Team Liquid is heading to its fourth consecutive LCS final.
While the road was not as easy as the previous season, Liquid earned a spot in the 2019 LCS Summer finals. They punched their ticket at the expense of Clutch Gaming, who turned out to be a surprisingly stiff challenge for the favorites. Liquid will face Cloud9 in Detroit.
What many were expecting to be a 3-0 day, ended up being a highly competitive series that finished in five games.
The series started with an explosive performance from mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen on Akali.
In the northern river, Clutch Gaming wanted to contest the scuttle crab and Team Liquid rotated the solo laners in to fight for it. Jensen killed two Clutch players and that was enough to get the ball rolling for Liquid.
Wherever Jensen went, it became Team Liquid’s territory. The mid laner reached a drastic power spike before 10 minutes and Team Liquid played around that advantage.
Clutch Gaming kept things competitive for a long while. The squad traded evenly and managed to take something in return after each engagement.
In the later stages of the match, Liquid started to make League of Legends into a mental game. They taunted their enemies and tried to make Clutch reckless.
Clutch kept their cool and fought until the very end, but when Liquid secured the first baron buff they couldn’t do anything to hold the line.
In game two, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte got his hands on Qiyana.
The Clutch mid laner flexed his muscles early when Jensen and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero attempted a level three gank. This prompted Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo and the rest of Clutch to rotate in for a fight. Team Liquid limped away and Clutch got the confidence boost they needed.
Clutch kept the pressure on, especially in the bottom lane. This allowed them to rotate to the rift herald and get a dragon.
Liquid was put into a position where they needed to aggressively seek fights to swing the momentum, recognizing that Clutch could snowball the game out of control.
Support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme on Leona was the main initiator for the team, and he performed well in that role. Clutch understood their win condition and played around Damonte, who continued to thrive on his new signature hero.
When the late game rolled around, there was nothing that Team Liquid could do to stop Clutch. They took the second win and let Team Liquid know that they were not the easy opponent they anticipated.
Team Liquid changed their picks and bans ahead of game three. They immediately banned Qiyana, and picked a dominant bottom lane with Caitlyn and Lux.
Team Liquid’s draft gave them the upper hand in the early game. The defending champions slowed down the tempo and limited Clutch’s opportunities to roam and fight.
This time, the game was methodical for Team Liquid.
They took control of the map and Jensen’s Akali once again found the kills in the side lanes to scale past his opponents. Once Liquid got those advantages, they never let them go.
Clutch Gaming took a defensive stance but still tried to force fights. Team Liquid rotated to the first baron of the game after killing two enemies. Damonte kept Clutch alive for a time with a big team fight win, but things were out of hand at that point.
The siege from Team Liquid was relentless, as they kept Clutch’s attention constantly split between the bottom and mid lanes. Even after the baron wore off, Team Liquid kept the siege going. Clutch couldn’t stand the pressure, which saw them give up a few more kills followed by the nexus.
Clutch switched to the blue side in game four, which changed their priorities for picks and bans. Team Liquid let Rumble go through and naturally, Clutch took it for Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon.
At level one, Team Liquid set up for a cheeky invade that forced Vulcan to burn his flash. They continued to apply pressure in the lanes and forced Huni and Damonte to waste their flashes as well. That simple play opened up loads of opportunities for Xmithie to gank.
Unfortunately, Xmithie couldn’t fully capitalize on that. When the laning phase ended, Xmithie found himself slightly behind. Clutch kept the pressure on and played forward, forcing Team Liquid to fight on their terms.
Huni made Liquid pay for not banning Rumble. At 12 minutes, with help from the rift herald, Clutch destroyed two turrets in the top lane and scored a kill on Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. That play allowed them to move around the map freely.
Team Liquid had a good team fight around the top side of the jungle. Jensen on Sylas pulled off a flank that turned into four kills. That allowed Team Liquid to regroup and start making plans for a comeback.
Vulcan’s outstanding performance pushed Clutch through the final minutes of the game. He engaged on Liquid while Huni flanked, which translated into several kills and one baron for Clutch. That allowed Clutch to begin their final siege.
Team Liquid made a questionable decision under pressure. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Jensen used their TPs to help Impact in the fight versus Damonte. That play left the base vulnerable to Clutch’s attacks.
Team Liquid could not recover from that mistake. Clutch pulled the trigger one last time, slaughtered the enemy and took the series to game five.
At matchpoint, Team Liquid showed its final trick, Sona and Taric. The duo fell out of favor earlier in the season but Team Liquid brought it back when it mattered most.
As expected, Doublelift and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in spent most of the early game farming and trying to get those item power spikes. Across the map, Clutch Gaming tried in vain to find some sort of advantage that could counter the pick in the bottom lane.
Before long, Liquid started to snowball.
Clutch had significant damage, but didn’t have the pure burst to kill Team Liquid. The sustain from Sona and Taric was too much for Clutch Gaming to handle, which allowed Liquid to play a slow, comfortable game.
Powered up with the baron buff, Team Liquid sieged the enemy base. Every time Clutch forced a fight, it only took Team Liquid a few seconds to get back to full health.
Clutch fought until the very last minute. Team Liquid humored them with one last skirmish and took the win.
Clutch Gaming is not done for the season, they still have to play the third-place match that will determine their seeding in the regional final.
Team Liquid will face Cloud9 in the 2019 LCS Summer final next August 25.