The LCS Top Four And How They Got There
A historic offseason kicked off the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) season, leaving no team devoid of a roster change. Some teams like Cloud9 and Team Liquid made minor changes, while 100 Thieves and Team SoloMid made roster overhauls, keeping only one player. These changes helped propel these four teams into the upper half of the standings by the end of spring.
Going into the 2021 season, analysts, pundits, and fans had their fair share of hardships when it came to placing teams in their power rankings. But one thing that most had in common was the top four. This top four consisted of a first-place battle between Cloud9 and Team Liquid, as they had the most talent on paper, with a battle for third and fourth between 100 Thieves and Team SoloMid - both weren’t clear cut decisions.
The first half of the season saw Team Liquid take the first-ever LCS Lock In championship, later picking its North American representative at the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) in the form of Cloud9. Cloud9 took the honours to represent its home region after they exacted revenge from Lock In onto Team Liquid by defeating them 3-2 in the finals of the first-ever Mid Season Showdown (MSS). Team SoloMid and 100 Thieves finished at third and fourth place, respectively.
Before spring had sprung
Sometimes a small change is all that’s needed
Before spring started, each team made significant changes to their rosters. Cloud9 were one of the first to start it off by letting go of prized North American top laner and homegrown talent Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, and promoting Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami from their Academy team.
Although a player from Academy, this was a player that had won Academy multiple times and even had his own success over at the Oceanic Pro League (OPL). This roster move left many beside themselves, but Cloud9 weren’t done quite yet. Cloud9 managed to top what many thought was a surprising move in the form of bringing in a superstar player from the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) - Luka “Perkz” Perkovic.
Like Cloud9, Team Liquid made two roster modifications of their own. While Cloud9 made surprising decisions that at the time left many to wonder about Fudge’s play versus an LCS level field, Team Liquid made clear cut upgrades. After seasons and splits on the team, Team Liquid decided to move on from top laner Jeong “Impact” Eon-yeong, bringing in Barney “Alphari” Morris from the LEC.
Over at the LEC, Alphari had incredible numbers but was relegated to weaker teams, stunting his growth and performance. They also replaced jungler, Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen with Lucas “Santorin” Larsen after a mediocre season. Although in the LCS for a number of years, Santorin at the time was at his peak professionally helping his former team, FlyQuest, reach the LCS finals two splits in a row in 2020.
But then again, why not have big changes instead?
In the wake of legendary North American players and their biggest stars, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng retiring, and an abysmal performance at the 2020 Worlds, Team SoloMid decided for a near-complete overhaul. This almost-overhaul had the team keep their best performing player at last year’s Worlds, jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu, while bringing in unexpected faces.
Top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon was one of the first to join the team, alongside Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, who came in to fill in Bjergsen’s shoes. Team SoloMid coupled these two players with support, Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh fresh off a Worlds finals run with Suning, and paired him up with AD Carry, Lawrence “Lost” Sze Yuy Hui from their Academy roster.
Similar to Team SoloMid, 100 Thieves did the same; but instead of handpicking players from different teams or parts of the offseason, they nabbed four players from one of Golden Guardians’ best rosters yet. They kept their ever so stable rock of a top laner, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, and added parts around him.
The team grabbed the consensus best bottom lane towards the latter half of the Summer Split — mainly playoffs — in the form of AD Carry, Victor “FBI” Huang and support, Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun, while also bringing in the synergised mid and jungle duo of Tanner “Damonte” Damonte and Can “Closer” Celik.
Each team made changes for the better; they just had to put their rosters to the test.
Cloud9, Team Liquid, Team SoloMid, and 100 Thieves all started the first round-robin of the Lock In tournament at 2-1. 100 Thieves had the most cohesiveness out of the four teams; not a surprise seeing the literal plug and play of four of the roster’s members. They also had wins over Team Liquid and Team SoloMid. Team Liquid were relegated to playing with substitute jungler Jonathan “Armao” Armao due to Santorin having COVID-related visa issues but still looked strong.
Cloud9 had both of their wins come from poor-performing Dignitas and Immortals teams. Both of their new players, Fudge and Perkz, couldn’t quite back up their trash talk, leaving Team SoloMid looking like the worst out of the four. Although a number of talented players on their roster, they still struggled. Their two wincing wins were over a last-place Counter Logic Gaming — who were eliminated from playoffs early — and a Golden Guardians team that was full of collegiate and Academy players.
Once in the second round-robin of the tournament, things began to shape up as each team had more games under their belt. 100 Thieves still continued to demonstrate team cohesion and seemingly found their stride earlier than the other teams. Team Liquid, on the other hand, although a bit rough around the edges, pushed themselves forward with the return of Santorin. Cloud9 and Team SoloMid mostly remained the same.
This puts them at playoffs. Playoffs saw 100 Thieves handily take care of Immortals 2-0 in the quarterfinals, while Team Liquid did the same versus FlyQuest. Cloud9 took out one of the teams in the four-team race after a 2-1 victory over Team SoloMid. Going into the semifinals, Team Liquid once again handled their opponent in yet another sweep — dominating an Evil Geniuses team that were taking names early on — while Cloud9 reverse swept 100 Thieves. This helped plant the seed for the storyline for the battle of first place.
Cloud9 started off the tournament rough but with each subsequent game got better and better. Compared with a Team Liquid that were dominating everyone on sight, it was bound to be a good final. Team Liquid took the first two games of the finals in quick succession, but Cloud9 rebutted as quickly in games three and four. The finals ended with Team Liquid stomping out Cloud9 in the fifth and final game, thwarting their reverse sweep — this would’ve been Cloud9 second reverse sweep of the playoffs.
Spring’s regular season
The first half of the regular season had Cloud9, and 100 Thieves begin the first week with a 3-0 record. Cloud9 took full advantage of the 17 games they played in the Lock In tournament and looked levels ahead of the competition. 100 Thieves, on the other hand, were shaky. Although tied with Cloud9 for first place, this team began to shy away from what was making it strong in the Lock In. Going from strong 4-man bottom lane dives to botched 3-man dives, 100 Thieves’ lack of identity and decisiveness began to show early on.
Right behind Cloud9 and 100 Thieves were Team Liquid. Team Liquid suffered a surprising loss to Immortals after a counterpick versus Alphari took over the game. This was an Alphari that was on his way to being the best top laner in the league and finished as runner up in the MVP votes behind Robert “Blaber” Huang.
This left Team SoloMid as the odd man out in the first week. If it wasn’t for the fact that Counter Logic Gaming began their trend of throwing early game leads, they would’ve finished winless after Week 1.
As time went on and the regular season moved on, one thing remained the same while everything around it changed. Cloud9 kept being the clear cut best team in the league while the others were playing catchup. 100 Thieves were up and down, having impressive performances one day but having terrible performances in the other. This culminated with a substitution of mid laner, Damonte, in which they brought in Tommy “Ryoma” Le to change things up. Unexpectedly Team Liquid took a nosedive in the standings, stagnating in the middle for the majority of the season while Team SoloMid’s five players finally clicked.
This culminated the regular season with Cloud9 keeping first place from start to finish, Team SoloMid making a miracle jump from the bottom to second place — steadily improving from game to game. Team Liquid finding more of a footing while also taking games off of Cloud9 and 100 Thieves barely hanging on at fourth.
The end of spring
The end of spring had these four teams face each other in Round 1 of the Winner’s Bracket of the MSS tournament — Cloud9 versus 100 Thieves and Team Liquid versus Team SoloMid. Cloud9 swept 100 Thieves while Team Liquid looked like the Team Liquid from Lock after they defeated Team SoloMid 3-1. This left both 100 Thieves and Team SoloMid to fend for themselves in the lower bracket in which they both took care of business versus Dignitas and Evil Geniuses, respectively.
Once in Round 2 of the Winner’s Bracket, many expected yet another classic between Team Liquid and Cloud9, but far from it occurred. Team Liquid went under expectations, and Cloud9 took advantage — a 3-1 win for the team who was in first all season long. Down in Round 2 of Losers’ Team SoloMid did the same to 100 Thieves, setting up a Team Liquid versus Team SoloMid Losers’ finals.
Although Team Liquid suffered a massive loss to Cloud9 — the first one of the season — they were looking to correct that. All the stones were in place for Team Liquid to make use of the double-elimination bracket, but one small hiccup threw a wrench into their gears. They once again had to call upon the services of substitute jungler, Armao, as Santorin had to sit out all of the finals weekend due to migraines. This still didn’t matter, though, as even with a substitute, Team Liquid took a convincing 3-1 victory over Team SoloMid.
This set up a fifth Team Liquid versus Cloud9 meeting in the season and their second one in a finals setting. Although Team Liquid had a substitute jungler, these finals were still hard to predict as many felt like Team Liquid underperformed. That uncertainty proved to be true as Team Liquid pushed Cloud9 to their limits, putting themselves one game away from claiming the MSS trophy two times. Cloud9 took a highly contested game four, later making a mockery of their opponents in game five after an unsuspected start to the game, making Cloud9 the first-ever MSS winners.
With half of the season done and dusted these four teams have fulfilled their end of the top four bargain thus far. So far, Cloud9 and Team Liquid look a level above the rest of the competition, with 100 Thieves and Team SoloMid a few steps behind.
Images via Riot Games