The flashbacks to last year started late Sunday night, before the Cloud9 finale.
First, let’s set the scene.
At the start of the second week of the 2016 World Championship group stage, all three North American teams either shared or outright owned a lead in their respective groups.
Hope abounded, North America looked to be in prime position to send at least two teams to the knockout stage.
Die hard fans were pondering, could this be the year? But history has a weird way of repeating itself.
Counter Logic Gaming’s anguish
Many people questioned whether CLG deserved to even be at Worlds, with the more star-studded roster of Immortals arguably considered NA’s third best team (and having also beaten CLG in the Summer Split Playoffs). However, CLG’s success in the Spring Split provided them the cushion to get here.
Now they just needed to recapture that magic.
For CLG, Week One could not have gone any better except for one blunder.
Darshan was finding his usual success as a split-pushing god. Huni finally looked like a world class mid laner, albeit primarily on Aurelion Sol.
Even Stixxay, widely considered CLG’s weakest link, was in prime form.
Week One included an exceptional win for CLG over ROX Tigers (Korea’s number one seed) as well. However, that was preceded by a loss to Albus Nox Luna, the international wildcard team from Russia that played with a lot of grit.
After once again losing to Albus Nox Luna in their week two rematch, CLG left themselves with one path to the knockout stage. They would have to sweep ROX Tigers.
After staying put with ROX Tigers through the early game, ROX’s support player, GorillA, started showing why Alistar can be so deadly in the right hands.
Play after play, GorillA found the right person to flash target, setting up ROX with crucial team fight advantages.
Stixxay made an admirable attempt to keep CLG in the game with his late game Caitlyn damage, but ROX was just too much to handle.
CLG can’t be extremely disappointed in how they performed at Worlds, but they will most certainly be thinking about what could have been. Taking a game from ROX Tiger was almost unfathomable, but losing two games to the Russian wildcard team leaves a bitter feeling for CLG fans.
In the end, CLG finished 3-3. For a team that wants to be considered a contender on a global level, this was a failure.
More realistically though, for a team that had plenty of issues entering Worlds, their performance showed they’re close but not quite there.
The main question remains: Where does CLG go from here?
Team SoloMid’s disappointment
Now, to the other side of the spectrum. Unlike CLG, Team SoloMid entered Worlds with high expectations.
Many analysts considered them a top five team here. Despite being placed in the toughest of the four groups, TSM still had high chances of advancing.
TSM also entered Week Two at 2-1, having done exactly what they needed to so far.
Royal Never Give Up and Samsung Galaxy were the real contenders here for TSM, and they just needed to go 1-1 again to advance to the knockout stage.
TSM’s first match was against Samsung Galaxy, the team they absolutely demolished in Week One. Yet, this would be an extremely close affair.
Samsung’s Minho “Crown” Lee set the mood of the game by going right for TSM’s star midlaner, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.
TSM would stay relatively even with Samsung until this happened:
That essentially ended the game, leaving TSM with another do-or-die matchup against RNG to see who advanced to the knockout stage.
Just like in the Samsung game, RNG started the game out aggressivly, looking to set the tone early. The early part of the game featured Yuanhao “Xiaohu” Li on Aurelion Sol stealing plenty of jungle camps from TSM.
Then, the game swung in RNG’s favor at seven minutes.
After that amazing play by Uzi and RNG, the first blood tower, infernal drake, and all of the momentum belonged to the Chinese squad. Bjergsen attempted to put the team on his back, but that early game deficit was just too much to overcome.
For TSM, it seemed the road to the knockout stage was extremely rough. However, if you want to be considered the best you have to beat the best.
This is a team that carried the burden of going 15-1 in NA and being crowned favorites, an expectation to which they just couldn’t live up.
Let’s not forget, TSM has not once advanced past the group stage of Worlds, despite their extended success in NA.
In the end, it came down to a few crucial mistakes. TSM has a roster that can compete again next year, but can they keep it all together?
There’s room for growth, and they can’t become complacent.
Cloud9 shows resiliency
It came down to this for North American fans. Just like CLG and TSM, Cloud9 entered week two at 2-1.
It would come down to an elimination game with I May to determine who would be going on to the knockout stage.
There was plenty to talk about in the pick and ban phase of this game. I May elected to draft Kennen, a reasonable choice in the top lane.
However, the team would go on to draft Maokai as well, sending Kennen to the seldom-used support position.
Cloud9 instantly focused on the unusual bottom lane duo of I May, picking up First Blood for Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi on Jhin, as well as the next three kills in the game.
Cloud9 clearly won the early game, securing a 5k gold lead by 20 minutes. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen was 4-0-3 on Ryze as well. Just four minutes later, Baron was secured by C9 as they looked to build toward the late game.
I May’s late-game composition of Sivir and Viktor provided plenty of damage, but it was C9 that found the right picks and subsequent objectives. I May did a great job of drawing the game out to 40 minutes, but C9 was able to secure the second and third Baron of the game.
While there were some messy skirmishes as Cloud9 attempted to end the game, Sneaky’s 9-2-14 over Jhin and Jensen’s 10-3-11 over Ryze were too much for I May to come back.
It took 51 minutes, but Cloud9 had done what the other two NA teams couldn’t: Win the game that mattered most.
Cloud9 then had to wait a few more games to see if SKT would beat Flash Wolves (they did in a 20-7 route) before finally claiming the throne as the only NA team to make it out of group stage.
Image c/o Riot