs with a different LCS team making a new roster swap every week. In the short term, the roster swaps haven’t really worked out for any of these teams, as they’re all sporting a summer win percentage under .500.

Team Liquid are on the record stating that Alphari will make a return this weekend, but Jenkins has hardly been the source of his team’s struggles. Cloud9 have been plagued by early-game inconsistencies, but they have a tendency to bounce back when it matters most. In Dignitas’ case, recent roster swaps look like desperation tactics as they attempt to stay afloat with a 14-13 season record.

Photo credit: Riot Games

TSM sit atop the LCS

Every year, it feels like TSM push to be at the top of the LCS, but fail to hit the same highs they enjoyed with Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng in their lineup. These days, though, TSM feel like a well-oiled machine without an over-centralized star player. Whether it’s top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage or even jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu, anyone on the team can carry.

Read more: 10 years of Twitch: Streaming goes mainstream

Spica, in particular, continues to lead TSM with standout performances in the jungle on just about any meta pick. As the only remaining player from TSM’s 2020 lineup, it’s no surprise that he’s taken the reins for this team and further developed his own play as a result. TSM currently sport an overall season record of 19-8 (7-2 this summer), and while some of the games aren’t pretty -- they still struggle with closing out early-game leads -- they sit comfortably atop the LCS standings above longtime rivals Team Liquid and Cloud9.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Caster supports are back in vogue

At the Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year, tank supports were a foregone conclusion in the draft stage. Nautilus, Leona, Alistar and Thresh dominated the engage game, while champions like Braum and Tahm Kench offered a more defensive approach to teamfights with all of the same beefy tank stats. The early game in League of Legends is paramount to team success and these champions offer the best early playmaking potential, making for smooth team plays in the laning phase and around Elemental Drakes and the Rift Herald.

Since the return of the LCS this summer though, caster champions have made their way back into the game with Karma and Lulu sprouting up not only in the bot lane, but also top and mid. Engage supports still run the game, but following the buff of Shurelya’s Battlesong -- a support item that grants your team a burst of movement speed -- champions like Karma and Lulu can offer similar engagement potential mid game. As a result, we’ve seen more “run and gun” compositions centered around carries like Ezreal, Varus and Kog’Maw who were much less popular compared to the likes of Kai’Sa and Tristana last split.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Counter Logic Gaming aren’t out yet

Most of the LCS season has been a struggle for Counter Logic Gaming -- with a record of 9-18 -- but they’ve won four of their last six games, with one of those wins coming against the second-place 100 Thieves. Last week, CLG drafted “easier” compositions centered around hard engage, most notably being the first team to pick Vi in the jungle alongside Galio mid. In a meta centered around strong early-game junglers with fast clears, Vi stands to match most of their early-game strength with a powerful engage ultimate to boot.

Counter Logic Gaming top laner Finn “Finn” Wiestål described the team approach as being centered around “everyone being able to find angles.” If everyone on the team has a strong crowd control ability, everyone has the potential to start a fight and follow up on an aggressive play. Macro play is often the focus of most LCS teams, but Finn described Counter Logic Gaming’s recent focus as an attempt to shore up their teamfighting with less focus on strategic aspects of the game. The approach is far from pretty, especially when drafting champions that don’t perform as well in the meta, but it’s refreshing for a team to recognize their weaknesses and go all in on one specific strength.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Dignitas continue to slide down the standings

Dignitas earned a fair amount of fanfare at the start of the 2021 season for being a full North American squad without international players, but recent trends have not favored the team. Dignitas sport a 3-6 record this summer and have lost four games in a row, dropping them to a tie for fifth place in the league with Evil Geniuses. Based on that standing the sky isn’t falling, but with jungler Dardoch being benched last weekend, the team’s strong identity centered around early-game jungle pressure and mid-game teamfighting has gone missing.

Dignitas’ still have a full North American squad with Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham currently playing jungle in Dardoch’s stead, but the team hardly feels the same. Both Akaadian and mid laner David “Yusui” Bloomquist are performing well enough given the circumstances, but the team’s main carry Toàn “Neo” Trần is rarely put in a position to carry these days. Alongside Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Neo made most of the team’s magic happen in the bot lane during the spring, but that just isn’t happening this summer. If Dignitas want to stop their skid and remain in contention, they’ll have to figure out their identity moving forward.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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