NA LCS Playoffs Preview: Grand Finals
Team SoloMid (#1) vs. Cloud9 (#3)
Date: August 28th, 3:00 PM EDT
Regular Season Records: TSM 17-1; C9: 12-6
Regular Season Series: 2-0 (4-1), in favor of TSM
There was a time in North American League of Legends where Cloud9 and Team SoloMid meeting in the Grand Finals was as commonplace as death and taxes. This Sunday; however, marks the first finals between the two organizations since the Spring Split of 2015. In that series, TSM dropped the opening game to C9 before reeling off three consecutive victories to claim a second-straight NA LCS crown. How much relevance does that match bear going into this weekend? Little to none, considering just three of ten players in that series are still part of their respective teams today. On the other hand, what the history between these two teams does demonstrate is that the first game of the series does not dictate much. In fact, in the past three playoff matchups between TSM and C9, the winner of Game 1 has ultimately gone on to lose the series. This includes their most recent showdown in the quarterfinals of this year’s Spring Split, which went strikingly similar to their last finals matchup (3-1 TSM). Even from that series, Sneaky and Jensen are the only remaining C9 members, and TSM replaced its support player. As much history as these two organizations have, it can be disregarded heading into this weekend’s series. With North America’s number-one seed at the Season 6 World Championship on the line, Sunday’s series will usher in a new era of Team SoloMid versus Cloud9, one that will begin with a resounding statement.
With so many variables and roster changes coming into and throughout this split, it was hard to gauge Cloud9’s place among North America’s elite. They beat up on bad teams and struggled against good teams. They found early leads but often allowed games to drag on, searching for that elusive play. While the team is far from remedying all of its issues, C9 showed plenty of mettle in a thrilling semifinal victory over second-seeded Immortals. After playing extremely carefully and leading for the early portion of Game 1, one devastating over-commitment spelled doom for C9.
This team-fight victory led to a Baron pickup for Immortals, which ultimately snowballed Game 1 in their favor on the back of Huni’s Rumble. In the past, such a loss may have led to discord and frustration among the C9 roster, especially against a team that has consistently had their number. Instead; however, C9 responded accordingly, banning Rumble in two consecutive victories. After dropping Game 4 due to some key mistakes, C9 gathered themselves to win Game 5 in an extraordinary 47-minute effort. Perhaps the most integral pick of this decisive game was Smoothie sticking with Tahm Kench, despite having lost on it the game prior. With the champion’s protective abilities, he was able to sway fights that sat on a razor’s edge, saving his teammates just in the nick of time. If any statistic shows the effectiveness of Smoothie’s Tahm Kench, it is Sneaky’s score-line of 2/0/13. To register a perfect, deathless, 47-minute game as an immobile AD Carry (Ashe) is next to impossible, especially against Immortals, one of the bloodiest teams we have ever seen.
In a series very few expected them to win, Cloud9 showed not only their resilience, but their improvement, which has been remarkable over the course of the season. Many, C9 players included, attribute a lot of this growth to Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, who joined as the team’s Head Coach in May. After retiring as a player in 2014, he found success coaching the prominent Chinese organization Edward Gaming, before coming to North America to lead C9 this summer. In an interview last month with Slingshot, Jensen admitted that he was at first skeptical of the actual impact a League of Legends coach could have. With he and his team sitting in finals, Jensen is now a believer in coaching, explaining that Reapered has stressed the importance of communication and working together as a team. These were the issues that plagued C9 early last year, when Meteos and Jensen did not see eye-to-eye in their methods of playing the game. Eventually, of course, this led to Meteos stepping down from the jungler position. Since his return to the lineup, he has been steadily improving, and seems to have adopted a new, positive, insightful outlook on the game. In Game 5 of the Immortals series, Meteos gave up an unnecessary First Blood with an ill-advised excursion into the enemy jungle. From that point forward, he proceeded to finish the game 7/0/7 on Gragas and orchestrate some of the team’s biggest plays.
No mention of C9’s victory over Immortals is complete without mention of top-laner Impact, who may have been the most valuable player of this series. It’s hard to call a former world-champion overlooked, but that’s just what Impact has been on this Cloud9 roster. Nearly three years removed from winning the 2013 World Championship as a member of SK Telecom T1, Impact will play in his first North American Grand Finals this Sunday. Despite being considered the weaker top-laner in the previous series, he royally outplayed his counterpart, Huni, and was a crucial part of his team’s victory. Far from just taking hits as a tank, Impact led his team in damage dealt in two of the three victories, and led them in damage taken as Gnar in the other. His teleport flanks were always well-located and well-timed, making him a terror for the entire Immortals back-line. Having returned to sensational form, Impact is just one of the several redemption stories that Reapered and company have helped orchestrate in C9’s magnificent run.
With a semifinal win over Counter Logic Gaming last weekend, Team SoloMid secured a spot in its eighth consecutive NA LCS Grand Finals. While TSM has never experienced a fall from grace quite like Cloud9, the team came into this postseason with something to prove, particularly against CLG. In an interview following the 3-0 sweep, TSM’s newest member, Biofrost, stressed how and diligently the team has worked since falling to CLG in the Spring Finals. In an interview with Jatt, Doublelift echoed these sentiments, expressing how “right” it feels to work really hard then smash them. As is sometimes the case in conventional sports, the one worrisome thing is TSM peaking too early, focused so heavily on one match they lose sight of the rest. I don’t see it. As Doublelift reiterated in his interview, this team has bigger aspirations than winning North America, and knows all too well the danger of becoming complacent.
TSM has every reason to be confident against C9 this weekend. In two series this regular season, TSM has won four games to one, including a convincing 2-0 sweep in Week 6. On a combination of Caitlyn and Lucian, Doublelift went 12/2/9, dishing out the most damage on his team in both victories. Though Doublelift and Bjergsen are often regarded as the catalysts behind TSM, they showed their ability to ride the hot hand in the semifinal against CLG. As Gnar and Gangplank, the ever-improving Hauntzer led his team in damage dealt in two of the three games. Svenskeren, meanwhile, orchestrated the early game tremendously on three consecutive games of Rek’Sai. What’s scary is how easily TSM seemed to dismantle CLG, especially with neither of their top two players going off. I had a feeling that TSM would make quick work of CLG, but gave the MSI-runner up its respect, predicting a 3-1 victory. I won’t make the same mistake this time, as TSM appears virtually unstoppable in North America.