NLC Finals Weekend
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls...Yasuo and Yuumi players alike, we are finally here. When the NLC began its maiden voyage through the icy battlefields that was the regular season, there were 12 warriors, armed to the teeth and starved for glory. Spears splintered, shields broken and spirits withered...and then, there were four (No silly, not the novel by Nancy Werlin).
We now stand on the brink, the precipice of the mountain, built with the foundations of those who fell before her, to witness history unravel in a manner most dramatic. The NLC is not just close to placing its first crown upon the rightful King in the North (take that Jon Snow), but also sending two of her finest teams to compete in the distinguished bi-annual European tournament under its banner: The European Masters (EUM).
Fnatic Rising, BT Excel, Riddle Esports and Tricked Esport are the last four standing. Before they let loose their symphony of chaos upon the Rift, we take a closer look at the upcoming two matches that promise to deliver epic moments and a clearer view of who will truly rule the Northern League of Legends Championship.
Upper Bracket Finals: BT Excel vs Fnatic Rising
Ah yes, the ‘El Clasico’ of the British circuit, the fated meeting of academy rivals sworn to vanquish one another to claim London is theirs. It is a derby of epi- Ok enough of the dramatism. To put it simply for first time readers and watchers alike, this match is an all-British derby between the biggest and strongest teams from the circuit, and this rivalry stems from the creation of the UKLC in 2019.
Though I utter the word ‘rivalry’ generously, because in all honesty it has been a relatively one-sided affair thus far. Even Excel’s strongest, most dominating season in spring 2020 where they went undefeated in the regular season and even through playoffs, fell at the final hurdle tragically against Fnatic.
However, every season is a different challenge. Remember the phrase ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery’. What’s happened is in the past, and the Excel of today with the numinous Norwegian midlaner Jørgen "Hatrixx" Elgåen is an unpredictable juggernaut. They’ve adopted Fnatic’s method of treating the regular season as a testing ground, and even after their usually solid performance against Tricked, no one can really say what other host of successful experiments they’ve yet to deploy.
Botlaner Matthew “Deadly” Smith says “last split we went 18-0 and it means nothing if you lose” and are “treating each game like a scrim and learning from it”. We certainly expect a very scary BT Excel when playoffs rolls in, especially with midlaner Jørgen "Hatrixx" Elgåen pulling out this extraordinary Azir play.
And Fnatic? Well, we know of their imperious form on the Rift in Group B, no blemish on the perfect 10-0 record before Riddle handed them their first loss in playoffs. Led by their steadfast jungler Daniel "Dan" Hockley, they too have not been forced to show their hand, and the individual strength of their players along with their team fighting prowess have been more than enough to carry them this far.
Unlike previous seasons, this Upper Bracket Finals is the first time all summer these two titans will clash, so previous records hold very little water in terms of concrete predictions. But perhaps the most exhilarating prospect is the NLC playoffs system: the loser of this match is granted one more chance to avenge their loss through the lower bracket. The potential to see the ‘Battle for London’ not once but potentially twice, is a prospect most tantalizing indeed. So stay hyped, and stay hydrated, for the all-British academy showdown always delivers!
Matchup to watch: Hatrixx vs MagiFelix
Some argue MagiFelix isn’t as dominant this season, but that is perhaps due to fans being spoiled by the numerous immaculate performances throughout his time on Fnatic Rising. He continues to terrorize all who stand before him, and his ability to play just about anything will be key.
Hatrixx too is no slouch, and has proven he has been more than capable of filling the void Joran "Special" Scheffer left. The Norweigan mid-laner has also been trying out his Swain in recent times, so there’s a possibility we see it again in this series.
Lower Bracket Finals: Riddle Esports vs Tricked Esport
For this season, the infamous and much anticipated ‘Battle of Norway’ between Nordavind and Riddle has ended with Riddle’s victory by default, since they will finish top 4 at worst; champions at best. However, their match against Tricked has the potential to be the ‘Battle of the Nordics’, as the two second-placed teams in Group A and B respectively are now set to clash in a do-or-die series.
Riddle started off the season with huge expectations nestled roughly upon their shoulders, but left many fans and analysts worried as many of their performances were very uneven. But as the season plodded along, the all-Danish roster started becoming more and more cohesive as a team, and they were the only team in Group A to defeat BT Excel not once, but twice. Veteran midlaner Chres “Sencux” Laursen has had many noteworthy performances, and Tricked will surely be wary of the havoc he’s capable of causing.
On the other hand, Tricked came in as one of the more surprising packages. Though many expected them in playoffs, their convincing second-place finish over Munster Rugby Gaming in Group B was somewhat of a surprise. They even impressed LEC caster Indiana "Froskurinn" Black enough for her to give them a shout-out during the LEC broadcast! Since then, they’ve lost to Excel in the Upper Bracket and beat a spirited Barrage Esports to make the Lower Bracket finals against Riddle. Tricked’s two solo laners in Andreas "WeiZoR" Svanholm and Nguyễn "Eren" Đức Anh are often under the spotlight for their many flex picks and well-coordinated plays, and if we’re lucky we’ll get to see their now infamous Azir top again!
If we’re going by simple stylistic breakdowns: Riddle is the more ‘standard’ team where they don’t necessarily bring out many surprises - they’re just fundamentally very good. Tricked are the more aggressive, multi-flex champions team that want to charge headlong into conflict from minute one. Remember, this is the last chance for both teams, so you can be sure they will be fighting tooth and nail for one final chance to reach the promised land.
Matchup to watch: Maxi vs Sof
Both junglers are capable of hard facilitating their team or just taking over the game by the themselves, though Riddle’s jungler Magnus "Maxi" Kristensen does like his infamous Kha’Zix, Nocturne and Nidalee picks while Sofiane "Sof" Saibi from Tricked loves Lee Sin, along with Shyvana and Sett.
This will shape up to be an interesting matchup depending on what they pick, but be it facilitating their lanes or seeking out the other for a rumble in the jungle, whoever gets the right reads consistently will emerge the victor. As our caster Dan “Aux” Harrison said, “Always remember, better jungler wins.”
The Final Stretch
Only two days of competition remain: 48 hours before we crown the first-ever champion of the NLC. As we wait in bated breath, the European Masters await on the horizon, awaiting the two best teams this joint venture between the UK & Ireland and the Nordics has to offer.
Which of the two academy teams will rise, and which one will fall? Can Riddle Esports or Tricked Esport mount a Cinderella run to the finals? Who will represent the NLC at the European Masters? Find out on August 15 at 15:00 CEST!
Who will come out on top? Will the academy teams finally be pushed to the very brink? What heroic, underdog stories will we witness? New tales will be woven as we approach the final legs of the regular split, so stay home, stay safe, and stay hyped! Matches continue this Tuesday, Jul 21 at 19:00 CEST.