One step from destruction: NA LCS' relegation war

by theScore Staff Jul 19 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Damian Estrada / theScore

Unlike last season where the race to see which six teams made the postseason came down to the final day, this split's playoff participants have already been decided with one weekend to go.

Gravity, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Dignitas, Team SoloMid, and Team Impulse will go onto the next stage of the NA LCS in two week's time to see which squads will head to New York for the Grand Finals. All that's left to figure out next weekend is where those six teams will end up in the postseason bracket, and which two teams will grab the all-important bye into the semifinals.

Meaning, with the top six decided with two games left, we also know our know our bottom four. And like the teams dreaming of the Big Apple in late August, we don't know exactly where they'll land.

The only certainty heading into the final round of the regular season is that Team Dragon Knights, the rookie team plagued with visa issues and roster swaps all season long, will be heading back down to the Challenger circuit the upcoming year. But, with two games left in their short-lived stay in North America's premiere league, they still have one game left that could impact the entire world come this fall in Europe.

Let's take a look at the bottom four teams and their chances at evading the relegation round to punch their ticket to next year's NA LCS.

7. Team 8: 6-10

Remaining Schedule: TL, CLG (22-20)

Record vs. Bottom 4: 5-1

The miracle end of the season didn't come true for Team 8. They needed Team SoloMid to drop their last three games with a weak schedule while also sweeping their final three games against a trio of the top squads in the league. TSM won, T8 lost a close one to the league leaders Gravity, and the team that finished 7th place last season are now going to try and keep the same rank this split as well.

Team 8, although losing to Gravity, have been on an upward trend since the awful start that got them into a deep 0-4 hole. Since, T8 have been on a consistent roll of 1-1 weekends, upping their weekend splits to six with their win on Saturday and the loss on Sunday.

They're not the flashiest team in the league and can get rocked time to time by the bigger teams, but their record against the bottom four is a testament of their level of play. T8 are incredibly strong against weaker opposition and closing out games that they should, and they lose against the playoff teams like many expect.

They are truly the C students of the NA LCS. They have highs and lows at times, but they're incredibly consistent at preserving and, hopefully for them, staying right in-between the top six playoff teams and the bottom three relegated squads.

8. Cloud9: 5-11

Remaining Schedule: TDK, TSM (11-21)

Record vs. Bottom 4: 3-2

Cloud9 are back...ish. Hai's placement back on the team has given the former NA champions a new life, the team responding the past two weeks with more practice alongside Hai in the jungle. Sneaky and Lemon have rounded back into a solid form that made them one of the best duos in the league for the past two years. And maybe most importantly, Incarnati0n, the player that replaced Hai on the roster, is starting to show the innate skill that he was heralded for before even played his first professional match.

Unfortunately for C9 fans, the switch in the roster was too deep into the season to get them from a bottom two spot in the league and bounce them into a playoff position. The team's sights are now on grabbing the 7th seed away from the sturdy and consistently average Team8, with a place in the NA Worlds Qualifier Gauntlet in the balance.

Due to C9's circuit points they accrued last season with a 2nd place finish in the Grand Finals, they will most likely have a shot at being one of the teams in the gauntlet as long as they finish 7th. If they place in 8th or 9th, their points from the previous campaign will be wiped, forcing them to forget about any last ditch attempt at Worlds and focus on keeping their jobs in the NA LCS.

In the weirdest way possible, C9 vs. TSM on the last day of the season could be the biggest game of the season. Both teams are having down splits — C9 obviously more so — and their clash at the end of next week will be most likely the last time these two rivals meet in 2015. TSM will need the win to get closer to one of the two byes in the semifinals, and Cloud9, if Team 8 don't go 2-0 with their incredibly difficult schedule, could claim 7th place with victories over TDK and TSM or force a sudden death tiebreak.

9. Enemy eSports: 4-12

Remaining Schedule: TSM, DIG (19-13)

Record vs. Bottom 4: 3-3

The former Challenger kings didn't have the best rookie season in the LCS. Enemy's early-game weaknesses were exposed, with teams blowing them out early and often in games. Even compared to TDK, the team that will be auto-relegated this season, Enemy are a distant last place when it comes to gold differential during the first 10 minutes.

For NME to grab 7th and secure their safety of not having to battle one of their former peers in the relegation rounds, they'll need a lot of help from the rest of the league and to take care of business. As you can see with their remaining schedule of TSM and Dignitas, that won't be an easy task, with both of those teams heading into the playoffs and needing the win over Enemy to push them towards a top two placing.

The silver lining in Enemy's woes is that when they did happen to get out of the laning phase without a large deficit and force it into the mid-game, the team actually worked together well and were able to string together enough wins to not find themselves auto-relegated. When Enemy needed the wins the most, they got them, 2-0'ing TDK in the two games they played and securing them at least one more Bo5 to keep their spot in the NA LCS.

10. Team Dragon Knights: 1-15

Remaining Schedule: C9, GV (17-15)

Record vs. Bottom 4: 0-5

Team Dragon Knights is just a sad story. They aren't 1-15 bad, and they've certainly improved with the addition of Emperor and Ninja to their roster. They've lost games in the past few weeks that if one or two things went different, they would be at three or four wins heading into the final weekend with the expectations of fighting for their spot in the NA LCS.

But they knew what they were doing when they kept on practicing with Emperor and Ninja instead of looking at different options in the first half of the season.

C9 gambled with their decision to move out Hai for Incarnati0n, and TDK also bet that they could get off to the worst start possible and still make a run for the playoffs when their two Korean imports were finally allowed to play. The gamble didn't pay off, TDK are now auto-relegated, and they'll walk into their final two games as an LCS team as zombies.

Zombie TDK's goals next week are simple:

  1. Don't tie Team Coast's infamous LCS record of 1-17. They know they're getting kicked out of the premiere league, but they can at least not be tied for the worst single season team in LCS history.
  2. Be the zombies that they are, bite C9, and turn them into a zombie themselves. Cloud9 still have hopes of making 7th place and fighting in the gauntlet for a Cinderella run at Worlds. TDK beating them would all but kill those dreams, destroy all the points C9 earned in the spring, and effectively end their season.
  3. Play well. Team Coast, although the earners of that 1-17 record last season, are one of the top teams in Challenger currently and very well could find themselves back in the LCS at the start of 2016 with a chance at redemption. This iteration of the TDK lineup will almost assuredly not be returning if they do make it back next summer to the LCS, but they can set a strong tone with an impressive final weekend.

Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.