On Saturday in the NA LCS spring playoff semifinals, either No. 2 seed Cloud9 will embark in its second straight trip to Canada to compete in the league final, or Phoenix1, the No. 3 seed, will continue its worst-to-first story, having gone from the risk of relegation to title contenders in less than a year.
Here are top four storylines to keep your eye on heading into opening semifinal clash of the weekend in Los Angeles.
1. Will the real Phoenix1 starting jungler please stand up?
William "Meteos" Hartman or Rami "Inori" Charagh? That's the question everyone will be asking heading into the series against Cloud9. Not only was Meteos was the better of the two P1 junglers during the regular-season, but there is the added implication of Meteos being the former starter for Cloud9, having gone to three World Championships with the team in his career.
Last week in the first round of the playoffs against Dignitas, Inori started all three games and there was little controversy to be had with P1 winning all three games. This week, where it would be a surprise if P1 swept its stiff competition, all it could take is one loss with Inori as starter for the fans to turn their heads to the player tunnel hoping to see Meteos walk on stage.
It's a difficult situation either way. Realistically, the team has played better with Meteos at the helm, but Inori, after having a less than ideal opening game, had a solid series last weekend. It's also easy to forget that without Inori, who entered P1's starting lineup halfway through the season last year, is the only reason that P1 is where it is now. Without Inori, P1 would have been on the fast track to relegation, and it would have never had the negotiating leverage to get top players like Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon and Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook. Inori lifted P1 from the ground at its most vulnerable point, and for P1, an organization that has been highly regarded by its players, it isn't abandoning Inori when he's at his lowest, either.
2. Could we be watching the league's MVP this series?
Between the two semifinal matches, this is the one that boasts the most MVP candidates. Arrow, Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, Andy "Smoothie" Ta and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong should all receive votes for the league's best player, but expect the Phoenix1 AD carry Arrow to have the best to chance of actually winning the honor.
The All-NA LCS first team Arrow couldn't have had a better start to his career in North America, adjusting to his team faster than possibly any other foreign-born player in LCS history and bringing in new fans with his always-positive and comedic personality. Along with No.1 seed Team SoloMid's Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell and already three-time MVP award winner Søren "Bjerg" Bjergsen, Arrow is a frontrunner for the award, and could celebrate his first NA LCS Finals appearance along with his first domestic MVP award as well.
"If I could win MVP, I would be really, really happy," said Arrow following his team's dominant sweep over Dignitas. "I would thank the fans for supporting me."
3. Is Ray ready?
Cloud9 has one of the best top laners in the western region in former world champion Impact, but the team, looking towards the future, signed fellow South Korea top laner Jeon "Ray" Ji-won to be Impact's understudy for this split. Not knowing Impact's future and how long he wants to play professionally, Ray has been given opportunities throughout the season to test his readiness with the team, and his results have been often on the negative end of things.
As an individual, Ray is a star player. On Apex Gaming last summer, he was the team's ace and a reason why the rookie organization got off to such a quick start in the past season. His team play, though, was lacking, and the overall Apex squad failed to make the playoffs, finishing in seventh-place. Ray left Apex (now Dignitas) to join C9 to learn from Impact, and his play, while still having the same stunning outplays and individual highlights like last season, is still lacking when it comes to the team play aspect of being a top laner.
His comfort with the C9 improved near the end of the split, and while Impact should play a majority if not all the series against Phoenix1, there is always the chance Ray gets another chance to prove himself on the big stage.
Spring might not be the season for Ray, but probably sooner rather than later the former EDward Gaming and Apex top laner will have to be ready if C9 wants to continue its streak of top finishes in the league.
4. Can Jensen and Contractz lead C9 to the final?
Jumping from Ray to other members of the C9 roster, we have to look at Jensen and rookie jungler Juan "Contractz" Garcia. If C9 is to make it to the finals, the chemistry between the two players will need to be better than it has been for a large section of the series. Like Ray, the players individually are top class. Contractz and Jensen are two of the brightest examples of solo queue talent that have succeeded on the professional stage.
As a unit, their tandem leaves a lot to be desired, however. There have been plenty of occasions this split where the two haven't been on the same page, and Contractz, in his first NA LCS season, has been hung out to dry, getting killed in awkward positions on his quest through the jungles of Summoner's Rift.
In a stark contrast, the former jungler of C9, Meteos, had a good repertoire with Jensen, and the two were starters when Cloud9 made the quarterfinals of last year's World Championship. Now on P1, Meteos has assimilated quite nicely with his new team and shown his adeptness of playing around and along with his solo laners.
Contractz and Jensen will do need to be at their best, not as simply solo players, if they want to make sure Meteos isn't the one to get the last laugh on Saturday.