Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Gary Kirwan
League of Legends Hits Mid-Season – You’re Fired!
The League of Legends Championship Series Spring Season (or LCSSS, as I like to call it) came to an end over the past week, and the time’s come to see who gets canned and has to queue for welfare. Top competitors spread across Europe and North America had the chance to compete this past weekend for a guaranteed spot going forward, and a share of the $100,000 in prizes. A nice lump of pocket money. And that’s before the chance to represent their region in the World Championship, and walk away with a cool million. As a form of employment it’s a little bit ridiculous, but the high stakes and a surprise upset or two made for an exciting weekend of gaming. And as always I was there to watch it so you don’t have to. You should though, it’s entertaining stuff.
The story from Euro-land
The Spring Season began much as everyone had expected here in Europe, with the four big names Fnatic, EG, Gambit and SK Gaming all trading wins to perch in the upper half – where they’d stay for the remainder of the proceedings. As the weeks progressed it became clear consistency was the most valuable commodity, and teams with tried and tested playstyles had a much easier time of things. Fnatic and Gambit in particular led the pack, finishing in first and second place respectively – it’s something of a struggle to identify a weak link in either team. Gambit’s Alex Ich, Diamond and EDward were the team’s stand-out players (even securing spots in Europe’s All-Star team), while over on Fnatic it was all about xPeke week after week. SK Gaming look to be on form, so long as they can keep their cool – their worst enemy being their ability to completely throw a game. Despite only managing to take one game off either of the two top finishers; they rounded out the season in a respectable third.
EG on the other hand never quite found their feet, taking fourth place with a shaky 15-13 win-loss. The patient playstyle of Season 2 seems to have been figured out – yes, it was as boring as a car boot sale but there’s no arguing with results. Although the first couple of weeks yielded victories, newcomers began pinching victories from the former titans as they settled in. In particular the first super week saw them drop games to three of the bottom four finishers, hefty upsets given their previous tournament experience. A stronger showing in the final weeks kept them above the midway line, but if they can’t pull out a victory at the weekend it may all be for nought.
Speaking of the bottom four, these were at times the most entertaining to watch. Dragonborns began the season in flying form and their out-and-out aggression and unorthodox champion choices earned them a comfortable mid-table position. It wasn’t to last though, floundering as their inexperience began to show, ending with an unmatched losing streak and a disappointing 6-22 record. In their element during hectic combat, but paying a heavy price for indecision as the pace slowed – something which also reared its head when settling on a lineup. Ozone GIANTS had a strong showing in the qualification series for the LCS but never found their rhythm, becoming the most forgettable team of the season despite some strong players.
On the other hand you couldn’t help but notice Copenhagen Wolves. The combination of a substitute mid-laner and relative inexperience made for an excruciating start, failing to secure a single win in the opening fixtures for a 0-9 record. Fortunately the triumphant return of Bjergsen (after he turned 17 in February) completely transformed the team. His mid-lane dominance rallied the Wolves, making them the ones to watch in the bottom half. Eventually finishing in 5th -just behind EG – they were the team nobody wanted to face going into the playoffs. Wrapping up the EU circuit, Against All Authority were another team with upset potential. Their AD Carry Nono is, simply put, a beast – carrying the team to a respectable 6th place. Swapping Karalius for Dioud in the latter weeks of the tournament provided a welcome shakeup, transforming the team from somewhat mediocre to possible contenders going into the playoffs.
- Gambit BenQ
- SK Gaming
- EG Raidcall
- Copenhagen Wolves
- Against All Authority
- Ozone Giants
Meanwhile, in America
On the other side of the Atlantic, Curse carried their dominance of the qualification playoffs over to the LCS proper, and looked untouchable for most of the season. Likewise, Dignitas opened the season strong and rarely strayed from winning ways. A last minute wobble saw both teams end the season with a 1-4 record – dropping Curse to second place and Dignitas to third and into the playoffs, a result which is sure to sting. The end of the Spring stretch also saw Curse drop longtime support player Elementz in favour of Rhux, which suggests that some in-house troubles have prompted their sudden streak of losses.
TSM, on the other hand, opened the season looking decidedly unlike the team that took Season 2 by storm. A few shaky weeks ultimately led to the dismissal of AD Carry Chaox and his replacement with WildTurtle, a somewhat inexperienced alternative. The lineup changes would prove to be the boost they needed however, as their rediscovered aggressive play style came to the fore in the final weeks, culminating in a 5-0 weekend and jumping them into first place. This would of course not have been possible if not for the poor showing of both Curse and Dignitas, but the top seed going into the summer tournaments may just be the confidence boost the team needs to maintain their winning ways. This is also the second time TSM have hit a slump, dropped a member and come back stronger than before, which could prove to be an interesting trend should they run into troubles further down the line.
Fourth place in the standings was taken by CLG, a team which has one strategy and sticks to it. On the one hand, I admire their ability to spot their strengths and stick to what they know. On the other, every other team is well aware of the strategy and seems to know exactly how to play against it. Whereas EG, formerly CLG.EU, have attempted to adapt to the Season 3 changes in an attempt to compete with the top standings of Europe, their former NA counterpart looked to be scraping through some games on experience alone – a strategy which looked more and more unstable as the season progressed. Of the top four teams, they’re certainly the most predictable and least interesting to watch, but results are results.
The bottom half of the table is made up by Vulcun (who qualified under the name Team FeaR), Good Game University, Team MRN and Complexity (formerly The Brunch Club) respectively. Of these, none particularly distinguished themselves as true competitors to the more established names over the course of the regular season. Vulcun certainly look like the best of the bunch with a number of good showings, including a 3-0 in week three and a 4-1 over the final weekend, but in the final standings only a single victory separated the field. The second half of the season also saw all four teams make roster changes, with BloodWater jumping ship from GGU to Vulcun, the latter filling their vacancy with Daydreamin, MRN picking up Nientonsoh as their new AD Carry and Complexity replacing their mid lane with Prolly. Each had an impact, but given the timing it seemed like too little too late. The skill gap, which was apparent earlier in the season, has noticeably shortened over the course of events and the midseason playoffs held over the past weekend proved any team can be beaten on the day.
- TSM Snapdragon
- Team Dignitas
- Counter Logic Gaming
- Good Game University
- Team MRN
An Upsetting Playoff
Going into the playoffs, the top two finishers from each region received a first class ticket straight to the semi-finals (and the only guaranteed spots in the Summer season) while the next four in line fought for a place at the main event.
In Europe this resulted in SK taking on AAA to face Gambit, and EG versus Wolves to take on Fnatic. SK were the clear favourite going into their matchup but given Gambit’s unbeaten record over AAA, not to mention their significant loss to the former in the last few weeks, they must have been rooting for the French team. A surprise disqualification for AAA however, meant the game never even happened – an unfortunate family emergency for one of their players leaving them a man short and unable to make up the roster on short notice.
The second game was the matchup everyone wanted to see and, with both teams finishing the Spring season in top form. Ultimately EG took the best-of-three in decisive fashion and secured their place alongside SK, Fnatic and Gambit – sending AAA and Copenhagen Wolves to join Dragonborns and Giants in the promotion series, and threatening relegation from the LCS entirely. The remainder of the competition would play out according to form, with Fnatic beating EG and Gambit taking down SK as expected. The last match of the day went the full five games, with Fnatic emerging victors and proud recipients of an oversized novelty cheque for €50,000. The battle for third place saw EG take down SK Gaming in two straight games, a result which is sure to be satisfying given their shaky start earlier in the year.
The North American playoffs proved to be much more exciting, providing the surprises and upsets viewers had been hoping for. CLG versus Vulcun had the makings of a thriller – CLG having trouble against the newcomers so far this year (ending the series 2-2, the playoff game would be the decider). Unable to find a solid footing, the long-standing veterans would ultimately crumble under the weight of AD Carry Zuna’s relentless assault and propel Vulcun to a semi-final spot with a guaranteed place in the Summer games. Continuing the David vs. Goliath billings, GGU came at Dignitas with all guns blazing. In a result I don’t think anyone expected the underdogs took victory in a hard-fought series and knocked Dignitas (formerly holders of first place in the NA league) into the scrap for promotion. GGU would continue punishing those betting against them into the semi-finals, where they were able to take down Curse. TSM would eventually put an end to their fairytale in the finals, but for GGU it was an encouraging weekend of games, taking second and third place scalps as a sixth place team. The argument could be made that both Curse and Dignitas failed to perform, but if they can’t compete on the day there’s little hope of victory when the World Championships roll around.
The top four teams from the mid-season playoffs advance to the Summer Season league, and the chance to represent their region against the best the world has to offer. The two losing teams join the bottom two from the Spring Season standings (Giants and Dragonborns in EU, MRN and Complexity in NA) in a promotion tournament. Here they must face off against the top amateur teams to win their spot back. Otherwise they’re out – losing their professional salary and likely any team sponsorships. So no more free stuff. There’s a lot on the line, and for a young gamer there are certainly worse ways to make a living, so the competition is sure to be fierce. It’s difficult to imagine, given their experience over the last ten weeks, that any of the professional teams will fail to win their place back. For both Dignitas and CLG however, this was a disastrous weekend of games and with everything on the line they were unable to deal with the young blood. Complexity, MRN and a host of upcoming amateur teams will all be eager to stop them, and if the NA playoffs have shown us anything it’s that one day of games can turn everything around.
Starting a Riot
Finally, credit must be given to Riot Games for how they’ve organised the LCS, despite the complex league system. Each match is broadcast live with excellent commentary, pre and post-game analysis as well as player interviews and videos. The commentators in particular have the tough job of breaking down each play as it happens without alienating the uninitiated and the two-man commentary team for each game does a remarkable job of keeping things entertaining without statistical overload. Their esports team as a whole has done a stellar job of making the Championship Series a reality, so hats off to them. Of the NA and EU setups I have to say I prefer the European production due to the simple addition of a live audience. The players have said again and again that the presence of a cheering crowd pushes them to take chances and play in a way which they probably wouldn’t in a closed environment, and this makes for games which are, on average, much more exciting to watch than their American counterparts. The NA studio does have a giant touch-screen television for play-by-play analysis though. It’s hard to argue with a giant TV.