The 2018 North American LCS Summer Split has started, signaling the second half of domestic competition. All ten teams have their eyes on Worlds, but only three will qualify. Whichever team finishes first in playoffs automatically qualifies as North America’s number one seed. The team with the most championship points from Spring and Summer Splits gets the second seed. And whichever team wins out in the gauntlet-style Regional Qualifiers earns third seed.
In past years, certain teams dominated North America’s World Championship attendance. Fans could expect three of a handful of teams to qualify every single year. But 2018 feels a little different. North America felt a rift, following Riot’s Permanent Partners program franchising the league. The game company rejected some teams and accepted others, causing several players and coaches to switch teams and even switch regions. Following all of this upheaval, last year’s Worlds teams find themselves under differing circumstances.
TSM, North America’s long-time powerhouse, went to 2017 Worlds as seed number one. They won the NA LCS Summer Split last year by beating newcomer Immortals in the finals. Unfortunately, TSM finished third in their group, behind Team WE and Misfits Gaming. They did not make it into the bracket stage of the tournament, disappointing themselves and their fans.
So far in 2018, TSM have not lived up to their own standards. In the off-season, they imported European superstar bottom lane duo Zven and Mithy and brought on jungler MikeYeung for his sophomore year. Analysts viewed these changes as all-around upgrades, granting TSM high power rankings coming into 2018. However, inconsistencies during the regular season culminated into their four-way tie for third place, which they secured in the tiebreakers. Clutch Gaming ended up knocking them out in the quarterfinals, placing TSM fifth-sixth for the split.
Looking through TSM’s history, this Spring Split is their lowest LCS finish to date. They have never entered Summer Split with less than 70 championship points. Right now TSM has 10 points, which is better than none, but Summer Split still presents an obstacle to overcome.
TSM has also won three of five summer playoffs, and placed second in the other two. Many would say their fifth-sixth place finish last split was a fluke, because they ended the regular season looking unstoppable. So far this summer, TSM looks strong. They are one of two organizations sitting at 2-0 with solid performances.
TSM’s history, legacy, and overall talent make critics hesitant to count them out as a Worlds qualifier. However, they will most likely need a Summer Split or Regional Qualifier win to make the cut, as their points are too low. The first Worlds without TSM is a real possibility.
North America sent Immortals to Worlds as its number two last year, because they accumulated the most Championship Points. The Flame-Xmithie-Pobelter-Cody Sun-Olleh configuration was not quite as edgy as the 2016 roster, but they had significant development over the year. Immortals ended up just missing out on the 2017 Worlds bracket stage, by losing a tiebreaker match versus Fnatic. In a tight race with Fnatic and Gigabyte Marines, Immortals played worse on the day.
Immortals was a top squad in the NA LCS in 2016 and 2017, but they were not accepted as a Permanent Partner for 2018 and beyond. The dissolution of the roster spread Immortals’ power among several teams, including FlyQuest, Team Liquid, and 100 Thieves. Some of the leagues’ biggest names can also attribute their North American value to their time on Immortals, including Reignover and Huni.
Without Immortals in the mix, North America has an opening for a new Worlds contender. Team Liquid seems to be the most likely challenger, as they won the Spring Split, and no NA LCS spring champion has ever missed Worlds. Since Team Liquid now owns three-fifths of Immortals’ 2017 roster, their qualification to Worlds would be a fitting echo of the old organization. They currently have 90 championship points, so a third place or higher finish essentially guarantees securing second seed.
North America’s third seed at Worlds 2017, Cloud9, ended up placing higher than TSM and Immortals. Following their undefeated Play-In Stage, Cloud9 finished second over Edward Gaming and AHQ in Group B. They matched versus fellow Play-In contender Team WE, but lost the quarterfinals. Cloud9 left the tournament fifth-eighth, much higher than anyone would have anticipated.
For 2018, the organization brought on rookie top laner Licorice and veteran jungler Svenskeren to replace Impact and Contractz. These changes were heavily criticized entering Spring Split, but the team ended up placing in the four-way tie for third in the regular season. Unfortunately, they lost their tiebreakers against Team Liquid and Clutch Gaming, forcing them to start playoffs against Team Liquid in the quarterfinals. Cloud9 lost handily, leaving them fifth-sixth with TSM for 10 championship points.
Circumstances worsened for Cloud9 entering the Summer Split, as they benched Jensen, Sneaky, and Smoothie for the first week of competition. Citing motivation issues, Reapered and Jack promoted Goldenglue and Keith to the starting roster, while bringing in Zeyzal for bot lane synergy. This squad sits 1-1 after week one, but few fans have faith in the current line-up. Roster issues never bode well, especially in Summer Split, and, with only 10 points, Cloud9 cannot afford to sandbag if they want to make 2018 Worlds.
Challengers for 2018 Worlds Slots
With each of these teams suffering different circumstances, North America may see several new teams at Worlds. Pending some kind of disaster, Team Liquid will make their first appearance as NA’s first or second seed. With 70 championship points, 100 Thieves is sitting pretty to take a second seed or place deep in the gauntlet for third seed. Echo Fox seems like a challenger for first place this summer, and with 50 points, they will at least challenge for most points or the gauntlet win. 2018 would be the first time qualifying for any of these organizations.
With a high playoffs finish, Clutch Gaming could be a dark horse to steal a seed. They own 30 points, which means another top-four finish could put them in the gauntlet. However, they would probably eventually need to beat a Liquid, TSM, or Echo Fox to make it.
TSM and Cloud9 are difficult to bet against, because of their histories, but they need high playoff finishes and convincing late-split performances to make Worlds. TSM feels like a serious contender, because they always seem to pull through in the Summer Split, they have a history of first place finishes, their Spring Split performance improved over time, and their overall roster talent is among the best in the league.
Cloud9, on the other hand, feel less likely. Between their worsening Spring Split performance over time, their internal issues so far this summer, and their history of scraping by to make it to Worlds, Cloud9 will need some serious adjustments to make it. Otherwise, Echo Fox, 100 Thieves, or Clutch Gaming could be looking at their spot.
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