Last week I wrote that Europe seems to be heading down the same route it always does, with Fnatic being the in-form team at the end of the season. In North America, though, things are, er, exactly the same, more or less.
Team Liquid may have ended their season with a whimper, going 0-2 on the final weekend of regular play, but they have plenty of losses to give up. Indeed the defending champions of the LCS picked up just one win in their final four games and still finished tied for first place, so strong were they in the opening half of the season.
You do have to wonder where the team’s confidence is after such a poor run-up to play-offs. It’s not as if Liquid was messing around with experimental team comps or weird pocket picks. They played their games straight up and they lost, handing wins to fellow title hopefuls on the way. I still think Liquid has the best roster in the competition, but they will need to get back to their winning ways quickly
Cloud 9, the other team on 14-4 at the top of the table, had the exact opposite record to close things out. A solitary loss against Echo Fox last weekend was there only defeat in their closing four games. Ending the regular season in that kind of form obviously bodes well for the team, but we all know they are saving themselves for an inevitable semi-final appearance at Worlds anyway, so it almost doesn’t matter what they do in the meantime.
Seriously, though, I do find it difficult to follow C9 games at times because, like Fnatic, they always seem to end up in a good spot by the business end of the season. It can be tough to maintain interest in games that feel almost irrelevant, especially after the turnaround the team underwent last year – a Summer Split that was arguably even more impressive than Fnatic’s Spring Split of this year.
I mean, come on, Cloud 9 literally played its academy team against Clutch yesterday and still won. Yes, Clutch finished ninth out of ten teams, but that shouldn’t happen.
In third place, to no great surprise, was TSM. Let’s be generous and say that last year was difficult for TSM – though they still made it to Worlds. The 2018 line-up had difficulty meshing and never really came together, leading to further changes in the off-season. This new roster seems to have hit its stride much faster and ended the split just one win behind the top two.
It’s fair to say that TSM is on the cusp of regaining former glory, at least domestically, especially when you remember that they did the double over Team Liquid this split. It feels weird to call TSM a dark horse, but I think they meet the criteria nowadays – a strong line-up that nobody expected anything from after a disappointing end to the previous year.
The fact that they face Echo Fox in the first round of play-offs could throw a spanner in the works, however. At first glance the team in sixth place with just eight wins shouldn’t be much threat to the most successful team in LCS history, but Echo Fox is actually one of the in-form teams right now.
They ended the season on a four-match winning streak, including wins over both Liquid and Cloud 9, sneaking into the final play-off spot at the last moment. The fact that they basically already won a play-off game by beating CLG on the final day of the season to steal sixth place from under their noses is a huge boon. Closing that game out with a penta kill for Apollo was a nice exclamation mark too.
Best-of-five series are a different ball game, though, and TSM has a huge edge here. They have a lot more experience of high-stakes games, and play-offs are where that really matters. The ability to navigate the micro-meta of play-off series cannot be overstated, and I expect that to put an end to Echo Fox’s split.
An ongoing theme here seems to be teams sneaking into play-offs spots with a good end-of-season run. Enter Golden Guardians, who started the split 0-4 and ended it with three wins on the bounce – well, if you don’t include the tie breaker against Flyquest, which they lost.
Honestly, I can’t see either of these teams troubling the rest of the play-off bracket. Rather than being the quarter-final, this match might as well be called the fourth-place tie breaker. Wait, they already played that. Kind of. Well, you take my point either way.
So who will win the Spring Split? My money is on Cloud 9 at this point. Brave, I know. C9 doesn’t necessarily have the best player in every position – though they’re close in every category – but the team is greater than the sum of its part. We saw this play out at Worlds last year, and I think it will play out again in the play-offs.