After a loss to Golden Guardians in the first-round of the upper-bracket, TSM had no room for error and had to play to expectations and beyond to complete the miracle lower-bracket run. Dignitas, on the other hand, weren’t awarded the luxury of a second chance due to their 8th place finish in the regular season. Such a run is the only one they could hope for. However, with a series like this, it is hard to believe that either team has what it takes to complete such a run and hoist the trophy.
Despite their strong finish to the regular season, it was challenging to predict the outcome for this series based on the performance TSM displayed against Golden Guardians. I don’t think many were counting their bets on Dignitas prior to the series simply due to how poorly they performed in the regular season (qualifying with a 28% win rate). But with both teams’ “best before” dates seeming imminent, Dignitas had a chance–one we would quickly see slip through their fingers.
Ever since the removal of Spear of Shojin, Renekton has been a contentious pick. While he still has his uses in the meta and is most definitely a viable option, he is a pick who has proven difficult to execute without the basic ability reset potential provided by Shojin. Navigating teamfights places a lot more pressure on the player to perform than before due to the lower burst and sustain. Dignitas opted to first-pick Renekton on blue side for their weakest player and allowed TSM the opportunity for a counter-pick. Not only was their first-pick concerning, but they decided to place their second-strongest player on Senna and paired it with Braum. If Braum wanted help from his ADC to proc his stun, he wasn’t going to get much of it with a low attack speed pairing. Immediately in draft, things looked worrying for Dignitas.
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The game proceeded to play out as expected from the draft. If Dignitas wanted any chance at taking the first game in the series, they had to establish an early lead. At 0:04:00, Dardoch maneuvered his way through TSM’s jungle to gank for V1per who was under heavy pressure from the Shen counter-pick. Spica, though slightly behind, matched Dardoch’s gank and salvaged what could have been a disaster of a situation for Broken Blade. Broken Blade’s lane was pushing and V1per had the opportunity to let his jungler get the kill so that Broken Blade would have to return to a frozen lane, making him vulnerable to further pressure from the jungle. However, due to a miscalculation from Dardoch, the kill was not secured and V1per moved in to at least secure the two for one trade over the one for nothing. In true North American fashion, however, the fight was forced to continue by both mid laners committing late teleports to the top lane. Though the trade ended two for three in TSM’s favour, Fenix managed to turn a disaster into a small win by taking two down in a 1v3 scenario.
One could say that TSM gave Dignitas no chance to claw their way back into the game after the fight top, but it quickly became clear that the 8th place Dignitas had no place in the playoffs. Bjergsen did what Bjergsen does best and gave a strong performance, leading his team to an eventual Ocean Soul at 30:28 and securing Baron at 0:32:25. Bjergsen put the team on his back with a 9/2/2 scoreline with the recently nerfed Syndra and ended the game at 35:14.
Photo via Dignitas
With the abysmal draft from the first game not panning out in Dignitas’ favour, fans and analysts headed into the second game expecting a change of style. Alas, Dignitas decided to run it back with the first-pick Renekton. The only changes were the jungle and support picks while TSM made a major shift in mid, placing Bjergsen on Sett. With a heavy frontline like Shen and Sett, TSM placed the onus on Spica to be the AP carry on Nidalee. With a solid damage split and the opposing competition not being built for defensive itemization, TSM were in a great position from the get go.
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The game started oddly well for Dignitas. With a gank meant to serve only as poke damage going awry in the river, Dignitas picked up a two for one. With some misplays from TSM’s jungle and mid duo, Dardoch and Fenix picked up a kill each and gained priority over mid. The gold leaned slightly in Dignitas’s favour, and for a composition that needed to succeed early to succeed late, this was a much needed blessing. It was but a momentary sign of hope, however, as TSM took control of the game shortly after through objectives.
With an early 0:16:30 Muramana transformation for Doublelift, TSM’s poke and teamfight potential skyrocketed. Dignitas’ window for victory was getting slimmer as TSM was up two dragons and had secured two Herald buffs. At 0:18:10, a fight broke out over the third dragon to spawn, one that would put TSM at Ocean Soul point. The 2016 and 2017 Dardoch confidence that many fell in love with was on full display during this fight. Though V1per died right away and left Dignitas in a 4v5 scenario, Dardoch went in 1v5 and managed to turn the fight in Dignitas’ favour with a three for four win. Dardoch continued to make plays where he could in a game that should have been decided earlier by TSM. His scoreline notwithstanding, he performed admirably in the teamfighting department.
Dardoch’s efforts were not enough, however, as TSM secured Baron at 0:26:36 with no contention from Dignitas. At this point, the poke threat that Nidalee and Ezreal brought with a Baron buff was enough to strangle Dignitas in their own base. The amount of crowd control that Bjergsen and Broken Blade brought was too much for a Dignitas roster that needed to get ahead early. With targets being locked up, Spica had the time of his life, having little to be concerned about with Nidalee. He ended the game going 10/2/8 and played an integral role in TSM closing the game out at 0:31:08.
Photo via Dignitas
Game 3, TSM 2-0 Dignitas
With TSM and Dignitas at match point, the latter’s only hope was a reverse sweep to avoid elimination from the playoffs. Thankfully, Dignitas realized they had to change their drafting strategy. They dropped the first-pick Renekton and put V1per on Ornn duty. On top of that, they finally recognized they had been kneecapping themselves by putting one of their two best players on a carry that had little agency over the game. Johnsun was relieved of Senna duty and put on one of his better carry options, Ashe.
Though they seemed to have made amends for their first two drafts in some ways, they still managed to commit a massive blunder in their first round of picks by not picking Morgana to deny the oppressive Caitlyn and Morgana lane pairing. Golden Guardians exposed TSM’s lack of understanding of how to play against Morgana, which became one of their primary win conditions in their 3-0. Dignitas ignored the writing on the wall and opted into Ashe and Karma for their first round to combat the poke of Caitlyn. This isn’t necessarily a bad pairing in a vacuum, but to ignore a strategy that was laid out for them just days prior displayed their lack of preparation and/or the overconfidence in their own level of play.
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The third game played out quite differently from the others and had little fighting until 0:09:50 in. Spica and Bjergsen ganked for Broken Blade top and claimed the first blood gold against V1per. Two minutes later, V1per recognized that defending top was a lost cause against a snowballing Camille and teleported bottom to assist in getting two kills, which kept the team even with TSM in gold. Even though they managed to find a win in the bottom lane, Broken Blade on a hyper carry was left alone to farm and claimed a turret for solo gold. Due to the deficit in which V1per found himself, he was relegated to catching waves at turrets and did his best to avoid any confrontation with Broken Blade. It seemed Broken Blade tired of that at 0:17:40 and forced a 1v1 against V1per just outside of turret range. A scenario that could have accelerated the snowball was executed well by V1per and ended with him narrowly winning the fight. Not only did that loss deter Broken Blade from future engagements, it allowed V1per to farm more safely further away from base.
Despite Broken Blade’s miscalculation, TSM matched Dignitas at the dragon pit with an 3.5k gold advantage. Dignitas managed to claim their third dragon and set themselves up for Mountain Soul, but what ensued after the slaying of the dragon spelled the end for Dignitas in the playoffs. Due to TSM’s positioning around the pit, Dignitas had few options and were forced into an uncomfortable fight. In unflinching Dardoch fashion, he moved towards the opposition aggressively and threatened a kill on Spica. At that point, the fight seemed like a 50/50 that would come down to whoever executed it better, not who had the gold advantage. Unfortunately, Johnsun made his first major mistake of the series and stepped on a Caitlyn trap with 30% health. With the extra range and guaranteed headshot proc, Doublelift finished off Johnsun with one auto-attack and left Dignitas severely disadvantaged. Lacking the consistent backline firepower, Dignitas found themselves at the mercy of TSM and lost the fight in embarrassing fashion.
With nobody alive to contest them, TSM moved towards Baron, killed it, and successfully used the buff to push through the remaining Dignitas structures, eliminating them from playoffs.
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It’s hard to congratulate TSM on a win like this. They managed a much needed and expected 3-0 over a team that was battling for last place in the regular season, but it only further contributed to the idea that this team is nowhere near as dominant as people had thought coming into playoffs. Bjergsen remains a considerable threat who is capable of playing any role his team requires, but the way the team plays leads one to think that, despite the gold advantages they may accrue, they will have to fight harder to maintain the lead than the higher seeded teams. Regardless, TSM remains alive and will have to face off against the loser of the Team Liquid versus Golden Guardians series. With Team Liquid ramping up and having dominated TSM in the regular split and Golden Guardians convincingly knocking TSM down to the lower-bracket, they have a tough weekend ahead of them.
However, TSM’s win results in Dignitas’s elimination from the playoffs. It’s going to be a difficult off-season for the squad as this organization is likely to see an overhaul coming into next year. Jobs will be on the line and many will likely be entering free agency. The only player I would bet on returning next year is Johnsun. During his rookie year, he displayed a level of skill that not many rookie North American players have. With a team undergoing constant roster shuffles and none of the iterations clicking, he was consistently their brightspot. I would confidently argue for a rebuild around him. He’s young, has shown he is capable of competing against the best in the region, and has experienced what it is like to be at the bottom. His performances and his hunger after such a crushing defeat could form an excellent foundation that will, hopefully, attract similar talent. Dignitas has some solid players under their banner, some that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them retain, but a lot needs to change if they have aspirations for the international stage.
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