Forget the regular season.
Regardless of how hard it is to ignore the 17-1 regular split campaign by Team SoloMid, which broke its own record en route to a first-place seed in the playoffs, it doesn't matter anymore.
Counter Logic Gaming made it to the finals of the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational this past May in what was possibly the greatest feat in North American League history, but even that doesn't matter anymore. Not for this Sunday.
Even though this fateful match won't even take place at the League Championship Series (LCS) Summer Finals in Toronto, it will change the legacies of both clubs. The stakes are still high; for the winner of the semifinal between TSM and CLG, a place at the World Championship awaits. The victor will have a guaranteed spot at the biggest tournament of the year due to circuit points, and the loser will need to fight its way in.
A loss for CLG will end its dream of becoming the first team in the NA LCS to three-peat a first-place finish in the postseason. A defeat for TSM would even be more dire, washing away an entire season of accolades only to end up with the organization's worst placing in the playoffs. For seven straight seasons, TSM has made it to the finals of the NA LCS, and that could all end if Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black and CLG can pull off the hat trick of beating TSM in three consecutive postseason matches.
"I would have rather waited until finals," Aphromoo, the CLG captain, said of facing TSM in the semifinals. "They're really good, and it's always fun to play them in the finals. But, playing them in semis, oh goodness gracious, I mean, TSM is coming off a 17-1 run. They're going to be hella good, and [the semis are] probably going to be the finals that should have been.
"They've definitely upped their game a lot by bringing in [Vincent "Biofrost" Wang], and I'm pretty sure [Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng] is now the shotcaller; he's directing it a lot now, and I don't think that's weird at all."
"I just think [Doublelift] learned quite a bit from being on CLG and playing with me a little bit," he continued. "I'm proud he's now taking the shotcalling role because he has pretty good ideas in directing their team. Definitely helped them a lot during the regular split, but coming up against TSM, it's going to be my job to stop that, so I'm pretty sure it's going to be a bottom-centric matchup. Doublelift/Biofrost versus me and [Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes]."
Due to recent changes to the game by developer Riot, the bottom lane has become a war zone between the tag teams of AD carries and supports. Instead of being able to laneswap at the start, the bot-lane matchup has now become about being able to push the minion wave of your opponent as close to their turret as humanly possible.
Although the rivalry between former teammates and bot-lane partners Aphromoo and Doublelift has been a major subplot throughout the year, this weekend's semifinal and the balance changes will finally have the two face off for truly the first time since Doublelift's exit from CLG.
"Doublelift is a lot more patient [now]," Aphromoo said, discussing his former teammate's evolution since last season, "especially with his support player. When [Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim] came in, they tried to force the issue [of the two players working together] a lot of the time because they were two world-class players, and they just didn't mesh when they tried to go at it together. They probably took the wrong approach with that.
"Coming up with Biofrost [as] a rookie player, [it works better because] Doublelift is very good with new supports. I have experience with that because I came in as a fresh support playing with Doublelift. In the beginning he's a little rough, but over time he's had a lot of experience in nurturing young talent, so Biofrost definitely has a senpai ['older brother'], so to speak, that he can look up to and learn from. I think Biofrost's play has been really exceptional this split playing with [Doublelift], and I'd expect nothing less because [we were] Rush Hour, so we know how to play bottom lane."
The head-to-head battle that might very well decide which team goes to Worlds will feature two pairs of veterans and apprentices. The first is Doublelift and his protégé Biofrost, the All-LCS support of the split and front-runner for Rookie of the Split award. The second is Aphromoo and Stixxay, the duo that won a playoffs title the first season they played together, and whose rookie half bested Doublelift in last season's finals to win the series and honor of Finals MVP.
Amid former friends turned rivals, each with a new pupil to continue a legacy, the stage is set for the final battle of the year-long feud in the NA LCS semifinals.
May the best master win.