Hundreds of fans flocked to the League of Legends Championship Series Arena on Friday afternoon to watch the epic battle for first place in the North American LCS between Team SoloMid and Immortals, both 15-1. "TSM, TSM, TSM!" chanted one man in TSM apparel as he entered the building. The implications of and interest in the titanic clash prompted Riot to move the match from the smaller Battle Theater to the main arena where more fans could watch live. It promised to be a match to remember.
In a season where surprises have been minimal, there was a certain excitement about TSM and Immortals. TSM had been having a perfect season up until its loss to Phoenix1 the week prior in the upset of the split, and Immortals were the reigning regular season champions, attempting to defend their crown by beating the only club that bested them this season. Would TSM conquer Immortals again or could Immortals take advantage of the cracks revealed in TSM's armor?
After two relatively competitive maps, the first being a barn burner to the very end, the word "PENTAKILL!" rang out to signal the close of a regular season matchup that had the aura of a regional final. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng capped off an impressive individual series with the pentakill to help TSM take the match in straight sets, and by doing so, also clinched the regular season title for the three-time champions of the North American premier league. For the second time this split, it was SoloMid who came out the victor in the faceoff between the league's two Worlds hopefuls.
"We just made a ton of mistakes, so we deserved to lose," said Immortals' Kim "Reignover" Ui-jin, the reigning MVP of the league. "I don't know why, but I feel like we played worse than usual, so I'm kinda sad we couldn't pull off our chance."
It was a constant series of missed opportunities for the now former regular season kings. Overaggression was the name of the game from both sides in the match; alas, while TSM was able to maneuver masterfully around its shortcomings to continue putting on the pressure, Immortals would continually take one giant step forward before taking two equal steps back. The same minuscule openings Immortals had gotten away with against teams like Echo Fox were capitalized upon and ripped apart when facing TSM.
"I don't expect to get [MVP] again since I got it last season, so probably someone from TSM," Reignover said, mulling over which player he'd give the Most Valuable Player award to this split. "Seems like [Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg] and Doublelift are playing really well right now, so maybe it's going to be one of them."
Immortals, undoubtedly the second best NA team currently behind TSM, are mirrored by the ROX Tigers in Korea. Both the Tigers and Immortals have shown time and time again they can rampage through the competition in the regular season, but they always come up short in the postseason against their main rivals SK Telecom T1 and TSM, respectively. The Tigers fell to SKT T1 in the finals following a regular season where T1 struggled and ROX came out on top. And Immortals fell to TSM in the semifinals after a regular season where Immortals waltzed to the first-place spot, and TSM barely scraped into the playoffs.
In the Immortals' NA LCS history, they have an astonishingly dominant 48-6 record against any team that doesn't have the initials TSM. When playing against TSM, however, Immortals have an overall record of 3-7, and have lost seven of their last eight games against the new regular season champs.
"Maybe in playoffs we'll work a little bit harder," Reignover said, discussing how his team needed to learn how to play a bit less overzealously, and how he on his own needed to find the correct balance between greed and safety. "But we shouldn't overwork because it's going to burn out the players, so we're just going to be more [focused and] serious about it."
The laid back and free-flowing nature of Immortals with their potent, flashy offense has become their identity over the past year and has led them to great success; yet, staring down an opponent they seemingly can't overcome, the team will need to take the next step in its evolution as a starting five.
Up until now, it has been enough to be one of the best teams in the West. But now, to become North American champions and lock down a place at Worlds, there needs to be progress. With a possible TSM rematch in the finals merely a month away, it needs to come sooner rather than later.