At the beginning of 2021, the LCS went all-out in marketing the upcoming competitive League of Legends year as the start of a new era in North America. To a degree, it was true.
New stars and a plethora of rookies emerged across the league as the leaders of the scene, while the OGs of the league have begun to sing their swan songs into the next stage of their lives. Their stories will be remembered forever, but it’s time for some new names to make their mark and take their place among the pantheon of NA greats. As we head into the first LCS Mid-Season Showdown, however, the old guard of the league remain favorites.
Cloud9, TSM, and Team Liquid ended the regular season as the three best teams in the league once more, but other names like 100 Thieves, Evil Geniuses, and Dignitas are ready and hungry to prove themselves and lift the LCS trophy too.
In preparation for the postseason, Dot Esports’ Tyler Esguerra, Henrique DaMour, Michael Kelly, and Ethan Garcia came together to answer three big questions ahead of the 2021 MSS this weekend.
Which team is going to represent North America at MSI?
Tyler: This might be a stretch for some people, but I have renewed hopes for TSM and their current form as we head into the playoffs. At the beginning of 2021, this roster entered the season as an uncoordinated group of five new players that had plenty of teamplay and identity issues, while the coaching staff was inexperienced and made plenty of mistakes in drafts.
Things looked rough, but as the team learned what playstyle suited their roster, they shifted their focus and adapted to what worked best. Bjergsen took his lumps through the first few weeks of his head coaching debut too, and has now evolved into a smart coach with plenty of room left to grow.
With Huni playing more weakside champions and Spica playing towards the bottom side of the map, TSM have established themselves as one of the region’s best mid to late-game teams and has helped them emerge as not only true contenders for the crown this Spring Split, but also a worthy representative for a region looking for a leader to guide them into a new era.
Henrique: It’s hard not to say Cloud9, right? It’s between them, TSM, and Team Liquid almost assuredly. But let’s look at this through a “proof by contradiction” lens (shoutout to my Geometry teacher Mr. Meono).
Team Liquid on paper have the strongest, and most experienced roster of these three that includes a literal world champion in CoreJJ, and an MVP candidate in Alphari in the top lane that allows them even more flexibility when deciding what lane to play through in any given game. Problem is, that mid-game transition has at times looked nothing short of disastrous for TL. Also worrying is Tactical’s regression and mental lapses. At the AD carry position, those will prove more and more costly as games get longer and objectives as well as opponents need to be melted quickly.
For TSM, to me it comes down to a relative lack of flexibility in their playstyle. They have looked like the stronger team by a hair over Cloud9 in the last four weeks of the split and still own the longest winning streak in the LCS at six. That identity of Huni on weakside duty, SwordArt finally seemingly finding his footing and giving this team some direction, and PowerOfEvil on a late-game hyperscaler is one that has worked very nicely for them against pretty much everybody (except Dignitas and FlyQuest).
But in a best-of-five against Cloud9 especially, I think it’s going to get exposed. Perkz and PowerOfEvil have the most and fewest unique champions played, respectively, of any mid laner in the LCS at 13 and five. If TSM can’t survive Cloud9’s early-game, Blaber-led murder barrage (please ban Olaf, Bjergsen—I promise you won’t regret it), they have a chance. But it feels like too much has to go right against Cloud9 for TSM.
Michael: Any of the top three teams look like they could be heading to Iceland, but if I had to boil it down to just one, I’d probably go with Cloud9. Even despite the team’s recent struggles, I still think they’re the team to beat in the bracket. Losing three out of five games to close out the Spring Split and limping to first place is nothing to take lightly, but I still like their odds against a TSM squad that’s still meshing, and a Team Liquid team that, although is clearly built for best-of-five situations, hasn’t impressed me much in recent weeks. I like Cloud9’s chances of going to MSI, but I’m dreadfully terrified of what’s going to be waiting for them—or whoever makes it out of North America—on the other side.
Ethan: Standings-wise, it’s looking like Cloud9 are once again North America’s best bet for representation on the first international stage of the year. Performance-wise, however, I’d say it could go either way between C9 and TSM. TSM have just looked so good towards the end of the split and fixed almost everything they needed to that plagued their games when the split began. They’ve had a couple of hiccups here and there, but 2021 has been defined by upsets and comebacks thus far—and the TSM squad certainly hasn’t taken that to heart.
As for C9, they’ve been looking a little sloppy recently. Their loss to Evil Geniuses in the first day of the final weekend of the split was a bit disappointing but follows a trend of overreliance on Blaber that has been very apparent over their last few games. That isn’t to say that C9 isn’t a strong and capable team, though. They’ve been a frontrunner in NA for so long now and in these past three years have been absolutely crushing it—even more so now with Perkz. In my eyes, either of these teams would do NA justice at MSI.
Which two teams are poised to produce the highest-quality best-of-five?
Tyler: Team Liquid and TSM should be the banger that everyone has their eyes on, and guess what? We get to see it on the first day of the playoffs. This matchup has everything that you’d need—a generous helping of hype with star-studded rosters, some great macro play from two of the smartest supports in the region, and a handful of players with plenty to prove to the LCS.
It feels like in a best-of-five setting, both teams will have to make some big, on-the-fly adjustments to come out with a victory. For TSM, Team Liquid’s destructive early game could force them to make some uncomfortable adjustments during a series. For Team Liquid, however, this series is spooky since they’ve constantly stumbled in the mid-to-late game, which is exactly where TSM have excelled the most during this entire split.
Whichever team can fix their issues and adjust quicker should end up the victor, but the quality of both lineups should promise fans an explosive matchup from start to finish.
Henrique: I agree with Tyler, Team Liquid and TSM can produce an absolute classic. And thanks to double-elimination, they could do it twice! That’s the dream scenario for me, but I really hope that first matchup of playoffs delivers. There are storylines all over the place.
The top lane matchup pits Alphari and his MVP case against Huni and his checkered LCS legacy against each other. The jungle matchup is a veteran across from a sophomore. Jensen’s flexibility and ability to ascend to the levels we’ve all seen him reach in the past and punish a consistent, if one-dimensional, opponent in PowerOfEvil.
And in the bottom lane, former MVP and world champion CoreJJ will try to right the ship of his own young breakout AD carry against one of the greatest players never to win a world championship and his own rookie ADC. Inject it straight into my veins now and forever.
Michael: It’s a long-shot, but I’d love to see a Dignitas/TSM best-of-five. TSM, who’s won four of their last five games coming into playoffs, are arguably the hottest team in the LCS, but Dignitas have been the wrench that gets thrown into TSM’s plans all season. Although TSM posted a 5-1 record against their fellow top-four counterparts, Dignitas smothered TSM on two separate occasions this season. If Cloud9, Team Liquid, or 100 Thieves can’t stop TSM, perhaps Dignitas can.
TSM’s solo laners have run absolutely buck wild on players like Alphari, Perkz, and Jensen. But when faced up against the apparent titans that are FakeGod and Soligo, they ultimately crumble. I’m most interested to see if that trend continues in a best-of-five setting, or if TSM’s star-studded, made-for-the-moment roster can rebound against their unlikely foil—if they even play each other. There might be enough distance between the two teams in the bracket for the matchup to even take place. But, if it does, it has the makings of a back-and-forth banger that could surprise a lot of fans.
Ethan: Give me C9 vs. TSM in a winners finals or grand finals best-of-five. Please. The sheer aggression that these teams showcase in their playstyles is unparalleled within the LCS and leads to some of the most strategic and enjoyable games. Their last skirmish in week five was full of back-and-forths that just felt so immersive, so enticing, that I would always be on the edge of my seat. If we could get five games like that in a row, I’d never have to ask for anything else.
Seeing a team like TSM stand tall against the behemoths that have been C9 in the LCS for years, despite the loss of two of TSM’s most notable players, has shown that the rising talent here in NA has completely changed the landscape. No team is safe anymore now that the standings have become so close, and these two teams have the potential to display just why that is in a best-of-five slugfest. As for a victor in this series? We’ve seen what C9 can do with the reverse sweep against 100 Thieves in the Lock In tournament, so maybe it’s time to play back the Silver Scrapes.
Which lower-bracket team—Evil Geniuses or Dignitas—is better suited for a miracle run to the title?
Tyler: Evil Geniuses. Dignitas haven’t shown me enough to give them much of my trust, even though I love their story and what they represent as the only team to field five NA-resident players. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to beat the likes of Cloud9, Team Liquid, or 100 Thieves this entire season, and they’re going to have to go through one of them en route to the championship. Meanwhile, EG have managed to take down all four of the LCS’ top teams, at least once this split.
Henrique: This is tough. It depends on the day, but on their day Evil Geniuses can take games off anyone in the LCS. Impact has been unlocked on this roster, former LCS MVP Svenskeren is quietly putting in another really good season in the jungle, and Jiizuke has settled down all things considered.
For Dignitas, though, they seem absolutely untiltable and extremely consistent—even if that consistent level is lower than EG’s ceiling by a noticeable margin. They 2-0’d TSM this year and seem to have destiny on their side along with being the neutrals’ favorite in NA. Gun to my head, though, if EG can recapture whatever magic they were riding during the Lock In tournament, they aren’t an unreasonable choice at all for a finals appearance. Their ceiling is simply higher.
Michael: For me, I like Evil Geniuses’ chances because of the team’s high ceiling. But more so, I’m steering clear of Dignitas. The team feels like fool’s gold. This season, Dignitas sport a combined 2-6 record against the four teams above them in the MSS bracket and have only found their two wins against TSM. If Dignitas run into any other team in a best-of-five, I’m going to bet against them every time. At least Evil Geniuses have proven they can square up with the upper bracket considering they went 1-1 with each of the top four seeds this Spring. While I don’t particularly love either team, I would expect EG to have a better shot at being competitive.
Ethan: My eyes have been fully on Dignitas for the past few weeks. Their run as the only all-NA team—and the first one in years at that—has been so fun to watch. But more importantly than being fun to watch, they’ve been exceeding any and all expectations throughout the entirety of the Spring Split. The Dignitas squad has taken down some huge names in recent weeks, where comparatively Evil Geniuses haven’t been as consistent. In a split defined by numerous back-and-forths between teams, Dignitas just have that comeback factor that, in a perfect world, would let them reach that MSS trophy.
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