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LCS Championship 2023 Finals Preview

Zakaria Almughrabi

The 2023 LCS Season has reached its boiling point. Only three teams remain in the hunt for the LCS trophy. All three have already qualified for Worlds by finishing in the top three at champs, but the honor of being North America’s first seed at the 2023 League of Legends World Championship will go to the victors on Sunday, August 20.

LCS Championship 2023 C9

Image Credit Riot Games | Robert Paul

NRG Have Landed

When we called NRG “the biggest wildcard of the entire playoffs,” we meant it. The fifth seed coming into the LCS Championship has been a confusing team all split. In the last week of the regular season, NRG somehow beat the first-place Cloud9, then lost to the last-place Immortals. They very clearly had the potential to beat any team on their day. You just never knew when that would be. At a 9-9 record, they were the definition of coinflip.

That storyline has been flipped on its head this LCS Championship. NRG has come out swinging against some of the best teams LCS has to offer. They started their playoff run with a 3-1 win over Team Liquid. It was an impressive win that did instill some confidence in this NRG squad, as a much bigger test awaits.

Still, NRG passed it with flying colors as well. Their 3-1 victory over the second-seeded Golden Guardians guaranteed them a spot at Worlds. While the previous series had a hint of Team Liquid falling apart, NRG had to really work for this one. The mid-jungle duo of Cristian “Palafox” Palafox and Juan “Contractz” Garcia had an especially great series, the latter earning MVP honors.

NRG had a chance to punch their ticket to the Grand Finals with a win against Cloud9. They had taken down the first seed twice before in the regular season. Additionally, the hype for this NRG squad had been building for all of the playoffs. Many believed that they could pull off the upset. Unfortunately for NRG, a best-of-five against the defending NA champs was a different ball game. NRG sits in the lower bracket finals, one win from the organization’s first LCS Grand Finals appearance.

Liquid Find their Form

Team Liquid had to do things the hard way in this LCS Championship. After being knocked to the losers’ bracket instantly, they had a gauntlet in front of them. First was a 3-1 victory against the eighth seed, 100 Thieves. After that was the grudge match against Evil Geniuses. EG had beaten Liquid in both meetings in the regular season. This time, however, Liquid flipped the script.

Veteran top laner Park “Summit” Woo-tae made a fool of his opposition as Liquid won three games in under 28 minutes each. Last came Golden Guardians. The series went to the maximum. Liquid won the first two, then nearly succumbed to a reverse sweep before winning the fifth and deciding game.

Jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon was the star of the show for Liquid. He played Viego in four games and mopped the floor with GGS in all three of their wins. Pyosik also became the first jungler in LCS history to get a Pentakill with this play. With this win, Team Liquid and its many veterans will return to the Worlds stage.

The most extraordinary part of Liquid’s run here is in the mid-lane. LCS rookie Eain “APA” Stearns made his first start for the squad in the middle of week four. He immediately made a positive impact on the team as a key teamfighting piece that was missing before. The craziest part is that he’s not even speaking the same language as his teammates. Liquid communicates in Korean while occasionally giving APA a simple direction in English.

Due to Liquid’s 10-8 record in the regular season, people often forget that this team has two Worlds winners. With an experienced LCK core leading two promising NA rookies, the sky is the limit for this Team Liquid squad.

Cloud9 Stands at the Summit

The kings of the LCS are one step away from maintaining their throne. Cloud9 has hoisted the last two LCS trophies and is now looking to go back-to-back-to-back. Their playoff run has been a breeze so far. A 3-0 sweep of Evil Geniuses, followed by a 3-0 sweep of NRG has placed C9 into the Grand Finals.

C9 has by no means been infallible this summer. Their 13-5 record left plenty of room for improvement. If there’s one thing this team can do, though, it’s turn up in the post-season. The last time C9 lost a domestic best-of-five was April 17, 2022, 16 months ago. Winning against C9 in best-of-one is very doable, as NRG and Team Liquid showed during the regular season with 2-0 records. However, beating them in a five-game series will prove much more difficult.

None of C9’s players are overt weak points in the roster. You’d be remiss not to put bot laner Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol on a pedestal. Berserker is far and away the best ADC player in the region, giving C9 an inevitable carry threat in every game. Jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang is also a significant threat to watch out for. Blaber takes C9’s oppressiveness to a whole new level. His pathing is nearly unmatched among LCS junglers while also being key to their teamfighting.

C9 does have weaknesses, of course. The aggressive style of Blaber and mid-laner Jang “EMENES” Min-soo can lead to the early game going awry. Teams that can take advantage of C9’s oversteps can win individual games. The question is if NRG or Liquid can force C9 to fight on their own terms and win three games in a series. Otherwise, it’s looking like another trophy for Cloud9 at the LCS Championship 2023.