Tournament Realm #3: NA Expansion — Double Elimination
Welcome back to the 3rd edition of Tournament Realm — your weekly dose of competitive League of Legends news. This week I’ll be discussing the Double Elimination segment of the NA Expansion Tournament, taking a close look at the teams competing and attempting to predict the outcome of the bracket.
This is only the second NA tournament on patch 4.20 (after IEM San Jose) and it will be interesting to see whether these challenger teams borrow strats from victors C9 or break out their own... Again, jungle changes will be a major factor and older players like Saint and Nintendude could be at a disadvantage — especially if they’re pushed off their J4 comfort pick. Impaler will be another player to watch closely, as his carry-reliant champion pool of Kha’zix, Rengar and Lee Sin has been heavily affected in 4.20. Little is known about the extent of ShorterACE’s champion pool, as he’s mostly stuck to Lee Sin, making him a bit of a wildcard. Regardless, viewers should expect Warwick bans across the board. Patch 4.21 can’t get here soon enough — bring on the Infinite Duress nerfs!
It’s been three weeks since the last bout of the NA Expansion Tournament. Unfortunately, despite a slew of anticipated matches, the second round of the tourney was a wash-out. Every series was a one-sided victory. It was not the most exciting weekend of League of Legends (with the exception of the final set between NME and Fusion). That Poppy pick! — RIP solo queue. My hopes for tightly-contested matches aside, all the remaining squads look like LCS material. There’s no doubt this has been the most competitive Challenger tournament to date. We can expect the best from the Double Elimination round.
Honourable mentions go out to the LoLPro and NME squads — despite comprehensive losses to Coast and Fusion, I was incredibly impressed with their play in Round 1 and I look forward to seeing them again during Summer Promotion. As for Complexity, I hope the organization can re-structure and present a stronger, united front next time. The coL.Black squad, in particular, was a major disappointment this tournament. Complexity has come under criticism in the past for management decisions, and there are a number of troubling rumours surrounding coL.Black’s scrim schedule prior to their match with F5. This needs to be addressed moving forward.
Leaving #challengerproblems aside, let’s move onto the main subject of this week’s column: the four teams who will be competing in the Double Elimination Bracket this weekend! — Final Five, Fusion Gaming, Curse Academy, and Team Coast.
Image Source: eSportspedia
Final Five: They may be underdogs, but they shouldn't be underestimated
Although Final Five are underdogs coming into Double Elimination (and probably the weakest of the remaining teams), I discounted them before their series against coL.Black and was forced to eat my words. I won’t be making the same mistake twice. Admittedly, there were a couple of extenuating circumstances in the Complexity series: for example, the last-minute sub of CloudNguyen for Xmithie and problems with scrimming. Combine this with pr0lly’s dismal 1.2 KDA in the series and Complexity — who rarely win when pr0lly under-performs — were caught on a very bad day.
Some have even suggested that F5 had an easy route to the Double Elimination rounds because of coL.Black’s flop, and don’t deserve to be there. Even ignoring their tightly-fought series against Zenith eSports — which provides clear evidence to the contrary — I would disagree with this assessment. coL.Black put up some decent opposition, but were simply outplayed by F5. Gate punished pr0lly in the Zed vs. Ahri match-up, especially after the first dragon fight, and F5 continued to take favourable skirmishes on the back of this advantage. Only a couple of audacious smite steals from CloudNguyen kept coL.Black in Game 1. Quick kills gave F5 an early lead in Game 2 and, although coL.Black’s comp showed promise late on, F5 continued to win fights until their opponents bled out.
This was a series where few people expected Final Five to even stand a chance. Rhux was a rock in the top lane, and both Gate and Prototype showed they were capable of hard carrying — even on off-meta champions like Twisted Fate and Vayne. I was impressed by the team across the board. Support Rule18 improved his positioning and jungler ShorterACE lived up to his moniker, putting on a true “wonderkid” performance with Lee Sin. While I do not expect F5 to make LCS, I think their support staff has done a great job building a team around Rhux and grooming the newer players. I’m looking forward to seeing them play again.
Fusion Gaming: Not just a Korean double-threat
Fusion Gaming is a team stacked with LCS and OGN veterans. Many doubted whether the team’s play would reflect their skill level and experience, after so little time together (myself included), but Fusion have lived up to the hype. They showed crisp coordination against NME and a high level of synergy. They were quick to collapse, responsive to their opponent’s movements, and ruthless in their rotations. The 13-minute capture of an inhibitor turret in Game 1 was reminiscent of CLG, back at their objective-focused peak in 2014.
Everyone will be talking about MakNooN’s terrifying, back-to-back performances on Poppy, but for me, this demonstration calls to mind an off-hand comment made by team owner Veyloris on Reddit: “That guy [MakNooN] could pick a different champion every game of the tournament and still be relevant in each game.” Indeed, the challenge of displacing MakNooN from top-tier picks will be paramount for any team facing Fusion. You have to ask: is it even worth banning Poppy? Or will he just pick something equally unpredictable and wreck just as hard? Probably. It may be a while before the depths of MakNooN’s immense champion pool are exhausted.
America — prepare yourself.
But while Fusion sometimes rely on the threat of MakNoon, Huhi’s assassin play has been equally deadly and the rest of their squad know how to play around their Korean solo laners; either supporting them or converting the duo’s pressure into secondary objectives. Fusion are a dangerous-looking team: a mixture of smart play and controlled chaos. They ran NME around in circles and they could easily do the same to other teams in this tournament — probably even to some LCS teams. Opponents will need level heads to deal with their shenanigans.
Challenger scene veterans Curse Academy: can they make it this time?
Despite some resistance, Curse Academy’s win over coL.White was decisive: Complexity’s poke comp was decimated in Game 1 and while MabreyBABY’s Graves looked like a threat in Game 2, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide. A strong pick/ban phase was instrumental to the victory. In both games, the team placed high priority on Corki and Jarvan IV, locking in the duo during the first or second rotation. Saintvicious and Cop showed they have great synergy on these champions. Keane broke out his pocket-pick Hecarim in Game 2 to shut down goldenglue’s Zed and Hauntzer’s top lane Kassadin was an effective tool throughout the series, mopping up many of the team fights.
Although some may take Curse Academy’s LCS calibre as a given after their near-victory over CLG, I’m more inclined to see this as a result of CLG’s near-total collapse. There is no doubt that Curse Academy is a solid team and the addition of Cop as AD Carry has only improved them. In fact, the bot lane duo of Cop and Bunny FuFuu is probably the strongest in this tournament. Nevertheless, I am doubtful about their ability to beat either Coast or Fusion in a Bo5.
Hauntzer showed poor judgement in the series against coL.White, making a very overaggressive dive against Westrice in Game 1 and handing him an early kill. He then wasted a teleport returning to lane, allowing Westrice to further snowball his team’s advantage by tp’ing down for dragon uncontested. Similarly, coL.White’s early ace in Game 2 — off the back of a poor engagement — made Curse Academy struggle. Thankfully, the team excels at capitalizing off mistakes from their opponents and good objective control was able to nullify these errors. Nevertheless, they were often guilty of splitting focus in team fights and failing to pressure the map consistently. Sloppy play like this needs to be cut out, if Curse wants to win Bo5s against the remaining squads. Good pick/ban phases in 4.20 will also be crucial.
Still untested — Team Coast looks deadly
Team Coast’s demolition of LoLPro was slow, methodical, and almost boring to watch. In Game 1, Coast initially seemed content to farm and go even. Passive play from all three lanes got them into the mid game, then the team quickly began to contest neutral objectives, racking up kills in the process. Game 2 was more loose, with early lane-kills, but it was no less of a whitewash for Coast. Only Yusui was able to get some kills for LoLPro, winning a 2-for-1 trade during a poorly-executed dive. Not enough to make a difference.
In both games, Coast’s control over primary and secondary objectives was immaculate. They were almost able to secure a perfect win, until Mash died at the end of Game 1. Their vision control was on point and all five players looked well-coordinated. One would expect as much from a team of former LCS players, but it was more than just solid play. During the first game in particular, it was genuinely difficult to pick out any weaknesses on Coast. They were a little more cocky during Game 2 — Mash’s disrespect Culling is a case in point — but LoLPro were still unable to punish them for it.
Both Impaler and Jesiz demonstrated their worth yet again — Impaler’s Kha’zix looked just as formidable as his Rengar and Jesiz put in solid games on both Orianna and Jayce. Mash and Sheep continued to cement their reputation as a strong bot lane, and Cris showed his teleport game was on point. I expect Coast’s weaknesses will begin to emerge once they are tested by other teams, but right now it’s hard to see what could be exploited...