The final week of the League of Legends Championship Series is upon us, and we still have no idea who our six spring playoff teams will be, outside of front-runners Cloud 9. Here are a few questions and musings going into Week 9.
Pick either Dignitas or Golden Guardians (both tied for eighth), and make a compelling case for how they could make the playoffs.
Tyler Erzberger: Between the two unlikely playoff contenders, I am going to go down with the ship and say Dignitas here. I infamously made a bet on our weekly League of Legends show, "Rift Rewind," that I would dye my hair if rookie Johnson "Johnsun" Nguyen didn't make the top three in MVP voting. This was based on his first two weeks of the season, when Dignitas were firing on all cylinders and Johnsun was playing like a player beyond his years.
Although I still believe Johnsun has a lot of potential and has carried himself extremely well in his debut season, I can admit that he will not be cracking the top 30 of MVP voting, and my hair will soon be a color that makes me wear a hat for a month. Still, if it's between the Golden Guardians and Dignitas, I will put my faith in a team with more proven players who have come up in big moments with their backs against the wall.
After watching Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon play Lucia so often, I'm excited to see if he picks up Kalista in the top lane this weekend. If his Rumble is taken away from him, I'm pretty confident we'll see Huni pick up the spear dealer in one of Dignitas' final two games of the regular season.
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Emily Rand: In previous years, I established myself as a firm Choi "Huhi" Jae-yun apologist, defending his mid lane style and knowledge of side lane pressure at the cost of losing pressure in the mid lane, often missing multiple mid waves because of this (if this sounds familiar, there's an LPL mid laner who has made a career of perfecting this style). He is not a mid laner now but a support for Golden Guardians, pulled from their Academy lineup to start alongside bot laner Ian Victor "FBI" Huang over Yuri "Keith" Jew.
Jokes about my previous defense of Huhi aside, I think Golden Guardians have looked slightly better with Huhi in the starting lineup, and they've had a fairly rough stretch of matches, including Cloud9 and Team SoloMid, since the roster change. Golden Guardians also have the slightly easier schedule this week, compared to Dignitas, though it could come down to the web of head-to-head matchups and other matches this weekend, as Arda details below.
Arda Ocal: The matchups are (with the team's record against the opponent this split in brackets):
Saturday vs. Immortals (1-0)
Sunday vs. TSM (0-1)
Saturday vs. CLG (1-0)
Sunday vs. Flyquest (0-1)
That's a tough one. You would initially say GG because they face last- place CLG, who are out of the playoffs, but Eugene "Pobelter" Park & Co. might love to play spoiler (and Pobelter wasn't on the team when the two teams met in Week 1). Meanwhile, Flyquest is in the thick of it and defeated GG pretty convincingly in Week 5.
Meanwhile, Dignitas have the tougher schedule, with both TSM (second place) and IMT (tied for fifth) in the thick of it. Both will be rough matchups, especially at this point in the season.
If it comes down to a tiebreaker with fifth-place 100 Thieves, GG went 0-2 against 100T, and Dignitas went 1-1. It seems like GG have a tougher road, mathematically, but Dig have the rougher schedule.
I give the edge to Golden Guardians. They go 2-0. Dig drop a game but beat IMT. 100T and IMT go 0-2, and somehow GG sneak into the playoffs. Even if it's improbable, it's not impossible. Note: I'm not predicting this. I'm just playing out the scenarios.
Describe Team Liquid's 2020 spring split in one word.
If I'm a member of Team Liquid, I'm throwing up my hands and placing this entire season firmly in the "unlucky" column. According to multiple sources, TL prepared and went through all of the proper channels, only to have jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen's visa flagged. Then Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng was sick. Then he was benched for motivation issues. Top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong struggled to keep up with his opponents. Then the coronavirus postponement and move to an online format happened.
Like my colleagues, I don't think this year is over for TL. I want to see the jungle-mid synergy between Broxah and Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen that was promised by their solo queue sessions in the 2019-20 offseason. I want to see Doublelift back in fighting form after his admittedly lax attitude toward this split. I want to see Impact able to draw pressure without ceding his lane. This TL team can work, but only time will tell if this spring split is something from which they cannot recover.
This is what sports is sometimes. The back-to-back-to-back-to-back North American champions created the greatest dynasty in LCS history, and it had to end sometime. During their reign, they had some lucky breaks go their way, and this tumultuous season, everything that could go wrong for the team went sideways.
I still believe Team Liquid will bounce back in the summer split and qualify for the world championship with the new system that disregards spring results, but that shouldn't take away from what is a whimper to what should have been an epic climax to a historic title defense. For two years, Team Liquid have been on top of the region, and I always felt like if they were to go down, it'd have to come from a team such as Cloud9 or TSM coming up to their level to dethrone the kings.
Instead, TL is more than likely going to miss the spring split playoffs, and that'll be that, with the crown left vacant until someone picks it up in the online final, where the coronation celebration will be the players ordering Postmates to their apartments. What a weird season, but that's sports. You never know what will happen.
Broxah's visa issues. The team not feeling complete. Edward "Tactical" Ra subbing in for Doublelift after he publicly expresses his lack of motivation to play and says spring split doesn't matter. The league moving online. The team coming into the season with massive expectations, having won the past four splits. A lot of what happened to Team Liquid this split was out of their control. Certainly, there has to be frustration around it, both internally with the team and with TL fans.
Negligible also works here.
I say negligible because summer split brings a clean slate. Summer split matters more in terms of qualifying for worlds. Doublelift won't be demotivated, especially after getting sick and seeing his starting spot in peril. Broxah has had several weeks to build chemistry with the team. The team now knows they have viable substitute options in Shern "shernfire" Cherng Tai and Tactical. They have the confidence to pitch in if necessary. TL has shown flashes of brilliance this split in certain moments. If there were ever a team looking forward to pressing the reset button and getting back on track, it will be this team. They will likely push spring aside as an anomaly, something that can be written about years later in the book of TL. Now it's all about summer, all the time, with a rejuvenated squad rarin' to go.
Of all of the matchups this weekend, which one are you looking forward to most?
Ocal: Both of TL's matchups. I'm very curious what this team will do with their backs firmly against the wall. They need two wins, and they need some help to make the playoffs. Their spring split playoff fate isn't in their hands entirely, so I want to see how this team reacts to this. They face FlyQuest, a team that has occupied the No. 2 spot for much of the split, is battling for position in the postseason and whom TL beat earlier this season, and C9, who crushed TL in their opening game of the split but who have secured first place, might not have 100% motivation and might experiment a bit. I still believe TL can make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, and that's very interesting to me, regardless of whether it's a possibility for them to win five LCS titles in a row.
Rand: This doesn't have as much of an impact on the playoff outcome as other matches on the schedule, but I really want to see Evil Geniuses take on Cloud9. EG have been on a tear and seemed to have figured out the solo lane issues that plagued them during the beginning of the split. This will be a good test of just how well they stack up against the best in the LCS.
Which team outside of Cloud9 is poised to make a deep playoff run?
Ocal: If you believe in momentum, it's Evil Geniuses. The team hasn't lost since Week 6 against 100 Thieves and is riding a five-game winning streak, placing them in second going into the final weekend. If EG have a strong Week 9 against C9 and Immortals, another team battling for a playoff spot, I would put them as a team I could see making the final. Bae "Bang" Jun-sik has the second-highest KDA in the league right now, Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro looks like the Italian Stallion again, and the team is clicking. My answer is EG, especially if they have a strong Week 9.
Erzberger: Give me TSM. I know, I know. They're consistently inconsistent. At their best, they're the only team that has toppled the seemingly unstoppable C9. At their worst, they're slumming it with the teams at the bottom of the standings and not looking a hair out of place. Yet if there is a team that I think has the tools to give C9 a challenge, it's TSM. TL is the only other team with the pound-for-pound talent to match C9, and they're almost assuredly not making the playoffs, so it's going to come down to TSM.
As it has been with TSM all season, it's going to come down to timing. TSM doesn't have to be a world-class team for an entire season or even the entire playoffs. If they can catch lightning in a bottle for one or two best-of-five matchups, they could wind up as spring split champions.
Rand: Since I used the phrase "platonic ideal of this TSM team," I have kicked myself so many times for believing in TSM. Yet here we are. The reason I'm looking toward TSM and not other North American teams is that TSM seem to have their identity firmly in hand. They want Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett able to make early-game plays, especially top side with Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik to give him a strong lane for the early-to-mid game. We've seen single-game instances when they've deviated from this, but ultimately, TSM seem to know what they want to do. Their execution at times is what makes it so hard to believe in them.
Pick a player outside of the Cloud9 starting five, and defend him as your MVP of the split.
Ocal: I don't know how far up the conversation he would get, but I want to give some love to Broken Blade. I feel like when he's playing well, TSM shines. He has been lights-out on Sett, even playing against Sett. He has 68% kill participation, a 4.3 KDA (second among top laners in the LCS), and he leads the LCS among top laners in damage percentage. Even though it would be silly if anyone not on Cloud9 wins this award this split, Broken Blade would be in the conversation for me.
Rand: This would be a big "if" that would happen only if TL were able to, you know, make the playoffs -- because I don't think you can be an MVP if your team doesn't make it to the playoff stage. In a split in which TL's roster, performances and seemingly motivation were constantly in flux, mid laner Jensen has been a pillar of strength. He's at or near the top in all metrics for LCS mid laners and has been the only TL player who hasn't had a head-scratching performance this split. If TL make it to the playoffs, it will be on the back of Jensen.
How many tiebreakers will we have?
Rand: Without looking at all at the mathematical probabilities, two.