Fans of longer-form analysis may enjoy my team breakdowns of TSM and GV. The “Key Questions” series will try and focus on highlighting the key points of each NA LCS play-off series.
1. What happened to WildTurtle?
Turtle isn’t the most important player on TSM, but as of right now his poor performance is their biggest issue. WildTurtle’s laning phase has sharply declined ever since his peak from Season 3-early Season 4, but his teamfighting was what kept him on TSM long after he was no longer a dominant laner. TSM has had to pay a steep price in the early game to get Turtle to secondary carry status, but until this split Turtle had paid off their investment. In Season 4, WildTurtle entered the playoffs after a run of very poor form, but was able to compensate for his poor laning with strong teamfighting. At the World Championships, WildTurtle dealt the 7th highest damage to champions in the group stage, ahead of all Western players other than xPeke. In the Spring Split of Season 5, TSM took special care to protect WildTurtle in the laning phase, frequently sacrificing top laner Dyrus to ensure that their AD Carry could safely enter teamfights without falling too far behind. Although TSM was punished for this strategy at MSI, it worked well in the regular season, as WildTurtle dealt more damage to champions than any player other than teammate Bjergsen.
This split, WildTurtle has lost his former teamfighting skills, but his laning hasn’t improved. As a result, WildTurtle has done less damage to champions per minute than any AD player but NME AD Carry otter. His very poor 405 damage per minute is a whole 31 dpm behind 8th place Nien – over 1000 damage less over the course of a 40 minute game. To make matters worse, TSM has the longest game length in the league (meaning WT should be doing more damage than other players since AD items scale multiplicatively and he should have more time to buy items) and Turtle has a top-6 gold count for his role (and top-15 in the league), meaning his low damage is due to his own underperformance rather than a lack of resources.
As of right now, WildTurtle is by far TSM’s biggest liability. His poor laning phase means that he’s unlikely to punish Altec if TSM gets the 2v2 matchup, and his poor teamfighting means that GV can simply ignore him to dogpile more champions onto Bjergsen. WildTurtle doesn’t need to return to peak performance. He doesn’t even need to go back to his performance last split when he was still a very strong teamfighter. If he can even move up to an average AD Carry’s level, it’ll be possible for TSM to carry him through the series.
2. Will TSM’s history of clutch play overcome the inexperienced GV?
One of the most oft-repeated lines is that TSM has a history of stepping it up when it counts. The reason this may be misleading is because while organizations can step it up by making roster moves, when the teams enter the server, the only people capable of stepping it up are the players themselves. In this area, TSM is in luck. Fans may remember the team’s complete flop at MSI, but aside from that terrible performance all of the team’s individual players have a history of clutch play-off performances. A large part of the TSM organization’s winning history can be attributed to Dyrus and his tendency to dominate the NA Regionals. Due to his short career, Santorin has the worst resume out of any TSM member, but he brought out a big performance in last split’s play-offs and at IEM. Bjergsen has been TSM’s most consistent performer ever since he joined the team in Season 4, and this seems likely to continue. WildTurtle made his bones by leading TSM to the championship after joining the org mid-way through the Season 3 Spring Split, and he’s continued to step it up in every play-off game since. Lustboy, founding member of legendary Korean organization Azubu Blaze, should need no introduction.
While every member of TSM enters the play-offs with a loaded resume, even Santorin’s comparatively sparse history of play-off performances dwarfs that of every player on Gravity. In fact, most of Gravity have spent the majority of their careers in the Challenger-scene play-offs (or for Move, LSPL, China’s secondary league.) Outside of last year’s 3-1 loss to TiP, nobody on Gravity has even been in the play-offs at all – none of their players have won a series in any major league. It would be inaccurate to portray Team Gravity as chokers, as we just don’t know what their play-off form even looks like. They have no experience in big series or in Best of 5s.
A major part of this series will be the battle between Gravity’s youth and TSM’s experience. To underscore this storyline, both teams are entering the playoffs in a run of terrible form. TSM has struggled this season outside of a nice 6 game mid-season win streak. GV stood on top of the region’s standings but an awful 1-4 finish to the last two weeks dropped them all the way down to fourth. In this messy environment, clutch play will be especially important. TSM have never entered the play-offs in a worse run of form, but have faced adversity before. Does this mean that they’ll adjust better this time as well?
3. Will TSM keep Hauntzer under control?
Altec might be Gravity’s best player, but the most important match-up this series will be Dyrus vs. Hauntzer, a battle between North America’s father of the utility top lane and the region’s current best utility top player. Gravity run a system very similar to TSM’s strategy in the Spring Split. Because Gravity is so reliant on Altec to be a primary damage carry, they frequently will sacrifice Hauntzer to try and make sure that their star damage dealer can make it into teamfights ahead. Fans complained about CLG starving Seraph or Nien in Season 4, but what Gravity requires Hauntzer to do is much more difficult because Gravity doesn’t have a very strong understanding of lane swaps. They will rarely receive global gold from towers, often come out on the losing end of objective trades, and have poor minion wave control. (The only benefit of GV lane swaps is a safe laning phase for Altec on a hyper carry.) When Gravity finally switches back, Hauntzer is almost always significantly down gold and experience. Because Hauntzer is so good at pushing in small advantages, he almost always recovers from these losing lane swaps and catches up or even exceeds his opponent by the first teamfight. This is a relief for a team that is also extremely dependent on Hauntzer in the teamfight phase. Not only is he their primary engager off of Teleport flanks, he’s also their primary peeler due to the team’s strange set-up. Keane, Bunny, and Move all excel at providing secondary engage or finding picks, but Bunny and Move aren’t particularly good at being the main engager, and Keane’s engage-abilities are champion dependent. Usually, the trio will take over for Hauntzer once he finds the initial engage and the Gravity top will instead run back to peel for Altec instead of continually diving the front line. During this transition period, Hauntzer is extremely vulnerable, and if he isn’t tanky enough, teams can usually just kill him when he’s ahead of his team and automatically win the fight.
In the laning phase, Hauntzer is extremely vulnerable to punishment. In Week 9, Seraph was able to counter Hauntzer’s Rumble with Kassadin after GV swapped Hauntzer into the 1v1 with him down 20 cs. In GV’s first game against TiP, Hauntzer came out even in lane with Impact and helped his team secure the first few fights, but in the tie-breaker Impact kept him down, meaning that GV had no way to force engages and comeback from fights. With Hauntzer unable to engage, Move and Keane kept engaging with poorly timed TF/Rengar ultimates, leading to an easy win for TiP.
If GV swaps Hauntzer into the 1v1 against Dyrus down gold/exp like they normally do, the seasoned top lane veteran must find a way to punish him. The difficulty for TSM is that Hauntzer is the exact kind of player Dyrus struggles against. Against all-in top laners like ZionSpartan or past top laners like Voyboy or ackerman, Dyrus will rarely die and often find ways to turn their aggression into kills for TSM. However, Hauntzer is the kind of top laner who prefers to steadily accumulate advantages rather than make risky all-in plays. A consistent trend in his career is that Dyrus is oftentimes too hesitant to contest these small advantage pushes and falls behind.
4. Can Gravity get onto Bjergsen?
No player does more of his team’s damage than Bjergsen. With WildTurtle’s teamfighting falling off a cliff, Bjergsen has somehow soared to new heights in his attempts to carry Team SoloMid. Bjergsen deals a whopping 42.5% of his team’s damage, a whole 7.4% more than second-place Innox. If a team is able to shut down Bjergsen, they’ll be able to shut down TSM in their current state – the only problem is that no team has truly managed to contain the Danish superstar. However, GV is a team whose style is uniquely suited to taking out Bjergsen. The team’s usualy teamfight strategy is to hopefully lock down a single enemy player with Hauntzer or Keane and then dogpiling onto them as a 5-man. Because WT hasn’t been a relevant threat for TSM this season, GV was able to destroy TSM in their most recent game. (In their first game of the split, GV and TSM both threw repeatedly before a bugged Rumble ultimate ruined Hauntzer’s flank and led to TSM’s win.) It would be disingenous to pretend that GV’s style isn’t extremely effective against what TSM hopes to accomplish. The biggest issue for Gravity is that they themselves haven’t been very successful executing their game plan.
GV’s best bet this series will be to lean on Keane’s anti-carry playstyle. At the split’s midway point, when GV was at their highest point, Keane was able to bring a lot of value by preventing his mid-lane opponents from dealing damage. However, Keane’s play has harshly declined in the last few weeks. He’s struggled on playing conventional meta champions like Orianna or TF, and his play on his traditional anti-carry champions like J4 and Urgot has also been lacking. This is a big issue for GV because Move only really excels as a follow-up jungler. GV will have other outlets to kill Bjergsen, like Bunny scoring picks or Hauntzer finding a TP-engage, but if Keane is unable to control Bjerg in lane, Gravity will face a steep road. For GV to win, Keane must take the lead in neutralizing Bjergsen.
5. Why does Gravity win much more often on red side?
One of the common storylines this season was Gravity’s undefeated record on red side (they actually lost the tie-breaker against TiP while on red, going 9-1 for the season.) On the other hand, Gravity went 3-6 on blue side. Part of this stark contrast is simply due to chance. Although Gravity’s poor run of form in the last two weeks mostly came on blue side, their awful play on red side against Team8 and TiP suggests that their dip in form would have occurred regardless of which side they were on.
However, there is something to Gravity’s strong play on red and weak play on Blue. Two possible theories come from GV’s love for flex picks in the draft and the shape of the map, particularly the dragon pit. GV’s draft strategy frequently involves picking champions like Nautilus, Shen, Jarvan IV, etc. that they can flex. On the red side, the team will get last pick so they can send these champions into favorable lanes. Most fans would assume that this is so Keane can get a cheese pick, but Gravity actually will usually first pick Keane’s champion, even if it’s something like Urgot, so that they can make sure Bunny or Hauntzer get strong champions. This is particularly critical for Hauntzer because they team always swaps him back after he’s down creeps and e xperience. The other major reason has to do with the dragon pit’s shape. Gravity isn’t dependent on getting the first dragon, but they are dependent on forcing a teamfight around it. Because the pit is facing the red side, it is much easier to set up for a fight and make sure that all the team’s troops are on the right side of the pit if the team is on red side. In addition, it is easier to pick off opponents walking towards the dragon pit on red side, giving Move and Bunny time to feast on their opponents.
TSM isn’t a team that is particularly dependent on the first dragon, so they should look to give it up when Gravity has already set up around it. The key to note is that GV isn’t reliant on the first dragon in and of itself, it’s more of a means to an end to force a decisive mid-game teamfight. TSM should recognize Gravity’s priority on preparing for dragons by setting up vision before hand. As a series strategy, they should look to pick red side away from Gravity, as GV has a hard time setting up when they are on blue side.
Final Prediction: TSM 3-1
Both teams are entering the play-offs in a very poor run of form, and in this situation like this I would rather bet on TSM’s experience and ability to adjust in a BoX series. Against TSM, Gravity are just too dependent on getting red side and Keane’s anti-carry style. TSM probably won’t be able to ban Keane’s champion pool, as it will give the rest of Gravity too many key picks (Bunny Thresh/Shen, Hauntzer Maokai, Altec Sivir) but they will be able to take away red side and find compositions which can better protect Bjergsen.
One bright side for GV fans is that it seems very unlikely that Turtle or Dyrus will suddenly have a return to form, so TSM will probably fail to contain GV’s two star players in the laning phase. But even with Hauntzer and Altec entering teamfights in full strength, I don’t think GV will be able to execute their usual teamfight strategies – the team’s performance in the last few weeks was just too poor. If GV can’t lock up Bjergsen in teamfights, this means that the Danish superstar will just rampage his way to the semi-finals.