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Top
LCK

LoL Week in Review: Team Liquid, Cloud9 Primed for Rematch

Mike Plant

It’s playoff time across pro League of Legends, but the storylines are oddly familiar. Team Liquid and Cloud9 are set to have a Lock In rematch in the Upper Bracket Finals of the Mid-Season Showdown. Unfortunately, that also means the 100 Thieves slide has continued. Elsewhere, Team WE are on another big win streak and Afreeca Freecs have wasted another season. We take a look at the top news and storylines across the LEC, LCS, LPL, and LCK.

Team Liquid CoreJJ

Team Liquid and CoreJJ are ready for their rematch with Cloud9 in the Upper Bracket Finals. (Photo courtesy Riot Games - Tina Jo)

LOCK IN REMATCH BETWEEN TEAM LIQUID AND CLOUD9

Surprise, surprise… The two LCS co-favorites entering 2021 are already scheduled to have their second best-of-five matchup this year. Team Liquid, the Lock In winners, kicked off MSS with a 3-1 victory over TSM. Now, Cloud9, winners of a 3-0 sweep over 100 Thieves, await TL in the Upper Bracket Finals.

Team Liquid were propelled to victory over TSM by their top side. Barney “Alphari” Morris continued to show why he was the biggest pickup of the offseason, getting the best of a resurgent Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon. Meanwhile, Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen combined to shut down Mingyi “Spica” Lu. TSM’s star jungler was held to a 9/20/30 score in four games.

For Cloud9, Luka “Perkz” Perković proved he wasn’t a bad offseason pickup either. C9’s mid laner went 14/6/16 in the sweep to earn Player of the Series. He had plenty of help, though, as C9 got the best of 100 Thieves across the board. After a close 3-2 win over 100T in Lock In, Cloud9’s improvement over the course of Spring saw them dominate at MSS. It was also a testament to C9’s resilience after a 2-3 stumble to end the regular season.

With Team Liquid and Cloud9 considered the top two teams in North America, both lineups are loaded with talent. However, that doesn’t mean that there are imbalances between the two teams.

For Team Liquid, they will obviously look to play around Alphari. He has been the best top laner in the LCS in every conceivable metric, by far. Fudge has greatly improved over the course of Spring, but there simply isn’t an LCS top laner Alphari wouldn’t be favored against. Santorin’s job will be to make sure Robert “Blaber” Huang can’t influence Alphari’s lane enough to neutralize his advantage.

On the other side, Cloud9 will want to target Team Liquid’s bot lane. Insane to consider with Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in in lane, but Edward “Tactical” Ra has struggled heavily this year. His Tristana jumps against TSM were downright head-scratching. Team Liquid still trusts Tactical on the meta carries, but Cloud9 actually have a bot lane capable of punishing TL. Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme will almost certainly play supports with kill pressure to punish any Tactical mistakes.

The most exciting battle, though, will be in mid lane. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s retirement finally put Jensen in line to become the premier mid laner in the LCS, but Perkz’ arrival changed things. Jensen looked better in their Lock In series, but Perkz had not had much time with his new team and environment. Now we will get to see the two go toe-to-toe after a full season of time with their teams.

Team Liquid enter as the favorites after their Lock In win, but Cloud9 have a chance to even the score.

100 THIEVES LOOK BROKEN

The disappointing decline of 100 Thieves continued in their 0-3 loss to Cloud9. What was supposed to be a ready-made title contender has regressed in Spring. After starting 6-1, 100T finished the regular season 5-6. Before that, 100T also played C9 to a close 2-3 loss in the Lock In tournament. They are clearly trending in the wrong direction.

Part of the effort to fix that was the insertion of Tommy “ry0ma” Le into the starting lineup. It’s easy to say that hasn’t worked, because it hasn’t. 100T are now 3-6 since the swap. Ry0ma was an invisible 5/11/7 in the series against C9. Sure, he was playing against Perkz, but there was a clear mid gap in the series.

The bigger problem, however, were the jungle and top gaps. Blaber is the undisputed best jungler in North America, but Can “Closer” Çelik entered 2021 on the shortlist for second best. Like 100T, Closer has regressed from Lock In and put in another mediocre performance in the loss.

The combination of Closer and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho needed to put pressure on rookie Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami, but that didn’t work. Fudge went from getting bullied by Ssumday in Lock In to doing the bullying himself in MSS. Fudge held Ssumday to scores of 1/2/3, 1/2/1, and 1/2/5 in the series. The first two are even more disappointing considering Ssumday had counterpick carries in Gangplank and Aatrox.

More than just disappointing individual play, Closer and Ssumday aren’t even on the same page. That was evident on Closer’s second top gank in game two. Closer came in for a repeat gank on Fudge that would have drawn a kill. To counter, Perkz’ Orianna teleported in the minion wave to play defense.

100T Ssumday

100T’s Ssumday failed to impress in a losing effort against C9 (Image courtesy Riot Games)

Ssumday backed off, content to burn Perkz’ cooldown. However, Closer kept going on Fudge. Ssumday came back in to clean up the kill, but Closer then died to Perkz. It was by no means a disaster for 100T, but the split call cost them. Either of the two cohesive plays—committing to the kill or backing off before the teleport—would have been preferable.

It’s fair to say that you shouldn’t overreact to a single best-of-five loss to Cloud9. We saw TSM look absolutely terrible against this (nearly) same Golden Guardians roster in 2020 Summer before storming back to win the whole thing. Double elimination allows for growth over the course of the tournament. However, 100T just look broken.

After spending 2020 committed to playing young players to build for the future, they ended up just bringing in a four-man core to add to Ssumday the next year. Once the advantage of early season coordination wore off, they tried to bring back up one of those young players. It hasn’t worked. Now, 100T are once again one of the bigger spenders in the LCS and look nowhere near title contenders.

100T can bring Damonte back up to the main roster and hope it sparks the team, but they look in need of a bigger fix. It’s fair to wonder if they should have just kept the new flourishing Aaron “FakeGod” Le and found an import mid laner, but it’s too late for that now. Maybe 100T can try something similar by calling up top lane prospect Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij for Summer, opening up an import slot for mid. There might be few options available mid-season, but 100T are running out of options.

TEAM WE STREAKING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AGAIN

Team WE were the talk of the LPL through the first three weeks of the season. After upgrading their solo lanes in the offseason with Chen “Breathe” Chen and Cui “Shanks” Xiao-Jun, Team WE won their first five matches of Spring. Two of those were over expected contenders in Victory Five and Invictus Gaming.

Unfortunately, the good times did not last. Team WE lost their next three matches against the stiff competition of Royal Never Give Up, Rare Atom, and JD Gaming. All three were non-competitive 0-2 sweeps. Team WE looked exposed. Their signature wins against V5 and iG looked less impressive as the pair hovered more around .500 than the top of the standings.

The break for the Lunar New Year apparently came at just the right time for Team WE. Following that two week break, Team WE have once again become unbeatable. Their six-match winning streak is the longest active in the LPL and has put Team WE in contention for one of the top seeds in the playoffs. Over the second half of the season, Team WE’s game record is 12-2.

The caveat is their strength of schedule. The only notable wins of the six were against FunPlus Phoenix (10-5) and Suning (8-6). The FPX win also probably deserves an asterisk next to it because of the timing. Team WE caught FPX right after it was announced that Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo was suspended for match-fixing. Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang subbed in for FPX on short notice, despite still being on his break. FPX called up Yang “Beichuan” Ling to play their subsequent matches.

Team WE also close the season with the most difficult week 10 schedule. They face EDward Gaming (11-3) and Top Esports (10-4) in their final two matches of the season. However, even if Team WE lose both of those matches, they would still finish 11-5 on the season. That’s a very impressive improvement from their 8-8 and 9-7 records in 2020.

Team WE are in a position to play for more. A pair of wins could catapult them up to a top-two playoff seed, which would give them a bye until round four of the playoffs. Considering their run of form, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against the hottest team in the LPL.

AFREECA FREECS WASTE ANOTHER SEASON WITH KIIN

With losses to Nongshim RedForce and T1 in week nine, Afreeca Freecs became the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs in the LCK. AF are 4-13 on the season and have just one match against Liiv SANDBOX remaining. Even with the LCK moving to six playoff teams, AF were not in the hunt to make it.

That’s a huge disappointment for an organization who once again looked to retool around Kim “Kiin” Gi-in. Kiin has been one of the best top laners in the LCK since he debuted with AF in 2018. Unfortunately, AF has not been able to find results with Kiin. Their best finish in the LCK was second in Kiin’s debut split, 2018 Spring. The team has only trended in the wrong direction since then. AF dropped to third in 2018 Summer and has since been a fringe playoff team. Now they are the front-runners to finish last in the LCK.

It would be easy to look at Kiin’s 2.2 KDA and assume that he’s been underperforming, but that’s not the case. KDA is often a reflection of the team environment, and AF are the worst in the LCK. When we look at laning stats, Kiin is still an elite top laner. His +137 gold difference at 10 minutes (second), +151 experience at 10 minutes (first), and +3.1 CS difference at 10 minutes (third) are all top-three among LCK top laners.

If not Kiin, where has it gone wrong? The easiest place to look is the roster building. It’s always easy to second-guess with the benefit of hindsight, so it’s fair to first acknowledge AF has tried to help Kiin over the years. Son “Ucal” Woo-hyeon was one of the top available free agents when AF signed him in 2019. The same could be said for Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun in 2020. AF have tried to bring Kiin a second star to take pressure off of him.

In 2021, AF brought in renowned support Son “Lehends” Si-woo. Lehends was a great pickup and is one of the top supports in the LCK. However, AF coupled that by letting go of Mystic and signing Bae “Bang” Jun-sik. Coming off a mediocre year in the LCS, Bang has—unsurprisingly—been one of the worst ADCs in the league. When you add in that AF retained Song “Fly” Yong-jun in mid lane for another split of bottom tier play, it’s fair to question if AF really thought they were upgrading their roster for 2021.

AF are not a young team, so there isn’t much reason to expect growth in Summer. That means their best course for improvement would come through roster changes. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make trades mid-season, especially upgrades. AF’s academy team also just finished 2-16 in the LCK Challengers League, so don’t expect any help from within the organization.

The reality is that AF look to be stuck with the team they already have. Kiin and AF are looking at another rebuild for 2022.

LOOKING AHEAD

Five playoff spots are already secure as the LCK enters their final week of the regular season. The fight for the last spot could come down to a big match between Nongshim RedForce (6-10) and KT Rolster (5-11) on Thursday, March 25. NS need only one more win to secure the final playoff spot.

In the LPL, Team WE (11-3) have a pair of big tests to see if they can earn one of the top seeds. They play EDward Gaming (11-3) on Wednesday, March 24 and Top Esports (10-4) on Saturday, March 27. The final regular season series between Rare Atom (10-5) and EDG is also sure to have seeding implications.

Cloud9 and Team Liquid will get the weekend off after winning in round one of the MSS. Instead, the Lower Bracket will kick off this weekend. On Saturday, TSM will take on Evil Geniuses in an elimination match. That’s followed by 100 Thieves versus Dignitas on Sunday, March 28.

The LEC playoffs begin this weekend after a week hiatus. Unlike the LCS, the LEC is beginning the playoffs with their Lower Bracket matchup between Fnatic and SK Gaming. That Friday match will be followed by the two Upper Bracket matches. G2 Esports will take on FC Schalke 04 on Saturday before Rogue will face MAD Lions on Sunday.