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Once you get past the fact that the 100 Thieves’ star-studded lineup featuring a world champion, former LCS MVP, and former top lane first team all-pro missed the Playoffs (feel free to take a moment to reflect on your life, 100 fans), you’ll see that all the usual suspects are here. TL, C9, and TSM lead the way as we set out to crown the LCS’ representative for MSI this year. They had a three-way ouroborus type of relationship with each other that goes TL > C9 > TSM > TL etc., and now they’ll try to rewrite that narrative. They are joined by first-timer Golden Guardians, a veteran FlyQuest roster, and a surprise appearance from a surging Echo Fox. Here’s 6 thoughts on each of the championship hopefuls!
1. TEAM LIQUID [14-4] — In times of trouble…
If you’ve ever played a normal draft game and at some point got ganked and died for the second time, and your team wasn’t listening to your pings to ward Baron, maybe you’ve thought, “Whatever this isn’t ranked.” That’s what Liquid’s play has felt like the last couple of weeks. It hasn’t been particularly awful, but it’s lethargic and lacks some of the decisiveness we saw earlier in the season from them. Surely this is in part because they clinched the #1 seed so early — it’s hard to really judge them on the games that didn’t matter as opposed to the games that did matter earlier in the season. But the pessimistic side of this says that winning is a culture, and they’ve alluded to having difficulty in scrims at times even earlier in the season, so maybe there is cause for concern? I feel like they’ll be able to turn it up a notch in the Playoffs and focus a bit better (like they did all of last year), but I also feel like last year’s TL didn’t have any competition as stiff as C9 or TSM right now. I don’t expect them to run roughshod over everybody again, but that’s also for the better — some competition now will sharpen them ahead of MSI (if they get there). Overall, though, this was still a super dominant season from them. I expect CoreJJ to win the MVP award, and I still think they’re the odds-on favorite to win the Spring Split. This week’s bye should help them sort out their mentality — let’s see if they can get back to a do-or-die form. Or just reset ranked again.
2. CLOUD9 [14-4] — Five year anniversary of their last LCS title
Was it overkill for Cloud9 to play the reigning Academy Worlds champions to end the regular season? Absolutely. In fact I expect the commissioner’s office to fine them for smurfing in the LCS. But now that C9’s true secret weapon has been exposed, I expect teams to be extra wary of them come playoffs… Honestly though I think this is the team I’d be most scared of facing — not only do they have flexible players in their core five, they can also substitute the likes of Blaber in to give the team a fresh identity if things start to sour. The starting five, though, have a honey-badger kind of identity to them where it really just seems like they do not care about their own well-being sometimes. They are aggressive (at times to a fault), and that has won them a lot of games, but I wonder if that’s something that can hold up over an extended set where teams actually have a chance to become accustomed to the pace. My gut says this team has the highest ceiling in NA right now, but it’s not going to be easy for them to even get to the Finals — especially with a likely Semifinal matchup against TSM looming. It was an unexpectedly dominant regular season from them — their best in years — and a lot of that credit has to go to their staff for continuously developing their players and placing them in positions to succeed. Really just kind of nuts to think they could do this after losing Jensen — it’d be pretty ironic if they finally won another split after Jensen leaves.
3. TSM [13-5] — Like Aragorn and his ghost army
Last week I asked if TSM would be the favorite going into Playoffs if they went 2-0, which they did, so now they’re riding an 11-1 streak (the one loss was to C9 in a game they very easily could have won). Let’s take this one step at a time. Are they the favorite to beat Echo Fox? Absolutely — I’d go as far as to say that anything short of a 3-0 would be disappointing, even. Are they the favorite to win the whole thing, though? Well, just looking at the odds, you figure they’d have to go through both C9 and TL, and at best they’re a 60/40 favorite in those matchups (I think it’s actually even lower). If you compare those made-up numbers to my made-up numbers about TL’s chances being 80/20 and then 40/60, then I think TL wins out in terms of overall likelihood of winning. The TSM vs. C9 match would be a bit of a meat grinder like the 3-2 C9 Semifinal win from last Summer. Honestly I can’t really remember the last time we had a three-headed beast like this at the top of the LCS all fighting for supremacy. TSM has looked very good during this run, and Bjergsen appears to be excelling in a calm manner. Maybe it’s just the beard, but it actually feels like even his play has matured so that he makes more plays and fewer mistakes and tilts less easily. There’s some good old “my dad can beat up your dad” energy in his play. TSM hasn’t looked this good domestically since 2017 — I’m excited to see if they can put an end to their short spell of actually missing Finals. First up is FOX — surely we won’t see a repeat of what Clutch (with Apollo, Hakuho, and Solo) did last spring, right?
4. FLYQUEST [10-9] — Old dogs, new tricks
A fun fact about this team is they are tied with Team Liquid and GGS for having the most players on their roster with a domestic title at three players: Pobelter, Santorin, and WildTurtle. Which means the FLY vs. GGS matchup this weekend will feature 6/10 players who know exactly what it takes to win it all. Does that actually mean anything? Maybe not in the sense of them being favorites, but it does mean their players aren’t going to be shitting their pants if they find themselves in an early hole against GGS. I think veteran presence and leadership is really critical in an extended set, where nerves not only appear but have time to stew and develop if left unchecked. If you find yourself getting bopped by someone or getting ganked repeatedly, you can quickly become a liability, and if you fall into the mentality that the game is over just because you lost your lane, then that could spell trouble for the whole team. The reality of it, though, is you can’t win every lane, and FLY will do well to remind their rookie top laner V1per of that especially. GGS’ three former winners are Froggen, Hauntzer, and Olleh, so it’ll be a tight fight between very evenly matched teams. Winning a tight set might even give them momentum to topple a struggling TL in the subsequent round. I don’t think FLY has enough firepower to take it all, but they’re also not going to hand you the game (*camera pans to Turtle with Flash up*) — anyone who knocks this team out is going to have to bring their best shot.
5. GOLDEN GUARDIANS [9-10] — Finding gold in the dirt
Local Summoner’s Rift hip-hop artist Fire Drake once rapped, “We started from the bottom of the 2019 LCS Spring Split and now we’re here.” To go from 0-4 to Playoffs is a super impressive turnaround (especially considering they finished 10th both times last year), but I don’t think I’d say they’ve made enough strides to be considered a major contender for the Playoffs. There are a lot of players on this team who will feel like they have something to prove — Froggen, for example, has not made Playoffs since 2014 (so you could say he literally got Kabumed out of relevance). Olleh, Contractz, and Hauntzer came from each of the top three teams in the league respectively, and eventually upsetting any one of them would be a pretty memorable stick-it-to-them moment for them. They have the most unorthodox mid lane picks thanks to Froggen, who’s played Anivia, Karthus, and Vel’koz among others this split, and maybe in an extended set that kind of versatility will make them harder to prepare for. The most interesting matchup in their match against FLY will be in top lane — if Hauntzer can play at a high level, then I feel like he should be able to impose his will over the rookie V1per. Top lane is, however, often won by junglers, so more likely it’ll be a duel between the top/jungle pairs from both teams. It’s been a good split for this team, and I expect the matchup against FLY to be super close (probably five games). If they want to go further, though, then I think we’ll need to see them take another leap like the one made in reversing their start.
6. ECHO FOX [8-10] — The slick orange fox
If I were a betting man, I would’ve bet a lot on FOX not making Playoffs when they were 4-10 and staring at a tough schedule that featured matches against both TL and C9. And my bet would have gone as well as my cryptocurrency venture last year (which is to say not well at all!!). I’m going to out myself and say that I felt like the over/under line for wins for this team before the season started was two wins. I did not have any confidence in them at all for a whole variety of reasons, so them coming out of the gates at 4-4 was a pleasant surprise. Them going 0-6 after that was about what I expected, and then going 4-0 to end the split and make playoffs completely shattered my perceptions. Apollo securing the Playoff berth with a pentakill was such a nice sweetener to cap the run for them, and I hope they can ride that high and prove me wrong again. I just feel like there’s three distinct tiers of teams in the playoffs, and the gap between each is pretty massive, and FOX is two tiers below TSM for me. That doesn’t mean their season has been disappointing — far from it — but I do think they won’t be able to keep up with TSM this week. Unlike CLG, TSM isn’t going to gift them the game after securing an early gold lead. If they are to hang in it, though, then that’s probably going to come down to Rush significantly outplaying Akaadian. He just hasn’t been consistent enough for me to see that happening three times. Kind boy will need to be a mean this week.