The North American League of Legends Championship Series is coming home.
Andy “Reginald” Dinh and Jack Etienne, owners of Team SoloMid, or TSM, and Cloud9, or C9, respectively, both built their teams in San Francisco. “BayLife” lives on in TSM’s T-shirts and low-quality videos from 2013. The Bay Area claims “the largest League player base of any metropolitan area in North America,” according to LoL Esports, and fans will flock to Oracle Arena this weekend for the final matches of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split.
But only one team will return to Los Angeles with the NA LCS trophy. Who will it be: C9, with a No. 1 seed at Worlds on the line? Or Team Liquid, determined to defend its hard-earned spring title?
The third- and fourth-place match is also taking place this weekend, between TSM and 100 Thieves, or 100T. Though less high-stakes, there’s no doubt that the competition will be fierce.
Third-place match, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2 p.m.: Team SoloMid (TSM) vs. 100 Thieves (100T)
In the rivalry between TSM and C9, it’s historically been the former that has come out on top. Last weekend in the quarterfinals, however, C9 handed TSM a 3-2 loss, sticking them in the third-place match.
100T probably won’t give TSM as tough a time as C9 did. Questions still swirl around 100T’s quarterfinal roster swap. Why was longtime starting ADC Cody “Cody Sun” Sun left to watch the game from home? Why did the team decide to play Academy ADC Richard “Rikara” Samuel Oh against TL’s star bot lane, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Kim “Olleh” Joo-Sung?
“Their bottom lane was losing in pretty much all the games versus Team Liquid,” said analyst Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler. “But I still have a feeling that we’ll see Rikara in Oakland, due to how he works with the rest of the team.”
The idea that the roster swap might appear again doesn’t exactly inspire optimism.
“The thing about 100 Thieves is that they pretty much play the same even when they change players,” Hartman-Kenzler said. “So unless (100T top laner) Ssumday has some really great solo carry games, I think it might be something along (the lines of 3-1).”
First-place match, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2 p.m.: Cloud9 (C9) vs. Team Liquid (TL)
C9 head coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has earned praise for his development of C9’s current seven-man roster, with two mid-jungle duos that can be swapped in and out depending on the team’s needs.
The first of these duos, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Robert “Blaber” Huang, started in the quarterfinals match and then were swapped out when C9 was on the verge of defeat for Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, who ended up playing a huge factor in earning the series win.
There is speculation about C9’s starting lineup for Sunday. In Week 8 of the regular season, C9 smashed TL by starting Gilmer and Johnsen, something C9 hadn’t done against any other team since Week 3. C9 was picking on Eugene “Pobelter” Park in the mid-lane, and it worked out well.
“They probably left a mark on Pobelter. It might even be some sort of advantage heading in if he knows that he’s gonna be up against that,” Hartman-Kenzler said. “So I think that (C9 will) probably stick with the strategy they did against TSM. It looked like that was how Reapered wanted the structure to play out in a best of five series.”
Although TL has appeared solid, particularly in the bot lane with Peng and Joo-Sung, it might not be able to match the power of C9’s adaptable roster. Peng himself called C9 “the strongest team in NA” in an interview with Inven Global, a rare compliment from the player often regarded as the best North American marksman.
C9’s strategy will be difficult to overcome, even with the week of preparation that TL has had. The energy that subbed-in players can bring to a five-game series can’t be replicated, and TL will have to adapt its strategy on the fly depending on which mid-jungle duo shows up in each game.
But Hartman-Kenzler sees at least one factor in TL’s favor.
“One thing that (people aren’t) talking about is how much experience they have on Team Liquid — all of these guys have been to the finals, all of them have been to international events and played in high-pressure situations,” Hartman-Kenzler said. “I think it’s going to be super close. I might edge it over to C9, maybe 3-2, because of how difficult it could be for TL to defeat both iterations of Cloud9 in a full best of five series.”