For those of you who have yet to watch the tournament matches played during day one of the PAX Prime League of Legends tournament, be aware that spoilers are ahead. If you’d like to watch the VODs of the games, you can find them here.
In their ever continuing effort to legitimize esports, Riot Games has been hosting a tournament known as the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) since early 2013. Teams would compete to be featured in the event, where they would be paid salaries by Riot Games in order to practice and perform each week during the Spring Split. The top four teams of the Spring Split were guaranteed spots in the Summer Split, where four more teams qualified for the remaining spots. The top two teams from each region (North America, Europe, Taiwan, China, and Korea) will be meeting each other at the World Championship set to be held at the Staple’s Center in Los Angeles later this year. PAX Prime in Seattle, Washington, is the stage upon which the North American teams heading to the World Championship will be decided, and day one saw some huge upsets for longtime fans of the North American Scene, as two of the regions top teams would be eliminated.
Since its inception as a competitive esport, League of Legends has been dominated in the North American scene primarily by four teams: Team SoloMid, Counter Logic Gaming, Curse, and Team Dignitas. Some may recognize the latter two teams from their competitive rosters in other games, including Starcraft 2 and DOTA 2, and many World of Warcraft fans will likely recognize Curse as the people behind all of those fantastic add-ons. SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming have been the two teams most on top of the League of Legends scene, with a storied rivalry dating all the way back to the Season One Qualifiers in 2011. Since that time, Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming have featured in the top four of nearly every major North American League of Legends competition, even taking first and second, respectively, at the 2012 MLG Pro Circuit Spring Championship, and placing first and third, respectively, at the Season 2 North American Regional Finals. In fact, the top four teams in the Season 2 North American Regional Finals were of course: Team SoloMid, Team Dignitas, Counter Logic Gaming, and Curse. However, despite their strong performances in Season 2, two new teams, Cloud 9 and Vulcan, emerged in the qualifiers and rose to the top of the North American heap, taking first and second place, respectively, during the Summer Split. As a result, Team SoloMid would have to battle Counter Logic Gaming for a chance to advance to the semi-finals, while Team Dignitas would face Curse for the same opportunity.
The precursor to each of these matches was a semi-finals match between two teams who qualified during PAX East for a special tournament to be hosted at PAX Prime, with the grand prize being a seeded spot in the Season 4 Spring Promotion Series. The match was between New World Eclipse and Cognitive Gaming. COG took an early lead with a great gank by the COG jungler, resulting in a double kill and an early dragon. Their lead grew even larger after a gank in the mid lane which saw COG’s mid laner drop down to only 50 health. A great play top lane combined with the global Karthus ultimate resulted in a kill for COG’s top laner to give COG a 4-0 lead only 12 minutes into the game. A fight in the bot lane resulted in a turret dive granting COG even two more kills, bumping up their lead to 6-0. Another quick dragon all but sealed New World Eclipse’s fate, as a well baited baron fight gave COG a 30 minute victory. Things began looking up for NWE in game two as their jungler grabbed two quick kills early in the game. Some good plays top and mid brought NWE to a 5-1 kill advantage, but an ill-advised turret dive and some clutch plays by COG’s AD Carry brought it back to a 6-7 game. COG got the better of NWE in a few jungle skirmishes, giving them the gold advantage for the first time in the match. After managing to push their advantage into a downed inhibitor, and a brilliantly played fight resulted in a Quadra kill for COG’s mid laner, allowing COG to pickup the 2-0 victory in their set over NWE.
The next set was arguably the most anticipated match-up of the entire weekend as Team SoloMid (TSM) went up against Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). At the beginning of Season 3, most League of Legends fans would have assumed these would be the two teams representing North America in the World Championship. However, a number of roster changes and some standout performances by newcomers Vulcan and Cloud 9 resulted in these two favorites forced to face elimination. Despite a slew of action and clever plays that gave CLG a two kill lead, TSM held the gold lead with two dragon kills and a turret advantage. Despite this, an incredible fight ending in a CLG victory gave them a bonus dragon and the gold lead. Not to be outdone, however, TSM managed to outmaneuver CLG and sneak a baron kill and equalize the gold. In an otherwise completely even game, Baron Buff was the great equalizer that allowed TSM to pick up the victory after an absolutely explosive fight in the bot lane. True to form, Game 2 was just as much of a nail-biter as Game 1, with an early teamfight resulting in an Ace for TSM. Despite this, the gold disparity was still less than 1,000. A flurry of action in the midgame culminated in a huge fight during which CLG’s support player completely missed his ultimate, allowing TSM to win the fight. With an 18-12, it was only a matter of time before TSM managed to push into CLG’s base and take home the 2-0 victory in the set.
The final set of the day featured Curse taking on Team Dignitas. Despite being undefeated very early on in the LCS, Curse fell upon hard times in the Summer Split, but a roster swap brought them back just in time to avoid elimination. Dignitas took an early 2-0 lead, but got arrogant in the midlane, giving Curse’s top laner a double kill in return. The teams remained extremely close in gold until a poorly executed dragon fight gave Curse an enormous advantage in the midgame. It was all downhill from there, as Curse forced fight after fight before pushing into the Dignitas base and taking an easy Game 1. Dignitas rallied back in Game 2, grabbing some of their more traditional, well-known champions to form a solid team comp. A very close fight in the bot lane gave Dignitas an early two kill advantage, and a risky dragon kill cost Curse two more kills later on. Despite being on the back foot all game, Curse held out hope that their top lane Tryndamere would be able to steal a victory with split-pushing, but Dignitas looked to be prepared for the strategy, catching Tryndamere out on more than one occasion. Dignitas took advantage of their map control to make a number of crucial picks on the Curse lineup, giving them a 14-4 kill lead 30 minutes in. Dignitas played conservatively, keeping all of their lanes pushed before finally diving into the Curse lineup and cleaning up the Curse base. Curse adopted a different strategy in Game 3, hoping to pick tanky fighters and dive into the Dignitas team with an Ashe ultimate and Tresh hook combo. Dignitas took an early lead with strong pressure from their jungler, but Curse was content to farm up and wait for late game team fights with their strong composition. It looked as though Curse had found the recipe for success as they were winning fights despite a 7,000 gold deficit. Unfortunately, this made them cocky, and they ended up throwing their advantage with an unnecessary tower dive, which gave Dignitas a free baron. It looked like Curse might’ve stolen a victory when Dignitas’s AD Carry made a crucial misstep at the bottom turret, but Curse didn’t have quite enough damage to finish, and ended up getting caught by the respawning Dignitas team. After a quick cleanup, Dignitas took Game 2 and secured their spot in the semifinals.
It’s a testament to how much the North American scene as a whole has improved that the perennial four favorites ended up facing each other in the quarterfinals. Cloud 9 and Vulcan stepped up their games in a big way to secure their own spots in the semifinals by placing first and second in the Summer Split, and the quarterfinal teams ended up proving their merit with five fantastic games. There was plenty of action yesterday and plenty of action yet to come in the PAX Prime tournament to find the North American representatives in the League of Legends World Championship. The final results saw TSM beat CLG 2-0, and Curse fall to Dignitas in a 1-2 set. Be sure to tune in today to see who will advance to the finals and who will be eliminated. You can find the full results for Day 2 here.