It was only two months ago that the League of Legends world touted the 2018 iterations of Team Liquid and Team SoloMid as the greatest North American rosters ever assembled. Through a combination of veteran presence and young talent, both teams were collectively regarded as the strongest teams in their region, perhaps even capable of taking on some of the best teams in the world. But now, with just two weeks until the start of the playoffs, preseason expectations have been completely shattered, and both teams find themselves locked in a battle for survival, with the jungle position controlling the spotlight.
In a rematch of the very first game of the season, Liquid and TSM will once again meet on the rift this weekend. Except now, instead of championship expectations, each team will aim to stay afloat and focus on reaching the postseason more than anything else. To say that week 1 forecasts have not been lived up to would be an understatement, as TSM sits at the brink of the playoff picture with an underwhelming record of 7-7, while Liquid is just one game ahead in the win column, inhabiting an all-too familiar 4th place.
And yet, for both teams, Saturday’s game might just be the strongest glimmer of hope that each organization has in front of them. A win would all but lock up a playoff berth for either squad, as the bottom of the pack is quite far from the top 6 seeds in the standings. Only CLG could potentially make a dent in postseason plans, but it would take a minor miracle for them to be considered as actual contenders. However, for Liquid and TSM, the future must be placed on the back burner, as Saturday’s game could serve as a massive turning point for both organizations.
With enormous expectations and implications on the line, both teams must absolutely bring their A-game on Saturday. No matter which team comes out on top, the road to victory will run through the jungle, as a matchup between Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Mike Yeung might just be the most important focal point of the entire game.
Although Xmithie has arguably performed better this split, Mike Yeung will still prove to be a worthy counterpart, as he’s led TSM to a 3-1 record over the past 2 weeks with well-executed and diverse performances on carry champions like Kha’Zix and tanks such as Sejuani. Yeung has an incredibly storied history on aggressive jungle champions like Nidalee and Lee Sin, as his aggressive playstyle and daring gameplay garnered attention from across the entire region during his rookie split. If Yeung can take matters into his own hands and overcome his veteran counterpart, then the rest of TSM should have no trouble finding victory.
However, outplaying Xmithie is never an easy feat, as the 5 year veteran also has a history of taking matters into his own hands and becoming a playmaker. Out of his five most played champions of all time, four of them could be considered “aggressive”. With longstanding positive track records on Rek’Sai, Elise, and Lee Sin, Xmithie has made a name for himself as one of the most mechanically skilled junglers in the history of North American League of Legends. Although the meta might still favor tankier selections for junglers, it would not be surprising to see two of the most skilled players at their position stepping up to the plate and doing everything in their power to put their respective teams on their backs.
Patch 8.4 saw the removal of Tracker’s Knife, and now, the jungle meta seems to be taking a mild shift towards aggressive champions and playstyles. Throughout the first six weeks of the split, there was not a single instance in all of North America where a jungler did not build Tracker’s Knife. Over the course of 60 games, the item was built by both junglers every single game. But now, with vision playing a smaller role, and the minimap getting darker, professional junglers are dipping their feet in the carry champion waters, as champions such as Kha’Zix, Rengar, and even Lee Sin were all carefully selected last week on the new patch.
Throughout the first 6 weeks of the split, 68.3% of junglers opted for the Cinderhulk Enchantment on their Tracker’s Knife, whereas in week 7 alone, that number dropped tremendously, as only 46.2% of junglers opted for a tankier build. While it’s obvious that tanks have played a major role in professional League of Legends this Spring, their presence in the jungle has been utterly massive. Sejuani alone has dominated the North American jungle meta, as she’s garnered 15 bans and 46 picks throughout the year, good enough for a whopping total presence of 87.1% throughout the region.
Tanks have stagnated in the professional scene for far too long, as champions that aren’t strong enough for a ban, but are still played nearly every single game (See Sejuani) make competitive League of Legends redundant and repetitive to watch. However, it’s possible that two of the strongest, most historically daring junglers in North America could drop the gloves on Saturday, throwing the tank meta out the window and leaving the doors open for a potential matchup featuring aggressive picks and playstyles.
Although the 8 other players will obviously hold massive sway over the course of the game, the combination of a shifting jungle meta as well as massive star power at the position will prove to be an incredibly prominent narrative that will set the tone of the entire game. If Xmithie and Mike Yeung can control the majority of the Rift, the possibilities for both teams are endless.
With only four games to go until the end of the regular season, the futures of TSM and Team Liquid hang in limbo. Saturday’s game will most definitely be the late season turning point that could push the victor directly into the playoffs. However, the road to the postseason begins on the backs of the junglers, as a revamped meta could shape the remainder of the season, with Mike Yeung and Xmithie at the center of it all.