The confetti is still being swept from the stage of the Oracle Arena, but we’re already prepping for the next big NA LCS event. The final spot for North America at the 2018 World Championship is up for grabs in the NA Regional Gauntlet. Four of the NA LCS’ top teams are going to battle it out this coming weekend. They all want to represent their region on the biggest stage in League of Legends. However, getting there will be a huge challenge in and of itself. However, let’s first take a look at the four squads competing this Friday: Cloud9, TSM, Echo Fox and Clutch Gaming.
The NA LCS Summer finalists are looking to redeem themselves after Team Liquid would sweep them in Oakland. It was a very underwhelming performance for Cloud9, as they were looking outplayed throughout the whole series. However, it might have been the bright lights of the NA LCS Finals getting to the multitude of rookies on the Cloud9 roster. There is a huge difference between playing in-studio and in front of thousands of screaming fans. The stakes have never been higher for Robert “Blaber” Huang and Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam, and it may have been affecting their play.
Even Cloud9’s MVP candidate top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie was looking out of sorts. Even a beacon of consistency like Licorice can waver under the pressures of his first Finals appearance. However, they need to look not at the past, but towards the present. They’re still aiming at a Worlds appearance this year, but they have to power through a few big challenges before getting there. Hopefully, this failure at the Finals motivates the whole team to push even harder in the Regional Gauntlet.
Let us not forget: Cloud9 was able to make it from last place in the league to number one, all after the halfway mark of the split. They are undeniably talented, but only lacked experience in high-pressure situations. Not to mention their compositional flexibility with Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer. These two allow Cloud9 to experiment with different kinds of picks and combinations. They just need their veteran players to help keep the young guns calm and collected when the going gets tough.
This have been a lot of “firsts” for Team Solo Mid this season. For the first time ever, TSM did not reach the NA LCS Finals in both splits. For the first time ever, TSM is going to the NA Regional Gauntlet. However, they are now trying to avoid the biggest “first” of them all: their first time missing the World Championship. The perennial North American champs have always been a mainstay at Worlds for the region. However, they have never had a year like this past one.
On paper, TSM looks like they should be one of the best teams in the region. However, bottom lane duo Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez have been going through a rough spot in their career. Combine that with having a rookie jungler who has been playing somewhat subpar, and you would expect team synergy to not be the greatest. Additionally, TSM’s reactive style of play has been a weak spot of theirs for years now. It was a tough season for the team and fans alike.
Now, let’s look at the silver lining of what has been the worst year in TSM’s history. They seem to be improving their style of play to be more reactive, which will allow players like Zven and superstar midlaner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg to shine. As one can expect, with a new playstyle comes mistakes, but it is the right path to begin taking if you are Team Solo Mid. Having sports psychologist Weldon Green has always helped the players in tough times as well. I still think jungler Jonathan “Grig” Armao is a weak point that many teams will exploit. Hopefully, the rest of the team can help elevate their game, so that his mistakes are not as glaring. I still say, TSM has a huge chance to win the Regional Gauntlet.
3. Echo Fox
The Year of the Fox has become The Year of the Horse, but that doesn’t mean that Echo Fox’s season is done. They still have plenty of talent on board to win the NA Regional Gauntlet. However, they also have plenty of steps to take to become a representative of North America. The biggest issue right now is that their top laner, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, has lost his form over the last few weeks of the split. He has one of the worst Kill-Death-Assist Ratios amongst NA LCS top laners with a 2.4 KDA. During the summer playoffs, he was one of the worst top laners, with 32.3 percent of his team’s deaths. If Echo Fox is to even beat Team Solo Mid, they will need Huni to step up big time.
Not everything is doom and gloom for Echo Fox though. Their fiery star Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett has been one of the best junglers in the league. He has the most kills of any jungler in the NA LCS and has the second most assists as well. Additionally, he has the highest average creep score at ten minutes (CSD@10) too. His play has been the make-or-break for Echo Fox in multiple occasions, and the team will again depend on a good performance from him to succeed.
Also, Echo Fox’s new bottom lane, Lawrence “Lost” Hui and veteran Andy “Smoothie” Ta, was impressive in the short time together. With more time on stage, this duo could be deadly in the seasons to come. Lost has a penchant for being very aggressive with his ADC play. Sometimes it works out in his favor, but other times it can lose Echo Fox the game. He will need Smoothie to keep him in check and remind that sometimes, losing the battle does not mean losing the war.
4. Clutch Gaming
The big underdog title of the North American Regional Gauntlet goes to Clutch Gaming. They had an abysmal 2018 Summer Split, with the team finishing in second last place. They have a mountain to climb in order to qualify for the Worlds Play-in. Simply put, they are much too reliant on their mid laner Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten to make plays happen. Even still, on a subpar team, Febiven too had a pretty difficult time this past split. He was in the bottom half of most stats amongst NA LCS mid laners, but that cannot all be blamed on him.
His team is lacking the talent to survive in a league that has had an influx of new players this season. Their jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoon has been arguably the worst jungler in the NA LCS. All of his stats are in the bottom half of all junglers in the region. Their top laner Colin “Solo” Earnest has recently been seen on the analyst desk, but he was having a pretty average season with Clutch.
As for their bottom lane, I still think Apollo “Apollo” Price and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent could be a pretty decent pairing. However, they did have a pretty lackluster season too. Apollo was actually one of the worst ADC’s in the league. He came second-last in GD@10 and third-last in CSD@10. There are too many problems for Clutch to address to find success in the Gauntlet. I do think changes are in order for this team in the upcoming offseason.
With how the NA LCS regular season and playoffs have turned out, I do believe we are in for a Cloud9 vs. TSM rematch. It will be great for both teams to test their worth and prove they are strong enough to represent their country in the grandest stage of them all. However, I will place my faith in Team Solo Mid one more time. I think that they have had the time to adjust their game style and prepare for the games to come. I believe it all rides on the jungle matchups, and how Grig can handle the pressures of a possible Worlds debut.
What do you think of the upcoming NA Regional Gauntlet? Are you rooting for TSM, Cloud9, Echo Fox or Clutch Gaming? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! If you want more NA LCS coverage, check us out here!