Spring Split 2016 Finals Breakdown: TSM vs. CLG

There isn’t a more storied rivalry in North American League of Legends than Team SoloMid vs Counter Logic Gaming. And while these two organizations have always been diametrically opposed, this year that opposition extends into the game as we see two distinctly different styles of play face off in the North American LCS Spring Split Finals.

The most immediately pressing issue between the two teams is going to be the pick and ban phase and their individual player matchups. Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) played a smart Team Liquid whose pick ban and early game phases tended to decide significant portions of the game. Team SoloMid (TSM) on the other hand, played an Immortals team that didn’t seem to have the first clue about what to do with their pick and ban phase, favoring out of Meta champions and top lane carries over the more standard tanks. This question of picks and bans also draws the spotlight onto one of CLG’s largest weaknesses: Darshan’s champion pool.

Top Lane Matchup

Initially, the top lane matchup seems to favor Darshan. He is the more talented solo laner of the two and tends to out CS his opponents by over 8 CS on average at 10 minutes, while Hauntzer tends to lag behind his opponent by almost 11 CS at the same point in the game. But Darshan has a problem, after patch 6.6 he no longer has a significant champion pool.

Darshan spent most of the Spring Split playing split push carry champions such as Jax and Fiora favoring these two champions in almost 50% of his games during the regular season. But, the patch cycle moved against Darshan with split push champions taking a significant backseat to their tankier counterparts. For TSM this is nothing but good news with Hauntzer struggling to create leads on split pushers but being excellent when it comes to the teamfighting tanks now taking over the game.

Hauntzer puts particular emphasis on two champions: Maokai and Poppy, playing four and seven games on those champions respectively, this season. On the other side, Darshan tends to play, in this more recent tank centric Meta, champions like Graves and Ekko. While not strictly adhering to the confines of the tank Meta, they fit CLG’s style and would do well for him at this point in Patch 6.6. It’s worth noting that Darshan struggled on Maokai in his only game with the champion this season, CLG’s game 4 loss to Team Liquid in last week’s semi-finals, often misjudging targets in team fights and falling almost 50 CS behind his lane opponent. However, Hauntzer has not played a single Ekko game this season meaning that he will be an unknown quantity on the champion going into the series, though given Darshan’s unabashed love for Ekko, it seems likely that TSM will go into the series planning to ban him, with CLG probably banning Maokai. In the four games Hauntzer has played on the champion he has yet to lose.

As far as the champions we have seen them play recently, this leaves Poppy as the only contested pick between the two, so expect her to be a popular red side ban or blue side first pick in almost every game. In all, the matchup probably still favors Darshan on an individual level, but drifts slightly in favor of TSM in the grand scheme of the series simply because of Maokai’s strength in the current Meta, and the power of demanding a ban if Darshan decides he is unable to play around the pick.

Jungle Matchup

In the Jungle, I don’t expect to see many bans in the first game unless one team decides they simply don’t want to see the enemy jungler on a particular champion. The most likely culprits here are Nidalee or Kindred probably, but matchup wise both junglers have similar champion pools. One notable difference between the two is Xmithie’s slightly bizarre choice to continue playing Elise. The champion isn’t bad in the jungle right now, necessarily, just a strange pick that we don’t see often. But, he produces positive results on the champion, so I see no reason that it wouldn’t be a go to pick for him heading into this series.

Xmithie and Svenskeren also have a slight divergence in the two second choice jungle champions of Gragas and Graves. Over the course of the regular season Xmithie performed much better on Gragas, 67% percent over 3 games for Xmithie versus 0% over 4 games for Svenskeren. While Svenskeren had the advantage on Graves with a 100% win rate over 5 games versus the 0% in 1 game for Xmithie. This could push Graves into an interesting place as both a strong pick for Darshan and a denial of one of Svenskeren’s favorite champions. While the Graves pick could play significantly into CLG’s favor they will need Xmithie to perform better than he has in the past on Kindred. During the Liquid series he put up one good performance on the champion as well as one that lacked any kind of pressure or presence. In order to ensure that the pick stays competitive and ban worthy for TSM, as it’s a champion Svenskeren excels at.

Mid Lane Matchup

One place that seems to favor CLG slightly, at least in terms of champion pool, is mid lane. The only significant difference in Bjergsen and Huhi’s champion pools is that Huhi favors Ryze and Corki more than Bjergsen. This matchup, more so than champion select, is going to depend on the game plan of CLG. There is no question that Bjergsen is the better laner. During the regular season their stats line up almost evenly, but in playoffs Bjergsen has been undeniably stronger, averaging a Kill to Death ratio that is over two and a half times that of Huhi, while out CSing opponents by 7 at the 10 minute mark, with Huhi averaging a CS differential of -9 at 10 minutes. Further, Bjergsen has contributed almost 7% more of his team’s damage than Huhi is responsible for. While this stat isn’t an exact measurement of overall usefulness to a team it is something that helps add a little perspective to each player’s overall role.

There is one stat that can give us a significant hint as to what CLG’s game plan will be here: First Blood Participation. Throughout the regular season only one mid laner, Team Liquid’s Fenix, had a higher participation in First Bloods than Huhi, and throughout the playoffs this trend has remained fairly steady. That most likely means that Huhi receives ganks from teammates early and often. With this habit in mind, it seems likely that CLG will look to make up the talent difference in mid lane by increasing Xmithie’s focus there, attempting to get Huhi an early lead. Combine this with Xmithie’s penchant for champions with strong mid lane ganks, such as Elise and Gragas, and we could see Bjergsen struggle to impact the game at his usual level.

ADC Matchup

This leaves only the bot lane matchups. While this is the most narratively interesting of the lanes with Doublelift squaring off against his old team, (whose jersey he literally threw in the garbage at the beginning of the split) it is also the most competitively uninteresting. Both teams have a solid enough grasp on lane-swaps for them not to provide a meaningful advantage for either side. The champion pools between the two are not particularly notable, simply because the role itself is limited to only a handful of champions that every player is proficient on.

One interesting statistical note is the difference in playoff stats between the two ADCs with Doublelift contributing to only 66% of his team’s kills and 19% of its damage while Stixxay sits at 78% and 32% in the same two categories. This means that TSM isn’t nearly as reliant on Doublelift to succeed, they’ve won 86% of their games in the playoffs and it’s been convincing every time, while Stixxay is a more integral part of CLG. This could mean little as the games progress, but it will be interesting to note whether or not CLG can survive if they need any one member to carry in a particular portion of the series.

Support Matchup

As far as the supports are concerned, the difference will mostly be found in the way that they roam. Yellowstar has always made his name as a roaming support and his playoff kill participation of 78% exemplifies that. From his participation we can see that 12% of the kills he has participated in (12 specifically as he has exactly 100 kills participated in during the playoffs) have come away from Doublelift. Aphromoo on the other hand, has a kill participation of only 68%. This points to Stixxay's habit of kills away from his support that helped him achieve his high damage percentage and kill participation, without relying on the assistance of Aphromoo.

If Bjergsen does end up facing a high degree of pressure from Xmithie, it could force Yellowstar into over committing on roams in attempts to influence the game. This is a habit we saw often in the regular season when Bjergsen was a frequent gank target, something that has yet to happen in the playoffs.

Team Coordination

CLG’s strength this season, and what helped propel them to an impressive second place in the regular season, is not their individual talent, but their incredible team play. They play a smart game mostly structured around avoiding fights and turning small advantages into meaningful objectives. The only way for a play style like this to succeed is through strong mid and late game shot calling which is a strength CLG have proven both in the 2016 Spring Split as a whole and in Playoffs, with their final game against Team Liquid being a perfect example. Meaning that while many of these player matchups favor TSM, the stronger team on a coordination level is CLG by a landslide. There is however one exception to that: teamfights.

TSM love teamfights and are, frankly, pretty incredible at them (For a good look at their teamfighting abilities watch this explanation by LCS caster Joshua "Jatt" Leesman). Over the course of the playoffs TSM have a team wide Kill to Death Ratio of 2.08, the next closest team, Liquid, have only 1.28. CLG falls behind into third with a 1.13 KD ratio and have played 2 less games than TSM. This means that when TSM win a teamfight they are likely to win big, whereas CLG is likely to win small if they win at all. And in a teamfight Meta this will be a huge boost to TSM’s strategy. If CLG fail to control momentum for even a moment the game will slip into teamfights that, on a skill level, will favor TSM.

Ultimately, this game will be decided by which team can better assert their style of play on the game. For CLG this will mean a passive often slow style of game, which will directly counter the current Meta. The ideal method would be a 1-4 split push, but given how weak this tactic is on Patch 6.6 it becomes much less likely that they will employ it. This means CLG is likely to go with comps largely built around either sieging or disengaging likely using Corki, Caitlyn and Janna, or Soraka if she isn’t banned. For Team Solo Mid, this proposition is slightly easier. They can go along with the Meta and play to their teams inherent, teamfight based, strengths. Look for TSM to focus on team comps with lots of engage potential particularly centered around Doublelift’s Kalista and Yellowstar on Braum or Alistar.

Part of what helped TSM beat Immortals so convincingly in the Semi-Finals was Immortals’ lack of patience. Any engage would be met with head on aggression which would play directly into TSM’s hands. Counter Logic Gaming are perhaps the most patient team in the NA LCS and have proven throughout the season, and playoffs, that they have a knack for choosing the right fights at the right time. But they also haven’t faced anything quite so aggressive as this Playoff version of TSM. If CLG can manage to dictate the tempo and pace of the game, and avoid outright teamfights, then TSM’s lackluster late game shotcalling will find them struggling to get back into the game. But with the Meta and the talent in TSM’s favor it would be difficult not to say that they have a slight advantage going into the Finals.

*Stats obtained through oracleselixer.com