Let's be frank: the NA LCS is a mess this season. Right when you thought the former Curse teams (Gravity and Team Liquid) were going to solidify themselves as the top of the league, they fell to Counter Logic Gaming and Team Dignitas to make the race for the top two spots swell to six rosters.
While Fnatic is already popping champagne and relaxing with a perfect record sailing into their first round bye, there is no clear favorite in the NA LCS this time around. The finalists for the past four seasons, TSM and C9, are hemorrhaging, the latter already eliminated from playoff contention. The other, our back-to-back defending champions, are on one of their worst losing streaks in NA LCS history and are falling head-first down the ladder.
With three games remaining for all teams, it is anyone's guess which two will get the all-important bye into the semifinals to put themselves one Bo5 victory away from Madison Square Garden. Before the action continues tomorrow to make the playoff picture even more of a complete chaotic mess, let's look at the top six team's remaining schedules.
1. Gravity: 11-4
Remaining Schedule: T8, TiP, TDK (17-28)
Record vs Top 6: 6-3
If you were forced to pick a favorite to come out top in NA, you'd still probably pick Gravity. They're the only team out of the top six that have a winning record against the upper echelon of the league, and they've shown that they can adapt from top losses in the past.
Their loss to Dignitas knocked them from an almost assured spot in the top four in the playoffs, but Gravity fans shouldn't worry after seeing their upcoming schedule. They have statistically the easiest road to the end of the season of any team; although it's clear TDK and T8 are improved from their early season roster issues, Gravity should take those two games if they want to be seen as a legit threat in the West.
T-2. Counter Logic Gaming: 10-5
Remaining Schedule: C9, DIG, T8 (20-25)
Record vs Top 6: 4-5
CLG looked like they were on their way to another late-season collapse. It was like the same story they'd been apart of seemingly a thousand times already: hot start, stagnant middle, and then a nosedive off the cliff at the end of the season before being picked apart in the first round of the playoffs.
This season they changed it up a bit by nosediving in the middle of the season and finding their footing with three weeks left in the season. They're on a three game winning streak, have clinched a playoff spot, and are in a solid position to get one of the two byes if they can take care of business with a decently easy schedule.
Cloud9 are better than their record shows, though, with the former championship contenders coming to live with the reinstatement of Hai into the line-up and a few weeks of practice under their belts. Like Gravity, they have a doable final three games and need to sweep all three if they want to at least force a tiebreaker of sort next Sunday night.
T-2. Team Impulse: 10-5
Remaining Schedule: TDK, GV, TL (23-22)
Record vs Top 6: 3-5
Impulse battled through a rough first half of the season to get back into a tie for second place along with CLG and TL. That's the good news for them.
The bad news is that they have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the top six teams in the league. Team Dragon Knights, while most likely still a win with Impulse's ability to fight counteracting TDK's overzealous play, is still not a forgone conclusion like it would have been at the start of the split. But their real trouble will come in the final two games, having to square off against the Curse boys in back-to-back fashion to try and keep their top two dreams alive.
TiP are currently on the best winning streak in the entire league, and they'll need to keep that going through the end of the season if they want to be one step closer to New York City.
T-2. Team Liquid: 10-5
Remaining Schedule: NME, T8, TiP (20-25)
Record vs Top 6: 4-5
Liquid could have tied themselves up with Gravity at the top and knocked CLG off their trail, yet it's never been easy for the former-Curse squad. If TL want to make it to their first Worlds, they'll need to prove it in the upcoming month. Their first game tomorrow will be a game they need to win, facing off against Enemy in a match that is perfect for Team Liquid to gain some momentum in.
NME are in a downswing and out of the playoff race, and they're also by far the worst team in the competition when it comes to the early-game. On the flip side, TL excel in the first 10 minutes of the game, their triple threat carry combination of Quas, FeniX, and Piglet having the ability to take over games in the laning phase.
The end of the season will be a ramp up of competition, with TL first needing to take on the scrappy Team 8 before finishing with Impulse in a likely clash for one of the top seeds in the league.
T-5. Team Dignitas: 9-6
Remaining Schedule: TSM, CLG, NME (23-22)
Record vs Top 6: 4-4
Dignitas fans can breathe. On the brink of falling apart and maybe even missing a playoff if they couldn't stop the collapsing, they pulled out their biggest win of the season against Gravity in a marathon-like game that went over 50 minutes. They've now all-but-confirmed their place in the playoffs if not for some crazy scenarios, and they can still get a first round bye with a strong performance in their final three games.
The boys in yellow will go from one season changing game to another tomorrow, the two teams tied for fifth playing to close out the week. TSM are in the worst position they might have ever been this late into in an NA LCS season, and Dignitas can clinch a playoff spot while knocking out the champions in the process.
T-5. Team SoloMid: 9-6
Remaining Schedule: DIG, NME, C9 (18-27)
Record vs Top 6: 5-4
...Maybe it's not time to breathe yet for you, Team SoloMid fans. They're currently pulling what many people believe is CLG's greatest trick: getting off to a hot start, sputtering in the middle, and now haphazardly flying off the road with the playoffs approaching.
TSM's remaining schedule looks easy on paper, but can we say anything will come easy to the current SoloMid lineup? They have problems with the coaching staff, WildTurtle is trying too hard to win his starting job back to negative results, and Bjergsen isn't being able to carry his teams from impossible situations like he did last season.
Their archetypal play that was exposed at the Mid-Season Invitational is continuing this season, and they're finding out that while Bjergsen is the best player in the league, it takes more than one player to complete a three-peat.
Still, they should make the playoffs. Should. If they somehow miss the playoffs, it would have to come from the greatest collapse in League of Legends history. It shouldn't happen and most likely won't happen due to TSM knowing how to persevere in tough times — like they've done countless times in the past three years of LCS — and not having a difficult schedule to end.
But...if it does happen, it will never be forgotten and CLG's failures for the past four years will be miniscule compared to this season's crumbling.
It won't, though.
I'm pretty sure.
7. Team 8: 6-9
Remaining Schedule: GV, TL, CLG (31-14)
Record vs Top 6: 1-8
For Team 8 to make the playoffs, they'll need to sweep their next three games against three of the best teams in the league. They also will need an incredible collapse from Team SoloMid where the defending kings of NA don't win any of their remaining three games. As you can see, they're 1-8 against the top six this season, doing most of their work in the win column against the teams fighting it out for relegation.
If T8 somehow make the playoffs, Marvel will buy the rights to the story and make a movie featuring Goldenglue as a superhero titled 8-Man.
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.