The North American Regional Finals tournament takes place this weekend from Friday, September 6 through Sunday, September 8. Four LCS teams will vie for the right to represent North America at the World Championships next month.
Clutch Gaming and Counter Logic Gaming are the favourites going in, but FlyQuest and Team SoloMid have had plenty of time to prepare themselves for the tournament, and certainly have the potential to make things interesting. Read on for my preview of each series, and my predictions for the overall results!
The Regional Finals are a gauntlet-style, single-elimination tournament played in best-of-five series, with the winning team advancing each day to play the next seed. The schedule looks like this:
Round 1: FlyQuest vs. Clutch
It’s no secret that Clutch are heavy favourites going into the opening match of the gauntlet against FlyQuest on Friday, and I’m not going to go against the grain on this one.
Cody Sun deserves a lot of attention and praise, both for his in-game performance and the stat lines it has produced. He led the LCS Summer playoffs in KDA and DPM, and averaged only a single death per game, despite his team having an overall even record (7-7) across all the series they played.
But the rest of Clutch should get a lot of credit for setting Cody Sun up for success. At their best, Clutch operate fluid, coordinated team fights with strong flanks from Huni and Damonte, primary initiation from Vulcan, secondary engages from Lira, and Cody Sun entering the fray last to mop up the chaos that the rest of his team has manufactured. And before it gets to the team fighting stage, Cody benefits in lane from Lira’s pathing and map control, and from Huni and Damonte drawing attention away from him. In the playoffs, facing stiffer bot lane competition, Cody’s laning stats were a little below average at -42 GXD10, compared to his league-leading +406 GXD10 in the regular season. In a best-of-five setting, and after a full split of scouting Clutch Gaming’s play style, teams have shown that they are better able to shut Cody down and attack his laning phase.
I’m confident that FlyQuest’s coaching staff will put together an effective game plan for facing Clutch, denying their 10:00 Rift Herald rotations and going after Cody Sun and Vulcan in lane. But I’m much less confident in the ability of FlyQuest’s roster to execute that game plan well enough to take the series. Santorin might pick up every First Blood. V1per might use counterpicks to gain an edge over Huni and set himself up to carry, as he is so capable of doing. (I’m a big V1per fan, for what it’s worth.) But FlyQuest lack the mid and late game coordination and killer instinct to either beat out Clutch’s superior team fighting or deliver effective split pushes that counter Clutch’s preference for 5-man grouping and forcing through the middle of the map.
I would love to see FlyQuest put together a competitive series, but I’m going on the record with a prediction against them:
Round 2: Winner vs. CLG
Assuming Clutch don’t mental boom on Friday, we’re looking at a rematch of the very entertaining third-place match from Detroit on Saturday. In many analysts’ eyes–including my own–this should be the highlight match of the tournament, and will likely decide who represents the LCS as the third seed at the World Championships.
One key factor in CLG’s favour is mental resilience. They displayed a lot of mental toughness by reverse sweeping the 3rd-place match in Detroit. It’s not easy to seize back the momentum in a series when you’re down 2-0, but CLG made it happen.
Wiggily particularly stood out to me in the reverse sweep. He had more reason than anyone to crumble mentally, given Lira’s performances against him in games 1 and 2, to say nothing of Lira’s generally intimidating skill level and pedigree. As a young player, in just his second split, Wiggily could have easily been forgiven for tilting out of the series, especially since the consequences of losing the series really weren’t that high. But the jungler came back and did his part, displaying a maturity that has been lacking in other young North American junglers who have been vying for the spotlight over the past few years.
In the post-series press conference, I specifically asked Wiggily about his quest to build a real legacy and a lasting career as a top-tier jungler, given the fall-offs we’ve seen from other flashy NA junglers in the past. He cited mental strength, versatility, and a cerebral (rather than mechanical) approach to the game as pillars of his personal improvement philosophy. With that kind of answer, and the performances he has put together this summer, I’m putting my good ol’ CLG faith in Wiggily to make it happen and stay at the top of his game for years to come.
I expect CLG’s emotional victory over Clutch in Detroit to carry over into the gauntlet. Cody Sun and co. are too good to let the series go by without a win, but my prediction is:
Round 3: Winner vs. TSM
Team SoloMid’s summer demise has been well documented. If they can put together a decent showing in the final match of the gauntlet, I’ll be very much impressed. Their players and staff are definitely putting everything they can into making that happen, but I don’t think a good result is very likely. The deck is stacked too much against TSM, with their turmoil in the jungle position and the momentum their opponents will be carrying into Sunday.
It’s honestly more interesting to talk about what might lie ahead for TSM in the offseason, especially with rumours that Bjergsen might be ready to try something different and sign with another team. I highly doubt Zven will return–I suspect we’ll see him in the LEC in 2020, not the LCS–and it’s unlikely that TSM will retain any of the junglers that are currently under contract as their LCS starter, unless Spica does something very special this weekend. (It’s worth mentioning that Spica is under contract for another two years, so if TSM takes a long view they may work to develop him, but it’s more likely they’ll go searching for a proven LCS-calibre option in free agency.)
There is a very real possibility that TSM as we know it will be dead and gone by October, and we’ll be looking at a comprehensive roster rebuild around Broken Blade and/or Smoothie. Reginald has proven in the past that he’s capable of finding good talent to bring up, but the rest of the league has leveled up their scouting and talent acquisition as well, so it’s going to take something special to bring TSM back to the top of the league. There will be a whole lot more to say on this subject over the next few months!
Back to immediate topic, though, I see little chance that TSM can solve their internal puzzles well enough to make it to Worlds this year. They may take a game, but I’m making my official prediction:
Images courtesy flickr.com/lolesports