During the first two weeks of the playoffs, I previewed the teams by position. Who is the better top laner? Which bottom lane has the edge in laning? After those first four playoff series, I can't anymore.
Team Liquid and Immortals had the overall advantages in both of the semifinal matches, but both teams lost to their respective opponents, Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid. Although Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid were weaker on paper, both were more cohesive as units when it mattered most.
Team Liquid's bullying bottom-lane tandem of Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin and Matt "Matt" Elento was neutralized for the majority of their series versus CLG. When the duo actually got the chance to take control of their lane during game four, Liquid rolled to a blowout win.
But other than that, it was CLG's rotational play and ability to slow down the early game that gave it the win in possibly the greatest NA LCS of all time.
Unlike Liquid, Immortals aren't anchored by their bot-lane duo, but by their top-jungler combo of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin. Their partnership allowed them to steamroll through the regular season as the Immortals accrued a first-seed 17-1 record.
They were impossible to stop. Huni would get rolling on one of his signature carry champions, Reignover would be the alley to Huni's oop, and it was all over for their opponents.
But while Team Liquid was able to go tit for tat with Counter Logic Gaming, the Immortals had no answer to TSM's superior strategic preparation and newfound synergy. With the meta centered around tanks, utility top laners and an aggressive carry in the jungler role, the Immortals never adapted in time. During Game 1, the Immortals surged to a 7k gold lead over SoloMid but couldn't close the door with a weak front line against Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell's unyielding Maokai.
Huni continued playing the same way he has all season: He wanted the gold, he wanted the kills and he wanted to be the ace of the team. Reignover, more of a macro player and Huni's assisting right-hand man, kept on playing champions that would be better suited to get his partner ahead in lane.
Meanwhile, TSM learned how to play as a team and be less selfish. In a meta where a jungler needs gold and room to be a leading man, a team with two of the west's all-time great carries, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, gave their jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen the opportunity to be that type of player.
Instead of trying to figure out who was the alpha male on a team of all-stars, everyone bought into the idea of playing as a singular unit and playing to the meta's strengths.
Truth be told, the third-place match, primarily played for championship circuit points and a bit of pride, is much more important to the Immortals than it is to Team Liquid.
After all, Liquid wasn't supposed to be good this split.
It was a team with three rookie players -- all under 19 years old -- and two imported Koreans as the only veterans on the roster. It was a recipe for a mess. Piglet isn't shy when it comes to critiquing his teammates -- in fact, he experienced similar trouble last year when he didn't click with the rest of his team.
In the best-case scenario where the five players got along, most thought it'd take until the end of the summer split or even the spring of 2017 for the team to stampede through the playoffs. Getting the sixth seed or dodging relegations as the seventh seed seemed optimistic after starting the split off with a 0-3 score line. If Liquid loses to Immortals and finishes fourth in the league once again, the organization will likely have jokes thrown its way.
But what no one can criticize is Liquid's adaptation and growth during this split.
The team is only going to get better from here on out with its rookies developing in the offseason and the new best-of-three format next split. Win or lose, Liquid is rising, and summer will be its chance to take the next step to the finals -- and, eventually, a spot at the world championships.
Immortals don't have that same luxury. The squad and organization, as a whole, were embarrassed last weekend after their 0-3 loss to TSM. Saturday's matinee matchup is a chance for the team to win back its pride. Flexibility and preparation will be the key to this series.
Immortals had a week to adapt into the same meta they soundly dismissed on Sunday. That's not to say Huni has to take a back seat in making an impact on the series. But Immortals need to have different dimensions to their game. Maybe Huni playing a carry champion can work against Liquid in a five-game series. If so, it'll makes the series easier for him and the rest of his team.
However, if Huni is stopped again on one of his favored carries, IMT need to bring something else out of its arsenal -- put Reignover on a carry champion or push the gold down to the team's bottom lane, Jason "WildTurtle" Tran and Adrian "Adrian" Ma, to see if they can pressure Piglet and Matt early.
We need to see more depth to Immortals' game. Everyone knows the team's top lane and jungler are great. Now, following its first chance at facing adversity and failing, we need to see something new from the entire team.
As for a prediction, I don't have one. This match is a lot more about teams' development and ability to adapt, rather than which will pick up the extra championship-circuit points. Neither Liquid nor Immortals wants to think about those points when the end of the season nears.
In the end, both teams want the glory of winning the summer finals and automatically qualifying for the world championships.
From Liquid, I want to see poise. Liquid were one teamfight from playing the grand finale on Sunday -- not the opening act on Saturday. A win here would quiet the murmurs of "Liquid fourth" and redirect the narrative to how far this confident and youthful team can go in the summer split.
For the Immortals to win back their standing as the juggernaut of the league, they'll need to add facets to their game. We'll see if their cards are different from last week, or if Liquid can see past Immortals' bluff and take home the bronze medal.
For the Immortals, all I ask for is variety. I know all five players on the team are better than what they showed last weekend. The viewers online and fans in Las Vegas want to see the Immortals come out of their comfort picks, win or lose.