NA LCS Finals preview: Epic showdown between rivals TSM and Cloud9


Two of North America’s greatest organizations will meet yet again for the NA LCS Finals of the 2016 Summer Split.

Toronto’s Air Canada Centre has played host to Canada’s most storied sports franchises, most notably the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors.  This Sunday, the historic complex will host the NA LCS Finals for one of the marquee matchups that dates back to the nascent days of the league’s creation — TSM vs. Cloud9.

Having faced off an incredible four times in the finals prior to this weekend’s match, the rivalry extends well into North America’s competitive scene lore.

How they got here: Cloud9

Over the last several splits, Cloud9 has arguably weathered the greatest turmoil as an organization in their return to the finals.  Gone are the days of a Cloud9 dynasty.

After an unparalleled golden era of prosperity, the old core of Cloud9 finally faltered; the introduction of Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, the Danish solo queue star, to replace an ailing Hai “Hai” Lam went horribly wrong for Cloud9. They finished the 2015 Summer Split with a shocking 6-12 record; out was William “Meteos” Hartman as Cloud9’s jungler, and only Hai’s re-introduction to the team and sturdy shotcalling were able to salvage their season — and NA LCS spot.  The team ultimately went on to make a miraculous run through the gauntlet, qualifying for World’s.

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Nearly a year later, the current team roster has gone through even more transformations: the revolving door of supports has finally seen Andy “Smoothie” Ta emerge as the go-to laning partner with veteran Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, Meteos has returned from his professional scene hiatus to enjoy a resurgent season, former world-champion Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has provided a veteran presence in the top lane with his steadfast play, and Jensen has developed into one of North America’s most feared mid laners.  After several splits spent watching the finals from their computer screens, the C9 roster has finally put things together to make a deep run into the Summer Split Finals.

How they got here: TSM

There is no part of history for the League of Legends competitive scene that can be discussed at length without mentioning Team SoloMid. One of the oldest competitive organizations to date,  perennial championship contender and North American darling, TSM has seen just about it all.  Different iterations of the team throughout the years have all seen varying degrees of success, but they all share the distinction of having played in each and every NA LCS Finals to date.

Significant contributors to TSM’s past success on the Rift have largely come and gone.  Owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, once a premier mid laner, hung up his mouse and keyboard to concentrate on building and cementing the TSM brand.  Marcus “Dyrus” Hill, the TSM top laner for nearly half a decade, decided on retirement after the team exited from last year’s World Championship. AD Carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, now playing for rival Immortals, was a building block in TSM’s foundation for success for so many years before his departure from the team last year.

For all the high expectations riding on the team every split, the story of TSM has been one of incredible resilience, unfailing greatness and a knack for the improbable.

Debatably, one of TSM’s darkest hours arrived this Spring Split with the team nearly failing to make the playoffs after a trying 9-9 season that saw the promise of a dream team featuring NA powerhouses Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, Peter “Doublelift” Peng and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, alongside EU imports Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and Bora “Yellowstar” Kim fail to materialize.  However, the team found its footing in time for playoffs, making it to the finals before falling once again to archrivals Counter Logic Gaming. This time around, the team is out to prove that last split’s results were just a mere aberration.  Alongside newly crowned Rookie of the Split support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, the returning members of the team will aim to secure TSM’s first NA LCS Championship since the Spring of 2015.

What’s at stake?

The outcome of this weekend’s series has immense implications in determining which teams represent North America at this year’s World Championship. The team that wins will automatically qualify as the top seed. The team scoring the most amount of circuit points from the spring and summer combined will advance as the second seed.  The next four teams with the most combined championship points will play for the last spot at the regional qualifiers — the gauntlet — in sequence of fewer points starting lower on the gauntlet to more points starting higher.

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As it stands, TSM is guaranteed a spot at World’s regardless of the outcome.  A win automatically qualifies them, while a loss would still guarantee them the second spot by virtue of winning more points in the Summer Split than Counter Logic Gaming.

For C9, the picture is less clear.  A win would put them into the World Championship, while a loss would force them down into the gauntlet, and automatically qualify CLG as the second seed.  While C9 has proven themselves to be capable of weathering the rigorous demand of the gauntlet in the past, they would find themselves looking up at Immortals in any scenario; an undesirable position to be in for just about any team.

The series

A quick glance at recent match results and momentum shows TSM as the clear favorite to win it all.  Having achieved a pristine 17-1 record in the regular season, TSM cruised past CLG in the semifinals in a clean and efficient 3-0 victory to secure their spot in the finals. However, Cloud9 was no slouch of its own, compiling a solid 12-6 record in the regular season, going on to beat Team Envy 3-1 and upsetting second-seeded Immortals in a tightly contested 3-2 series.

Inevitable TSM victory?

Behind the combined might of carries Bjergsen and Doublelift, the Summer Split MVP and runner-up respectively, alongside superior team fighting and map control, TSM will look to pounce on any strategic lapses that Cloud9 may present. TSM’s ability to create gold leads (amassing an average 1.8k gold lead at 15 minutes during the split), and grab objectives despite any cross-map setbacks is what has distinguished them from the rest of the field, and they will continue to press their methodical and calculated style of play against Cloud9. Being disciplined in the face of Cloud 9’s sometimes unruly and unpredictable play will be key in securing their 4th LCS finals victory.

Or will Cloud9 pull off the upset?

For Cloud 9 to pull off the upset, it all starts with pulling even or optimally pulling ahead in standard lane matchups.

The battle of the Danes between Bjergsen and Jensen in the mid lane will be one of the key head-to-heads to keep an eye out for: can Jensen’s signature hard-carry playstyle that netted Cloud9 great success in the semifinals and throughout the split manage to frazzle Bjergsen?

In the bot lane between two upstart duo pairs, the pressure will be on Sneaky and Smoothie to tip the scale in their favor against arguably the most synergistic duo bot lane during the split in Biofrost and Doublelift.

Typically team-oriented junglers Svenskeren and Meteos will look for opportunities to enable their carries in the laning phase.

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However, perhaps the largest X-factor lies in the top-lane with Hauntzer, having demonstrated an ability to hard-carry as well as a penchant for being a vulnerable target for enemy teams over the course of the season.  His laning opponent, Impact, a solid top lane presence himself, will look to minimize Hauntzer’s effectiveness at all stages of the game.

Having evinced a tendency to be reactive and adaptive throughout the split, C9 will have to be proactive in preventing TSM from taking what it wants and dictating the tempo of the game.  Defeating TSM may be a tall order, but if the volatile history shared between the two teams is any indication at all, the door is wide open for C9 to take home first place.

Final thoughts

Look for the new “first blood” turret changes introduced in Patch 6.15 to continue to test each team’s ability to focus around securing first turret gold, and balancing necessary trade-offs.  As evidenced in the semifinals, dynamic map play around securing priority objectives has led to more decisive moments at earlier phases of the game.

With the top five KDA ratio players during the regular season belonging to either TSM or Cloud9 (Biofrost, Bjergsen, Meteos, Sneaky, and Doublelift), look for team synergy to be the narrow difference-maker.

The stage is set for the NA LCS Finals between two historic organizations.  Which team will get the latest laugh in this rilvary?

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