Every playoff run has its heroes, from the eye-catching superstars who cement their legacies to the supporting figures who raise their game when it matters most.
With the NA LCS summer quarterfinals fast approaching, all four teams — Cloud9, EnVyUs, Counter Logic Gaming, and Team Liquid — are hoping to find their hero. Here is one player from each team who needs to fill that role if they want to advance to the next round.
Quarterfinal 1: Cloud9 vs. EnVyUs
Matchups between the the third and sixth seeds don’t always feel lopsided, but this time around there’s a pretty clear underdog. Cloud9 had the edge in the regular season, winning both best-of-threes over EnVyUs without dropping a single game.
Cloud9 Player to Watch: Sneaky
Despite their regular season success, Cloud9 can’t afford to take Team Envy lightly, after bombing out of the spring quarterfinals against sixth-place TSM just a few months ago. To avoid a repeat of that disappointment, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi needs to be on top of his game, serving as the second part of Cloud9’s one-two punch, alongside Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen.
Jensen is Cloud9’s superstar, but camping him has proven to be a viable way to beat Cloud9 this split. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done. In Cloud9’s losses, Jensen has been stifled in lane and killed more often, and his damage has been held down.
That’s where Sneaky comes in. It’s a given that Jensen will be a central feature of Cloud9’s game plans, and EnVyUs know it. If EnVyUs adopt the “kill-the-VIP” game plan and throw everything they have at Jensen, whether that’s with jungle ganks and support roams in the early game or dive-the-back-line approaches to team fights, Sneaky needs to step up and punish the over-commitment. If Jensen is drawing aggro in lane, Sneaky and Smoothie need to build an even bigger advantage of their own. If EnVyUs put all their bodies and crowd control into Jensen in a fight, Sneaky needs to jump in and unload, just like he did with a spectacular pentakill against EnVyUs in Week 4.
|Sneaky||Value||Rank among ADCs|
|Damage Share||27.6%||Tied for 1|
|CS% Post-15 Mins||28.5%||7|
Sneaky is undoubtedly capable of being a very good insurance policy for Cloud9; he’s been one of the best AD carries in the NA LCS this split. This series, and all playoffs long, he needs to continue proving his value, and showing why he’s the only member of the original Cloud9 roster who has never lost his spot as a starter.
EnVyUs Player to Watch: Seraph
EnVyUs have their work cut out for them. They need to find back their methodical, objective-focused style from their relatively successful first half of the season. Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong’s leadership and smart Teleports were a big part of that early success, and it showed in his 68 percent kill participation, a high number for a top laner.
|First 9 Matches||Last 9 Matches|
|Combined Kills per Minute||0.60||0.70|
|Seraph’s Kill Participation||68%||62%|
In the second half of the season, though, EnVyUs lost control of the pace and flow of their play. Their games became bloodier, with 17 percent more kills per minute. They let way too many neutral objectives slip through their fingers and Seraph’s kill participation dropped. The result was a very much not-playoff-worthy record of 2-7 in their last nine matches.
Seraph is EnVyUs’s key figure, and if he can’t stack up favorably against Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong in the top lane, his team will have no hope. Laning 1v1 with Impact could be a challenge—Seraph’s +1.6 CSD at 10 in standard lanes is decent, but Impact’s +3.7 is better.
Still, given Cloud9’s past reluctance to devote heavy jungle pressure to the top lane, EnVyUs may have an opportunity to send jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-Young that direction and make Seraph a focus of their early game. That means leaving Jensen and Sneaky open, though, so EnVyUs have some tough decisions to make.
To pull an upset, Seraph has to be EnVyUs’s best player, both in lane and with his strong early-game Teleports. He has to be the leader who brings the team back to their conservative, low-mistake ways. For what it’s worth, that includes cutting out the random off-meta champions they’ve thrown into far too many of their drafts, though with the playoffs featuring the arrival of patch 6.15 and the forced standard-lanes meta, maybe that oddball Renekton will actually be worth considering (gonna say nope).
Prediction: C9 3-0
Even if EnVyUs get back to early-season form, they’ll find this series an uphill climb. Cloud9 are on an upswing, and even if Jensen gets handcuffed, Sneaky is more than capable of filling the void. Cloud9 has also been finding some bigger roles for Impact recently, and the more diversified Cloud9 becomes, the more of a threat they are.
Quarterfinal 2: CLG vs. Team Liquid
Neither CLG nor Team Liquid is carrying much momentum into the playoffs, but CLG may have the mental edge after winning both regular season meetings.
|Counter Logic Gaming||Team Liquid|
CLG Player to Watch: Darshan
Like everything CLG does, beating Team Liquid will be a team effort, but Darshan “Darshan” Uphadyaya will play a central part because of his head-to-head matchup with Samson “Lourlo” Jackson in the top lane. Darshan has been a strong split pusher throughout his career, and Lourlo came into his own this summer on duelists like Irelia and Trundle, setting up the potential for some fierce one-on-one action.
Most Played Champions
Darshan’s pool of split pushing champions is deeper than Lourlo’s, featuring Jax and Fiora, but he and his team need to put those champions to better use. Darshan has picked up the least farm of any North American top laner this split, averaging a mere 6.5 CS per minute and just 23.6 percent CS share post-15-minutes. He’ll need far more resources if he wants to come out ahead of Lourlo in the side lane battles.
The standard-lanes meta may play in Darshan’s favor, based on his and Lourlo’s CSD at 10 in standard lanes (see the previous chart), but the bigger problem has been CLG’s mid and late game farm distribution, and they need to find a fix for the playoffs if they want to see success.
CLG also have the option of using Darshan’s larger champion pool to pivot into a more team fight-oriented approach, and if they choose to go that route, Darshan’s tank play will be crucial.
Team Liquid Player to Watch: Fenix
Team Liquid’s hopes rest on their volatile Korean mid, Kim “Fenix” Jae-hun. True to form, Fenix has once again been among North America’s best 1v1 laners this split, leading all NA mid laners in CSD at 10. In the past three splits, Fenix has only finished behind Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in CSD at 10, earning the second-highest among mid laners in summer 2015 and spring 2016.
A big difference between Fenix and other strong mid laners like Bjergsen, Eugene “Pobelter” Park and Jensen is that Fenix is less adept at getting out of his lane and helping out on other parts of the map, which is why Fenix finished fourth in average gold difference at 10 minutes, and why his average kills and assists at 10 minutes was just 0.58, good for only seventh out of NA’s ten starting mids (Bjergsen had 0.90 K/As at 10 mins, and Pobelter 0.91, for what it’s worth).
Those shortcomings aside, Fenix certainly knows how to create a lead and snowball it into damage. He’ll be tasked with exploiting Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun’s weak laning in the early game, creating a point of strength to pivot around in teamfights.
|Fenix||Value||Rank among NA Mids|
|Damage per Minute||643||2|
The thing is, Team Liquid needs Fenix to carry not just because he’s good at it, but also because the team struggles so badly when he doesn’t. When Fenix plays team-fighting mages, Team Liquid wins most of their games, but when he picks up a playmaker or utility champion, Team Liquid looks much worse.
|Champion Pool - Fenix||Games||Win Rate|
|Playmakers and assassins||6||33%|
|Utility and control||6||16%|
Teamfighting mages include: Azir, Cassiopeia, Viktor, Vladimir and Ryze. Playmakers and assassins include: LeBlanc, Lissandra and Taliyah. Utility and control champions include: Anivia, Karma and Zilean.
Fenix’s poor results on assassins and utility champions are both because of his aforementioned weakness with getting out of his lane and supporting action elsewhere on the map, and because Liquid’s rookie AD carry, Jovani “Fabbbyyy” Guillen, hasn’t shown that he can be a legitimate damage threat.
|Fabbbyyy||Value||Rank among NA ADCs|
|Damage per Minute||373||11|
|CS per Minute||7.2||11|
|CS Share Post-15-Minutes||23.5%||11|
Fabbbyyy’s inability to farm efficiently and his lack of assertiveness or confidence in his damage dealing makes him unreliable as a carry option, to put it mildly, and that puts the burden very squarely on Fenix’s shoulders. CLG will be well aware, so Fenix needs to watch his back, and his teammates had better take good care of him, too.
Prediction: CLG 3-1
Team Liquid’s limited versatility is a big weakness. Fenix is only effective on one style of champion, Lourlo’s effective champion pool has been small, and Fabbbyyy has only been successful in a pure utility role. Overall, Liquid is a feast-or-famine team, and CLG has two weeks to figure out exactly how to shut down their win conditions.
There’s a chance Team Liquid can brute force their way to victory, but CLG’s greater flexibility gives them the advantage, and even though coach Tony “Zikz” Gray and his team have struggled to adapt to the summer meta, they’ve been improving over time. CLG has also shown that they are great at rising to pressure, and their recent history of strong playoff performances weighs in their favor.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.