Heading into the last week of the NA LCS Spring Split, analysts felt they had a relatively strong sense of where NA’s playoff bound teams all fell in relation to one other. That perfectly constructed portrait got messy very quickly, with Team SoloMid losing to Team Liquid, Cloud9 having a strong 2-0 week, and Phoenix1 failing to win a single game. As the playoffs approach, the teams of the NA LCS seem closer than they ever were before, ensuring an exciting and unpredictable set of series ahead.
Set to secure their status as North America’s top dog, Team SoloMid had not lost a series in weeks as part of a run that had catapulted them to the top of the standings. Behind the strong play of team leader Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and surging top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, Team SoloMid appeared to be head and shoulders above the other teams in the region. With a match-up against rising threat Phoenix1 looming, their series against the ninth place Team Liquid should only have been a tune-up for the TSM machine.
In uncharacteristic fashion, Team SoloMid broke down as Team Liquid were able to steal the series 2-1. TSM’s bot lane duo of Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang were completely outclassed by a newly formed Team Liquid bot duo that had only acquired Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng two weeks before. As fans struggled to make sense of what had played out on screen, TSM was somehow able to refocus for a 2-0 victory over Phoenix1 and secure the top seed for the NA LCS playoffs.
TSM’s final week performance leaves many questions surrounding the team, perhaps the roster were not as polished as initially anticipated? With the Mid Season Invitational looming for the victor of the playoffs, would TSM’s bot lane once again fall apart if faced with top international competition? This, of course, is assuming that TSM wins the playoffs, a proposition that is all the more uncertain after falling to a team on their way to the Promotion Tournament.
With match-ups against both Cloud9 and TSM, Phoenix1 could not have scheduled a harder week to end their split, failing to win a game across the two series. After finding a groove with a line-up that had led them to a 7-1 record over the past four weeks, P1 inexplicably decided to use substitutes in both the jungle and support roles: William “Meteos” Hartman and William “Stunt” Chen were replaced with Rami “Inori” Charagh and Jordan “Shady” Robison. After looking like a top team in NA over the second half of the split, Phoenix1 took a significant step backwards in the final week.
By contrast, a team that looked to be struggling in recent weeks, Cloud9 enjoyed a strong end to the Spring Split with 2-0 victories over both Team Dignitas and P1, both of whom will compete in the first round of playoff fixtures. After looking to be NA’s clear top team for much of the early split, Cloud9 recent dip in form has handed the roster four series losses. After struggling to create early leads, it appeared C9’s excellent mid/late game macro play and top tier team fighting were no longer enough to keep them at the top of the league.
After their past week, these conclusions need to be reconsidered. After his performance had dipped in the past few weeks, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen returned with a vengeance, smashing his lane opponents en route to a 22.3 KDA for the week. With Jensen returning to top form, and the consistent play of their bot lane duo Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta, Cloud9 are a team that cannot be ignored when looking at contenders to claim the NA LCS crown.
As the playoffs approach, the dominance of the top three NA LCS teams is far less convincing than it has been over the course of the season. With inconsistent performances from all of the top tier teams over the past few weeks, it is hard to predict what results will transpire as the playoffs commence.