Ten teams entered the 2017 European League of Legends Championship Series spring split to capture the split crown and more.
As the semifinals near, Misfits, Fnatic, the Unicorns of Love and G2 Esports stare down what can be, what could be, what should be and what might never be: A place in the Midseason Invitational and potentially the World Championship.
But first come the semifinals matchups. None would have predicted Fnatic's destruction of H2K Gaming in the quarterfinals and its disruption of the mid-game-squad-wins status quo.
Misfits must turn the tables on Unicorns of Love
Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage once belonged to a team that took the LCS by storm, fresh from qualifying from the Challenger Series. With that squad, he reached the LCS finals in his first split as a professional at the highest level in Europe and beat expectations at the time.
That group's name was Unicorns of Love, and Misfits must beat his former team to participate in the LCS finals in its first split.
Misfits' odds are no different from the quarterfinals, but the circumstances leading into this matchup are. In the quarters, Splyce had pushed Misfits into a corner, but Misfits was able to reverse-sweep its opponent in spectacular fashion. The bottom lane came alive in the third game, and it wound up turning the game around.
However, the Unicorns of Love match up perfectly Misfits. UoL can counter Misfits from a positional strength standpoint in the solo lanes, whether it involves laning or teamfighting. Misfits top laner Barney "Alphari" Morris and his UoL counterpart, Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamas, have been dominant in-lane and in teamfights and might put their respective squads on track for victory.
The same can be said about their mid laners, Fabian "Exileh" Schubert and PowerOfEvil - who are seemingly playing the best they have in their careers - and the bot lane duos, which have amplified their squads' success.
In such an even matchup setting, the interactions between the junglers and the laners have been key. If the Unicorns of Love can control Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon's movements and limit PowerOfEvil to playing slow-ramping picks, it'll throw off Misfits' game plan and be as disastrous as it was in Games One and Two against Splyce. The same applies to UoL in regards to Misfits' bottom lane duo, Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun and Steven "Hans Sama" Liv, as the two have snowballed leads and turned them into wins throughout the season.
Considering the similarities between the two teams (including picks such as LeBlanc, Shen and Varus), it might come down to execution on both sides. UoL's "do-or-die" attitude in skirmishes might help it undo Misfits' leads, especially given the latter's tendency to close games slowly. But there are no guarantees in what might be the most interesting series of the playoffs in European League of Legends to date.
Fnatic tries to reclaim the throne
Team ROCCAT beat G2 Esports on G2's final outing, but its encounter with Fnatic nearly ended in defeat, too. Had Fnatic been more cautious, it would have been able to snap G2's split-long streak before the team ran into ROCCAT.
That win would also have been symbolic, considering Fnatic was once the top dog in European League of Legends. In the semifinals, it has another shot, but the stakes are far higher.
Should Fnatic beat its semifinals opponent, it would need one more win its spot at the top and deny G2 the opportunity to compete in the Midseason International. To get to this point, Fnatic had to beat H2K, an unlikely occurrence on paper until the underdogs did in an emphatic 3-0 sweep.
Fnatic's loose, aggressive style contrasts with its tight passiveness during the season. The team once was indecisive to a fault, but it's playing proactively now -- again, at times to a fault. Fnatic's taken a relentless attacking approach from the early-game onward against mid-game oriented teams. It has led Fnatic to decisive wins as well as overextensions and losses in matches that it should have won.
G2 has been focusing more heavily on developing its early game in order to counter Fnatic's approach. The patient approach has helped G2 undo leads and capitalized on its opponent's mistakes. More importantly, its struggles against ROCCAT's early-game compositions, which scaled ahead of schedule thanks to surprise skirmishes, might have allowed G2 to notice mistakes and patch them.
In order to win, Fnatic will have to keep the element of surprise, much as Team ROCCAT did before it. Anything less would lead to G2's third LCS split final in a row.