For the third split in a row, the playoff runs of Team SoloMid (TSM) and Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) intersect, this time in the NA LCS 2016 Summer Split Semi-Finals. As is true with any meeting of TSM and CLG, the stakes are slightly higher than a normal match. The two teams carry into the series a fierce rivalry that has existed since the beginning of professional League of Legends in North America. And while the teams often find their paths crossing, they enter this series having had radically different splits.
After finishing second in the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) - the highest ever finish in a Riot-run International Tournament for a North American Team - CLG’s NA LCS Summer Split got off to a disappointing start, as they lost five of their first seven games. CLG fought to fourth place in the regular season in the form of a very strong second half of the split. TSM, on the other hand, is going to enter the series coming off a bye-week in the first round thanks to the single-best regular season performance in North American history.
It’s always a special day in the NA LCS when its two most storied teams meet in the playoffs. But this time the match-up is a little different. For the first time in quite a while, this series, on paper, seems pretty lopsided. So, instead of a standard preview of the two teams, we are going to look at what CLG needs to do to pull off the upset against TSM:
If CLG is going to win, they are going to have to play around a couple of immutable facts. Most importantly, their midlaner - Jae-hyun “Huhi” Choi - isn’t going to win mid lane. It’s no accident that TSM midlaner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is on the All-LCS Team and the favorite for MVP this split. Huhi had the third worst Gold differential this split among mid laners at 15 minutes at -170, while Bjergsen has the best at +189. It’s a pretty massive mismatch.
But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Going into the series aware of Huhi’s limitations as a laner means that CLG has the chance to build a game plan around their other lanes. For this reason, CLG should look to capitalize on Huhi’s talent for playing roam-heavy midlaners. In the past Huhi, has shown strength in picks like Aurelion Sol or even a surprise pick like the Pantheon we saw in the Quarterfinals from EnVyUs, or even Twisted Fate - a champion Huhi has found great success on in the past. Any champion who can quickly leave midlane and affect the game in other places would fit the bill.
That strategy should go double for CLG jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero. While camping midlane could put Bjergsen behind briefly, the better bet would be for both Xmithie and Huhi to roam into other lanes to try to tip those match-ups in CLG’s favor. The benefits of putting Bjergsen a little behind Huhi simply won’t outweigh the risks of a failed or countered mid gank, and more importantly, still won’t guarantee Huhi a larger impact on the late game. Top lane, however, should be a much more even match, meaning if CLG can create pressure, “Darshan” Upadhyaya will likely be able to take that lead and use it to minimize Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s impact on the match as a whole.
The only immediate downside to this plan is the risk CLG would run of Bjergsen getting too ahead. If the roam attempts were to fail, then it’s possible Bjergsen could get so ahead in gold that he could simply out damage the whole of CLG during team fights. This risk is even higher when coupled with the increase in play for some of Bjergsen’s favorite assassins like Syndra and Leblanc. Despite that risk, attempting to mitigate TSM’s midlane advantage is still CLG’s best option, especially considering the way the Botlane meta has shifted out of their favor.
CLG were the kings of the lane swap. But now, after Riot has all but killed the lane swap, standard lanes are a pretty much guaranteed facet of the NA LCS 2016 Summer Semi-Final. This is bad news for CLG. It isn’t that they are bad at standard lanes, it just doesn’t fit their style, as they often struggle to transition from standard lanes into the mid game. That coupled with the fact that TSM have one of the strongest duo lane ADCs in North America’s history in Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and suddenly things don’t look so good in the botlane for CLG. But there is hope for CLG in their support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black.
Aphromoo is a strange sort of X-factor for CLG, and his ability to completely turn the duo lane in CLG’s favor is never out of the question. The potential for aphromoo to play an aggressive laning phase that spirals out into a game-controlling play on a champion like Bard is just another reason that botlane should be CLG’s main focus. If they can shift botlane in their favor, it will set up the best possible scenario for aphromoo to help affect other lanes, and more importantly it will set Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, CLG’s most frequent carry, in the best possible situation to deal the kind of damage he will need to in order to carry.
On paper, it’s hard to argue against this TSM roster. They have a slightly better match up in almost every lane and some of the most talented players in North America. But this current CLG roster has never been about over-powering their opponent with individual skill. Instead, their strength lies in their coordination as a team, their intelligent decision making, and their sharp map movements.
In fact, during the NA LCS Spring Split Finals and the Mid-Season Invitational, CLG were the best decision-making team in NA LCS history. And if anything is going to beat this TSM team, it’s strong decision making. If CLG can come in with a solid game plan - one that focuses on CLG’s map movement and minimizes TSM’s advantages - they have a chance of beating the best regular season team ever, and winning the NA LCS for the third split in a row.