TSM vs IMT questions the skill gap between LCS and Academy

▲ Image Source: Riot Games


This week in both the League Championship Series and LCS Academy, we saw TSM face off against Immortals. TSM got the Academy win, but Immortals secured the LCS victory. While this type of thing happens all the time - since not every Academy team reflects the strength of their LCS squad - the TSM vs Immortals situation brings a bit of nuance to an otherwise mundane conversation.


Before the start of the 2020 LCS Summer Split, Immortals announced a few roster changes, sending three of their Spring Split Academy players to the LCS. Nicholas "Potluck" Pollock, Johnny "Altec" Ru, and Jiajun "Austin" "Gate" Yu came in to replace their LCS counterparts Jake "Xmithie" Puchero, Apollo "Apollo" Price, and Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent. While these changes came as a shock, the Immortals staff and players backed up the decision, noting the hard work and practice the three were putting in.


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


However, two weeks into the Summer Split, Immortals were sitting with an 0-4 record and the org flipped the switch, letting go of their head coach, Thomas "Zaboutine" Si-Hassen,  and GM, Keaton "Keaton" Cryer, and swapping around the entire LCS and Academy rosters. That squad went on to secure Immortals' first victory of the Split in their opening game. In their second weekend, they lost both games in what was perhaps the most undeserved 0-2 in LCS history. Even after the two losses, leaving the new roster at 1-3, the analyst desk noted the newfound strength Immortals had as a team. 



Immortals vs TSM

This weekend, in their third week in the LCS, what was the original IMT Academy roster beat TSM in a (mostly) clean, controlled victory. This win comes just a couple days after the current IMT Academy squad lost to TSM Academy. Other than random performance variance on a given day, there are a few possible conclusions to draw from this scenario:


  • Immortals monumentally messed up their roster at the start of the split. 
  • TSM Academy is actually better than TSM.
  • Academy and LCS don't have a big gap between them.
  • Every team is so bad and prone to making mistakes, any team can beat any team, and it's too random to draw any real conclusion.


While the first seems to be generally agreed upon, it should not be the sole explanation explored given the outcome of this weekend's matches. And the second conclusion is almost undoubtedly wrong - although TSM Academy sits in first place this Summer, so there may be some conversation worth having. And for the sake of conversation, ignore the last conclusion, since it essentially strips the weight behind attempts to analyze the league. 


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


That leaves us with an interesting question around the gap between the LCS and Academy league. Most coaches, broadcast members, etc. talk about a large gap in skill between the leagues. Players often speak of a big spike in performance when they move from Academy to the LCS, noting higher quality scrims, which results in much more fluid, structured gameplay.


But Immortals' phenomenon sheds a bit of light on the difference in skill level, particularly when examining other parts of their Split. Because beyond just their record against TSM, Immortals' rosters have an interesting story to tell. The current LCS roster went 3-3 in Academy before beginning in the LCS. If they had finished both of their games in Week 4 as they should have, they'd be 4-2 in the LCS. Sure, they didn't, but both games were in their control and should have been wins. Even with the 2-4 record in LCS, examining the games shows they were contending with others in the upper echelon (besides Cloud9). 


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


Immortals Roster 2.0, LCS Opening Weekend

More interesting still is this roster's first LCS weekend, where they pulled double duty, playing both the Academy games and LCS games. Against Golden Guardians, IMT got two wins, and against Cloud9, two losses. Here is a breakdown of the games with Academy and LCS results shown next to each other:


Against Golden Guardians

  •  Academy
    • 13 kills, 4 deaths
    • Took every objective and every tower
    • Gave up 2 towers, but no other objectives
    • Up 14K gold
  • LCS
    • 16 kills, 5 deaths
    • Took every objective, nearly every tower
    • Gave up 5 towers, and 1 other objective (Herald)
    • Up 4K gold


The numbers are nearly equal, with the GG LCS squad barely edging out. Sure, the team comps were entirely different, but the overall outcome between the games were very similar. The only substantial difference was overall gold, with a 14K lead against Academy and only a 4K lead against the LCS roster, which is essentially due to much higher farm on golden Guardians' LCS side, as well as the few extra turrets.


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


Against Cloud9

  •  Academy
    • 3 kills, 22 deaths
    • Secured only 2 objectives and 2 towers
    • Gave up all towers and 5 objectives
    • Down 13K gold
  • LCS
    • 3 kills, 18 deaths
    • Secured only 1 objective and 2 towers
    • Gave up all towers and 6 objectives
    • Down 16K gold


The similarity is striking, and begs the question, "How much of a gap really exists between the LCS and Academy?" In turn, it challenges the notion of being "LCS ready," which is backed up by Immortals coach Paul "Malaclypse" Desci.




Being LCS Ready

Other than Cloud9 and TSM, NA has proven to be particularly slow to take risks, sign unproven players, and invest in talent, and proper scouting. Stories like 100 Thieves' new Support, Philippe "Poome" Lavoie-Giguere should inspire the league to take more chances, move players up when they're performing well, give them the better practice and infrastructure of the main league, and see what happens. It worked for Team Liquid, who promoted Edward "Tactical" Ra to replace the legendary Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng himself. 


It worked when Sun "Cody" "Cody Sun" Li-Yu joined the LCS. It worked when Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme joined too. And it worked with other Cloud9 members like Eric "Licorice" Ritchie and Robert "Blaber" Huang, as well as many more throughout the league. There is talent in the Academy that has been as "LCS ready" as they'll ever be. They just need a chance to test - and prove - themselves on the real stage. 


▲ Photo by Parkes Ousley for Inven Global


If Immortals' story and the stories of those above explain anything, it's that the overall LCS system would likely benefit from shedding its inability to promote players, take risks, and spend resources on talent development. There is a gap, but it's not nearly as wide as when the Academy system was first born a few years ago during LCS franchising.


And lastly, get Erik "Treatz" Wessén on an LCS team ASAP.




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