Run It Down - 2018 NA LCS Spring Playoffs - QUARTERFINALS TSM v. CG [SPOILERS]
(3) Team SoloMid v. (6) Clutch Gaming | (1 - 3)
Unlike the Team Liquid v. Cloud 9 matchup, I actually predicted the 3 - 1 series score correctly...I just chose the wrong team to win. Going into this matchup, most people figured TSM were likely to come out on top; they ended the regular season with a 9 - 1 run—including a landslide victory over Clutch Gaming—and they've been to every LCS Finals since its outset. Dash, MarkZ, and Jatt even showed us the script on the broadcast; obviously TSM were destined to defend their title in Miami. Funnily enough, some of my friends had said, "you know, I think it could be 3 - 1 TSM, but only if CG win the first game. If TSM win the first game, it'll probably be a 3 - 0." Oh how the turntables...wait.
The first game went wildly in the favor of the hometown heroes. Beginning at the 2-minute mark, TSM held the gold lead for the entire game. They limited CG to a single Ocean Drake—which came just before the 22-minute mark—and 3 kills, all of which came near CG's top-first-tier tower. The best bot-lane in the West dominated CG Apollo and CG Hakuho, and Bjergsen asserted his NA mid-lane authority. With this commanding opening game, which ended just past the 30-minute mark, TSM looked to end the series swiftly and decisively.
Enter Game 2. The bloodiest game of the series saw the first-pick Swain for Clutch. It was also the first Thresh game for Hakuho (and somehow not his last). After a 3-minute four-man dive from TSM onto CG's botlane, resulting in 2 kills and 0 deaths for TSM, the game was off to a grim start for the LCS newcomers. But, like the Empire in Episode V, CG struck back. A disappointing game 1 seemed to give LirA a boost in his performance as his Skarner wreaked havoc across the map. Still more impressive was Hakuho's Thresh. I think Tournament Realm games turn some skillshots into targeted abilities, because wherever the CG support appeared, death followed swiftly for TSM. Key hooks were constantly opening up CG to make plays across the map, and after a decisive Baron fight 34 minutes into the game, CG steamrolled their way into TSM's base, tying up the series. Clutch was making sure the crowd got its money's worth.
Okay, let's logic this one out for TSM. LirA's Skarner was too good, so TSM deny it: first-pick Skarner. Hakuho's Thresh was too good, so TSM need an answer: second-round Kog'Maw and Tahm Kench, but ban Morgana and Braum...questionable. Now time for CG's pick/ban thought process. It was probably something along the lines of "Bjergsen is their only good player so let's ban 5 mid-laners." Clutch banned Ryze, Swain, Taliyah, Syndra, and Galio; and picked Orianna. Combined with TSM's own ban of Azir, this forced Bjergsen onto Karma. CG's strategy worked brilliantly. Connecting constant Death Sentences, Hakuho made Zven look like a bronze player, and Mithy had to repeatedly Devour his lane partner. In the macro game, TSM looked completely lost. Part of this has to be attributed to Zven's 0/6/1 scoreline. Without an AD, TSM had no hope of contesting objectives. Every time Zven died, CG forced towers or dragons. Looking at the statistics, however, the true difference-maker was CG's vision control. Players on both sides more or less matched their opponents in Wards Placed except for TSM MikeYeung and CG LirA; MikeYeung placed 27 while LirA placed more than double, 58. With the removal of Tracker's Knife, proper vision control has become more challenging and even more critical to macro success, and Clutch clearly adapted superiorly. 29 minutes in, TSM's nexus exploded and Clutch Gaming found themselves one game away from doing the unthinkable, knocking TSM out of playoffs. Surely this time TSM will ban Thresh, right?
HakuNOPE. I can't imagine TSM's judgment, because the only support they banned in every game was Rakan. This leads me to believe that Hakuho's Rakan has to be nuts. Since we know player preference is a large factor in pick/ban, Zven and Mithy must be telling Coach Ssong that they can handle Hakuho's Thresh. Otherwise, what reason is there to leave it open? TSM allow Hakuho to play the Chain Warden for the third game in a row, effectively sentencing themselves to an early playoff exit. Not only do they give Thresh, they give Swain. Swain, a champion with an—at the time—11 - 0 record in NA/EU LCS combined. Sure, Bjergsen picked Syndra, but even Bjergsen's signature champion was unable to save TSM's playoff hopes. A beautiful fight in CG's bottom-side jungle began well for TSM, but ended in a 3-for-1 trade in favor of CG. TSM had the smallest of gold leads up to this point, but afterwards the scales tipped ever so slightly in favor of Clutch, and they never let up. 22 minutes later, TSM's nexus explodes for the third game in a row, and Clutch Gaming find themselves in a position no one thought possible: shaking hands on TSM's side of the LCS Battle Arena in playoffs.
Remember when Wizfujiin was on Team Coast and relegated? Remember when Hakuho was on Renegades and nearly relegated? These same players—on a team in its inaugural LCS split—just defeated the supposed best bot-lane in the West on the historically most successful team in NA LCS history. Between the 5 members of TSM's starting roster, they have 12 LCS championships (2 EU LCS championships each for Zven and Mithy, 5 NA LCS championships for Bjergsen, 3 for Hauntzer). Now—with TSM's elimination—the North American League Championship Series will have a champion that isn't Cloud 9, Counter Logic Gaming, or Team SoloMid for the first time since its inception.
In a previous article of mine, I’d forgotten about dynamic seeding. Since Clutch Gaming has upset TSM — and have the lower playoff seeding — they’ll be playing 100 Thieves in Miami, and Team Liquid will be playing Echo Fox. In both of these matchups, the higher seed is 2 - 0 over the lower seed in regular season play. Nevertheless, with Clutch upsetting TSM and Liquid sweeping Cloud 9, both 100 Thieves and Echo Fox have their work cut out for them.