Across the sporting landscape, rarely do you see a match-up on the opening day of the season that you know is guaranteed to have a dramatic effect on the playoffs standings – the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split provides one of these rare occasions. The two best teams in North America, Team SoloMid and Cloud9, will clash in a battle that sets the stage for the rest of the season, a matchup that may ultimately decide who finishes on top at the end of the split.
Team SoloMid faces a familiar foe in Cloud9. It is testament to the dominance of the two organisations that five of last seven NA LCS Finals have featured these two teams. With a roster widely regarded as the best NA has ever assembled, TSM rolled through the 2016 Summer Split with an impressive 17-1 record, eventually defeating C9 3-1 in the Summer Finals.
As the 2016 League of Legends World Championship headed to home soil in North America, many anticipated Team SoloMid to produce the most impressive showing of an any NA roster in recent history. Yet to the surprise of many, it was Cloud9, not TSM, who succeeded in advancing to the Quarterfinals of Worlds.
Whilst the infamous “TSM” chants echoed from Chicago to the Worlds Finals in Los Angeles, the heartbroken squad could only watch from the stands after failing to advance through the Group Stages. Many of the players described the experience as the lowest point in their professional careers, for one player in particular, the stress was all too much – the strength of the TSM roster was set to take a significant hit.
Team SoloMid’s biggest loss of 2016 wasn’t their last match against Royal Never Give Up, but the subsequent exit, three weeks later, of their star AD Carry, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.
In their scramble to replace Doublelift, TSM re-signed former member Jason “Wildturtle” Tran from Immortals, showcasing their ‘new’ addition just weeks later at IEM Oakland. In what was a disappointing and surprising result, TSM fell to Europe’s Unicorns of Love in their Semifinal series, 2-1. WildTurtle ended each game at least 50 CS behind his lane opponent, the signs looked ominous for the reigning champions.
Ahh that was an unfortunate series :(. Too bad we only had 1 week to prep
— Jason Tran ? (@TSMWILDTURTLE) November 20, 2016
You can bash us for not practicing enough but it was a last second decision to go, with half our players being in different countries/states
— Søren Bjerg (@Bjergsen) November 20, 2016
This was not the dominant TSM we were used to seeing, with strong lanes and clean macro-game understanding. Teamfights that had once been clean wins for the American powerhouse were now being lost. You could blame this on a lack of practice, unformed chemistry that will develop over time… or a sign of struggles to come.
The core of Team SoloMid remains solid, with the reigning Summer Split MVP in Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, a top tier Jungler in Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, and the consistently underrated Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell. Those pieces alone may just be enough to carry a mediocre bottom lane to a spot in the Spring Split Playoffs. Yet Playoffs for the TSM organization and its fans has never been enough, nor will it be this season.
Team SoloMid’s firm grip on the summit of the NA LCS is slipping, and with teams like Cloud9 only growing from strength to strength in the off-season, TSM fans may have to brace themselves for a difficult Spring Split.
TSM’s new lineup will face perhaps their toughest test of the split in their opening series of the year. Facing-off against Cloud9, and their new Jungler Juan Arturo “Contractz” Garcia, is hardly the gentle start to the season the unproven roster would have benefitted from. If Contractz is able to perform at the high level that is expected from him, Cloud9 may be able to significantly dent Team SoloMid’s chances of regaining top spot with a sharp first-round blow.