Following 14 weeks of nonstop League of Legends action in North America’s LCS, the end is finally dawning on the regular season, paving the way for the commencement of playoffs.
Recently renamed as the LCS Championship, it serves as the final obstacle before qualifying for Worlds, in which three spots are up for grabs in NA (two automatic bids for groups and one for play-ins), and after deciphering every scenario in seeding, the league is intricately left with this situation:
Five teams are hunting for the first two seeds (guarantees bye to the second round)
Next two are gunning for the sixth seed (guarantees spot in the upper bracket)
Last three are searching for the eighth seed (avoids outright elimination)
Normally, spectating fans would be ecstatic over the parity developed from the whole field, with the crux of it occurring from the traditionally strong squads. And yet, as this summer showed, that didn’t become the case. Instead, the best have regressed and the average has overshot them, creating a totally wide-open window.
Here’s a visual representation of how the LCS fared.
It’s a tale as old as the LCS itself, interestingly enough.
This split was littered with a flurry of chaos for nearly all the teams, and despite the anticipated return of in-person play, the scent of chaos didn’t relent in affecting whatever team that stood in its wake. On the contrary, it only exacerbated its potency.
Fighting for the top 2 seeds (1st to 4th)
No moves were more cataclysmic than what Team Liquid and defending LCS champions Cloud9 did. Calvin “K1ng” Truong was selected by C9 as their starting ADC, replacing veteran Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. At the same time, Team Liquid subbed out top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris for Thomas “Jenkins” Tran. Unsurprisingly, both teams caused a tremendous stir with fans.
Whilst C9 explained their ADC switch as a means to breed competition between both players, TL’s was rooted in skepticism by the fans. Head coach Joshua “Jatt” Leesman highlighted long-standing attitude issues from the player as the reason for the switch, whereas Alphari alluded it was indeed a furtive action. The subsequent disharmonious atmosphere was so tense in TL that it eventually led to Jatt’s resignation, and as if that wasn’t the only thing to cause concern, Santorin stepped aside from the staring jungler position due to injury. As a result, Jenkins and Jonathan “Armao” Armao, two of TL’s Academy roster, was subbed in and have performed moderately well, but their effectiveness hasn’t matched the same level as the starters.
So how did those moves affect the Mid-Season Showdown finalists? The short answer to that is not good. WIth near-identical overall records in the standings, C9 and TL find themselves only a game separated at third and fifth place.
Zven returned to the lineup starting in Week 4, but C9 still hasn’t rekindled their old strong form. Comparatively, TL’s regression is more pronounced even after having Alphari back starting in Week 6. As a result, they compounded unfavorable head-to-head records with their rivals (1-4 vs 100T, 0-5 vs TSM, 2-2 vs C9 & EG), subjecting them to the shorter end of the stick should tiebreakers become necessary.
“My focus right now is on us and I think we are our own worst enemy. With all the chaos that happened within our team, with players swapping, this was kind of like the first week where we played with the same five guys, so we’re just behind the curve,” TL interim head coach Jonas “Kold” Andersen said after Week 7.
“What will determine how well we do is how fast we can improve with this core, so the scariest opponent right now is ourselves because if we tidy up our play, I don’t think any team can compete against us. Right now, we’re just not playing as one and that is hurting us.”
Whereas sudden roster swaps signaled a team’s downfall, it also led to the rise of others. Such an outcome favored 100 Thieves and Evil Geniuses.
Despite starting off strong in spring, 100T ultimately caved in and finished fourth in the MSS even after adjusting mid-season by replacing mid-laner Tanner “Damonte” Damonte with Tommy “ry0ma” Le. For a team with a clear-cut aim for Worlds, repeating their struggles is unacceptable, so they shopped in the market for replacements. By the end of their search, 100T snatched Felix “Abbedagge” Braun and brought in Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu from hiatus as their next head coach.
Needless to say, 100T quickly fired on all cylinders with Reapered and Abbedagge. Their 17-7 summer record propped them to pole position for the first time since summer 2018. Originally devised to play around top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, 100T have moved to an all-around composition with Abbedagge and the FBI/Huhi partnership stepping as carriers should the moment requires it. All this makes for a 100T with the poise and prospect of capturing their first league championship.
“I know this sounds like a sound bite, but I would say everything has changed,” said 100T LCS general manager Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith of his team’s change from spring. “With being the best comes things like top three, worlds, title matches, big best-of-fives. If we model ourselves on what we want to be and keep closing the gap there, if the fans come along and want to watch our games behind it, of course, we invite them and we’ll release plenty of content to celebrate the team that we become.”
Likewise, EG is enjoying its own surge. From their 26-16 overall record off a 16-8 summer, EG are tied with Cloud9 for third.
Under the stewardship of coach Peter Dun, EG improved a long way from spring to hover near the table’s apex, which was notably punctuated by an eight-game winning streak. Additionally, through the debut of 17-year-old ADC Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki and Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro’s individual prowess, EG transformed into a side with the potential to trample their competitors. Nevertheless, Week 9 will offer one last rough trial to overcome with C9, TL, and 100T serving as their opponents.
For all of the attention gravitated towards their rivals, TSM stayed intact for the season. They are one of two teams in the LCS (Immortals) to have played the spring and summer split with the same lineup. Initially struggling in accommodating each team member’s playstyle, they have found their nexus from teamfighting, which was just what support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh wanted to formalize when he arrived in NA.
All for the upper bracket (6th and 7th)
Moving down the table are two different fights for seeding. The first is Dignitas and Immortals’ race for the sixth seed, where the last spot in the upper bracket awaits.
Pending any moves, IMT will become one of two LCS teams (TSM) to have stuck with the same lineup throughout the year. It’s a testament to the stability they have cultivated under coach Andre “Guilhoto” Guilhoto. Although sitting in seventh overall, they managed to double their win total from spring by going 13-11 in summer.
Additionally, IMT have seen improvement in their team performance this summer compared to spring. With nearly two full splits of the same lineup under their belt, some IMT feels now is the time to take the next step and compete among the league’s big boys.
“I am the boundaries of the river, but they are the flow of the water. They will decide the direction that it goes,” said Guilhoto of his team’s performance to esports.gg. “The only thing in my control is trying to guide the path, but it is their water. Hopefully we can show this in the playoffs.”
Much as IMT’s stability is revered, Dignitas’ work has been deemed unsteady. With a grip on third after Week 1, DIG surprised everyone by calling up David “Yusui” Bloomquist from Academy to replace Max “Soligo” Soong. It was a strange move seeing as they subverted expectations from spring with Soligo manning the mid-lane, but as management said regarding the switch, it is meant to “enable the acceleration of [both players’] growth and overall work out better for the team in the long run”.
Nevertheless, such a move interrupted the coordination DIG already had with Soligo, causing some to doubt if their chances can get better with Yusui, who hadn’t been in the LCS since 2019 and was retired for three years. As such, after weeks of poor form, supplement with communication issues between the team and jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, who looked to have restored his reputation as a level-headed leader roughly two years into his stint, which led to the two parties abruptly parting ways and Akadian being brought in as the new starter.
For all of the scrutiny surrounding DIG, they still remain in sixth and have a chance to send IMT, who signed Dardoch as their assistant head coach not long after the breakup, to the lower bracket. Should both finish tied after Week 9, it will be DIG who earns the coveted seed due to having a better head-to-head record (3-2).
“We know that it can come down to just one game in terms of us finishing in the Top 6 or not. Even if DIG decides to lose every single game left, we would still need one more win than what we have right now,” said IMT top laner Revenge of the pressure with playoffs approaching in an interview with Inven Global. “I’d say it’s unlikely, but either way, we need at least one win more than DIG, so we’re taking every game extremely seriously.”
Just stay alive (8th)
Vouching for the eighth seed of playoffs are FlyQuest, Golden Guardians, and Counter Logic Gaming, all of whom made various moves over the split.
With sudden elimination looming from a 10-game losing streak, FLY replaced their LCS roster with their Academy team as a last resort to salvage their season. But fielding a majority stack of rookies was a risky move due to the lack of time they had to synergize. To their surprise though, the Academy team fared well, going 4-5 from Week 6 onwards.
Even so, that doesn’t take away the disappointment felt from the initial lineup’s showing before the moment of dispersal. Boasting a group of skillful Academy players, a LATAM champion, and a Worlds semifinalist and LCS champion, FLY was heralded as a promising team with room for development during pre-season. Together on paper, they were great, but on the Rift during games, they were sluggish. No, it’s worse than that. They were nonexistent. Devoid of substance.
The team opted for a final adjustment by making a mixture of Academy and LCS players for Week 9, but with the little time they have to prepare, it will take a Herculean effort to make the playoffs at the death.
Over at GG, they upgraded their top lane and support by bringing in Colin “Solo” Earnest and Jonathan “Chime” Pomponio. Their arrivals worked to an extent seeing as they quadrupled their spring win total, but even that wasn’t enough to escape the cellar.
Fortunately, their direct competitors experienced the same lethargy and need for adjustments. Sensing FLY’s particular struggles with Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, GG sealed a transfer for him after less than a day of deliberation. Though Licorice delivered an immediate impact to the team with a Player of the Week honor, they went 4-5 like their trading partner, thus amplifying the suspense for playoffs.
Although no longer with the GG LCS starting lineup, Solo said of the LCS’ state at the start of the summer split of its volatility which continues to ring true today.
“None of the top teams have looked invincible so far. It’s hard to even say that League of Legends right now has a style that you can play that just beats everyone all the time. It’s so much about team fighting and map movement and team play that it feels like anybody can beat anybody.”
Sitting in last is CLG whose highest rank for the whole year was eighth during Weeks 3 and 4 of summer. Even after creating a lineup with an incredible accumulation of experience like FLY, they couldn’t match the expectations that were set for them.
Have they vied for the top table? Nay. Are they hovering in the middle? Not a chance. What about the lower table? Nonsense. Are they underperforming so badly that fans are laughing at them? In the philosophical words of six-time WWE Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “Hell yeah.”
If there was anything expected from CLG during this year, it was their lineup changes needed to fix their struggles. There was the required substitution in jungle since Mads “Broxah” Pedersen per visa issues and the pair of switches involving Eugene “Pobelter” Park that led to the return of Damonte in the league.
If CLG has any shot to sneak into the playoffs, they must win at least two of their final three games and hope for FLY and GG to collapse. It looks like an insurmountable task for a team hanging by a thread, but since this is CLG, a team that inexplicably pulls a result when they seemingly desire, one wouldn’t count them out.
In the midst of the turbulence currently engulfing the LCS, two sides have emerged to share thoughts on the matter: those who are relishing in it and those who are skeptical if it is beneficial to NA’s chances in Worlds. For the latter, it’d be better if the script from spring rehashed itself seamlessly in summer.
Aspects like the best teams continuing to dominate, the mid-tier teams attempting to scrape into the top plane, and the rest doing everything and anything to stave off humiliation are begged to return. But for those clamoring on the continuation of such traits, that ship has long sailed. The moment Alphari showed his seething self in the first scrum sealed the split’s disordered fate. Better yet, it would be more apt to say it opened the floodgates for the destruction of the established hegemony.
Nine years have passed since its formation and y’all still haven’t learned? Unexpected roster switches, vague explanations, fierce community scrutiny, occasional finger-pointing, and large splurges of money have all graced NA in its entirety and are only continuing irrespective of anyone’s projections.
If anything, LCS is just living in its natural element.
“To be honest, I have no clue anymore,” said DIG support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black in an interview with esports.gg about who he thinks is the best LCS team right now. “Teams are losing left and right. Everyone is dropping games so it is really hard to say who is the best team in the league. I think the standings are very close right now, even if the records don’t show that.”