LJL End of Split Round-Up and Playoffs Primer | All You Need to Know Before Round 1 Begins Tomorrow!
A re-upload of an article I wrote rounding up the LJL 2020 Spring Split in preparation for the 2020 Spring Split playoffs. The original article can be found here.
Includes some minor spelling and formatting edits.
Hey everyone, Initialise here to bring you up-to-date with the LJL - and just in time for the first round of playoffs that will be beginning tomorrow!
As usual, some context:
The LJL has 8 teams in its league, is franchised, and those teams play each other in a double best-of-1 round robin - not a triple round robin as in previous splits. That meant seven weeks of play.
The LJL generally has 8 matches on a game day, which meant broadcasts could be upwards of 9 hours with pre and post-game content. In practice that worked out with teams being split into two brackets on a game day, then playing two other teams within their bracket on that day. i.e. teams played two games v. two different teams on a game day. (Towards the end of first round-robin the dual bracket structure became a little harder to schedule, as teams started having to clean up their remaining matches and begin the rematches of the second round-robin... but ah well).
It got even more intense on the last two weeks of play - because they happened one day apart, and four playoff spots were still on the line. High-tension doesn't quite cover it.
TL;DR: 8 teams, 7 weeks, 2 matches per team per game day - with Week 6 and 7 happening on consecutive days!
Now, without further ado...
The End of Split Standings | Team Breakdowns
1st: DetonatioN FocusMe (DFM) Record: 12 - 2
They came into the split damn hot, and proceeded to burn the rest of the league down to the ground. At one point we they were a serious contender for an undefeated split, having gone 9 - 0 in dominant fashion, only to finally drop a game to Sengoku Gaming on the back of a stellar early game from the Blank Knight of SKT fame (feat. a Nocturne mid - something that has becoming alarmingly meta in the LJL...). The only other game DFM lost was a slightly unusual game versus V3, where Yutapon and Gaeng changed rolls to play Senna + AP Nautilus bot; a game in which over a kill a minute was traded back and forth in a 45~ minute bloodbath.
But don't be deceived, DFM come into playoffs as defending champions and all-round titans of the LJL, known for clean, suffocating play as they look down in contempt at the rest of the league - and it's the rest of the league's job to prove they are worthy to scale Mount Olympus and pray they've brought the Lance of Longinus to go about some deicide. This is a team of veteran superstars who can win through every lane, have an ice-cold grip on their win conditions and will drag you out across the map with the best lane and wave management in the LJL, all while forcing you to respect ban Heimerdinger, Ziggs and Karma. It only gets more intimidating when you factor in this split's Head Coach acquisition of OnAir. And if that name doesn't ring any bells let me elucidate you: this is the former coach of Azubu Frost and Blaze, CJ Entus, Afreeca Freecs, ROX Tigers, Hanwha Life and now DFM.
Now if only Ceros would learn LeBlanc and Zoe...
Player to Watch: Evi A veritable legend of the top-lane, and unmatched in the role in the LJL. You may remember him solo-killing Vizicsaci at last year's Worlds play-ins. The things this man can do on a Sett at level 1 are traumatic enough to give the broadcast a NSFW rating.
2nd: Sengoku Gaming (SG) Record: 9 - 5
At Week 3, you could have been forgiven for doubting SG's chances at playoffs, let alone a second place regular season finish. Even in Week 4, their 2 - 0 record that game day was overshadowed by how shaky those victories were, as much a testament to other teams throwing as it was heroic efforts from ace bot-laner Yutorimoyashi to drag Sengoku over the finish line. But ugly victories are victories still, and those wins built the foundation of a commanding end-of split performance, going 5 - 1 in the last 3 weeks. Where before it had been Yutorimoyashi and a somewhat inconsistent Pirean trying to carry to the corpse of their team-play through some interminable late-games, SG have really come together in the final weeks - just in time for playoffs.
And one name is central to their improvement: Blank. Where SG's early games had seemed a little formless, suddenly they had purpose and threat in the first 10 minutes of the game, built on the back of Blank's impressive gank-pathing and early reads on the opposing jungler (something he was known for when he was at his best on T1 née SKT). And with the jungler playing with confidence and purpose, Enty and apaMEN have followed suit, the latter returning to his form of early weeks and his signature side-lane pressure style. Now with a team behind them, Pirean and Yutorimoyashi have been unlocked to carry even harder, and although Sengoku Gaming are still laboured in closing games out, their style crosses all the T's and dots all the I's leaving few options for teams to get back into the game come late. Ask DFM: they found out exactly how hard it is when SG shut down their hopes of an undefeated split. Sengoku are feeling confident, and they've already already made the gods of DFM bleed once - they just have to hope their mercurial jungler remains in his visage as the Blank Knight and doesn't regress back to Agent 612...
Player to Watch: Yutorimoyashi Another legend of the LJL and the best performing bot-laner in the league. His Aphelios, Miss Fortune, Senna and Ezreal have all been lethal, and his K/D/A across the last three weeks was a monumental 24.0. He was their bastion when they were playing poorly, and he's only made more dangerous with SG finding synergy.
3rd: V3 Esports (V3) Record: 8 - 6
Live by the sword, die by the sword. V3's sword, I name thee Bugi, our Regular Season MVP over at the LJL Officially Unofficial. V3 have lived and breathed their jungler for practically the whole split, and when they have found their success it's largely been with the former Flash Wolf leading the charge to find early leads and tower dives. After a mid-split period of experimentation with jungle picks like Trundle and Skarner to paltry results, V3 committed to riding the early game hard, and are the LJL's premier abuser of Nocturne mid, usually paired up with an Ekko or an Elise to throw everything and the kitchen sink into bot lane dives.
While the heart, soul and nuclear warhead of the team is Bugi, it would be remiss to dismiss the rest of the squad. We had a lot of praise for Paz coming into the split (particularly myself), and when his first half of the split was quiet, we had questions about his level of play and his propensity to default to Grasp Aatrox. But whatever slump he seemed to be in has passed in recent weeks, matching up against his old nemesis of Evi and handing DFM their second loss of the split in Week 7 by going 10/4/12 Aatrox (with conqueror this time). Similarly, rookie bot-laner Archer and support Raina have been a point of power for the team, with Raina in particular having some exceptionally heads up plays on Thresh and Tahm Kench to facilitate his laning partner and the aggression of his jungler. The team aren't without their issues though: shut Bugi down and the team tends to follow suit, and mid-laner Ace's impact on picks outside of his LeBlanc, Syndra and the Nocturne is often minimal. If this team can leverage their early strengths though, expect a deep playoff run from this team.
Player to Watch: Bugi It comes as no surprise that V3's player to watch is the LJL Officially Unofficial's Regular Season MVP. Bugi has struck terror into the LJL with his 21.0 K/D/A Ekko, alongside his mechanically elegant Elise and Lee Sin. His early pathing and tower dives are a joy to watch, and he plays team-fights to the edge to maintain his advantages (who knew team-fight Elise was a thing?). V3 may rely on him, but this man only appears to thrive under the pressure.
4th: Rascal Jester (RJ) Record: 7 - 7
The Jesters are an odd team to parse. As one of the most experienced rosters in the LJL, they manage to combine creativity with serious in-game resilience to pull games out of the hat. At their best, RJ's powerhouse bot-lane duo of Art and ViviD fire on all cylinders while Hachamecha reads the opposing jungler like he's advertising on the underground - old news and obvious to anyone who cares to look. Pair that with intelligent flanks from Cogcog and clutch play-making from Ninja, and the Jester's are a legitimate threat. At their worst? Ninja's coinflip lands the wrong-side up, seeing plays where none are to be made, while their topside is practically invisible and Art is left to wonder why ViviD can't time Devour correctly. Even then, the Jesters have an uncanny ability to find victories in the clutch. You only have to look to ViviD's game winning silence vs CGA to see that.
Look to Hachamecha to continue his impressive counter-ganking performances from Week 7 and Cogcog to continue to step up if RJ are to succeed - and make no mistake, they can. There's more than enough talent on this roster (and clever drafts) to deserve their 4th place finish, but if they want to challenge the higher echelons their consistency is going to need to improve.
Player to Watch: Art Another stalwart veteran of the LJL, and the most consistent member of Rascal Jester. His pocket pick of Ashe and willingness to take a game in hand and run with it are major assets for the team. Keep an eye on this man's flash, because you can nearly guarantee he'll flash in to turn around a game if he has to.
5th: AXIZ (AXZ) Record: 6 - 8
It does not get more Shōnen than this: the anime redemption arc is complete - AXIZ are in playoffs. From dead last 2 splits running, to a 0 - 4 start to the 2020 season, things looked dire for AXZ and there was scant sign of hope. For myself and other pundits, we had written this squad off. We were wrong.
Even at the start of the split, there was a lot of good things to be said about AXZ' drafts: creativity abounded, and some curve-balls like Tristana/Karthus and Jinx/Lissandra raised eyebrows, even if the victories still went begging. Then they started winning. Suddenly, there was no free win in the LJL, and the jungler and support of AXZ were making things happen - the fresh blood of Hoglet and Corporal looked sharp and were finding advantages early, and when solo-lane veterans of AXZ Gariaru and Uinyan built up synergy with their new firebrands, AXZ began to look like a genuinely threatening team.
Now, AXIZ have the dual strengths of creative drafts and proactive play-making and problem solving from across the roster. Strong end of split performances from the solo lanes have given AXIZ a lot of draft versatility, but there are still concerns about Hide's level of play in bot (though his last Miss Fortune game was a strong showing). Similarly, AXZ thrive when they can make the play - or at least have a counter prepared - but can crumble when teams catch them out or move too fast for them to react, such as in their Week 7 game versus DFM, which was a sub 23 minute slaughter.
Whatever else may happen AXIZ have done the unthinkable and made playoffs; for myself and the fresh horde of Narwhals fans cannot help but root for their continued success. Cinderella has made it to the ball, she's just got to hope the clocks don't chime midnight quite yet.
Player to Watch: Corporal The OCE import came into the roster late after a pretty egregious scandal by AXIZ's originally contracted support, but has been one of their strongest and best performing players across the entire split. Look to his Thresh, Nautilus and Yuumi for play-making, fog-of-war abuse and clutch escapes.
6th: Crest Gaming Act (CGA) Record: 5 - 9
Have you heard of CGA's lord and saviour, Aria? You should. This man is, to put it bluntly, a beast. Hell, he has a whole church forming around him. Tongue in cheek insincerity and minor blasphemy aside, there is an element of truth to the statement - Aria has hard carried this team kicking and screaming into a playoff berth, fighting off hell, high water and a tiebreaker match. Ceros and Ramune can eat their hearts out, Aria is the undisputed best performing mid-laner in the league right now.
Despite Aria's best efforts, it has not been any easy road to clinch the last space in playoffs, with numerous games ending in heartache (Week 6 in particular saw Aria go 7/3/5 on Ekko vs DFM and 9/1/5 vs RJ and still not come out on top). While Nap has been consistent in the top lane, he has largely not taken on a true carry role, and Gango while talented, has often tried too hard to carry games to his own detriment... and in part due to his support Grendel's continued struggles. While K/D/A is hardly a be-all and end-all of stats, a K/D/A of 1.95 is a pretty stark statement - especially when Gango was regularly placed on Kallista duty to attempt to ensure his safety. Jungler Yoshi has also been a point of concern over the split, with low impact early games and often finding himself caught out by his opposing number. Fortunately for CGA, Yoshi has been showing marked improvement with a number of solid games in Week 6 and a great performance in their tiebreaker match vs Burning Core. Even so, there is a lot of work to be done if CGA want to vie for a deep run in playoffs - but you'd be a fool to count out any team with Aria on it
Player to Watch: Aria There are few players quite as explosive as Aria in League of Legends the world over. Period. This guy is that good. For that reason alone every team in playoffs has to be wary of CGA: sixth place they may be, but there is always that possibility that Aria 1v9 levels a series. V3 avoided picking them as their first round opponents for a reason, and that reason is Aria.
--------------------------------------- DNQ ---------------------------------------
7th: Burning Core (BC) Record: 5 - 9
Burning Core are going to go out of this split haunted by the what ifs? They were inches away from securing a number of victories off crushing early game advantages versus teams up to and including DFM, only for their arrogance and lazy engages around areas of poor vision control allowed their opponents breathing room. Once and Proud in particular were notably guilty of this, sprinting out to multi-kill leads on the likes of Lee Sin and Morgana as a jungle/support duo, only to throw it away with over-eager engages and poor itemisation.
In similar fashion, ace top-laner RayFarky's obsession with his favoured champion of Darius, lead to some very lopsided drafts against BC - even if he looked mechanically strong on the champion. In the end though, it came down to a tiebreaker match versus CGA which went away from them. The killer is they never had to be there. All they had to do was play out their advantages cleanly. In the end though, all BC have left are those what ifs.
Player of the Split: RayFarky
8th: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Gaming (SHG) Record: 4 - 10
Oh Hawks, where did it go wrong? This team just seemed to collapse mid-way through the split, going from 4 - 4 to 4 - 10. Their stratospheric fall from grace was precipitated by a jarring lack of synergy between the lanes and an increasingly lost Honey in the bot lane struggling to find team-fight positioning when not on the front foot. Dasher too faced a similar problem, believing he was always on the front foot, and was continuously punished for his tendency to go for the 1v1 outplay.
There were moments of brilliance: the mechanics of Ramune, Tussle and Dasher were largely not in doubt, and Pooh put out some stellar performances on Braum. But League of Legends is a team game, and teams require synergy - something SHG seemed to be sorely lacking at the end of split.
Player of the Split: Ramune
--------------------------------------------------- Upper Bracket
1st: DetonatioN FocusMe (DFM) Record: 12 - 2 2nd: Sengoku Gaming (SG) Record: 9 - 5 --------------------------------------------------- Lower Bracket 3rd: V3 Esports (V3) Record: 8 - 6 4th: Rascal Jester (RJ) Record: 7 - 7 5th: AXIZ (AXZ) Record: 6 - 8 6th: Crest Gaming Act (CGA) Record: 5 - 9 ---------------------------------------------------- DNQ 7th: Burning Core (BC) Record: 5 - 9 8th: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Gaming (SHG) Record: 4 - 10
DFM are still favourites, but SG and V3 have really come online at the right time - be afraid of Bugi and Yutorimoyashi! RJ and AXZ have ways to win, but also pretty glaring weaknesses and might struggle in later rounds. And CGA? Deservedly 6th place... but never ever count out Aria.
The Playoff Bracket
Now you've seen the teams in playoffs, time to see who they're facing off!
The LJL playoffs consist of four Bo5 rounds, with the 1st and 2nd seeds being placed into a winners/upper bracket, skipping Round 1. Seeds 3-6 have to run the gauntlet all the way to the finals if they want to win it all!
DFM and SG, as 1st and 2nd seed respectively get a bye for the first round, whereas V3, RJ, AXZ and CGA must fight it out in Round 1 to proceed to Round 2. V3 as 3rd seed got to choose between seeds 4 and 5 - in this case deciding to face AXZ (and avoid Aria).
In Round 2, DFM face off against SG in the upper bracket. The winner gets to skip Round 3 and head straight to the finals, the loser drops to the lower bracket and plays in Round 3. In the lower bracket, the two victors of Round 1 face off, the winner moving forwards to Round 3.
In Round 3, the loser of the Round 2 upper bracket clashes with the winner of the Round 2 lower bracket, the winner moving forwards to - you guessed it - the finals.
And lastly, the Finals. The victor of the upper bracket has been waiting here for their opponent to come clawing their way up the lower bracket. One last Bo5 to determine who the LJL Spring Split Champions will be.
LJL Spring 2020 Playoff Bracket
Round 1 commences Saturday 21st at 4am UTC - but English coverage will begin at 10am UTC over at LJL Officially Unofficial.