Team Liquid’s second straight NA LCS championship solidified its status as North America’s best team. Team Liquid also secured the first seed to represent NA at the 2018 World Championship, and in doing so, secured 100 Thieves’ qualification as the second seed due to circuit points.
In Team Liquid’s post-game press conference, I asked NA LCS Summer MVP Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng for his thoughts on the gauntlet:
“….Let’s go Clutch!....?
I think C9 is probably the best. That’s just because the beat TSM to get to the Finals and play us. 100Thieves gotten beaten by TSM, who got beaten by C9, and I don’t even know when Clutch got beat. But it was a while ago.
I think C9 is actually pretty strong, but the other thing about it is that momentum is really important. TSM just came off a close win and they’re feeling hot, while C9’s coming off a pretty crushing loss. So maybe TSM will mentally be in better shape.
Who knows? I don’t really care who wins, I just want to see them struggle.”
The 2018 NA Regional Finals will commence today. Let’s take a look at the four teams competing for the 3rd North American seed in the 2018 World Championship.
Clutch Gaming will play against Echo Fox today in the first game of the gauntlet. Despite finishing the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split in 9th place, its spring semifinals finish gives it the circuit points to sneak into the gauntlet.
CG’s gauntlet appearance has been perceived more as a last-ditch effort than a potential miracle run to Worlds. Given the recent performance of the Houston Rockets affiliate, that’s not a particularly skewed perspective.
However, CG has also had more time to prepare for the 2018 NA Regional Qualifiers Finals. While Echo Fox, TSM, and Cloud9 were fighting for playoff contention, Clutch Gaming had already made the gauntlet its first priority.
In an interview with Inven Global during week 7 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, CG AD Carry Apollo “Apollo” Price explained the team’s focus:
“If we get playoffs, then great, but our main focus is to improve as a team until the gauntlet. It’s very likely that we end up there, and it’s very unlikely that we qualify for the 2018 NA LCS Summer Playoffs given our current standings.”
Clutch Gaming may have the benefit of preparation, but their players have not played on stage in over a month. CG’s planning has never been its problem, but rather the execution of said plans. As the clear-cut underdog, Clutch Gaming will have no room for error if they are to run the gauntlet and qualify for Worlds.
Of all teams participating in the 2018 Regional Qualifiers Finals, Echo Fox has the most on-paper talent. Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon is a Worlds finalist and has domestic titles in three different regions. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is solidifying himself as the best active player without a Worlds appearance. Tanner “Damonte” Damonte and Lawrence “Lost” Hui are two at the top of NA’s new’s class, and Andy “Smoothie” Ta is one of NA’s finest in-game leaders.
The wheels fell off a bit for Echo Fox in the summer split. Early split inconsistency from the Mid and Bot Lanes exposed Huni’s shortcomings, and roster changes were made halfway through the split. Echo Fox’s new roster is objectively one of the most talented in North America, it has only been together for two months. Playing a chaotic, aggressive style requires intuitive synergy that can only be developed over time.
In an interview before the 2018 NA LCS Summer Playoffs, Smoothie told Inven Global what he saw in his team:
“Our team has a lot of potential. We can play a multitude of styles, and we’ve had really good scrim records. Obviously, scrim records don’t mean everything, but good practice is indicative of something, you know? I truly believe this team can beat all of the other teams in NA.”
Echo Fox should have the edge against Clutch Gaming, but if its players are not more cohesive than in its loss to TSM in the Quarterfinals, world domination will remain an aspiration.
Like Echo Fox, TSM also has problems with execution, but in the complete opposite way. Echo Fox plays a fast and loose style of League of Legends that nets them quick wins but also leads to quick losses. TSM, on the other hand, seems to take no agency in the flow of the game and play a very scaling-focused, passive style.
TSM has circumvented this issue by putting Bjergsen in the position to carry. Bjergsen has virtually invincible on bruisers and assassins this summer The proactive options he has access to when given the correct champion completely changes TSM’s identity as a team.
In the playoffs, TSM performed at its highest level yet. It managed to edge out Echo Fox in the quarterfinals, and its loss to Cloud9 in the semifinals was by a relatively narrow margin. TSM assembled a super team at the beginning of the year, and their players look to be forming synergy at just the right time.
Season 8 has not been the easiest of times for TSM fans. A playoff appearance in spring and a top 3 finish in summer might be an accomplishment for another organization, but TSM has appeared in every NA LCS Final before this year. The pressure the players are under is enormous.
TSM Top Laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell addressed the fans concerns in an interview with Inven Global during week 5 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split:
“Persistence pays off. You can’t just change something if it didn’t work out once; you have to keep trying. I know a lot of people are complaining about the roster changes, and I think they’re overreacting. I think they just need to realize that over time, we’ll get better.”
So far, TSM has made good on Hauntzer’s word. What remains to be seen, however, is if their improvements will be enough to defeat…
Cloud9 stand as the final boss in the 2018 NA Regional Qualifiers Finals, and they look every bit formidable enough to fit the part. Head Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu’s roster experimentations paid off in a Finals appearance, and the seven-man roster currently possesses the most dimension of any team in the gauntlet.
Cloud9’s multiple perspectives and best-in-class draft phase aren’t necessarily about an adjustment of style, but more of an adjustment of perspective. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Robert “Blaber” Huang possess enormous mechanical talent. Veterans Greyson “GoldenGlue” Gilmer and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen are at their best when they are brought in with information and a game-plan after watching from the sidelines.
Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi is battle-tested and seemingly unphased by circumstance. Eric “Licorice” Ritchie and Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam have adjusted to the stage smoothly, and Blaber’s proactivity has been a revelation for the team. In an interview with Inven Global during week 8 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, Blaber described what he brings to Cloud9:
“Before I was a starter, our team would struggle to make plays and capitalize on incremental leads. I don’t think there was a lot of proactivity. I’m not completely sure how I’ve specifically made a difference for the team, but sometimes just jumping in 1v5 unites our team under one goal: Save me.”
That’s not to say the Cloud9 magic doesn’t run out on occasion. Team Liquid’s squad of decorated veterans completely obliterated every iteration of Cloud9 with a 3-0 sweep in the 2018 NA LCS Summer Finals just last week. When Blaber’s aggression is exposed by a veteran jungler like Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, things can go pear-shaped.
Still, Cloud9 comes into the 2018 NA Regional Qualifiers Finals as the favorite. TSM is hitting its stride at just the right time, but the talent to win is there for any of the four teams. Three of the four teams tied for third place in the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, and while time has passed since, the level of parity in North America has not decreased amongst the majority of the region.
The 2018 NA Regional Qualifiers Finals begin on Friday, September 14 at 1:30 pm PST.
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist currently located in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.