The NA LCS had what many would call a clown fiesta of a 2018.
Whether it's 5 teams being tied for first by week 7, or any of the other many ways this Summer Split brought confusion, it's been an interesting time. But now, with just one slot left for Worlds 2018, it's time to get serious. It's time for the gauntlet. Four teams enter, one team moves on.
So will it be Cloud9, TSM, Echo Fox, or Clutch Gaming representing North America?
The NA LCS gauntlet will start off with Echo Fox taking on Clutch Gaming. Both of these teams have plenty to prove.
For Echo Fox, this match is a way to recoup some of the effort they put into 2018. They managed a second place finish in the Spring Split, and a fourth in the Summer Split. But now, all those wins could mean absolutely nothing if they can't navigate the Regional Finals gauntlet, and it's a pretty damn perilous one. While their first opponent, Clutch Gaming, isn't very threatening in comparison, Echo Fox are going to need to pull it together if they want to live up to franchise expectations.
For Clutch Gaming, there's absolutely nothing to lose. Clutch Gaming wouldn't have made it to the gauntlet if it weren't for Team Liquid destroying Cloud9 in the Summer Finals. Now that 100 Thieves qualified based on points, and Cloud9 was forced to the gauntlet, Clutch Gaming get their moment in the sun. This team enters with little pressure given how unlikely it would be that they made it to this spot in the first place. It's likely a blessing that this team can play fluidly without as much concern as their gauntlet opponents. That doesn't mean it will be easy, though. Clutch Gaming first have to make it through a better team in Echo Fox, and the gauntlet only gets harder for them if they even manage that. For a team that managed just ninth place in the Summer Split, and barely sixth in the Spring Split, they're about as big an underdog as possible. But everyone has a punchers chance on the Rift.
The winner of Echo Fox vs Clutch Gaming will move onto the next round of the gauntlet to face NA sweethearts TSM. That's a dangerous challenge.
TSM fell just short of eliminating Cloud9 to make it to the Summer Finals. While they're largely a one-pony show with Bjergsen carrying the squad, it doesn't mean they lack other weapons. When Zven is on point, as we saw in game 2 against Cloud9 where he carried things home on Swain, he's a threat to behold. The same goes for veteran Hauntzer out of the top lane. But what this team boasts in individual potential, it lacks in consistency. As of late, TSM has been the Bjergsen show, and teams have clued in on it. They've taken to trying to stop the Danish superstar by crippling his weaker teammates around him, taking advantage especially of Mithy in the support role.
But while the blueprint to beating TSM might be well known, it's going to take a superior team to pull it off. Whether Echo Fox and especially whether Clutch Gaming can be that is doubtful.
Whoever makes it to fight TSM with Worlds on the line, we expect TSM to breeze through with flying colors on their way to match 3.
After TSM likely takes apart Echo Fox, the third match of the gauntlet will come down to absolute fireworks.
Should TSM indeed move on, we will see a rematch of the Summer Semifinals that went 3-2 Cloud9 just a week ago.
Should Echo Fox pull off the upset, this will be a very unique matchup with plenty of unproven talent.
Should Clutch Gaming pull through...well, we'll have to deal with hell freezing over first.
Whoever survives to the final match of the gauntlet, though, will have to face a very polarizing Cloud9 squad. A squad that tore through the last weeks of Summer undefeated.
Cloud9 enter the gauntlet with bitter memories at the end of a fantastic summer. While they started quite shaky, quickly finding themselves at the bottom of the pack in the split, they pulled things together to go on a remarkable undefeated run that was only cut short at the very end of the fairy tale by Team Liquid, a team Cloud9 ripped apart in the Summer Split weeks before to the tune of a 10k gold lead in just 23 minutes. Coming off a 0-3 thrashing at the hands of that very same Team Liquid squad, there are some question marks around the Cloud9 camp. For starters, who will we see on the rift when it matters most? In the mid lane, Cloud9 split time to give Jensen game 1 and 3 of the Summer Final, and Goldenglue game 2. In the jungle, Cloud9 split time to give Blaber game 1, and Svenskeren game 2 and 3. While Cloud9 are a very different team depending on which jungle and mid configuration they choose, their biggest weapon remains in the mid and bottom lanes with Jensen/Goldenglue and Sneaky. It's proved a winning formula against the entire region.
In match 1, we can't help but crush the Cinderella story of a 9th place team with a chance to represent NA at worlds. Clutch Gaming will be skewered by Echo Fox to the tune of a quick 3-0.
In match 2, we expect TSM and Echo Fox to be the teams taking the rift. And while Echo Fox will likely be coming off a dominant performance against Clutch, that's no metric for the talent in this TSM roster. When these two big NA organizations clash, we expect the juggernaut TSM to pull through with a competitive 3-1 victory.
In match 3, we expect things to come down to a Summer Semifinals rematch between TSM and Cloud9. Last time things came down to the 3-2, and we definitely don't expect that to change this time around. However, the Cloud9 we saw fail in the face of Team Liquid was not the Cloud9 we saw throughout the end of Summer. With their confidence shot, TSM have more chance than ever to topple Cloud9's own Cinderella story of making it to Worlds after being the worst team by week 4. Because of this, and it stings to type it, but I have to predict this one to go down 3-2 for TSM. Expect to see Cloud9 choke away one too many games, and a hungry TSM to pounce on every last opportunity to see Worlds 2018.
Who do you think will survive the Regional Finals gauntlet to represent North America at Worlds 2018? Let us know in the comments below!