Evaluating the NA Playoffs
Moving towards the Spring Split playoffs there are many different situations involving which six teams from NA and EU will compete. In North America there are seven teams really vying for six slots whereas in Europe eight teams are coming into the last week alive for a shot at the post-season. For each region, let us look at the teams with the potential of making playoffs and take it a step further; let us look at the likelihood of each team going the distance and going into summer with an extra trophy in the case. This installment will look at NA and the second installment will come out later this week with EU Rankings finalized as the EU playoff picture is more muddled. Rankings moving forward will acknowledge current standings, but will order teams on how likely the team is to win the playoffs.
1. Team Solo Mid:
TSM is the favorite going into playoffs after winning the Summer Split in 2014, taking down the IEM World Championships and going into the playoffs as nearly locked first seed. While I think there are teams that can pose a problem for TSM, I believe the change to playoff structure, which makes every round of playoffs a best of five helps TSM more than any NA team except C9. This change allows for more wiggle room if TSM has trouble in game one of the series as they often do and will allow coach Locodoco to adapt strategy on the fly, which has helped TSM in the past. With mid-laner Bjergsen looking unstoppable of late and a first round bye, I think this TSM lineup has the potential to take down North America once again.
2. Team Impulse
TIP has exploded down the back half of the split with an impressive 6-1 record. With TIP beating teams such as TSM, Cloud 9, and Team Liquid in that stretch, it is safe to say that TIP is no fluke. With a final game meeting with CLG with the potential of a first round bye on the line, I believe that TIP has the strongest case going into playoffs. With every player on TIP performing very well in the last seven games, it would take a lot to stop them in a best of five, especially with mid-laner XiaoWeiXiao bringing out new champions and decimating North America. If any team can take down TSM, it is their former rivals LMQ with an incredibly strong lineup peaking at the right time.
3. Cloud 9
It is hard to doubt the champions and no one can deny that if any team can claim dominance over LCS since arriving, it is Cloud 9. With a 3-2 loss to TSM on the back of a crit-string five miles long from Wild Turtle last year, Cloud 9 lost their claim to every LCS title since they entered the LCS. In addition, this season looks like the first year where Cloud 9 will not hold a first seed going into playoffs. Interestingly, I do not think this will hurt them. In fact, I believe that Cloud 9 is a team that holds onto their strength until playoffs. Given that they had never dropped a post-season game to anyone until last season in the finals, I have to look past some of their issues, but not all of them, and expect a deep run from C9. There are two pressure points on C9 and if they collapse, C9 could lose to anyone making playoffs and those are Balls and Hai. Hai’s champion pool continues to be one of the largest issues keep C9 from dominating. Unlike prior seasons though, Balls has looked very shaky all year and his play on many Meta picks were passable against the worst teams in the league. We have never seen Balls look outclassed on an LCS stage and that is where we are right now. If CLG looked stronger versus TSM, I would have them in third, but I see weakness in CLG lately and even though C9 does not inspire a lot of confidence, in a best of five in NA LCS, you are losing money betting against C9.
4. Counter Logic Gaming
This was the trickiest placement on the list for me. On one hand, the CLG that wins games is far more dominant as a team than even TSM at times during this split. Even in their first loss to TSM, they were the better team for a majority of the game. However, when they lose, this CLG team looks very bad. They look like the CLG of last season that crumbles under pressure and despite showing brilliance, dies to teams they expect to overcome. With TIP playing them in what I expect to be a possible tiebreaker scenario for second place, which has the added weight of dodging TSM until the finals, I predict CLG to finish without a round one bye and leaving the playoffs earlier than expected. I do not trust this team and eight weeks in that is not where you want to be sitting. I trust XWX of TIP to out farm and carry, I trust Bjergsen to apply unyielding pressure, and I trust Sneaky to carry any game where Balls and Hai survive, but I cannot trust this team. They look so good until the pressure comes and for me, that is a deal breaker in playoffs. I expect them to win round one if they do not get the bye, but after that, I believe Link is outclassed, despite playing much better this split. I expect Rush Hour to need to carry and it might work against Curse Academy, but I fear this split not even Zion and Xmithie can help carry that load against TIP, TSM, or C9 in a best of five.
Last week Gravity showed that they adapt to new patches well and that they are looking in good form to defeat the best the table has to offer. However, I cannot look at two best of ones and call them better than they have been all split long. I think that their team will crumble if their niche picks do not work in game one and I do not think they can beat any of the top teams more than once in a best of five. I would mention though, if they play TSM at any point I would favor them in game one heavily and that is exactly what Gravity offers, a stellar surprising game one and a somewhat disappointing inconsistent performance when forced to conform to the Meta or if their crazy picks do not cut it. Best of fives illustrate weaknesses and I think this change has all but knocked Gravity out of contention for this split.
6. Team 8
This team is second only to gravity in the stealing a game one threat category, but also much like Gravity, I do not believe the ceiling on Team 8 reaches high enough to win a round one battle. I think that the team lacks true carries when Reksai and Leblanc are banned. I honestly do not believe that anyone on Team 8 can stand tall against the top teams in a best of five and that is what is required now to advance at all. I think that Team 8 could have been a real surprise factor with how they have won several games, including last week against Cloud 9, but in five games, I do not see it carrying through. I expect this team to put up a good fight and possibly steal a game where Maplestreet kills everyone in a clutch last fight scenario, but I think the amount of times that particular brand of lightning strikes is not a strong enough factor to place them above sixth.
7. Team Liquid
In writing this before playoffs are finalized, I thought I would mention Team Liquid who could conceivably make playoffs. With Winterfox and Dig this week, I think they could easily 2-0 even with the difficulties they have had integrating in Piglet. That said, I do not think TL would do very well in a best of five. When they win with Piglet, it does not look dominant and we have a lot more evidence of them losing with Piglet. Keith’s games on the squad are the reason they are in playoff contention right now, I do not see the synergy when Piglet plays with them. Lacking synergy is the easiest way to lose to a team you think you should beat, just ask CLG last split. Team Liquid might bump someone out of playoffs, likely the loser of the T8 vs Gravity final match as they both are against stronger opponents on Saturday, but I think it weakens the playoffs if they make it in.
Hope to see you later in the week as we go over EU. Thank you for reading.