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Rift Rivals

The second international tournament of the year is upon us, and while it does lack competitive integrity it is by no means less exciting. With trash talk on an all-time high, teams are coming into Berlin fighting for regional pride and bragging rights.

Let’s take a closer look at the teams competing and their chances to raise the inaugural Rift Rivals trophy!

Tournament Info:

Location: EU LCS Studio in Berlin, Germany

Date: 5th — 8th July, 2017

Teams: Team Solo Mid (1st NA seed), Cloud9 (2nd NA seed), Phoenix1 (3rd NA seed); G2 eSports (1st EU seed), Unicorns of Love (2nd EU seed), Fnatic (3rd EU seed)

Format: Double Round Robin (lasts three days), Best of 5 Finals (fourth day)

Europe

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Fnatic

After a phenomenal late surge in the 2017 Spring Split, Fnatic came into Summer swinging for the fences. It seems to have paid off as they are currently first in their group. They do however have a couple of problems that could get heavily exploitable.

Regardless, they are without a doubt the best European LCS team. The reasons are a-plenty, however at times it seems like their play is fairly one-dimensional. They’re incredible at a couple of things, and well-rounded at some others.

Individually they’re all phenomenal players. sOAZ is having a renaissance at the moment, with the newcomers Broxah and Caps carrying their fair share of the weight. Even Jesiz, whom Fnatic picked up for his mindset, his in-game voice and input improved leaps and bounds in terms of mechanics and is now an actual threat alongside his lane partner Rekkles.

Their weak points

  • Over-reliance on Rekkles — Regardless of the pick, Rekkles manages to put on a masterclass almost every game. With his pocket Frozen Mallet Kennen or Twitch, he is always in the frontline dishing out maximum damage. However, he is only one man. If the opposing team manage to take him down, Fnatic become considerably weaker.
  • Lack of diverse drafting strategies — so far their “protect Rekkles comp” has been working out great on home soil. While they’re individually all phenomenal players that can play a wide variety of playstyles, they don’t switch it up that often.

It will be tough for NA teams to fully acclimate to Fnatic’s playstyle as they don’t have anything like it at home. Many compare them to Unicorns of Love, but what Fnatic does is more refined, more calculated and yet extremely intense and bloody which makes it incredibly fun from a spectator’s standpoint. Their teamfighting is phenomenal and they know their way around every stage of the game. Their Kill-to-Death ratio is an astounding 2.16, meaning they take over two kills for a single death on average. The team beneath them is sitting at a “measly” 1.38. Their vision control is great and they also knock down any objective almost as soon as it spawns — leading in first Drakes and Barons.

Overall, Fnatic is looking like the team with the biggest chances to win the whole tournament.

With that said, if NA teams prepare well for Fnatic’s strategies, they will have a chance.

Look for Fnatic to be Europe’s bastion of hope on this year’s Rift Rivals.

Unicorns of Love

Much like Fnatic, Europe’s second seed from Spring is coming in strong. They have continued working on their issues from last split, and are currently the second best team that Europe can offer. They do however have some serious shortcomings.

Their strong suits

  • Late game teamfighting — almost every UOL late-game teamfight is filled with highlight moments. They know their way around a chaotic full-blown 5v5 fight. (“they were molded by it”) If a game goes the distance, they can take down anyone depending on how well they measure their punches.
  • The famous twenty minute ON switch — while it might seem miniscule on paper, this logic-defying phenomenom that is akin only to the Unicorns is a great tool to have. Teams that have been playing against or scrimming them for longer periods of time know what to expect more or less, but international teams don’t have that kind of luxury. Regardless if they’re behind or ahead, as the twenty minute mark hits they start playing like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Vizicsacsi — Spring Split MVP for a reason. He can hardcarry on a very broad range of champions and has shown a great understanding of the meta and patch during the first half of the Summer Split.
  • Other players — it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that every UOL member brings something unique to the table. Not only that, but their unique virtues could be the deciding factor in any game. Xerxe has a completely different jungling style and is always at the right place at the right time, Samux has started playing out of his mind over the last couple of weeks almost solocarrying every teamfight and has shown great proficiency on the likes of Caitlyn, Twitch and Xayah. Paired with Hylissang’s aggressive playstyle, they all mesh into a team like no other.

Their weak points

  • Awful vision control — they’re dead last in the statistics for warding, sitting at an abysmal 2.95 wards placed per minute. While a number like this means almost nothing, when you see their games you start to realize what is actually means. When the Unicorns are playing, the Rift is almost entirely covered in dark. This leads them to overextending, or going for plays that end very badly for them.
  • Exileh — Unicorns’ midlaner has been underperforming for the first five weeks of the Summer Split. One could say that he has even been feeding, however that might be debatable. He is leading in deaths among all midlaners at 58, even behind CozQ and Nagne. In comparrison, Perkz has 30 and Caps only 28. He is constantly giving up leads in his lane and only at times manages to be relevant in the late game. He is second in death share at 28.6% and his kill participation is also nothing to write home about. His CSD@10 is dead last at -8.6 and also earns and takes the least amount of gold out of all EU midlaners. Those are some abysmal statistics that could very well cost his team a good placement at Rift Rivals. What we do know is that he has the potential. After all, he won MVP of IEM Oakland where he beat Bjergsen and co-carried his team to victory. The question remains — which Exileh will show up at Rift Rivals?
  • Their last week’s performance was abysmal. While NiP to their right did a lot of things well, it cannot be understated how badly the Unicorns played. Exileh was once again getting caught out, but it was surprising to see how many times Vizicsacsi died — minute after minute to continuous ganks from Shook. While they did manage to win in the end, their win was far from deserved as any other team other than NiP would have been able to close out the last game. Will this level of play carry on to Rift Rivals? We will have to wait and see.

Overall, the Unicorns have the X factor. Their somewhat inconsistent play in Summer means you should avoid betting on them. They might be able to win when they shouldn’t but they will also probably lose when you least expect it.

G2 eSports

It’s tough giving the Kings of Europe any benefit of the doubt. Their current state is mind-boggling. They performed to the height of their ability at this year’s MSI, managing to beat China’s strongest team and even take a game off of SKT. However the team that came back to Europe is only a shadow of it’s former self.

Everyone is underperforming, and everyone seems lost. They don’t have a good grasp on the meta, and they don’t know their way around the pick and ban phase as they once did. While the excuse that they had little time to prepare was fair for the first week or two of the LCS, they’ve been lost for five weeks now.

These are tough times for all G2 fans, as they don’t have a lot of time to get it back together. Luckily, things aren’t too grim as both the players and the organization know that they have a lot of things to fix and are surely working on it. As for their chances at Rift Rivals, it’s impossible to predict. As it is a double round robin, they will surely be able to take a couple of games. However they won’t stomp as was expected from them.

At the moment, they’re a strong dark horse in the tournament that can take a game off of any opposing team, but still lose to anyone as well.

North America

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Cloud9

The second best NA team from Spring is having a very hot/cold showing so far. The fact that Jensen is hardcarrying his team cannot be overstated enough. His laning stats and overall effectiveness is mindblowing. His tendency to be at the right place at the right time regardless of the situation is one of the biggest reason why Cloud9 is still near the top of the standings. Even in their losses, Jensen averages only a death or two, at times not even that much.

Their shield and sword strategy with Impact and Ray isn’t panning out at the moment, as neither player is having a great split. Their impact (no pun intended) is negligible, with Impact being only a pale shadow of his 2017 Spring Split self. Sneaky and Smoothie are a very formidable duo that can stand toe-to-toe with the very best, but their lead (if any) is rarely translated over to the team.

Jensen cannot solo carry, even though he tries his hardest. Other members need to step up and carry the weight as well. Their early game has been improving steadily, however it is still nothing too spectacular. If they survive the early game then anything can happen. Through fantastic teamfighting and communication they can turn plenty of games around, especially in this tournament format.

If we judge them only by their Week 5 performance in the NA LCS, then fans can be cautiously optimistic. Individually they all played better, with Contractz being the highlight, even managing to completely shut down Svenskeren’s Lee with a pocket Nunu pick — played to perfection. He was essentially their biggest catalyst and performed on three different picks in three games, dying only once in their two wins.

Knowing how well he played when he first stepped foot on the LCS stage, he won’t have any jitters in Berlin when facing Europe’s finest. Expect him to lead the charge as Cloud9 seems like North America’s biggest hope — as unlikely as it might have seemed.

Team Solo Mid

Much like their friends in white and blue, TSM is also having a fairly passable split. While their second place in the standings (shared with Immortals) is nothing to scoff at, they’re still winning the majority of their games off of solid fundamentals and synergy that they already had down.

They’re talking about testing out different strategies and team comps during the regular season, however it seems as though they’re backtracking on those remarks as they have been playing the most TSM comps possible. Doublelift on Ashe, Bjergsen on Syndra and above all — Svenskeren on Lee Sin. Everyone knows that Sven has some of the cleanest Lee skills in competitive League of Legends. He dominated world class junglers last Worlds, however when not on the champion his impact on the game is negligible.

When they play their own playstyle that they know so well, they’re extremely dominant. The problem is — that playstyle (pick comp more often than not) is relatively one-dimensional and it never works against top tier teams around the world.

Will they have more success this time against Europe only? It’s hard to tell for sure. They’re still a force to be reckoned with, however this strategy is fairly simple to play around starting from the pick and ban phase. If the enemy team forces Svenskeren off his one or two comfort pick, TSM is already essentially a four man unit. Paired with Hauntzer’s inconsistency and Doublelift’s shaky teamfighting, they have a lot of holes in their game.

Their weak points

  • Svenskeren —His play has been all over the place during the first half of Summer. He still hasn’t adapted well enough to the meta and his play is in a single word — lacklustre. He is easily TSM’s biggest weak point, and when pressured will surely underperform.
  • Hauntzer’s inconsistent play — Much like his jungling teammate, Hauntzer has really been struggling this split. That said, there are some games where he plays out of his mind. Whether it’s due to meta changes or his team allocating resources differently we can’t know, but his effectiveness fell off hard. He has the second highest death share at 26% for toplaners and second worst for making first bloods. Regardless, his damage output and laning statistics are still top notch. TSM’s strength really depends on which Hauntzer shows up at Rift Rivals.

Overall, TSM is coming in fairly strong and will surely make their region proud. They don’t have the odds in their favor and rightfully so. They lost NA it’s first seed at this year’s Worlds due to their awful performance at MSI, and have been fairly mild so far on their home soil. (in comparison to the dominance and clean macro most expected from them)

Phoenix1

The biggest enigma of the tournament. After an awful showing for the first three weeks of split, they began to slowly turn things around. With the introduction of MikeYoung and Xpecial to the starting roster, they began winning games all up to week five when they actually managed to win two series in a row. To make matters even more interesting they won against Immortals who were at the moment the number one NA team. They had the cleanest macro, the biggest hype train behind them and yet a team that has failed to put a single win on the board beat them convincingly.

It’s impossible to look at P1’s strengths without highlighting MikeYoung and the impact he has had on the team and the way they play. While he has yet to show whether or not his playstyle is consistent, he is without a doubt their biggest catalyst and best performer at the moment. While his impact cannot be ignored, whenever he was targeted in the pick and ban phase he was more or less mediocre. His champion pool is still a big question mark.

Ryu has been really inconsistent overall, with Arrow having an absolutely awful split so far with some of the worst laning stats amongst the NA ADC player pool. Whether or not that’s due to the lack of synergy between him and Xpecial remains to be seen, however the losses he endures in lane transfer over against his team as well.

Regardless, their solid showing against IMT was far from a fluke. They mean business and are prone to climb the standings as the Summer split progresses.

If teams enter the pick and ban phase intelligently and force P1 off of their comfort picks then they shouldn’t have a huge problem handling them in-game.

Schedule

Wednesday, July 5 

TSM vs. G2 – 17:00 CEST / 8:00 AM PT

FNC vs. P1 – 18:00 CEST / 9:00 AM PT

G2 vs. C9 – 19:00 CEST / 10:00 AM PT

UOL vs. P1 – 20:00 CEST / 11:00 AM PT

C9 vs. FNC – 21:00 CEST / 12:00 PM PT

TSM vs. UOL – 22:00 CEST / 1:00 PM PT

Thursday, July 6

C9 vs. UOL – 17:00 CEST / 8:00 AM PT

G2 vs. P1 – 18:00 CEST / 9:00 AM PT

TSM vs. FNC – 19:00 CEST / 10:00 AM PT

C9 vs. G2 – 20:00 CEST / 11:00 AM PT

P1 vs. FNC – 21:00 CEST / 12:00 PM PT

UOL vs. TSM – 22:00 CEST / 1:00 PM PT

Friday, July 7

P1 vs. G2 – 17:00 CEST / 8:00 AM PT

UOL vs. C9 – 18:00 CEST / 9:00 AM PT

FNC vs. TSM – 19:00 CEST / 10:00 AM PT

P1 vs. UOL – 20:00 CEST / 11:00 AM PT

FNC vs. C9 – 21:00 CEST / 12:00 PM PT

G2 vs. TSM – 22:00 CEST / 1:00 PM PT

Saturday, July 8 

NA LCS vs. EU LCS (Bo5) – 18:00 CEST / 9:00 AM PT

Tournament Prediction

Overall, the general consensus is that Europe is coming in stronger, with a better understanding of both the meta and macro game. Those smaller nuances quickly add up to build a lead or playstyle that is unique to the region.

While NA has the tools to fight back, they probably won’t be able to win in the end. Do have in mind that this is a format that allows for crazy comebacks and unexpected things to happen. In other words, even though one region seems stronger, it is in a way a fairly even playing field.

To reach the Finals: Fnatic, 2.62 (odds @ Bet365)

To reach the Finals: TSM, 1.83 (odds @ Bet365)

Region of Winner: EU LCS, 1.33 (odds @ Bet365)

To Win Outright: Fnatic, 3.50 (odds @ Bet365)