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LCS Summer Split 2021 recap: drama, misfortune and roster swaps aplenty. Part 2

The LCS is the North American League of Legends professional league and one of the 4 major regions in the League of Legends Esports scene, where players compete on franchised teams for fame, pride, a considerable salary, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes. You may remember my coverage of the spring split earlier this year and the preview of MSI. A lot has happened since then in regard to the LCS. Let’s see what we missed over these past 2 months

This is part 2 of a 4 part recap. If you would like to see how C9 did at MSI or how CLG and Flyquest faired over the season, please see that. Today I will be looking at the first two teams to fall in the postseason. It would definitely be a stretch to call either teams’ season good, but there is a contrast in the trajectories

7-8th Dignitas: 23-22 (12-15 in summer) – Interesting experiment kneecapped by managerial blunders.

Roster: FakeGod: Top, Dardoch/Akaadian: Jungle, Soligo/Yusui: Mid, Neo: Bot, aphromoo: Support.

Dignitas had an incredibly eventful split to only end up marginally better than they did last year. They finished above .500 and in 6th place in the standings, 2 places higher than 2020 and 1 place higher than where I had them in pre-season. However, the roster was still far from a contender and the slightly better finish might have come at the cost of the organization’s dignity and respect.

To start off, Dignitas was coming off a much better split than anticipated that ended rather anticlimactically. People were wondering whether that distant 5-6th place finish was their ceiling or their floor. And in week 1, things went quite alright. They took down EG and FLY before being knocked aside by a newly improved 100T. It was after this week that Dignitas made one of the single most baffling, unprecedented, and downright awful roster moves in a season full of them.

Dignitas subbed out Soligo for Yusui, a guy who has been bouncing around the academy scene for 6 years. Now let’s not rewrite history, Soligo was not a superstar and was the worst midlaner out of the 6 teams that made playoffs in spring, but he was serviceable and had shown noticeable improvement from his days on 100T. Dignitas ruined a well-bult synergy, benched a guy who was showing improvement, made all their fans scratch their heads, all for what was seen as a risky sidegrade at best done after a 2-1 week. However, Yusui could prove all his doubters wrong and reward those who’ve had faith in him for half a decade if he performed well.

He didn’t. He either got destroyed, did nothing, or got an early lead and couldn’t carry with it in almost every Dignitas loss and even some (most) victories. That last bit was especially prominent as he would jump out to an early lead and grab a kill or two, be expected to carry, only to completely drop the ball quite a few times. Discounting Flyquest and CLG whose data is skewed from having played two mid laners over the season (Soligo only got 3 games), and a few subs who only came in for 1 game, Yusui had the lowest KDA, lowest Kill Participation, 2nd highest share of team deaths, worst gold, CS, and XP difference at 15, lowest CS per minute, lowest damage per minute and worst gold earned per minute of all LCS mid laners. Wow.

And even worse, when Yusui’s flaws became very apparent and Dignitas started to slide out of a top 6 position, DIG doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on their decision, stating it “was a way for both mids to develop faster and provide the best way to win come playoff time”. DIG academy finished in 9th place, Soligo didn’t see another LCS game for the entire season, and Yusui never got any better.

Even worse, on day 2 of week 3, Dardoch was benched for Akaadian and he eventually left DIG altogether in week 5. Dignitas didn’t give a specific reason why but given his turbulent history with being benched and moving teams due to attitude issues, fans had a pretty good guess. This ignited a whole different discussion of how much “attitude issues” orgs should put up with if the player is good enough, and if the LCS and DIG in particular was “too soft” as Dardoch was the face of the team, arguably their best player and Akaadian was seen as a significant downgrade coming in. DIG drew criticism for doing their star player dirty and for throwing out Dardoch for his attitude when they A: knew about his history going in, B: made a statement when they picked him up that they knew how to reign him in and they did a good job of it in spring,

As for the rest of the team, FakeGod was seen as one of the weaker top lane players, aphromoo and Neo continued to be good, and Dignitas became known as a team that could only win through breakthrough jungle performances or playing through bot lane. Not being able to play through solo lanes bit them hard come playoff time, as Evil Geniuses gave them no quarter in a brutal 3-1 stomping. Aside from game 2 where DIG capitalized off of an EG throw at baron, Dignitas was never in the series. FakeGod was not a match for Impact in any conceivable metric, (as the preshow was sure to let everyone know in the graphic that was displayed below) Akaadian could only do so much, Neo and aphromoo were outclassed by Danny and Ignar, and Yusui was… Yusui. Completely silent in games 1,3, and 4 and almost threw his gigantic lead off of poor decision making in game 2.

Game 3 was especially notable for the draft as it might have been one of the worst to ever grace a professional game. Dignitas last picked Kindred (normally a jungler) mid for Yusui to round out the comp, while Kindred mid was something he showed in the past, it also meant DIG had no magic damage. To reiterate, Dignitas drafted an actual, honest to God all AD team composition for a professional, on stage LCS game in a draft sanctioned by actual human coaches. In game 3 of a playoff series. It went about as well as you’d expect as EG had ways of stopping anything and everything Dignitas wanted to do and the EG solo lanes ran rampant over their Dignitas counterparts.

Their lower bracket series against Immortals went even worse as an ace for IMT 19 minutes in led to them running over DIG in almost every fight after and winning the game only 7 minutes later. Game 2 saw FakeGod lose the top lane 1v1 despite having counterpick, IMT take everything early, and a failed dive onto Revenge’s Tahm Kench netted them 3 kills and only sped up the inevitable. The game was a complete stomp that ended with 19 kills to 2 in IMT’s favor and only lasted 24 minutes, 2 shorter than the last game. Game 3 actually saw Dignitas put up some semblance of a fight, but Dignitas ended the game, series, and season in the most Dignitas way possible. A call for baron 32 minutes in with all of IMT still alive ended up with Xerxe stealing the baron and Immortals aceing DIG 5 for nothing and ending the game off of it. Yep, Dignitas ended their season with the timeless classic that is Dignitas baron throw. How perfect is that?

I don’t know what to expect from Dignitas in the off-season. FakeGod and Yusui did not look like solo laners that would win you a championship, but the jungle and bot lane looked alright enough. You could make the obvious move of going back to Soligo and although he is better than Yusui, is he really going to win DIG a title? Neo, FakeGod, and both mids have contracts that end in 2022. Akaadian and Aphromoo’s run out this year, but overall, Dignitas have had a very turbulent year that ended about as well as everyone expected, but now have to pick up the pieces and make hard decisions about the roster going forward. I just worry that Dignitas might have sent away the fans they gained in spring with their poor choices. Support could dry up for this org very fast if they don’t turn things around quickly.

7-8th Golden Guardians: 14-31 (11-16 in summer) – Slightly better than expected, still not great.

Roster: Solo/Licorice: Top, Iconic: Jungle, Ablazeolive: Mid, Stixxay: Bot, Chime: Support.

After having the worst split in LCS history since franchising, Golden Guardians needed to make some changes and improve quickly if they wanted to be more than a laughingstock. And they did, they picked up Solo (top laner for Flyquest when they went to Worlds last year) in free agency and called up Chime from academy to replace the terrible twosome of Niles and Newbie. That Solo move in particular was seen as a huge step up as not only was Niles just not LCS ready yet, but it was also a major question mark how a top laner who went to worlds couldn’t find a team.

And it somewhat worked? Golden Guardians picked up a win in their first game of the season against Cloud 9 of all teams and ended up matching their win total of spring in only week 3. Golden Guardians were seen as better than their spring counterparts but, that was a very low bar to clear. After week 5, Golden Guardians were 5-10 in summer. Although they had their flashes of brilliance, Ablazeolive had some incredible carry performances, GG never were true contenders and still had some glaring holes. Chime was not much of an upgrade; Solo had some very poor games, Stixxay was still not elite, Iconic was still raw, and the overall level of GG was still nothing special. Despite this, Golden Guardians were still only 1 game back from a playoff spot due to CLG and Flyquest suffering horrible collapses. Playoffs were in their sights, and they would make a change that they believed would take them there.

After week 5, Golden Guardians picked up Licorice from Flyquest to replace Solo. When the move first came out, this was seen as terrible by almost everyone. Licorice was having the worst split of his career and was seen as one of the worst top laners in summer. And this was especially seen as a slap to the face for Solo as this was the second time he was kicked when he was doing his job just fine. Licorice was seen as a minor upgrade at best and Solo didn’t deserve to be benched when he was the main reason for GG improving.

So, imagine everyone’s surprise when Golden Guardians jumped out to a 2-1 week with a close loss to the 2nd place TSM and complete stomps over the 1st place 100T and the super team TL. Licorice suddenly regained his Cloud 9 form and was playing incredibly, going 19/7/18 with a KDA of 5.3 and above average in almost every stat. He played well enough to win player of the week and GG tied CLG to move up to 9th place. Another 2-1 week with victories over a surging Evil Geniuses and a slumping Dignitas before getting a reality check from C9 just provided more evidence that they made a good move. The roster was really improving and Ablazeolive became an incredibly exciting prospect with him outperforming Jiizuke and popping off against Yusui on Tahm Kench mid. They jumped CLG but remained 1 game back of FLY. The hype train was rolling.

Week 8 was not a good one as they went winless dropping games to TSM, TL and CLG. However, Flyquest also went winless. Back 1 with only Flyquest themselves, the top ranked 100T, and an Immortals vying for an upper bracket spot to play, the battle for the final playoff spot was going to go down to the wire. They kicked off the week by choking out a Flyquest that made changes of their own in an attempt to secure the final spot. It didn’t help as Golden Guardians amassed a large gold lead and never gave it up to tie their records, and more importantly, give GG the 3-2 head-to-head. If they finished tied, GG would get the final spot. But on Saturday, disaster struck. They couldn’t pull of an upset over 100T while Flyquest would crush Immortals. GG’s destiny was no longer in their hands, and with FLY only having to beat CLG in the final game of the day, it was going to take some magic to make it in. GG took care of business against Immortals to tie FLY’s record, all they had to do was wait and pray. Their prayers would be answered as Flyquest dropped the ball against CLG. Against all preseason power rankings and expectations after spring, Golden Guardians made the playoffs.

That is where the feel-good story ends as predictably, the 8th seed of a 10-team region probably shouldn’t make the postseason and GG helped support that opinion as they were swept aside by Cloud 9 with little effort in a quick and brutal 3-0. Ablazeolive was the only one even remotely up to the task as the rest of GG (Iconic and Chime in particular) were completely outclassed by the multi-million-dollar roster. Only game 2 was even close. It was exactly what everyone was expecting. We did not get any glorious memes of NA talent dethroning the supposed super team. A sad day indeed.

This season was slightly better than expected. They didn’t finish in a distant last, which is more than what was expected. Ablazeolive showed a ton of promise and could become a top mid laner if developed properly. Licorice might be recovering from his awful split on Flyquest. However, 8th place is still nothing to brag about and if they only made playoffs as a formality. Going forward, please make sure to keep Ablazeolive around. He could become the face of your franchise and you can’t afford to let him get poached like your last roster. As for the rest, they might go shopping for a better support (maybe buy out aphromoo?) and have decisions to make if they want to keep Stixxay around and give Iconic more time to develop. If they play their cards right, Golden Guardians might be something special in a few years, this was just the first step in a long road to finally becoming a contender.

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