It wasn't pretty, but the faithful were rewarded with a series victory in CLG's five-game pulse-pounder over eighth-seeded Golden Guardians to kick off their lower bracket run in the LCS Championship today.
With almost every analyst and fan predicting a 3-0 in favor of CLG, the game score alone could be considered an upset. Serious questions were raised as far as the actual discrepancy between the LCS's fourth and eighth seeds after watching the actual games play out.
The story of the series (and around the league world) was Zeri. With the LCS Championship being played on patch 12.15, the champion hadn't received her latest batch of nerfs yet. Most often paired with Yuumi, Zeri was picked by Golden Guardians AD carry Stixxay in games one, two, and four. The veteran ADC piloted the champion to two victories and sent Twitter into a tizzy after he picked up his first career pentakill in the Guardians' game two victory. Zeri finished 4-0 in the series.
Game one was CLG through and through in the early and mid game. Top laner Dhokla looked to be on the verge of being picked off in the bottom river before he sent the Guardians on a wild goose chase as they tunnel-visioned right past the fourth dragon of the game, allowing CLG to take their Hextech Soul uncontested, after which they won a fight near Baron and took the neutral objective soon after. Golden Guardians made the end of game one far nearer than it had any business being, given that they were down over 10,000 gold, a Dragon Soul, and at one point, an Elder Drake. But the mere presence and kiting potential of Stixxay's Zeri paralyzed CLG's engages while everyone's favorite slippery Zaunite marksman rained shocking amounts of damage onto her opponents.
It was the longest game of the LCS Championship so far at just over 45 minutes.
In game two, mid-split jungle addition River hopped back on his signature Jarvan IV pick and wiped away an early CLG lead with the first of what would prove to be many multi-man Cataclysms, setting up Stixxay's Zeri. He promptly took the baton and sprinted to the finish line, notching a pentakill to close out game two with a victory.
The day after FlyQuest support aphromoo passed WildTurtle to set the record for most LCS games ever played, Stixxay also became the 12th player in LCS history to crest the 400-game mark in the second contest of the series.
Zeri, Yuumi, and Jarvan all found themselves banned out in game three, leaving both teams to opt for a more early-game-focused top side. CLG got off the ground on the back of Dhokla's Aatrox, before a fight around the 25-minute mark allowed CLG to take the game's first Baron and push their lead substantially. Like in previous games, however, it was Stixxay who willed his team through the mid-game to take the game over the 30-minute mark, this time on Sivir. His effort ultimately wasn't enough, as game three went to CLG.
River and Stixxay on Jarvan and Zeri again in game four proved just as effective for Golden Guardians, winning the contest in an eerily similar fashion to game two.
As “Silver Scrapes” blared through spectators' headsets, the final game's draft saw both teams throw down the gauntlet, with Golden Guardians forgoing Zeri and instead taking Stixxay's Sivir, while Luger grabbed the Spark of Zaun for himself for the first time in the series . With the last pick of the blue side draft, CLG mid laner Palafox locked in Akali. Much to the chagrin of CLG's Renekton/Akali composition, it was the Guardians who controlled the early game, taking every neutral objective aside from the second Herald, which CLG fumbled in the mid lane and got nothing out of. However, a crucial fight at the 21-minute mark spearheaded by “Palafaker” and a double kill for his Akali swung the game almost 5,000 gold and gave his team the lead.
CLG played out the rest of the game in a methodical, low-risk way before closing out the series and no doubt joining their faithful fans in breathing a huge, collective sigh of relief.
For those CLG fans, this series was supposed to be a snoozer easier than the Cloud9 series. And while game five fit that bill, that was about it. Golden Guardians made this series much more difficult than it needed to be.
For the aforementioned Guardians, frustration has to be the prevailing emotion. At times last split and early on in Summer, they looked like they could upset the apple cart and break into the top five in a split that saw TSM and Cloud9 falter. But an eight-game losing streak to start the split saw the org dismiss longtime general manager Danan Flander before the year ended, and more changes likely loom in the offseason for the NBA-backed org's League of Legends department.
The long climb up through the lower bracket continues for CLG next Thursday at 3pm CT against either 100 Thieves or Team Liquid.