A couple of days ago, the playoff picture was in complete disarray. As we were heading into the last weekend of the regular season of NA LCS, no seed was completely locked. Fast forward to now, and I could honestly not be more surprised. CLG; who was just competing for first place; is now locked third, and Optic Gaming; who needed to win two games in a row against hot teams, did so; and is now playoff-bound. While this is probably my ideal scenario, I never saw it coming.
From an outside glance, a three-seed vs. a six-seed may seem incredibly simple to call, but when looking at the past weekend, it’s anything but that. CLG started the weekend pretty strong, actually beating Optic Gaming, however it was an incredibly close game. Lasting for almost forty-minutes, Optic gained a slight early-game lead, but couldn’t push it far enough; and through some smart shot-calls and skirmish-wins, CLG pulled ahead to win.
After that game, Sunday was an entirely different story. CLG; with a chance to contest for first; lost to eighth-place team 100 Thieves. Although it lasted long, their weird, “Frankenstein composition” was poorly drafted, which ended up being their downfall in the late game (shows me for calling me the best drafting team). And while Optic Gaming handedly lost to C9, their two tiebreaker games were incredibly impressive. Optic; being tied for sixth with 100 Thieves and Golden Guardians; had to play and beat both of them in order to continue their season. Both games had their ups and downs, but Optic controlled most of both of them, putting up a very strong and impressive performance. Dhokla in particular, who almost seems to be Optic’s X-factor, played wonderfully in both games; proving just how important an Aatrox ban is against him.
CLG, however, had to play a tiebreaker against C9, for second place; after their loss to 100T; and oh God, was it bad. CLG, seeing Corki was banned and Azir (the other top mid-laner) was up, took Azir; as if Cloud9 didn’t purposefully give them that. They then, immediately picked Rakan, signalling to C9 that they would most likely pick Xayah (his strong duo partner) in the next rotation. C9; seeing this; decided to fully embrace fighting the Xayah + Rakan lane, by picking an even stronger, and counter-duo: Caitlyn + Morgana. This essentially meant that any engage attempted by Rakan would be stopped, by Morgana pressing the E key. The rest of the draft was pretty straightforward, but the beginning completely threw the entire game.
Giving priority to the bot lane; C9 ganked the Caitlyn, getting her significantly ahead. Sneaky then ended up having a 2.2k gold lead on the Xayah, at 15 minutes: his biggest lead of the entire season. After that, it was entirely over; in one of the quickest finishes I’ve ever seen. So, the polarizing finish to last week would signal that this series could be closer than most people originally thought. I would agree entirely.
Firstly, the season as a whole isn’t as bad for Optic Gaming as you would assume. If you look at each individual game, most were incredibly close; with them having a strong chance to win in probably 80% of their losses. Now some may say that this is indicative of a bad macro team, but I would argue the opposite. Occasional silly decisions may happen, and give up huge leads, but a lot of the advantages they gain are entirely due to their good macro. Meteos, Crown, and now Dhokla work very well together, making smart rotations to heavily win top side of the map; not really with pure skill, but with smart plays. If they learn to push these as they did this past weekend, we could see a world where Optic easily outclasses CLG.
Secondly, when looking at the lane-to-lane matchup, I actually think Optic wins easily. The top lane is filled with two of the newest players to the LCS stage: Dhokla, and Ruin. While Ruin has proven strong, and self-sufficient, Dhokla has been hard-carry for Optic, since he’s been put on carries. Aatrox and Jayce are two picks I would not be comfortable giving him; as every time he picks them, they do well. Ruin is instead good at absorbing pressure; which could mean he doesn’t allow Dhokla to carry; but he’s not a threat in and of himself. Meteos and Crown are really easy to compare to Wiggily and PowerofEvil, as they’re simply more experienced than CLG’s duo. While PowerofEvil has been around for a while, he hasn’t had the amount of international play and success of crown. Wiggily is just as strong from a mechanical and numbers perspective, as Meteos, but I don’t see him being as strong and as vocal of a leader as Meteos is; and communication is incredibly important in this game.
Bottom lane is the only place where CLG has the edge. However, they were just the entire reason that they lost to C9; proving they have their weaknesses; and Arrow and Big are I think, deceptively the most consistently decent bot lane in the league. This could sound like an insult, but I can’t remember a game in the past five or six weeks where they lost lane entirely. I feel like they’re incredibly good at going relatively even, until Arrow gets items, and ends up being able to carry in team fights. They’re never the reason Optic loses, and I think CLG often relies on the enemy bot lane to roll over.
Finally, the one main advantage CLG had all season, was their drafting. Picking unique, strong bot lanes to win early and pressure their opponents, was their strategy for most of the year; and it worked. But this past weekend, they did not do this; and instead just fell for picking power-picks, void of what their opponent was doing. And if they continue to do things like this, I don’t think they have their main way of winning games; as their individual players aren’t actually the strongest in the league. Calling this series right now; I think it’s guaranteed to go five games either way, but I believe Optic will take it in the end.