Out of all groups in this year’s Worlds, Group D was definitely the hardest to call before the tournament and not much changed after the first week. Out of the three teams with a 2-1 record, any two of them could have made it to the Playoffs with less trouble in other groups. Unfortunately, Team SoloMid from North America was the team, which was left in the dust once the matches were over.
The first match of the day had Team SoloMid playing against the Korean Samsung Galaxy. While SSG ran a more or less traditional comp of Rumble, Rek’Sai, Viktor, Jhin, and Tahm Kench, TSM picked up Zilean for Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. While the pick was used by TSM previously and made a certain amount of sense with Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen’s Olaf and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s Kennen, either of the two a valuable speed up and a Guardian Angel-like effect to stop them from getting focused and taken out of the fight, it looked as if the team wasn’t very practised at executing the idea of their interesting comp. The two most glaring examples of the lack of ability to execute it were when Vincent “Biofrost” Wang shielded Bjergsen even though he used his ult on himself, saving the Mid Laner from death, allowing SSG’s Lee “Crown” Min-ho to kill him once the ult ran out, as well as Hauntzer walking out of Rumble ult on low life, even though he had Zilean’s ult on him. In the end, TSM stood up to SSG reasonably well for 30 minutes, but crumbled to the Korean’s superior macro and their own gameplay mistakes, starting the day off on a completely wrong foot.
Up next, European Splyce actually gave TSM a chance by taking a game away from Royal Never Give Up and losing their next game to TSM. If that wasn’t enough to make the Chinese superstars have a bad day, they lost against Samsung Galaxy as well, putting them in a very bad spot with a 2-3 record with only one opponent left – TSM. Before the two most likely Playoff contenders were able to compete against each other, Samsung Galaxy had to play against Splyce. This match went just as expected, the Koreans won.
Now, it was time for the most important game of the tournament so far. The 2-3 RNG were facing the 3-2 TSM for a ticket into the Playoffs. But wait, if RNG wins, they just tie with TSM, going for a Tiebreaker match, right? Not so. You see, RNG won against TSM in Week 1 as well. If they could win this match, they would advance because making teams play a tiebreaker when the score of them playing against each other was 2-0 in one team’s favor wouldn’t be fair at all. If they took a winn off of each other and still had a 3-3 score, however, it would have been a different matter altogether. Do you understand the stakes in this one match now? Good.
Coming into the last game, TSM were thought to be favored to win against the RNG team, which struggled in the tournament so far. The Chinese had to bring their A game in order to win and move on to the Playoffs. Unfortunately for the NA stars, that’s precisely what happened. Starting with Pick and Ban, RNG outclassed TSM. They picked a strong lane combo of Ezreal and Nami against TSM’s Lucian and Braum, which had an early advantage due to Nami’s range. Their Mid lane also got himself Aurelion Sol, which excels at roaming as well. RNG’s plan was obvious – crush Doublelift and Biofrost. Well, the plan succeeded. The first time RNG started a wholesale invasion of Bot lane, Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao got a triple kill to go with his huge CS lead, swinging team gold to 2k in RNG’s favor. While turtling and trying to keep up as much as possible, TSM managed to not let the Chinese to increase their lead, however, they were having problems getting through the Aurelion Sol’s stars and the full tank Poppy in order to actually kill their enemies. Doublelift couldn’t do much against the enemy pressure on the short range Lucian, especially when he was so behind, with all kills going to Bjergsen. At 32 minutes, there was a small flash of hope for TSM fans when the Americans successfully defended the Bot inhibitor, acing RNG in the process, however, the distance between them and any meaningful objective was too far, especially with no inhibitors open. The fleeting hope was just that, hope.
It is definitely true that TSM underperformed in this game and the tournament as a whole, however, they were really the only team against which RNG demonstrated their skill ceiling. And RNG’s skill ceiling, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the highest in the world. While disappointing, there is no shame in losing to that team.