Photo: Riot Games

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already knocking on the 2019 LCS Summer Split semifinals. The most recent split wasn’t exactly the most exciting in history, but it did, however, provide more than enough entertainment (and a fair share of upsets and surprising twists). We’ve seen it all, really, and we were not left indifferent. If anything, there was a slight absence of consistency across the board, and no one was really able to maintain a respectable level of play and actually dominate throughout the split.

Instead, teams took turns and basically threw down until the timer went off. Regardless, when all was said and done, the playoff picture looked pretty familiar. We have the reigning, defending champions Team Liquid at the top, with Cloud9 following closely with their stacked (albeit still weaker than Liquid) five-man line-up. At number three we had Counter Logic Gaming — a surprise if there ever was one, with Team SoloMid trailing slightly behind. Finally, we had two “filler” contenders (Clutch Gaming and OpTic Gaming) to fill out the final Top 6. They were by no means pushovers, but we’ve seen these “second-rate” LCS challengers over the years, and they always failed to leave a mark. (although they did upset from time to time)

Four former champions, two unlikely challengers who improved leaps and bounds over the course of the thrilling (and at times uneventful) 2019 season.

Last week was, for a lack of a better word, pretty surprising. And it was a culmination of multiple different narratives and question marks that eventually snowballed out of control. As a result, we find ourselves talking about a Team Liquid vs. Clutch Gaming match-up — truly the dankest of timelines.

Regardless, both upcoming semifinal clashes carry a ton of hype. Perhaps that’s even an understatement. This is arguably the best possible way things could have unfolded, and all four teams carry unique threats and are incredibly exciting to watch and analyze. Both match-ups have clear favorites, but it’s not all black and white.

Perhaps most importantly, both Liquid and Cloud9 had the luxury of sitting back and regenerating while others fought and showed their hands. That’s invaluable in every regard. Taking a breather from exhausting weekly play is a huge benefit, and the fact that they didn’t have to show anything is also a plus. They’re entering the semifinals as the clear favorites and they should have an edge almost by default.

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the upcoming LCS Summer Split semifinals!

Cloud9 vs. Counter Logic Gaming

First up, we have a clash between two former LCS champions. That said, a lot of time has passed since both of them lifted the LCS trophy. The times when they were at the top of the North American region feel distant — almost dreamlike. Even though they fought year after year to regain their former glory, ultimate success always eluded them, for one reason or another. This season has proved to be no different, at least so far. Neither team managed to leave much of a mark, and even though they’re incredibly dangerous as competitors, they were simply unable to challenge Liquid for the LCS throne.

They did, however, manage to upset from time to time, and to turn the status quo on its head — at least for a fleeting moment. Saying just how good they currently are is a thankless endeavor, that’s for sure. On one hand, we’ve seen their highs and we were often blown away. When they play to their strengths and when they get on the same page their play is absolutely marvelous. That’s a fact. Furthermore, they attain success through entirely different means as well.

Cloud9 is unhinged more often than not, and they’re willing to go the extra mile in order to surprise their opponents. Counter Logic Gaming, on the other hand, is much more subdued but they also love throwing caution out the window and skirmishing whenever there’s a chance to do so. In short, every time these two teams face each other there’s a reason to celebrate — no one is ever left indifferent.

Counter Logic Gaming are entering this match-up with a fair bit of hype after taking OpTic Gaming down with relative ease in 3-0 fashion last week. They weren’t perfect, but they didn’t need to be. They had the edge in almost every regard and were able to impose their will every time they spawned on the Summoner’s Rift. They’re still rough around the edges, but they’re improving with each passing week and it’s evident in their play as well.

That said, the fact that they already lost to Cloud9 for the playoff bye tiebreaker mere days ago does heavily impedes our prediction — as it should. With everything on the line, Counter Logic Gaming failed to step up and clutch things out. They first dropped a game to 100 Thieves which left them in danger of losing the bye, and then lost handily to Cloud9 in the tiebreaker.

To say that they failed to put up much of a fight would be an understatement. With only two kills on the board, they basically rolled over and died. It was a twenty-five minute shellacking, with Cloud9 emerging victorious with a plus twelve thousand gold surplus. Nine turrets to just one, with four Drakes and a single Baron being taken by Cloud9. Talk about dominant.

Now, that one loss may or may not mean something. Counter Logic Gaming are prone to improving after such resounding losses, but it didn’t feel like they made many mistakes by themselves. Instead, they were forced to make mistakes; they failed to adapt and to compete with Cloud9 on their level. Their innate flaws and mistakes should only get magnified in a Best of 5 format, which is why we simply have to side with Cloud9 on this one. There’s no other way.

That said, if Counter Logic Gaming get on the same page and if they play to their strengths, they definitely have the right tools in order to make this into one heck of a scrap. They rarely go down without a fight (their most recent tiebreaker loss aside), and are more than capable of playing to the level of their opponents. They have finally attained some success after years of absolute mediocrity and they know exactly what’s on the line. Unfortunately, Cloud9 — even though arguably less capable than Team Liquid — are a much harder team to read. They spike much more often and are capable of playing some incredible League of Legends — when they feel like it and when a load of factors align and coalesce.

In the end, this should be a fantastic scrap from start to finish, with Cloud9 getting the win in somewhat one-sided fashion.

Winner: Cloud9, 1.30 (odds @ Betway)

Team Liquid vs. Clutch Gaming

Next up, we have a clash between the reigning, defending LCS champions Team Liquid, and Clutch Gaming. Yes, this is really  happening. No, that wasn’t a typo. We truly are in the dankest of timelines. After disposing of Team SoloMid in relatively clean and one-sided fashion, Clutch Gaming secured a spot in the Top 4. For a team that was considered a bottom-tier dweller for so long, that’s quite the achievement, to say the least. They occupied the bottom of the standings for the majority of 2019 and even though we often saw flashes of their true potential, they were too few and far between to actually warrant any kind of trust or benefit of the doubt.

Their trajectory is a spectacular one, and even if their road ends tonight, they still accomplished much more than anyone ever thought they could. That’s not a small thing either. The thing that is perhaps most interesting about this match-up is the fact that Clutch Gaming present a fairly unique challenge. That’s not to say that they’re exceptional in any one thing, or that they’re favored (they’re not, let’s just get that out the way immediately), but they’re not a standard team, and they don’t play standard League of Legends either.

They’re a volatile carnivorous beast. When they get off on the right foot and play to their strengths (bolstered by a solid draft) they’re a force to be reckoned with. Then again, those moments when everything “clicks” are rare. Perhaps even staggeringly so. When that fails to be the case, when they don’t get on the same page they’re an out of sync beast that just barely manages to put up a fight before ultimately succumbing to the pressure. They’re perhaps best known for their volatile nature.

In the end, we simply have to side with Team Liquid on this one, although we would love to see them challenged in a Best of 5 format. They’re just too darn good in every facet of play that it’s impossible to side against them. They had one full week to recuperate and watch Clutch Gaming show off their cards against Team SoloMid. That’s an invaluable advantage no matter the way you look at it, and that — combined with their incredible level of play, resiliency and experience — should be the determining factor.

That said, if they underestimate Clutch Gaming they could, in theory, drop a game or two in the process.

Winner: Team Liquid, 1.08 (odds @ Betway)