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What to watch for in what could be the best TSM vs. Cloud9 final yet

For the fifth time, these two NA giants meet in the final.

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Cloud9 vs. Team SoloMid is the classic North American LCS finals match up. When the teams compete in the Finals against each other for the fifth time this Sunday in Toronto it will be just short of three years since the first time, back on September 1st of 2013. The games will start at 3 p.m. ET, or after the conclusion of the European finals in Toronto.

In that first series, held at PAX Prime in Seattle, William “Meteos” Hartman was the MVP, TSM had a completely different roster, and Cloud9 won the series in three games. The teams have split their finals competitions two and two, with Sunday’s match representing a tie breaker to a competition three years in the making.

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With the balance of power for their rivalry on the line, here are two key factors to watch for in this series:

Pick-Ban

This is likely to be the most contested pick and ban of any series so far this playoffs. Jungle and AD Carry are both roles dominated by three champions, and there are no two midlaners in the NA LCS whose champion pools are more similar than Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Nicolaj “Jensen”. This leaves top and support as the only roles in this series that are likely to see a variety of champions.

In a practical sense this is going to mean that bans will be a double-edged sword for both teams. A ban not only blocks a power pick for their opponent, but for themselves as well.

The most interesting pick-ban chess match is likely to be played out over jungle champions. Three games of the 16 played so far in the NA LCS playoffs have included both Rek’Sai and Gragas, and no game has left both of them unselected. Normally, this would mean that it’s likely neither will have priority through the series, but there is a catch: Meteos has a 100% win rate across five Gragas games and a 25% win rate in four games on Rek’Sai.

What this means for TSM is that they are going to have significant incentive to force Meteos onto Rek’Sai, or the other currently popular jungler: Elise. In fact, this may represent the only true pick-ban advantage that either team has - discounting the possibility of pocket picks of course - considering that Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has yet to play Gragas at all, and played a fantastic Rek’Sai series against Counter Logic Gaming in the Semi-Finals. The best counter for this on Cloud9’s side would be Meteos picking up a new champion over the week of preparation for the series. Given TSM’s clear fear of Olaf based on their CLG series - they banned it in all three games - I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that’s a champion Cloud9 brings in to shake up the jungle matchup.

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Mid Lane

Of all the individual, position vs position, matchups in the NA LCS finals this year, this is by far the most interesting. Bjergsen is the best midlaner in North America. That is not a particularly shocking statement. What might be, however, is that Jensen is closing in fast, and there is no better way for him to close the gap than to beat Bjergsen in the NA LCS finals. And it isn’t out of the question.

During the regular season, Bjergsen’s style has revolved around supporting his teammates. He takes kills and pulls into leads and carry positions well, but TSM has spent most of the year winning as a team. Cloud9 on the other hand is much more dependent on dominant performances from individuals. Relying on Sneaky and Jensen pulling huge advantages that slingshot the team into game dominance.

On paper, this would sound like TSM is in a significantly better position to win, but the meta has changed to allow single players to more effectively take over the game. And over the course of the playoffs no one has taken over games better than Jensen. In fact, in the playoffs Jensen has averaged 7.8 kills a game, two more than the next closest player - Bjergsen who has played far fewer games, making his average of 5.7 easier to achieve - and double that of the third place player, CLG’s Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes.

With all that being said, most of the incredibly impressive stats that Jensen has put up have been against significantly weaker midlaners than Bjergsen. Further still, none of those players could match Jensen’s champion pool one for one the way Bjergsen can. For instance, in the playoffs thus far, Jensen has a 7.0 KDA on Syndra across four games. Syndra also happens to be a favorite champion of Bjergsen, who has played her to great success in previous LCS splits including back in the Spring Split of 2016 when he had a 13.5 KDA in only three games with the champion. They even share the ability to play Taliyah - one of the game’s most difficult champions in the current meta - to great effect.

If Jensen is going to break through and be seen as an equal to NA’s best midlaner he is going to have to beat him on even footing, and this series is about as close as we can get to that. Both players have a wealth of champions they are comfortable on with no chance of either being banned out, and midlane damage mostly focused again for the first time in a long time, giving Jensen and Bjergsen both the opportunity to carry their teams to victory. In other words, there has never been a better time for the North American LCS’s two best midlaners to go head to head.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to count Cloud9 out in this series thanks to their lackluster regular season. But after beating an Immortals team that looked so much better than C9 earlier in the split, it’s clear they aren’t that team anymore. The only question that remains now is just how high this new Cloud9’s ceiling is, and whether or not it’s high enough to beat the incredible machine like perfection TSM have shown throughout the split and playoffs so far.

To be clear, TSM are still the favorite. TSM will come into the series on a similar high to C9, having played the best NA LCS split ever and then rolling over CLG in three games played to near perfection in the Semi-Finals. They are a dominant team and quite possibly one of the best teams in NA LCS history. But, Cloud9 has been counted out before, and in the past that’s when they have been their best. Add in the fact that both teams are hitting their stride just as they enter the series, and you have a match up that might be the best NA LCS final ever.