It isn't a hyperbolic statement when I say the playoff matches coming up this weekend make up the greatest semifinals in the history of the North American League Championship Series, and maybe LCS as a whole. The three former champions of the league are in the top four, and the lone non-winner, Immortals, has been the rookie sensation of 2016, winning the regular-season crown last split and only dropping two matches to Team SoloMid in second place this split.
On Saturday, Cloud9 vs. Immortals. The old gods versus the new. The battle of an organization attempting to establish itself as the elite of North America against a club in Immortals that resembles C9 in its early days, when it ran roughshod over the league. It will either be the fifth time C9 graces the finals stage, or the first time the finals is decked out in the green and black colors of Immortals.
Sunday, it's the El Clásico. The grandaddy of all rivalries in North American esports. The back-to-back defending, reigning and undisputed champion of the NA LCS, Counter Logic Gaming will put its belt on the line against the team it prevailed against twice in a row in the finals to win the league. Team SoloMid comes into the series as the frontrunner in the playoffs as the first-place seed with an organization best record of 17-1. Unless the two end up playing each other at Worlds, this will be the final meeting of the year between the rivals, with the winner of the semifinal automatically qualifying for the world championships.
Four teams looking to rewrite their legacies. Two explosive days of action. Only one place they want to end up: the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Aug. 28 for the NA LCS championship finals.
What does a win this weekend mean for each team?
It means Cloud9 is great once again. C9 has been in a transition period for the past year while former captain Hai "Hai" Lam has tried to gracefully maneuver into the management side of esports, and this split could finally be the end of the rebuild. The team is working well in its new "democratic-style" of shotcalling with all five players having a hand in making crucial in-game decisions. The return of William "Meteos" Hartman has been seamless along with the addition of starting top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong. A finals appearance, which would be C9's first since spring of last year when it lost to TSM, would be a signal of the Hai era officially closing in favor of Cloud9's next chapter.
It legitimizes all the good things Immortals has done this year. Immortals won the regular season in dominating fashion last split, yet failed to make the finals following a 3-0 drumming by TSM in the semifinals. As the only team in the final four to not have a league championship, making the finals would prove that Immortals aren't just a regular-season team that can't win the big one in the playoffs. Cloud9 is a tough opponent, but like last season, Immortals come into the series as favorites in a new meta it hasn't officially played in before. Another loss in the semifinals would make us wonder if the team can't adapt in playoffs, and if Immortals have become the new Team Liquid that can't find its way to the finals.
Counter Logic Gaming
If CLG can complete the three-peat, it would be the greatest feat in the history of the North American LCS. TSM won the first NA LCS championship, but then the emergence of C9 halted its progress. C9 would take the next two titles versus TSM in the finals before TSM roared back to beat C9 in the next two finals. When TSM went for its very own three-peat in New York City last year at Madison Square Garden, CLG were able to sweep them and win its first title. Now, CLG, working on its own three-peat, is on the verge of putting together championship runs in New York City, Las Vegas and Toronto if it can get through the next two matches as victors. It hasn't been the best regular season for CLG; however, no one will remember that if it can win a third straight title.
Everything. The team with the most to lose this weekend is TSM. A win against CLG and the past year of futility against its rivals is wiped away. Worlds is guaranteed, the constant losses to CLG in the playoffs are a thing of the past, TSM is once again the crown jewel of North America as Counter Logic returns to being the understudy. A loss, on the other hand, and it would be a third straight playoff loss to CLG, and if Immortals beat Cloud9, it would mean TSM would have to win a do-or-die match in the gauntlet to make the World Championships.
Victory equals glory, validation and cleansing.
Defeat represents despair and anguish, and confirms CLG is the superior team when it matters the most.