European LCS playoff preview: The odds are stacked

H2K Gaming is set to take on Fnatic in the EU LCS spring split quarterfinals. Provided by Riot Games

The 2017 European League of Legends Championship Series spring split's seasonal play featured dazzling mechanical displays, map micromanagement refined, Origen's fall, and ROCCAT's down-the-wire surge into the rankings. But as the season ended, six teams moved on to the next stage.

For four of them, crunch time has already come. Group A's Misfits and Fnatic have relatively paled in comparison to Team ROCCAT as of late, but their steady play during the season netted them the quarterfinal tickets behind G2 Esports. In comparison, Group B's top teams were decided long ago, with only seeding in play in the final week of play - until the Unicorns of Love claimed the top spot, sending H2k-Gaming and Splyce to the Ro6 stage.

As it stands, the bottom teams of Group A and Group B, Fnatic and Splyce, face different odds heading into the playoffs. Fnatic will face H2k this weekend in the quarterfinals, while Splyce will face Misfits.

Fnatic's odds of beating H2k-Gaming: It's complicated.

The odds seemed similar to Team ROCCAT's chances of beating G2 Esports in Week 10, but that long shot turned into reality in the most spectacular of ways. Instead of that comparison, let's look into Fnatic's highs and lows, and why H2k-Gaming are ultimately the favorites to proceed to the semifinals.

Fnatic and H2k-Gaming's macro refinement and focus are at different levels and at different stages of development. Paralleling the strengths of jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen, Fnatic has developed a strong early game, a fact that may force H2k-Gaming's hand in banning champions that enable them to set up quick skirmishes early on. Although H2k-Gaming has experience dealing with strong early-game teams (such as Vitality), they have not faced a squad that parlayed early-game advantages into mid-game assertiveness, such as Fnatic as of late (against G2 Esports and Misfits).

Despite that vulnerability, and despite a comparatively weaker early-game to that of their 2016 playoff and world championship stretch, H2k are still a strong early-game squad. Whether it is Sin "Nuclear" Jeong-hyeon and Choi "Chei" Sun-ho's ability to read through ganks, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski taking a sounder risk than the ones that netted First Blood to his opponents, Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten's adaptive playstyle, or Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu's strong individual and team play, H2k has strong components in lane. Their progression throughout the split allowed them to improve their teamfighting prowess, especially near Baron Nashor, which they control 69 percent of the time and which they systematically claim upon first spawn in 79 percent of such occurrences. However, should H2k fail to stem the tides, they would face overwhelming solo lane pressure, and would be best using a G2 Esports special: stall until Fnatic makes a mistake.

The question Fnatic needs to answer is: how can it create favorable solo lane conditions for itself in the first place, against an assertive macro squad with a good read on early-game-minded team compositions and a bot lane duo that can contain its ADC Martin "Rekkles" Larsson to a manageable extent?

If H2k has a say, the answer is: Fnatic cannot.

Splyce's odds of beating Misfits: A 50-50 coin flip, unless YamatoCannon loads the dice.

Splyce may not be as dangerous as it was in the 2016 LCS summer split, but its performance has ramped up over time as it progressively developed an acceptable early-game to pair with its understanding of mid and late-game play. However, "acceptable" might not do the trick against Misfits, who have had more convincing showings in the early game, but have taken to slowly close out games.

However, Misfits' latest form might leave much to be desired. It was not its early-game or late-game woes that had heavily influenced the outcome, but its drafts. When it drafts correctly, it displayed similar strengths to Splyce as of late. When it doesn't, the players leave themselves open to more cerebral approaches to the game and, should their opponents play their compositions perfectly, defeat.

On one hand, one might wager that Misfits have forgotten how to read the opponent's intent via team compositions, or to react accordingly for that matter. On the other, one might forget Misfits' strengths in skirmishing, spearheaded by Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon and Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun's roaming parties from the mid game onward, or Barney "Alphari" Morris's strong play - especially during teamfighs. With a resurging Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage in the mid lane, and sensational rookie AD carry Steven "Hans Sama" Liv building a level of comfort on stage, Misfits in theory can target a semifinal berth on their rookie split. Drawing Splyce as an opponent changes the equation, however.

Splyce have long since shaken off the early-split rust and shown how devastating it could be against G2 Esports's mid-game-centric drafts. The squad knows when and where to hit, with Jonas "Trashy" Andersen's timely jungling forays and strong lane-oriented drafting coming to the fore when the circumstances call for it. However, the team's strength has always been in the mid-to-late-game transition, as they take bolder, cleaner initiatives than their matchups at that time.

The matchup is an even one overall, but one that advantages Misfits early on and Splyce the longer the game goes. However, should Splyce coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi's drafts startle Misfits, the series might become a test of resolve for Alphari and company.