The online portion of the Season Four Split ends this week, and it’s taken almost that entire time to establish the identities of the teams competing. As you always want in sports, the games in this last week truly matter. This week should be the fiercest competition to date as teams fight to get one of the two guaranteed LAN spots, establish momentum for the Gauntlet, or to avoid relegation. It’s an exciting time to be following the SPL, that’s for sure. For those of you sticking with me, I was exactly .500 this past week, though it easily could have been a 10-2 week had things broken just a bit differently. No use crying over spilled milk, though. I’m a respectable 26-18 for the year through this point. This week will make or break me, but I should end up above .500 for the online portion of the split. I will reset my score going into the Gauntlet and LAN, because once you get to the play-off, only so much matters any more.
Holding Their Breath
Several groups are going to have a tense week, but no more so than Hi-Rez Studios themselves. As of this writing, Team Eager is in sole ownership of the NA standings with 14 points. Luminosity Gaming has 11 points, eUnited has 10 points, and In Memory of Gabe has 8 points. eUnited got a free 3 points from a forfeited match surrounding the roster swapping shenanigans that happened in Week 3. With games against LG and Gabe this week, eUnited is in a position to potentially score an upset and sneak into second place. Hi-Rez should be hoping that this is exactly what doesn’t happen. This is compounded a bit by SoaR being in a position to be forced to go through relegations. Hi-Rez needs to be hoping that neither of those things happen, as the potential uproar would be meaningful. Hi-Rez and the SPL are still looking for legitimacy, and the resulting scandal could be extremely damaging. Yes, the rules were followed, but the spirit of the rules was violated, and the evidence trail supports it. I am not saying that eUnited doesn’t deserve the spot if they manage to 4-0 their games this week, but splitting with LG and Gabe could easily end in a 3-way tie for second place. What a headache, and one that could have easily been avoided if that set with SoaR had been rescheduled and played. The same with the potential relegation. This is just needlessly ugly, and Hi-Rez has to know it. You better believe they have their fingers cross that a clear victor emerges.
The EU also has a potential three-way tie brewing, but one without any outside drama behind it. Obey Alliance has all but locked first place – two unlikely losses could potentially lead to a two-way tie for first – but VAC, Dig, and NRG could very realistically end tied for second. VAC and Dig are tied at 11 points and play against each other on Saturday, March 25. A split is a very possible, as both teams are good and fairly evenly matched – I give the slight edge to VAC, at the moment. NRG is currently at 9 points, but they play the worst team in the SPL – Sanguine Esports. A set win would put them at 12 points, with the VAC/Dig split putting them at 12 a piece, also. In that case, we get some three-way tie-breaking action going on. Unlike the situation in NA, this would be a great situation – the drama created solely by the teams themselves – and the stakes would be good for views. This is a best case scenario for Hi-Rez, but worse case for the teams, except for NRG. NRG needs this scenario to occur. They would have the momentum behind them, with the mental game in their favor. A team that manages to reclaim a high ranking and win out makes for much tougher opponent than a team that ended the season strong, but fell short.
We finally got to see the debut of The Morrigan in the SPL! I feel incredibly vindicated by the fact that she was played with success in the solo lane and in the jungle. I kept saying she had a place as a tanky mage bruiser, and blammo! This week continued a lot of the trends we have already seen, but the latest patch has shaken things up a little. The early games slowed down considerably this week, and the kill counts were down across the board. Early aggression is still meaningful, but the emphasis on lowering early burst has seen a shift in power dynamic. However, it also managed to touch the mid-game power spike of some gods that are less late-game powerhouses. Comps that might have seen success a week ago are now just a touch worse off, and that’s enough to change some games from a win to a loss. It also doesn’t hurt that teams have finally come around to seeing what the meta is now offering, and are picking and banning based around it. Case in point? Hun Batz only got through in 8 games this week – not set, games – and went 4-4. Zeus continued to climb up the ban list, Cabrakan saw more bans, Amaterasu started to get focused out, Poseidon is being targeted, and Thoth is being let through more and more frequently. We’re also seeing gods like Vulcan see a lot more play, along with Nox making a very successful appearance. Vulcan is a solid choice after Zeus and Poseidon, and possibly stronger as long as you have the control to confirm the ult. It’s a variation on the existing theme.
In another case of vindication, Skadi absolutely dominated this week. I have long been arguing that Skadi was in a great spot for the meta. Duo lane is often just long lane, with the support roaming and focusing on mid for the first part of the game. Skadi is a strong boxer, and her late game scales very well. The use of permafrost as an escape plus zone control is meaningful. It’s very versatile and does a lot of damage. The ult on Kaldr can really screw up some of these niche comps as people just can’t handle the faithful frozen friend coming to bork their day up. I’m so happy! Haters gonna hate. Keep on skating, Skadi.
We also saw several teams try out the three-guardian/dual-hunter team comp that VAC was sporting in the early weeks. A few teams varied this up, replacing one guardian with an assassin. In most cases, the three-guardian comps lost soundly. I think we might see it a few more times in the rest of the split, but I think teams will be shifting away from it. It got a lot of popularity in the last two weeks of games, but the win rate suffered tremendously. I am not sad to see this particular iteration die off, as I think the changes to items have started to move the meta in a healthier direction.
Snowballing continues to be more of a mental hindrance than a real one. This week saw many games bounce back and forth continually, and there were several instances of teams coming from behind to make a game of it, or even win outright. The differences from Week 1 are meaningful, but it’s not exactly a completely new game or meta. Teams just had to learn how to late game, as it changed significantly from Season 3. However, we saw this start to shift during the SWC last year, as teams were losing the early game in terms of getting killed, but were getting ahead on farm. It’s not dissimilar from that expression of the meta. It just finally looks like teams are mentally on board.
I also think it is safe to say that Season 4 really is the Season of the Jungler, at least at this point. Junglers are making or breaking the games for their teams, even though other areas are still very impactful. It’s all about the jungler getting done what needs to be done, and helping the team when it matters. The jungler has to pay attention to themselves, but they also need to know when they should be engaging with their team. A team that really needs the jungler around all the time needs to be doing what it can to help get the jungler ahead or at least not fall behind.
Enshrined in Valhalla
This week’s choices were easy to make. I’m still tempted to just always list ScaryD on here, because even when he has a “bad game” he’s doing incredibly well. That said, he really didn’t make the biggest impact for his team, and that’s what matters here. He’s probably my favorite player to watch, as it’s amazing to watch his growth from set to set, but that’s not what gets you this acknowledgement. Likewise, PrettyPrime is absolutely killing it. His whole team is killing it, which makes his impact a little harder to determine. I definitely loved him breaking out the Nox, though. However, we do have a repeat this week. I like to avoid these when I can, but it would be disingenuous to not select a player simply because they won it before. If you make the biggest impact for your team, you should get the honor. It’s really that simple. With that in mind, this week’s heroes are Adapting (EU – NRG) and Benji (NA – eUnited).
Sure, Adapting DID try an Anhur jungle in game two against Team Dignitas, but he’s been seeing success with it in Ranked for much the same reasons as the overarching meta. It’s an out of the box pick, but his entire team was a bit troll-oriented that game. If you need proof, just check out the 5-man Variety pick. That aside, Adapting was incredible this week. He was 28-2-23 across the two sets. That’s a KDA for 19.75 for the week. It’s absolutely monstrous. The fact that he had no deaths in 3/4 games is almost surreal. I mean, everyone knows he’s good, but he’s been spotty this split so far. No more, that’s for sure. Dating back a few weeks now he’s turned it around and has been killing it. He’s legitimately scary again, and everyone should know it after this past week. I am looking forward to seeing him play against Obey Alliance again in the LAN.
Even though Benji is trying to compete for all-time heel status – he needs a good theme song to help put him over – you can’t debate his impact this week. He broke out the Morrigan in the solo lane in game one, and brought Cabrakan out in game two. FP did not have a great picks and ban phase, granted, but Benji controlled the lane and was using the Morrigan in a way that saw serious success. He was loose, obviously communicating well with his team, and he was playing mind games with his opponents. There is a reason he used to be called SaltMachine, after all. The team looked good, and he was the major reason why. If he keeps playing well, and can keep that level of communication going with the team, these guys can be serious contenders.
Tortured in Tartarus
It’s never fun to pick out the goats of the week, as I want everyone to succeed and all games to be back and forth affairs that result in razor thin victories. I really do love good competition, even if the teams I like don’t win. That’s just from years of competing and it never feeling good when it’s a boot stomp in either direction. As with past weeks, some of the players I name here are players I like and respect. This week saw players rise and fall to the challenges of the SPL, and some players fell further than others. Noble played a hell of a set again Eager, confirming the previously belief that they play up, but fell just short in each game. While I certainly wouldn’t call their players bad, Uzzy (NA – Noble eSports) was a big factor in them not being able to get over the hump. He’s joined this week by fellow solo lane denizen, Xaliea (EU – Valance Squad).
People are going to have bad weeks. Players are human, not machines. Uzzy is very skilled, but he’s human. He just wasn’t around when his team needed him, and the impact on both the Sobek and Guan Yu were minimal. Sobek can certainly counter Nike fairly well, but on a team level, he’s just not doing a lot against the rest of the comp. The disrupt potential is solid, but he wasn’t in enough team fights that matters to make it an issue. For Guan Yu, it’s a similar story. If you are going to break out the Guan, you need to be in team fights and making plays. When your participation is low, and you aren’t in the right places at the right time, you aren’t making the impact you need to be. Again, it’s not as if he was awful or anything, but if his decision making and awareness had been better, one of those games might have turned. If it was game one, it could have turned game two. The games were really that close. Uzzy will keep getting better, and so will the players around him. While he came up short this week, I bet it’s an anomaly rather than a trend.
This is likewise true for Xaliea. He did very well on Guan Yu in game one against eLevate, but did not perform well in his team’s three losses this week. Two of those games were on Xing Tian, and one of those games was on Sobek. I mentioned earlier that I don’t like the triple guardian comp, and a lot of it has to do with this sort of lack of footprint. Sobek and XT not participating is a big deal. XT needs to be in there mixing it up for him to have an impact, the same with Sobek. In fact, this is largely true with all guardians. It’s not like they are incredibly effective objective pushers on their own. Sure, they can do it, but if that’s the goal, there are better choices. His presence was better in the last loss against Obey, but his deaths put his team at a disadvantage by that point. It was just a tough series of games without making the impact that he needs to be making. The best teams need the best performances. This week, Xaliea just fell short. He’s still an incredible player, and I am sure he will bounce back.
|1||Obey Alliance has now taken sets from NRG, VAC, and Team Dignitas. There is little question they are the best team in the EU right now.||1|
|2||Eager looks better than the EU teams not in first place, and they looked a little better than LG this week, squeaking them up to the second spot overall, and first in NA. Of course, the biggest game of the split will be this week as LG faces off against Eager.||4|
|3||LG had an awful draft and a bad game plan in game one against Gabe. The one weakness of the team is their drafting. I think this series was an anomaly, and game two was decidedly in their favor. Barra had a rough personal week during the off-week, so it’s not a huge surprise. LG controls their destiny this week with games against eU and Eager.||2|
|4||VAC was manhandled by Obey Alliance, and split with a scrappy eLevate team. They are similar to LG in some ways, as their defeats are often in picks and bans, rather than through mistakes in game. They aren’t perfect by any stretch, but they are very good. If they tighten up P&Bs, they could give Obey some trouble.||3|
|5||Hopefully this week humbled Dignitas. They split with NRG, looking bad and great within the set, and Obey Alliance smashed them. Dignitas has been shaky the last two weeks now, and it’s not a good look. Right now they are an eminently beatable team.||5|
|6||That first LG game was a gift. If they end up avoiding the gauntlet, they should send Barra a fruit basket. This team is a solid third in NA, but they still need some faux pas to occur with the big two. Luckily, they have gotten that.||6|
|7||NRG has only lost a set to Obey Alliance, splitting with Team Dignitas and Valance Squad. They finish the split with a soft game against Sanguine, which should give them a second confidence boost in as many games. If VAC and Dig split, a win sparks a three-way tie for second. Next stop, tie-breaker city!||8|
|8||Great performances from Nulisa and N0numbers since being picked up. eLevate is scrappy and looking to make it happen. While they are just fighting for a gauntlet spot, this team could end up at LAN or be a major spoiler. Keep an eye on them.||7|
|9||They won their set against FP, and are in a good position to carve their own destiny in the last week. LG and Gabe stand in their way after they got some help in Week 3 from the rule book. Who knows which squad shows up in those games – the one that beat FP, or the one that got dominated by ALG?||9|
|10||Even though they dropped the set against Eager, those games were close. A little bit of growth and some more time can turn these guys into serious competitors. All the better for NA.||11|
|11||A loss to NRG puts them in a tight spot. eLevate is a better team, though with a slightly worse record, and CycloneGG has their fate in their own hands. LGE has a game against Obey Alliance remaining. LGE needs some help, and they know it.||10|
|12||A lot can change in a week. Andinster looked amazing on Ra, Fineokay looked like the good player I knew he was, ManRay was a great sub, and the team has new life. Yeah, it’s a little late for this split, but with some help and some good play, they can at least hit the Gauntlet. It won’t be easy, but they look up for it.||15|
|13||Poor guys. I hate to see a team lose a sponsor, especially one that has been scrapping so hard this split. While it’s true they aren’t competing at this stage, they have looked a bit better each game. I hope they can keep it together.||12|
|14||ALG had a bad week, but they should focus on the positives. Metyankey showed some life, and was killing it during some of their matches. This is a good step for them. While they might have overrated themselves a bit, I can’t imagine they are anything other than real with themselves at this point.||13|
|15||One step forward, two steps back. This week was a definite regression for them. They are almost certainly going through relegations before next split, but they can at least look to finish strong over ALG and force them to the bottom of the heap. It’s fitting it comes down to this.||14|
|16||It’s been a rough split for these guys. I don’t expect them to get a win in the coming week, making them the 0’fer of the Spring Split. The good news is they will get more opportunities to play as a team during relegations, should they opt to remain together.||16|
Week 6 Predictions
This is it for the online portion of the split, folks. We will end the week knowing who gets to go directly to the LAN, who has to slug it out in the gauntlet, and who has to go through the harrowing experience of relegations. This is an absolutely huge week for games, too. It’s all very exciting.
TBD (CycloneGG) vs. Obey Alliance – Obey could possibly take their foot off the gas, as this is essentially a meaningless set for them – they have two sets left and the point totals make it so they are guaranteed a LAN spot – but I don’t think Obey will do that. 0-2
eLevate vs. Sanguine Esports – eLevate has been playing with the big boys and has been holding their own. Sanguine has been the moss on the rock that’s watching the people play. Look for eLevate to take this handily. 2-0
eUnited vs. Luminosity Gaming– eUnited could show up with the team they brought last time, or the team that lost to Team Allegiance. It’s a crap shoot with them right now, and we haven’t seen enough to know. We do know that Luminosity is crazy talented and resilient. This is a big set for both teams, but I think Luminosity is in the better position. While I wouldn’t hate people saying split, I think LG finishes the set. 0-2
In Memory of Gabe vs. SoaR Gaming – While SoaR certainly wants to win this match, it’s Gabe that needs the win to stay in this thing. SoaR can play spoiler here while Gabe will be feeling the pressure. It should be a good game with the revitalized SoaR against the cornered doge. I think SoaR can pick up one, but that Gabe doesn’t walk home empty handed. 1-1
Lion Guard vs. Obey Alliance – Sorry, LGE, this just wasn’t your split. This is another game that can be dictated by Obey Alliance. They don’t need these games, but it’s unlikely they coast. They need to stay sharp going into a bigger break than the other teams will be facing prior to the LAN. They could play subs here, as other professional sports teams might do, and that could change things. I don’t hate the idea of a split, but I think they keep up the pressure. 0-2
Team Dignitas vs. Valance Squad – The two second place teams go head to head to determine who gets to skip the gauntlet. A 2-0 by either team seals the deal, and a split could lead to a three-way tie. I think VAC is the slightly better squad, but they are in a position to have lower morale after last week. This should be a great set. Any outcome is possible for this set, but I lean towards split. 1-1
eLevate vs. Team Rival – Both teams want this game, no question. I just think eLevate is decidedly the better team with their current roster and play. It might be close, but I think eLevate takes it. 2-0
NRG vs. Sanguine – NRG needs to win this set to force the three-way tie. Luckily, they should do that as long as they don’t screw around. It’s crunch time, and they show up. 2-0
Noble eSports vs. SoaR Gaming – This set has implications for both teams. The winner is safe, the loser…much less so. SoaR is playing better, and Noble has been definitely making noise. Give it a split or two, and this might be a set that determines who goes to LAN directly, rather than who gets to avoid relegation. That all said, I think this ends in a split, with both teams making mistakes and plays in equal number. 1-1
Team Allegiance vs. Flash Point – We are at a point where this game will likely determine last place in NA. With a set win, FP hops over ALG. With a split or a win, ALG beats them out. The fact that this comes down to a player’s new team and his former team is great drama. I think ALG doesn’t take this seriously and drops at least one. FP could possibly break out the set win, but they could also choke. I hope it’s the former, and not the latter. I think it ends up being a great set, but that it’s a split. A salty, salty split. I would love to be wrong on this, and see FP take it. 1-1
eUnited vs In Memory of Gabe – I outlined the possibility of how all this could shake out in favor of eUnited, but I don’t think it does. It should still be a hard fought set, but I think In Memory of Gabe at least forces the split. It comes down to the communication of eUnited, but I think some backsliding occurs for both teams. 1-1
Team Eager vs. Luminosity Gaming – If LG gets the set over eUnited, it’s a tie ballgame going into this final match. There is still math that can make this meaningful, but there is also math that makes this just bragging rights. Still, this should be a really fun set with a lot of surprises and some good-natured rivalry. A split is pretty likely, but either two could squeak out a 2-0. I think split, just to keep the drama going for LAN. 1-1