A team looking to purge the demons that have followed them the past three years. They are orderly, coordinated, and swiftly take care of their opponents in a tidy manner. After being called chokers and mocked for their postseason incompetence, this is their night to prove them all wrong and make their first LCS finals in franchise history.
A group of players that don't care about the way a game should be played. To them, fighting and bloodshed is what proves who is strongest on Summoner's Rift, and they'll brawl with anyone who disagrees. A team that thrives on chaos, they've adjusted throughout the season and the first round of the playoffs to put them one victory away from the greatest fight of all in the finals.
They are the regular season champions. A squad that fears no one when it comes to the lane phase, having the ability to call on a new player each game to carry through their own individual power if needed. While other teams believe they will raise the championship in New York City, they believe their strength is absolute and a new North American dynasty is about to be born.
And, finally — them. The kings of the past, present, and if they have anything to say about it, the near and distant future. No matter how much it looks like they're on their last legs, they are the greatest team in North America's history, only needing one more match win to put them in their sixth straight LCS final and a chance for a three-peat of championships.
Four teams enter this weekend with two of them moving onto next week's final in Madison Square Garden for the LCS championship and a direct seed into the World Championships. In two semifinals that pit teams that are direct antitheses of each other, which squads will rise to the occasion to take the final step on the road to New York City?
Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team Impulse
Although this is a battle of teams that seemingly have opposing styles — CLG on the side of order, and Impulse euphoric in the face of bedlam — these two teams actually share more things in common than you'd think.
For starters, you can expect a lot of kills in this series, these two squads lead the league when it comes to high scoring games in North America. Impulse is tops in the league with 0.81 team kills/deaths per minute, while the distinguished CLG are right behind them with 0.79. When you compare that to TSM's league low of 0.59, it's easy to see a semifinal between these two teams that doesn't take very long to kickoff in the first blood department.
While both teams aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty, neither take long to finish games, the semifinalists are also first and second when it comes to average game time. When CLG and Impulse are on the top of their games and can get a lead in the early-game, it's usually over for their opponents. They take their advantages, either CLG through their objective control or Impulse with their superior skirmishing, and snowball their leads to quick victories.
Counter Logic's greatest strength comes when they're together on the map as a five man unit and rolling through objectives. They lead the league in almost every category when it comes to grabbing early objectives, be it by pushing down the first tower of the game or picking up the initial dragon buff. Their issues come when they can't get their snowball going and have to catch up in a game they don't get off to one of their routine quick starts.
When it comes to their players, CLG's power lies in their side lanes, with Doublelift having possibly the best season in his LCS career, amassing 117 kills in the regular season while also participating in 80% of his team's kills, being the core player from the start of the game until the end. CLG's secondary carry comes in the form of ZionSpartan, the top laner actually having more kills than their mid laner Pobelter during the season.
Impulse are a team that aren't as strong when it comes to objective control, but will simply punch you in the mouth until the game is over. Following a shaky start to the season, TiP pulled their record from the bottom half of the standings in the final nine games of the season by going 8-1 and barely missing a chance at becoming regular season champions. This run all occurred while they were having roster issues, first replacing support Adrian with Challenger player Gate, and then needing to bring Adrian back into the fold a week later when XiaoWeiXiao was suspended for ELO boosting.
That's just how Impulse are, though. They roll with the punches, will take whatever you give them, and then come back at you even stronger. It doesn't matter if you know they're going to dive you with four men in the first ten minutes or not, they're still going to do it and usually succeed in their mission of beginning the anarchy and bloodshed. All of their aggression can be traced to their shot-caller Rush, the region's top jungler who has an obsession with brawling the entire North American LCS.
The key match-up of this semifinal will be in the top lane between Impact and ZionSpartan, the two top laners are cores of their team. The veteran Impact has stepped back from his attacking style lately, playing tank and utility champions while allowing their AD carry Apollo the chance to be more of a carry in the bottom lane.
Everyone is waiting to see if Counter Logic Gaming can do it. It was their first season finishing top two, and it is one of only a few times in their team's history they've made it past the first round of the playoffs. If they can get through Impulse and get to their first LCS final, it will be affirmation of the faith their loyal fans have believed in over the past three years. It would be the accumulation of CLG graduating from being the team mocked for their performance in the postseason to becoming a real contender as the best team in North America.
Impulse? They're going to try and burn down Counter Logic's confidence, break the hearts of their fans, and pour even more gasoline on the criticism that has followed CLG for the past three years. They would love nothing better than eliminating their opponents from the playoffs, and Rush standing atop of all their dead bodies, laughing and demanding his next victims to meet him on the rift.
It doesn't matter what CLG did in the regular season at this point anymore. It all comes down to Saturday — either they'll repay the trust their fans had in them, or they will fall into the 3rd place match with another painful playoff loss on their record and no chance of hoisting the LCS championship trophy for the third straight year.
Team Liquid vs. Team SoloMid
Team Liquid are the reigning regular season champions of the NA LCS, and they are the best team in the league in the early-game. The team holsters three powerful carries in the top, mid, and AD carry positions, ready to draw them out at any time, and each player being able to go off in any game they play to lead their team to victory. The other semifinal match have the second and third best teams when it come to the first 15 minutes of the game, but Liquid are the clear best in North America — technically stellar, powerful in all three lanes, and with the firepower to blow away any team that tests them.
Team SoloMid are the reigning playoff champions of the NA LCS, and they are not one of the best teams in the early-game. In fact, they're quite average in the lane phase, in the middle of the pack when it comes to gold at 15 minutes, and only at that position due to Bjergsen's ability to overwhelm his opponent in lane and accrue a gigantic CS lead. Unlike Liquid, they don't really enjoying fighting in the first part of the game, more than happy to casually stroll through the mid-game until they can unleash their two biggest strengths — coordinated objective control in the climax of games, and Bjergsen with a few items under his belt, ready to destroy the enemy team.
This is a litmus test to see if Liquid are truly ready to possibly take the mantle of North America's best team. Sure, they won in the regular season, and that's a great accomplishment for a franchise that never did it before, but legacies are built in the playoffs. TSM have had numerous regular seasons where they had strife, lost tons of games, and didn't finish in the top two. No one remembers all that turmoil because they always came back in the playoff and made the finals. Regular season gets you a chance to make a name for yourself, and the postseason is where you leave your long-lasting impression on the fans.
In TSM's case, they've been in the LCS finals for five straight seasons, have won three championships, and are two series victories away from completing the three-peat. They had a terrible finish to the regular season and almost died crossing the finish line to the postseason, yet in true TSM fashion, they showed their experience and ability to turn it on at the right time by beating Gravity in a relatively one-sided 3-1 match in the first round. Liquid, a team that hasn't even been in a final as either Curse or TL, are still looking to change their tagline from the team that always finishes fourth to being the best team in the entire region.
In spite of the fact that Liquid have the best trio of carries in the league and dominate the first 15 minutes, they still average some of the longest games in the league beside the passive Team SoloMid who don't do a lot in the early stages. TL's problem that keeps them from being on the same level as a Fnatic in Europe is that they don't have the best communication or control in the late-game, consistently building up big leads but not doing the best job at closing them out in a crisp and orderly fashion like a Counter Logic Gaming.
That is where TSM, a team that is outmatched in terms of firepower, will need to work on beating the mechanically proficient Liquid. If they can get TL into the late-game and aren't trailing by a gigantic amount of gold, they will be in their element and have the advantage when it comes to synergy and working around objectives. It'll be okay if Piglet is crushing WildTurtle or Quas is an unstoppable monster in the top lane, TSM can beat Liquid when it comes to map movement, catching players out, and extending the game long enough for Bjergsen to topple Liquid, or sneaking a victory they have no business winning.
Team SoloMid are a true dynasty in League of Legends. You can hate them and their fans all you like, but it doesn't change the fact that, for better or worse, they are the greatest team in NA's history. The quality that separates TSM from the rest of the competition through the years — outside of the peak Cloud9 from over a year ago — is that they win games that they just shouldn't win. TSM are masters of falling behind, looking dead, and then snatching a victory away from a team who outplays them for large parts of the game with a late-game team fight win, or they extend the game long enough to find that moment of weakness to turn the game around.
TL can beat down TSM in the early-game, possess all the weapons in the world, and be in better condition at every position, but none of that matters if they can't close the game and give TSM that small window of getting back in the game. Those small windows are what has made TSM a five-time LCS finalist, pulling out those rabbit-in-a-hat wins that make them champions in the playoffs and have fans criticizing squads like Liquid and CLG for failing in the postseason.
Everyone wants to be the team to stop the North American dynasty and end their LCS finals streak. Gravity failed, and it is now time for Team Liquid, GV's former sister team, to have their shot at ending TSM's reign.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.