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The Northern League of Legends Championship’s First Division has gone underway and finished its first week of play under new tournament organizers Freaks 4U Gaming. It was, as esports fans like to say, “a banger.” Teams came out of the gates swinging with Baron steals, back-and-forth games and ending Week 1 with a tense match between the perceived top two teams in X7 Esports and JD Excel. For fans who missed it, the NLC has done a nice recap.

To welcome back the NLC, Upcomer spoke to some of the on-air talent in host Alexandre “Archarom” Maia and casters Mikkel “Guldborg” Guldborg Nielsen, Adrian “Jamada” Wharlton-Thorne and Alex “Nymaera” Hapgood to get their impressions from Week 1 and what it might mean for future weeks.

What are your general impressions of the NLC teams after the first week of play? Which team do you have your eye on?

NLC's top 4 teams
NLC’s broadcast talents think JD Excel, Bifrost, Astralis Talent and X7 Esports are currently the top four teams. | Provided by Freaks 4U Gaming & Riot Games

Archarom: We do have a lot of teams and a lot of newcomers as well. Obviously, there are a few teams that are trying to develop as much as they can, they’re still trying to figure out their goals and to play around each other. For instance, we’re talking about Vanir who have a really good early game, but in the mid game they fall off a little bit. There are some teams that are still having some troubles adapting, but I do think pretty much every single team on the NLC has what it takes to make a really good team. To me, we have the top four teams in the X7 Esports, JD Excel, Astralis Talent and Bifrost’s which are amazing teams with an amazing roster as well.

It’s not like we have the top teams and then just the bottom teams. Like my colleague Georgia “Troubleinc” Paras said, we have like the big, big top teams, and a lot of good teams on the rest of the table. But in my opinion, I’m really excited to see how X7 and JD Excel fight it off on top of the leaderboard, followed by Astralis and Bifrost. I’m enjoying watching Astralis a lot. I’m not biased, though I’m kind of an Astralis fan! I do feel like the NLC has what it takes to go into the [European Masters] and kick some ass.

Guldborg: I think many people already see a clear, quite definitive top four teams which consists of X7 Esports as No. 1, JD Excel as No. 2, Astralis Talent as No. 3, and maybe potentially higher but this is only going after the first week, of course, and the last one will be Bifrost. After that I find it’s a bit all over the place, I think there’s quite clearly a big gap between the bottom level and the top level. But I’m quite hopeful for the NLC just because of how good our top level is and I have my eye on X7 in particular.

Jamada: Okay, so I think just by chance, the schedule ended up actually being quite “top versus bottom” heavy, and when I say that I’m talking about perceived team strength. A lot of the perceived top teams ended up playing a lot of the perceived lower teams and vice versa.

I think coming into it anyway, we were always kind of expecting a relatively top-heavy end the table just because of JD Excel and Astralis Talent, and obviously this crazy X7 Esports roster. And even Bifrost in my opinion, and I think maybe some people might be sleeping on them since they are new to the NLC, but I think they have a phenomenal roster as well that has a very strong chance of making a good run.

For general impressions, I think everything kind of met my personal expectations. I think the teams that were supposed to come in and hit the ground running have really hit the ground running. And I think the teams that were probably pegged to sort of have a rough time starting off, probably have. I think the only exception to this rule was maybe Vanir, but I also think Vanir obviously had a relatively easy-ish run of schedule for Week 1. We still have to see them play some of the tougher teams but at least going off Week 1, maybe they can be some kind of dark horse, though, it’s hard to tell off just two games of stage play.

Nymaera: I think that the first week of NLC was incredibly entertaining. There were a couple of points which I was particularly quite interested in because it’s always academically quite interesting to me to see how teams come off of preseason and what their ideas about it are. We had some teams trying to really commit to the whole long-range poke compositions with Viktor/Corki etc., and then some other teams are trying to buck that trend and play against it. Obviously, X7 Esports have come really hot into this week. They had a couple of different answers to [poke compositions], they had a Vex/Hecarim composition to dive onto the backline and close that distance really well, amongst other things.

I think the two other teams, which I found a little interesting was… I know, it’s a little bit of a meme on the broadcast right now, but I actually think that Team Singularity are like 80% of the way there to really cracking this meta. I like some of the ideas that they had but they’re not quite there yet. Singularity are a team which I’m very interested in because I cast in the university scene a lot and they could turn out to be the most surprising team.

Bifrost as well have also been really fun. I think Bifrost have had some really big playmakers, particularly Cboi, whom I think was really standing out to me. Of course, there are a couple of players and other teams which are very much worth keeping your eyes on. Actually, I think there’s a very good spread of interest throughout the league for me.

Which player or team has surprised you the most so far, and which team do you think might be a dark horse?

Archarom: This is probably my boldest statement, but Team Singularity have an interesting mentality. We’re talking about a team with university players that are not capable of playing full time, but this is a team that’s wild. They don’t care what the other teams are picking, they pick weird things and they play in a weird way. They can actually steal away a few games if the other teams are not aware of it, so Singularity, to me, is one to look out for because how they can create chaos inside of the Rift.

For players, Nataniel “Nata” Fikrisellasie Asrat on X7. Holy moly, he’s so good. Kang “Tempt” Myung-gu as well when he was on Akali, he was demolishing everybody. JD Excel’s mid laner Jang “EMENES” Min-soo to me is also a beast and the duel between the two Korean players was really exciting to see. But then you look at Nata and he only has LVP SuperLiga experience, and he’s playing like he’s playing on a team where you have players who have played on the world stage.

So far, Nata is not only capable of playing at the same level, but sometimes actually shining on that team. He’s a player that I’m really looking forward to seeing throughout the entire split. I’m really loving top laner Carl “Carlsen” Ulsted Carlsen from Astralis Talent as well, he’s really good.

Guldborg: It’s weird right because I actually think JD Excel has surprised me the most, because I think they’re playing really well to the top level that we also have here. I think if you go back and watch the banger that was X7 versus JD Excel, it was one of the best games of LoL I’ve ever watched in NLC, like ever, in terms of hype, in terms of how good mechanical plays we have. The macro obviously could be fine-tuned a little bit, but that’s how it is the early season right?

Casper “Cboi” Bo Simonsen actually surprised me with his Lee Sin quite a lot in the first game. I think he had an insane amount of good picks or good kicks on the champion and he found a way to really look like he’s shining together with a team where a lot of them also look really good. Whereas I feel like all the X7 players, including Nata, also did incredibly well and pleasantly surprised me to the level of play that they delivered.

I think Bifrost will be the dark horse for the NLC just because they are stacked with [European Regional League] stars. If this had just been a normal season of NLC last season and we saw this Bifrost, they would have for sure been rated up towards the top. But because this level has become so much higher in our league, they won’t, and therefore I see them more as a dark horse than a real contender.

Jamada: Oh, there you go. I think I gave you my answer to this question just at the last one! I think that Vanir definitely had a bit of a curious Week 1. I think we still have to wait for them to play some of the stronger matchups. Other than them, I think everybody should know how strong Bifrost are. When I say Bifrost are like this dark horse I think people have different definitions of dark horse. If we’re talking about sort of dethroning these perceived top three teams, I think Bifrost could be the team that sneaks into the top three ahead of Astralis, JD Excel or even X7.

If we’re talking about players that surprised me, I would say Simon “Muter” Brøns. I think even though there’s talk around Team Singularity’s roster, I still think despite all the public talk around it and their 0-2 week, I think Muter had a fantastic set of games even if he couldn’t personally backpack his team and take the win home. I think Muter should really walk away from Week 1 with his chin up.

In terms of being surprised by a team… I’m not sure if I’ll say necessarily surprised, but I was definitely happy to see JD Excel looking this good. Last summer was very rough for them, especially with their roster swap. Obviously behind the scenes, something was happening there because that roster was still strong enough to make top two in NLC. It was nice to at least see JD XL come in and pretty much dumpster Dusty and then have a fairly competitive game against X7.

Nymaera: So I think the player that surprised me the most, maybe it’s because I hadn’t heard of them too much before this, was EMENES from JD Excel. Oh my god, that guy popped off! Particularly the match between X7 and JD Excel was a battle of just incredible mid laners, and I very much enjoyed that. The reason I can’t say tempt is because I kind of knew he’d be good, but EMENES was the person that I thought popped off beyond my expectations.

In terms of teams and dark horses, I think that has to be Bifrost. It was either going to be Bifrost or Astralis Talent. I think that Astralis Talent are a very disciplined team and they haven’t shown many weaknesses. They’ve been solid and they’ve been very hard to exploit and expose, but I don’t think they’ve had the playmaking which Bifrost have had. So for me, Bifrost are the team I’m sat there thinking, “Actually, maybe they can outplay their way into a win versus our two assumed strongest teams in the league of JD Excel and X7.”

Since NLC seems to be confirmed for two seeds in the European Masters on broadcast, if you had to pick one team to get that elusive third seed for the NLC, which team would it be and why?

X7 Esports' team
All four NLC on-air talents are putting their eggs in the X7 basket. | Photo provided by X7 Esports

Archarom: This one is tough. I like these spicy questions though! Alright, if the world was perfect… after the first week, and from what I saw, I would like to get four seeds to bring in Astralis, Bifrost, X7 and JD Excel, because I really think those teams are capable of putting a really good showing in EU Masters. I cast the Portuguese league and I saw a lot of good teams in there, but the question was always do they have what it takes to go to EU Masters? But then I watched NLC Week 1 and I was like, “I need four seeds! These guys have the micro and the macro as well.” Astralis, Bifrost, X7 and JD Excel to me are worthy of stepping on the EU Master stage and actually giving everybody in Europe a run for their money. I’m not saying that they’re going to win, but I’m saying that they’re going to have a really, really good showing for everybody watching.

But if I had to pick one… I want X7 to go to EU Masters. This is going to sound really rough because I’m a mean guy, I’m sorry everyone, so to me, I want X7 to go to EU Masters because currently, X7 is what G2 Esports should have been in the [League of Legends European Championship] last year. They’re actually a super team and they are actually good. Not to flame G2. because I love them too, but I think X7 is the super team that G2 was supposed to be. If X7 go to EU masters and don’t demolish the entire competition, I’m going to be really surprised

Guldborg: I think the top three teams we send will be Astralis, JD Excel and X7, just because that is the team we have to go with an overreaction of Week 1 right? But if I had to pick only one, obviously I want to go with X7 because of the level they’ve already shown while only being a fairly young team together gives me a very hopeful vision of the future. Show me the best League of Legends!

Jamada: Oh, this is tricky. I think we already have three pretty obvious and strong candidates in Astralis, JD Excel and X7. If we were to ignore them, I wouldn’t mind sending Bifrost. I think there are still some very clear things that they have to get right and sorted out, and we still have to see them play against the top teams. Their next game is against JD Excel so I look at it and say, “Okay, Bifrost. Let’s see your mettle tested.” I wouldn’t mind if we were sending a third team and it were Bifrost, but I think realistically the true answer is it would be X7, JD Excel and Astralis.

Out of those three, I’d say X7. Let’s say that we stick to, I suppose “traditions” and the academy teams take the first two seeds, then X7 would probably be third and if X7 finish top two, then we have a backup academy team, which is really strong. So either way, I think if we had three seeds, we’d be sending three super, super competitive rosters into EUM.

Nymaera: This one’s a very easy one for the NLC because I think it has to be X7, right? They’ve shown multiple modes of play for this meta and I think it’s very important to show that they actually have that versatility, and Tempt might be the best player in the league. Actually, we had a bit of an argument about that in the NLC Discord about that. I think that EMENES had the best Week 1 even though he lost in that game, but I think that Temps and Kang “Haru” Min-seung are also very good as a mid-jungle duo too. And then you’ve just got this absolute just nutjob of Nata not just inting all the time, but also making these big plays as a bot laner.

X7 has a team of playmakers and I think that they’re all very high-level playmakers. I think that if you’re going to go up against the [Ligue Française de League of Legends] teams and LVP SuperLiga teams, X7 have the hands to make it work.

Lastly, give me one overreaction for Week 1

Archarom: X7 Esports are going to win the EU Masters. Okay, I’m going to put this out there, If X7 don’t win EU Masters, I will paint my hair or my beard or something like that. But one color please, no rainbow!

Guldborg: NLC is the best f******g league of all the European Regional Leagues. All the other ERLs will have nothing on us. They’ll get s*** on once it reaches the European Masters. They’ll be so surprised that we’re going to come out of nowhere like a curveball. They’re going to be too busy with the KOI and Karmine Corp rivalry while we will just come in swinging. And this time around not only will we make it to the finals, but we will completely take it and stomp them!

Jamada: [laughs] X7 Esports could comfortably make it out of the League of Legends Worlds play-ins. That’s my overreaction.

Nymaera: My colleagues are the worst for flaming me about Singularity. They just don’t see the future. They haven’t been given the prophecy that I’ve been given about Singularity, but I’m very happy to learn that Archarom is starting to see the way. I’m particularly worried about Guldberg you know, like he flamed me about Singularity over Astralis but we’ll show him eventually!

The NLC returns on Monday with JD Excel taking on Bifrost as the first match of Week 2. Fans can catch the action on the NLC’s Twitch channel.