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Team SoloMid and Cloud9 Return For a New Final

Cloud9 and Team SoloMid have met in a finals bout before - not just once, or twice, but four times. Their most recent showdown at the Air Canada Center in Toronto marked their fifth round in the finals.

It wasn’t an easy road for either team, and each roster has gone through changes since the last time they met in the spring of 2015. Even though these two titans have clashed many times before, this match was anything but stale. With the first seed for Worlds on the line, the two teams lined up on stage in front of a sold-out arena of 15,000 fans. While TSM walked away with a 3-1 victory, securing both TSM and Counter Logic Gaming’s tickets to Worlds, it was an electrifying series.

Taking control

Game One started out strong for Cloud9, with the boys in blue showing how far they had come since their pre-season shuffle. This game put to rest any remaining doubts about whether the squad could function without Hai. Impact was in top form, taking the top lane handily and applying pressure to the rest of the map with Shen. Smoothie was the unsung hero of this game, boxing TSM in with expertly placed Trundle pillars. Everywhere TSM turned, Cloud9 was there. Jensen picked up a solo kill early on with Cassiopeia, and Sneaky on Ashe was able to turn his early kills in the bot lane into an advantage. Cloud9 wrapped it up just before the 40 minute mark.

The next three games swung heavily in Team SoloMid’s favor. Jensen’s pick of Vel’koz in the mid lane during Games Two and Three didn’t work out, especially against the high-pressure picks of Vladimir and Cassiopeia from Bjergsen. Impact continued to be an unstoppable force in the top lane, but Meteos was unable to turn his early ganks into substantial pressure, and Cloud9’s bot and mid lane both stumbled. Even Meteos’s Zac pick in game three, a disruptive tank, was unable to stop the Terminator-style march forward of TSM over Games Two and Three.

It all came to a head in the fourth game. Sivir and Jhin were both off the table for TSM, being both banned and picked by Cloud9. Some teams would have fallen back on the meta-friendly, utility-heavy Ashe pick; TSM gave Doublelift his patented pocket pick of Lucian. Lucian’s performance was hit or miss, being shoved out entirely of some teamfights by Cloud9’s tank heavy comp of Braum, Rek’sai, and Gnar.

However, when Lucian showed up, he did so in a big way. Game Four swung back and forth, with TSM gaining an early lead and then being forced back by Cloud9 in bloody, extended, back-and-forth teamfights that raged on for minutes at a time. Eventually, TSM was able to gain the upper hand and push into Cloud9’s base,

Ahead of the pack

While Cloud9 couldn’t secure first place, they have found themselves in the finals again after a period of restructuring. Cloud9 and TSM’s persistence in making it to the top raises the question of what makes the difference between North America’s elite and the middle-of-the-pack teams. Part of the difference can be chalked up to practice time, as Bjergsen suggested at the postgame press conference. The mid laner mentioned that while all teams scrim full-time, there’s still countless other ways to improve. Every team is aware that the Korean titans they hope to beat are all practicing for fifteen hours a day.

Time isn’t the only factor that teams need to be aware of, however. There’s also talent: All of the members of both TSM and C9 are individually talented players, capable of pulling off mechanical outplays and keeping their cool in high pressure situations.

It’s important to note that talent isn’t the only way for a team to thrive. TSM had four of the same members last split, and still struggled through the spring. Talented players have struggled on rosters too many times to count; cohesion is a major part of the equation. Meteos and Jensen struggled to mesh with their first time on the same roster; now, they’ve gotten over that hurdle and perform much better as both individuals and a team.

The final part of the equation is the simplest to understand and the most difficult to achieve: infrastructure. Both TSM and C9 have worked hard to bring in coaches and analysts to help study the game and help the players improved. Cloud9’s new roster of Impact in the top lane and Meteos in the jungle drew the most attention, but it is possible that head coach Reapered has had the biggest impact on helping the roster thrive in a post-Hai era.

Next steps

TSM are moving onto Worlds as the first seed, and Cloud9 are entering the Gauntlet. Both of these teams have overcome burdens in the past to make it to the finals, and we can expect to see both of them be contenders in North America’s future.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. While most fans are looking ahead to Worlds, there’s still the question of next spring, and how North America will fare after their strongest Split yet. While there are still many months of potential roster changes, switch-ups, and new teams appearing, the question remains as to whether less dominant teams will be able to top the titans.

The next test lies in the Gauntlet, where EnVyUs and Team Liquid will battle for the chance to face Cloud9. The winner of that round will go on to face third place winner Immortals for the last slot at Worlds. Cloud9 enter the Gauntlet as the expect winner, but they should know better than anyone that the team you least expect can topple the favourites of the Gauntlet. Cloud9 and Team SoloMid have both achieved something huge by making it to the finals, but neither team can grow complacent about the challenges ahead.

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