Illinois being a contender is nothing new. In the inaugural Big Ten season in 2017, UIUC went all the way to the BTN Championship before falling to Maryland – a story that repeated itself again this year. As a representative of the Big Ten, Illinois will look to shake off a tough loss to UMD and put together a Cinderella story to close out the season in incredible fashion. What’s the likelihood of such a tale? I shook my Magic 8-Ball: “Outlook not so good.” But making it this far means hope remains.
UIUC enters the tournament as the bottom seed, putting them on the same bracket as both North juggernauts, Maryville and Columbia College. To be quite honest, I don’t like their chances to take two games from Maryville, let alone three off CC. Looking at the objective totals across all their matches, they’re relatively the same every week – this includes series of 3+ games. What this tells me is that the Illini will have a harder time closing out matches after the BO3 Quarterfinals. The scariest stat for an Illinois fan is their objective performance against top teams. Only looking at Illinois’ performances against teams that have qualified for the Finals, Illinois has -43 obj. diff. (6gp, 1-5 record).
Not all is dire for the Illini, though. They’ve shown some promise of their own with plenty of exciting plays. No one can argue they lack an understanding of the game, but the next step for this team is consistency. UIUC just haven’t put together the string of dominant wins that we see from the other teams of the tournament. If they show up to LA with the questions about their consistency answered, I think they could put a team like Maryville on their heels.
The Fighting Illini, despite the tough placement, are still confident headed into the National Championship Finals. Manager Armando “Chivas” Gomez gave some insight on how UIUC is feeling about the work they’re putting in now. “Prep is going well. Our [exams] are over so we are going full throttle with preparation.” Though the odds appear slim, Illinois remains confident in their approach to the National Championship. “You can expect a better version of ourselves – more creativity, better skill – come [the tournament].” Gomez also mentioned the match he’s looking forward to most is their first of the tournament against Maryville. “We want to knockout the former champions. If we prepare well, we can make it against any opposition.”
There’s no easy road for any team in this tournament, but I think everyone can agree Illinois might have the toughest path to the finals. They’ll need to show up well-prepared, hopefully with a few tricks up their sleeve, to make a run. Regardless, expect to see the Fighting Illini to live up to their name come June 7th when action gets underway.
The National Championship bracket is set! Be sure to keep up with all the action by following the CSL LoL Twitter or Facebook pages. To view previously broadcast matches, check out the CSL LoL playlist on YouTube or find it in the videos section of the CSL Twitch channel.
Christian Matlock is an esports professional who graduated from the University of Missouri in 2016. He has worked in coaching with Illinois College and was a founding member of Allegiance, a professional esports organization that debuted in Halo and now fields teams in Super Smash Bros and Call of Duty, among others. You can find him on Twitter @CMMatlock.
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