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CLG vs. TSM: The Story of the Spring Split

NALCS’ most storied rivalry took an improbable turn before the start of the 2016 Spring Split. Doublelift, a core member of the Counter Logic Gaming team that triumphed over Team SoloMid during the Grand Finals last August, was dropped from the roster in favor of CLG Black’s Challenger ADC, Stixxay. TSM, in the midst of retooling their entire lineup sans superstar mid-laner Bjergsen, picked up Doublelift, along with jungler Svenskeren, top-laner Hauntzer, and perhaps the biggest coup of all, former Fnatic support Yellowstar.

In another dramatic twist, the two teams will face-off in the upcoming Spring Split Finals. TSM and CLG faced each other twice this split: the opening game of the season and midway through in Week 5. The two games not only illustrate the journey of each team this season, but also the core playstyle they will likely bring to the table come April 17 in Las Vegas.

Week 1

CLG displayed their propensity for split-pushing, nabbing top-lane Jax for Darshan, jungle Rek’Sai for Xmithie, mid-lane Lissandra for Huhi, ADC Kalista for Stixxay, and support Bard for aphromoo. TSM clearly wanted to feed their carries with top-lane Mundo for Hauntzer, jungle Elise for Svenskeren, mid-lane Twisted Fate for Bjergsen, ADC Tristana for Doublelift, and support Alistar for Yellowstar.

Known for his carry top lane picks, Darshan’s Jax became a nuisance throughout the game with his relentless split-pushing. About six minutes into the match, Svenskeren attempted an ill-advised gank on Darshan, who was busy farming deep in TSM territory. Huhi responded with a teleport and the two CLG players washed the spider out. Darshan continued to deny Hauntzer farm and easily collected Rift Heralds to assert that much more map control.

With a new roster, TSM predictably looked out of sync. Their game was defined by near misses and poor positioning. A four-man gank top lane by TSM nine minutes into the game resulted in no kills. Though they were able to secure a tower, CLG responded in tow with a tower of their own in bot lane. They were also far slower to respond to CLG’s movements across the map. When Hauntzer drew three CLG members bot lane at 25 minutes, TSM attempted to take the final outer turret in mid lane. Their slow reaction and CLG’s fast rotations cost TSM three deaths, their final outer mid turret, and a third dragon.

CLG were far from perfect, flubbing their first team fight with a porous flank by Darshan and Huhi. At 22 minutes, TSM were able to even up the kills and gold. But that all went south when Svenskeren was caught around Baron, resulting in a prolonged team fight where Bjergsen and Doublelift were taken out with another signature quick rotation from CLG – a Magical Journey from aphro’s Bard, and a knock-up and lock-up from Stixxay’s Kalista and Huhi’s Lissandra. CLG took the first Baron soon after.

This cycle of tempered reactions to CLG’s map pressure continuously cost TSM. At 35 minutes, while TSM sat in base watching Jax push towards them, CLG began Baron and took it for free, simply expending Jax’s teleport to buy time. It was CLG’s game to lose afterwards, simply exerting map pressure with Jax and Lissandra as TSM were caught out pushing for objectives. A failed bid for Baron led to a four for two team fight in favor of CLG as they ended the game at 44 minutes. The tight team play displayed during this opening game continued throughout the season as CLG finished in second.

Week 5

In Week 5, CLG's most significant kill occurred 24 minutes into the game when they pushed TSM off of Baron and managed to take out Hauntzer in the process. It was significant because it was their first, TSM meanwhile collecting the opening 11 kills. CLG successfully prevented a flawless victory, but not much else. At the end of the match, the kill spread sat at 21-5 in TSM's favor.

TSM displayed their scary level of individual skill all game, while also revealing the potential of the roster when firing on all cylinders. Four minutes into the match, Bjergsen outplayed Huhi for an unceremonious solo kill. Doublelift and Yellowstar later masterfully juggled their knock-ups to help pull in a kill mid lane. Svenskeren aggressively counter-jungled Xmithie all game, eventually helping net three kills during an ill-advised team fight in bot lane at 15 minutes.

CLG practically lost during the pick and ban phase, giving up a slew of power picks to TSM. CLG first-picked Ryze for top-lane, followed by jungle Rek’Sai, mid-lane Viktor, ADC Ashe, and support Morgana. TSM chose an aggressive line-up of top-lane Fiora, jungle Graves, mid-lane Lissandra, ADC Kalista, and support Alistar. The Ryze pick proved fatal as Darshan finished 1/5/1 while Hauntzer dominated as Fiora, going 6/1/1 with 50 more CS.

The game showed the sort of tenacity that helped TSM rise from their sixth place finish to take out both Cloud9 and the juggernaut Immortals, who finished with a near perfect 17-1 record. Though playing a bit looser later in the game, TSM continued to apply pressure. Even when Bjergsen ate an Ashe arrow and died in mid lane, Hauntzer took bottom inhibitor and Darshan’s life while the rest of the team pushed mid to finish off CLG before the 30 minute mark.

Showdown in Vegas

TSM came into the split with four new players, and it took all season to coalesce into an effective team. Their second game against CLG showed the high ceiling of this powerhouse roster, and they chose a good time in the season to come together with some consistency. Bjergsen, Doublelift, and Yellowstar remain in the top-class for their roles, and the meta of tanky top-laners and carry junglers favor the surging duo of Hauntzer and Svenskeren.

CLG look as confident as they did on the stage at Madison Square Garden, remaining resilient in their tense playoff match against Team Liquid. Outside of losing a major piece in Doublelift, the roster is the same as it was during last year’s finals. Though Stixxay and Huhi may not be as strong individually as Doublelift and Bjergsen, CLG’s team play remains as cohesive and dominant as ever.

TSM vs. CLG is the North American story that everyone's been looking for. And this weekend, it will be told in spectacular fashion.

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