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10 thoughts going into Finals

If you were hoping for some parity this split then you’ve come to the wrong place, because once again Team Liquid is in the Finals, where they will host Cloud9 (who make their 8th Finals appearance). These are two of the most decorated franchises in LCS history, and they’ll clash for the second year in a row in the Summer Finals for the right to become the #1 seed from the LCS. Can C9 end their streak of five consecutive finals losses, or will TL win their fourth consecutive title? Here’s 10 thoughts going into Summer Finals in Detroit!  

1. Eight Straight, or… Str-eight?
Doublelift will be playing in his 8th straight LCS Finals (he did miss Spring 2017 when he briefly retired), which ties him with Bjergsen for most consecutive appearances (obligatory wow imagine if these two played together). This is the kind of stat that sounds super impressive at a glance and then just becomes more and more impressive the longer you think about it. I don’t really know how to contextualize this in a way that makes sense, but basically Doublelift has been on the best or second best (he’s only lost once) team every single split since Summer 2015. A whole class of students has finished High School or College in that time span and are now thinking about what they want to do with their life. There’s always a contingent of fans that long for parity because they’re excited by the whole “anyone can win” idea of sports, but across the major sports and esports, it’s pretty common for one team or player to rise and dominate over a single stretch of time. And in the LCS right now, that’s Doublelift, and that’s why Team Liquid is the heavy favorite to win their fourth straight LCS Championship.

2. Never Cloudy Enough
Doublelift winning all of those times means of course that other people are not winning all of those times, which means Sneaky and Cloud9 are very much “other people” in this scenario. Like Doublelift, though, this will be Sneaky’s 8th LCS Finals appearance, but he’s been on the losing end of these bouts on his last five tries (losing to Doublelift in two of those attempts). He hasn’t won an LCS split since Cloud9 destroyed the league in their first two splits dating back to Spring 2014. There has been plenty of heartbreak in this string of defeats but most of this has been masked by the fact that they’ve still managed to make it to Worlds. This year is no different, with both TL and C9 having already clinched a Worlds berth, there is but seeding and pride on the line. For C9, being able to add a trophy to their collection after all of these years might be the small taste of victory that they need to make another leap at Worlds. There is a lot to be said about confidence, and until you are able to stand at the very top, it’s hard to know exactly what it takes to win it all. There is a part of your subconscious that might feel like you are almost good enough, which is a minute but extremely important difference from knowing you are good enough. If TL is a Worlds-caliber team (and they are), and you can beat them, then you can set some pretty high expectations. If you can’t beat them, though, then that would leave a lot up in the air for this squad with Worlds still over a month away.

3. MVP?
The three remaining MVP candidates — CoreJJ, Doublelift, and Svenskeren — will be playing in this Finals. I am someone who generally picks the best person on the best team when it comes to the MVP award because I think it doesn’t really matter how individually good you are if your team can’t win. I’m not saying it’s those players’ faults when this does happen, but ultimately this is a game where the objective is to win and not just look good. This is one of the reasons I picked CoreJJ as my MVP, but I do think any of the remaining candidates are good picks to take that honor home. Svenskeren has split time with Blaber, which hurts his stock a little bit, but if you just look at the games he played in, then he’s been absolutely instrumental in setting the pace on Cloud9. Between his early game ganks and his late game playmaking abilities, he’s demonstrated a level of smart aggression that’s unmatched by any other jungler in the league. As for Doublelift, he’s kind of been in that phase of his career where he could win MVP every single split and not too many people would be upset, but because MVPs can favor standout players, someone who’s just stood at the top forever might be a less flashy pick. No matter who wins the award, though, I think it’s exciting that the Finals will feature three of the finalists — it’ll serve as a chance for the losers to prove that the voters were wrong.
4. Quality vs. Quantity?
Liquid is one of just three teams this split to not use their substitutes at all (Clutch and CLG are the other two), wherehas C9 has used three of theirs (even if Kumo only came in due to injury). C9 didn’t use their subs in the Semifinals match against CLG, but there’s no reason to think they won’t turn to it now, especially if they find themselves in an early hole against TL. I’ve thought a lot about the value of subs and whether it makes sense for a game like League of Legends — even if you can change your style with a different player, I sometimes wonder if it’s not more effective to make your starter more versatile. I guess it’s not as simple as wanting it and getting it in that case, though. It’s just that unlike traditional sports, players don’t really get physically exhausted in the same way so they don’t really need the respite a substitute offers. It’s an interesting tactic in an extended set if you’re able to bring out surprise picks or styles from your substitute player, but sometimes I see subs go in and just play something the starter could play (just as well if not better). Beyond that, maybe the breath of fresh air in the communication structure could be useful to adjusting a poor team environment (in the case of an 0-2, for example). TL hasn’t used a sub even once in their two year reign atop the LCS, which makes this a bit of a clash in philosophies, and how well those subs are utilized (if at all) is a thing I’ll be watching with great interest. 

5. Top difference
It’s been too long to bill this as Impact vs. his former team, especially since C9 also played (and lost) to TL in the Summer Finals last year, but it’s been nice to see how the teams have progressed since Impact left, especially considering Jensen is now on TL as well. Their replacements for C9, Licorice and Nisqy respectively, were significantly less hyped players, but here is C9 in another LCS Final after not really missing a beat all year. That’s a testament to the organization from top to bottom that they can replace key cogs in their lineup and still bounce back within a year to the exact same place. Licorice and Nisqy are more aggressive players than their counterparts, and I think that’s one of the reasons Svenskeren has had such a strong split (and year more generally). He’s always been at his best when he’s allowed to be aggressive, even if that means he sometimes looks like a dumbass. The whole C9 roster, honestly, is vulnerable to boneheaded mistakes, but sometimes they thread the needle through those dumb holes and make magic happen on the Rift. That little bit of space is going to be what determines the outcome here — TL is extremely good at punishing mistakes, and C9 is extremely good at dancing on the line between mistake and game-winning play. 

6. Facts about CoreJJ
1. He won the LCS Spring Split MVP this year even though his ADC kept instalocking Sona (smh). 
2. In 2017, he was a critical part of Samsung Galaxy’s World Championship run in which they prevented an SK telecom T1 three-peat — it is one of the largest upsets in Worlds history.
3. Unlike Achilles, when CoreJJ was dipped into the River Styx, they did not forget to submerge him completely, which is why he has no flaws as a player.
4. In the regular season, he led the league (among supports) in KDA, lowest number of deaths, first blood percentage, and gold difference at 10. 
5. CoreJJ came back to the LCS this year, and it was recently announced that his old team, Dignitas, is also coming back to the LCS now. Is that a coincidence? Or is it a giant conspiracy? Really makes you think about the Dignitas logo being an alien, considering people are trying to raid Area 51 right now. There’s a lot of dots here, and CoreJJ could be at the center of it. 

7. Third place match
Detroit will also feature another matchup between Clutch Gaming and Counter Logic Gaming. The two teams played strong Semifinals sets against TL and C9 respectively, and I think that helped elevate expectations for this match. At stake is seeding for the Regional Qualifier — the loser will have to play a Best-of-5 against FlyQuest in the first round of the gauntlet. That means this Bo5 could let you skip FLY altogether, which is going to be a pretty huge advantage considering FLY is going to be a difficult out. Clutch surprised many people by pushing TL all the way to five games and has generally looked like a completely different team in the last few weeks. Huni in particular has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence as a player, and at times he’s looked like the former MVP-candidate that lit up the scene when he first debuted. CG has gone from a mediocre measuring stick (in that they beat everyone below them and lost to everyone above them) to a dark horse in the race for Worlds. CLG on the other hand seemed to be caught up in their own nerves to start the Semifinals against C9 before rebounding for a good win and a very respectable showing in the fourth game of that set, even if they lost. That stage experience will be critical for them, and I think they’re still the third best team in NA — a chance to play in front of thousands of fans in Detroit should help ease any pressure they might face in the gauntlet. 

8. The case for C9
If you ignore the fact that Liquid is the three-time reigning champion, you’d see that the two teams have played fairly evenly this split. And honestly, history is a thing we talk about a lot to build narratives and predictions, but it doesn’t actually matter once you step onto the Rift. Liquid doesn’t get some insane buff to start the game just because they’re the reigning champions, and any sort of “favorite” moniker they might hold isn’t going to be dwelling too much over C9. Even if C9 are desperate to win, they know that their trip to Worlds is already secure, so I think that should let them play more loosely. This is true for both teams, of course, but that just means C9 is less likely to have idle thoughts creep into their minds. It’s not like they’ll miss a CS and think, “Damn, I missed that because TL is the three-time reigning champion.” And once you get past the narratives we’ve built up, the matchup on paper is very interesting. If Svenskeren is an in-your-face aggressive jungler, then Xmithie is the perfect foil in that he’s a support-type jungler who excels at denying plays to the opposition. All across the board you’ll see that C9 has aggressive players and TL has more defensive players, which should make for a good clash of styles. TL last folded at MSI to G2 in an extremely lopsided affair, and that was because they couldn’t handle early aggression. C9 isn’t G2, but perhaps that’s the blueprint for unraveling TL, and of all the teams in the LCS, C9 is the most capable of pulling it off. 

9. The case for TL
The simple case is that no one in NA has beaten them the last two years, and now they’re turning in another split where they’ve dominated the field. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force, and Liquid is the object in motion until they lose. Doublelift even suggests that he’s playing at a level that matches his perception of Uzi (he has extremely high praise for Uzi), which is the kind of thing you don’t really want to hear from a player who has won six LCS titles already. TL is a world-class team when it comes to punishing mistakes from opponents, which is a thing we saw on full display when they knocked IG out of MSI a few months ago. Cloud9 is a team that is very prone to making mistakes — sometimes game-ending mistakes — and unless they play perfectly, TL will have ample opportunity to pounce on them even in situations where they’re behind. TL isn’t a team that’s going to pull any weird tricks out of their bag (unless you count Sona/Taric), so you know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s good if you can beat it, but terrible if you can’t. Consistency is a thing I value a lot in a Best-of-5, and that means the onus is going to be on C9 to deliver their three best games of the split if they hope to beat TL. 

10. Final prediction

I consulted an expert here, and it seems like TL is doomed. I will trust magic and say that C9 will win their first championship in over five years with the MVP of the series going to Svenskeren. The outcome will eliminate pressure on TL to perform as the NA #1 seed at Worlds, and C9 will make it out of Groups anyway because that’s just what they do at Worlds.

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