Team SoloMid, Lords of the North American LCS, have remained steadfast in their pursuit of their fourth consecutive league win (a feat only matched by G2 Esports in Europe and Flash Wolves in LMS), but circumstances haven’t favored them. Sitting at sixth place after a disappointing loss to 100 Thieves, just above the resurgent Counter Logic Gaming, Team SoloMid are in danger of not even making playoffs.
Team SoloMid need to cling to their two-win gap over the bottom four to make playoffs and then up their form even more to advance in the daunting bracket itself. With pressure building, Week 8 opponents Cloud9 and Team Liquid, who are both currently ranked above Team SoloMid, look more threatening than they have in years. This weekend is TSM’s best chance to show their fans that they can deliver on the promise of a revolutionary new Western roster in time for the Mid-Season Invitational. Considering CLG’s recent rise and the fact that TSM play them in Week 9, this week may also make or break TSM’s playoff hopes entirely.
Team SoloMid spent much of 2018 Spring as a star-studded roster that trounced early games and unraveled in base sieges or around major neutral objectives. Despite ranking top two among teams that secure the first three turrets of the game first (71 percent) and fourth for gold lead at 15 minutes (81 percent), Team SoloMid are eighth for overall Baron takes in their games (39 percent).
With picks like Ezreal and Braum, TSM have opted for strong, but self-sufficient lanes to allow jungler Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung to scale up for team fights. MikeYeung and TSM’s approach isn’t always the most aggressive, but they ensure they secure incremental leads and swap to snag turrets quickly for a nice gold lead buffer. Even when plays go awry, TSM are often able to ensure they get favorable waves for lane swaps so they can compete in objective trades.
But it’s after these early map movements that TSM have shown the most rough edges in their teamwork. Often the call to group or lane assignments cause TSM to lose leads, and poorly-executed engages have thrown away team fights around Barons entirely. In the game against 100 Thieves, for example, Team SoloMid went for a top side play as a group, leaving mid completely exposed. This isn’t the first time they’ve made this kind of call either, as against Clutch Gaming, grouping top allowed Clutch to drop Rift Herald and secure a clean mid lane turret.
Perhaps TSM’s most glaring flaw, however, came when they had some of their largest leads. Despite early leads, TSM have the longest average game time at 41.5 minutes. This came as a result of poor lane assignments stalling out sieges. Without pushes in side lanes, TSM often sieged as five to try to force the base, which would only work if they scaled better, as eventually teams like Echo Fox could turn the tides.
The Camille pick has helped aid some of TSM’s fumbles. In recent games, TSM have executed 1-4 setups much more cleanly with Camille, going so far as using the pick to zone enemies from inside their own base. Being able to split their opponents by crashing waves at the same time has allowed TSM to end games more quickly without the need to force team fights in the jungle. These small improvements are things TSM will have to translate across a variety of compositions, especially if Team Liquid and Cloud9 deny the Camille pick–or worse, TSM decides it isn’t worth picking Camille with Kha’Zix open and in a tank-dominated meta.
Pulling C9 down to their level
Against formidable foes like Cloud9 and Team Liquid, Team SoloMid need to look for ways to both emphasize their strengths and attack their betters. In the previous week, 100 Thieves exploited holes in Cloud9’s game plan. TSM can follow a similar blueprint with a fast-clear jungle pick and a strong mid-jungle 2v2 to keep Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen pinned down and pressure Eric “Licorice” Ritchie’s indecision in a side lane. After all, strong side laning top laners is a direction to which TSM have already committed.
But Counter Logic Gaming revealed that Cloud9 have yet another weakness that plays directly into TSM’s tendencies. In the match against CLG on Saturday, Jensen managed to secure Ryze, one of the top two picked or banned champions on Patch 8.4 so far. Instead of playing Ryze in a side lane, however, he built Spellbinder and kept grouping with Cloud9 against CLG.
The Spellbinder item works best on assassins, but Ryze does more sustained damage and won’t have the opportunity to jump into a fight and burst down a carry easily, especially not against CLG’s Cho’Gath, Zac, and Rakan front line. Rather than taking advantage of CLG’s tendency to overgroup, C9 fell into chaos with them and didn’t utilize their composition’s strengths, throwing away a 10,000 gold lead in the process.
If TSM go all-in on the tank approach that has become increasingly popular with Banner of Command, Aftershock, and Bone Plating and leave open some of Cloud9’s favorite split-pushing champions, one of TSM’s greatest flaws can actually be used to their advantage. But, as they say, it’s best not to rely on your opponent making a mistake.
Team SoloMid are favored against Team Liquid
You read correctly. Despite many pegging Team Liquid as top of the table from the beginning and a brute force counter to TSM, fans of both sides should expect the preseason favorites to tie going into playoffs.
Team Liquid’s early macro decisions have simply been cluttered with too many mistakes. While Team Liquid should be able to exploit TSM’s tendency to lane safely in isolation, struggling to use their jungler effectively, TSM’s love of lane swaps could easily disrupt Team Liquid.
Against CLG, for example, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng canceled his recall after the wave reset on the bottom side of the map when CLG’s bottom lane started pushing another wave. Doublelift then pushed the minions all the way to bottom Tier One before actually recalling.
This action may not seem significant, but Team Liquid lost more tempo from Doublelift canceling this recall and pushing than if he had completed the initial recall. During this period, Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes was free to go answer the wave mid, go back bot, answer Doublelift’s push, recall, and transition for a swap. In addition, because Stixxay answered mid, Choi “Huhi” Jaehyun had priority to roam to the top side along with Vincent “Biofrost” Wang’s recall. They collapsed on Jung “Impact” Eonyeong, and Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya then had the ability to push all the way to top Tier 1, giving CLG tempo to swap.
Perhaps Doublelift needed an item, but if he had backed with Kim “Olleh” Joosung, Team Liquid’s bottom lane would be able to answer wave closer to their base, and then swap through mid to match CLG’s roams. More grave than this error, TL didn’t attempt to match the swap. They simply sent Impact top when it was clear CLG would have their bottom lane in position for another collapse.
Team Liquid have made numerous errors in regards to early lane pressure, often defaulting to Teleporting from top without lane priority or having Eugene “Pobelter” Park lose waves in mid lane for roams bottom. All of this doesn’t even amount to significant leads on star player Doublelift, and most of TL’s successes come from Baron setups and team fights.
Team SoloMid should be able to exploit TL’s poor early game macro as easily as CLG. And even if they don’t take the very feasible win from Cloud9, that should be enough to keep them safe for NA LCS 2018 quarterfinals.
It’s just that, after that, they still have a long way to go to make good on the promise to win it all.