And then there were three.
This 2021 LCS Spring Split hasn’t been exactly the cleanest we’ve seen over these past few years, but North America’s cream of the crop has continued to bring some exciting matches for League of Legends fans to cheer for.
During the season, we saw a ton of new faces take the playoff stage to show off to the world in the region’s “new era.” But in classic fashion, the trio of Cloud9, TSM, and Team Liquid have persevered through to the end once more as the final teams left in the battle for the LCS championship.
All three teams haven’t been perfect. Each roster stumbled one way or another, but they’ve made it to the final two series of the 2021 Mid-Season Showdown because they’re the best NA has. There’s still only one trophy to lift, however, and there’s plenty of questions left to answer.
Dot Esports’ Tyler Esguerra, Michael Kelly, Henrique DaMour, and Ethan Garcia came together to help make sense of the three most important questions that should be answered by the end of the weekend.
Question one: Who is the player to watch out for in TSM and Team Liquid’s upcoming series?
Tyler: When Alphari joined the LCS back at the start of 2021, he immediately lit up the top lane with his aggressive early-game dominance and superior mechanical skill, but throughout this MSS, he hasn’t exactly sailed on smooth waters. Currently, Alphari has only seen success on three champions throughout all of spring: Renekton, Gnar, and Gangplank.
When he isn’t playing one of those three champions, he has only won one out of 10 games. This next weekend will be a big test for the First Team All-Pro and how much he can adapt, since he’ll inevitably be focused by TSM and their jungler Spica.
Henrique: This series will be won or lost in the top lane, and not because of MVP frontrunner Alphari. Huni will decide this series. TSM found success in the middle of the Spring Split by putting Huni on weakside duty (now featuring Sion…!). Since then, champions like Nocturne and Camille have been added to his arsenal, and while laning matchups will come into play, Huni’s teamfighting will be where I’m focusing assuming he can survive the inevitable camping of his lane by Santorin to snowball Alphari.
Some of that will inevitably come down to Spica relieving said pressure, but the onus is still on Huni to play matchups intelligently and be patient in his teamfighting. Everything else being equal, if Huni can play to his ceiling, TSM can win this series.
Michael: I’m keeping a close eye on PowerOfEvil. The TSM mid laner was challenged pretty extensively by Ryoma last weekend despite snagging the win over 100 Thieves. But Jensen, as PowerOfEvil learned earlier in the MSS, is a much different beast when compared to Ryoma.
If TSM are going to move on to face Cloud9—and potentially even move further on from there—PowerOfEvil will have to step up in immense fashion. And for him to do that, he’s going to have to succeed on some of his signature picks. It should be interesting to see if coach Bjergsen has enough confidence in his mid laner to draft him some of his trademark picks such as Syndra, Orianna, and Azir, or if the team is more comfortable placing PowerOfEvil on Seraphine duty like it did in its last series against Liquid.
Ethan: As much as I want to say Alphari, Liquid’s previous series with Cloud9 really made it seem like he’s struggling—not to blame him as the source of the struggle, it just took a drastic turn from what I think we all expected from him from what we’ve seen throughout the split.
Therefore, I’m going to switch teams and bounce over to Lost, who’s been a major player in helping TSM win (get it?) as the split progressed, and more recently in their MSS series. He completely changed the conversation surrounding his skill as the split progressed and he began to be a crucial part of TSM’s success, while also proving those wrong who thought he would just be a worse-budget Doublelift. He’s stood his ground and made a name for himself.
Question two: Which champion will be the biggest difference-maker in the TSM-Liquid series?
Tyler: In the jungle, Udyr and Hecarim should be the two most contested choices of the series. However, it’ll be interesting to see if the Shadow of War will make it onto Summoner’s Rift. He is currently the most banned jungler in the postseason with a 95.5-percent pick-ban rate, while also boasting a 7-1 record during the games he’s been picked in the MSS.
Both Spica and Santorin have shown a ton of proficiency on the champion, and it’s clear that whoever gets the horse, gets the win. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that he’ll be gone before he gets to play. As a result, the Spirit Walker should be an interesting pick to watch out for, especially since Spica only started to play the champion during the 2021 MSS.
Henrique: Two of the greatest playmaking supports in competitive League of Legends history are squaring off in this series, so the answer is Rell. I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams banning out Rell and taking Alistar on the first red side rotation. If the response is to ban Alistar, expect the JV squad to roll deep. In this case, JV is Leona-Nautilus, which was played in this exact scenario (Alistar/Rell bans) by these exact players when Liquid and TSM met in the upper bracket.
These two supports do so much on champions like this for their teams, and the bans reflect the priority the two squads place on enabling their superstar supports. Rell is the best of the bunch and fits perfectly with the Renekton/Orianna/Hecarim dive ball of death compositions that have dominated season 11. There’s no way a team allows their opponents to get all of these champions and Exodia their way to victory (right, Dignitas…?), but Rell works decently as a defensive option as well.
Michael: It has to be Gnar. Gnar is just one of three champions, alongside Renekton and Tristana, to have a 100-percent pick/ban rate in the MSS thus far. But perhaps more importantly, the champion is both Huni and Alphari’s most-played pick this year. Each of them have played Gnar a total of nine times in 2021, and both players sport win rates above at least 66 percent with him.
Alphari, for the record, has won eight out of nine games on Gnar in 2021. Two of those wins came against TSM two weeks ago, when Alphari had Huni on the ropes from start to finish. That champion will undoubtedly be a contested pick in this weekend’s lower bracket final, as well as throughout the entire weekend. Whoever can get their hands on a pick that’s universally understood and prioritized across the board usually has a strong chance of winning.
Ethan: It’s strange that we’re all talking so much about a champion released in season one that definitely hasn’t visually stood the test of time, but here we are. Udyr. Everything about Udyr is precisely what Riot has changed for other champions since his conception, but the simplicity of his kit has made an overwhelming impact on a Rift overwhelmed with champions that have passives for their passives.
Seeing Udyr make a return to the competitive scene, particularly here at MSS, has been a breath of fresh air, but an unwelcome one for those that have to fight against it. While other top picks like Hecarim, Nidalee, Lillia, and Olaf are still quite powerful in their own right, one good Udyr run-up-and-slap combo can be all the team needs. Both Santorin and Spica have brought this champ out of their arsenal and onto the Rift previously, so I think we should expect to see it again, and probably again after that.
Question three: Which team will be facing Cloud9 in the 2021 MSS finals: TSM or Liquid? What scoreline and why?
Tyler: This series might be closer than some people think, but in the end, Liquid should come out on top once again against TSM. Both teams haven’t looked great over these past matchups, but TSM didn’t really impress me in their win against 100 Thieves.
Even though Liquid were outclassed by Cloud9 last week, they should be able to capitalize on TSM’s blunders a lot more heavily than 100T. I wouldn’t put it past TSM to make some miraculous plays to keep themselves in it, though—they always seem to find a way to sneak themselves into winning positions with random teamfights or a Baron steal, but Liquid are a much more put-together squad than TSM’s previous opponents. I give the series to Liquid, 3-2.
Henrique: Liquid will take this series 3-1. I want to believe in TSM and wouldn’t be surprised if they end up upsetting (yes, upsetting) Liquid. But the reigning Lock-In tournament champions have given me more reasons to believe in them for more games. Also, they literally beat TSM to start off the MSS.
It’s rinse and repeat unless TSM pulls out something wild for Huni and Liquid’s bot lane unplugs their keyboards. It could happen for sure, but probably not. Yes, Liquid were beaten by Cloud9, but that was hardly a shocking result. Whatever team wins Liquid-TSM will likely get boatraced by Cloud9, frankly. But it feels like too many things have to go right for TSM to pull it off.
Michael: I don’t think TSM have proven over the course of the last few weeks that they can hang in the same class as Liquid. TSM’s road through the lower bracket back to this rematch hasn’t been all too pretty. Last weekend’s series against 100 Thieves wasn’t the cleanest affair, and if TSM were struggling in that matchup, they’re most likely going to have a tough time handling a Liquid squad that’s already proven to have their number in a best-of-five setting.
My prediction? Liquid take the series by a score of 3-1. They’re always good for a quick little slip-up, and TSM are always good for a “false hope” game. But I’m putting my money on Liquid to face Cloud9 in the MSS finals. From there, I think the cards are stacked in the latter’s favor.
Ethan: Right now, I don’t think we know the scope of Liquid’s mental following their very one-sided loss against Cloud9. We saw some key players on their team really not show the strength and team synergy that they have had throughout the split (see level one fiesta in game four). But with TSM, we’ve seen that consistency that is so vital to any team’s success, especially in a region where top teams being overthrown can have horrific results for the team’s mental.
I had high hopes for TSM going into the split, and although there have been many times within the past few weeks where I’ve been doubtful, I think that they have this in the bag. With that being said, I think that TSM are going to atone for their loss in the first round of the winners bracket of MSS to Liquid, but do so in a very close fashion that TSM is known to do, 3-2.
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