This weekend the League Championship Series regular season comes to a close. Seven teams remain in contention for six spots in the playoffs, where teams will battle to earn Championship Points good for securing a berth at this year’s world championship.
Only two teams have clinched their spot in the playoffs, meaning none of the remaining five are safe. Who won’t survive the chase? We probably won’t know for sure until the final match, when Team Liquid plays Dignitas (and potentially after some more tie breakers). But there’s one game that’s going to at least decide something: Team 8 versus Gravity Gaming.
Both teams currently sit tied in the standings with 9-7 records and eerily similar schedules. They both open Saturday with games against top teams, Cloud9 for Gravity Gaming and Counter Logic Gaming for Team 8, and then finish with a battle against each other.
Nipping at their heels is Team Liquid, an 8-8 team who has a relatively easy schedule with Winterfox and Dignitas on the docket. If Liquid wins both matches, Gravity and Team 8 each need two wins to clinch a spot in the playoffs and not just a tiebreaker. Team Liquid is tied in the season series with both Gravity and Team 8, so if they win both matches, they’re guaranteed at least a tie breaker with one of the two teams ahead of them.
Perhaps the most likely scenario sees Liquid win both their games and Gravity Gaming and Team 8 lose their Saturday matches. In that case, Gravity and Team 8’s match will decide which one makes the playoffs and which gets three extra weeks off.
Both teams certainly have it circled on the calendar—they were quick to point out how important it was, even on Saturday of last week. “I think Team8, we have to win this game,” Gravity mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang said, “So we’re going to try harder.”
It’s also a match with a little history behind it. Both teams managed to claw their way into the LCS after competing in last season’s challenger series. They even met in the playoffs of the Summer split, with Team 8 winning the series 3-1. Both made it to the LCS, but through different avenues.
Team 8 topped the challenger scene last year and beat Complexity in the promotion matches to reach the LCS, taking advantage of the choice in matchup their first place finish afforded them. Gravity Gaming, then playing as Curse Academy, did not, falling to Counter Logic Gaming in a close series. After making a couple key roster changes, bringing in David “Cop” Roberson at AD carry and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in the top lane, Curse Academy decimated the expansion tournament to reach the LCS.
The Sunday foes certainly have history. But Gravity Gaming wants to prove their new lineup is stronger. Team 8 wants to show they’re still king. As team captain and top laner Steven “CaliTrlolz” Kim said in an interview posted on the Daily Dot March 26: “There’s a reason why we got promoted through [relegation matches] even before expansion. We were the best challenger team then, and we’re still a really strong team in the LCS.”
Stronger than Gravity Gaming? That team’s shot caller and jungler Brandon “Saintvcious” DiMarco doesn’t think so.
“I feel really confident against Team 8, to be honest,” DiMarco said after Gravity Gaming’s win on Sunday. “They have been playing well, but I feel our macro movements in late game are a lot better and I also feel like if we don’t give Slooshi his comfort champions, Keane outclasses him really hard.”
That’s similar to how the first meeting between the two teams played out in week five on Feb. 21. Most remember it as that game where David “Cop” Roberson went off with a 13/2/5 KDA on Sivir, but it was actually a close comeback victory. Team 8 took map control early, even scoring a 5 to 0 tower lead at 25 minutes. But Gravity hung in long enough for their late-game scaling to kick in and used those late game macro movements SaintVicious was talking about to force a couple team fights to win.
The match will also showcase a conflict of styles. Gravity Gaming plays an AD-centric style where they protect their steady carry Cop, who has posted some of the strongest kill numbers historically among AD carries in the NA LCS. This season, he’s third in kills with 86 and ranks third in GPM among full-time players and takes a whopping 40.95 percent of his teams kills, the highest in the league.
Team 8 is the opposite. AD carry Ainslie “Maplestreet” Wyllie has the lowest kill share in the league for AD carry at 25.65 percent. He’s on one of only two teams whose AD carry position does not lead the team in kills (Dignitas is the other).
Instead of protecting their AD carry by peeling for him, Team 8 leave Maplestreet out to dry in favor of a different strategy: wrecking the enemy carry first. CaliTrlolz is coming for Cop, and he’s bringing jungler Braeden “PorpoisePops” Schwark. CaliTrlolz is Team 8’s shot caller and initiator, unafraid to rush into a full enemy team and make a play. He’s scored 60 kills from the top lane this season, a whopping 20 more than the next highest top lane player, and one more than Wyllie.
The match will likely revolve around how well Saintvicious and company keep CaliTrlolz away from Cop. CaliTrlolz believes it’ll be a tough match. He respects Gravity’s “turret game,” he says.
“Definitely given the standing, I think Gravity is a really important match for us,” CaliTrlolz said. “However I don’t think CLG is that much better than Gravity, given that Gravity is, I think, a really good team in their own aspect. Their strong point is being able to just run in with the jungler and take down turrets.”
As for what SaintVicious sees as Team 8’s strengths, well, that’s a quite different matter.
“I really think they’ve got a bunch of random wins,” SaintVicious said. “You watch some of the wins they get… they’re so random.”
That’s a sentiment a lot of people seem to have about Team 8. Last weekend, when they pulled off a big upset over Cloud9 using a creative champion pick in Vladimir and taking advantage of it after a key team fight to bring them into the late game, it was supposedly because Cloud9 choked, not because Team 8 made a good play that allowed them to leverage their team composition to win. When Gravity Gaming upset Team SoloMid a day earlier, using a creative champion pick in Urgot and coming from behind thanks to a big team fight win where Team SoloMid overextended and did not play to their win conditions, it was, according to fans, a great job by Gravity Gaming.
The two wins were extremely similar except for the narrative applied to the victors. For some reason it’s hard for people to give Team 8 credit, whether it’s their relatively no-name players, their wacky play style, or, perhaps, the randomness in their wins.
When I told CaliTrlolz what SaintVicious had said to me hours prior, he struggled to wrap his head around it. He wasn’t exactly sure what the veteran jungler meant, thinking back on Team 8’s past wins and noting only their victory over Team Impulse, where Team 8 massively threw a huge gold lead but barely survived, as perhaps an undeserved win.
“I don’t know about ‘random’ games,” he said, before adding, with his tongue mostly (but not firmly) in cheek, “We’ll just see how we do against Gravity next week, and just crush them, and say it was a ‘random’ win, because you guys are some random opponent.” He laughed. “I’ll just flame ‘em, or something? He’s pretty feisty!
“He’s probably still salty they lost to us back when he was in Curse Academy.”
Them’s fightin’ words. In the finals of the Challenger Series playoffs of the Summer Split last year, Team 8 beat Curse Academy in a best-of-five series by a 3-1 score. But Gravity Gaming isn’t that same team.
Saintvicious believes they’ll survive his so-called dice roll. When I asked him if Team 8 being “random” means his team might “randomly” lose, he was quick to respond. “No. It’s not happening next week. I’m sorry,” he said. “We’re going to take out Cloud9 too.”
That last statement reveals much of the mentality of both teams. While both are focusing on the big Sunday showdown, they each believe they have a solid shot at beating their favored Saturday foes. CaliTrlolz believes they have a good chance against CLG, if they can stop Aphromoo from making plays. If one of them pulls off an upset, we could see both in the playoffs.
“[SaintVicious] might have just said that to provoke us, but… It’s kind of stupid,” CaliTrlolz said. “We cannot win against the best teams in the NA LCS just randomly. I think that’s kind of ignorant to say. They don’t just throw like in solo queue, going off getting picked one by one. Our victories, we won team fights, we got our objectives on our own aspects. I think a lot of wins were also decisive.”
No matter who wins on Sunday, it will certainly be decisive. Maybe not the match result itself, but certainly the playoff picture as a whole.