Photo: Riot Games

It feels like the LCS was on a much longer hiatus even though it was just a two-week break. Everyone was looking forward to seeing their three contenders — Team Liquid, Team Solo Mid, and Cloud9 — duke it out on the Summoner’s Rift against the three best teams from Europe. There were seemingly no negatives: both regions had three highly capable and versatile challengers, and fireworks were basically guaranteed.

All signs were pointing towards at least a somewhat competitive state of affairs. After all, these were the three legendary North American titans, the three teams that stood above the rest time after time. The three teams with the biggest fan bases and most exciting narratives.

But even though the stage was set for a clash of seismic proportions, the tournament itself failed to deliver — on all fronts. Perhaps that’s even an understatement. We witnessed one of the biggest and most farcical blowouts in competitive Western history. This wasn’t an even fight between two regions and their mightiest giants. Not in the slightest. This was, simply put, a shocking display. North America was dominated and outclassed in every single facet of play.

While Team Liquid did put up a somewhat solid fight overall, they were still handily beaten and exploited. There really isn’t much else that can be said. They were meek and subdued, scared, and completely out of sync. They were scattered across the board and couldn’t mount much of an offensive when they absolutely had to step up and get the job done.

Now sure, Rift Rivals is not an important tournament by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a chance to test your might against another region; a chance to learn something new and to grow as a five-man unit. These are the three best North American teams we’re talking about, and they need every single bit of practice they can muster in order to stand a chance at the upcoming World Championship. The old adage “iron strengthens iron” is completely applicable this time around, but no strengthening happened unfortunately.

North America was humiliated in every regard. They had a bad read on the meta, they played in a completely different fashion, they were slow, mechanically rusty and sub-par, and when they had to show off their team fighting prowess, they fumbled with each step they took. It was a disappointing couple of days, that’s for certain. Well, mainly if you’re a fan of the North American LCS.

The effect of Rift Rivals will now be two-fold. It told everyone that North America simply isn’t playing at the highest of levels right now. Not even close. In fact, they’re completely out of sync with the meta and the best and most optimal way to play the game. This means there will probably be a noticeable shift within the region itself. All ten teams will (as they should) adapt accordingly. They simply cannot continue playing in such a way. So we will witness a change in almost every regard — if they’re smart. The other change that’s bound to happen, is that other teams that didn’t compete at Rift Rivals, will have more footage to review, to go over and to analyze. They were just reminded that the LCS pantheon can bleed. And we’re not talking about surface-level scratches either. They were butchered and bloodied after clashing with Europe.

They had the luxury of taking a break, recuperating, and coming up with a solid game plan for the next five weeks of competitive play. This may or may not be enough for significant change to materialize — it all depends on the team. Either way, things shouldn’t be the same after such a heavy-handed beatdown. Not even close.

Another interesting thing is theory-crafting just how the three North American titans will react to such a one-sided shellacking. They will surely adapt, but how much? Will they improve in such a short time span and more importantly — will it be enough? There are so many questions in the air right now, and we can’t wait to see how things further resolve.

So with that out of the day, let’s take a closer look at the fifth week of competitive LCS play!

DAY TWO

Echo Fox vs. Golden Guardians — To open the day, we have a pretty exciting clash. Well, at least on first glance. In reality, this isn’t exactly the biggest or most premier match-up. Not in the slightest, but it should provide ample entertainment. Both teams are entering tonight’s clash without much hype momentum. In fact, there’s simply no hype at all. Echo Fox were supposed to outlast and beat a wounded and confused FlyQuest, but were unable to mount much of an offensive. Maybe that’s even an understatement. They were meek and off the mark early on, which allowed FlyQuest to accrue a big enough gold lead. But as the game progressed, Echo Fox did nothing worthy of mentioning in order to change the state of the game.

They were sloppy, indecisive, and completely scared to make the right proactive play. Even their team fighting, which is so often one of their key assets, wasn’t on display. They were also playing with MikeYoung in the jungle position (a fairly recent change to the starting line-up), and even though he was often lauded for his unfiltered aggression and playmaking prowess, he was unable to do much in yesterday’s game. And again, that’s an understatement. He was a complete non-factor. They went from an inconsistent mechanical deity in Rush, to another mechanically gifted prodigy that simply doesn’t get the job done and was, as a result, relegated to Academy play.

There isn’t much positive that can be said about Echo Fox at this point. In fact, there isn’t anything positive at all, especially after yesterday’s game. But in true Echo Fox fashion, they will bounce back and win when you least expect it to. That’s just the Echo Fox way, and there’s no rhyme or reason behind it. It all depends on the day. We all love watching them because of it, but they are a nightmare of a team when you’re betting on them as they’re as volatile and inconsistent as humanly possible.

Opposite them, we have the Golden Guardians. Now, coming into yesterday’s game, they had a very solid 4W-4L record. It was highly acceptable, and it told a very coherent story: they were a playoff contender and were not messing around. With such a record, they had the ball in their court. They just had to maintain a certain level of play, focus on being as consistent as possible and rack up wins. But against all reason and healthy logic, they opted to start with FBI and Huhi (of Counter Logic Gaming fame), their Academy bottom lane. Now, that decision, in and of itself isn’t that crazy, but the moment in which they chose to do so is. They were up against OpTic Gaming, a team that was ranked higher than them and with good reason. A team that is currently a bona fide playoff contender.

To play two unproven players (Huhi still hasn’t adapted fully to the support position) against a team that was already favored against you is such a bad decision it doesn’t even compute. As a result, they were absolutely demolished across the board. It wasn’t even a competition. They were outrotated, beaten on an individual level, and outclassed in all facets of play. They simply couldn’t do anything on the Summoner’s Rift and were quickly subdued in one-sided fashion.

So this time around, things really depend on the roster that the Golden Guardians decides to field. Will they go with their tried and true team? Then they’re definitely favored. By a lot. If, on the other hand, they decide to repeat the same mistake and, to be quite fair, they are prone to making ill-advised calls and decisions, then it’s downright impossible to predict the outcome with confidence. We also don’t have any information regarding which line-up will be starting, but we’ll give the Guardians our benefit of the doubt.

Winner: Golden Guardians, 1.36 (odds @ Betway)

Cloud9 vs. Clutch Gaming — For our second game of the day, we have a pretty exciting clash between Cloud9 and Clutch Gaming. Now, much like the game preceding it, this isn’t exactly a must watch, but it should be a fun scrap regardless of your allegiance and final outcome.

Clutch Gaming are entering today’s match after losing to Counter Logic Gaming yesterday. Even though they failed to get the job done, they were still surprisingly strong. They made things insanely competitive, but as expected, Counter Logic Gaming was slightly better in all elements of play.

They never gave up too big of a gold lead, but they never found a window of opportunity. They were looking, and looking, but it never came. It never materialized. Counter Logic Gaming had the better draft, they were more proactive, they made the better calls and plays and were, as a result, able to take most objectives on the map and eventually just close out the game “by the book”.

Still, Clutch Gaming did more than enough to earn everyone’s respect, and even though they lost their stock didn’t drop by much. They’re definitely developing into a playoff contender, and they’re showing signs of improvement any time they step foot on the Summoner’s Rift.

On the other hand, we have Cloud9. The boys in black and blue. They were outclassed at the most recent Rift Rivals but they didn’t play with their starting line-up because of Sneaky’s illness. Everyone was unsure how strong and cohesive they would be once the regular portion of the split resumed, but their yesterday’s game quickly answered that lingering question.

They absolutely obliterated Team Liquid. It wasn’t even a competitive skirmish — Cloud9 were better in every single element of play, they were stronger as a five-man unit, stronger on an individual level, and their spectacular team fighting prowess took Liquid off guard from the very get go. Their fantastic engages and rotations left everyone in awe. That said, they couldn’t do it alone — Liquid never put up anything resembling a fight. They were, quite simply, abysmal from minute one. This wasn’t a showing worthy of a championship-winning team. This was a shocking failure on all fronts. Liquid did nothing.

Conversely, Cloud9 made all the right choices in-game and Nisqy’s pocket Veigar pick caught Liquid off-guard. To say that it paid off immediately would be an understatement. He was able to solo kill Jensen and created absolute chaos across the map once the mid and alter stages of the game came around.

But perhaps the biggest surprise came from their Academy top laner Kumo. He simply wrecked Impact throughout the entire game, he had a CS lead, a spectacular KDA, and was able to make key plays across the map. Not only did he not look like an Academy player, but he was able to play up to Liquid’s level — and that’s saying something. If he continues playing at such a high level, the sky’s the limit for Cloud9’s “B team jungler”.

In the end, we simply have to side with Cloud9. They’re one of the best teams in the region even with all of their inherent weaknesses and faults. They’re simply on another level when compared to Clutch, they have many tools to work with and will surely find an avenue toward success even though the might not start off in the best and most optimal way. Cloud9, even with their Academy top laner in the line-up, is as frightening as ever and are looking to build on their hype win over Liquid yesterday.

While it might not be as one-sided as most expect, Cloud9 should be more than able to get the job done.

Winner: Cloud9, 1.35 (odds @ Betway)

100 Thieves vs. Team Liquid — Our third match of the day is an interesting one, to say the least. Both teams are entering the clash without much hype, in a way.

Liquid are the defending champions, but you would never guess it after watching their yesterday’s game against Cloud9. They were outclassed, simply put. It was one of their worst performances in history, one could argue. They couldn’t mount an offensive, they were badly positioning and getting caught out, their play was lackluster and meek, and they looked like a bottom-tier dweller, pretty much.

A shocking display from one of the most dominant teams in the region’s history. Now, it could have been a one-off thing, that’s for sure. Or, conversely, it could’ve been a sign of the things to come. Either way, it’s still too early to know for sure, but Liquid are currently down for the count.

Enter 100 Thieves.

A team that no one in their right mind would give a chance. But their trajectory, at least so far, has been rather fascinating. They’re entering this match after losing to Team Solo Mid, which also happened to snap their surprising three-game win streak. That, in and of itself, is perhaps the biggest surprise overall. The fact that they were able to step up against all odds and actually start playing solid League of Legends is a twist no one could have foreseen. After all, they were abysmal for so darn long. Fortunately, the changes to the jungle and mid lane position were just what the doctor ordered. They’re still not a contender by any means, but they’re getting better and better with each passing week. They’re solid right now, and they’re going to put up a surprisingly big fight regardless of the opponent. If they get rolling, however, they might even win. Imagine that. People would’ve laughed just three or so weeks ago if you said that.

This match-up is so engaging because it revolves around two key questions: how strong is Liquid right now and could 100 Thieves actually get the job done?

Obviously, Liquid is heavily favored, especially after losing to Cloud9 yesterday. They’re surely angry at themselves and are looking for redemption. They need someone to lash out on, and 100 Thieves are next in line. While Liquid might not be playing at their best right now, they’re still a world-class team and they have what it takes in order to tango at the highest of levels. They might not start off on the right foot this time around, but they need just a single small opening in order to turn things around the close out the game. And seeing how 100 Thieves is far from a solid top-tier contender, they will surely give Liquid more than just a small window of opportunity. They’re just not as clean as they have to be in order to compete at this level, so sooner or later they’re bound to make a crucial mistake and subsequently lose the game.

That said, it’s going to be an exciting skirmish because it will tell us just how much 100 Thieves improved, and where they rank in the grand scheme of things.

Winner: Team Liquid, 1.18 (odds @ Betway)

OpTic Gaming vs. FlyQuest — And finally, we have OpTic Gaming fighting against FlyQuest to close out the day. This is a strange match-up, that’s for sure. On one hand, it is a fight between two teams we’re perfectly accustomed to. But on the other, we’re also witnessing brand-new narratives surrounding them this time around. OpTic Gaming have quickly solidified their spot as a playoff contender just mere weeks into the Summer Split, whereas FlyQuest literally went from that position to their current one: a struggling bottom-tier dweller. A complete, 180 degree change for both rosters, and both of them were unexpected, to say the least.

FlyQuest looked so darn good back in Spring. They were the fourth best team in the League, and that spot in the rankings wasn’t granted to them: they fought for it and won more often than not. They had very clear strengths and they knew what they were doing. But the meta shifted, and their chances of attaining success depleted decreased considerably. The things they were once good at were no longer viable, and they were unprepared for such a change in playstyle. Needless to say, they looked abysmal over the last couple of weeks, and are now ranked near the very bottom the region.

That said, they did recently step up. They’re still pretty mediocre (to say the least), but at least they’re looking better as time goes on. They’re entering this match with a solid win over Echo Fox, but the fact that they won isn’t that surprising. Rather, the fashion in which it occurred was. For the first time in a long while they looked like they knew what they were doing, and that was a refreshing sight. A strong region, a region that is filled with many talented and diverse challengers will improve everyone involved.

OpTic Gaming, on the other hand, is still hard to read, but they’re darn good when they’re on the same page and when they get rolling.

In the end, we simply have to side with OpTic Gaming. They might not be the perfect team, they might not challenge for the LCS throne, but they’re aware of their potential and they’re playing to their strengths. They won’t blow your mind nor will they outclass any top-tier LCS titan, but they’re a solid, well-rounded team that’s capable of throwing down in any stage of the game. And that’s highly commendable, to say the least. They might get pushed to their limit this time around, but they’re still predicted to win and with good reason. With Meteos, Crown and Arrow as their key three-man core, they’re more than capable of trading heavy blows with the best the LCS has to offer.

Winner: OpTic Gaming, 1.45 (odds @ Betway)