Wildcard Weekend was everything fans of Minor League Esports wanted and then some. Across all three leagues, there were 18 match-ups total and half of them went to game fives. The Conference Semi-Finals are poised to be even more competitive, as more is on the line: a trip to the Conference Finals. Let us take a deep dive into the two matchups within each conference and see how each contest may unfold.
Blue Conference – Saturday, Dec. 5th
#1 Hive v. #7 Knights @ 8pm on MLESPORTSGG2
The Hive received a first-round bye, finishing the regular season with an astounding 53-17 record. They were nearly perfect against losing squads, going 29-1, while simultaneously having a winning record against above 500 teams, going 24-16. This resounding success can be largely attributed to Noah, who ranked out into the Premier League towards the latter half of the season. Even after their departure, they led the team in goals, assists, saves, shots, and demos, while posting a 6.32 MVPR, good for fourth in the league. When a team’s star player ranks out, there are always concerns and questions on who can fill the void and be that offensive catalyst moving forward. The Hive found their player in easyp, who was acquired via trade from the Bears. Easyp started the season as a Knights reserve (interestingly enough) and they spent no time in showing why the Hive traded for them. In their two regular-season matchups with the Hive, they went 9-1 posting an average MVPR of 7.28. Alongside uh steve, who is a 16.5 salary player, the Hive will be a formidable opponent.
If there is a team that can match the Hive step for step, it is the Knights. Arguably the strongest seventh seed in recent memory, the Knights were able to reverse sweep the number two seeded Sabres, in a thrilling five-game set. Going down 0-2, and with game 3 going into overtime, the Knights were able to clutch out a necessary game 3 win and ride that momentum into an exciting series win. As was expected, the Knights pairing came out as a two-headed monster, with both Prosperity2K and MikeisMyIke putting up MVPR’s around 5.50 against two Sabre players who finished in the top 10 of OVMPR during the regular season. The Knights showed incredible resiliency and poise, while also putting up solid numbers against the defensively staunch Sabres.
The Sabres against the Knights was a complete toss-up and the Knights against the Hive in round 2 is a subsequent toss-up. All four players have a salary of 16.5, with explosive offenses, and the ability to suppress their opponent. What we can expect is a close contest, looking to go the distance.
#3 Jets v. #4 Hurricanes @ 9pm on MLESPORTSGG
The Jets and the Hurricanes were able to secure wildcard wins, with a 3-1 win and a 3-0 win, respectively. The Jets fielded the impressive duo of Bond Brother and Indy, who between the both of them, they averaged 11 shots per game. Despite this offensive pressure and the series scoreline, the Aviators made it a tight contest. All three Jets’ wins were by a one or two-goal margin, with the Aviators close to snatching a win in game 2. They were up 1 with under 40 seconds remaining in the game, but the Jets were able to scrap back and take it in regulation. The Aviators played more compact on defense and hit their opponent effectively on the counter. They unfortunately overextended on their challenges at times and when they did, the Jets were able to punish them every time. The Jets’ ability to constantly switch up their playstyle, between looking for the infield passes and taking turns on the solo offensive opportunities, kept the Aviators imbalanced. The Jets’ will be looking to copy that adaptive playstyle, with either Indy joining Bond Bother once again, or Ripperr taking to the pitch instead for their post-season debut.
The Hurricanes had a far easier time in their wildcard matchup against the Hawks, sweeping them in convincing fashion, and limiting them to three goals across three games. We all knew going into the series that the Canes’ offense goes through Privileged Pear, their offensive juggernaut during the regular season. What is wonderful news to Canes’ fans is that nerr97 stepped up huge against the Hawks, leading the pair in goals (6) and MVPR (5.39). The Canes’ will be more well rounded going into the Conference Semi-Finals, which will bring problems for the Jets, knowing they cannot simply focus on a single player to shut the Hurricanes down.
However, questions still surround this Canes’ lineup. In their last regular-season series against the Lightning’s ace pairing (Bob and Maseface26, both of 16.5 salary) the Hurricanes lost the series 3-2 and would have lost the best of 5 series 3-1. Privileged Pear and nerr97 both posted MVPRs under 4.0 to a pairing that is arguable stronger than what they faced in the first round. Moreover, the Canes’ have a 40% win percentage against winning teams during the regular season. It is yet to be seen if the Hurricanes can turn that trend against an utterly dominant squad in the Jets and secure their ticket to the Conference Finals.
Orange Conference – Sunday, Dec. 6th
#1 Spectre v. #7 Shadow @ 8pm on MLESPORTSGG2
The Spectre were able to clinch the first seed in the Orange Conference with a 49-21 record. Part of their successful regular season was due to the valiant efforts of their top pairing of Blackwatch and Light. Light was brought on early in the season when the Spectre’s playing General Manager, Kunics, ranked out into the Premier League. Since then, Blackwatch and Light have gone a collective 13-2 across three contests, posting impressive defensive numbers. They averaged 5.13 saves/game as a unit, while both averaged an OMVPR around 4.2 for the entire season. The Spectre were just as solid on the offensive side of the ball too. Blackwatch led the way with 75 goals, but Light came in at the 92% percentile, in terms of their offensive involvement. We can expect that on Sunday that both Blackwatch and Light will carry their own weight and hope to beat the Shadow by committee.
The seventh-seeded Shadow came out of the wildcard round with a massive 3-1 upset win against the second-seeded Elite. The unknown pairing of Akina and Nyyankeesrd, who played their first series together as a team, produced a dazzling performance and very much made their presence known within the Master League. In their three wins, they were able to limit the Elite to just 4 goals and keep Hotwiredbug and Elegance to an MVPR around 3.0, respectively. Akina showed instances of mechanical brilliance in the air, while Nyyankeesrd led the pair with a 3.98 MVPR.
The Spectre cannot go into this matchup taking the Shadow for granted. Like the Elite, the Spectre finished the regular season with a record barely above 500 against winning squads, going 16-14. Moreover, the Spectre and the Elite are both well-rounded teams, that do not overly rely upon offensive output to win games. Knowing this, the Shadow match up nicely, if they can stifle the Spectre’s offense while producing enough offensive pressure themselves.
#4 Pandas v. #6 Outlaws @ 9pm on MLESPORTSGG
In the first round the pan // das were able to avoid the reverse sweep at the hands of the Demolition, winning game five after losing games 3 and 4. Going into that contest, it was well known that dan720 would be the man for the Pandas, and if they faltered at any point, so would the team. However, dan720 stepped up huge, and more importantly for the Pandas, so did Unforgiven. They led the pair in MVPR with a 5.14 and set up dan720 consistently, potting 7 assists. They were down two goals in game one with under a minute left but were able to battle back a squeeze out a crucial 5-4 overtime win. A balanced offense and relentless determination will serve the Pandas well going into the Conference Semi-Finals.
Super sub Turbopolsa, I mean Stovvadz, came up clutch against the Rhinos for the Outlaws. KyleSpanx was unable to take to the pitch last minute and the General Manager for the Outlaws did not disappoint. Alongside Llama they were able to squeak out a 3-2 series win against a tough Rhinos lineup. What is most impressive is that for the Outlaws’ three wins, they limited the Rhinos to zero goals. The Rhinos were unable to sustain any amount of pressure for those three losses. The Outlaws were beyond proficient in their ability to absorb the Rhinos’ initial offensive strike and quickly transition back downfield, forcing the Rhinos back onto defense. If the Outlaws can continue that quick transition play with KyleSpanx, the Pandas will have their hands full.
This series will come down to individual matchups. We all know Llama and dan720 will come out and produce a strong performance. Questions arise around Unforgiven and if they will be able to have a repeat performance under a higher-pressure situation and if KyleSpanx can slot into the lineup with limited hiccups after not playing two weeks ago. Of note, the Pandas will have to watch out for the Outlaws deceptive kickoff game, in which they frequently engage in a hard cheat kickoff, which netted them several key goals in the Rhinos series.
The playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. For the Hive and the Spectre, they are just starting their first leg, while the others are 10km deep, looking to reach the halfway mark on a strong note. All the Conference Semi-Final matchups are looking to be incredibly tight, with any team being able to defeat the other. Will the seventh seeds from both conferences continue their quests towards playoff glory? Will we have more theatrics with compelling game 5 nail-biters? You can watch all these matches and matches from each league at MLESPORTSGG and MLESPORTSGG2. Support your favorite teams and MLE by watching the stream. And good luck to all the playoff teams.