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And just like the Rift Herald visual bug, we’ve seemingly skipped from one plane of existence to another as we now head into the final week of the season. This should spark a bit of an existential crisis (what doesn’t these days?) in you because honestly where did the last couple of months disappear to? For four of these teams, this week will be the last time we talk about them until June. Four other teams have already locked playoff slots. One is completely eliminated. A total of five teams will play a little game we like to call “League of Legends” to stake claim to the final two playoff spots. It’s Week 9 and I’ve got 10 thoughts!
1. Team Liquid (14-2) — Liquids of the coast
Right now Liquid is that kid in your class who’s just playing Stardew Valley on their laptop during lecture because they’ve already figured out they can still get an A even if they get a C on the final. You kind of hate them for it (you, a Stardew expert, are mad they’re not even min/maxing properly). Is there reason to be concerned that Liquid blew a 4-0 lead against FlyQuest, with Doublelift rocking Vayne and Jensen on a mid-game power pick like LeBlanc? I mean, probably a little? It’s not like they’re in comms saying, “Hey guys, we should probably stop trying now we already made playoffs lol.” You figure coasting to the win should be easy with the kind of lead they built against FLY, and yet they still found a way to lose. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to envision them losing like that on three separate occasions, which means their overall goal of winning the split is still perfectly fine. They do have a marquee matchup against TSM this weekend, who they lost to in the first meeting, and I think they should at least take that matchup seriously — it’ll be a good chance to make a statement to the rest of the league against the hottest team right now. Being able to maintain a perception of being the best can lend itself to mental advantages in a long playoff set — down 0-2, for example, a team might resign themselves to a fate of losing to “the best team.”
2. Cloud9 (12-4) — Stray clouds
Cloud9 losing to FOX is simultaneously surprising (in that FOX has no right challenging them) and not surprising (in that Cloud9 historically loses A LOT of random games like this and has somehow avoided them this split). I’m glad they gave GoldenGlue a game on stage, though — it’s hard for me to really give you a concrete answer as to how effective it is to utilize a six or seven person roster, but sitting out lets you see the game differently. So even if it’s only to help Nisqy grow before playoffs, then I think it’s absolutely worth it. C9’s losses this split have generally been tied to them overextending when trying to make a play, which means it’s largely unforced errors. This is a great place to be in when reviewing, because it’s far easier to reel your team back than it is to identify how to be proactive. And from a mental perspective, you can say that no one has actually beaten you besides yourself. C9 is one of the teams that will stand to benefit the most from Sylas being unbanned (if that happens), and it seems like some more carry-oriented champions are being flexed back into the meta. That bodes well for them as they may end up being the only Playoff team that plays heavily around top lane. They still need to win one game to secure a bye, which normally I’d say should be pretty easy, but after the loss to FOX, maybe anything goes!
3. TSM (11-5) — Return of the king?
“We will smurf soon. TSM wrath will be swift. All these peasants thinking we aren’t good. Lmfao” — Akaadian
TSM is now 9-1 since Akaadian expressed this to the world, which goes to show we should all take Twitch chat more seriously instead of treating it as just a platform for teenage delinquents trying to stick it to their parents. There is power to be harnessed. In this streak, we’ve seen absolutely dominant wins (like last weekend’s win over GGS), sloppy wins (like the win over CLG), and outright fiestas at times. This run has been a case where the result is more impressive than the means. And still there is no one on this team that is shining particularly brightly right now — they’re not poor performances by any means (they’re all playing well, even!), but it’s more the sum of the parts that’s pushing TSM to victories right now. It’s just kind of unusual for a team to have a 9-1 stretch over a season and not really have a player in the MVP conversation. Part of this is due to the dominance of TL (and CoreJJ more specifically running away with the award), but maybe that can shift this weekend if TSM can beat them again? Even if they did, though, it’s hard for me to isolate one person on this team and say they’re the most important piece. It’s not a problem by any means — it’s just a little different from what we’ve usually gotten from dominant TSM teams. I do wonder if they go 2-0 this week and carry an 11-1 run into playoffs — does that make them the favorite? It might turn out to be a rock-paper-scissors situation with them, TL, and C9. And with the way seeding works, they might unfortunately crash into a C9 team that 2-0ed them this split.
4. FlyQuest (9-7) — The world on Turtle’s shell
Any doubt as to who the fourth best team in the league is was squashed by FlyQuest’s 2-0 weekend, which included a win over 1st place Team Liquid and 100 (who are not in 1st place or even close but were projected highly to start the season, so impressive if you look at it specifically and only from that context). To me this team lives and dies by the play of WildTurtle, who continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league. Which isn’t to say he’s necessarily their best player, but it feels like their highest highs are when he pops off and their lowest lows are when he Flashes into five people. I’ve always been a big fan of him because it feels like he doesn’t shrink from the biggest stages — whether he’s against SKT Bang or 100 Bang, he plays like he always does. His stats agree with this boom or bust style — he has the 2nd most deaths in the league (behind Piglet) but is 4th in kills. He’s exactly the kind of player you want on your team when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task, which is the wall that stands before FLY as they prepare for playoffs. The perceived gap between them and the top 3 teams is enormous, and it’ll be difficult to “steal” three wins against any of them, but with Turtle at the helm, it makes you feel like just maybe there’s a chance. And if nothing else, you know he’ll try to make something happen or he’ll die trying.
5. GGS (7-9) — Golden Guardians of the Galaxy
Honestly sometimes I forget that the Guardians of the Galaxy are part of the The Avengers — Peter Quill just feels like a dude with a gun (which is a role filled by at least ten other people in the movies). That’s the same feeling GGS gives me — I realize they’re probably better than the teams below them, but then I watch a game like their loss to TSM and it feels like there really is just a galaxy between them and the top. This team still feels like they’re at a loss when they can’t play out a front-to-back team fight composition. They’re also not particularly adept at building early advantages or snowballing mid-game advantages. If we suddenly shifted to an ARAM format, they might be one of the most formidable teams in the league, but that’s unfortunately not the case. They have a relatively tough matchup against OPT to start this week, which is followed by FLY to end the season. Losing to OPT could put them in a super precarious situation as their playoffs slot is by no means secure — that’s going to be one of the most critical matches of the week for determining the final playoff participants. Froggen — maybe more than any other player in history — has a tendency to fall back onto comfort picks. This split it’s been the rather Karthus-mid pick, which I still feel like you should just ban since it’s so difficult to play around. I think the more uncomfortable you make this team, the more disorganized their play will be.
6. Counter Logic Gaming (6-10) — The race thickens
In a strange season where even a 5-11 team is still technically alive as we head into the final week, it is only fitting that CLG is right in the thick of that race. This playoff race is like… just entering Lap 3 as the winners have already gotten up for water and whatnot. There’s still plenty of shells and banana peels to be thrown around, though. Like, you thought we’d have a fiesta scramble for the final two slots and that CLG wouldn’t find a way to be involved? Think again! This team is a little too one-dimensional at the moment, though. PowerOfEvil leads the league in kill participation, which means CLG isn’t doing very much when POE isn’t the catalyst (which also kind of feels like what the LCS has been like for POE in general over the last year). CLG has the easiest possible schedule left — with matches against 100 and FOX, you’d figure this is a pretty solid chance for them to claim a playoff spot. But also if you ask any CLG fan if they felt better about an easy schedule or a hard schedule, the counter logic in them would maybe tell you they’d rather have a hard schedule. The situation is ripe for disappointment, which surely has every single CLG fan sweating. However, I really think POE has the ability to will them through the last two games to set up a first round playoff matchup against TSM — destiny calls their names.
7. Echo Fox (6-10) — Fox shine
I remember talking to a friend about FOX before last weekend, and I think I said something to the effect of “FOX is easily the worst team in the league (except meaner),” and, well, I was very clearly incorrect. I apologize to FOX for even putting that into the world. Not only did they mount a come-from-behind win against C9, they then proceeded to stomp 100 to completely destroy my personal biases about what “bad” looks like. Like, somehow even though 100 was 4-10, I was telling myself “they’re not that bad.” Rush seemed to be back in form in his return to the starting lineup, but it’s still Fenix who anchors this team — their final game of the season will be against CLG, and that one could be for all the marbles. This roster making playoffs would be a pretty colossal achievement considering the vast majority of pundits pegged them as the 9th or 10th place team before the season began (even being in the thick of things now is pretty impressive). It’s a haphazard roster full of journeymen, and while I don’t think they have enough in the tank to make a deep playoff push, even making it could give them a lot of confidence going into the Summer Split. As Melee players like to say… it could be time for Fox to… shine.
8. OpTic Gaming (6-10) — OpTic Tock
You know, I would say that going 0-2 last weekend was a sub-optimal time to do so (I dare you to find top tier analysis like this anywhere else). This is a team that has a lot of question marks surrounding it, but in general people agree that they’ve got a solid mid and jungle (either Meteos or Dardoch) combination — which, to me, has always been the most important pair of positions for a team to fill. The two roles can exert so much pressure on the map that any shortcomings in the side lanes should theoretically be manageable. So I want people blaming the two side lanes to step back for a second and realize that it’s hard to blame just Dhokla or Big or whichever scapegoat fits their narratives. This isn’t to say I think Crown or Meteos or Dardoch have played poorly, but it seems weird to me to suggest they’re simply not part of OpTic’s problems, which feel more like a team-oriented issue to me. OpTic is just kind of slow to react to plays and they’re not proactive in forcing them either, which is a pretty good recipe for consistently bleeding out in drawn-out losses. They’re another team with a manageable schedule to end the split — with GGS and 100 on deck, you kind of figure there’s little point in going to Playoffs anyway if you can’t beat those two squads. Time’s just about out now for this team to finally get on the same page.
9. Clutch Gaming (5-11) — End of the road
Houston, we have lots of problems. With matches against TSM and C9 to end the split — and needing to win both of them to even have a chance — it’s looking like doom and gloom and Vileplume for CG. Which is honestly a shame. I’ve still yet to find myself at a point in this split where I was like, “Yes, CG is truly an awful team.” It just feels like they’ve underperformed on stage more than anyone else. This isn’t to say they’re necessarily good (we’ve seen poor showings from everybody on this team), but they’ve also all shown enough flashes to make me think they should be able to get it together. It’s like they’re all taking turns holding the conch, though, and can’t seem to have good games at the same time. I feel like I’m watching the Justice League movie where theoretically it could be good and we’ve seen similar models where it is good (The Avengers) but then it’s just all gritty and noir and lacking in heart. This is a team that would probably benefit from utilizing substitutes more often — even just an extra push to perform for their starting spot might be enough to have them play more consistently. MSI will be an interesting break for them, but I don’t think it’d be wild to see them field the exact same roster in the summer. I still, for whatever reason (god help me), believe this roster could do good things and be at a similar level as, say, FlyQuest at least.
10. 100 Thieves (4-12) — Down and out
Did I predict 100 would finish 1st this split? Yes. But if you think about it, in the grand scheme of things, there are an infinite number of numbers, and so the difference between 1 and 10 is basically nothing as we approach infinity (I am absolutely confident this is how math works). And the difference between 10th and 100 is also nothing — the Thieves’ fate was sealed last week after another 0-2 weekend. They’re pulling in the exact opposite direction as TSM by going 1-9 in their last 10 games, and they’ve already benched mid laner Huhi. The problems seem to extend beyond just a single player. This split has been a colossal disaster for this team, and honestly I can’t really remember the last time a supposed super team did this poorly — we’ve had iterations like the Misfits over in Europe this year finish in meager positions, but to be flatout last place is an unprecedented level of struggle. This will be an offseason where all of them should be asking themselves difficult questions. That’s the silver lining in all of this is that when you’re at the bottom of the mountain, there is a lot of upside. From there, you might be able to see a wide variety of paths you can begin to take, and even if you don’t know which one is correct, at least it’s better than free falling. So unlike CG, I’d be shocked to see either this roster (with Soligo or with Huhi) returning as the same starting five in the summer.