The 2017 NA LCS Spring Split Quarterfinals are finally upon us, and a couple of interesting matches will kickoff the region's journey to the Vancouver-based finals. Phoenix1 will get the playoff action started against a Dignitas squad that barely squeaked into playoffs, while a rising CLG team will clash against a veteran FlyQuest crew.
Of the teams here, an interesting thing to note is that one matchup will feature a clash between teams with NA LCS veterans while the other will feature teams mostly made up of NA LCS newcomers. FlyQuest versus Counter Logic Gaming will feature many familiar faces in what is a familiar position for both, while Phoenix1 and Dignitas have players who are not as storied in the NA LCS. This will probably result in completely different matches, as CLG and FlyQuest's experience in NA best-of-fives will likely lead to a more calculated style of play whereas P1's match against Dignitas may feature some impulsive decision making.
Phoenix1 vs. Dignitas
If their two previous matchups were any indication, Phoenix1's series against Dignitas will likely be one that starts off slowly, but will eventually explode into a flurry of action. Their three game series in Week 6 featured stomps on both sides depending on which team took early control of the map.
In Game 1 of that series, Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun's top lane dive failed, and became a 2-for-1 in Phoenix1’s favor which gave double buffs to P1 mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook. This heavily impacted the mid lane matchup and allowed for earlier dives onto first-tier towers for P1. Conversely, in Game 2, Chaser's aggression secured First Blood and, as a result, wasted Flash and Heal summoners from the P1 bottom lane as well. This led to a clean game victory from Team Dignitas.
Both of these cases saw early game jungle advantages by each jungler snowball into eventual victories. Chaser has grown into a more aggressive early pressure role with his focus on Lee Sin, while William "Meteos" Hartman has similar pressure potential on Elise and Olaf. Chaser's invades in the jungle where lanes have priority are often very high risk, and result in early kills one way or another. If he is able to execute his gameplan, Meteos will have a hard time stabilizing his lanes.
The biggest x-factor for P1 will come in the form of support player William "Stunt" Chen, who was not a part of the team the last two times these teams faced off. His champion pool is very different than former P1 support Adrian "Adrian" Ma in that he has a greater focus on playmakers such as Taric and Thresh. He also wards about 20 percent less than Adrian does.
Laning with Stunt generates similar leads for Arrow as when he laned with Adrian, and he will continue to find opportunities to carry his team to victory. Simply put, this bottom lane matchup will come down to whether or not Arrow and Stunt can exploit Dig's underwhelming bot lane duo, who have the lowest experience difference at 10 minutes of any NA LCS botlane.
On the flipside of the rift, Dignitas have the obvious win-condition of getting playmaking top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho ahead fast. Whether he's on a carry or a tank, Ssumday plays fights to near perfection, and his laning and farming stats are quite impressive as he holds the highest CSD@10 and CSPM of all top laners. If Dignitas can catalyze an ability to aggressively snowball over Derek "Zig" Shao or impact the map through Ssumday's early participation in dives, they may find themselves in the driver’s seat for most of this series.
An interesting point to note is that Ssumday's Rumble has not surfaced this split, and this may be a crucial blindspot as Camille will likely be permabanned in the series as the other elite top lane champion. Zig also has a pocket Kled pick that he has used to take advantage of Ssumday before (he posted a 3/3/11 scoreline against Dignitas in Week 6), so the matchup may not be as easy as Dignitas hope it will be.
Mid lane needs to be completely stable for both teams to advance to the semifinals, but this particularly rings true for Dignitas. That is because they struggled against P1 when mid laner Jang "Keane" Lae-youngon picked an assassin. When he's able to use champions such as Cassiopeia or Jayce over Zed, Dignitas can use their pushing power to keep the mid lane stable and allow Chaser to thrive in his jungle invades as his mid lane will likely have priority on the roam.
Overall, I like Phoenix1 over Dignitas for many reasons, including the drastic meta shift. Bottom lane has drifted to be a more important focal point once more, and Meteos' control-style may prove to be a more stable over the course of a five-game series. It is really on the shoulders of Chaser and Ssumday to get advantages in the bottom lane through dives and collapses, and that variable may just be too difficult to consistently address.
Gabriel’s prediction: P1 defeats DIG 3-1
FlyQuest vs. Counter Logic Gaming
Luckily we've already had an early look at this series as these two teams faced off against one another in Week 8. Unfortunately, that sneak preview didn't bode well for FlyQuest.
Despite coming out to a sizable early lead in both games of the two game series, the games were lost on some very peculiar decision-making around neutral objectives that saw CLG effectively take Hai “Hai” Lam completely out of fights.
Additionally, the neutral objectives in question turned out to be two Infernal dragons and an Ocean one, which let Ezreal and Vladimir scale appropriately for CLG. Luck of the dragons aside, watching FlyQuest completely whiff their chances at taking neutral objectives through poor positioning seems pretty counter intuitive for a team with good co-ordination and veteran LCS shotcalling. If FlyQuest want to have a chance in this series, they need to clean up their play around setting up neutral objectives rather than trying to focus on dives when ahead.
To their credit, FlyQuest jumps to early leads more often than CLG through their early game strategies. A good example of this is their aggressive bottom lane dive in the first game of their Week 8 series, or the synchronized side-lane plays that Hai and jungler Galen "Moon" Holgate made in Game 2 which gave top and bottom lanes massive advantages. If they can transition that into an effective mid game, they will probably be able to secure a game or two.
However, adaptability was never FlyQuest's strongsuit whereas CLG have historically done so in best-of series. This split, the total difference of champions played is greatly in CLG's favour, leading to more flexibility and adaptability in their drafts.
This adaptability advantage, combined with a hypercarry bottom lane meta that is more comfortable for Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes and Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black, has me unable to see a world where FlyQuest wins a game in the series. This is doubly true if Tony "Zikz" Gray finds a way to counter these early set plays in FlyQuest's repetoire.
Gabriel’s Prediction: CLG over FLY 3-0
Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a news editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.