Crazy semifinals send same old teams to LCS finals, plus one Cinderella
The finals for the League Championship Series (LCS) spring season are set after an intense semifinal weekend in Europe and North America featuring nearly the maximum dose of League of Legends. Three of the four LCS semifinal playoff series went to a decisive fifth game, with the final match lasting four games.
But the winners were who you’d expect—mostly. Fnatic and Team SoloMid each earned a spot in their fifth straight LCS finals, reaching the decisive match every season since the league’s creation. Cloud9 reached its fourth straight final, making that team four for four since entering the league. The only team to throw a wrench into expectations? Unicorns of Love, who survived a close 3-2 series with Europe’s top regular season team SK Gaming to reach the final in their first season in the LCS.
The weekend kicked off with a battle between Fnatic and H2k Gaming, whom many favored over Fnatic after a run of amazing form pushed H2k into conversation as Europe’s best team. But despite H2k building a 2-1 lead in the series, in part due to the ill-fated Lee Sin top pick in all three games by Fnatic, they couldn’t close out the series.
With LCS Outstanding Rookie Seong-hoon “Huni” Heo on Vladimir, Fnatic’s aggression was too much for H2k. Their rotational play never came into play as Fnatic jumped to massive early leads, scoring 36 kills while giving up seven deaths in the final two games of the series. That’s Fnatic’s fifth straight final, but the only player on the team to see them all is Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim. The support player lead a team of rookies to the final, an impressive feat for one of League’s veteran pros.
That led into a showdown between Cinderellas Team Liquid, who surprisingly swept Counter Logic Gaming in the quarterfinals, and perennial contenders Cloud9. Team Liquid continued its run by taking the first two games, but a 2-0 lead in the series wasn’t enough to down the veterans of Cloud9. After winning the third game, William “Meteos” Hartman quipped, “What do you mean ‘comeback’? In our last game, we are undefeated.” They stayed that way, winning the final two matches to close the series with a reverse sweep, bringing back sensitive memories for Team Liquid fans, whose team fell in similar fashion during last year’s summer playoffs.
On Sunday, underdogs Unicorns of Love kicked off the day with a win against SK Gaming. They’d stay one game ahead of Europe’s titans until the series ended with a fifth game win, but only after an amazing Baron steal by mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage at the 29-minute mark likely saved the game for them in one of the most ridiculous back-and-forth battles of the season.
The two games SK Gaming won were carried on the back of jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, who posted a 15/3/24 KDA line in two Lee Sin matches. But Johnsen’s back seemingly broke under the pressure in game five, missing the key Smite that allowed Schrage to steal Baron and save the game for the Unicorns.
The Unicorns of Love were right in their wheelhouse; they seem to play best when they aren’t the favored team. But they showed a combination of better game understanding and creative picks and bans to beat powerhouse SK Gaming, which lost as many games in this one series as it did in the entire 18-game regular season.
The final semifinal series pit Team Impulse against Team SoloMid in a battle between one of the LCS’s hottest up-and-coming lineups and the defending champions. It was also a mid lane showdown between the past two LCS MVPs, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian. But the real story of the series was the jungle match. North American LCS Outstanding Rookie Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen was stellar for Team SoloMid, while Impulse’s Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae continued to be the focus of his team, for better or worse.
In game 1, Impulse pulled out a strategy placing the mechanical monster Rush on mechanics light champion Nunu, but it worked. The new-look Impulse, with double jungling from Rush and top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, scored the team a win. But Team SoloMid adjusted and swept the remainder of the series, with Rush’s Nunu ineffective and Santorin stellar, finishing the series with an 8/2/42 KDA line, never dying, save for the second game of the series.
That sets up a classic final in North America: Team SoloMid versus Cloud9, a bout between two two-time champs. Will Team SoloMid defend the title, or can Cloud9 reclaim glory? Given how solid Team SoloMid looks recently, it’ll be a tough series for Cloud9, but after the semifinal comeback against Team Liquid, it’s clear anything is possible.
In Europe, Fnatic and Unicorns of Love will fight in a battle between what are essentially rookie teams. Only Fnatic’s captain, Kim, is an LCS veteran player in the series. But the real focus may be the mid lane matchup: Schrage against Fnatic’s Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The pair were hailed as the two hottest up-and-coming mid players from Europe’s mid lane factory while they were both dominating the challenger scene last year, and they’ve lived up to their hype in the LCS.
On Saturday this weekend’s losers will play for third place in the league, a not unimportant distinction considering that place is worth 50 Championship Points toward a berth at the World Championships (versus only 30 for fourth).
But the real action is on Sunday, April 19, when each league will crown a champion. If the semifinals are any indication, we’re in for another amazing week of League of Legends.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr