The playoffs for both the LEC and the LCS are getting ready to begin, and the games are only getting more intense. With the top six teams in North America and Europe secured in their seeds, the new question is which of those teams will be able to perform under the unique pressure of playoffs.
In the LCS, Cloud9 secured first place in the standings with a 13-5 record. The rest of the upper bracket was inches behind; TSM and Team Liquid both ended at 12-4 and 100 Thieves snuck into the top four at 11-5. Dignitas, also 11-5, and Evil Geniuses, 10-6, rounded out the playoff bracket, though both of them will begin the postseason in the lower bracket.
Things were not as close in the LEC. G2 claimed the first seed at a 14-4 record, tied with Rogue. After that, though, the MAD Lions snuck into third at 10-8. Schalke, 9-9, round out the upper bracket while the lower bracket has Fnatic, 9-9, and SK Gaming, 8-10. The lower part of the European bracket is competitive but the higher is not. G2 and Rogue have consistently looked a step above, especially G2 who has beaten Rogue twice already this year.
The two leagues don’t have quite the same playoff structure; in the LCS, the lower bracket teams will face off against whichever teams lose their first match in the upper while in Europe, the first lower bracket match is the fifth seed versus the sixth seed. Despite this change, the process is quite similar for the upper bracket teams. For the lower, the change in Europe means a team starting in the lower bracket would have to play an extra series en route to the finals.
The question now will be which teams are able to excel despite expectations, and whether or not the favorites can keep up with the challenging expectations placed on their heads. For teams like Cloud9 and G2, there really is no way for them to exceed expectations. The best they can really do is to put on some good plays and win their splits and go to MSI and yet, even that might not be enough for G2 especially to leave a lasting impact after their repeatedly dominant splits.
It will, inevitably, always be easier for the underdogs to make an impact. Unless G2 beats Schalke in some kind of spectacular fashion no one will remember it. But if Schalke beats G2 or even gets close, that will be talked about and remembered because it will be so surprising. The same goes for if 100 Thieves manages to squash Cloud9’s ambitions of winning the Spring split for the second year in a row and brushing aside their failures from last summer.
Given that MSI is supposed to take place this year these teams are all playing for something big. G2 are the defending MSI champions, having won in 2019 in a 3-0 over Team Liquid, while Cloud9 was robbed of their chance to play at an MSI at the height of their power in 2020 because MSI didn’t happen due to the Coronavirus. Team Liquid wants a remake of their 2019 run. All the rest of them want a chance to perform internationally because that is what matters especially for the North American teams, given how poorly they’re rated against the other major regions.
A chance to play against international competition is a chance to show that your team is one of the best in the world. It’s also a chance to get experience doing that for younger players, which can be a massive boon if you later make a run to Worlds. Experience is key and the only way to get experience, be it playoff experience or international experience, is by playing the game and for the 12 teams now in two leagues playoffs, their fight to get experience has only just begun.