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Top
LCK

LoL Week in Review: MAD Lions Headline Wild LEC Playoffs

Mike Plant

We had to wait a week for the LEC playoffs to begin, but it was absolutely worth it. MAD Lions’ upset win over Rogue headlined a wild week one of the playoffs in Europe. Elsewhere, we saw a big name return to FunPlus Phoenix’s starting lineup, the conclusion of the playoff race in the LCK, and what five imports versus five North American players looks like. We take a look at the top news and storylines across the LEC, LCS, LPL, and LCK.

MAD Lions LEC

The MAD Lions sure looked like glad lions in their 3-1 victory over Rogue. (Photo courtesy Riot Games - Michal Konkol)

MAD LIONS HEADLINE WILD WEEK IN LEC

The LEC suffered big losses in the offseason. Top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris left to join Team Liquid. Mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perković left to join Cloud9. Even in-league, star Fnatic ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson left to join rival G2 Esports. Rogue did their part to level up with the additions of Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu and Adrian “Trymbi” Trybus, but the league as a whole seemed to suffer. There was a large gap between G2, Rogue, and the rest of the league in the regular season. Surely the early rounds of the playoffs wouldn’t be that interesting.

That line of thinking couldn’t have been any more wrong. The LEC playoffs’ opening weekend was an absolute banger, featuring three back-and-forth matches of high-quality gameplay. The players also returned to play in the LEC studio for the first time this year, giving us a great backdrop for a great weekend.

The weekend kicked off with a closer-than-expected Lower Bracket series between Fnatic and SK Gaming. Fnatic took a quick 1-0 lead and had an almost 10k gold lead in game two, but SK didn’t quit. They came back to win game two and put up a good fight in losses in games three and four. SK top laner Janik “Jenax” Bartels was the star of the series in the losing effort. He went a combined 20/11/17 in the series, including 8/3/5 on Urgot in the final game. The close match set the tone for the entire weekend.

Next up on the menu was G2 Esports against FC Schalke 04. G2 took the first two games convincingly, as expected. But as we all know, digging out of a hole is S04’s comfort zone. They roared back to dominate game three and win a close game four. G2 took the early lead in the winner-take-all finale, but S04 scored a huge ace at 20 minutes to take a gold lead with what looked to be the better scaling composition.

Unfortunately for S04, Seraphine happened. Rekkles proved his mastery on the champion in his first game with her, making the G2’s meatball frontline of Sion, Volibear, and Gragas unkillable. With Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s Lucian supplying the damage, G2 won the late game team fights to avoid the upset and advance in the Upper Bracket.

Finally, we had the first real upset of the LEC playoffs. After losing to Rogue in game one of their series, MAD Lions ripped off three consecutive wins to send Rogue to the Lower Bracket. MAD support Norman “Kaiser” Kaiser was outstanding on his engages in the series, particularly on Alistar. MAD’s new top laner İrfan “Armut” Berk Tükek sealed the match win with a huge 11/1/7 Urgot performance in game four.

So, we got a little taste of it all in week one of the LEC playoffs. Favorites pushed to the brink, new champions and strategies coming out when it matters, and even a surprising upset. The LEC is once again delivering when the stakes are at their highest.

TIAN DOMINATES IN RETURN TO FUNPLUS PHOENIX

FunPlus Phoenix were in trouble. After the suspension of Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo, forcing them to bring up Yang “Beichuan” Ling earlier than expected. The rookie was serviceable, but did not have the same impact as Bo. Counting the transition match FPX played with Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang, FPX were 3-4 since Bo’s suspension. It looked like FPX needed to hear good news on Bo’s availability soon or they would have to start planning for the Summer Split.

Instead, they got a different form of good news at jungle. Tian returned in FPX’s final match of the regular season for a 2-0 win over Bilibili Gaming. After looking completely out of form earlier in the season, Tian was dominant in his return. He finished 5/0/11 and 8/1/11, earning MVP in both games on Hecarim.

Although this was only a one match sample size, this development was significant for a few reasons. First off, it showed that Tian was ready to play. He clearly was not when he was forced into action against Team WE right after Bo was suspended. We’ll never know if Tian truly had all the time he needed to recover mentally, but we can be sure that he is now preparing as the starter and being given a real chance to perform.

Secondly, Tian showed up and performed well on a meta jungler. We take it for granted, but most pro players have a preferred meta. Tian and FPX thrived when gank-heavy champions like Lee Sin, Gragas, and Jarvan IV were most popular. Tian has since struggled in the more farm-focused jungle meta, no doubt contributing to his mental troubles. By showing consecutive carry performances on Hecarim, Tian is demonstrating an ability to pick up the champions FPX needs to thrive.

Lastly, it has demonstrated that Tian and Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang can still play together. Recent drama on Doinb’s stream could have put a strain on their relationship: One of Doinb’s stream mods has been donating Doinb money to read out donations criticizing Tian. In one such instance, the mod made a reference to smashing Tian’s skull. As egregious as that sounds, it seems the teammates can still cooperate in game.

The true test of the lineup will come as FPX heads into the playoffs. At 11-5, FPX earned a first-round bye. They will play the winner between Rare Atom and Invictus Gaming on Saturday, April 3.

NONGSHIM REDFORCE HOLD OFF KT ROLSTER FOR FINAL PLAYOFF SPOT

The top of the LCK standings may have been drama-free for most of the split, but that was only compensating for the race for the final playoff spot. Nongshim RedForce, KT Rolster, and Liiv SANDBOX all had a shot at sixth place in the final week. In the end, NS won when it mattered most to secure the final LCK playoff spot.

They wouldn’t have needed that final match, though, if they took care of business early in the week. Instead, KT Rolster beat NS 2-1 to bring the two teams to a tie in the standings at 6-11. That KT win gave life to Liiv SANDBOX… who then promptly threw it away. In a must-win series, LSB were swept 2-0 by the already playoff-eliminated Afreeca Freecs. That left Saturday, March 27 as the deciding day in the race.

KT Rolster opened the action against DAMWON KIA. Though they were heavy underdogs, KT came ready to play. They won the opening game 18 kills to 11 by relying on their superior scaling composition. Unfortunately, they could not replicate that success in games two or three. DK took the earlier spiking compositions both games and built the requisite leads, this time closing them out. KT would need NS to lose to Fredit BRION to make the playoffs.

As we know, that didn’t happen. Nongshim RedForce took full advantage of their second opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. Han “Peanut” Wang-ho showed why NS brought him to the team in the offseason, going a deathless 9/0/10 in the two wins. Neither game was particularly close as NS combined to beat BRO 26 kills to 5 across the series.

With the change to the LCK playoff format, NS have become the first team in the LCK to qualify for the playoffs as a sixth seed. Though they finish the split with a losing record (7-11), they have improved from their debut split (5-13) in 2020 Summer.

While the bottom of the LCK might not have any shot of pushing the top teams in the playoffs, the format change did at least create some exciting matches to close out what would have otherwise been an uneventful final week of the regular season. That alone makes the LCK’s newest playoff format a resounding success, even before the playoffs have begun.

FIVE IMPORTS > FIVE NA PLAYERS

100 Thieves bounced back from their loss to Cloud9 to sweep Dignitas 3-0 in the Lower Bracket. In the battle between a full import versus full North American team, it was no contest. 100 Thieves were better across the board.

That is certainly no indictment of Dignitas. They built a budget roster in the offseason that exceeded all expectations, going 11-7 while finishing in the top half of the LCS standings. Their decision to sell up-and-coming star ADC Johnson “Johnsun” Nguyen to FlyQuest paid off so spectacularly that they found a replacement in Toàn “Neo” Trần who had an even better split. 100 Thieves are probably wishing that they had kept Dignitas top laner Aaron “FakeGod” Lee so they could import a mid laner. He and Max “Soligo” Soong didn’t look out of place this season against an army of import solo laners.

However, this still felt like the inevitable conclusion of this roster. Even against a 100T team that has shown little cohesion of late, Dignitas are just not at the same level individually. It’s fair to hope for more growth from FakeGod and Soligo — after all, they have improved since their rookie debuts with 100T. But you just can’t hope to compete against teams paying for ready-made stars. Dignitas picked the perfect split to over-perform with an all North American roster, but charm will wear off if they can’t sustain it.

For 100 Thieves, this win is nothing more than a sigh of relief. It would have been an outright disaster if they lost to a team that: has no imports, has a fraction of 100T’s budget, and is fielding two of 100T’s previously discarded solo laners. The best news 100T received from this series was that Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho finally looked worth his import slot. Other welcome news included winning the draft battle for the first time in ages and decent performances out of Can “Closer” Çelik and Tommy “ry0ma” Le.

Speaking of ry0ma, 100T’s decision to keep him in the lineup seemingly puts an end to Tanner’s time with 100T. If 100T’s dreadful record with ry0ma didn’t cause them to turn back to Tanner “Damonte” Damonte in this elimination series, it’s hard to see what will.

100T will continue on in the Lower Bracket against TSM in round two.

LOOKING AHEAD

The playoffs begin this week in both the LCK and LPL. In the LCK, T1 (4) look to continue their momentum in round one against DRX (5) on Thursday, April 1. The winner of their match will play Gen.G (2) in the semifinals on Sunday, April 4.

The top teams in the LPL are on bye until rounds three and four, so we will only see some of the lower-seeded teams play this weekend. Rare Atom (8) takes on Invictus Gaming (9) to kick off the action on Thursday. The winner will play FunPlus Phoenix on Saturday, April 3.

In the LEC, one of G2 Esports (1) or MAD Lions (3) will punch their ticket to the Finals on Saturday. In the Lower Bracket, FC Schalke 04 (4) play Fnatic (5) in an elimination series on Friday. The winner of that match gets Rogue (2) on Sunday.

The big Lock In rematch finally happens on Saturday in the LCS. The top two teams Cloud9 (1) and Team Liquid (3) face off for entrance to the Finals. In the Lower Bracket, TSM (2) and 100 Thieves (4) fight to advance to play the loser between C9 and TL.