NA LCS Spring 2016 Playoff Predictions
Posted: Mar 21 2016
With the Spring Split officially decided and the standings locked, we look ahead to the NA Spring playoffs and make our bold predictions for how the bracket will play out. The NA teams are actually quite interesting in that every team looks very close in strength. Compared to the EU LCS, where the top 3 look much better than seeds 4-6, the NA playoffs are going to be considerably harder to predict. Which means I'll either look like a genius (finally) or an unfortunate moron (as usual).
Let's take a look at how the teams ended the split in the standings:1. Immortals (15-1)
2. Counter Logic Gaming (13-5)
3. Cloud9 (12-6)
4. Team Liquid (10-8)
5. NRG Esports (9-9)
6. TSM (9-9)
7. Echo Fox (6-12)
8. Renegades (6-13)
9. Team Impulse (5-14)
10. Dignitas (4-14)
Immortals and CLG have secured their first round byes deservedly, being the most consistent and complete teams in the LCS this split. They'll get an extra week of preparation while they watch the lower seeds duke out it for a spot in the Las Vegas tournament. Many people, myself included, assumed CLG would start the split off strong but then teeter off in the latter half of the split due to their roster's ceiling being lower than that of other teams. However, that hasn't been the case at all. CLG has instead illustrated why teamwork and good communication are still the bread and butter of competitive League of Legends. Immortals, on the other hand, are no surprise. While the roster is considerably newer than CLG, the heart of the team is the Huni and Reignover show, two guys who had the entire year of 2015 to develop good synergy and communication. Perhaps their team play is not quite as coordinated as CLG, but they more than make up for that in individual player skill, particularly from their fan-favorite top laner, Huni.
That leaves us in a very competitive and exciting first round with relatively even matched teams. Yes, TSM has certainly disappointed, but the ability is certainly there as we saw in their final game against NRG, taking a very commanding lead in the game but ultimately failing at the final moments. NRG similarly has looked up and down, compared to Liquid who have recently been surging, but their ability to confuse and surprise in champion select shouldn't be underestimated. Below is how the playoff bracket is shaping up, and we'll insert our predictions with some explanations.
The boldest prediction here, and one I assume most people will disagree with, is to have TSM winning a series against Cloud9. Some people wouldn't even have them winning a game, but the story lines here are just far too good for the LCS gods to deny them. A first round win for TSM pits them against their former AD Carry, Wildturtle, who can knock out the team that didn't think he was playing up to their standards. It also creates a possible scenario for TSM vs. CLG, the oldest rivalry in the LCS, and a chance for Doublelift to play against his long-time former team. You just can't pass up drama like that, but there are also real reasons why TSM could advance. Let's get into the matchups:
Quarterfinal 1: TSM v Cloud9
Picking TSM to win this series is a very unpopular opinion since Cloud9 has been considerably better than TSM all year. Jensen has had far better individual performances then Bjergsen, and Rush has certainly looked more impactful than Svenskeren. The major advantage C9 has, however, is there ability to play as a fluid unit and follow each other up without hesitation. TSM has, thus far, developed virtually no synergy and their teamfighting is suffering greatly because of it.
So after all that, how then could TSM possibly win three games against C9 if their teamwork is so much worse? If we revisit the previous 2 games this split, in which the teams went 1-1, we'll remember both games being quite close. Game 1 didn't even have a first blood until about 20 minutes in, and the game swung in TSM's favor after Cloud9 stayed too long at the top inhibitor, and ultimately weren't able to win any team fights to stop TSM. Game 2 was actually a relative stomp for TSM, who were all but about to finish the game until Doublelift got caught by a Soraka snare and TSM repeatedly lost some close team fights to throw the game.
The tale of the head-to-head tells us a different one than the standing may suggest. TSM should've been 2-0 against C9, but couldn't quite close out the end, which is a much easier problem to fix than simply being outplayed start to finish. There are two keys to the series: Getting Hai on his weaker champions and TSM not getting caught at the end of games.
C9 lives and dies by Hai, who while fabled as the best NA shotcaller, definitely struggles to make sound decisions when not having a great game. On Morgana, for example, Hai lands binding after binding and plays with supreme confidence that allows C9 to make decisive plays and rotations. Forcing him on a champion like Braum or Alistar would be beneficial for TSM because he isn't quite as good at playing melee engage/peel champions, and lowering his confidence in the series will make the C9 shot calls more tentative and weaker.
But none of this will matter is TSM keeps throwing away 10k gold leads because they can't team fight. Svenskeren and Yellowstar seem to be on a different page when it comes to how to team fight, often engaging with no backup or running away when their carries are trying to do damage. They have 2 weeks to fix those issues. Certainly that's easier said than done, but it's certainly possible. Perhaps it's just me wishing for those epic storylines of revenge and retribution, but I think the LoL community is writing off TSM a bit early, and they can definitely pull out a close win over Cloud9.
Quarter-final 2: Team Liquid vs. NRG Esports
Liquid is possibly the hottest team in the NA LCS right now, having won 5 of their last 6 games, including wins over Cloud9, CLG, and TSM. They look better each week, ending their split with a convincing rout over Cloud9. The one loss they did forfeit to NRG was off the back of Moon's best game of the year, including a Baron steal that permanently swung the game in NRG's favor. While you can't discredit NRG for the win, which they certainly earned with great play coming from the jungle and mid positions in particular, victories like that are rare enough that they won't matter in a series. Moon's inconsistency will be a problem over an extended set of games, and NRG have shown the tendency to totally disappear. On top of that, TL's strength in their bot lane will likely overhwhelm the struggling lane of Altec and KonKwon.
NRG's conditions to win this series are a bit slim, but they do exist. Moon will have to have a coming out party and play better than he's shown all year to match Dardoch's pressure. NRG will likely need to look for a lane swap very aggressively to avoid letting Piglet and Matt snowball the game. GBM will likely have to surprise Fenix, or ban his main comfort champions and first pick a mid-laner to try to get Fenix uncomfortable and in an unfamiliar matchup.
Having all of those things happen is very unlikely, so I'm picking the surging Liquid for an easy 3-0.
Semi-final 1: Immortals v TSM
Will WildTurtle get some vindication for beating his former team? It seems pretty likely if this scenario plays out. Immortals are too quick and coordinated for TSM, and Huni just seems to have their number. It seems there are two potential strategies for beating Immortals. You can camp and overwhelm their bot lane, who has a tendency to die 2v2 and play for too aggressively, but that requires you to also make sure Huni doesn't go unchecked. The other option is to directly camp Huni and pick a winning 2v2 versus the duo of Reignover and Huni. That's a task easier said than done, but it worked for CLG earlier in the year when they were apple to pick Fiora/Udyr and repeatedly gank Huni.
Of either strategy, the most reasonable one sounds like camping Huni, who has shown a propensity to tilt when the game isn't going his way. However, getting consistent jungle pressure hasn't been a strength for TSM since the Oddone was camping mid for Reginald in Season 3. Svenskeren has shown good synergy with Hauntzer at both IEM tournaments TSM has attended with him, but for whatever reason during LCS games we rarely see the newly added Danish jungler in top lane. However, if TSM wants to compete with the #1 team in NA, they're going to need Svenskeren and probably Bjergsen to put a lot of their focus on shutting down the Immortals top laner. It's a viable strategy, but very hard to pull of, particularly because Huni and Reignover skirmish extremely well, and Reignover has proven to have much better game sense and timing than Svenskeren. On top of that, TSM is a team that has never really had success trying to snowball out of top lane.
Because Immortals are essentially the worst matchup for TSM strategically, we have to give them a clean 3-0 win in the first semi-final
Semi-final 2: CLG v Liquid
The second semi-final should prove to be very entertaining. It wouldn't be the NA LCS without both CLG and Liquid taking their fans on an emotional rollercoaster. At first glance, it appears this matchup will be very favorable for CLG since their entire strategy revolves around Darshan split-pushing against Lourlo, who has had a few lackluster performances this split. Lourlo, like Team Liquid in general, has been improving on a weekly basis, and Liquid do have an advantage in the other two lanes. Aphromoo may be the best support in NA right now, but Piglet is head and shoulders above Stixxay, and Fenix should be able to handle Huhi fairly well.
The story of CLG, however, is rarely about how their players perform individually, but how well they rotate around the map and enable the split-push. People have heavily criticized CLG for being one-dimensional, but that dimension is currently the hardest play style to play against. You're practically required to ban or first pick Fiora against CLG, and with the minion and tower changes this season, as well as the popularity of items like Zz'rot portal and Banner of Command, split pushing is harder than ever to stop. Addtionally, CLG picks and plays very well to stall your team while Darshan takes down towers across the map.
Overall, despite CLG exceeding expectation, I have to pick against them because Liquid has a great support staff that I believe will be able to game plan accordingly to counter CLG's strategy. I don't think CLG has anyone to consistently outplay Piglet or Fenix, who are both having tremendous years. It won't be an easy fight, and will likely go to at least 4 games, but I'm picking TL to go 3-2.
Grand Final: Immortals vs. Team Liquid
While there's nothing bold about predicting an Immortals victory in the final, there's no sense in predicting something that we don't actually believe. We really like Liquid as a team right now, and the additions of Dardoch and Matt are going to make them a promising team for a while. However, it's hard enough to pick against the Reignover and Huni duo, and especially so when the top lane hasn't been a strength for Liquid this split. Lourlo has a lot of time to develop, but currently that matchup is very one-sided.
The potential swing in this series is again the Liquid bot lane. While we stated that TSM's only shot of winning is to camp the top lane, Liquid should actually ignore that completely. Dardoch needs to get either Fenix or Piglet rolling, preferably Piglet due to the aforementioned tendency of Immortals to play too far up, and because TL tends to prefer a protect-the-Piglet play style. If they can get a couple of early kills on Piglet like Proxcin was able to do for Mash in TiP's final match against Immortals, that's a recipe for disaster for the #1 seed.
Ultimately, I see TL taking a game in this series but not being able to keep up with Immortals, who will cement themselves as the clear best team in NA in a 3-1 comfortable win.
3rd Place Match: CLG vs. TSM
In what we hope will be the Grand Final in the drama department, CLG and TSM will square off yet again to settle the debate of whether CLG made the right choice in replacing Doublelift for Stixxay. Both teams are basically polar opposites currently. CLG is the team that plays almost exclusive around their top lane and makes up for lack of individual prowess by playing as a cohesive unit, with Aphromoo being the glue that holds the team together. TSM often plays like they've been sniffing that glue, but still manage to have impressive individual performances in certain games.
This old rivalry would be best if it somehow was the actual Grand Final, but since it's quite unlikely that either team would beat Immortals we'll settle for third place. The backdrop is perfect and this series will answer many philosophical questions an average League fan may have...Is teamwork more important than individual skill? Is it better to play several styles decently or one style very well? Should Doublelift have been replaced right after finally winning a split? Is Bjergsen still able to 1v5? Is Huhi actually better than Pobelter? Will the power of friendship prevail?
In what we hope to be a riveting 5-game series, I think we'll finally get confirmation that teamwork and discipline will always win. TSM have the ability to stand toe-to-toe with CLG but seem quite incapable of dealing with split-pushing and are slow to react. However, purely based on skill and experience, TSM will take 2 games in what appear to be games of the team finally finding some semblance of synergy.
Game 5, however, will secure CLG the 3rd place spot in an epic Darshan backdoor nexus kill directly after Doublelift is killed in the enemy jungle trying to steal the wolf camp.