The culmination of another fiery Summer split has us with an exciting postseason in the NA LCS. The heated competition of the multi-week campaign of the teams has left six in the final contention for the best in North America, and, maybe more importantly, a place at Worlds. With all eyes locked on the teams and their players, let’s take a look at some of the matchups in the playoffs, their storylines, and what the stakes are.
With the wild four way tiebreaker at the end of the split in the NA LCS, the teams in the semis actually had an extra game of play to look at, another shot to skew the stats in their favour. Even with that, Echo Fox managed to hold onto a 3 wins to 0 losses against TSM. While that may sound impressive in other splits, TSM have largely looked like one of the weakest forms of themselves. On the same note, however, Echo Fox has seemed off in their own ways, not replicating their unbridled victories from last spring. Regardless, they’ve managed to best TSM in all three of their matchups this split, putting them as, if on no other stat than that, the favoured choice between the two.
The simple truth is that TSM’s appearance in the playoffs was… unexpected, to say the least. They were a far cry from their dominant selves from yester-splits. In fact, many were scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what it was about the roster that wasn’t working. Echo Fox, on the other hand, seemed to excel when left alone to their own style, namely, open faced aggression, which is not surprising for a team with both Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett. On paper, it’s pretty fair to say that Echo Fox holds the advantage over TSM. But it’s never quite that easy to count TSM out of a (domestic) competition. They’ve managed to turn their split around and end up in the playoffs.
But it feels like a similar story to all of TSM’s iterations over the years, namely, that the burden of carrying the team lays at Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg’s feet. It was, after all, his insane play on recently reworked Akali that won the final crucial team fight to carry his team across the playoff line. Without him, TSM would be a complete mess. Against Echo Fox, though, a team with truthfully multiple threats, that can be a tall task. Will it be Dardoch who carries for Echo Fox? Or the rare, talented North American mid laner Tanner "Damonte" Damonte? For TSM, it’ll be about carrying their recent momentum into more concentrated of a form. For Echo Fox, it’s about remembering there are other ways to play the game other than full out aggression.
The story surrounding Echo Fox mirrors, in a few ways, that to Team Liquid: from a completely irrelevant roster, into a “super team” of sorts, into finally being a contender for that title. Echo Fox continued in this trend too, shoring up the weakness in their bot lane by bringing on talented import in Lawrence "Lost" Hui and veteran support hailing from Cloud 9, Andy "Smoothie" Ta. But their trademark aggression has become a well worn, and well understood, double edged sword: what it giveth one game, it taketh away another. For Echo Fox that may work in an honestly clown fiesta of a region like the NA LCS, but come coming into Worlds that can be an easily exploitable feature by other regions. Whether Echo Fox can showcase some difference in style or a stronger sense of macro play can start here, against TSM.
TSM and somehow managing to always make it into playoffs regardless of how well they’re doing, name a more iconic duo. They’ve definitely earned the spot, don’t get me wrong, but their middling results for the majority of the Summer split still hang heavy over the team. There were many interviews that made it seem like the whole damn roster was one shoulder bump from completely exploding and being at each other’s throats. They’ve managed to get into Playoffs though, which puts their regular split woes technically behind them. While their fans are anything but completely content with the state of their team, they can take solace that TSM have looked far better than their earlier selves and that’s… something. They still have a shot for Worlds through at least making it into playoffs last split. But there’s a lot of work to be done before anyone’s really convinced that this iteration of TSM can do what others couldn’t before them, and that’s actually perform internationally.
With Clutch Gaming not making an appearance in the postseason, Echo Fox have secured for themselves at least a seat at the last minute Gauntlet tournament to qualify for Worlds. Of course, no team aims to be in the Gauntlet, particularly one who won third last season. Echo Fox are aiming to at least re enter that quarter finals and making a real case for themselves going into the Gauntlet or Worlds itself. If they do lose to TSM, it’ll be less about the Championship Points and more about their morale. They should win this, and that’s an important factor going forward for them. A loss here would mean a lot more questions hanging over a roster expected to perform.
For TSM, this is an important series as well. They’ll most likely be in the Gauntlet, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be in a position that they’re particularly fond of being in. This is, afterall, one of the most prestigious esport teams in North America. Of course, without any of that, performing now and getting some CPs as well, that’s obviously a pretty damn good reason to perform. But taking down Echo Fox, still one of the dominant teams in the NA LCS (even with their fatal strength/weakness,) can send a clear message to the rest of the NA LCS: that TSM, down as they were, are still here to play. Whether TSM can actually deliver that message remains in their hands.