The Rift Rivals between Europe and North America is only one short day away. In this tournament, each region sends their top three teams from last split to duke it out for a year’s worth of bragging rights. Its not as high a prize as Worlds or MSI, but the rivalry between the two regions make this prize worth a good deal. Especially considering that the two regions met in the Finals of MSI. The six teams are the best in their regions, but who are the best of the best? Will EU continue their dominance or does NA have a chance? There’s a lot of questions that can be answered by examing the relative strengths of the teams.
No one should be surprised to see G2 Esports as the top team heading into Rift Rivals. First off, they’re the MSI champions, and though that was weeks ago now, the achievement cannot be understated. They brought down the best in the world, among them the best from NA. As they returned to the LEC Summer Split, some were worried that their post-tournament break would put them off their form. But the players silenced those worries. They immediately smashed all of their competition for the first two weeks of the split. They lost their undefeated streak to Fnatic, but every other game besides that one was dominant for G2.
Where does their strength come from? There are many answers to that, but the most important one is the quality of their players. Every single member of G2 is a superstar. People have a hard time finding a weak link in the team, but that may be because there are none. These players smash their lanes and snowball their leads effectively, and they’re darn good at it. On top of this, their innovation and use of flex picks like Pyke makes them even harder to draft and play against. That all said, there are kinks in their armor that NA can exploit. Fnatic showed that matching their chaotic early game can lead to a victory, but its a tall task for any team to pull off. They may drop a game, or at most two, but it’s very unlikely it’ll be more than one.
Though Fnatic finished third in the LEC last split, they’ve shown massive improvement since then. Last year this squad, with the exception of Nemesis, made it all the way to the World Championship Finals. In the Spring Split, they struggled at the beginning but managed to make a comeback in the latter half of the split. It finally looks like they’re coming back to form this split though. So far, Fnatic is undefeated with a 6-0 record. They already beat G2 Esports and Origen, so their power is the real deal. It’s hard to be sure right now, but Fnatic may very well be close to G2’s level of play. From the games so far its not ridiculous to say so, and as such, they’ll be a difficult opponent for the NA teams.
Fnatic has a good deal of high-tier talent and good coordination. With Nemesis stepping up more recently, Fnatic can carry out of any lane. Broxah is still the star player for the team, as his early-mid game impact is unrivaled. Hylissang can add to this with his aggressive roaming supports that strike fear into the heart of any mid laner. Once the mid-late game rolls around, Fnatic has displayed proficiency in both split pushing and team fighting styles. Rekkles is known for his incredible team fighting, and Bwipo is versatile and can adapt to what his team needs. Overall, Fnatic is a strong team together and will be eager to prove themselves at this international tournament.
Third on the list is NA’s Finest, Team Liquid. They’re halfway down the list, but don’t be mistaken, TL are no pushovers. At MSI they defeated reigning World Champions Invictus Gaming and fought G2 in the Finals. They lost, but they still proved they’re a top tier team. Though they dropped a couple of games in the first two weeks to lower-tier teams, TL has definitely improved their game since then. Their return to form is terrifying for both their domestic LCS opponents and those coming from the LEC. Surely, they will be eager to have a rematch with G2 and tell the world that they can be the best.
Its no secret that TL’s bottom lane is their biggest strength. Doublelift and CoreJJ are a fantastic duo that excels at all parts of the game. To accentuate this strength, the team works very well focusing this lane to get them ahead. Xmithie is great at controlling the jungle to set up for this style of play, but he can do much more. Jensen is one of the best mid laners in the LCS, and has a high capability to carry. Impact has improved his carry play as well, so truly every lane is a threat. They’re capable of adapting to meta changes and controlling some teams’ chaotic styles. This will be crucial for them to do at Rift Rivals. G2 and Fnatic look strong, but if TL can make them play their game, they can definitely come out on top.
Next up is Team SoloMid (“TSM”). Any LCS fan knows the legacy of TSM and the caliber of competition they uphold. Over the past couple of years, TL has taken their spot at number one, but TSM is on the rise. Last split, they pulled off a crazy reverse sweep versus Cloud9 in the post-season and was one game away from defeating TL. This season they’re in the three-way tie for second with C9 and OpTic, but their win over C9 in week three ensures their spot above them on this list. They don’t seem to be quite up to par with TL yet, but TSM is a big name in their own right and can certainly pull off some wins at this tournament.
Why can NA fans be confident in them? Just look at the man in the mid lane, Bjergsen. At this point, he’s synonymous with the organization and the team’s best player. He can play a host of different champions to great effect while serving the needs of the team. Another strength comes from the bottom lane. Zven and Smoothie have been doing well this split, especially on picks that can dominate lane. Meanwhile, Grig has returned to the stage and has been playing extraordinarily well. The team has played with him and Akaadian, and though Akaadian has struggled this split, he has the potential to add a lot to the team. Lastly, Broken Blade is a great carry player for the team, and if given resources, he can thrive in this meta. They’re not the powerhouse they once were, but this Rift Rivals may help them become that again.
Cloud9, despite being ranked below TSM, is very close to the latter in terms of strength. As previously mentioned, they are currently fighting in the LCS for the second place spot with TSM and OpTic, which means they’re at least a domestically strong team. But that’s not all, it’s important to remember that this C9 roster, excluding Nisqy, went all the way to the Worlds Semifinals last year. They always have something up their sleeve and this makes them a serious force regardless of their perceived power level. Fans will remember the Kindred-Zilean combo from last year, along with the Gragas-Yasuo combo they’ve played twice this split. Teams cannot underestimate C9.
Coach Reapered’s innovation aside, the team works well together. C9 has had some rocky early games but it’s impossible to count them out in the mid-game where they shine the brightest. Their team play and coordination in fights in great. They always commit on good calls together, and though there are a few instances where this has hurt them, it usually gives them advantages. Svenskeren is making a name for himself this split too because of the massive impact he has on nearly every game. Licorice is very adaptable to what his team needs, while Nisqy and Sneaky are consistent carries for the team. Zeyzal is always ready to pull the trigger on play-making champions. The team’s unique take on the meta and coordination may allow them to pull off some wins at this tournament and bring NA closer to glory.
Finally, there is the LEC’s final representative, Origen. It may feel wrong to put the team that finished second in the Spring Split so low, but so far they haven’t lived up to expectations. Their current record for this split is 3-3. This is a worrying sign for Origen fans, as well as EU fans looking towards Rift Rivals. They’re certainly not a bad team, but when playing with and against the top teams from each region, its crucial to live up to that standard. Even so, Origen isn’t so far away from TSM and C9 that it’s impossible for them to pick up wins. They have the capability to do so with this roster, its just a matter of unlocking that potential again.
To do so, the star players of Kold and Nukeduck need to perform at their peak. Kold has been consistently playing well so far, and his controlled playstyle suits the team well usually. Nukeduck is known for his ability to outplay opponents and hard carry games on assassin/fighter champions. Alphari has showed off some less conventional picks to varied success and can be relied upon to do his job for the team. Lastly, the bottom lane duo is prone to playing safer lanes, rather than aggressive all-in style duos. This style can work if executed correctly, but doing so against many of the bottom lanes here will be hard. In the end, Origen is likely to struggle unless they somehow click, but don’t be surprised if they pick up a few wins.
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