Well folks, it’s that time of year, everyone’s second favourite tournament: Promotion tournament. This is the chance for squads coming out of the Challenger Series to make their mark, enter the LCS and prove to the world that they deserve a place in the most prestigious of leagues. On the flipside of this are the defending teams, the bottom three teams from the Split, who must defend their claim against the newcomers. Almost every time they’re upset, teams that people thought for sure were going to make it and don’t, and times teams that didn’t stand a chance to most analysts pulling it off. It’s always exciting, if not a bit scrappier and filled with more errors, and it’s coming up this Thursday!
The format works a bit different this year too. Rather than three Challenger Series teams against three LCS teams, only two Challenger Series teams are in. Also, the way the seeding works is different. The 8th and 9th seed have a bigger advantage, with 8th having two cracks at making it back into the LCS, 9th having two as well but in much tighter contentions, while 10th has to fight through the second seed from Challenger and then win again before making it into the LCS. It’s all a bit complicated, so here’s a helpful diagram Riot put together to describe it further:
The promotion tournament is a great improvement on prior years, giving a higher chance to the LCS side team to make it back in, while removing Auto-relegation for 10th place and yet still punishing teams for doing so poorly. It favors those who placed higher in the regular split quite heavily, while also putting pressure on the Challenger side to do well in the playoffs. 1st place Huma has a much easier time ahead of them than 2nd place Copenhagen Wolves. Still, it’s anyone’s game currently, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the new format takes shape.
So what are the stories to watch going in? Well, the first set between Giants and Copenhagen Wolves seems to have the most going on. Giants have recently swapped out four of their five members for new players, two Koreans of note, and are hoping to prove that last splits horrible showing was a fluke in their overall history. And proving is definitely the name of the game for this Giants team, as a lot hinges on this first battle. If Giants manages to succeed, they’re back in the running for an LCS spot. If they lose, they’re out, and will have to be reconsidering their Challenger Series team’s name from Underdoges to Giants gaming. Again.
Copenhagen Wolves, on the other end, are no stranger to the promotion tournament. They’ve appeared in every single one of them since they were a team in the Challenger Series. They’ve always, against all odds, managed to claw their way back in, until they were auto-relegated to the Challenger Series after a 10th place showing. If the Wolves manage to again qualify, it’ll be quite a story. Nobody expected the Wolves to take down Millennium, the clear favourite in the EU CS, let alone to do it in a 3-0 fashion. A worrying sign, though, was their inability to close out a series against Huma which they had a 2-0 start in. Still, Copenhagen Wolves are not a team to count out ever when it comes to relegation/promotion tournaments, and it’ll be quite the story if they manage to overcome all those odds to make it back in.
Our next pairing is that between Challenger side Huma and LCS side Roccat. Huma have, in a lot of ways, looked quite all over the place in their play. Sometimes they seem unstoppable, an absolute terror squad of death, with solid plays out of star Holyphoenix and a familiar Danish face in GodBro. Other times nothing seems to stick. Still, the mental composure to come back from a 2 win deficit against the Wolves is promising for this squad. If they can manage to get one of those games where it all just clicks, they might have a shot into the LCS. But if they crumble and look disorganized like they have before, I’m hard pressed to see them in the LCS.
Roccat, too, have some proving to do. The team just… seems lackluster. They simply weren’t able to really manage to close anything out for the longest time. The team’s looking a lot better, with some solid team management choices to bring in Tabzz and Noxiak in the botlane, hoping to solidify the squad. But it’s a question of whether this is too little too late. Huma are a strong team, and Roccat hasn’t necessarily looked that strong this split. They need to look inside themselves, find their identity, and use it to win their way back in to the LCS. Otherwise, they’ll have to do it from the outside looking in, either in the Challenger Series or by dissolving.
Splyce is our last contender, and it seems like they’re also the most likely to make it out of the whole ordeal, if for no other reason than their seeding in the tournament. Splyce were locked for most of the split with Elements for that 7th place safe ground, missing it by one game, and had a very similar story to much of the bottom half of Europe: inconsistency, with a side of ‘Holy crap that was a good play.’ Some games Sencux would go completely insane. Other games, he’d at best go even. The top lane for Splyce seemed a difficult thing their whole split, and it’ll remain a question whether they can hold onto their LCS spot, and if they do, whether they’ll keep the same roster.
Still, Splyce did have the most success of any team, and are the only LCS team who has not made any roster swaps. This kind of consistent team building for the team might prove just what they need to move on and back into the LCS. Or it might be what holds them back and loses their LCS spot. They face the winner of either Giants or fellow Nordic squad in Copenhagen Wolves, arguably the easier path, and a single series won will allow them to rest on their LCS laurels.
As with every promotion tournament, it’s an exciting and stressful time for both sides. As recent events (Ember) have shown, too, the pressure on Challenger series teams to make their way into the LCS is higher than ever, and in Europe, too, with a weakening of the bottom half, there has never been a better time for Challenger teams to ‘break in.’ Still, they have to prove themselves here, and for some teams they have to prove themselves again and again, before they can see that beautiful stage of the LCS regular split. We’ll see which banners rise and which fall this week into the weekend, with the tournament ultimately being decided by Sunday.