The LCS 2019 quarterfinal playoffs are here and there is no shortage of hype! Two new franchises are looking to overthrow two of the titans of the LCS; combine that with crazy roster moves and we have a weekend set to excite. Let’s look at the matchups.
Saturday, August 10, 2019: TSM v Clutch Gaming
There was a logical argument for playing Spica in Week 9 straight out of the academy playoffs. Locked into fourth place before the weekend began TSM could afford to experiment and potentially hide strategies from their opponents. This can be valuable, especially when you are looking at having to win three straight best-of-five series to win the title. Plus, always getting your younger talent playing time and looking toward the future is a smart thing. Well, the future is now. After spending most of the split rotating between Grig and Akaadian before finally settling on Akaadian all of that was thrown out in the last week of the split and now, throughout playoffs as Spica will be the only jungler on the roster. A move as drastic as this begs so many questions. Do they see something special in Spica? Has there been a falling out with the other junglers? Are there other life or behavioral issues with Grig and Akaadian? Are they playing 4D chess and just preparing for their Worlds Gauntlet series? This also comes on heels of coaching shakeups and the return (again) of Reggie to the coaching staff.
All these changes happening over just a few weeks suggests turmoil inside the TSM camp, but I don’t think they are making a mistake with this roster change. From TSM’s perspective, unless they manage to outclass Cloud9 in the playoffs, they are all but locked into a short gauntlet run to make Worlds, which is their ultimate goal. Gaining high-pressure experience for Spica in the Summer Split Playoffs before the do-or-die gauntlet is a smart move. If they pull it off and manage to get to Worlds, they will be able to bring their new jungler through a Korean boot camp and play against the best the world has to offer. It could be a great growing experience for Spica and a great move for TSM in the long-term.
Outside of the jungle, Tactical and Treatz will be the subs for TSM. Some are seeing this as a sign of distrust in the bot lane of Zven and Smoothie who have been underperforming most of the split, but I think it much more clearly shouts faith in Spica. Instead, they are the backups due to the import rules in case they need to make a change in the bot lane for any reason from illness to performance. Zven and Smoothie have done quite well in the two games against Clutch this split. Against Xayah/Rakan in both games, they have managed to win lane and gain kill and CS leads which is a good sign for one of the more passive bot lanes in the league. In fact, the TSM game plan seems to be to match up strength on strength across the map. They have put Broken Blade on carries against Huni both times and he has managed to do well. They have also chosen to match Damonte and his proficiency to roam by putting Bjergsen on Twisted Fate in both games.
It will be interesting to see what counter picks TSM has settled on as they look to actively win through their solo lanes while building up an advantage passively in the bot lane. On paper, TSM is better at every position, excluding jungle, than Clutch so matching strength for strength is a solid strategy that just relies on player execution at the moment. With veterans like Bjergsen, Zven, and Smoothie, the smart money would be on them to perform and move on to the semi-finals.
Clutch, on the other hand, have solidified the second half of the split after making a coaching change of their own. They have completely bought in on a scrappy early game approach with their solo laners and jungler while allowing Cody Sun to avoid conflict, farm, and scale for late game team fights. The plan is simple enough, and they have refined it to such a degree that they posted a 9-1 record against the five teams that placed below them, signaling they are able to out-fight and out-execute the lesser competition.
However, this means they have also gone 0-8 against the top four teams, including 0-2 against TSM. In their wins, they are typically able to win their solo lane matchups in CS and gain an advantage in early skirmishes to propel them to early item power spikes. They can then carry these advantages forward and press their advantage. In their losses, they are not able to gain these same advantages. The fights they typically win turn into even fights or even losses. This puts Clutch in the uncomfortable position of playing out a controlled, macro-focused mid-game which is something they have not shown a proficiency for executing. For example, in their last match against CLG in Week 8 the game was even before CLG was able to control vision and sneak Baron before Clutch even knew what was going on. The game quickly unraveled from there.
Turning around their inability to win even games seems like a tough task to ask a team in one week but there is an avenue to victory that TSM has put bright neon lights around. The jungle matchup is incredibly interesting and tough to predict at this stage, but Spica has only shown us Sejuani and Jarvan in his first week of LCS and those are also his most played champions in Academy as well. Likewise, Lira has also shown a lot of Jarvan and Skarner games but early game champions, such as Elise, have always been apart of his game, even if they have not been this split. For Clutch, this should signal Jarvan priority and look to first pick the champion or get Lira on an early game fighter that can influence the lanes with repeat ganks. They will already be looking to get counter picks for their solo lanes so this should fit their draft strategy well. If they can get the top half of the map snowballing, they should be able to maintain their high-pressure playstyle which would spell victory for Clutch.
Sunday, August 11. 2019: Counter Logic Gaming v OpTic Gaming
CLG has had an amazing Summer Split despite limping into playoffs on a three-game losing streak. After missing playoffs every split since franchising came into being in 2018, CLG has had a resurgence to the top finishing third this split and looking like a potential Worlds contender out of nowhere. They have embraced a slower playstyle than most of the other LCS teams, and teams worldwide, and it has been working for them. That does raise some questions about how much international success they will have, should they make it, but it is working in NA and if they are able to tighten up a few areas of their gameplay they will be a Finals contender.
There is a lot to like about this CLG team as they remind me a lot of the 2018 version of Team Liquid. They can generate pressure through bot lane with a solid and consistent jungler while their top laner plays a variety of champions that best suit the team comp and the mid laner is able to safety farm without jungle presence. Although Stixxay and Biofrost have been playing great all split, I think Ruin is the one key to success to look at in this match up. Even though his stats are fairly pedestrian, he has managed to always farm well while playing 11 different champions in 18 games.
That kind of versatility can help a team win the draft especially when other laners have not shown to venture out on different champion picks and prefer to stick with comfort. A player like Ruin who likes to get into fights and mix it up while his Stixxay and PowerOfEvil can stay safe and lay down the damage is exactly what CLG needed when they brought him in for this split. They will need to utilize him and his abilities to not only play on an island but engage on team fights as they look to maintain their objective control-based style of play and erode all hope for OpTic.
Just when the wheels were coming off the OpTic Gaming bandwagon after failing to secure a playoff spot Bard and his Meeps show up with a fresh set of whitewalls and the wagon is off and rolling again. Not to flame Aphromoo too hard, but it was him getting caught too far forward during a game of NARAM that turned the entire game around for OpTic. They then move on to face Golden Guardians in the second tiebreaker, which they won with Big piloting the Bard this time around. It was very impressive to see a team that could have collapsed under the pressure of falling out of a top spot and forced to win two tiebreakers rise and secure that last playoff spot. Hopefully, they can ride that momentum into the quarterfinals and keep up their solid play. If they fall back down, this could be a short series and their playoff run will be over.
Luckily for OpTic, Dhokla has come online recently and should be able to secure favorable matchups against Ruin, who I mentioned typically plays more team-oriented champions. A pressure point in the top lane will reap rewards as Dhokla and Meteos spread that lead to other areas of the map. One other hope for all OpTic fans is they ban Azir and Corki every single game. This is a strategy we have seen a few teams use in the last week or so to get their mid-laner on a more mobile champion that can influence the side lanes. Considering Crown has struggled in the farm-for-late style, a more mobile champion in a more explosive matchup could do wonders for his play against the passive playstyle of PowerOfEvil. This is how OpTic was able to start the Summer Split off so hot and a return to form would be their best bet to take down CLG.
This weekend’s LCS 2019 quarterfinal playoffs should be a great show for all LCS and League of Legends fans. Will the titans in TSM and CLG regain their former glory or will the new upstarts move on with a chance to face the league’s top teams in the semi-finals? It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds but what kind of article would this be if I didn’t end with a prediction? Although I see both series hard-fought and will go the distance to the fifth game, I don’t have any spicy picks as I see TSM and CLG moving on. That should give us a final’s rematch in the semi-finals as I assume Team Liquid would pick TSM in this scenario.