Friends outside of the game but rivals inside, Team SoloMid vs. Cloud9 has become the quintessential North American rivalry. For four straight seasons these two teams have made their way to the NA LCS Grand Finals, battling through old rivals and new challengers to confirm their class as the best teams in all of North America.
Cloud9 commanded the first year of the feud, constantly beating and even sometimes embarrassing one of the most decorated Western teams of all-time. Lately, with the addition of now two-time NA LCS MVP Bjergsen and former Champions Korea winner Lustboy, Team SoloMid have reaffirmed themselves as equals to C9 and even beat them in the most recent NA finals with a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory.
The fourth encounter in this tetralogy will have the two teams reversing roles from the previous instalments. C9 are no longer the overwhelming favorites, having by far their worst regular season in NA LCS history, needing a late season surge to make top two and avoid the first round of the playoffs. Even in the semifinals against Team Liquid, the two-time champions had to go a climactic third game and perform a reverse sweep to get their way into the finals.
TSM, on the other hand, have been in cruise control for most of the season. Their peak came outside of regular season play, traveling to IEM Katowice and taking home a world championship through a finals victory over World Elite. While they've had some off games during the season, they've kept stable for the most part and took care of the pressure-focused Team Impulse in the semifinals with a 3-1 victory.
Either TSM will fully turn the tide of the rivalry to their side and grab their third NA LCS championship, or Cloud9 will show that while TSM are constantly evolving and changing their roster, sticking with a core of five will win out in the end.
Team SoloMid: The Evolving Lords
NA LCS Spring '15 Record: 16-6
All-time NA LCS Record: 109-58
NA LCS Grand Finals Record: 2-2: vs. GGU (3-2 W) vs. C9 (0-3 L) vs. C9 (0-3 L) vs. C9 (3-2 W)
Time seemed to be overtaking Team SoloMid a year ago. Cloud9 were the new faces of the NA region, battling Fnatic for the title of best Western team and putting up ridiculous records in the NA LCS through their complete command of the competition. Instead of sticking with their old guard and trying to hold their fortress with the names that built their legacy, TSM decided to take an approach of changing the roster.
TSM have never been afraid to make a change to their starting five. When TheOddOne couldn't keep up with Meteos in their head-to-head matches during the first year of the C9/TSM rivalry, TSM decided to bring in Amazing from the European LCS and hoped for a change of pace. Amazing did well in his one season against Meteos, going 2-2 in the regular season and then helping TSM ultimately defeat C9 in the Grand Finals, but that didn't secure his place on the team in 2015. Amazing was then traded for Santorin, another European jungler, who played well enough in his new role to win Rookie of the Season.
The same has happened in the middle lane and the support positions. Xpecial continues to be one of the best supports in the West, but problems internally led him being switched out with American upstart Gleebglarbu before being traded out with CJ Entus Blaze's support Lustboy before finishing his first season. The trade worked out. Lustboy became one of the best supports in all of North America and was a big reason why TSM were able to thwart C9 in the Summer 2014 NA LCS Grand Finals.
But the most important change in TSM history was Reginald, the team's creator and owner, stepping down and putting his faith in a young Danish mid-laner with the ID Bjergsen. The young European had some success in the EU LCS, helping the Copenhagen Wolves (then Ninjas in Pyjamas) do well enough to make the postseason with his hard carrying style and preference for game-changing assassins and hyper damage dealers.
The decision to move more into a management role was the best decision in Reginald's career, Bjergsen repaying the faith Regi had in him by winning two regular season MVP awards in three seasons, taking home the NA LCS title last season and most recently winning the IEM World Championship. As their team name suggests, Team SoloMid has always had the archetype of playing around an aggressive mid-lane ace, and Bjergsen has taken on that in spades.
With all the changes TSM have had through the past year, two constants have remained from their win over Good Game University in the first NA LCS Grand Finals: Dyrus and WildTurtle.
It's easy to disregard Dyrus when you look at his stats and how he at times can be lost in the shuffle by getting less help than other lanes, but that would be a disservice to what he brings to the team in the top lane. He will play whatever role he is given and be a reliable rock at his position, being able to hold on and be an influential player through his utility or meat shields at the end of the game.
The other constant, WildTurtle, has always somewhat lived in the shadow of Bjergsen. As the usual secondary carry of the team, Turtle's over-aggressive ways have led to trouble in the past but have also produced big numbers when it comes to kills. The times TSM have put Bjergsen on a less carry-oriented champion and put Turtle on the likes of Jinx, he's been able to make his mark and prove that through his small mishaps at times, he is still one of the best AD carries in the NA LCS.
Five straight seasons TSM have made the NA LCS Grand Finals. They haven't always had the prettiest regular seasons, even at times looking like a team on the brink of destruction. Roster movements aplenty have been made and while the faces have changed, the style in the way they play has stayed the same. Reginald is no longer the aggressive ace captaining the ship in the mid lane, but his decisions in the manager role have propelled his team to being a constant force that shows no signs of crumbling anytime soon.
And if they fall apart, TSM will do what they always do: make changes, retool their arsenal and get back to work as one of the two kings of North America.
Cloud9: The Blood Monarchs
NA LCS Spring '15 Record: 16-8
All-time NA LCS Record: 98-28
NA LCS Grand Finals Record: 2-1: vs. TSM (3-0 W) vs. TSM (3-0 W) vs. TSM (2-3 L)
Balls. Meteos. Hai. Sneaky. LemonNation.
In a scene of constant changes, fiddling with chemistry, and teams trying to find the newest and shiniest rookie, Cloud9 have been the same core five-man roster for the past two years in the NA LCS. They came in as monsters, crushing Complexity to qualify for the premiere league and then going on a 25-3 run for the ages in the regular season. C9 only lost seven games in their first two seasons all-together, going through the postseason without a single loss and crushing TSM twice in the finals with little trouble.
The 2014 Summer season was the first signs of trouble for C9. The inclusion of LMQ into the field and TSM changing up their roster gave them trouble, the untouched conquerors finally getting blood on their clothes for the first time in over a year. They were still able to grab the first seed and make the finals without a single loss following a one-sided smashing of Curse in the semi-finals, but they were no longer the monsters that first came into the league. They had vulnerabilities the rest of NA could exploit.
TSM went on to beat them in the finals, pulling an upset win in a high tension five map series that left C9 without the NA LCS trophy for the first time in three seasons. At a point where TSM would have most likely looked at their roster after a tough loss and made a change or two to the roster to make themselves even stronger for the 2015 year, Cloud9 held firm. They lost in the quarter-finals of the World Championships to Samsung Blue and came back to work in the new year with the same five players that brought them to the dance.
This season has been an up-and-down mess for Cloud9. Most teams would kill for the season they had, making the LCS Grand Finals and getting a Top 2 seed in the regular season, but C9 are not like most teams. Compared to their previous seasons where they had almost unblemished records, the entire season was a challenge to get through. They lost games to teams they shouldn't have, left the first week of the season without a single win, and had to fight up until the last day of the season to pull a reversal of fortunes and get a bye in the first round.
Even with their loss to TSM last season, C9 still had the distinction of never losing a map before the Grand Finals. This changed last week, TeamLiquid taking the first two games of the semi-finals before C9 caught their bearings and were able to fire back with an amazing comeback victory.
Cloud9 don't 'come back' in the NA LCS. Up until this season, coming back in a series or fighting against adversity weren't in the vocabulary of C9. They came in, crushed everyone, and then raised the trophy at the end of the season with dumbfounded TSM fans wondering how their favorite team just got shellacked in the finals.
TSM lost their first game to Team Impulse as well in the semi-finals, but they come back a game later and went on a winning streak that let them get into the finals in only four games. TeamLiquid pushed C9 to the limit, shoving them onto their back foot and were close to taking them out in a 3-0 series that would have left C9 with thousands of questions heading into the short one month off-season before the Summer season.
This series will test the ideology of Cloud9. When other teams have changed and evolved, C9 have stayed the same. They believe in their five players. They believe no matter how bad it has gotten at times, the five players that ripped apart Complexity two years ago are still strong enough today to win the NA LCS Grand Finals and make an even bigger impact at Worlds than they did last year:
Balls. Meteos. Hai. Sneaky. LemonNation.
They're the five men who have made C9 the greatest statistical team in either LCS region — and they want their crown back.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports, and he recaps each week's EU LCS and NA LCS. He predicts that this will be a series that you should watch — or else! You can follow him on Twitter.