Ask a question about League or Riot, and we’ll try to answer it. Answers go live every other Thursday at 1:30 pm (PT)
Years from now when the Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, two clans of semi-truck driving metalheads will still meet twice a year to duke it out on Summoner’s Rift. They are Cloud9 and TSM. The two orgs collide in a Best-of-5 for the 10th time this Saturday to kick off, maybe, the most anticipated LCS Semifinal ever. They are joined by FlyQuest and Team Liquid to round out a field of participants that could all do NA proud at MSI. Here’s 4 thoughts going into Semifinals!
TEAM LIQUID  — The Liquid Throne
With all five players on their roster being 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro, you’d figure Liquid is the runaway favorite to win this entire thing. However, TSM and C9 also combine to have nine more players rounding out the All-Pro lists, leaving just FLY’s Santorin as the sole representative outside of the Big Three. Which is all to say this is the most competitive Semifinal I can remember — every year there’s usually only one or two teams that I really want to see represent NA on the international stage, but this year it feels like any one of TL, TSM, and C9 (sorry, FLY) could do us proud. Which means I have no idea who is going to win this split. I have tried Tarot cards and a magic eight ball and still nothing — not even the SecretScript.doc is finished.
But let me sell you on Liquid for a moment. When it actually mattered for them this split, this team was nigh unstoppable. They carried the same type of energy that led TSM to victories for years domestically and led SKT to victory for years internationally in that they could bend but never break. We have a tendency to fall in love with the super aggressive teams. They are flashy. They do stupid shit. We love them because they remind us of ourselves. There is an unspoken comfort in sloppiness — but the “boring” teams, who manage to avoid making any major mistakes, feel like something completely out of reach. There is an aura of inevitability to their games that makes the outcome seem almost predetermined. And more than any other team remaining, I think Liquid is the cleanest and the least prone to doing something stupid that would cost them a game. And when you consider the fact that they have to be defeated not just once or twice but three times — that makes them a super daunting wall to scale.
Then you remember that Doublelift has won the last four splits he’s played. If NA has a “final boss,” it’s him, and at this stage in his career he’s actually overcome his early “choke” perception to become a clutch player when it matters. FLY is a good team full of veterans, but they are outmatched in every single position, and their team-play is not as consistent. TL is the overwhelming favorite here, and they know it, and I expect that to give them an engulfing swagger.
CLOUD9  — The Name of the Wind
My earliest memories of C9 show their duality as part-winner and part-meme: they won their first two splits in a dominant stretch that we are likely to never see again with an 89% win rate over two splits with two championships. You’d need to see a team essentially go 16-2 or 17-1 in back-to-back splits (which IMT did but then failed to win Playoffs) AND win the playoffs. The other part of this duality is their now-superstar ADC, Sneaky, slept in a bathroom closet. They once left a toilet clogged with poop for a week because they didn’t have a plunger. As they say, you can’t make this shit up.
We are now nearing the 5th anniversary of their last LCS Championship (2014 Spring), which is a truly absurd drought for an organization that has still found a ton of success in that time span. I say this kind of thing every LCS Playoff when I am talking about C9, and the only thing that changes is the length of the drought. It is a number that grows year after year, and we try to brush it off as being less important because it’s not Worlds or MSI. But you know what? I remember asking Sneaky last year what his fondest memories were — and without fail it was actually winning something and having a sense of completion. Advancing at Worlds is great, but you don’t get to pop the champagne. You don’t ever get to see the ending of your game. Winning an LCS Split caps off an entire season, and it says you are better than everyone else in your region, and it is something C9 has failed to accomplish time and again.
This week, they’ll face off against TSM in a Semifinal that is likely to be more competitive than the vast majority of LCS Finals we’ve had period. Here are two teams that would be the favorite to win it all in many other LCS Splits, yet they’re not even clashing on the Final stage. This is probably the most marquee Semifinal matchup in history. You have MVP candidates in Licorice and Bjergsen. You have two of the oldest and most consistent ADCs in Sneaky and Zven. There’s Smoothie trying to prove C9 made a mistake in dumping him, and there’s Svenskeren with the same grudge against TSM. TSM carries the hottest streak into the playoffs, but their sole loss was against C9. For TSM, LCS Championships were literally everything they had. For C9, championships have become something they once played like should always be theirs, but for five years now it has slowly become a blurred and fleeting memory that shrinks more and more.
TSM  — Heir Apparent
Can you imagine going back to, say, the middle of 2017 and saying to anybody that TSM is riding an 11-1 streak into the Playoffs and that you could reasonably argue they’re the 3rd best team remaining? Even right now that feels kind of crazy to say. Of course you could also argue they’re the best team remaining, but I am just saying it’s not a completely ridiculous prospect to suggest they’re third. It is mainly just a testament to how competitive this split is, and while I think this TSM team is still trying to solidify their identity (I think they can become even better), it’s still a very strong roster, and it’s strong in an aggressive sort of way that we’re not used to seeing, which is a thing we’ve all been saying about TSM this entire split. And most importantly, it’s a roster that’s delivering results right now.
Which is all good and dandy in a Bo1, but how does that manifest come playoffs? I think in the past you’d have characterized a team like this as being less durable in an extended set, and TSM has historically been on the other end — knocking down the loose cannon type of teams. But the key difference is that Bjergsen is playing like a maniac right now, and when it’s him and Zven as the primary carries, it’s hard to characterize TSM as a “loose cannon” even if their team as a whole sometimes look like that. These two are among the best clean-up players to ever play their positions, in that they might not be the first to initiate a fight, but as long as they’re alive, you have to think that TSM can still win the fight.
I think it’s hard to say if losing here would constitute as a disappointing season for TSM or any one of the remaining teams. I’d say TSM probably over-exceeded expectations by being part of the big three, but after riding an 11-1 streak and being, well, TSM, you kind of figure anything short of a championship is a disappointment. A win here would be the kind of boost and signal that says they’re back. Liquid had a full year atop the LCS but the trophy still reeks of TSM’s legacy — it’s just so close they can taste it again.
FLYQUEST  — Spreading Wings
All of us want to pull for the underdog story, even when the team they’re facing is the goliath upon whose shoulders we’ve ridden all season. You say, I am rooting for Team Liquid. You say, I am rooting for Goliath. But upon seeing a FlyQuest begin to topple them, how could a part of you not be inspired by that? This is a thing that has happened to me time and again in sports and esports — we love our winners, and the more dominant they are the more we love them, but we love to see them fall even more. It is a reminder of mortality. There is a kinship to seeing that nothing is infallible.
Enter FlyQuest. Enter Pobelter. Enter WildTurtle. Here are two players once cast aside to make way for the respective opponents. Liquid replaced Pobelter with Jensen, and TSM replaced Turtle with Doublelift. They’ve long been perceived as being worse than their counterparts, and the results have done little to counter that narrative. But now, on this stage, if they’re able to win, there would be nothing you could say to diminish their accomplishment. We have seen exactly zero major upsets at this stage of the LCS Playoffs — every single LCS Final up until now has been between well-established titans (besides 100, which was a roster full of high profile veterans). Even IMT lost to C9 and TSM respectively in those Semifinals. FlyQuest would be, to me, the first real “baby” team to make it to an LCS Final.
Which is to say it is not at all a likely outcome. For one reason or another, the legacy titans of the LCS have been very good at shutting everyone else out of the Finals. Not since Coast’s run in the inaugural split have we had a truly upstart team make it all the way. Because TL is so consistently good at not making major mistakes, beating them here would mean we’d see FLY spread their wings and elevate to a height we’ve never seen from them before. There are no real flukes in Bo5s. There is only a wall you must overcome. You either hit it and collapse, or you figure out how to surpass it. And if FLY can climb over everybody remaining, they’ll have all of us proud of what they’ve accomplished and what they can become.