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Two contrasting teams at different ends of the confidence spectrum will begin Stage-2 of the LEC 2023 Winter split. The league phase is over, and the top eight have now been classified into two groups. The top two teams from each group will progress to Stage 3. Vitality were group toppers in the preliminary stage, with a mighty fine 7-2 win-loss record.
They were in fact so dominant that they secured entry to the next stage even as seven others were in a sink-or-swim situation. Heretics, meanwhile, lost more than they won, finishing with an underwhelming 4-5 record that helped them remain afloat in the top eight to secure an entry for the next stage. So purely on recent form and history, Vitality already start with a massive advantage going into this match.
At least twice in the past couple of weeks, Heretics have lost games they had no business losing. Against MAD, Heretics had powered into a lead, but a Pentakill for Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer caught them unawares as MAD Lions mounted a stunning rearguard.
Heretics gained map control and entered the opponent’s base as MAD Lions struggled to get any grip over the rift through their game. Not even gaining the Ocean Drake Soul helped establish their presence. And then before they could bat an eyelid, the game was gone.
Earlier this week against BDS, once again they were in supreme control before a massive fight helped BDS turn the game around on its head to clinch victory out of nowhere. But it isn’t just the losses they should look at. They also surprised perhaps many in beating Excel Esports convincingly to seal a spot in the group stages well before few others huffed and puffed their way up.
SK Gaming had a prolific first round, where they just finished behind leaders Vitality and MAD Lions, with a 6-3 win-loss record. KOI held on to their nerve to somehow squeeze into the top eight, ahead of Astralis, with a 4-5 record. In cracking open the game by sussing up Astralis’ passive gameplay, Larssen's Sylas decimated everyone who stood in his way to help KOI exert total dominance.
KOI’s focus objectives consigned the game to a no-contest. Such dominating performances have slowly become more frequent as KOI look to establish themselves in the new order of hierarchy. That they have been able to overcome Odoamne’s departure also makes them a formidable side.
Slowly, they’re beginning to be known for their superior map play and control. Don’t take them lightly. At least that’s what SK Gaming will want written up in bold around their practice arena. And that probably explains why the odds are so closely stacked for this one, with no team having a runaway advantage. SK have a slight edge, but it’s just that - very slight.
SK Gaming started slowly in week one of the winter split but picked up momentum heading into the second week. They exerted dominance over G2 and ended their undefeated streak to make everyone sit up and take notice. Then when they beat Vitality, they threw the cat among the pigeons.
These two wins surged their confidence so high that they were able to shut out two massive teams, Vitality being among them, which is a massive result in the overall order at the LEC. Such big results were far and few until recently. And it bodes well for the health of the league.
Little over a year ago, this would’ve been billed as a clash of the titans. Two world-beating teams with impressive rosters and a formidable track record going neck-and-neck against one other make it a great spectacle. But such are the vagaries of modern (e)sport that it takes very little for apple carts to be upset.
And so when MAD Lions, former LEC champions and winners of the spring and summer splits of 2021, and Astralis play their group game this weekend, it’ll instead be a contest between David and Goliath. MAD Lions, by virtue of finishing second in the pool with a 7-2 record, hold the aces over Astralis, who just about manages to squeeze into the last qualifying position at No. 8, having won three and lost six.
Their performances have been on a downward slide for a while now. In 2022, they finished 9th in the summer split and 10th in the spring split. And because Astralis are in the middle of a rut they seemingly can’t get out of, it is a no-brainer that MAD Lions is the team you will be punting on.
It’s not worth hedging bets on Astralis at this stage, hoping for a windfall. Miracles do happen alright, but for the stars to align for Astralis is akin to it being one of the year’s biggest esports upsets as things stand. When they signed a seasoned veteran like Finn and an up-and-coming Turkish star in 113 from Karmine Corp, the talk was it would usher in a new era for the team.
But so far, those haven’t come to fruition. It remains to be seen if the team management is willing to be patient or if they will want another overhaul, which could possibly mean a knee-jerk reaction.
Teams: Astralis, Mad Lions, SK Gaming, KOI, Vitality, Heretics
Time: Saturday, February 11 at 12 pm ET onwards
How to watch: LEC Twitch channel
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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