CLG defends championship in League of Legends finals

Players at a League of Legends event prepare for a match on the stage. (credit: Courtesy of Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr Creative Commons) Players at a League of Legends event prepare for a match on the stage. (credit: Courtesy of Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr Creative Commons)

The League of Legends playoff finals took place on Sunday, and over half a million people tuned in to watch the action. League of Legends is a video game played by teams of five players that each controls a character, known as a champion. These champions duke it out on a fantasy battlefield known as Summoner’s Rift, using magical abilities and attacks to defeat their opponents. The Rift has three lanes: bottom, middle, and top along with a jungle in between. Teams all over the world play this game professionally, practicing for multiple hours every day to hone their skills. The best of these teams face off in season-style format called the League Championship Series (LCS) to determine the best of the best over three months. That season concluded, and the playoffs began. Teams had to make their way through the bracket, battling each other in best-of-five series until only two teams remained to fight for the championship. This was the situation going into Sunday.

The European teams took to the Rift first in a bottle of old versus new. Team Origen, led by legendary player and coach Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño, is the experienced squad. Origen is made up of players that have been popular in the professional League of Legends scene for quite some time now. Their opponents, G2 Esports, are the newest team in the European LCS. They came straight from the Challenger Series (the minor league of professional League of Legends) and took the league by storm instantly. They finished the regular season with an astonishing 15-3 record and handily defeated FNATIC in the semifinals after a first round bye. This series was easily the biggest challenge either team had faced up to this point. G2 opened the series with the aggressive team play that they are known for, and it definitely caught Origen off guard. Origen was clearly not ready for the pace of G2’s play style, which seems to be a critical error considering that these teams were practicing against each other before this series. G2 took game one handily, and Origen looked rather displeased with their performance. It seems they channeled that frustration in game two, because it was the complete opposite of the first game. No major strategies were changed for Origen, but the execution was much cleaner. They put G2 on the back foot early by winning skirmishes and stifling the late-game team composition that G2 had drafted. Origen took game two much in the same way that G2 took game one and suddenly the series was equalized. The stellar assassin play of G2 mid-laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković, in game 3 dominated his counterpart Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and allowed G2 to essentially walk away with the game as a result of the lead PerkZ had created for himself. On the back of their impressive rookie mid-laner, G2 took game three and suddenly the veterans of Origen saw their entire season on the chopping block. Because teams are allowed substitute players, Origen took the opportunity after the second loss to switch out PowerOfEvil for their coach and one of the best players in history, xPeke. He immediately counter-picked his opponent PerkZ, and it must have left G2 without much of an answer because they looked lost for the first 20 minutes of game 4. G2 figured out a plan however, and began to mount a comeback. The young squad buckled down and started to fix their mistakes one by one, getting closer and closer to a lead every minute. Origen could not hold their lead against the relentless offense from G2, and after more than 40 minutes of play the titans of Origen had fallen and G2 Esports was crowned the champions of the 2016 European LCS Spring Split.

The North American final featured two of the biggest names in League of Legends and the most storied rivalry in the game. Team SoloMid (TSM) against Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) is always the most anticipated matchup in North America, whether it is in playoffs or the regular season. To make the rivalry even more intense, at the beginning of the season TSM acquired the star player of CLG, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the most surprising trade the esports community has ever seen. Doublelift has long been heralded as one of the best players in the west, and when he left CLG for rival TSM, fans of both teams were shocked. That trade means this rivalry is more heated than ever, because Doublelift was out to prove that he made the right decision in switching teams and CLG was out to prove that they never needed Doublelift in the first place.

Game one began with an early TSM lead, and each team played very cautiously, surely due to the nerves from the sheer magnitude of the game. Once the players got comfortable however, the game quickly picked up. TSM held a significant lead until the 28-minute mark, when CLG took a favorable fight and wiped TSM off Rift. This was the beginning of the end for TSM in game one, because they never found their way back into the lead. Once CLG got ahead, the game was over within ten minutes and TSM realized they had their work cut out for them if they wanted to take the series.

Game two started much in the same way as the first, with TSM taking an early lead. But this time, TSM did not sit back and watch CLG recover. TSM kept their lead in game two by maintaining their aggression throughout the entire game, which kept the CLG side against the ropes until they could not stand any longer. TSM looked to have regained their confidence and closed out game two in a convincing fashion, tying the series at 1-1.

Game three started out much closer than the previous two. TSM secured two early kills, but CLG soon equalized that advantage and found themselves with a lead of their own before the 20-minute mark. The teams continued to fight back and forth, but CLG seemed to come out slightly ahead in nearly every engagement, preventing TSM from gaining an advantage. After endless small victories, CLG found themselves with a very large lead until a chaotic fight broke out around the 40-minute mark. TSM used clever positioning to dismantle the heavy team fighting composition of CLG and significantly reduced the lead of CLG. The very next fight would decide the game, and CLG took it for themselves. Thanks to stellar play from Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, CLG avoided the threats of TSM and ultimately thrived in the extended fight to take game three. One more win and CLG would take home the North American LCS championship for the second split in a row.

But as history would have it, TSM did not give up. In game four, TSM reverted to the composition that had won them game two and went on to complete dismantle CLG. TSM played the classic “Protect the Doublelift” composition, a strategy that CLG knows all too well from the days when Doublelift was on CLG. They could not break the wall of protection the TSM had set up for their carry player, and CLG were eventually choked out. With the series tied 2–2, more than half a million people were on the edge of their seats.

Game five was the closest of the series. For more than 40 minutes, the teams traded back and forth evenly and neither could find an advantage. That was until the last fateful fight, when TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell attempted an engage thinking his team had a positional advantage. It did seem that way at first, but CLG’s Stixxay had other plans. He found a way to deal enough damage to kill everyone on TSM, and then easily marched through the TSM base with his remaining teammates. CLG had defeated the fan favorites and proved to everyone that they didn’t need their former star player to be the best team in North America.