Titles are won through consistency and overcoming adversity, not by having the flashiest mechanics. When it came down to the wire, Clutch Gaming were able to beat the odds and send TSM packing in the quarterfinals of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split.
Throughout the split, Clutch Gaming were the definition of consistency. In fact, they made it to the playoffs by going 8-0 against teams that finished below them in the standings. So how did a team of consistency and relative mediocrity step up against the unrivaled playoff kings from TSM?
Clutch did it by improving their early game to take leads inch by inch and to fully punish every little TSM mistake. Through this, Clutch Gaming dominated their series to move onto the semi-finals of their first NA LCS split.
Improved Early Game
Throughout the split, Clutch Gaming were purely a mid and late game team. Their Early Game Rating during the split was just 42.9, meaning that, on average, they had a 42.9% chance to win the game as of the 15-minute mark of their games. That put them in the bottom half of the league for their early game performances, ahead of only FlyQuest, OpTic, and Golden Guardians. But through the split Clutch Gaming used their experienced roster to overcome these sub-average early games amd punish teams that were less talented or less experienced. Their mid and late game was one of the best of any team, relative to their early game, producing a mid/late rating of +12.1, second only to 100 Thieves.
In Game 3 of their series with TSM, Clutch Gaming took an electric lead when Hakuho hit a nearly-blind Thresh hook onto Mike Yeung’s Skarner at TSM’s krug’s camp. To further their grip on the game, Clutch Gaming spotted Skarner on a top-side ward, which led them to pull the trigger into an all-out blitz on Kog’Maw. Once the kills and bot lane tower were secured with Apollo’s Caitlyn, the game was out of reach. Zven’s Kog’Maw had no way to compete with Caitlyn’s range and damage when the teams had to fight for Baron control.
They Just Don’t Die
Dying in League of Legends is the capital sin. It eliminates any pressure, similarly to a power play in hockey. Once you kill someone, you’ve found the key to unlocking an objective. During the regular season, Clutch Gaming led the league with the fewest deaths of any team. Through 20 games (iincluding tiebreakers), they died 150 times, or just 7.5 deaths per game.
In this clip, Clutch Gaming had map pressure over TSM due to a Solo solo kill on Hauntzer. Instead of just rotating around the map trying to force lane pressure, they moved into the TSM jungle to look for the desperately needed jungle pick that would allow them to start Baron. Despite the risk involved, LirA put himself into a dangerous position to bait TSM. But knowing his limitations, he pulled out at the last second with help from Febiven. If LirA had gone down, it would have been a probable Baron for TSM, turning the tide of the match drastically.
Clutch Gaming seems to know when they can push their champions further. More importantly, though, they know when to pull out. When they transition from the early game to the mid game, they have the magical ability to always be on the map. When other teams are flirting with wards or trying to find a pick on the top laner, Clutch Gaming is staying laser-focused on the next objective and making sure they can always contest. They have the instinct to avoid monumentally dumb decisions, which can be the difference between a win and a loss. Their play against TSM truly showed they are a top-tier team if they can control the tempo.
During the season, Clutch Gaming were average at taking Barons. They only took the first Baron in 55% of their gamest. This changed against TSM, with Clutch taking the first Baron in three out of four games. Much of this came from their ability to create an early lead which allowed them to periodically run TSM out of their own jungle.
Once Baron was secured, Clutch Gaming pushed the tempo. In Game 1 – the only TSM win – it took TSM two Barons and 10 minutes to finish the game. When Clutch Gaming had a lead at 20 minutes, they were clinical. In Game 2, it took Clutch Gaming about 10 minutes to overcome a gold deficit and flip the game into a victory. In Games 3 and 4, it took about five minutes from Baron to game completion.
The recipe to winning a competitive game of League of Legends revolves around all three phases of the game, early, mid, and late. Clutch Gaming were able to minimize losses and maximize gains to control the tempo early on, and once they had an inch of an advantage, they choked TSM out of any lifelines in the mid or late game.
To beat 100 Thieves, Clutch Gaming still have work to do. But their first round matchup against TSM proves that they’re the real deal. Their early pressure must be turned into kills and objectives if they want to stand a chance. While they haven’t been able to slay all of the giants of North America yet, this might have been their awakening.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/lolesports