The race to reach the Stage One title matches is heating up as it heads into its fifth and final week.
At the end of every stage of the regular season, the top three teams of that stage get the chance to fight for the title of Stage Champion. Third- and second-place finishers battle to progress to a match with the top team of the stage, with the winner of that final match crowned champion.
While these additional matches don’t count towards the regular season standings, and therefore don’t advance teams any closer to reaching the season playoffs, there’s more than just pride on the line – the winner of the stage title matches takes home a $100,000 bonus prize, with second awarded $25,000.
As Stage 1 enters its final week, the top three spots are far from secured. As anticipated at the start of the season, it’s the three all-Korean squads – London Spitfire, New York Excelsior, and Seoul Dynasty - that sit atop the standings, but they’ve each been proven mortal.
Nothing is yet guaranteed, and a hungry pack of western rosters are primed to pounce on any opening to steal a title match spot in the final week of stage one.
||Map Score (Win-Draw-Loss)
|| London Spitfire
|| New York Excelsior
|| Seoul Dynasty
|| Houston Outlaws
|| Boston Uprising
|| Los Angeles Valiant
|| Philadelphia Fusion
|| San Francisco Shock
|| Los Angeles Gladiators
|| Dallas Fuel
|| Florida Mayhem
|| Shanghai Dragons
Of the teams currently holding a top three spot, Seoul Dynasty are in the most obviously vulnerable position. Having lost their matches to both of the teams ahead of them, they can’t afford any further slip-ups.
Their final match of the stage is against San Francisco Shock, a team that Seoul should be pretty comfortable in beating. It’s the penultimate match, however, that might be of concern to Dynasty fans, against the Los Angeles Valiant.
The Valiant were an early candidate for the best team in the west, and though they aren’t one of the two teams to already have beaten one of the Korean squads, their shot at London Spitfire in particular came very close.
What’s more, LA Valiant’s own final match of the season is against Shanghai Dragons, the only team in the league without a match victory. Assuming both Valiant and Dynasty win their final matches, Valiant winning the head-to-head would tie them at a 7-3 match record.
However, the Seoul team still have an element in their favor – map record. They’re currently five games to the good over the LA squad, meaning that the Valiant need a 4-0 sweep over Dragons just to close the gap.
That means that even if Seoul lose to Los Angeles 0-4, their fate really rests on their final match against San Francisco. Find enough map wins there, and Dynasty should be able to protect themselves, at least from the Valiant.
Champion of Challengers
Currently, four teams sit behind Seoul Dynasty with a tied record in match win-loss. Houston Outlaws, Boston Uprising, Los Angeles Valiant, and Philadelphia Fusion all sit at 5-3, distinguished only by map count.
Of course, even if one of them can make it into the top three, all of them certainly can’t. Chances are there will only be one spot going, and in several cases these four teams are going to be fighting each other directly even for a chance at stealing it.
Both the Houston Outlaws and the Philadelphia Fusion will face off against Boston Uprising in their final week of competition, each a must-win game for whichever team hopes to challenge for the title matches.
Only the LA Valiant avoid the other challengers, and all four will be relying on them to pick up a win against Seoul Dynasty to create an opening. Without a Valiant victory over the Dynasty, the chances of any of these teams usurping the Seoul spot become incredibly slim.
The Outlaws’ opening
While most eyes will be on Seoul Dynasty to try and hold onto their spot, there is a scenario which could see another title match team threatened.
The final week will also feature a big match between London Spitfire and New York Excelsior, currently the number one and two teams respectively in the standing, assuring one of them an additional loss as the stage comes to a close.
If the defeated team is NYXL, they should still be quite safe – their other match of the week is against Florida Mayhem, a fairly low threat for New York offering them the chance to win out and maintain their top-three spot.
If London fall, however, there’s an opening for the Houston Outlaws to potentially exploit. The Outlaws are London’s first match of week five, and if Houston win both that and their match against Boston, then both the Spitfire and Outlaws would stand at 7-3.
At this point it would come down to map count, and on that front Houston are actually the best-placed of the challenging teams. An eighteen-map win streak in the middle of Stage One has put them only four maps short of the current top team, a distance they could very well make up should this scenario come to pass.
The following matches are those that are the most likely to both produce incredible games and influence the final standings of Stage One:
- Los Angeles Valiant vs Seoul Dynasty – Wednesday February 7th, 8:00pm PT
- London Spitfire vs Houston Outlaws – Thursday February 8th, 6:00pm PT
- New York Excelsior vs London Spitfire – Saturday February 10th, 11:00am PT
Whatever the final standings, the title matches will follow on immediately after the end of the scheduled matches on Saturday February 10th