Since 2016, Team Liquid and TSM have been two of the most dominant North American organizations when it comes to LCS championships. And even though their rosters might look vastly different compared to past seasons, the mission has remained the same this spring: Beat everyone and represent NA at the Mid-Season Invitational.
Both League of Legends teams are coming from opposite sides of the offseason. Liquid built upon the foundation that 2020 brought by bringing in superstar top laner Alphari and veteran jungler Santorin, strengthening an already stacked roster with Jensen, a rising NA star in Tactical, and last season’s MVP, CoreJJ.
These additions flexed their muscles early with the inaugural 2021 LCS Lock In tournament, where Liquid rolled over the competition with ease. In the weeks after, they quickly became a favorite in the eyes of many to take home the LCS championship for the fifth time in the past seven seasons.
Meanwhile, TSM came into the new year with a ton of uncertainty after the retirement of star AD carry Doublelift and their leader, Bjergsen. The star mid laner shifted into the head coaching position, but the rest of the team was overhauled except for the jungle position. League fans were rightfully skeptical of what TSM’s fate would be this season.
But at the end of the 2021 Spring Split, TSM have settled at the apex of the LCS as a top team once again. It took this roster plenty of time to find their footing as a unit, but once they were able to figure out the identity that matched them the most, they began to excel. Even Bjergsen had a rough coaching debut, but he was able to learn quickly—as he did throughout his playing career.
In the first matchup of the 2021 LCS Mid-Season Showdown this weekend, we’ll get to see two of the league’s best rosters clash. It’s a great way to kick off the festivities and here’s what you need to know about both squads.
Veni, vidi, vici
If you want a key matchup to keep your eyes on tomorrow, look toward the top side of Summoner’s Rift because we could see the series won or lost in this lane.
Huni, one of the more experienced players on TSM’s roster, has had a rollercoaster of a career so far. Since he joined the LCS, he’s been branded as one of the most coinflip players in the league with equal parts brilliance and bloopers. But this year, he’s looked different.
Why? Because the 23-year-old veteran has found a new role on weakside champions, which has helped TSM succeed immensely in the 2021 Spring Split. It feels like he’s strayed away from his overaggressive ways of the past, becoming a rock in the top lane that can absorb a good amount of pressure from enemy junglers while also making a huge impact in the latter stages of his games.
This doesn’t mean that he can’t be trusted on carry picks, though. TSM put him on Jayce for three games this season and he played with confidence and precision for most of those matches. As a result of Huni’s newfound control, TSM’s jungler Spica can give more attention to other lanes and help them flourish.
It’s a new year and a new Huni, but across Summoner’s Rift, TSM have a new mountain to climb in the form of a superstar top laner by the name of Alphari.
At the end of 2020, Alphari was known as the best player on the worst team in Europe with Origen. His talent was wasted on a team that eventually ended in last place with a disappointing 6-12 record. And while the team rebranded itself to Astralis, the 21-year-old decided to head across the Atlantic to make his debut on the LCS stage.
Almost immediately, Alphari put the region on notice with some of the strongest performances we’ve seen from a top laner in NA. He’s been the best player in his role and is also a frontrunner for the MVP award this split.
He finished the regular season with the highest average early-game gold difference in LCS history and has the fifth-highest average damage to champions in the league, according to Oracle’s Elixir. He also had the most kills among NA top laners, imposing his will throughout every point of Liquid’s matches.
If there’s one player who could shake Huni’s resolve in the top lane, it’s Alphari. This top lane juggernaut has enough firepower to threaten almost any player in the world. And if Liquid decide to run their gameplan through him, you know the match could come down to a top difference.
Trials and tribulations
The biggest aspect of this matchup that could heavily swing in favor for either team is how quickly both squads can fix some of their glaring issues before the playoffs start. The teams haven’t been given a week off like the LEC, so the same issues that plagued them in the regular season will need some rapid-fire fixing.
For TSM, their early game has been an issue throughout the Spring Split, especially against top teams like C9 and Liquid. Every player on the roster has a negative average gold difference at 15 minutes, according to Oracle’s Elixir, they have the second-lowest first blood rate in the league, and their laners aren’t able to find any footholds to snowball themselves into an easier late-game state.
As the strongest team in the LCS pre-15 minutes, this might look like a dream situation for Liquid since they averaged a monstrous 2,096 gold difference through their early games this spring. Against a weaker early-game team like TSM, they could snowball their matches with ease. But only if they’re able to avoid making mistakes in the process, which they haven’t managed to do too well so far.
Liquid’s ability to transition from the mid-to-late game has been horribly lackluster, especially when compared to their explosive early game. In fact, they have the third-worst mid-to-late game in the league, according to Oracle’s Elixir. The only teams that have a worse mid-to-late game are CLG and Golden Guardians, which isn’t the type of company you want to be around as a top organization.
They keep making uncanny mistakes, whether it’s getting randomly caught out in a side lane or making bad macro decisions. Those blunders end up giving their opponents a chance to claw back into a game that they shouldn’t have any business winning, which, unfortunately for them, is TSM’s bread and butter.
TSM are the second-best mid-to-late team in the LCS. They’ve shown great late-game decision-making and team play as they evolved throughout the split. The roster has shown a willingness to stay aggressive when down and are great at finding objectives to keep themselves afloat. They have the highest Baron control rate in the league, the third-highest first-to-three-towers rate, and the third-highest Rift Herald control rate.
Ultimately, each team has fallen into a situation where they can both capitalize on the other’s weaknesses unless one squad can fill the holes in their gameplan. Jatt and Bjergsen are still relatively new to their role, but they’ve both shown huge strides in their abilities as their teams’ unseen leaders.
This series will be a huge test for their current level as a coach and their team’s growth as a cohesive unit. These squads are hungry for success and are ready to shed blood, sweat, and tears for another chance at international play.
You can catch all the action when the Mid-Season Showdown kicks off on Saturday, March 20.
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