While a lot of the story lines being covered center around the games themselves and what laid up to them, it’s another thing to note the actual development philosophy of the two teams that actually made it to the finals: CLG and TSM. As we’ll get to in the article, these two teams took very different approaches to forming their squads in the post-Worlds off season, and it is definitely clear that neither approach could be said to be superior to the other currently. For CLG it was a more ‘Ember-esque’ approach, one that focused on the team, its environment, and fostering teamwork and cooperation in and off the rift. For TSM, not saying these previous factors weren’t involved, it was about the star power, about the raw, mechanical skill that makes a team do crazy good things. It was about getting the best in the West together and making the strongest team for raw star power that NA has ever seen. Both team styles showed to be viable in the finals, and it’ll be great to see if both are able to keep up their performances going forward.
I’d like it to be on record that I actually predicted the results from the right half of the bracket correct: I saw Liquid easily moving past NRG, falling to CLG in a tight five game series, with CLG moving onto the finals where they would win that in another close five game series. I just thought that’d be against Immortals or Cloud 9. It was an absolutely insane showing by fan favourite TSM, the 6th seed, to make it to the finals, and not because they got placed against ‘easy opponents.’ They overcame both Cloud 9 and Immortals, the two teams slated to possibly even meet in the finals. The left half of the bracket was a completely unpredictable beast that had all the TSM doubters quickly silenced.
In a lot of ways I think this is probably the greatest way for the finals to go: The new guard, the upstarts, the hyped Titan killers in Immortals and Liquid ultimately falling to the veteran organizations, the time trialed and well-worn path of the old guards in the two oldest teams in the league: TSM and CLG. I also think it should be a humbling experience for those new guard teams, and a need for the organization to make sure their infrastructure is properly in place for the teams to at once not take this too badly, but also to understand where things went wrong.
CLG: The Big Ember that Could
Wow. What an absolute roller coaster CLG has been in the past year. We saw the suffering Faith Age turn into the Golden Age, with an NA LCS title in the Summer, a strange showing at Worlds (hey, that’s an accomplishment for the team, being at Worlds that is,) and what seemed to be further sunny ways as rivals TSM, the fierce rival of the org, looked to have to rebuild their roster. Then the Dark Age came, CLG dropped both Doublelift and Pobelter, and the fans were torn apart. Doublelift, particularly, was seen as the team’s longest player, but also their strongest and the star power. He also was a main reason for fans of CLG to stick around. The Rush Hour lane was an absolute tyrant in lane and team fights, it’s hard to really see any reason to drop that. Pobelter, too, is a good mid laner, who eventually moved to the newly minted Immortals side to much success there in the Regular season. And then the absolutely unforeseeable happened to Doublelift: he turned in the Blue and Gray of CLG for the Gray and Black of TSM, CLG’s rivals.
The Dark Age seemed to only get worse: CLG brought secondary Mid laner in Huhi to the starting roster, and promoted Stixxay, a relatively unheard of ADC, from their Challenger squad to the starting roster. What an absolutely insane roster move, the fans decried. Most weren’t even calling it a roster move but a full on roster downgrade, purposefully shooting themselves in the foot after such a great showing from the team. It wasn’t a talent upgrade by any stretch of the imagination, that can’t be denied. While CLG went on to say that Stixxay, particularly Aphromoo his fellow bot laner and Support, was on par with Doublelift mechanically, it was a questionable statement to begin with. Was this new rookie really a contender against the fabled Doublelift?
Well, if he wasn’t the team was able to pick up the slack. They beat Korean side Jin Air Green Wings in a best of three at IEM San Jose, an impressive feat for any NA side, they went 13-5 in the Regular split, getting the oh so coveted semi-finals berth, and a tough road ahead of them to defend their NA LCS title as more than just a fluke in the system. Many doubted them along the whole way: they questioned whether the squad was talented enough, saying they were one dimensional in a split push style, their wins were too cheesy for a best of five series style, they’d crumble and choke once it came down to it, you name it, people probably said it about the team. Some slated the CLG Age to have turned to the Silver Age: a second place showing would be a win for the organization, and many fans shot for just that in their aspirations. Nobody really thought CLG could pull off another Title.
Many analysts rightly identified that CLG was an experiment of a very different breed of team management: the long-term, rebuilding mindset. Bring on new talent, rookies with prospective futures, ride out a few bad seasons until they’ve been polished enough to truly shine. It’s an age-old process in traditional sports: as your star talents start to falter, get old, demanding too much money or being emotionally disruptive, a team has to look to rebuild itself around new, young talent. Doublelift wasn’t old (I hope not, he’s only 22!) but his mentality has been hinted at multiple times by current CLG players as having a negative effect on the atmosphere. Talent only gets you so far before your team mates start not feeling comfortable beside you, and that seems to have been what happened in the CLG camp.
They also moved towards what could maybe be called an ‘Ember approach’ to team management, alluding to the current (past? Now defunct? Who really knows…) Challenger Series squad of Ember. Many NA fans will remember their desires to build ‘better humans’ to make better athletes, working on the emotional side of their players just as much as their in-game skills. Fostering talent, too, was a big feature, and what better way to do that then to promote from within the organizations ‘farm team’ and their back bench? Rather than looking abroad for international talent, the team made the conscientious decision to stick within themselves and work as a team. And my gods, what a beautiful team that was when it worked.
TSM: The Best of the Best
TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM. Sorry, sometimes Twitch chat comes out when I think of TSM. The easily NA fan favourite squad is none other than TSM. The team is just as storied and Legacy as Counter Logic Gaming, just with a lot more success until most recent times. TSM has been much like the European side of Fnatic: always showing up in the playoffs, making it to the finals and either claiming it for themselves or falling but still walking away with the glittering Silver. The team’s practically synonymous for most with NA League, and deservedly so, and they’ve been in a situation unlike CLG where they’ve been able to validate their fans time and time again. But the team’s showings last year, from their regular season shakiness back in Summer 2015, to their falling out of Worlds like much of NA, and mediocre international results, caused this old guard team to do a radical roster shake up: they dropped every player outside of star mid laner Bjergsen. I doubt any League fan will ever forget the Dyrus good bye speech, but outside of that much of the roster faded away without much ceremony. Wildturtle went to Immortals, Lustboy has all but disappeared like John Cena, and Santorin was shipped around to multiple Challenger Series teams trying to make an name for himself.
But who would fill out the legendary squad that is TSM? Well, nothing below legendary players, it would seem. Hauntzer was recruited from NA side Gravity, easily the strongest player on the Gravity side and probably one of the top three NA top laners around. Svenskeren was brought over from the now defunct SK Gaming side to fill the Jungler position, replacing fellow Dane Santroin, which seemed to be another easy upgrade. Sven’s aggressive play style fits well with the TSM identity of heavy team fight focus. Doublelift, as we said above, was brought in from rivals CLG and was seen to be another clear upgrade. Doublelift was one of the few NA ADCs able to compete internationally, and so he seemed a clear pick. Yellowstar was tapped on the shoulder to replace Lustboy, probably the second biggest player to fill out the new TSM 2.0. Yellowstar’s tenure with Fnatic is legendary, and particularly his role as crucial Team captain in the rebuilding of Fnatic after the xPeke exit was arguably the reason Fnatic were able to do their perfect split. There wasn’t much to say about this roster but “wow.” It was the most star studded, international, NA team ever. And fans were hyped, until it just seemed to fail time and time again.
TSM came into the playoffs as the 6th seed after a pretty atrocious regular season that had many TSM fans bemoaning a decline that just didn’t make sense. But there was a silent murmur in the NA LCS fandom and abroad even, whispers muttered in the dark of the time-tested truth: TSM shows up in Playoffs. Worry mounted as Cloud 9 easily dismantled TSM in the first game of the best of 5, but the next three games were absolutely dominated by the fan favourite in TSM. An upset of note, yes, but Cloud 9 was another team that seemed to be all over the place at times. It was an understandable possibility. But surely TSM would fall in their next endeavour: a best of five against the only other team other than Fnatic to almost make it to a perfect split in Immortals. Immortals looked absolutely disgusting throughout the regular split, but again murmurs were heard, as the Immortal side looked very, very, weak against Renegades and Dignitas, being bullied outright by the former. The side wasn’t the same as it had been earlier.
TSM breezed past the faltering Immortals to blaze their way to the finals against long-time rivals CLG and a repeat of last year’s Summer Split finals. Many had said it would be an easy victory for the TSM boys, and what looked to be the most unlikely story line to ever unfold almost seemed to be within grasp. But the games were back and forth evenly, CLG claiming the first, TSM the second, etc. It came down to a 2-2 record with the last game being the decider. And it was only befitting that the came was a nail biter of tension that was palpable, with teams making great plays (CLG’s grabbing baron) that were only meet with setbacks (TSM all but wiping CLG afterwards.) CLG eventually came out on top, after a crazy close teamfight that eventually saw the team pushing into TSM’s base to claim the second NA LCS trophy for the CLG side.
The Take Away
I do not think in any way shape or form TSM fans should be too deeply saddened by their team’s performance. From 6th seed to second place is one helleva trip, and the team looked better than ever. If this is the TSM of Summer split, then the TSM of old may very well be back. That can only mean great things for NA overall. TSM need to make sure they keep up whatever they did during the playoffs, which’ll be aided by the move to Bo3’s for the Summer split. I think TSM have a good chance moving ahead, and I highly doubt any roster changes will happen for the team now. They’ll need to look within, work on their own form, clear up some of their internal infrastructure, and try to keep whatever spirit possessed them to bring them to where they were just a few short days ago: the Finals of the NA LCS.
CLG, too, doesn’t look like they’ll be resting on their laurels anytime soon. The squad, who almost unanimously everyone doubted and trash talked, shut up doubters (well, the ones who aren’t stubborn,) who doubted whether they were even a top-tier NA team, let alone the ‘best.’ Nobody will ever agree on who is really the best, but winning two LCS finals sure does help. The team looks to be moving in the right direction with their rookies, and fans can only hope that they’ve yet to reach their skill ceiling, and with further nourishing they’ll grow even stronger. CLG’s staff will need to make sure to patch up the holes and problems the squad experienced, and maybe attempt to deepen those champion pools and drafting process for the squad. But CLG looks strong, very strong, coming into the Summer split. They’ve shown that they’re not a one trick pony either, and as much as fans of the other teams will still use it against them, it does make a statement that they won their final game off a decisive team fight and not just a split pushing Darshan.