The Mid-Season Showdown is on! Six LCS teams will face off in a tournament for the LCS Spring Split championship and a trip to the Mid Season Invitational. Even though the victor doesn’t improve their chance of making Worlds 2021, the first match between TSM and Team Liquid had all the intensity of a high-stakes series.
In the end, it was the #3 seed Team Liquid who knocked #2 seed TSM down into the losers bracket. It’s not unfamiliar territory for TSM, whose 2020 Summer Split run started with a first-round loss and required a loser’s bracket run. But it’s also a boon for Team Liquid, who rebounded from an inconsistent regular season to pull it all together in the games that mattered most.
How did TL manage to defeat TSM? Here are three major regions why Team Liquid emerged victorious.
1. Alphari Gap
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Alphari has been the best top laner in the LCS all season for Team Liquid, earning first-team All-Pro honors as a result. While Huni certainly overperformed early expectations, earning himself third-team All-Pro honors, in this series it was a very clear top lane gap between the two.
In Games 2 and 4, Alphari was dominant, absolutely dismantling Huni on Gangplank and Gnar. In Game 2, in particular, Alphari was simply styling on Huni (with big assists to his mid laner and jungler). The only real marks against Alphari were Game 1, where he struggled early but got off some great Gnar! ultimates late game, and Game 3 where he went 0/5/5 on Aatrox (and, to be honest, that Game was a massive draft difference).
While TSM fans might want to blame Huni, that isn’t quite fair. Other than his Game 4 Gragas game, which was rough to watch, he really didn’t have a chance. Alphari simply out-matched him.
2. Jungle Diff
I’m in the minority of people in that I have not been very high on TSM’s jungler Spica since he entered the LCS. He’s often hesitant to pull the trigger and fully commit to engages and he’s often put behind the pace he should be in the early game.
Santorin, on the other hand, is a player who is typically described as more stable than “pop-off.” His high-floor, low-ceiling stigma was thrown out the window, though, in this series.
Here’s how Team Liquid managed to beat TSM!
On Nidalee in Game 2, in particular, Santorin was a dominant force in the jungle, getting far more done than Spica. In all but the Game 3 loss, Santorin had a higher kill participation than Spica. Even though TSM was more proactive in the early game, Santorin helped secure a lot more teamfights in the late game, along with CoreJJ.
3. Team Liquid’s Late Game
Coming into the series, the big narrative was whether TSM could clean up their early game and if Team Liquid could stop with their tendency to throw late game. Oracle’s Elixir rated Team Liquid the best early game team in the 2021 regular season, but the third-worst mid/late game team; TSM was middle-of-the-road in terms of early game, but second-best mid/late game. Ironically, this series was an inversion of those expectations.
In Game 1, TSM got out to a massive lead, then botched the game around a Baron call that swung the gold lead back to Team Liquid. In Game 2, Team Liquid got back to their early game dominance, blowing the game wide open on a four-for-none fight down bottom lane that put them 1,500 gold ahead at 11:30 into the game. By 15 minutes, the gold lead doubled to 3,100 but TL never succumbed to the poor late game decision-making that haunted them all season, closing the game out in 33:27.
After taking a loss in Game 3, which was basically even up until a lost dragon fight that opened the door for TSM to get Baron, Game 4 was a repeat of Game 2. TL got out to a big lead early and continued to expand it throughout the mid game. While there were hiccups towards the end of the game, where TSM was seeming to repel Team Liquid in their final pushes with all three inhibs down, TL did not panic and kept chipping away until they finally managed to close the game.
Even though TL did not absolutely out-maneuver TSM in the late game of their wins, they managed to do something they struggled with all season: close out those games when they were ahead. If Team Liquid continues to combine their strong early game and eliminate the late game throws, they can become NA’s representative at MSI.