Team Liquid enter this Summer Finals matchup with a chip on their shoulder, and that's saying something for a defending champion. They finished the Summer Split in a bit of a downturn and look to put back together the pieces to the winning puzzle they've had in 2018. Can they pull it off?
If Team Liquid feared facing any team in this Summer Playoffs Final, it would be their opponents this sunday. When TL last met Cloud9, just weeks ago, Cloud9 capped off their stunning undefeated run with an absolute thrashing of the defending champs. Cloud9 has since compounded on this result with many big victories on their road to the finals, and with it all on the line, they step up to the plate as a bit of a favorite in recent performances. Can they hold it together to complete the Cinderella story?
Team Liquid bring an interesting story to the rift in their former World Champion top laner. Impact has comfortably performed among the best in North America for some time, but at the start of that journey, Impact wore the Cloud9 jersey. In his time on Cloud9 Impact was above all else consistent. Thankfully for Team Liquid, that hasn't changed a bit. After finishing up a fairly strong summer, Impact looks to prove himself once more against his former team, and bring home yet another NA LCS banner. Few have his experience and poise, so TL have one of the most reliable presences in North America in their top lane.
But Cloud9 have an interesting top laner of their own. One of the most valuable new young players to enter the NA LCS is C9's very own Licorice. He's proven himself a threat since the very beginning, and he's only getting better. Often with a big role in Cloud9 victories, and sometimes solely carrying his four teammates on their bad days, Licorice is equally one of the most feared top lane names in comparison to his finals opponent. But while Licorice has been an absolute monster throughout his time on the stage, he hasn't quite gotten playoff experience like his teammates, and he sure as hell hasn't gotten the big game experience of his Team Liquid opponent.
Verdict: Despite the experience difference, Licorice has more to prove and has been more dangerous during Cloud9's amazing run. Cloud9 edge out the top lane on the back of Licorice.
Team Liquid's match against 100 Thieves started off with a scare when jungler Xmithie got picked off for first blood in game 1 very early into the match. Then Team Liquid crushed 100 Thieves to make their way to the finals. While this stumble seemed huge in the moment, Xmithie immediately tapped into his veteran experience to bring him back to his usual, consistent strong play in the jungles. That's just the kind of player he is, and why he's such a danger for Cloud9. Xmithie brings a cadence to the rift that few other junglers match, one that puts his teammates in the best position to make plays. Even better? He's been an NA LCS presence for longer than most in history, and while many would say he's surrounded by better teammates in many ways, he's about as reliable a jungler as a team could want entering a series as big as the NA LCS Summer Finals. The story for this team's jungle and top lane is quite similar: Experience.
Much like Cloud9's top lane dilemma of impressive newcomer vs the more experienced veteran, this jungle matchup is much the same. Depending, of course, on who Cloud9 puts into the jungle at any given moment. Cloud9 have successfully run their two junglers in different fashions, and both players bring something unique to the table. It's been a winning combination so far. Blaber is a younger player, one with less experience than most this deep into the post-season. But to make up for it, he's one of the most successful aggressive junglers in North America. While this playstyle often must be subsidized by Cloud9's midlane focusing on supportive champions rather than assassins, Blaber brings a game-winning weapon to the rift every time he loads in. Alongside Blaber is longtime veteran Svenskeren. While Sven had a rough Summer Split overall, he proved clutch in the semifinals bringing down TSM after being subbed in to a 1-2 series. We expect Blaber to get the start, but don't doubt the veteran presence of Svenskeren coming off the bench after watching his jungle opponent in the first few games.
Verdict: While Cloud9's jungle system has been successful so far, it doesn't add up to the talent that Xmithie shows on his best days, and nobody can match the Team Liquid jungler's calm in big games. A slight edge in the jungle to Team Liquid.
The mid lane matchup between these two teams is absolute fireworks. For Team Liquid, Pobelter represents perhaps the strongest domestic midlaner the NA LCS has ever created. And while he has had some head scratchers, he's proven himself in the face of tough competition plenty before, at least domestically. While he didn't quite make the All-Star cut this Summer Split, Pobelter has still been an important piece to the TL puzzle that pulls out wins. He doesnt' have the top 10 stats of some others, but you can't quite count out the Pob, who makes up for it in his incredible moments at the top of his game.
But boy do Cloud9 bring with them a conundrum for opposing midlaners. With multiple time NA LCS All-Star and Summer winner Jensen in the starting role, and his formerly of Team Liquid backup Goldenglue proving the Academy system can make a champion, Cloud9 have plenty angles to attack from. Jensen topped plenty charts across Summer, and Goldenglue shocked the entire region by proving his time on Team Liquid was a fluke. Expect Jensen to bring supportive champions like Galio and Zilean to the rift to account for Blaber's aggression, and Goldenglue to come in on aggressive mages to compliment the veteran Svenskeren.
Verdict: Pobelter is most certainly underrated by the community, but that doesn't mean he's cut out to takedown the dangerous duo of Jensen and Goldenglue. Whoever gets the most reps in this series, expect it to go Cloud9's way in the mid lane.
Team Liquid's bottom lane is perhaps the strongest lane in the NA LCS, and at the very least, houses the strongest individual player. With the impossibly talented Doublelift manning the guns, and former All-Star support Olleh behind him, these two have been absolute gold for TL. But while they've gotten plenty of big wins, it hasn't always been roses for this squad. Olleh shocked the entire region last post-season, speaking to a potential retirement after underperforming when the team needed him most. He wasn't making the big plays we've seen him pull off before, and was a weak point other teams focused on to take down TL. He hasn't quite fully recovered his resume as the player he was before, but that doesn't mean it isn't in him. We could very well see it in the Summer Playoffs.
Cloud9's bottom lane has also had some interesting changes. Dropping Smoothie in 2018 and bringing up Academy support Zeyzal to plug the hole, the team took a risk that many questioned. But despite this, Sneaky has continued to prove himself a dangerous ad carry in the bottom lane, no matter his partner, and Zeyzal has proven very reliable in almost never being the reason Cloud9 drop a game, though he still isn't quite up to the level of his ad carry. Sneaky has been a top-3 ad carry in North America for about as long as he's held a mouse, and with him involved, this team always has a chance on the bottom side of the map. The question is whether this relatively inexperienced duo can takedown years of synergy and the best ad carry in North America. The answer?
Verdict: Cloud9's duo are outperforming expectations for their short run, but they still can't quite hold a candle to the resume of their opponents Sunday. Team Liquid outgun Cloud9 in the bottom lane with Doublelift and Olleh.
It's been a long journey, and for Cloud9, this is one of their last hopes of making it to Worlds 2018 after an incredible undefeated run to get here.
For Team Liquid, this is the time to silence doubters by defending their NA LCS banner from Spring.
With the pressure on and tons of win conditions on either side of this matchup, it'll most likely come down to Team Liquid' bot lane vs Cloud9's middle lane with jungler support. It's a classic story these two teams have brought to life countless times in the past.
In this chapter, though, we see Cloud9 coming out the unlikely victor at 3-2, capping off the Cinderella story they've managed to write this Summer Split.