With a week off after the regular season ended, teams competing in the playoffs were bound to try out new champion picks and compositions, where players across the map adopted Korean picks like Kennen and Tahm Kench. And while there were few surprises along the way, the end results were as predicted with Cloud 9 and Counter Logic Gaming advancing to the Summer Finals. Unfortunately for Team Liquid, the competition once again proved insurmountable and the curse of Curse (their old team name) would deny them a spot in the top 3.
3rd Seed Cloud 9 3 – 1 Team Envy 6th Seed
4th Seed Counter Logic Gaming 3 – 1 Team Liquid 5th Seed
Gnar Runs Wild
As said by the announcers, there were three unique champion picks right off the bat in the first game of the quarterfinals. In a metagame dominated by off-tanks and fighters, NV’s Seraph singlehandedly tried to push the top lane in a different direction. In Team Envy’s match against Cloud 9, Seraph came out of the gate with the surprise pick Kennen and would continue trying to use AP top laners for the rest of the match. Cloud 9 on the other hand picked Syndra and Tahm Kench. Both of whom rarely saw play in North America
Tahm Kench is not a surprising choice for support, but he had received almost no love in North America throughout the Summer Split. That all changed over the course of a weekend where he found himself a win in Cloud 9’s third game against Team Envy as well as a pick rate of 37.5% and even bans. However, North America still considers the core support pool to be Braum, Bard, and Karma with Thresh and Nami as second choices should the first three be unavailable.
In the mid lane, Syndra found her way into Jensen’s and Huhi’s champion pools and Ninja picked Pantheon as a means to combat Leblanc. Huhi also brought out Aurelion Sol, and is still the only mid laner in North America to have used the Star Forger. Malzahar and Taliyah saw no play this week, but for different reasons. In the case of the former, a sweeping nerf across Malzahar’s kit has caused him to become significantly less viable. Taliyah on the other hand garners a lot of ban priority due to major roaming threat she provides in a fashion similar to Twisted Fate, but with better execution and less overall weaknesses. This was made especially apparent when bans on her were mainly directed at Jensen, who is one of the few players besides Bjergsen and Pobeltor that can effectively use her.
While most of these picks generated varying levels of success, there was much to be said of the thorough consistency that was top lane. Gnar was picked in every game during the quarterfinals and was part of the winning team’s lineup in six of the eight games that were played. In the match between Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid the top lane was pretty much carved in stone, where Darshan and Lourlo went with Gnar and Irelia respectively for all four games. Yet this is hardly surprising, as Gnar has been indispensable in the top lane in all five of the major professional regions. His kit allows him to effectively poke out enemies until his transformation triggers, in which the Mega Gnar form provides enough crowd control and damage for him to pick off weakened enemies. He can both duel and teamfight effectively which allows him to adapt to many team compositions while his damage numbers and scaling allow for multiple item builds to accentuate his strengths. With all this power, it is understandable as to why he has garnered so much priority in the top lane.
Cloud 9 vs Team Envy
In the 3rd vs 6th place matchup, there was little doubt that Cloud 9 would claim victory. Even after Team Envy claimed an early win, Cloud 9 struck back hard in 3 straight, decisive games. Nevertheless, Game 1 of their series was close all the way until the very end.
During the draft phase of Game 1, Seraph’s sizable champion pool allowed him to pick Kennen for the top lane. Though Kennen had been popular in past seasons, this was the first time he was picked this season. Team Envy built their composition around AOE crowd control and disruption through Kennen, Lissandra, Braum, and Gragas. Cloud 9 on the other hand went more for a “pick comp,” or a team composition adept at picking off single targets quickly and exploiting numbers in ensuing teamfights. While both teams spent the early game picking off individual champions, time was on Envy’s side. When the teamfights started, Seraph and Ninja would throw themselves into the fray with their Hextech Protobelts and cause as much damage with their ultimates before activating their Zhonya’s Hourglasses, dispersing Cloud 9 and forcing the survivors of the initial assault to either flee or continue the fight and waste their spells on less ideal targets. Cloud 9 responded by avoiding full teamfights and continued their pick strategy while contesting objectives with their long range siege potential, which allowed them to maintain a small lead until the late game when Envy forced fights over objectives.
After Game 1, Cloud 9 spent the next 3 games dominating their opponents in extremely clean play. But in Game 4, Jensen shattered the record for most kills by a single player in a playoff match with a whopping 20 kills. The game certainly didn’t give any inclination of going in such a direction. Jensen was in fact the first victim of the game when his passive-triggered clone didn’t fool Procxin. The Pantheon pick by Ninja also proved troublesome as it prevented Jensen from using the Distort part of his kit for burst damage since he ran the risk of being heavily punished by Pantheon if he ever got too close. But beyond 2 unreturned kills in the early game, Envy failed to make any plays with the early aggression that was necessary for their team comp. Ninja’s Pantheon would drop in far ahead of his team, causing engagements to feel rather staggered and not worthwhile, while Cloud 9 punished them heavily in the counter engagements. For every kill Envy could manage, Cloud 9 would retaliate with 3-4 of their own, most of which would go to Jensen and further accelerate him into a late game menace. Ninja would eventually use Pantheon’s Grand Skyfall in a series of desperation plays, dropping in alone behind enemy lines only to be quickly dispatched with nothing to show for it except for 8 deaths.
Counter Logic Gaming vs Team Liquid
After maintaining their 4th place spot for almost the whole split, Team Liquid fell at the due to rather lackluster play as well as Counter Logic Gaming’s meteoric rise over the last half of the split. Given the mixed performances of both teams during the previous couple of weeks, analyst speculated the series could have gone either with a slight edge going to CLG only because of seed position. But CLG quickly laid the speculation to rest with a decisive 3-1 win.
While the first and last games both clearly belonged to Counter Logic Gaming, Game 2 was the defining moment in the series: a close game that was extremely back and forth. The laning phase certainly favored Liquid, as Huhi was virtually trapped in his lane in a bad matchup as Viktor against Cassiopeia. This freed up a lot of pressure on TL’s jungler Dardoch, who was applied said pressure to the side lanes. Liquid then accelerated the laning phase and grouped up early on to try and punish any attempts CLG made to steal jungle camps or pick off single targets and managed to take down Xmithie when he had the audacity to take a jungle camp right next to them. But the score evened around the 11 minute mark as Liquid ceded their top turret and Aphromoo was then only too happy to attempt a pick with Bard’s Tempered Fate, allowing Stixxay to quickly nab Fabbbyyy while Xmithie sniped Matt. This trend of taking kills off each other every other fight would continue throughout the mid game as CLG would counter engage and then pay for overstaying on Liquid’s side of the map. But then two poorly chosen pick attempts and an out of position Stixxay would cost CLG their lead as well as quite a few unanswered kills.
Then around 31 minutes, Liquid committed to a fight that would spell their doom. The fight began with CLG quickly flanking and killing Fabbbyyy followed by Lourlo, leaving Fenix as the only damage dealer in the fight. Fenix then found he was unable to completely kill any CLG members as they took Bard’s Magical Journey to safely see themselves out of the battle while Stixxay wailed on Fenix and Matt with little resistance. This left the whole of CLG in critical condition as Dardoch, who was late to the fight, attempted to even the score only to meet the same fate as the rest of his team. With all of Liquid dead, CLG took the mid inhibitor followed by Baron Nashor. They would use the power spike allotted by Baron to pick apart the base, forcing Liquid to sacrifice neutral objectives in order to defend what remained only to fall moments later.
On to Toronto
1st seed Team Solomid – Counter Logic Gaming 4th seed
2nd seed Immortals – Cloud 9 3rd seed
With the quarterfinals decided this weekend, teams will have another two weeks to prepare for the Summer Finals in Toronto. While Cloud 9 and Counter Logic Gaming were clearly the better of the four teams in the playoffs, they still must face the gauntlet of Team Solomid and Immortals, two teams that neither Cloud 9 nor CLG could come even close to beating during the split. Cloud 9 has proven that they are entirely deserving of 3rd place with both their split record and their performance in the quarterfinals, but TSM and Immortals are still miles above them. However, their 3 straight wins going into the semifinals might bolster their resolve enough to overcome Immortals.
The Spring Champions, CLG, on the other hand have been known to perform at a much higher ceiling when their tournament lives depend on it. As the lower seed going into the playoffs, CLG will face TSM in what is a near literal tale as old as time. Being the oldest two teams in North America, they have butted heads on many occasions and had more than their share of wins and losses against each other. And even though TSM proved to be the superior of the two going into this matchup, all bets are off whenever these two team face off in major events.