In the North American LCS Expansion Tournament the second best of five series was played by the two teams who ended up winning spots in the LCS Coast and Curse Academy. Since Curse Academy won the series in a strong 3-1 fashion the convenient train of logic is that Curse Academy will be a stronger team than Coast once the regular split of LCS begins. Upon closer examination we can begin to see that Coast will in fact be more competitive as the split develops.
People will want to take the easy thought process that Curse Academy will be stronger than Coast because of this series. I would never use four games from a single day that were close as evidence one team was clearly stronger. From the 22 games we have seen in the Expansion Tournament that these two teams participated in I would not go so far as to say one team has obviously stronger mechanically skilled players. Nerves shouldn’t be an issue once you look at the experience of all ten players, Hauntzer being the only one to never play in the LCS (until now!). With the obvious external issues out of the way we need to look at the gameplay itself.
The main strength that Coast holds over Curse Academy is that they are much better at jumping on objectives when they are available. In all four games between the two teams Coast came up with the first dragon and they were never down more than one dragon in all three games they lost. In that four game series there were three games that went over 30 minutes. In two out of three games Coast was ahead in towers at 30 minutes, and were tied in towers at 30 minutes in the other game. However the trend continues that Coast fell behind in CS and gold over the course of the first 30 minutes. This is indicative of better shot calling because over multiple games they would be behind in gold and kills but would still manage to come up with objectives and keep themselves in the game. I was legitimately surprised that Coast was pulling such objective leads over Curse Academy who has such an experienced line up. As Saintvicious admitted in an interview with Travis from OnGamers Curse Academy often falls behind in dragons and allows objectives to be snuck from them. This is an issue that I can’t help but imagine higher caliber teams will pounce on and use as leverage to take down Curse Academy, where Coast has so far shown us they can control objectives better.
As I said Coast was frequently ahead from an objective standpoint at 30 minutes but still lost the series. This is where the length of time Curse Academy’s roster has been together comes into play. Saint and Bunny worked much harder than Impaler and Sheep to establish vision and in turn Curse Academy placed more wards in every game of the series. These extra wards around dragon and Baron gave the information that Curse needed to use their experience to make the proper calls. All three games Curse Academy won were close and in each victory you can find a key team fight where Curse Academy turned the game in their favor. Unfortunately I think this is a lesson Coast may have to learn the hard way by losing games from their lack of vision and being forced to shore up that weakness.
Coast does have a redeeming factor that makes up for their lack of vision control, which is very tight team play. In game two of the series between Coast and Curse Academy around the 29:50 mark both teams are dancing around Baron. Coast makes the call to pick Thresh played by Bunny off and they all jump him bursting him down quickly. Which grants all five players a kill contribution. Cris gets chunked to half and hourglasses. Instead of rushing into the deadly combination of Maokai/Pantheon CC and Kassadin/Sivir cleanup they back off a bit and throw out skillshots to deter Curse Academy from approaching Cris. Cris immediately roots and flashes out after his hourglass ends. Allowing Coast to take a free kill and escape without any casualties. This kind of team play where they all go in and out together in a split second speaks to the synergy this new team is already showing. This synergy is a redeeming factor for their lack of wards. In this exact play we have been examining Coast made this call without wards to fully see where Curse Academy was but their play as a unit allowed them to leave the dangerous situation with a positive outcome.
The biggest strength that Curse Academy held over Coast was their adaptation between games, which I accredit to their support staff. Curse Academy quickly bounced back from their game one loss and adapted by running Sivir with the same Top/Jungle combo of Maokai and Pantheon. Sivir has much more synergy than the Lucian they ran previously. The Sivir ult allowed the four high cc short range champions to get into Coast’s team to lock down and kill the backline. This sort of adaptation is evidence that someone behind the scenes has a good mind for the game and is feeding the players the information they need. But not to discredit the players, the ability to switch strategies mid series is also a testament to the experience of Curse Academy’s players and how well they are prepared. However as I stated earlier I am discussing the regular split of the LCS and this is sadly a strength that is not relevant until the playoffs.
Currently the North American LCS is played in a prolonged quadra-round robin (IE: you play each team four times). But the space between games with the same team is often a few weeks where the meta can completely shift or allow for even a team without a significant support staff to develop a new strategy. This setup somewhat diminishes the effect of having an analyst in the LCS studio during the regular season. For example in OGN the matches are played as a Best of Two which allows for a team who can adapt better to turn the series into a 1-1, evening up the points. This emphasises the role of the analyst and allows for a team who thinks quicker on their feet to use that to an advantage. At the moment any insights the analyst gains from watching the game are not immediately useful as in the current system you will not see that team again for some time. So sadly for Curse Academy the biggest strength their organization holds over Coast is not as relevant on a day to day level as it would be in other regions.
In the end only time will tell but based on my previous arguments I believe that Coast will show up as a stronger team than Curse Academy in the regular split of the NA LCS.
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