Team Liquid and Team EnVyUs are fighting for their North America League of Legends Championship Series lives this weekend. Both teams will be looking to put a disappointing Spring season behind them, instead focusing on re-establishing their LCS credentials in the Summer Promotions tournament.
Joining them are the two best performing teams from the second-tier Challenger Series, eUnited and the star-studded Gold Coin United. Whilst both teams struggled to find consistency early on in the season, they picked up real momentum towards the end of the season and faced each other in the playoff finals, where Gold Coin United prevailed 3-1.
The four teams will face each other in a Best of 5 double-elimination bracket. The opening matches will see GCU taking on NV, and TL squaring off against eUnited.
Here’s the story of how all four teams got here, and what to expect.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Team Liquid have everything an eSports franchise could possibly want. They have the infrastructure, the financial backing, the branding, the connections, the players. They have it all. So what on earth has happened?
To put it simply, the coaching sucked. For seven weeks of the season, the team played like they have no game plan and the drafting was abysmal. Player management was also clearly an issue. Star player Chae ‘Piglet’ Gwang-jin was struggling to fit back into the roster, and was moved to midlane in a desperation move to keep him happy and put him in a role where he could carry. Support Matthew ‘Matt’ Elento also seems to be suffering from confidence issues. The player has been open about his mental health, and the community response has been largely positive.
The organisation has taken a hands-on approach as the threat of relegations became very real. Peng ‘Doublelift’ Yiliang has been loaned from Team SoloMid, and his shotcalling has been instrumental to the team finishing the season strong. The shock victory over his parent team in Week 9 shows there is still a chance that all is not lost.
It’s widely agreed that Team Liquid should not be getting relegated this weekend. But, you’re never too good to go down, and Team Liquid will need to show more unity and self-belief to make it through. They shouldn’t go down, but they could.
Let’s cut to the chase here, it’s been a bad season for NV. They were predicted by many to finish in the bottom two, and that’s exactly where they’ve ended up.
This may have come as a surprise to some, though. The team had a relatively successful debut in the 2016 Summer Split. The truth of the matter is, though, that they relied a lot on off-meta picks to catch other teams off guard. As with so many other teams who have employed this tactic, it only ever works for one split, if even that.
Solo laners Shin ‘Seraph’ Woo-yeong and Noh ‘Ninja’ Geon-woo have not had good seasons individually. Communication has clearly been an issue with the team, as the not-so-dynamic duo have a tendency to get caught out, or get too aggressive. Both players will really need to step up their game if they want to stay in the top-tier next season.
On the other hand, jungler Nam ‘LirA’ Tae-yoo has received near-universal praise for his performances. The former Afreeca Freecs star has put the team on his back on many occasions, and leads the league for Junglers in Gold Per Minute (357), whilst having respectable Kill Participation (68%) and KDA (3.32) stats.
NV have the talent to play with the big boys, but unless they clean up their shotcalling and curb their over-enthusiasm in one versus one situations, they’ll be playing in the Challenger Series next season.
Gold Coin United
It should never have been in doubt that GCU would be here. However, their shaky start to the Challenger Series meant that they didn’t achieve their first win until Week Four of the five-week season. Nevertheless, two convincing wins in the playoffs later, and everybody’s in fear of what they’re really capable of.
Four of the five players are multi-year veterans of the game, but none are more admired than superstar Support Hong ‘MadLife’ Min-gi. Having played with CJ Entus for five years (formally MiG, then Azubu), MadLife could have gone anywhere he wanted and slotted right in to the starting role, apart from maybe SK Telecom T1. Instead, he decided to challenge himself and go over to North America Challenger Series and join a team that was, in effect, starting from scratch. Cynics may say he’s in NA for the money, but there were definitely more lucrative options available to him whilst he was a Free Agent.
It’s not often that the coach is considered a marquee signing, but Choi ‘Locodoco’ Yoon-seop is definitely up there. Whilst being fluent in both English and Korean is definitely a help, Locodoco should definitely be respected for what he has achieved as a coach. Whilst his player management skills have been called into question during his stints at TSM and Team Liquid, you only have to look at how those respective teams did the split after he left to understand the impact he was really having, particularly Team Liquid.
Gold Coin United are no underdogs going into this. Ignore their slow start, they’re gelling well together as a team and have strung some very impressive performances together in recent weeks. It would be more surprising if they didn’t make it but, as with Team Liquid, you’re never too good to not make it.
If there was ever an organisation built with redemption in mind, this is it. eUnited has a healthy mix of youth and experience, so it’s no fluke that they topped the regular-season standings in the Challenger Series. The 3-1 defeat to GCU in the playoff finals, however, shows that this team may have a skill ceiling.
The engine room of eUnited can be found in the form of their Jungle-Midlane duo. Erberk ‘Gilius’ Demir and Hampus ‘Fox’ Myhre are long-time veterans of the European scene. The duo played together in the 2016 Summer Split with FC Schalke 04 and, despite getting relegated, put in some strong individual performances. Their mechanics and in-game knowledge are inarguably LCS caliber. However, many questions have been raised with regards to their mental strength, particularly Gilius. If the duo can put previous difficulties behind them, they can be a real threat, but it’s a big ask.
Just like GCU, we have to look at the coaching staff of eUnited as a big reason for their success. Former Origen coach Tadayoshi ‘Hermit’ Littleton and former Dragonborns jungler Ram ‘Brokenshard’ Djemal have successfully steered this team towards a shot at the big time. Hermit, in particular, will be looking to prove that his teams can cut it when it matters. His time as NRG head coach ended in a whimper as the team rolled over in the 2017 Spring Split relegations. Before that, he led Origen to some success, but he isn’t given perhaps as much credit as he deserves due to the caliber of players he was working with.
On paper, this is the weakest roster of the four. Player history tells us that this will be an 0-2 tournament for the underdogs, but that’s unfair given how they’ve performed in the regular season.
GCU and TL should have too much for NV and EU respectively. Regardless of who wins the winner’s final and loser’s final, there is a clear two-tier structure to this Promotion tournament. Many are expecting NV to keep their head above water, but that could be people underestimating what GCU is really capable of.