Breaking down the lanes of the NA LCS finals

Taylor Cocke

With the NA LCS finals just around the corner, TSM and CLG are prepping to go at it in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay. And because these teams haven’t played since the regular season and major patches ago, to predict what will happen Sunday, we’ll have to take a look at the positional matchups that have defined their postseason.

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(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

Top: Darshan vs. Hauntzer

Two patches ago, we would have called this one for Darshan with no questions asked. Undoubtedly the superior carry top player and split pusher, Darshan had the capability to bully just about anyone in North America out of lane, farm up, and split push the hell out of the final moments of a match.

But now, the meta has shifted and Darshan’s superiority requires some backup. Tanks have priority in pick/bans, a playstyle Hauntzer has now shown that he is more than adept at. Meanwhile, Darshan has shown that his full tank Ekko is his main pick, playing him in three out of five games in CLG’s match against Team Liquid. As a result, don’t expect a whole ton of action in the 1v1 department up top, as both solo laners will be looking to scale up into the mid and late game.

Basically, the matchup will come down to one thing: Who makes the better TP plays once skirmishes and teamfights start. Interestingly, in the playoffs so far, Darshan seems to be ahead in that particular category. He sports a 75 percent kill participation ratio in CLG’s wins, while Hauntzer sits back at 56 percent when TSM is winning. Now, of course, TSM has played more games than CLG, but the statistic does show that CLG is capable of winning even without Darshan committing to a 1-4 or 1-3-1 style. They’ve adapted to a more teamfight-focused meta after IEM Katowice, and look the better team for it.

Advantage: Darshan and CLG

(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

Jungle: Xmithie vs. Svenskeren

The jungle is where things start to get interesting. Remarkably similar players, Xmithie and Svenskeren have both heavily favored early game-focused and carry junglers like Nidalee, Graves, or Kindred. While their champion pools don’t line up exactly (Sven played Lee Sin while Xmithie didn’t, and Xmithie played Kindred twice while Sven had zero games on them), their styles of clearing as fast as they can and ganking early and often will see them butting heads as the series wears on.

Both experienced players with tendencies to make mistakes, their early pathing will be the key to the matchup. Unfortunately for TSM, Sven has shown hesitations in invading his opponents’ jungle, giving up free early leads and buff steals. Meanwhile, Xmithie’s ganks are consistent if not spectacular, but he regularly falls behind in farm during the mid game, showing that perhaps his farming isn’t quite as efficient as it should be.

In such a close matchup, it’s hard to say which jungler will have the advantage. If Svenskeren gets his Nidalee, he’s capable of becoming a third carry for the TSM side, but if Xmithie plays his Kindred to the best of his abilities, Sven could be rendered irrelevant. It’ll all come down to champion select.

Advantage: All tied up

(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

Mid lane: Huhi vs. Bjergsen

Finally, an easy call. In North America, it’s rare for anyone to be favored over Bjergsen in the mid lane. He’s been near dominant in the role since he joined TSM in 2013. He’s had a few stumbles, but for the most part has crushed anyone he’s come into contact with, at least in North America.

This matchup should be no different. In TSM’s seven playoff matches, Bjergsen died only seven times. He played five different champions, finding at least one win on each and every one of them. Even after Game 1 of their series against Cloud9 in which his Azir got bodied by Jensen’s Twisted Fate, he picked up the Emperor of the Sands once again and abused Jensen’s Zed - a pick that is widely considered to be a counter to Azir.

Meanwhile, Huhi has only played two champions in five games. With four games of Ryze and just one of Anivia, Huhi has been looking for one thing and one thing only: A whole bunch of farm. And against Team Liquid, a team that plays to the bottom side of the map and largely ignores mid, that’s worked. He has been aiming to farm into the mid lane, but that’s something Bjergsen and Svenskeren will decidedly be looking to punish any chance they get. Expect Bjergsen to pull out assassins and early game bullies to shove Huhi out of lane. If the Danish veteran pulls that off, expect him to roam heavily and do his best to take over.

Advantage: Bjergsen and TSM

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Bot lane: Stixxay/Aphromoo vs. Doublelift/YellOwStaR

Turns out the Fnatic playoff buff sticks around, even when a Fnatic player leaves Europe. After a full split of struggling, YellOwStaR has finally come back into his own as an extremely strong support player. He and Doublelift have found their synergy, particularly with Doublelift on a mobile AD carry (he played Kalista in six of TSM’s seven playoff games) and YellOwStaR on a peeling support (Alistar, Janna, and Braum are the only champions he’s played in the playoffs).

On the other side of the lane, there’s Stixxay and Aphromoo. Intriguingly, despite Aphro’s reputation as a playmaking support, he’s tended toward more passive picks as of late, picking up two games on Soraka and a game of Janna in CLG’s first three games of their series against Team Liquid. When he switched over to the stronger playmakers of Morgana and Braum, he struggled a bit more.

So, in order for Aphromoo and Stixxay to punish the TSM bottom lane, he’s going to have to do one of two things: protect the lesser ADC in Stixxay or take it directly to Doublelift and YellOwStaR with a heavier playmaking support. But if Double and YellOw keep playing the way they have been, they will outclass the CLG bot lane.

Advantage: Doublelift/YellOwStaR and TSM

(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

All together now

There you have it. CLG wins one lane, while TSM wins two. The jungle currently looks even. So, TSM will win this thing, right?

Well, maybe. TSM has been significantly more inconsistent over the course of the season, while CLG has been solidly strong throughout. By only just coming together as a strong team now, TSM still has the possibility of falling apart once they hit the Las Vegas stage. Because they’re not quite as solid as their finals counterpart overall, they have to play relatively standard, while CLG has the freedom to be more creative with their play calls (see the final play of CLG vs. TL Game 5). Individually, TSM may seem better, but CLG has the team cohesion necessary to take the trophy home.

Quote me on this: CLG, 3-2

Taylor Cocke won’t be in Vegas for the finals, but he will be eating chips and playing (Hearthstone) cards. So, close enough? Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.

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