Throughout this summer, LCS teams have been extremely competitive. All top 8 teams were in playoff contention until the very last day, resulting in 3 tiebreakers to determine the 2nd and 6th place playoff spots. All teams coming into playoffs look capable of taking games off each other. Despite this, the top three teams currently look like clear favorites to win the tournament.
Another aspect that is at the forefront coming into playoffs is the individual team personalities. Every team has reasons why you should root for them; from returning fan favorites to revealing the potential of the Academy scene. Any victory has strong implications for the future of the league.
OpTic Gaming has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Coming in, many analysts and casters predicted they would end up in last place. These expectations never came to pass. OpTic has looked like one of the most promising teams outside of the top 3. Despite losing seven games in the second half, they ran through their competition for the 6th place spot in two consecutive one-sided games. OpTic closed out both tie-breaker games with over 7k gold leads. Unfortunately, the road for OpTic only gets harder from here. They will have to beat Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the shining star of the 2019 Summer Split, in their upcoming quarterfinals match. While this may seem impossible to many fans, they did it once before, and they may do it again.
OpTic has more than just a single game win going for them coming into playoffs. They have an ability to avoid game losing mistakes and star player William "Meteos" Hartman. Meteos brings what many junglers struggle to, consistent playmaking and a supporting performance that allows his team’s carries to shine. His strengths were on full display in the tie-breaker games, putting up performances dominant enough to make you forget OpTic’s disappointing second half. If these performances show his capability coming into the games against CLG, he will be the deciding factor for a victory. Regardless of the odds, OpTic is coming in feeling confident, Niship “Dhokla” Doshi expressed this confidence by commenting, “FreeLG,” when asked what he thought of his upcoming opponent.
OpTic Vs the World
However, fans shouldn’t expect them to take the series by storm; OpTic’s weaknesses are worrisome enough that they remain the underdogs. They’ve suffered from repeated vulnerabilities against proactive teams and an inconsistent season. When against top teams, OpTic have failed to diffuse the enemy team’s plays. Their play suggests that the team operates on a carefully pre-planned strategy and crumble once the game moves away from this strategy, but they have failed to force their strategy in the second half. Regardless of how promising their tiebreaker games were, OpTic’s second half could come back to haunt them and keep them from beating the odds.
Viewers should keep their eye on this team coming into playoffs. While OpTic has failed to gather the fan’s attention through their time in the LCS, the fan-favorite brand, Immortals, acquired the team at the beginning of the season. This is the preview for the change in performance that the new ownership of Immortals will bring, with more flexibility for roster changes and the renaming of the team coming in the 2020 Spring Season. Any success that the team brings in the off-season will prove that better ownership equals better results. If OpTic makes the semifinals or even the finals, they’ll show that player development is more important than buying the most expensive players available. You should root for OpTic if you want Immortals to make a dominant return to the scene and you believe players can improve to challenge even the best.
Clutch Gaming (CG) is the most improved team of the season. They began their season looking absolutely lost, nobody was on the same page and David “Phreak” Turley even bet that, “[If they win a single game] I’ll wear a cowboy hat in their quarterfinals best of 5.” Well, now it’s time to pay up because they’ve made it. Coming off a 3-game win streak, CG is looking to keep the momentum going. With their aggressive, and sometimes questionable, drafting, fans can be sure of one thing; this rapidly improving roster will break the mold with their unique style instead of standard play.
Their current roster boasts an extremely aggressive playstyle, has strong players across the board and shows no sign of slowing their improvement. If they continue to improve throughout the offseason, CG has a chance of challenging other teams for the tournament win. Their players have shown a high level of individual mechanical skill when at their best, challenging the limits of their champions’ capabilities. Bot laner Sun "Cody" "Cody Sun" Li-Yu rounds out the team; he takes the game slowly while the rest of his team secures advantages through the full-on-attack style that Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon has carried with him from team to team, from Fnatic to Immortals to now Clutch. CG has shown time and time again that they are willing to make the plays other teams wouldn’t dare try. They force team-fights or skirmishes on their own terms and win off of them.
Clutch: Throwing is the Easiest Part
CG’s strengths also act as their weaknesses. Their constant aggressiveness makes the team much more prone to misplays and throws than slower-paced and passive teams. While Cody Sun acts as an excellent counterbalance to this risk, these small openings often lead to avoidable game losses when playing against better teams. The drafts that Clutch use also have the potential to backfire, a notable example of this being Cody Sun’s Zed mid in their match against Cloud9. CG has lost many games because of their overambitious drafts, drafting champions and styles that proved far too difficult for the team to execute on. The biggest fear for them coming into the playoffs is the possibility that their own mistakes, not the play of their enemy, will be the source of their undoing.
Fans should look forward to Clutch’s games on Saturday, August 10 for more than just their enjoyable-to-watch style. This team has the potential to upset any team in the playoffs or lose at any moment. The Texas-based team will have a massive brand change after this season though, Clutch has merged with the long-term League of Legends team, Dignitas, and will rebrand as such next season. This is the final chance for the team to make an impact as the only location-based team before having that facet removed. While the match against Team SoloMid (TSM) may seem like an uphill battle, CG has a history of subverting expectations when against TSM, being the source of their Spring 2018 Quarterfinals exit. If you believe aggressive play is the future of the league, this is the team you should support coming into the 2019 LCS Summer Playoffs.
Arguably the most popular team in LoL history, TSM is the team everyone loves to hate and hates to love. Coming off a strong Spring Split performance, this team has disappointed fans everywhere. After winning a solid 6 out of 9 games in the first half, the team struggled to find many wins in the second half. They maintained the risk of missing playoffs for the first time until the last week. The only playoffs team that they managed to take a game off the second time around is CG. By sheer luck, they’re the team TSM will play against.
TSM is coming into their match against Clutch with a solid 2-0 record in their favor. The team also has a history of a playoffs buff; they’ve made it to every final in the LCS prior to franchising. Even in 2018, the year the team looked at its weakest, they appeared to be the clear third-best team by the time Summer Playoffs had ended. TSM’s founder Andy “Reginald” Dinh tends to step in when playoffs begin. You can see Dinh’s influence in the past, with the 2016 Spring roster pulling off huge upsets twice in a row to make it to the finals. Only time will tell if their playoff buff and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s consistently high-level of play will be enough for TSM to leave their mark on this split.
A Failure to Improve
As previously mentioned, TSM’s spring performance led viewers to expect great things from them. Then, when summer came, the team failed to deliver on all accounts. Not only has the team failed to improve since then, but they’ve also only been getting worse as the season continues. Earlier in the season, TSM pulled a convincing win off the Cloud9 powerhouse, but more recently they struggled to close out in their games against Echo Fox and Golden Guardians, teams that failed to even make it to playoffs. You can see the increasingly sloppy play from TSM across their games in the second half, including Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen getting caught out of position multiple times. These problems have only gotten worse since the previous split where he secured a loss against the dominant Team Liquid by getting caught out in Game 5 of their Spring Finals appearance.
While their problems appear to guarantee an early playoff exit from them, teams should never underestimate TSM. Any playoff series against the team will prove to be a much more difficult task than you would imagine. The team is hungry and dedicated to victory. Making it to playoffs is a given for their standards; they expect themselves to win the whole tournament and their work ethic has led them to succeed many times before. This year they will have to work even harder to make up for their previous year’s performance where they did not live up to their legacy and missed the 2018 World Championship. You should root for this team if you love the old guard or if you think nonstop hard work is the best path to success in the LCS.
Counter Logic Gaming
Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) is the shining star of the Summer 2019 Season. Rising from 7th place last split, the team reached the point of a tiebreaker away from a playoff bye. With Weldon “Weldon” Green as the team’s coach, they look to make it to worlds and make America proud. After an impressive 2016 MSI finals appearance, CLG has looked mediocre until this season. They reignited the flame of their rivalry between them and TSM after winning against them for the first time in years. This team is looking to re-establish itself as one of the most dominant organizations in LCS history.
Raymond "Wiggily" Griffin is the source of most of this team growth. Teammate Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes commented on Wiggily’s play, saying that “nobody expected him to be as good as he is now.” With their jungler being a massively influential part in the game, CLG drafts aggressively for lane. Their strategy is to force a lead in the early game by drafting as many winning lanes as possible and using this advantage to close games out. This strategy has been massively successful because of both CLG’s impressive early game and their ability to determine available plays they can make. You can never count this team out of a game, they come back into hopeless games by making risky baron calls and forcing the enemy to react to their tempo.
Top 3 or Top 2
However, the team’s draft-for-lane strategy has its pitfalls. The team is constantly walking the line between drafting a strong team composition that will enable them to take control of the game from minute one and drafting something that reminds you of your solo queue teams. Examples of this are the games CLG dropped against Golden Guardians and 100 Thieves. With the improvement of the team's play they have avoided mistakes they commonly made in the first half of the split and year. But fans should keep their eyes out for potential random deaths that would hint towards a loss of this growth. While they are clear favorites in their match against Optic, CLG will probably have a harder time getting through the semifinals.
CLG is a team that has been in the LCS since before day one. They came with the start of the competitive league and clawed their way back to relevancy this season. This improvement came mostly off the back of Wiggily’s play. He was playing in the LCS Academy League until this year; learning from Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen in the 2018 Spring while on Cloud9’s Academy team before moving to CLG Academy for the summer. If Wiggily continues his rapid pace of improvement and lead his team to a strong after season, he will have sent a message to viewers everywhere—the promising Academy League players are serious competitors. You should be rooting for CLG if you want teams to take the academy scene more seriously and you believe in developing younger players through this system.
Unlike TSM, Cloud9 (C9) has only improved since their Spring Split performance. They are looking like favorites to make it to the finals, regardless of who they face off against. The only roadblock that seemed to stand in their way coming into the final day was CLG before they completely dismantled them in the tiebreaker to secure their playoff bye. C9 has been a top team since the beginning of the league, only dropping off momentarily throughout the years. This team has recovered from massive names leaving their roster, such as Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong and Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, by adding in new names such as Eric “Licorice” Ritchie and Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer. They have no shortage of talent, holding some of the best players in North America.
Cloud9’s strength comes from their jungle/mid duo. Svenskeren and Nisqy have been dismantling enemy mid laners since the start of the season, and casters consider Svenskeren one of the top candidates for the MVP award. One of the few weaknesses that many expected coming into playoffs was the bot lane. However, in their dominating game against CLG, C9 played through their bot and showed everyone that Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi has gotten over his early-season slump. Their bot lane is looking like the second-best in the entire region coming into playoffs. The team has also proven itself to be an international competitor in the past years. They're the only North American team to make it out of groups consistently, regardless of who they’re placed against.
While C9 may look like the favorites, and they may have proven themselves in the past, their current roster remains without success of any kind. They were eliminated in a crushing reverse sweep in the LCS Spring 2019 Semifinals against TSM after receiving the bye. Now they are in a similar position. They haven’t proven themselves in a best of five scenario, and this is one of the only reasons Cloud9’s finals appearance isn’t a given. Besides this issue, their top laner, Licorice, has looked decidedly unimpressive this summer. He has gone from one of the best top laners in the entire league in the spring to the loose link on the team. In Cloud9’s decisive victory over Optic, Licorice was the only player that underperformed his lane opponent.
Regardless of the increasing competition in the league, C9 looks like one of the best two teams in the league. They are the only team to manage a 2-0 record against Team Liquid (TL) which gave them half of their losses. The Cloud9 organization is one of the longest-standing organizations in the league, but they haven’t been able to manage a tournament win since early in the LCS history. They are also the most consistent international team that North America has. You should root for C9 in the playoffs if you would like to see the long-standing “memer” producing team finally get back on top.
The prodigal son returns. After an impressive victory over Invictus Gaming and a much less impressive loss to G2 Esports, Team Liquid is looking to win their 4th consecutive season. They have been a slumbering giant through the season, winning 14 of their regular-season games despite looking much worse than their standards would suggest. This is the team to beat in the playoffs. They have Jake Kevin "Xmithie" Puchero, the oldest player in the league, and more experience on any player than most teams have combined. They’re the team that money brought together to challenge top teams internationally, but first they must prove their dominance on native soil once again.
TL is coming into the playoffs with players that many consider one of the best in their roles in every position. Their only perceived weak point in last season, the play of Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, has been one of their most convincing strengths this season. He hasn’t played a single conventional tank all season, and he’s been showing why “top die” is back to stay. At this point, he is looking like the best top laner in North America. Last season’s stars, Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik and Licorice, fell off and newcomer Kim "Ruin" Hyeong-min failed to get a convincing advantage over him. Impact’s champion choice is only part of TL’s summer champion improvements.
Everyone on the team has dedicated the regular season to practicing new and important picks that they can bring out on the international stage. TL has the potential to be in their best form yet by the time Worlds comes around.
Sloppy Means Bad
Unfortunately, TL’s record isn’t indicative of the level of their play this summer. They’ve looked sloppy by their standards in most of their games. Even their game against Echo Fox in Week 9 of the LCS, where they drafted a classic TL comp, showed a lack of focus from the team. This is likely because of their competition. TL doesn’t take their regular-season games seriously enough, as evidenced by their final fully glacial team composition. In addition, Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng’s commented in their post-game interview saying that they would start to “try a little harder” in the after season. Whether this sloppiness is because of their lack of interest in the regular season remains to be seen. Another concern comes with the recent news of Jensen’s wrist being injured and becoming an issue for continued stage play.
Even though TL has looked sloppy in the regular season, they have a right to be. They have proven in the past that they’re a step above the rest of the LCS teams. With fan-favorites Doublelift and Jensen, the team looks to make the Liquid number four joke into reality again by being the first team to win four titles in a row. It’s up to the other teams to prove that they are actual competitors when placed against teams at the level of TL and other internationally competitive teams. You should root for TL if you’re a fan of the region or if you’re a fan of Doublelift and Jensen. This is the team that has the most promise to get a respectable international performance to reinstate North America as a major region in LoL that others should take seriously.
While TL is the favorite for the tournament, every team has a considerable chance of making an impact this year. It’s entirely possible that Clutch will beat TSM and improve to where they win the entire tournament. There is also finally serious competition for Team Liquid. Cloud9 is looking just as dominant as them in recent weeks and CLG has continued to improve their play throughout the season. While there was a clear top 3 in the regular season, the line is likely to blur as the teams begin their playoff preparation and begin to improve much faster in the after season. Support the team that called to you in these upcoming weeks and let the storylines that led to the teams getting here show you the bigger picture of the league.
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