Worlds or bust: Stalwart TSM set to meet surging Team Liquid in high-stakes second round LCS playoff match

Despite the two teams meeting earlier in the playoffs than ever before, the stakes couldn't be higher for this weekend's best-of-five.

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff via ESPAT/Riot Games

There was once a year where a potential meeting between Team Liquid and TSM wouldn’t take place until at least the semifinals of any LCS playoff bracket. This weekend, though, the two titans of the North American League of Legends scene will meet in just the second round of the 2021 LCS Championship, marking the earliest playoff meeting ever between the two franchises in their long-tenured histories. 

Largely, the reasoning behind the unreasonably early meeting between the two teams boils down to TSM securing their first top playoff seed in any LCS split since 2017, in addition to Liquid snagging their lowest playoff-qualifying seed since they last finished in fifth place in the summer of 2016. Those two oppositely trending broken droughts have resulted in a rematch of one of last summer’s semifinal matches just two rounds into this year’s LCS playoff bracket. 

But just because the two former champions are meeting in the second weekend of the playoffs, it doesn’t necessarily spell out an anticlimactic meeting. In fact, the reward for winning this series couldn’t be more coveted. 

The winner of this weekend’s match between Liquid and TSM will earn not just a ticket straight to the semifinals of the LCS Championship, but a berth at this year’s League of Legends World Championship. Whether the victor will attend that tournament as North America’s top seed or as its second or third seed is yet to be determined. But what’s clear is the stakes are still relatively high for this early-bracket match—even if the LCS trophy and a championship banner aren’t necessarily on the line just yet. 

And for Liquid in particular, the road through the LCS Championship—just two matches in—has been downright grueling. After taking down last split’s champions in Cloud9 last weekend, the team will have to face off against TSM, who won the LCS as recently as last season. For Liquid, these two all-important weekends mark the first time in LCS history any team has had to face the champions of the previous two splits in the first two rounds of the playoffs. 

It’s all coming together

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff via ESPAT/Riot Games

Finally, after operating out of a constantly revolving door throughout the entire back-half of the season, Liquid’s roster finally seems to be set in stone. And while the arguably best top laner in the West in Alphari being back in the lineup on a full-time basis is a massive boon for Liquid, the stellar play of the team’s starting jungler Santorin has been equally as beneficial for the squad.

Santorin, whose absence left a gaping hole in the Liquid starting roster, has come roaring back to the LCS stage. In the first round of the playoffs against Cloud9, the seven-year LCS veteran erupted for his cleanest personal performance in well over a year. The experienced jungler posted a scoreline of 10/6/35, which resulted in a kill-participation mark of 87 percent across the entire four-game series.

Keep in mind that Santorin missed the bulk of Liquid’s Spring Playoff run several months ago due to injuries. Back then, the team came just one game away from winning the entire playoffs while fielding a substitute-laden roster. With their trump card back in the mix, an LCS title could very well be on the table. 

After playing in just 15 of Liquid’s previous 38 games prior to last weekend, Santorin has jumped right back into the fold, seamlessly picking up right where he left off earlier in the year. And after making quick work of a former MVP in Blaber last weekend, the Liquid star will have to duel one of the league’s current MVP frontrunners in the second round of the playoffs, Spica. 

The second-year LCS pro and de facto face of TSM has experienced a breakout sophomore season like no other, and easily stands out as one of the main reasons why TSM find themselves in such an advantageous position as the league’s top seed in the postseason. The recently declared All-Pro jungler Spica has been on fire as of late, too, as he’s posted a 7.18 KDA, according to League stats site Games of Legends, over the span of TSM’s last eight games—a stretch in which the team posted a record of 6-2 en route to a first-place finish in the regular season. 

Punching the ticket

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff via ESPAT/Riot Games

But while the eyes of the fans should be glued to Satorin and Spica, the two junglers’ focuses should be on their solo laners. On any given day, TSM and Liquid’s laners—Huni, Alphari, Jensen and PowerOfEvil—all have the potential to be the best players in their respective positions without much debate or fuss. Whoever between Santorin and Spica can allot more resources and advantages to their solo laners throughout the course of Sunday’s series will most likely find the victory and send their squad to Worlds. 

And for either team, a trip to Worlds should be at the top of the priority list. After both franchises washed out of last year’s tournament to the tune of immensely underwhelming performances, a redemptive appearance at this year’s edition of the World Championship would wipe the taste of last year’s debacles out of both organizations’ fanbases. The two teams combined for a record of 3-9 at Worlds 2020, with TSM notably making dubious history as the first champion of a major region team to go winless at the World Championship.  

And sure, this might not be the year where Liquid and TSM spend the entire postseason avoiding one another, dramatically building up to a meeting in the LCS Finals. But if both teams continue to play at their current pace, there’s good reason to believe this weekend’s second-round matchup—you know, the one where a ticket to the international stage is on the line just two weeks into the playoffs—might just be a preview to an even higher-stakes encounter between these two squads later in the LCS Championship.  

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