NOW we’re at the pointy end of the season: the monster in Orange has reared its head to challenge the veteran threat in Green. Only one gets the comfy seat to the grand final while the other has to comfort themselves with a daunting task in the loser’s finals match.
The matchups are enticing up and down the rift here in the Winner’s Finals match, and each team has plenty of big-match performers to be able to rely on.
We’ve covered the rise of the Dire Wolves in this split – the story of wildly streaky form runs is favouring them right now as they came screaming into the playoffs and obliterated a hapless Order, 3-0 to find themselves in this spot.
The Champs… are here.
The defending champs look a step more vulnerable than they did to start the year, but make no mistake, that doesn’t make them weak, that merely makes them…mortal. Mortal and still with more than enough firepower to dispatch any of the remaining teams in this gauntlet and secure themselves another trip overseas.
Pentanet.GG make their bones on being the best-prepared team in the region, a testament to their own work and also to the development of coach Charlie Wraith. They gameplan better than anyone, and they teamfight better than everyone, almost all the time.
On the Rift, they do their job without ego, and so its with little surprise that they find themselves atop the pile after another LCO regular season, even if it’s with a few more losses than last time.
From Donut to tasty treat
In these pages, I once referred to Ari “Shok” Greene-Young’s then-struggling team as being a “donut” – that is, a team with a hole in the middle.
Several years later and it’s safe to say that’s no longer the case. The mid lane is where I see the tastiest battles occurring, for more than one reason.
Looking first at his direct matchup with Jesse “Chazz” Mahoney and you see two of the superstars of the LCO Mid lane. While other teams may have more facilitative roles assigned to their mid players, Pentanet.GG and the Dire Wolves set their mids up to be the fulcrum around which their hopes pivot. That is in and of itself a tantalizing battle – of arguably the two best natural mids we have left.
Then you consider that despite the similarity in the way their teams depend on them, they couldn’t do it more differently. Shok, once a Zilean/Orianna two-trick (and I didn’t think the Orianna was all that convincing) is now a master of the mage. Syndra, Cassiopeia, even Ryze are all well within his wheelhouse, and that Orianna is fearsome these days.
Chazz, fresh off the scintillating solo
bolo kill of RNG’s Cryin he achieved at MSI, now plies his trade as somewhat of a melee specialist. He still has his pocket Viktor that he shook Cloud 9 with, and he has a vicious Orianna of his own, but Viego and Lee Sin are also his purview. And lest we forget the shocking mid Graves that he pulled out on these same Dire Wolves.
It’s a tale of two mids, as opposite as Montague and Capulet, o’er fair LCO Playoffs, where we lay our scene.
The cast of supporting characters promises to be just as memorable as that epic tale as well. Jackson “Pabu” Pavone and Jordan “Only” Middleton have provided nothing but entertaining jungling encounters even predating the LCO years, and Danny “Decoy” Ealam has enjoyed his most consistent split as he matches up against an Andy “Cupcake” Van der Vyver that I had all but written off as a professional player, and one that has risen like a phoenix to show us shades of his very, very best.
I expect all four of these players to make their presence felt in the mid lane.
(Top) Island Getaway
But if the mid lane action promises to be too hot to handle, then a more serene, slower-paced backdrop like the top lane might be more your speed.
Brandon “BioPanther” Alexander still roams these parts virtually unopposed as the most fearsome top lane monster over the last year. The silent assassin, he’s always relevant and no matter how big a part he’s asked to play by his team, he always out-delivers on his assignment. In a normal situation, he’s set-it-and-forget-it lock to secure – at absolute worst – parity in the top.
But I think this isn’t a normal situation.
Despite what he’d tell you of his stats in the last game against Order yesterday, Brandon “Claire” Nguyen is a Big Game Player. Since the Wolves turned their split around with a victory over PGG, his death count, which had been problematic, has come right down. He has delivered in hugely important games – late in the season against Order, a pair of great showings against the Chiefs, and massively influential games against Peace.
That is, of course, to say nothing about the time he literally and single-handedly saved the entire region.
Claire is not just A Big Game Player. Claire is THE Big Game Player.
And he’ll need to play some more Big Games to help his team take the W.
At the end of the day, it’s still too much to overcome for me to pick the Wolfpack over Pentanet here. OCE’s Orange Standard is a cut above the competition, all else being equal.
But their margin for error is slimmer than it’s ever been. And the Wolves have the talent, the veteran presence, and the momentum to have more than just a punchers’ chance here.
I’m taking Pentanet.GG in five. Five absolute bangers.