After a week of surprising upsets in the NA LCS playoffs, the semifinals are here with some even more one-sided match ups.
The first semifinal series of the week pits Echo Fox against Team Liquid. During the regular season, Echo Fox spent almost every week at the top of the standings before falling to second place in the last week. Liquid, on the other hand, started off strong, but struggled to stay consistent, up until last week’s quarterfinals when they once again looked dominant.
Sunday’s semifinal series sees 100 Thieves take on Clutch Gaming. 100 Thieves were the most consistent team during the Spring Split and were rewarded with the number one seed as a result. Meanwhile, Clutch Gaming never seemed like anything other than a standard sixth place team — good, but not good enough. At least that’s the way it was until they faced TSM last week, and destroyed the NA LCS’s most dominant franchise.
Even with both Clutch Gaming and Team Liquid looking better in the last couple of weeks, they will both still come into this series with their opponents heavily favored. So, in the interest of the underdogs, let’s take a look at what exactly these two teams would have to do to pull of their upsets.
Echo Fox vs Team Liquid (3-31, 5:00 p.m. ET)
Echo Fox and Team Liquid isn’t exactly an even match up on paper. Echo Fox was stronger for the entire Spring Split, and it certainly still seems that way. When you break it down by role, there’s really only one place for Liquid to pull through: bottom lane.
Once again, this series is likely to rest on Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s shoulders if Team Liquid are going to come out on top. But that’s exactly how the team is designed. From top to bottom, Liquid’s roster seems is tailor made to help Peng carry, and but it isn’t going to be easy against Echo Fox.
Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon is likely to win lane, and Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is going to make things very difficult for both bottom lane and top. Jake “Xmithie” Puchero is going to have to play an outstanding series, blocking Hartnett from his usual proactive ganks, while punishing Echo Fox’s confidence filled top laner to keep Heo from getting too far ahead.
While Liquid’s carry is most likely to come from bottom lane, the most important lane in the game will probably be mid. Eugene “Pobelter” Park’s never really been one to take over a game, but he can take over his own lane, holding his opponent down on gold and keeping them from making much of an impact on the game as a whole. In Saturday’s series against Echo Fox, that’s exactly what he has to do to Kim “Fenix” Jae Hoon.
Without Kim, Echo Fox will be forced to play their game around either Johnny “Altec” Ru — who they have rarely played around this year, or Heo — who would require a pretty specific champion pick to get things going early. If Kim gets gold early on and is able to make his presence in the game felt, it will be a short series. But if Park manages to keep Kim poor and contain him during fights, then Peng will be free to let loose in fights, and maybe help Team Liquid secure an upset and spot in the NA LCS Finals.
100 Thieves vs Clutch Gaming (4-1, 2:00 p.m. ET)
If you watched last week’s series between Clutch Gaming and TSM you know exactly what things look like for Clutch here. Clutch Gaming is a team with some of the league’s most impressive individual playmakers going up against 100 Thieves, one of North America’s most consistent and well rounded teams.
Against TSM, Clutch had favorable weak points that helped them make the most of that match up. CG’s standout players, jungler Nam “Lira” Taeyou and support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent, were both in positions where they could easily take advantage of their struggling counterparts on the opposing team.
100 Thieves don’t have those same problems. Jungler William “Meteos” Hartman has been the perfect picture of consistency so far this split and has made his almost five year career in the NA LCS around being an outstanding bend-don’t-break player. If anyone is going to properly absorb the advances of Nam, it’s Hartman.
As for the bottom lane, if there’s anyone that knows how to beat a good Thresh or Morgana, it’s 100 Thieves support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, who made his name on champions like that. While, Surgent may have been able to catch TSM’s bottom lane off-guard with his pick supports, Black and Sun will much better prepared this week.
So, where does that leave Clutch Gaming? Most likely, with a very short window in the mid-game that could allow them to win. One of the few clear weaknesses of 100 Thieves has been their slow transitions during the mid-game, causing them to often stall games out until fairly late. This is the exact opposite of the clean rotations that Clutch showed against TSM. Add this onto Clutch’s ability to secure picks with Surgent and Nam and Clutch should have a chance to take each of their matches, as long as they don’t get too far behind early, or let the games go too late.