Two new teams earned spots in the world’s biggest esports league this weekend.
Four teams entered the Electronic Sports League studios in California but only two earned a coveted LCS spot and professional esports careers. Final Five and Fusion Gaming failed to make the cut.
The first team to qualify, Curse Academy, seemed like a slight dark horse at the start of the weekend. Team Coast and Fusion Gaming were getting all the hype thanks to their European and Korean imports and star talent. But Curse Academy was the team that nearly took Counter Logic Gaming out of the LCS in a heartbreaking 3-2 promotion series—and they upgraded over that previous roster, adding Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in the top lane and David “Cop” Roberson in the bottom lane.
The two new additions worked perfectly for the team. Yarnell proved to be the most consistently excellent top laner this weekend, avoiding the massive peaks but deadly valleys of players like Yoon “MakNooN” Ha-woon. Roberson was his usual steady self, never dominating lane but never losing it and a constant presence in team fights, especially backed by Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo, who played like he’s already an LCS star. That, combined with mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang continuing his ascension to stardom and Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco showing he can still carry games, boosted Academy above the field.
Curse Academy took down Team Coast 3-1 before besting Fusion Gaming 3-1 in the upper bracket semifinals, securing their LCS spot in short order. The final map against Fusion Gaming in particular showcased what Curse Academy can do. Jang destroyed Fusion with a 12/4/9 Hecarim in the mid lane with DiMarco serving him up kills on a silver platter on Jarvan.
Now the team will compete in the LCS, the goal of their year long journey through the amateur scene accomplished—though it will be under new management. Curse is selling the squad due to Riot Games’ new ownership rules, as one entity is not allowed to own two teams in the league. Either way, it’s a win for Curse Gaming. One of the few LCS teams who invests in the amateur scene, they’re getting a big windfall and a sign that their player development plan is working. That’s only good news for the main Curse Gaming team.
The other team to make it through the Expansion Tournament didn’t have nearly as smooth of a ride.
Team Coast looked great heading into the event, their European imports, and especially jungler Matt “Impaler” Taylor, performing at a high level. Taylor’s impeccable play continued at the live portion of the tournament, but the team itself struggled.
In their first best-of-five at the live portion of the tournament, Curse Academy smashed Coast 3-1. Game one was a close Coast win, but Curse Academy obliterated the team in the final two showings.
That put Coast on the brink of elimination—and they delivered. Barely. Coast lost the first game in each of their two elimination series. It’s a testament to the team’s ability to adjust, and likely Taylor’s leadership, that they were able to survive bouts with Final Five and Fusion Gaming.
The Fusion match in particular, essentially a promotion and relegation match with the winner into the LCS and the loser left pondering a new career choice, took Coast to the edge. The team fell to an 0-2 deficit, needing to win three straight games, but somehow survived.
The first two maps against Fusion were painful for Coast. Outside of Taylor, Coast’s Canadian bottom lane Brandon “DontMashMe” Phan and Jamie “Sheep” Gallagher proved the strongest performing part of the team. But Fusion Gaming’s Zach “Nien” Malhas decimated them in the first two games. The former Counter Logic Gaming top laner was unstoppable, ringing up a 23/1/17 KDA in the first two maps.
But Coast answered back, Phan flipping the script with the help of Taylor by posting a 23/2/24 KDA in the next two sets. That led into a decisive game five, one of the closest maps of the series. Coast made the least mistakes and managed to take the match.
The series came down to two factors—the impact of Yoon “MakNooN” Ha-Woon in the top lane and the two team’s shot calling. The Taylor-led Team Coast looked just a bit more stable through the series, a playmaker playing well leading the charge for the team. Fusion, on the other hand, used Malhas to call shots. While the marksman played like a superstar, living up to his reputation as a top ADC before his position switch on Counter Logic Gaming, shot calling from a mechanics-heavy position is usually very difficult, and it showed. Plus, Yoon’s inability to live up to his superstar reputation compounded the issue. Fusion placed him on Rumble in multiple games, but he missed ultimates in many key situations, ultimately dooming his team.
Yoon looked unstoppable in the early rounds of the tournament, when he could run rampant against the enemy top laners and score solo kills to become an unstoppable carry. But against better competition this weekend, he struggled, and as the focal point of his team, that’s a major problem. Against Team Coast, Yoon had the best chance of the weekend to put together a big game—Christian “Cris” Rosales struggled against the top laners of Curse Academy and Final Five. In theory this was Yoon’s best matchup of the weekend. But the former Korean superstar did not deliver when it mattered most.
That was enough to sink Fusion Gaming—barely. Team Coast snuck through by the skin of their teeth, one team of mercenaries besting another.
That sets the stage for the 2015 League Championship Series. Most of the teams in the league have their rosters settled, now that Counter Logic Gaming, Dignitas, and Curse Gaming revealed their new additions. Team Coast and the players of Curse Academy will have their work cut out for them. And if they can’t cut it in the big leagues, teams like Fusion Gaming and Final Five will be nipping at their heels.