League of Legends has just passed the half-point of the tournament season, with craziness occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. We now have five new LCS teams and 30 ex-professional players looking in from the outside.
TSM continued its run of good form by beating out GGU for first place in the NA LCS tournament. While TSM winning was a mild surprise, the bigger surprise was GGU and Vulcun making it as far as they did, while Curse, CLG, and Dignitas all stumbled in various degrees.
Curse has been on a downward slide ever since the friction between Elementz and Saint Vicious hit the fan. With Elementz gone, Rhux became the new support with little time to practice. As a top laner, Rhux was always going to struggle in moving to the support role. Curse needs to figure out how to solve their bottom lane problem. The Cop/Elementz tandem wasn't clicking, but it's far from clear whether that was Cop's problem or Elementz's. Rhux did better when he was on Elise (a champion that he was familiar with from top lane), but his long term prospects may be limited if the team can't start working together soon. There's sufficient talent on the Curse team to stay at the top, but the personality issues could continue to tear them apart.
CLG and Dignitas also failed to perform and, instead, had to fight for their professional futures in the promotion/relegation matches. CLG's decline has been well publicized, with much blame (some deserved and some undeserved) being laid at the feet of HotshotGG. Dignitas's recent decline is less understandable. Everything was going fine until their jungler, Crumbzz, had to miss a week for personal reasons. They tanked that week and have been falling apart ever since. The mid-season break probably comes at a great time for them.
In Europe, playoffs went largely according to plan. EG managed to rally to beat Copenhagen Wolves when everyone thought CW would come out ahead. That was enough to secure them a place in the summer season. Meanwhile, Fnatic and Gambit slugged it out in a best of 5 that honestly only had a winner because it was an odd number of games. They likely would have continued trading games forever if simple math hadn't gotten in the way. Fnatic and Gambit are clearly a cut above the rest of Europe, and it will be a serious challenge for any of the teams to make a realistic run at them.
SK Gaming must be a little bit concerned. After advancing due to aAa's first round forfeit, they promptly lost four games (two to Gambit and two to EG) without a single win.
The popular narrative heading into the playoffs was that the LCS teams had developed a wealth of knowledge and player skill that would ultimately keep most of them safely in the pro circuit. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), this proved to be utterly false. For the most part, the amateur teams produced fantastic results, and even a couple of teams that failed to secure professional contracts managed to impress (Azure Cats and Samurai in Jeans specifically).
The sad part of relegation is saying goodbye to players. In Europe we lost Shushei and Hosan from Dragonborns, Nono from aAa, and Jimbownz from GIANTS!, to name just a few. The games were razor thin, but these teams didn't have sufficient polish to lock in a spot. Dragonborns, in particular, is a tough pill to swallow, as their champion choices and exciting early game aggression has already made them a fan favorite. Hopefully, they'll manage to tighten up and, perhaps, pick up another jungler so they can come back even stronger next year.
In North America, the games were more lopsided. Quantic absolutely crushed Complexity, while Velocity played impressively well to deny team MRN their LCS return. One can only wonder if the remnants of MRN and Complexity can't get their best players together (Nientonsoh, Laudemortis, Prolly and MegaZero specifically) to form a team that could return next year.
Riot hasn't been clear on what they want to do, but there’s every indication that they have a strong desire for a vibrant amateur scene and they have the resources and reasons to throw a little bit of money into amateur tournaments. It would only cost them $150,000 per year to do weekly tournaments with $2,000 for first and $1,000 for second. That's not enough to play professionally off of, but it is sufficient to keep a team together and motivated. Hopefully, something like that is coming down the pipe.
Only three teams were able to return to LCS: Copenhagan Wolves, CLG, and Dignitas. These three share a common thread. All of them were established, professional teams coming into the LCS already. They all had a gaming house and a sense of stability that allowed them to focus on their game play.
As a side note: Copenhagan Wolves will likely be changing their name as it appears they're moving their affiliation.
CLG spent most of the season struggling to adapt to the Season 3 changes. They didn't expand their champion pool sufficiently, nor did they adapt their overall team strategy as well as they should have. An over reliance on Doublelift and a tentativeness on HotshotGG's part left them stuck at a 13-15 record.
But on Sunday, they looked like they were back. HotshotGG was split pushing like a fiend every game. They had enough mix of early game aggression to keep the other team on their heels. They even broke out some previously unseen or rarely seen champions. They managed to sweep the fairly impressive Azure Cats for an easy reclaim of their spot in LCS.