Phoenix1 and Team SoloMid triumph in the League of Legends spring playoffs

Cloud9, Team SoloMid, FlyQuest, and Phoenix1 all flew out to Vancouver, Canada to fight for glory in the final stages of the League of Legends playoffs. Each team had ups and downs throughout the spring split, and despite the perception that spring is just a warmup for the summer split, there was still a lot on the line.

Cloud9 and TSM were fighting for the championship, and the honor that comes with it: both teams have been to the finals in the past multiple times, and have faced off against each other six times now. Both teams have been the best in North America at one point in their career, and both teams badly wanted that title back. Beyond the bragging rights and validation, the winner of the spring split also earns the right to represent North America on the international stage in Brazil. Meanwhile, FlyQuest and Phoenix1 are both young organizations who had faced struggles throughout the split. Earning third scores the winner a generous amount of championship points, which can take a team to Worlds. The dust has cleared, the winners have been crowned, and we’ve learned some important lessons from the final days of 2017’s spring split. 

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

Third place slugfest

The third place match only drew about five thousand fans to the Pacific Coliseum: large sections of seats were empty. Neither FlyQuest nor Phoenix1 have the appeal and draw of Team SoloMid and Cloud9. They’re both young organizations. Phoenix1 entered the LCS in the summer of 2016, and went through an incredibly rough first split where they lost their first nine games. Like their namesake, they rose from the ashes and fought out a won against the (at the time) undefeated Team SoloMid. That performance, led by their jungler Inori, was what turned Phoenix1 from a joke into an actual team that demanded respect. They escaped relegations, rebuilt their roster, and headed into spring ready to fight for a top slot.

Unfortunately, they ran into problems along the way. There were conflicts within the organization, and their support Adrian left. Jungler Inori, the face of the organization, was replaced with Cloud9 legend Meteos. It wasn’t until the very end of the split that the roster stabilized, with support Shady coming in on Week 9, just before playoffs. Inori returned to the roster, but spoke candidly about how it was tough to fill the shoes of Meteos. Even in Vancouver, when Meteos wasn’t in the city, the crowd chanted his name.

Anyone who didn’t show up was the poorer for it. Phoenix1 came roaring out of the gate against FlyQuest, taking a decisive game one. FlyQuest were a team that nearly didn’t make playoffs; they were one loss away from being seventh place, and Immortals would have taken their place. Balls, Hai, and LemonNation were part of the old Cloud9, and fans have often criticized them, suggesting that they can’t keep up with the new dynamos. This match was crucial to FlyQuest. They had the chance to prove that they were still contenders, that they weren’t holding new jungler and ADC Moon and Altec back...

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

Then, of course, there’s the business side of things. FlyQuest needs sponsors, they need to grow roots as an organization. While they have an affluent owner, that doesn’t mean much in terms of actually remaining sustainable in today’s LCS ecosystem. A third place finish in their first split, without that infrastructure, would have made a statement.

FlyQuest battled back in games 2 and 3, playing a slow and confident game. Like a glacier, they advanced forward, pushing Phoenix1 back and choking out their advances on the map. The teams traded back Kog’Maw and Ivern as priority picks, testing each others weaknesses in picks and bans.

Just when Phoenix1 looked shattered, they rallied. Inori, draped in the flag of his home province, pulled off a dominant 6-2-7 performance on Elise. Phoenix1 eventually took the series, and the third place finish. From a bottom of the barrel team to making third in a turbulent split, Phoenix1 proved that they are an org that has what it takes to overcome adversity and stick around in the LCS. 

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

Winner takes all

The arena was packed for Team SoloMid up against Cloud9, but the first two games were... disappointing. Cloud9 rolled over and showed their belly for the first two games. They were both over in fifty minutes, and everyone was puzzled. What happened to the Cloud9 of the spring split? Where had they gone? 

Maybe they were trying to intentionally trigger that reverse sweep magic, or maybe they just needed a couple of games to rally, because Cloud9 came back alive in game 3. Game 3 lasted as long as the first two games combined, coming in at just over forty seven minutes. Cloud9, led by Contractz and Sneaky, scraped out a win. Rolling off that momentum, they took TSM out in a clean game 4.

The stadium came alive. This was the series we had all been hoping to see. Game five was a forty two minute, edge of your seat match that swung back and forth between Cloud 9 and TSM, with both teams coming out ahead before falling behind due to a lucky teamfight or clutch maneuver. Finally, TSM made the dangerous choice to contest an Elder Dragon, Cloud9 engaged, and TSM turned and mopped them up.

Team SoloMid took the entire split, and are now heading to MSI to represent North America. They’ll have to prepare to face a higher tier of competition... including SKT T1, who are looking their strongest yet after taking the LCK championship from KT in a 3-0 match. While they may struggle internationally, at least they gave us in North America one hell of a show before heading off to Brazil. After Worlds, some NA fans questioned whether they’d be tuning in and getting involved in the LCS once again. The answer seems to be yes—as long as the games are this entertaining.