The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater practically bleeds history. Its dark red seats exude a Golden Age grandeur appropriate for a venue that’s been around since 1957. Luminaries like Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan, and Frank Sinatra regularly graced its stage for a time. The Art Deco exterior is meant to complement its venerable insides, acting of a piece with the surrounding buildings chiseled in the same style. You’d expect to see a touring Broadway production here; a concert or variety show with the well-dressed well-to-do. Truth be told, there’s very little in the way of entertainment that hasn’t been featured on the Fillmore’s stage.
But videogames? League of Legends? That’s a horse of a different color.
Local fans and distant travelers alike filled the Fillmore’s intimate 2,713-seat capacity Saturday afternoon, eager to take in the opening act of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split Finals. The same stage on which Jackie Gleason famously produced his 1960s variety show now hosted a program he could have never imagined. Flanked by gigantic video screens that bore their names and hashtags, two multimillion-dollar franchises competed on their computers to determine who would finish Spring Split third, punch a ticket to July’s Rift Rivals, and better position themselves for a run at Worlds.
On the left side sat Echo Fox, an explosive bunch that had lost a step after securing their playoff berth. On the right were Clutch Gaming, the postseason’s Cinderella who, after doing the unprecedented by defeating Team SoloMid in the quarterfinals, came within one teamfight of playing for a title Sunday. After upending expectations two series in a row, few were willing to underestimate Clutch again. Could their late game tendencies withstand Echo Fox’s early game aggression? Would we see another back-and-forth series à la 100 Thieves?
The answer was a brutal, decisive no.
Echo Fox needed only three games to yank Clutch off Stage Right, with Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett pulling the cane. The series MVP was everywhere in a sweep that, at 75:36 minutes of game time, lasted 1:31 longer than Clutch’s Game 5 semifinal loss to 100 Thieves. Dardoch bullied his opposite jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo off the Rift, using gold and experience advantages to snowball his solo lanes ahead. Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun were already vicious carry threats when left to their own devices; with Dardoch ganking their lanes at will, they became unstoppable.
“I just did the jungler’s job, which is—in my opinion—leading through the early game,” said Dardoch at the postgame press conference. “I have the best scope of how we’re supposed to play from my POV since everyone else has to focus on playing against a human, and I’m just farming NPCs. My teammates gave me all the information I needed, I gave them all the information they needed, and we just played correctly off each other.”
None of Saturday’s games lasted over 30 minutes. At 21:10, Game 2 was the fastest of the split, and felt decided in half that time. Each game told a similar story. Dardoch would invade LirA’s jungle with impunity, leveraging fast clears by Olaf and Sejuani to put LirA on the backfoot. Then, he would help secure First Blood with a solo laner: Diving Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten mid with FeniX (Game 1), killing LirA on a Wolves invade (Game 2), and helping Huni kill LirA around his Red after a momentum-shifting Chronobreak (Game 3). From there, it was off to the races.
Dardoch created too much pressure top and mid for LirA to exploit Fox’s underperforming bot duo, allowing Johnny “Altec” Ru and Adrian “Adrian” Ma to go even in a lane Clutch needed to own. His dominance resulted in supreme objective control: Echo Fox secured every drake (8-0), every Rift Herald, every Baron (2-0, not needing one in Game 2), and did not concede a turret in Games 2 or 3 (finishing 28-3). It doesn’t get much more one-sided than that.
“I think our preparation was really good,” Dardoch told Ovilee May after the series. “Because of the draft, I could do a lot of unique clears starting in [LirA’s] jungle. In the first game we got Taliyah, so he couldn’t really answer, and in the second game I think he just played bad. I think my team helped me a lot in the early game, getting me these leads.”
Echo Fox ends their spring on a deserved high note, having played well enough during the regular season to earn a Top-3 finish. The team that was supposed in implode by Week 5 surpassed all expectations, successfully fusing together several volatile personalities to form an irresistible early game Voltron. If Altec and Adrian can consistently clear the bar set by the rest of their team, Echo Fox will continue to impress. Worlds qualification is achievable and should be the goal; with 50 Championship Points in their back pocket, an invitation to the NA Gauntlet appears to be their Season 8 floor.
While Echo Fox seem to have all the answers in the jungle, that’s where Clutch’s problems begin. Once widely considered to be the best jungler in NA, LirA dramatically underperformed this spring. Skarner’s introduction to the meta after 8.4 breathed new life into the veteran player-coach, but we’ve now seen it beaten in three straight appearances. The way Dardoch stole LirA’s Red and Raptors to start Game 1 was an instant replay of what Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung did during Game 1 of the Team SoloMid quarterfinal (with the same champion, no less). LirA made the appropriate adjustment in Game 3 against Echo Fox by stealing Dardoch’s Red, but for a player of his caliber, it’s unacceptable to be fooled twice in the same postseason. If LirA can get back on track, Clutch will continue to be a tough out come Summer Split.
But all those considerations are for the future. Back in Miami Beach, Act 1 of this NA LCS double-bill has finished. Intermission is ending. Blinking house lights bid us return to our seats. It’s time for the Fillmore’s curtain to rise and reveal the weekend’s climatic conclusion: A championship bout between 100 Thieves and Team Liquid. Rush Hour reunited. Cody “Cody Sun” Sun faces down his old Immortals teammates. Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho vs. Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.
Don’t miss it.