Why having a winning record in the first week of the Split means everything.
With the EU LCS starting today and the NA LCS starting on Saturday, it's finally time to see which team made the most out of this off-season's roster roulette. That's a great thing for fans, and a scary prospect for the ten teams in each region that are about to fight for the right to represent their region at the World Championship, and for the newer additions to the LCS, the right to keep their spot in the LCS and all the benefits that come with it.
In past seasons, the first week of each Split was comprised of an extended slate of either four or five games. This placed an unnecessary weight on teams starting strong that would appear to be eliminated by Riot's removal of the Super Weeks for the upcoming season. But coupled with that removal was a reduction in the number of games each team plays from 28 to 18. This should fit nicely with Riot's stated goal up upping the stakes of the Spring Split and weekly games in general while increasing the overall quality of the games. But it also means that the first week of the season is as important as ever. In fact, no team has ever had a losing record in the first week and gone on to win the split.
The Importance of Starting Strong
Between the NA and EU LCS there have been a total of 8 splits of LCS. In those 8 splits, no team has ever had a losing record in the first week and gone on to win the split. Taking that even further, no team has ever had a .500 record in the first week and gone on to win the split. There have only been three times that a team had a losing record in the first week of the LCS and gone on to finish top 2 in the split, and two of those times were in the very first LCS Split when not every team played each week. The other was Lemondogs in the Summer Split of 2013, who actually had a losing record in the first two weeks of the split before storming to the finish line in one of the greatest streaks of play the LCS has ever seen. Note that in all three cases, the team with the losing record went 2-3. Good Gaming University is the only team to finish in the top 2 of a split that they lost less than 2 games in. That was, again, in the first ever split of the LCS when the schedule was set up much differently than it is now. If we take it one final step farther, the only team to ever finish 3rd in the LCS and not have a winning record in the first week was Vulcun from the very first split of the NA LCS. In short, there is a very strong correlation first week performance and overall split performance.
The Dangers of Starting Weak
There is an equally strong correlation between a losing record in the first week of the season and finishing bottom two in the Split. Meet Your Makers and Coast in the 2013 Summer Splits of the EU and NA LCS respectively are the only two teams to have a winning record in the first week, only to finish in the bottom two at the end of the split. The rest of the teams that finished in the bottom two of the split all won just one or no games in the first week of the season. The highest finish for a team to win zero games in the first week of the season is Alliance, who ended up 4th in the Spring Split of the 2014 Season. The highest finish for a team that won just one game in the first week of the split came from Curse, who finished 4th in the 2014 Summer Split.
What this means for the 2015 Spring Split
Any team that finishes with a 2-0 record in the first week of the split will set themselves up well for the rest of the split, while teams that start 0-2 will have a decent size hole to dig themselves out of. This is especially true for the NA LCS that is historically top heavy. If you look at just regular season standings, the 4th place team in the NA LCS has never had a winning record. A 1-1 record is acceptable as a .500 pace has historically guaranteed a playoff spot and with playoff participants now guaranteed a spot in the next split, that's the minimum that every team should be shooting for.
Beyond that, the increased stakes of each week could pose trouble for teams like Impulse that made substantial roster changes that may need time to gel, and teams like Liquid and Evil Geniuses that will be without their full starting roster for the first week of the season due to visa issues. Now, the first impulse is to say that if Liquid is really strong, then even if the visa issues hurts their record for the regular season they should be able to qualify for the playoffs and then just win there and finish in the position their skill deserves. But that has historically not been the case. Teams that do poorly in the first week of the season regardless of reason simply don't finish well. While it's likely that the effect will be slightly diminished with the first week comprising of a slightly smaller portion of the total games of the split than in past season's, the overall correlation should hold true.
*Note that in some instances, the 2013 Spring Split was disregarded due to vastly different structure compared to subsequent splits.
Liked this article? Follow the author on Twitter @SuperbianMG!