This weekend's LCS Promotion Series will make or break some League of Legend teams.
While the rest of the eSports calendar is in winter hibernation, League of Legends is having one of its most important weekends of the 2014 Preseason. The headline event is the Battle of the Atlantic, where the top five teams from the European and American divisions will play a series of best-of-three matches for fun and prize money.
But the more important matches are the promotion series between the teams with the worst records in the 2013 summer split. This weekend, big names like Ninjas in Pyjamas, SK Gaming, and MeetYourMakers find themselves in the hot seat this weekend, with only a best-of-five between them and a ticket out of the LCS. The winners of these matches compete in the LCS spring split in 2014, while the losers go down to Challenger League.
The team that's probably in the most trouble right now is MeetYourMakers. Following a strong start in the LCS summer split this past season, they plummeted to the bottom of the standings and now confront a reborn Copenhagen Wolves squad that's been dominant in every test since the summer. The Wolves had the benefit of playing with Martin "Rekkles" Larsson during much of that time, who was forced to wait a year to rejoin his Fnatic squad in order to meet the age requirements for LCS participation. They also lost their jungler, Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema, who departed the team to join the newly-formed Alliance squad that replaces the former Evil Geniuses team.
But even without one of the most talented AD carries in the world and their former jungler, the Copenhagen Wolves ripped through the challenger stage of the promotion tournament, going undefeated in all five of their games. They're also coming off a 2-0 victory over Ninjas in Pyjamas at IEM Cologne, proving they are the equal of one of the more proven teams in the LCS. This does not spell anything good for Meet Your Makers, whose only advantage heading into this game is a (losing) roster that's been stable for quite some time. Now they need to show they've learned how to win games. They face their reckoning tomorrow afternoon at Noon PST.
The Threat of Relegation
Relegation is a scary concept not just because it takes teams out of LCS and away from the guaranteed income, sponsorship opportunities, and publicity the accompany it, but because it poses an existential threat to teams themselves. Roster stability is not easy even for teams competing at the highest level in eSports, but it's proved very difficult for teams just a rung down in the challenger league. The past couple weeks included the compLexity squad imploding on the eve of the challenger stage, all thanks to growing friction in the team.
As Abe "MeyeA" Nguyen explained afterwards on Reddit, "The tension in our team was very high, especially between Laute[mortis, Tyler Nicholls] and Pr0lly [Neil Hammad]. The only thing stifling the tension was our success. No one wanted to mess with a good thing. Outside of the game, I and my teammates were pretty happy, too. We enjoyed each other's company and were winners, the tension between us wasn't important."
When the success goes away and the grind through to the next promotion opportunity begins, those personality conflicts can destroy a team. CompLexity, after all, went 1-4 in the challenger stage of this promotion tournament, and this roster may be finished as a serious League contender.
Another major threat is the possibility of poaching. Every pro League team has that one player or two, the one that gives them the crucial edge in close games. In the LCS, you can build a team around that player, but Challenger-level teams have to worry a lot more about seeing that player walk out the door. Saturday's challenger matchup, for instance, features SK Gaming vs. Supa Hot Crew as they compete for another LCS spot. Problem is, Supa Hot recently lost their top laner and jungler to none other than SK Gaming. In essence, SK upgraded their team and gutted their adversaries in one roster switch.
Admittedly, Supa Hot still crushed people following that change, and performed pretty well in the challenger stage of this tournament. But it illustrates the added difficulty of keeping a team going when playing in what amounts to the LCS "farm system.” SK and Supa Hot play at Noon PST on Saturday.
That's followed by perhaps the biggest curiosity match of the LCS preseason: Dignitas vs. Alliance. Alliance are the Evil Geniuses partnered-team (or something, the corporate structure of Evil Geniuses / Alliance got a lot more confusing this week and are really a topic for another day) that have replaced the former EG squad and broken up one of the most stable and recognizable rosters in eSports. Now Mike "Wickd" Peterson and Henrik "Froggen" Hansen have stayed in Europe with Alliance, while their former teammates Stephen "Snoopeh" Ellis, Peter "Yellowpete" Wüppen, and Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels have moved to North America.
All of which makes Alliance something of an unknown quantity in League. On the heels of such a drastic change, they'll have a lot to prove, and it will be interesting to see how Wickd and Froggen perform after saying goodbye to teammates they've played with for years. They'll be put to their first test on Saturday afternoon, at 9 A.M. PST.
To see the full schedule of this weekend's events, head to lolesports.
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