1. Can TL get onto Bjergsen?
It’s entirely possible that TSM will circumvent this key question by simply playing more Dyrus-centric compositions against Liquid, but this seems unlikely. The Dyrus Olaf composition was custom-made to take advantage of Gravity’s weaknesses, specifically GV’s dependence on Hauntzer’s tank play, their poor lane swaps, and their lack of damage threats outside of Altec. TL’s weaknesses lie elsewhere. The team has a much better understanding of lane swaps than Gravity and consistently put out three carry threats in teamfights. Liquid’s main weakness is their issue engaging teamfights themselves – most of Liquid’s fights are won by kiting back, and their hamfisted approach to starting fights usually puts them at a disadvantage.
This means that TSM can best counter TL by going back to their regular Bjergsen-centric compositions – Liquid will struggle to neutralize him in teamfights and Bjergsen can poke them until they are forced to engage. TL’s best chance of getting onto Bjergsen come from their duo of IWillDominate and Xpecial. Both players have had a rough split, seemingly due to a combination of meta shifts and individual fall-off, but were both once considered premier engagers. A return to form from either player could swing the tides in Liquid’s favor. One champion that Dominate was particularly good on but has fallen out of the meta is Sejuani. Dominate should consider picking Sejuani anyways in this series, as TL’s lanes are naturally stronger than TSM’s and Santorin hasn’t been able to put out early-game pressure this split. Consequently, a Sejuani pick will be less harmful in the early game but will give Dom a comfortable tool to engage teamfights in the mid-late game.
2. Will TSM’s lanes hold up against Liquid’s?
This season, TL has built up an unfortunate reputation for throwing leads in spite of massive gold leads. I briefly discussed earlier why TL can’t close out games – they are very poor at engaging teamfights and often also struggle in siege situations, and a big part of this is that they don’t really have any dominant teamfighting players. Quas is a well-rounded player but he struggles with Teleport flanks, a top laner’s strongest tool in this current meta. FeniX was brought on as a lane bully, and hasn’t been a strong teamfighter without Azir. Piglet was known as a split-pusher/pick playmaker in Korea, and those traits continue to be his forte. Piglet is a more than capable teamfighter in the secondary carry role, but Liquid often uses him as their primary carry, and his overzealous positioning has cost them several late game fights. Dom and Xpecial have both fallen off individually, so their teamfighting isn’t as good as it once was – Xpecial has had particularly poor engages this season. Because so many NA teams struggle to engage fights, I mentioned that NA has a hypercarry by default meta, where one strong teamfighting player can solo carry the game.
Liquid’s laning phase is the exact opposite – its easily the best in the league. Every single one of TL’s players have dominant laning phases, and while Dominate is struggling in the mid-late game, his early game decision making remains excellent. This means that unless Liquid is able to dramatically improve their teamfighting, their best chance of winning comes from simply smashing lanes and snowballing the game to victory. TSM does not have particularly strong laners outside of Bjergsen, and while Santorin had a good series against Gravity, most of his success came from power farming the jungle rather than ganking lanes. Most of Dyrus’s good lanes against Gravity came off of botched lane swaps by their opponents (Games 1 & 3) and Turtle hasn’t been strong in lane for over a year now. If TL can smash TSM in lane, they’ll not only establish a commanding position for themselves but also highlight TSM’s status as a one-carry team. If TL does not win their lanes, they should try to play more split-pushing strategies to emphasize their individual skills and avoid the teamfighting woes they’ve had all season long.
3. How will FeniX deal with Azir bans?
Ever since he’s joined the NA LCS, Azir has easily been not only Fenix’s best champion, but also Team Liquid’s. When Fenix has Azir, Liquid becomes an entirely different team because they gain a reliable backline teamfight carry without giving up Fenix’s powerful laning phase. This season, Liquid is 5-0 when Fenix is on Azir and only 8-5 when he plays another champion. It’s important to note that Liquid is still a strong team without Azir, but they’ve been unbeatable this split when they do have him. TSM came into the GV series with a clever pick/ban strategy to neutralize their opponent’s strengths. Against TL, the strategy could be much simpler.
It’s important to note that Fenix doesn’t have a limited champion pool, its just that Liquid sometimes struggles to play around his other picks. With that in mind, Fenix had some strong Twisted Fate play earlier this season, and TF would fit well into TL’s strategy of snowballing the laning phase. If TL decides to split push against TSM, TF is a great split pushing champion. It’s also possible for FeniX to go entirely the other way – to pick a relatively weak champion in lane that can outdamage Bjergsen’s picks in teamfights. If Fenix goes this route, TSM is likely to struggle against AP Kog’Maw due to their problems engaging (unless Dyrus picks Olaf again.) Even on a “standard” champion like Viktor TL has a decent chance of beating TSM just through their strong laning. However, TL should look to try creative picks over the course of a BoX to take advantage of Fenix’s wide champion pool and to work around their poor teamfighting.
4. Will Turtle step up this series?
Against GV, TSM needed one of their other players to step up as damage threats due to GV’s “rush Bjergsen” style. The team ultimately decided to give Dyrus Olaf, but it’s important to note that Turtle’s own play that series was still very lackluster. Even though TSM handily beat Gravity in 2/4 games, Turtle had a very poor 412 damage per minute, a mark which slightly exceeded his own 405 regular season damage per minute mark, but would have kept him second to last in the overall league. Although fans frequently point to WildTurtle’s poor laning phase, his bigger problem this split has been teamfighting. Even with teams focusing all of their attention on Bjergsen, Turtle hasn’t been able to take advantage. It’s important to note that last split, most analysts wouldn’t have considered Turtle a top AD Carry, but he was able to take advantage of team’s focus on Bjergsen to deal the second highest damage in the league after his mid lane teammate.
TSM still does a clever job of rotating Turtle around the map to shield his poor laning, but he hasn’t been rewarding his team with strong late game play. Against TL, Turtle has a chance to shine. TL struggles to lock down opponents in teamfights, which should give Turtle an easy opponent to try and flex his teamfighting muscles. Season 3 WildTurtle probably isn’t coming back any time soon, but if Turtle can return to even his form from last split, TL won’t be able to deal with two strong teamfighting threats.
5. Which team will involve their top laner more?
It’s unlikely that either team’s top laner becomes a major factor in this series in spite of their strong pedigrees. The weird thing about both TSM and TL is that although both teams boast well-known top laners with strong pedigrees and clear skills, neither team has done a particularly good job of consistently using them. TSM’s struggles with using Dyrus in the early game led to a very poor performance at MSI. This split, they’ve done a better job of integrating Dyrus into their team’s plans but still underwent a long stretch of ignoring him in the middle of the split. Dyrus isn’t a star player anymore, but he can still be a very disruptive teamfighter if TSM gives him a chance to succeed. Against a team which already struggles at teamfighting, an in-form Dyrus will push an even stronger advantage towards TSM.
Liquid’s use of Quas is different – its not so much of a mis-use as a deliberate team decision. Team Liquid rarely has a set carry pattern and instead swap their carry threats around based on who is doing well in each game. This is a perfectly acceptable strategy, and Quas is a strong player who can fend for himself. This split in particular Liquid has been very focused on their mid and bot side, but giving Quas more attention in the top lane will be a key strategy for TL. Quas is one of the league’s better split pushers, and while a side lane focus won’t help Fenix keep down Bjergsen, it may be the key to victory if Liquid’s strong side lanes can snowball. One particularly interesting strategy for Liquid could be stealing TSM’s Olaf composition. Lulu will help Fenix hold steady in lane against Bjergsen with lower assistance, and if Liquid snowballs Quas’s Olaf, he’ll be able to easily get onto TSM’s star mid laner.
I think TSM will take this series 3-1 over Team Liquid. It will be a close series, and Liquid’s strong lanes will consistently put TSM on the brink of defeat, but I just don’t think they have the teamfighting or sieging to close games out. Piglet/Xpecial or Quas will go to town on their lane opponents and secure Liquid an easy win or two, but if TSM ever enters the mid game teamfight phase in a competent position (even if they are down 3-4k gold) they should be able to take the game.
One key strategy for TL to win will be to include more split-pushing. TSM lacks the individual players to contend unless they give Bjergsen an assassin and let him split, in which case they are very unlikely to win teamfights. TL should also look towards TSM’s Olaf comp for inspiration in easily shutting down a one-carry team. Strategies that TSM doesn’t expect could take the series 5 games or even swing it over into a TL win.
For TSM, they should revert back to their Bjergsen-centric comps during the regular season. If Turtle steps up his game, it should be an easy win for TSM, but it’s important to remember that TSM only lost to Liquid this season due to a lucky Baron steal by Piglet. In that game, TL amassed a large gold lead but would have lost the game due to several botched teamfights. TSM should look to prepare contingency plans but if things stay as they are, their current form is enough to give them the definite advantage heading into the series.