NA LCS Playoffs Preview: Quarterfinals
Cloud 9 (#3) vs. Team EnVyUs (#6)
Date: August 13th, 3:00 PM EDT
Records: C9: 12-6, NV: 8-10
Season Series: 2-0 (4-0), in favor of Cloud 9
The opening series of the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split Playoffs features one of the region’s most established organizations, Cloud9, against a fledgling newcomer, Team EnVyUs. All signs point to third-seeded Cloud9, who enter the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams and winners of their last four sets. In fact, C9 finished the season on an eight game winning streak, dropping not a single game in Weeks 8 and 9.
Sixth-seeded Team EnVyUs, on the other hand, has been on a downward trajectory for much of the latter part of the season. After beginning the split 5-1, NV met C9 in Week 4, looking to continue a pleasantly surprising start. C9 was having none of it, however; crushing the rookie team, 13-0 in 30 minutes in the first ever matchup between the two. On what has become one of his favorite champions, Cassiopeia, Jensen went 6/0/5 and dealt about a third of his team’s damage. The second game was far more competitive, with NV actually holding a significant gold lead (5k) at about 30 minutes. In the decisive fight, veteran AD Carry Sneaky delivered the split’s first penta-kill with Ashe, capping off a 9/1/6 performance with a C9 victory.
As two of the league’s premier carries, Jensen and Sneaky get a lot of credit for C9’s success, and deservedly so. They ranked first (207) and fourth (187) respectively in kills this season. At the same time, the players around the two stars are enabling them tremendously, and starting to mesh as a cohesive group. Veteran Jungler Meteos has seemingly replaced Immortals’ Reignover as the league’s first blood king. He has been willing to play whatever the team needs, locking in either Rek’Sai or Gragas in 32 of the team’s 44 games this season. His 6.7 KDA is highest at his position by a wide margin, and he can certainly makes a case for the best North American Jungler.
Meanwhile, the two new additions to the C9 roster have really come into their own this split. After a rocky start, former world-champion Impact has become a reliable presence for the team, playing primarily tanks but also showing himself capable on carry champions. He proved that in Game 1 of the Week 8 matchup between C9 and NV, where his Irelia went off to the tune of an 8/1/6 score line. In the bottom lane, Andy “Smoothie” Tan has officially become the team’s starting support after sharing time with Bunny FuFuu for much of the season. While Smoothie has a similar champion pool and play style to Bunny, the organization ultimately felt that the team gelled slightly better with him in the lineup, and wanted to field the same team each week heading into playoffs. Smoothie also uses some of Bunny’s less played champions such as Alistar and Nami, both of which he is undefeated on this season.
Just to land a playoff spot in its first season in the NA LCS is a terrific accomplishment for the Team EnVyUs organization. That being said, this group may have gotten ahead of itself after winning five of their first six sets, defeating both CLG and Team Liquid in the process. Preceding a Week 4 matchup with TSM, AD Carry Benjamin “LOD” deMunck proclaimed himself as “having the edge” on Doublelift. NV proceeded to offer little opposition to TSM; however, going down in straight games by a 24-7 overall kill count. The match concluded a 0-2 week in which NV failed to win a game, and was beginning to come back to earth. In fact, after beginning the season 5-1, Envy went 3-8 down the stretch, just barely managing to sneak into playoffs over Apex by way of a tie-breaker. There have been bright spots for Team EnVyUs throughout, especially for a first-year team, but there is no reason to expect them to take out one of NA’s best, and hottest, teams.
Prediction: 3-0 Cloud 9
Counter Logic Gaming (#4) vs. Team Liquid (#5)
Date: August 14th, 3:00 PM EDT
Records: CLG: 10-8, Team Liquid 9-9
Season Series: 2-0 (4-2), in favor of Counter Logic Gaming
This quarterfinal matchup is a rematch of the NA LCS Spring Split semifinals, but this series takes on a different look and feel than the last. For starters, Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid were the second and fourth-seeded teams respectively last season, and each was a legitimate contender to take the North American title. CLG finished the spring split 13-5, trailing only 17-1 Immortals in the standings and actually managing to hand the dominant new team its sole loss. Team Liquid, meanwhile, had overcome a tumultuous early start to finish, a 10-8 record, and secured fourth place in the regular season. In a back-and-forth series that could be analyzed inside and out, what will ultimately be remembered is the infamous double-teleport play that clinched the decisive Game 5 and a spot in the finals for CLG (which they ultimately won).
Fast-forwarding to the current split, each team has had its struggles and neither looks like a juggernaut heading into the playoffs. As the defending champions and runner-ups at the Mid-Season Invitational, CLG appeared poised to lay waste to the rest of North America this summer. With such immense success on an international stage, as well as top-level competition against world-class teams, surely CLG would be leaps and bounds ahead of every other regional organization. Whether it be hubris or complacency, this was simply not the case, as CLG began the season 1-3. The team’s sole win in the first two weeks? It came against Team Liquid, which also started 1-3. Both teams have managed to mend some of their issues, thus, both teams find themselves competing in this first weekend of playoffs.
Everything changed when Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett joined the Team Liquid lineup last spring, igniting the team to a strong finish that included wins in five of its final six matches. He was twice (Week 3, Week 9) named the weekly NA MVP, and enabled star Korean players Piglet and Fenix to thrive in their respective positions. Prior to the this split; however, Team Liquid suspended Dardoch indefinitely for insubordinate behavior, and even toyed with the possibility of moving him to another organization. That all changed when the team virtually crumbled without him, swept by Team Envy and demolished in the first game against TSM. Apparently, TL had thought its integral structure would be able to withstand a loss, but was quickly proven wrong. As new acquisition Moon floundered in the jungle, the team struggled in turn, and was never really in control of any of its first three games. Just like that, Dardoch was back on stage, and quickly had the team threatening to hand TSM its first loss. Though they inevitably lost that series, Liquid went on to sweep Echo Fox the following weekend. In Week 3, TL made another radical change, swapping out veteran AD Carry and former world champion Piglet in favor of Jovani “Fabbbyyy” Guillen. Though the move seemed absurd at the time, it prompted the team’s first 2-0 weekend in Week 3, with Fabbbyyy playing a significant role on utility marksmen such as Ashe and Sivir. While Fabbbyyy was serviceable, there became no question who Team Liquid’s leader was with Piglet gone: Dardoch. Yes, Fenix is undoubtedly one of the best mid-laners in the league, and Lourlo is a respectable top-laner himself. But, Dardoch is definitely the engine that drives this Team Liquid machine. As he goes, Team Liquid goes. And, for the first time in his young career, he is the unquestioned leader of a playoff team poised to make a run.
One of the most notable aspects of Counter Logic Gaming at the Mid-Season Invitational was the team’s map-play and ability to work as a cohesive unit. Back in North America; however, the team has lacked the same coordination and confidence it found on the international stage. For instance, an alarming statistic is that every player aside from Xmithie is in the bottom three in kill participation for their respective roles. In fact, Aphromoo, who was thought to be a major catalyst of CLG’s success, is dead last among supports, participating in just 67.1% of his team’s kills this split. That being said, Aphromoo and company did what they do best in the tail end of this season, finding ways to win games. Whether through chaos or honed strategy, CLG’s trademark has been prevailing in tense scenarios more so than other teams. For instance, take their most recent match against Team Liquid in Week 8. After the teams traded the first two games, they were set to play a rubber-match for the second time this split. This time, it seemed, TL had the edge, opening up a 6K gold lead and 15-5 kill disparity at 32 minutes. Most importantly, a third of these kills were on Fenix’s Cassiopeia, the team’s highest damage player on one of the highest damage late game carries. By 38 minutes, that lead had ballooned to 10K and Liquid was wearing a Baron Buff. In a disastrous team fight at the Elder Dragon; however, it all fell apart for Team Liquid.
The crushing loss dropped TL to 0-2 against CLG this split, losing in three games on both occasions. Can losing in such a fashion create a mental block against a specific team? Quite possibly. Especially when the past three series against that team have heartbreaking losses in the final game. At the same time, just to reach that point, Team Liquid has displayed the capability to go toe-to-toe with CLG, that is undeniable. Will this be the time they get over the hump? I’ll go with history, and I believe the trend continues on Sunday.
Prediction: 3-2 CLG
Written by Thomas Liljedahl
Edited by William “Williaf” Ferdinando
Featured Image provided by Riot Games