Has there ever been NA LCS semifinal matchups with so much riding on the line?
Yes, it’s the Summer Split, and Team SoloMid, Immortals, Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming are all looking to secure their 2016 World Championship berth early.
But (however important legacy may be in light of a Worlds spot) TSM and C9 are looking to become the first team to ever win more than two splits, while CLG is looking to become the first team to win three straight. And although their consistent level of top play hides it well, Immortals still want to make their stake in NA’s elite with their first ever split win.
So let’s break down who might actually get it all done.
Team SoloMid vs. CLG
The NA LCS script writers were always going to make this happen.
Though it did require the sacrifice of Team Liquid’s forever-fourth-place curse, NA fans are spoiled with another El Clasico, one that proves to be the best we’ve ever seen.
Team SoloMid is coming off the back of the most dominant LCS split the organization has ever seen after the consequent worst regular-season placing in spring. Meanwhile, CLG is looking to place their mark on NA’s history—winning a record third straight LCS split.
Immediately after the regular season’s end, it would be hard to argue that TSM weren’t the easy odds favorites to take any matchup presented to them—even the possibility-turned-reality of a CLG that slumped throughout much of the season, slightly picking it up at the end but never nothing convincing enough to challenge a TSM win at any point in the bracket.
But things have changed after CLG’s quarterfinal against Team Liquid. Gone were the days of team’s amassing 2k-3k gold leads on the two-time champions before faltering enough for CLG to take advantage of mistakes they had allowed their enemies to make. Aided by a surprise AD carry substitute and Josh "Dardoch" Hartnett’s over-aggression when not camping bot lane, CLG looked complete and were for the most part able to outlane all of their opposing lane matchups.
But against TSM—arguably some of the strongest laners in NA—the same result cannot be expected. While eyes might be turned toward the bot-lane matchup, the key to either team’s success will be in the jungle matchup between Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen and Jake "Xmithie" Puchero.
Given the death of the lane swap and return of standard lanes, all signs indicate that Team SoloMid’s jungler will be given license to play however he wants, which places the onus on CLG’s success on Xmithie. The CLG jungler was able to contain Dardoch’s signature aggression, but it’ll be a harder task against Svenskeren, who will be backed by winning lanes on paper.
In truth, CLG’s biggest advantage and TSM’s ultimate opponent in this series will be themselves. As a team that’s historically had large issues adjusting to meta changes, the lane swap change will be the true test for TSM.
Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg will find comfort in the return of his favorite champion Syndra, but the same cannot be totally said about Peter "Doublelift" Peng who—if TSM finds themselves dealing with Lucian and Sivir bans—might not be comfortable having to play meta picks Ashe and Jhin.
Cloud9 vs. Immortals
With the TSM-CLG rivalry, it’s easy to forget we have an equally strong and potentially wild matchup on the other side of the bracket.
In the first playoff matchup of these new-age North American titans, Immortals will battle one of the better iterations of post-Hai Cloud9 in what is likely to be a battle of successful jungle focus due to the return of standard lanes: Kim "Reignover" Yue-jin and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon vs. Will "Meteos" Hartman and Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen.
The strength of Reignover and Huni needs not be stressed, as the duo’s chemistry is simply the best. And in meta, where Huni doesn’t have to worry about lane swaps and only has to focus on the 1v1, it’s not a far-fetched reality to assume Immortals will play around their primary carry and, in turn, will be a machine waiting to snowball.
Cloud9 isn’t without their own ace. In three straight games in their quarterfinal match vs. Team Envy, Jensen simply could not be stopped. C9 turned the tide in Game 2 on the back of a huge 14-2-6 Syndra match and ended the series with an LCS record-breaking 20-kill LeBlanc game.
This is not just a fluke performance from Jensen, as he’s been carving out his spot as NA’s second-best mid-laner since early July. And it’s all the more reason why Cloud9’s success will be ultimately tied to Jensen, the player everyone had hoped he would be when he first joined C9—the true incarnation of his old namesake.
Cloud9 knows this. Meteos, who previously had problems working with Jensen when he first came, now caters to the mid-laner when he needs it, and Zach "Sneaky" Scuderi in a utility-heavy AD carry meta has no problem setting up Jensen for success. The obvious question remains if Immortals are ready for it.
With Jensen and Huni as the keys to either teams’ success, the job isn’t just difficult for Meteos and Reignover getting them there. Eugene "Pobelter" Park and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong’s task becomes much more difficult as well in quelling the constant pressure both will see in their lanes. In just their form alone, you’d have to give the edge to Pobelter. He’s right up there in NA’s mid-lane elite and should be able to handle himself in a 1v1 against Jensen as he knows how to play under near-constant ganks.
Still, Immortals—like TSM—shouldn’t be entirely confident going into their semifinal matchup. Although they dropped only two games throughout the regular season, their wins against top six teams were never with any degree of certainty. Yes, their trademark overaggressive play style creates an environment for Huni to amass significant gold and experience leads, but that’s not entirely ideal when your opponent is looking for the same thing.
It’s a game of brinkmanship, and only Reignover and Meteos know the codes.