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TL vs. TSM: A Deep Dive Into What Went Wrong

TSM beat Team Liquid in Week 2 of the 2021 LCS Spring Split.

Team Liquid had their worst week of 2021, going 1-2 in Week 2 of the LCS Spring Split. Not only did the team drop games to TSM and 100 Thieves, they also looked out of sorts in both games. Compared to the Lock In tournament, Team Liquid showed much lower performances in these two games, which may be the beginning of a worrying trend. So far, TL has won against CLG, Dignitas and FlyQuest, while losing to Immortals, TSM and 100 Thieves. To try and figure out what went wrong, here’s a look at the TL vs. TSM match.

TL vs. TSM — The Draft

TSM kicked things off by banning Camille, Taliyah and Seraphine, while Team Liquid banned Udyr, Olaf and Syndra. First pick Azir went to TSM, followed by Graves and Jhin. Right off the bat, this is a bit of a head-scratcher. Kai’Sa, Thresh, Rell, Gangplank, Orianna, Samira, Leona, Lillia, Gnar and Renekton are all available. Team Liquid have high win-rates on all of these champions and most of them are okay to blind pick. TSM continues with Lillia-Kai’Sa, and TL finishes round one with Zoe.

Team Liquid saved last pick for Alphari's Kennen.

Team Liquid saved last pick for Alphari’s Kennen.

Liquid bans Gangplank and Alistar, while TSM bans Rell-Jayce. TL locks in Nautilus, followed by TSM picking Gnar and Pantheon. Alphari gets counterpick for top lane, and TL chooses Kennen. Looking at the compositions, both teams have big windows of opportunity for AoE flanks, but TSM definitely wins in the teamfighting department.

Shurima shuffle, Lillia’s sleep and Mega Gnar ultimate all provide opportunities for TSM to crowd control multiple grouped targets, while Pantheon and Kai’Sa can follow up with their ultimates. Meanwhile, Team Liquid feels mostly like a pick composition, with scaling poke and wave clear in their favor. The Graves does not fit as well as a Lillia or even Nidalee. TL let the clock tick down as they first-pick this champion, and it seems like they got really thrown off with the Azir first pick.

Overall, Kennen and Nautilus were picked most likely in for their ultimates in response to TSM’s engage, rather than starting fights of their own. Notice how TSM picked after seeing TL’s champions in three roles, despite TL having the final pick. Liquid felt highly suspicious of picking Orianna into Azir, blind picking Gangplank, Kai’Sa or Thresh for some reason. Fun fact–Jensen is the only player with a career-long winrate over 50 percent on his champ after this game (Jensen’s Zoe 60%; Alphari’s Kennen 48%; Tactical’s Jhin 25%; CoreJJ’s Nautilus 36%; Santorin’s Graves 36%).

The Early Game

Top lane was the only one to feel real hurt in the very early game. Alphari gained about 20 cs over Huni in the first eight minutes. The Kennen truly felt like a counter-pick worth saving for the end, as the Gnar rushed Mercury Treads and stayed under turret. With this being the case, both teams essentially left top lane on its own.

Instead, everyone decided to have a party in the bottom lane. TSM had mid priority, while Spica and Santorin roamed down the river. Both junglers stuck around the bottom lane as a 3v3 until CoreJJ engaged on SwordArt. Neither trio took much damage, but SwordArt forced his Flash-stun-Ignite onto Tactical. This forces Tactical to Cleanse-Flash, but TL’s re-engage looked strong with Curtain Call. However, Spica caught two with his Lillia sleep, diffusing the situation. TL and TSM each got a kill for their junglers.

Huni forces Alphari's Flash, gaining Flash and Teleport advantage.
Huni forces Alphari’s Flash, gaining Flash and Teleport advantage.

Shortly afterwards, Alphari and Huni begin trading aggressively. Huni commits the leap-knockback-stun combo, forcing Alphari to cast Kennen ultimate. As Huni returns to mini-Gnar, the trade looks even, but the rage stacks cause Alphari to Flash. Rewind to five minutes and Alphari used his Teleport to get back to lane for farm. Therefore, Huni actually gained Teleport and Flash advantage. This proves important later.

TSM rotated top to secure Rift Herald, while Alphari took another bad trade with Huni. TSM pushes him off of his turret, drops the Herald, and actually knocks down the entire top tier one turret for First Turret. Team Liquid secured some plates and Cloud Drake in the meantime by 12 minutes.

Mid lane became the next target for TSM. Jensen overextended just enough with Zoe’s Portal Jump for PowerOfEvil to dash behind and push him into SwordArt and Spica, who were waiting in the wings. Jensen had switched to Barrier-Heal with Summoner Spellbook, so he had no Flash available. TSM gave the easy kill to Spica, giving him a 150 gold bounty and a complete Moonstone Renewer on Lillia.

TSM was calling the game-winning play on the minimap.
TSM was calling the game-winning play on the minimap.

The Crescendo

Just before what turned out to be the game-losing moment for Team Liquid, the minimap was lit up with TSM pings. They had full vision in TL’s blue-side jungle, top and mid priority, Spica in his red-side jungle and TL’s bottom lane pushing into the turret. They knew this was their moment to strike, and they did.

SwordArt opened again with his Flash-stun-Ignite combo onto Tactical, burning his Cleanse. Spica joined TSM’s bottom lane on the chase. CoreJJ Flashed, and Jensen and Santorin ran down the river, but PowerOfEvil beat them in the race. Huni Teleported into TL’s blue-side jungle, running under TL’s bottom turret to completely block their escape.

Alphari Teleported into the lane, so CoreJJ and Tactical turned back into the alcove hoping the reinforcements would arrive in time to put up a fight. PowerOfEvil found the dash-Flash-ultimate onto all three TL members, killing the bottom duo immediately. Alphari used Zhonya’s to buy time, and Santorin and Jensen tried to salvage the fight, but Huni turned Mega Gnar just in time. Azir came away with a Quadra Kill, completely justifying the first pick in the draft by TSM.

The Close-Out

After the reset from the bottom lane fight, TSM picked up Mountain Drake and proceeded to send SwordArt’s Pantheon anywhere the Jhin went, while PowerOfEvil matched Alphari’s Kennen. Team Liquid committed to a dive on Huni, securing an easy kill, but Tactical blew his Flash to avoid a dive top. TSM took the tier two top turret, as well.

PowerOfEvil pulled off another big play to secure TSM's win.
PowerOfEvil pulled off another big play to secure TSM’s win.

This polarized approach continued, with TSM attacking Tactical and TL attacking Huni. However, Huni found an opening while Mega Gnar. PowerOfEvil Teleported into another dash-Flash-ultimate combo to turn the dive into killing Alphari and Santorin again. Both Liquid players even blew Flash, and TSM’s lead ballooned to 4,300 gold.

From there, the game became pretty impossible for Team Liquid to win. They only had one turret to TSM’s six. As long as TSM respected TL’s vision they would have an easy win. Alphari needed a surprise flank or Teleport into a massive Kennen ultimate, or TSM’s squishies needed to face-check CoreJJ’s Nautilus. TSM did not fall prey to either, resulting in a clean closeout.

TL vs. TSM — Conclusion

Team Liquid should be able to draw some through lines from this loss. They span from the draft to the early game to the two big game-losing plays. Graves and Zoe felt like they were always two steps behind the Lillia and Azir. PowerOfEvil always seemed to gain priority and Teleport advantage when needed for his team. Alphari gained a sizeable lead in lane, but TSM’s rotation to top lane essentially neutered it. And from there, TSM shut down TL’s efforts to play back into the game, constricting the vision and map options for TL along the way.

The draft, in particular, looks reminiscent of the Immortals loss. Team Liquid gives their opponent Kai’Sa and Pantheon, this time as counterpicks. They draft Zoe in phase one, despite Azir already blinded by the enemy. If TL chooses Kai’Sa-Pantheon, they get two 100 percent pick/ban champions for Tactical and CoreJJ in the bottom lane (or Santorin takes Pantheon jungle). What can TSM follow with?

Most likely Lillia and one other. Maybe they blind pick Renekton or Gangplank for Huni. Perhaps TSM drafts their bottom lane in answer. Regardless, TL have so many possibilities. They can secure the Orianna going into the next ban phase, or they can answer with their top lane pick in response to Huni. If TSM does not take their top lane, then TL can put two bans towards it. Ban Gnar and Gragas, which will force TSM to blind pick Gangplank or Renekton and risk giving either to Alphari.

On the other hand, TL could blind pick the Gangplank anyway in phase one, and save Jensen’s pick all the way for last. TSM would most likely target Orianna, Twisted Fate, Galio, or Zoe, but they cannot ban them all. If TSM targets jungle and bans Graves, Hecarim and/or Nidalee, TL just picks whichever is left over. Imagine TL coming away with Gangplank-Nidalee-Twisted Fate-Kai’Sa-Pantheon into TSM’s Renekton-Lillia-Azir-Xayah-Thresh. Suddenly, TL have the dive-semiglobal composition and TSM have a wonky zoning-flank composition.

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