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NA LCS at PAX Prime: TSM and C9 head to finals, CLG face relegations and KBM qualify as wildcards

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The Washington State Convention Center in Seattle was the field of battle for the final games of the NA LCS playoffs as well as the last International Wildcard Qualifier (IWQ). Eight teams were in contention for only four spots at the World Championships, survival of the fittest at the highest level with a lot to fight for - and fight they did.

DAY ONE: CLG and Dignitas face off to avoid relegation

No spot at the World Championships to throw down over in this match, but rather a fifth place and a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the upcoming Spring Split relegations. Dignitas and CLG both showed issues in their respective quarterfinal losses against TSM and Curse. CLG’s loss especially came as a surprise to viewers, with nearly 70% of them having seen them as winners according to the votes on lolesports.com and Twitter.

CLG came to this match well prepared, with very clear pick and ban strategies and early game plans, which paid off in game one. Doublelift built up a huge lead resulting in a quadra kill at around 23 minutes. CLG methodically took control of the pace and the objectives from that point onwards. They gave up very little while taking much more and ended the game at 42 minutes, and Doublelift managed an impressive 10-0-4 score.

It was a different story in game two, as grabbing global gold is what CLG decide to focus on with a Nunu pick for Dexter. Dignitas responded properly, taking towers while Imaqtpie picked up an early Scrying Orb to keep track of Dexter’s movements. CLG’s picks generally didn’t pay off as much as they had planned, with a reactive and cohesive Dignitas squad working away a gold deficit and punishing CLG’s eagerness to engage in unfavorable fights. Game two went to Dignitas, tying the score 1-1.

In game three, CLG did not want to allow this match to drag out to the deep late game as Dignitas picked up a very late-game-focused comp. A great engage from Aphromoo resulted in a 3-0 exchange, a mid tower and a 3k gold lead in favor of CLG. They pushed that advantage hard, leaving Dignitas with only base turrets at 17 minutes. Taking Barons, inhibitors, keeping up unrelenting pressure and building a respectable gold lead, the game is CLG’s to take, and they… didn’t. Dignitas believe in their composition and turned two bad engages from a seemingly complacent CLG around, the second with an incredible InSec kick from Crumbzz. With long death timers, Dignitas shoved down mid, shut down a spread CLG in their own base and took game three. Don’t just take my word for it, though - check out this clip from the end of the game.

Dignitas not only took game three but also all of the momentum going into game four. Crumbzz on Kha’Zix camped top as if he were a boy scout, feeding Zionspartan’s Mundo three kills. The sheer threat of a huge Mundo teleporting in proved to be enough to scare CLG off objectives, and Dignitas used this advantage to gain vision control over Baron and dragon, rendering the Nunu pick obsolete once more. CLG was behind on gold and still waiting to scale, and in that regard game four was very similar to game three - only the teams are reversed and Dignitas do not wait to push their advantage. They shoved down mid and secured the game very cleanly, taking the series 3-1. With it, they grabbed fifth place and sent CLG to relegations as well as back to the drawing board to think about the team and their strategies.

DAY TWO: International Wildcard Qualifier and NA LCS Semifinals

Day two was a busy one for the attendees, casters and organizers as there were three games to be played. Each of these had a big prize waiting at the end as the victors would secure themselves a spot at the World Championships in October - a strong performance was vital. Latin American team Pineapple Express were to face Brazil’s KaBuM! E-Sports to determine who would be the last wildcard team at Worlds, LMQ had another shot at asserting their dominance over TSM, and Curse wanted to finally add ‘qualified for Worlds’ to their list of achievements - but would they be able to?

International Wildcard Qualifier: Brazil es numero uno

Two professional scenes we do not get to see or read about often are the Latin American and Brazilian League of Legends ones. Teams from those regions performed at Intel Extreme Masters Sao Paulo at the end of January of this year, while perhaps some of the players competing in the IWQ at PAX Prime also sound familiar. For Brazil’s KaBuM! E-Sports (KBM), jungler Danagorn and ADC Minerva might ring a bell, the latter having made it to the finals as a support for paiN Gaming as they faced Millenium. For the Latin American team and comedy film lovers Pineapple Express (PEX), Uri was a former member of Lyon Gaming. He is the only member of PEX with offline experience as his team was only formed in March 2014 and picked up fresh talent from the LAN and LAS Challenger scenes.

Right off the bat in game one, we saw some uncommon picks from KBM: an Alistar top for LEP and Dans on Morgana. Combining the tankiness of Alistar with the shield and ultimate of TinOwns’s Orianna seemed to be the plan for KBM. Both teams exhibited a back-and-forth style of play until deep into the late game, well past the 40 minute mark where PEX picked up their second Baron and use the buff to push down mid lane into KBM’s base. At their third attempt at Baron, KBM successfully contested and stole the kill, then using this momentum and the purple buff to swing the game back in their favor by picking up two inhibitors. The pressure from minions and KBM knocking at their door proved too much for PEX to handle, and KBM secured game one.

Game two started off very evenly once moe, with very close gold and kill counts as a result. KBM displayed superior lane control, grabbing a lead of three towers and 3k gold at 17 minutes. PEX clung on with good picks whenever they saw an opening, but when a fight at Baron resulted in an ace for one, KBM took control of the game. They quickly built up an huge 10k gold lead by the 30 minute mark and, with their stronger items and TinOwns playing a monstrous Orianna, they took the 2-0 lead after 38 minutes.

Being only one win away from a ticket to Worlds and with the momentum fully in their favor, KBM started the game with guns blazing - Minerva on Jinx in particular. PEX’s players and towers got ripped apart like a wet newspaper, and while they made a valiant effort to come back on kills, their objective deficit was too large to overcome. KBM took the game with all their turrets standing, with double the kills of PEX and a ginormous 21k gold lead.

Despite their loss to KBM, however, PEX’s top laner Montarraya was a source of entertainment for casters and crowd alike.

Smashing through the semis

Four NA squads are still in the running for only three spots at the World Championships later this year: Team Curse, Team SoloMid, LMQ and Cloud 9. Winning in the semifinals guarantees the victor one of the heavily desired tickets, while the losers will have to duke it out in a third place deciding game. None of those four teams are going to take that chance, and will be putting up quite the fight to claim what is rightfully theirs. Crowd favorites TSM faced off against Chinese powerhouse LMQ, while Cloud 9 collided with Curse in the second semifinal.
Team SoloMid vs. LMQ: TSM’s chance to prove they can beat LMQ
TSM had more than just a spot at Worlds to fight for - they also had a legacy to uphold. Winning this series would mean they were the only team in the world to have made it to all four World Championships - one hell of an achievement. LMQ know how to put up a fight, however, and won all four of the games they played against TSM in the LCS. Could they extend that streak, or would TSM step up to the plate?

LMQ secured an early lead in game one, particularly in the bot lane, and wanted to snowball off it. Towers, dragons and a very sneaky Baron kill went in their favor, but TSM showed extraordinary resilience. LMQ engaged a fight at the mid inhibitor turret, but great coordination and explosive damage from TSM turned the fight into an ace for one in their favor despite a 10k gold deficit. They transition to a three-man baron after another four-two trade in mid, but Vasilii and NoName steal the kill. LMQ are still ahead and knocking at the door of TSM’s base. TSM held the gates for longer than anyone could imagine, but the Baron and minion pressure from LMQ proved simply too much, with LMQ going up 1-0. This game is definitely one to watch - check out the replay below.

Game two is much more in TSM’s favor - they are eager to fight, showing great synergy in their picks and teamfights and having top-notch dragon control. As soon as they established a solid gold lead and full control over the map, they never let go, cleanly finishing the game in under 30 minutes and never leaving room for LMQ to clench their fists and put up a fight. TSM tie the score at 1-1.

In a series that could still go either way, game three proved to be another back-and-forth action-packed game. Both Bjergsen and Vasilii went huge, grabbing early kills and trying to put the rest of the team on their shoulders. TSM had a small gold lead of around 2k for a very long time, having taken dragons and more towers than LMQ. A single instant in which Bjergsen is caught proves to be the pivoting point of the game, with LMQ following it up with a mid push, a Baron kill and a destroyed top inhibitor. They then built and kept up pressure in true LMQ style, finishing the game barely six minutes later and bringing the tally to 2-1 in their favor.

It was do or die time for TSM, with them needing to win both of the next games to instantly secure their fourth consecutive trip to Worlds. They pulled out all the stops in game four as they did in game two. Early deaths from Ackerman and NoName spelled bad news for LMQ as TSM built up a substantial early lead, suffering only one death in nearly 30 minutes of play. Nearly, though, as XiaoWeiXiao went huge on Yasuo after a poke contest in mid, grabbing a pentakill at a moment when LMQ really needed it:

The pentakill gave LMQ some breathing room with Baron and a mid tower, but TSM had no intention of letting this game slip. LMQ executed a sloppy attempt at a flank, and TMS punished them for it with a four-zero exchange, giving them free entry into the enemy base and the game.

With the score tied once more at 2-2, it all came down to the fifth and final game. TSM had been looking more convincing in their wins and put up a serious fight in the games they lost, but when it comes down to one and the pressure mounts, anything can happen. There’s very little action until 10 minutes into the game when TSM, and Dyrus in particular, went on a killing spree. They only gave up two kills while taking every dragon and five towers, resulting in a 10k gold lead before 22 minutes. TSM realized they were far ahead and pressed their advantage, heading straight for the enemy Nexus after grabbing four kills in bot. They took the game in less than 30 minutes and with it the series, securing their spot at Worlds and the NA LCS finals.

Cloud 9 vs. Team Curse: C9 fight for their second Worlds appearance

Curse also have a reputation, although it’s not one they want to uphold: they always end fourth. In this series versus Cloud 9, they had a chance to put an end to this habit and qualify for the World Championships at the same time. Cloud 9 went to Season 3 Worlds last year and were looking for a repeat performance this year - would they come face to face with Fnatic once more?

Game one can be summarized very quickly: Curse was nowhere to be seen and Cloud 9 walked over them. The highlight reel of this game consists solely of Cloud 9 plays, with Curse seemingly sleeping and only getting a single kill on LemonNation after 22 minutes. A Zed pick for Hai, who wreaked havoc all over the map, was something Curse needed to come up with an answer for in the upcoming games, with Hai simply sweeping them across the floor. Curse surrendered after 22 minutes, with Cloud 9 leading 1-0.

Hai picked up Zed again in game two, while Curse believe Voyboy on Akali and Dominate on Nocturne are the counters they need. This game had a significantly lower pace than the previous one, but Cloud 9 assumed dragon control and destroyed towers left and right. Curse seemed more alive this round and actually won a teamfight with a 3-1 exchange, but only after Cloud 9 took an inhibitor first - which then looked like it might already be too late. Cloud 9, still in the lead, headed to Baron after they respawned. Curse engaged in an attempt to steal it, but Cloud 9 turned it around with four kills and the Baron as the cherry on top. Balls teleported into the base as minions reached the Nexus turrets and Cloud 9 took the 2-0 lead.

It’s safe to say that Cloud 9 are on fire in this series, and they didn’t let off steam for the third game. Metoes was omnipresent on Elise and LemonNation often went roaming on Alistar. At 22 minutes, Curse were down eight kills and almost 8k gold as they attempted a desperation Baron. Cloud 9 chased them off and pick up three kills, the Baron and then one more, displaying superior teamfighting ability, full control over the game and generally seeming unphazed by anything Curse threw at them. As such, they swept the series 3-0, and will be facing TSM for the number one LCS spot, also having made sure they’ll be going to Worlds for the second time.

The winner of the NA LCS and the final attendant of the World Championships will soon be decided. Which team struck you as the strongest so far? How do you think TSM, C9 and KBM will fare at Worlds? Let us know in comments below, and check back soon for the recap of days three and four at PAX.

Check out our day three and four recap here

If you want to recap what happened during the EU LCS playoffs, check out our rundown of the action at gamescom. You can also find more of our League of Legends content here.