As of April 22, the National Championship bracket for College LoL 2018 is finalized. The top four seeds - Maryville University (North), University of California, Irvine (West), Western University (East), and University of Texas, Dallas - will be joined by the top two teams from each Play-In group: Columbia College (MO), University of Maryland, College Park, University of Ottawa, and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. These eight teams will compete live in Los Angeles from June 7-10 for a shot at a National Title.
According to UIUC’s coordinator, Chivas, the bracket for the National Championship is officially set. With that in mind, here are five burning questions about how the final stretch of College League of Legends will play out!
Only the Peach Belt had more questions going into the Play-In than the Big Ten, but the Midwest’s Power Five conference popped off and sent both of its representatives to the National Championship bracket. Now, Illinois, Urbana-Champaign faces last year’s champions, Maryville, and Maryland will do battle with Western University, both teams that showed up as the games got tougher. While these matchups are both extremely difficult, they are also opportunities for Big Ten teams to put speculation about their level of competition relative to the rest of College LoL truly to rest. If they do, it would show that the window for smaller schools to establish themselves as household names in collegiate esports before the big universities mobilized is closing much faster than many may have thought.
Collegiate pundits have been asking this one since the beginning of last season. Maryville is looking to cement a dynasty with back-to-back national titles, and the Columbia College (MO) Cougars are still one of College LoL’s most talented teams. Despite losing to CC during the regular season, the Saints came back hungry and blew Columbia out of the water in the North Finals and Midwest Campus Clash. The teams on the left side of the bracket have their work cut out for them if they want a piece of this year’s hardware. However, there is one weakness in the North’s game. CC remains something of an enigma: an incredibly gifted superteam that excels at punishing mistakes, but has a nasty habit of playing down to their opponents’ levels. The Cougars gave up only eight objectives in their first two Play-In series against George Mason and Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, including a complete blank in their first bout with UIUC. However, the early season powerhouse pick stumbled against the Peach Belt Conference’s North Georgia, who took sixteen objectives in two games despite losing 2-0. The real question is whether the Cougars’ bad habit will bite them in the final stretch of the season. Dream teams are historically hit and miss in spectator sport, and the Cougars will need to fix their consistency if they want to buck that narrative.
Western U is the Rodney Dangerfield of College League of Legends. All season long, they’ve gotten no respect, but everybody paused when they blanked Eastern favorites, Ottawa, 3-0 in the regional finals. In that series, the Purple out-OBJ’d their opponents 43-11, and showed a lot of power in the bottom lane, which bodes well in a Championship bracket so rich in bottom duos and macro controllers. Now in position to repeat last year’s North vs. East National Championship matchup, these Purple People Eaters will need to co-opt their underdog label and keep their winning formula intact if they want to bring the title home to the London of the North.
In the big picture, the winners of the Big Four regions earned themselves some much needed rest at the start of Final Exam season, but they are also going to have had over a month of time off from staked competitive play, and minimal interregional experience. We have seen as little as a week of time off throw teams out of whack (see Fraser, Simon), so getting these teams back on the rift against opponents from other regions could very well be a mixed bag. While a team like Maryville, who cemented themselves as one of the surest bets in CLoL with their North Regional victory, is tougher to question, other teams that had bumpier roads to their current seeding might raise more questions than answers as we get closer to June.
No, but seriously, do we like UCI again? The Anteaters were THE hottest team of the regular season until Simon Fraser cleaned their clocks in the finale. On The Quad, I called them the team with the most agency in the Western playoffs. They were in total control of their destiny, and boy, did they grow up fast. They smashed opponents in rapid succession, got their rematch with a lethargic-looking Simon Fraser squad in the Regional Finals, and avenged themselves 3-1 against Vancouver’s finest. However, with this much time off from CLoL, and only one playoff series with serious adversity to test them, the Anteaters may just be another hot team waiting to hit the wall again. Certainly, they have the LCS veterans to push them over the hill and into the David position against the Northern Goliath, but they’ve burned us before, so they could burn us again.
Overall, the month of May is going to take far too long to pass us by as we wait to crown a National Champion for 2018. However, given the storylines in play and the ebb and flow of the collegiate season, any one of these eight teams could make themselves a Cinderella story. For more specific previews on each of the contenders, be sure to stay tuned to CSL’s Facebook and Twitter pages for content updates and profiles of your favorite to take home the title.
Matt Howard is the League of Legends editor for Collegiate StarLeague. He is also a Games Scholar finishing his Master’s in History at the University of Houston. His thesis is a sport history of League of Legends esports and Web 2.0 culture. Find him on Twitter @EHyungNim.