The semifinals. In theory, an elevation of competition, and this time, that might actually be true.
Going into this playoff bracket, no one would have expected a match between Invictus Gaming and Edward Gaming to be close. After a devastating 3-0 finals in the Demacia Cup, it seemed inconceivable.
Two things have changed though. Edward Gaming’s experimentation with new meta compositions has yielded an overwhelming amount of low damage and low early power picks. Both these factors contradict their standard style and have made their games look sloppier.
The other is that it’s unlikely pawN, Edward Gaming’s starting mid laner, will play this series.
By contrast, Invictus Gaming is levelling up both strategically and on the basis of individual skill and after their win over Vici Gaming they look stronger than ever. They may well be the second best team in China. If Edward Gaming is going to go down against any team in the playoffs, it will be Invictus.
The results of this series are likely to determine who represents China at the Mid-Season Invitational.
Simply put, if you’re going to watch any LPL playoffs Bo5, make it this one.
The preshow: Master3 vs Energy Pacemaker
Two weeks ago, this would have been an early win for Master3. Their consistent bottom lane duo of Candy and LoveCD wasn’t in the running for the best bottom lane in LPL, but it demanded Kalista bans. M3 used Kalista better than any other team in LPL, despite their low placement.
At the same time, Dade was still finding his footing. He refused to allow Master3 to drop 2-0 and would come up big in the team’s Game 2s with a highly mobile Leblanc.
Continued roster changes to Master3, replacing their jungler twice and their AD Carry recently with Smlz, have destabilized the team. If they win against Energy Pacemaker, it will be completely on the mid lane outplay. Energy Pacemaker’s AD Carry swap, by contrast, has leveled up their team. They’ve found a stable formula that makes it hard for scattered teams without an identity to win multiple games against them.
On paper, this series is Master3’s ticket back into LPL and they’ll probably make it, but if Energy Pacemaker wins this Bo5, I’ll hardly be surprised.
Rookie of the year
Last year, U was possibly the most consistent player in LPL. He seldom lost lane, even against powerhouses like Cool. Though he didn't pressure his small leads with roams or early control, he made up for it with late game team fighting. Landing four or five man Ziggs ultimates in Spring 2014 and constantly controlling side waves made him look like one of the greatest team fighting mids of the year, and with Dade giving the best performances of his career in Korea, that title isn't levied lightly.
And that was only U's first year in the most competitive league China has to offer.
Rookie also saw his first year of competition in Champions 2014. By contrast, Rookie went for the outplay. His oppressive style in conjunction with KaKAO’s dives lead the KT Arrows to their 2014 Champions Summer victory. He didn't boast U’s consistency, but he made up for it with incredible peaks.
Insight On Esports gave U the 2014 “Eastern Rookie of the year,” with Rookie scoring the Runner-up title. It seems almost fitting that, in the most important matchup of the 2015 Spring season, these two should faceoff.
There are several factors that make this matchup less even than it potentially could have been last year. Rookie’s consistency has improved to a ridiculous extent, and he’s not just consistent, but consistent in the same flashy play-making style he had last year. Even with a lot of wave clear and some standout performances, it’s hard to imagine U keeping him at bay. Rookie’s success is the biggest factor in Invictus Gaming’s wins. He’s got more than just something to prove; he’ll be playing for blood.
U has only played six competitive games in the LPL this split. When he has played, it seemed as if Edward Gaming hadn't properly integrated him. Deft went on Twitter to tell his English-speaking fans that playing with an all Chinese team is hard. Communication became much more difficult.
Edward Gaming has had the past three days to improve the team’s synergy. Perhaps they’ll trust U with some of the champions they put in pawN’s hands so they can run their same successful compositions. It isn't as if U is a terrible Kassadin player; his lifetime record on the champion is 4-1, which won’t turn heads, but shows he has the roots to turn into a powerful assassin mage if given the opportunity.
There's a strong possibility that this matchup, despite how storied it is, won't even happen. By accounts, pawN is saying he is "stable now," and U was streaming instead of scrimmaging with the team. If that's the case, the mid lane matchup becomes intriguing for a myriad of other reasons. The KTA and Samsung White head-to-head never happened last Summer. This is a chance to set the record straight.
If pawN doesn't start, Edward Gaming's Korean mid laner may crawl back to the stadium when the team goes down two games, this time with an IV in place for effect.
Speaking of rookies, there’s one in Edward Gaming’s bottom lane this year. Meiko hails from a team known as Ray Union, an amateur team that couldn’t make LSPL, but managed to upset Star Horn Royal Club in their bracket of the National Esports Tournament qualifier last year. They had no other accomplishments to their name and immediately got shut down by King in the main bracket of the tournament.
After Mouse, Edward Gaming’s support at the start of the split, failed to perform to their expectations. They made the substitution for Meiko, then a free agent, who might also be the luckiest pickup of the season. His heavy roam style supplemented Clearlove’s already improving map pressure, and his impressive Thresh performances make it clear that he’s coming for OMG Cloud’s title of “best Chinese Thresh.”
Even so, Meiko is likely the most overlooked member of his team. Koro1’s transformation into a sometimes carry, Clearlove’s shot-calling and high KDA, pawN’s flashy play, and Deft’s team fight mastery all stand out more than Meiko’s contributions. While the other four members of Edward Gaming rank in the top ten of MVP point earners, Meiko is barely number 27. It’s hard being an incredible player on a team of other incredible players sometimes.
Kitties is the weakest member of Invictus Gaming. Kitties, by contrast, performs much better as a laner than a roamer, but despite this, Meiko is still likely to have full control of a 2v2 matchup. Beyond that, Meiko’s superior map pressure and ability to catch his opponents could earn him a long overdue moment in the limelight. This could be an instance where Deft’s domination is more on his support than on him. Perhaps Meiko is the strongest support Deft's ever played with. If that’s the case, this is Meiko’s moment to show it.
You’ve got to be Kidding me
Kid was the last member to join Invictus Gaming’s classic 2012 and 2013 lineup. Until Zzitai was moved to top lane, he seemed as if he would be the last man standing as well. Despite iG's wild highs and lows, Kid’s consistency has made him a keeper. Even when he doesn't put out the flashy plays, he’s underrated in his overall game impact and positioning.
In the side lanes, Edward Gaming outclasses their opposites on Invictus Gaming, but Kid is almost like the “U” version of the AD carry role. Like U, Kid will be playing against the enemy team's strongest asset. Kid has the same strengths and weaknesses as Deft, but everything Kid can do, Deft can do better. Literally.
Kid’s strongest pick is Ezreal, and Deft has long been an avid Ezreal. Kid loves Trinity Force and skillshot champions, Deft is the lord of the AD carry skillshots. Kid’s laning phase hasn't always been the most solid, but he’s come to his team’s aid with self peel and high damage output in the late game.
At this point, the comparison is almost comical.
Kid is likely going to be iG’s biggest pain point. If he can’t match up well against Deft, this almost assures an Edward Gaming victory. Kid will want to play his best champions and avoid getting pushed in onto his tower and getting dove by Clearlove and EDG’s roaming mafia squad.
If Kid can defy the odds and go even with Deft or have a fraction of Deft’s game impact, this matchup becomes that much easier for Invictus.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.