By Petar Vukobrat
April 17, 2019
The regular portion of the 2019 Spring Split wasn’t particularly exciting — there’s just no way around it. Many games veered into the fiesta realm, and almost every single team struggled to find their identity throughout the entirety of the split. Because of this, the region struggled to come to an agreement on how the game should be played. Although, amidst this chaos, some teams fared better than others.
As a result, a huge chasm (skill-wise) quickly emerged between the top three teams (Team Liquid, Cloud9, and Team SoloMid) and everyone else. In the end, a team like FlyQuest managed to transcend a certain level of play and become a solid mid-tier team that was able to tango with the teams at the top. But even their highs were nowhere near what the big three titans at the top had to offer.
In the end, we had an extremely promising finals match-up — a clash between the perennial North American giant Team SoloMid, and the defending champions Team Liquid, who were looking to finish the split on a high note.
By all accounts, this Best of 5 screamed “barn burner,”, but such potential rarely comes to fruition — for a wide variety of reasons. There’s always at least one team that has a bad read on the meta or is entering the clash without much confidence or adequate preparation.
Fortunately for everyone watching, this was no such Best of 5.
Everyone hoped for a spectacular fight to close out the split, but no one could have anticipated a clash of such magnitude. After game five concluded, there wasn’t a doubt left in anyone’s mind — this was one of the best five-game matches in the region’s history. Seeing how North America has had its fair share of spectacular Best of 5 wars, that’s saying something.
It was spectacular because we saw two teams seemingly equal in strength and potential. Two giants who were incredibly adept at the current meta, but who wanted to win through different means. They wanted to attain success in highly diverging ways. Liquid isn’t known for their exceptional flexibility — they want to win “by the book” and that means snowballing leads wherever they can find them and playing through the bottom lane.
Team SoloMid, on the other hand, wanted to play through any lane they could. With three spectacular carries in the top, mid and bottom lane, they could pick and choose where they wanted to funnel their resources into — and that meant Liquid had to work twice as hard in order to adapt and negate Team SoloMid’s playstyle.
Unfortunately for the defending champions, they were unable to do so when the series began. They drafted the staple Jarvan and Galio wombo combo with a late game insurance pick for Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Team SoloMid responded in force with a potent Varus and Tahm Kench bottom lane duo, along with Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham’s staple Rek’Sai — a pick he’s had the most success on.
Then came a surprising curveball from Liquid — Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen locked in Heimerdinger. Thousands of fans in attendance started cheering momentarily — talk about a spicy pick for the series’ opener.
The game itself started badly for Team SoloMid as Jake “Xmithie” Puchero completely outclassed Akaadian across the board. He was tracking his adversary from the get-go and had managed to negate his early game impact — exactly what Team SoloMid needed. But once a huge team fight broke out at the fourteen-minute mark, the boys in black and white were able to get four kills for three, and it allowed both Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen to get sizeable gold leads.
Once Team SoloMid reached their potent mid game, they showed no hesitation — they were attacking and engaging within a split second. Akaadian stepped up considerably and was able to catch Doublelift out of position multiple times in a row, and what ensued was an insanely competitive, back-and-forth skirmish across the map. In the end, it was Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik who was able to leave the biggest mark — highlighted by his game-ending quadra kill around the Team Liquid Nexus.
Game one was highly promising for Team SoloMid, primarily because their two “rookies” were able to perform way above expectations and not only go blow-for-blow with their more experienced opponents but also impact the game throughout its entirety.
Team SoloMid had momentum on their side coming into game two, and they used it to great effect. They drafted Broken Blade’s staple Irelia, Hecarim for Akaadian, a Sona and Taric bottom lane duo, and an unexpected Lux counter pick for Bjergsen. Once again, it was a close back-and-forth affair throughout the early game until Team SoloMid started upping the pace. They were stronger, not only individually but as a five-man unit as well, and their immense team fighting prowess allowed them to outclass Team Liquid at will. Game two was an absolute masterclass in team cohesion, synergy, individual mechanical talent, and team fighting prowess.
All signs were pointing towards a rather swift and one-sided final — and no one was particularly surprised. After all, Team SoloMid won both of their duels against Team Liquid during the regular portion of the split.
But Team Liquid had other plans, and they weren’t going down without a fight.
Game three started off much like the ones before it — with an aggressive, in-sync Team SoloMid calling the shots. They got first blood and were able to consistently kill Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in’s Tahm Kench. By all metrics, it looked like they were cruising towards a clean 3-0. But once the mid-game came along, Team Liquid’s many tools got online. Once, all of a sudden, the defending champions displayed immense grit and team fighting ingenuity. They were decisive, quick to adapt, and their draft enabled them to both engage and pick off badly positioned Team SoloMid members.
Every Team Liquid member carried his fair share of the weight, but it was Xmithie and his incredible Skarner that made the biggest (and most impactful) plays — ending with a 0/0/11 KDA. It was the kind of performance many were expecting from such a veteran, and arguably the best native North American jungler in history. Jeong “Impact” Eon-yeong was also finally able to step up and dish out a metric ton of damage as Gangplank.
Team SoloMid decided to revert back to what worked best for them throughout the split — Rek’Sai, Lissandra, Ezreal, and Braum, whereas Liquid opted for picks like Varus, Jensen’s staple Zilean, Skarner, Kennen, and Tahm Kench. Both teams had a lot of tools to work with, but it was Liquid’s team comp that had more oomph behind its punch. They had the better frontline, more crowd control, and more damage across all stages of the game.
Once game four started, Liquid was much more proactive and was able to outclass Team SoloMid across the map. It was the kind of play everyone expected from Liquid — strong, mechanically gifted, cohesive, and commanding when ahead. They were able to fully exploit Team SoloMid’s “rookie” players and as a result, tie the series and go into game five.
One could argue that a five-game series was the only fitting conclusion to such an incredible playoff. One last game, with both teams vying for the right to claim the throne. At that moment, there was no more room for error. Just a single mistake would cost them the game — and you could just feel the pressure mounting on both sides.
As a result, both teams played a somewhat subdued early game. Team SoloMid had a couple of advantageous trades and were able to accrue a respectable two-thousand gold lead at the fifteen-minute mark. Even though four of their members had Quicksilver Sash twenty-five minutes into the game, Xmithie was still able to make the right plays along with his team and find the right targets. It was a constant back-and-forth fight between two titans of equal strength, but once Zven got caught out of position, Liquid was able to immediately capitalize, get Baron and turn the game in their favor. They needed just a single pick in order to turn the tides — and they found it.
With such a spectacular triumph, Team Liquid was able to complete an LCS three-peat; Doublelift won his sixth LCS title, and Jensen was finally able to become a champion after four years of playing in the region. Last but not least, they were able to prolong their dominance over the North American region — but for how long? Their throne is no longer a given, and with the rise of Team SoloMid and Cloud9, they will have to fight even harder than ever come Summer Split.
That’s it for our LCS finals recap! If you want to know how the playoffs developed to this point, you can check our quarterfinal and semifinal recaps. Finally, if you’re still itching for high octane top-tier League of Legends, you won’t have to wait for long — the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational is right around the corner!