After two weeks of League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Mid-Season Showdown action, only four teams remain in the fight to represent North America at the Mid-Season Invitational in Reykjavik, Iceland, next month.
In the winners’ bracket, Cloud9 and Team Liquid are set to go toe-to-toe as some of the most highly touted squads this season. In the losers’ bracket, TSM and 100 Thieves continue their fight as relative underdogs to sneak in and steal the Mid-Season Showdown crown. It’s a tale of two series for the Mid-Season Showdown, with Cloud9 and Team Liquid being overwhelming favorites and TSM and 100 Thieves just fighting for a chance to get to the final.
Blaber has stood out as the top jungler in the LCS. Photo credit: Riot Games
North America’s Golden Boys: Cloud9 and Team Liquid
Cloud9 and Team Liquid were pegged as early favorites in the LCS before the season even began, so it’s fitting to see the two teams face off in the winners’ bracket final to determine who advances to the Mid-Season Showdown grand final. Both teams easily dispatched their opponents in Round 1 of the tournament -- Cloud9 defeating 100 Thieves 3-0 and Team Liquid defeating TSM 3-1 -- but largely achieved that on different parts of the map.
Cloud9 are a strong early-game team anchored by MVP candidate Robert “Blaber” Huang who clearly stands alone as the best jungler in the league. Traditionally, Blaber has been a “hot or cold” jungler, but with a jungle meta that rewards speedy clears and aggressive playmaking, he has been able to thrive. Combined with the dynamic bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Phillippe “Vulcan” Laflamme, Blaber and Cloud9 have consistently taken control of the bot side of the map with ease.
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On the other hand, Team Liquid have largely prioritized the top side of the map, with Barney “Alphari” Morris distinguishing himself as the uncontested best top laner in North America. Team Liquid continue to see success by drafting him power picks in the top lane, but also have been able to focus more heavily on the bottom side of the map, allowing him to naturally win his lane and draw attention from the enemy team.
Like Cloud9, Team Liquid have been an absolute menace in the early game, and recently against TSM they showed no issues converting on those early leads.
In a head-to-head matchup, Cloud9 and Team Liquid are on the same level when it comes to powerful early games, but managing mismatched strengths will be the name of the game.
Cloud9’s bottom lane has been an absolute force for the team, but rookie top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami has occasionally struggled to play the weak side of the map, making a potentially easy target for Alphari.
Meanwhile, Team Liquid’s star AD carry, Edward “Tactical” Ra has struggled to reign in his aggression in both skirmishes and teamfights, often Rocket Jumping to his doom as Tristana -- drawing significant criticism from both the broadcast and community.
Despite their occasional follies, though, Cloud9 and Team Liquid’s players have shown up when it matters most and this series shouldn’t be any different. Expect a significant clash in the draft phase over strong early-game picks and tense teamfights as their games inevitably go down to the wire. It’s going to be a clash of titans, and the winner will truly set themselves apart as the favorite to win the Mid-Season Showdown and represent North America in Iceland.
Huhi has been a shotcaller and playmaker for 100 Thieves. Photo credit: Riot Games
Fighting for a chance: TSM and 100 Thieves
If Cloud9 and Team Liquid are North America’s golden boys, TSM and 100 Thieves are fighting for bronze with hopes of challenging for the grand prize. Both organizations restructured heavily this past offseason, as TSM rebuilt their entire roster following Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s retirement, while 100 Thieves took on a roster made up of 2020’s late-blooming Golden Guardians. TSM initially struggled to set themselves apart from the middle of the pack, but 100 Thieves stunned fans right out the gate with pre-existing synergy.
Compared to last year’s Golden Guardians -- a team with talent, but without experience -- 100 Thieves are a more developed and disciplined team. Despite having many of the same players, the current form of 100 Thieves truly rallied around the shotcalling and playmaking of support, Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun. With more time together and the addition of star top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, the original Golden Guardians unit blossomed into a legitimate threat on 100 Thieves.
TSM were put in an awkward position that most teams will never have to deal with -- moving on from a franchise player. After Bjergsen’s retirement, TSM opted to build a roster that combined players with numerous strengths instead of finding a singular savant. This included the signing of star Taiwanese support, Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chie, who was meant to anchor the team as an experienced League of Legends World Championship finalist.
It was messy at first, but TSM eventually developed into a strong teamfighting team that survived early games thanks to Mingyi “Spica” Lu’s control in the jungle. The laning phase was never easy, but TSM’s only returning 2020 player in Spica kept the team together as they consistently scaled into the late game.
Their matchup will be a tale of two teams at very different stages of their season. 100 Thieves enjoyed a strong early season with a roster built around synergy, but lately have struggled to perform past a certain plateau.
On the other hand, TSM have continued to improve their initially horrendous early game while continuing to build upon their identity as a strong late-game teamfighting team. Even so, 100 Thieves enjoyed a more convincing 3-0 series win against Dignitas compared to TSM’s back-and-forth 3-1 series win against Evil Geniuses.
Given their most recent performances, 100 Thieves might have the edge when it comes to executing an early-game plan, but TSM have proven to be willing to match their level of aggression. When it comes down to it, the series will almost certainly be decided by the performances of Huhi and SwordArt as they try to lead their respective teams to victory through proactive vision control, map movement and shotcalling.
At this point, neither teams are favorites to go all the way, but expect them to fight and make it messy as they claw their way toward a rematch with Cloud9 or Team Liquid.
Lead image credit: Riot Games