Returning for 2021 with a format overhaul, North America’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) kicks off for a brand new season
Returning for 2021 with a format overhaul, North America’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) kicks off for a brand new season. Having seen a number of legendary players retiring over the off-season, the new-look league is now up for grabs with a host of younger talent looking to stake their claim as the region’s new franchise stars.
A key change to the LCS’ format for this season is the removal of separated Spring and Summer splits. Cloud9’s Spring title last time around was followed by a Summer split where they did not manage to qualify for the World Championship, exemplifying the negative connotations of Spring having little to no impact on the season as a whole.
As a result, the LCS will now employ a single season-long split with a greater number of matches determining the overall champion.
To begin with, and to still award some early season silverware, teams will compete in the LCS Lock-In. This is a short, two-week tournament that proves early-season strength in a similar way to Korea’s KeSPA Cup.
The Lock In starts with a group stage in which the teams have been split in half to play out two single round-robin, best-of-one mini-leagues. The groups are split as follows, with the top four from each progressing to the knockouts:
The knockouts then start with a quarter-final that will see all both 1st seeds go against 4th seed sides while 2nd seeds face 3rd seeds, after which the semi-final and grand final series are fought out. All quarter-final ties will be contested through best-of-threes, while the remaining knockout games will be best-of-fives with the victorious team taking home the “winner-takes-all” $150k prize.
After the completion of the LCS Lock In, the Spring split will get underway beginning Friday 5th February. Here, the ten sides will compete in a normal, double round-robin regular season. Rather than progressing to the playoffs as in previous splits, the top six sides from Spring instead move on to the Mid-Season Showdown to determine the region’s Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) participant.
As with many of the game’s top regions, the LCS is continuing with a double-elimination knockout bracket, in this case seeing the top four sides enter in the upper bracket. The winners move on to face each other in round two, with the victor moving on to the grand final.
The 5th and 6th seeds begin life in the lower bracket; the former will play the 1st vs 4th loser and the latter will go up against the 2nd vs 3rd loser. Those that progress will face each other, with the winner then needing to beat the remaining upper bracket dropout for their place in the final.
When the Summer split kicks off in June, Spring regular season standings will carry over to continue the single, season-long table.
An overhaul of rosters, in which a number of high profile stars retired, will see a new look LCS (not only in terms of branding) where fresh faces will aim to become the region’s latest legends.
The two most successful players in the league’s history, Bjergsen and Doublelift, have both made the decision to quit their playing days and the Dane will instead move into a head coach role with his TSM side.
Other big names that won’t be making an appearance this split include Meteos, Froggen, Zeyzel, Hauntzer and Xmithie. Instead, teams have opted to put their faith in fresher, higher-ceiling rookie players and recent changes to the Oceania import rules have made it easier to do so than ever.
Looking the strongest from the changes are undoubtedly Cloud9 and Team Liquid. The latter made a big-money move to bring former Origen top laner Alphari to the league, leaving many Europeans fans reeling at the loss of one of their best players in that role. Joining him is FlyQuest jungler Santorin, whose consistent improvement in recent years has finally been rewarded with a move back on to a title contender for the first time since his early days on TSM.
Making an even larger player investment was Cloud9 with the stunning pickup of G2 legend Perkz. The Croatian has an astonishing eight LEC titles to his name as well as being one of the only Western players with international silverware after G2’s MSI victory in 2019. His decision to move back to the mid lane led to his departure from the European organisation as Caps had this role firmly under his control, and with G2 not allowing him to join arch-rivals Fnatic Perkz made the bold choice to move across the pond.
With a reported $5m buyout and $6.75m three-year contract, the overall figure of $11.75m sees Cloud9 break the bank (and then some) to secure the services of one of the best players that Western League of Legends has ever seen.
Also breaking the bank was TSM, with Bjergsen’s mid lane spot taken up by the experienced PowerOfEvil while also securing expensive signings in the form of top laner Huni and Worlds finalist support SwordArt. The latter saw negotiations drawn out due to contractual VISA issues, eventually leading to TSM paying over the odds for fear of being left with a sub-par, last-minute replacement.
With the pickup of Perkz in the mid lane, it’ll be hard to look past Cloud9 for favourites even despite having less experienced, less proven players in other roles. His time on G2 showed not only his world-class talent but also the ability to take games by the scruff of their neck and pull out series-winning plays when it mattered most.
Their biggest competition is likely to come in the shape of Team Liquid, whose roster has upgraded with the introductions of Alphari and Santorin (replacing the outgoing Impact and Broxah) and the four-time LCS champions will be hoping that the moves could see them crowned as North America’s winners for the fifth time.
Despite Team Liquid’s competition, the Perkz-factor will always be a vital component in title-deciding series and I will be surprised to see anything other than him lifting the LCS trophy later in the season.