It was another remarkable week for the North American League of Legends Championship Series, and if there was ever a season to get into the scene, I would love for it to be this one. This last weekend not only featured awesome matches between top-of-the-table teams, but also showcased some Sunday upsets to shake things up. Team Liquid and TSM clashed on Friday and Cloud9 faced off against 100 Thieves on Sunday for some epic bouts. Meanwhile, the 1-10 CLG beat the 7-4 Dignitas and the 3-8 FlyQuest beat the 8-3 TSM to make it known that the only thing for certain in the league is that Golden Guardians is in last. Every other spot is up for grabs, and it looks like it very well might come down to the wire.
That said, it’s time to focus on the individuals. In a league with this much turmoil in the standings, maybe the best approach for ranking teams is how their players have stacked up against the competition so far. Arguably the most important position is the mid lane. Located in the middle of the map, mid laners often have the most opportunities to help out their surrounding players and single-handedly contribute great amounts to the team’s success.
1. Cloud9’s Luka “Perkz” Perković
Perkz really grew into his role as the best mid laner over the last few weeks and has looked the best he has all year in recent games. He isn’t quite as flashy as some of the others on this list, but Perkz’s true potential lies elsewhere. His legacy is unmatched in the West, making it to semifinals at Worlds as a mid laner, finals and semifinals at the next two Worlds tournaments as an AD Carry, and is now back in the mid lane. His stint in North America might be just another notch on his belt at this point, and he’s well on the way to achieving it. His champion pool is deep enough to always provide versatility to his team and he’s mechanically sound, but his true value lies in his ability to lead a team. Surrounded by younger talents, it’s no surprise that he’s able to harness the chaotic nature within his teammates and translate it to on-stage success.
2. TSM’s Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage
TSM’s 8-4 record owes a lot to the performance of PowerOfEvil. He’s made a name for himself over his career by being able to ascend to a level in games that other players simply can’t match. When he’s in the zone, no single player can resist his dominance. He has played some incredible League of Legends this season, earning himself the Week two Player of the Week as well as four Player of the Game awards, just behind Cloud9’s Blaber. He’s found most of his success this year on the likes of Azir and Viktor, slower-paced mages who can shut down entire teams when played well. If he continues at this level, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
3. Evil Geniuses’ Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro
The Italian Stallion is the most electrifying player you will see, capable of turning games into his own personal stomping ground. He’s versatile in his picks, although he prefers some of the more niche picks that spend a lot of time in side lanes challenging players to come and stop him from ending the game on his own. His style of unabashed aggressiveness makes him polarizing, as his bad games look sincerely awful. That said, his ability to win or lose games based on whether or not he’s simply better than his opponents is a very healthy thing for the scene to have, and he should be respected for what he brings to the league.
4. Team Liquid’s Nicolaj Jensen
Is it strange to wonder how the mighty have fallen if he’s still fourth in the league? Jensen was the man to beat when he first entered the league in 2015. He’s been downright dominant until this year, when he and the entire team have seemingly taken multiple steps back from their unquestioned greatness. Team Liquid were the easy favorites for the title this year, but even now they sit at 7-5, tied for fourth with two other teams. What’s even more peculiar is that Jensen has only won on three different champions: the very meta picks of Azir, Orianna and Syndra. He’s attempted five other games on five different champions, all losses. Jensen won’t lose you games, but as of right now, it’s hard to believe he’ll win you games either.
5. FlyQuest’s Cristian Palafox
Believe me when I say nobody expected Palafox to break out like this. Regardless of the talent he’s facing surrounded by a subpar team, Palafox has exerted pressure and controlled the state of the mid lane. Most notably in FlyQuest’s upset victory against TSM, his Sylas pick was single-handedly keeping them in the game at times. TSM sold out trying to shut down Palafox and propel PowerOfEvil to an advantage, but somehow Palafox ended up better off than his opposition. He punished them hard and led his team to a victory nobody saw coming. This type of talent is what makes Palafox the best native North American mid laner and deserving of a high spot on the list.
6. 100 Thieves’ Tanner Damonte
Damonte is at his best when he can support his team and, if successful, he looks truly elite among mid laners. Still, teams have successfully adapted to him better than any other player in the league. The two best champions for supporting his team, which he showcased during the Lock In tournament prior to the current season, are Twisted Fate and Galio. During the tournament, he went a blistering 5-0 on them, but teams have banned those two out almost permanently. During the 12 games so far this year, he’s gotten the champions just three times for a 2-1 record. Other than those two, he’s had middling success on other champions. He’s rode four games of Orianna to a 3-1 record, but it’s hard to believe Damonte can exert the same pressure on a reactionary control mage that he could on a proactive supportive champion.
7. Immortals’ David “Insanity” Challe
Insanity has been far from outwardly bad. In fact, he’s probably looked the best among his peers on a struggling Immortals squad. Still, that doesn’t necessarily make him good. His performance on Azir and Orianna have left something to be desired, going 2-6 on those two champions. He has found success on Viktor and was one of the first in NA to realize the potential of Tristana, so maybe he can pilot those two to some better results. But when you can’t find wins on the champions everyone is playing, there is cause for concern. If Immortals is to have success, it will be through him — and he needs to play better.
8. Dignitas’ Max “Soligo” Soong
Soligo has looked really good when he’s on, and he’s proven to be one of the best Zoe players in the league. Still, Dignitas has faltered recently and he’s far from free of any blame. He’s a very low-resource mid laner, and mainly exists to help propel their jungler Dardoch to positions of power during games. Still, in one of the most impactful roles in the game, being unable to carry when it’s needed is a very unflattering lens to have pointed at you. But I suppose as long as Dignitas is winning, how much does it really matter?
9. CLG’s Alexey “rjs” Zatorski and Eugene “Pobelter” Park
For the purposes of this list, I’m very happy that I would put either player in the same spot on this list. As it stands, CLG is the only team to have swapped mid laners this season, using the excuse of “attitude issues” to bench Pobelter through the first three weeks. In those weeks, rjs looked rough. He wasn’t bad from a micro perspective, often finding himself decent advantages in the early game. But his macro and the team as a whole has constantly failed to execute on those advantages. Meanwhile, Pobelter is a known quantity, having been in the LCS since literally 2011. He was joked about for being a “top 10 mid laner” for years, and it’s honestly kind of sad to see that it’s looking more on the money. He did have a really good Viktor performance when he spearheaded their upset win versus Dignitas, but he also basically lost them the game against 100 Thieves on his terrible Azir play. I like the guy, but it’s hard to expect better things than he’s been able to show for nearly a decade.
10. Golden Guardians’ Nicholas Antonio “Ablazeolive” Abbott
There really isn’t much to say. Golden Guardians has looked bad, and so has Olive. He’s been at constant disadvantages in lane and it’s hard to believe he’s capable of victory in his current form. Still, he is a rookie and there’s always hope for improvement among young people. If anything, this is hopefully the start of a very exciting success story.