As foreign as it feels, we’ve now finished off the seventh week of the Summer Split, yet we still don’t have a clear impression of how the top teams really stack up. While most people would agree that Immortals currently edge out the rest of the competition, the next four or so spots feel far more contested as the last push to playoffs really doubles down. No three teams embody this vague parity more than TSM, Dignitas, and Cloud 9.This week alone, we’ve seen Dignitas 2-0 TSM, then get reverse swept by Cloud 9. TSM, meanwhile, went on to take their own 2-0 victory over Echo Fox (admittedly an easier matchup). So how do we measure these teams? Pre- Rift Rivals, Cloud 9 looked to be in great form, taking the victory in their second series against TSM this split. However, TSM’s dominant international performance- coupled with Cloud 9’s rather lackluster play and disappointing 0-2 week six- led many to view TSM as exerting their control over the North American scene while their long time rivals fell out of the picture. Cloud 9, of course, thrive on such negative situations. Evidenced by their gauntlet run of legends led by Hai, the team waits until their lowest point to turn on the burners. Suffering an 0-2 week and being soundly rolled over by Dignitas in Game One seemed to be that point for this year’s team.
With Sneaky recovered from his illness and Impact shaking off the slump he suffered all split, Cloud 9 surged forward to a commanding 2-0 answer to their disastrous week six showing. Dignitas, meanwhile, leaves its fans wondering what happens next? After a dominant showing against TSM where they made the hottest team in North America look like G2 at an international tournament, Dignitas spent the next day against Cloud 9 chasing the previous series’ glory. Despite the thumping they delivered in game one, Dignitas found itself unable to deal with Cloud 9’s adjustments in game strategy and ended up dropping the series. While this appears to indicate an inconsistency in Dignitas’ play, it seems more to indicate the differences between Cloud 9 and TSM. Cloud 9, after the poor decision to let Dignitas first pick Maokai, managed to correct their draft and turn the next two pick/ban phases into an objective reminder as to why Cloud 9 fans have such high regard for their coach, Reapered.
TSM, just a day before, focused more on putting their faith in skill and mechanics. Bjergsen pulled out Xerath (likely due to the limited available mid champions following Dignitas’ targetted banning), and Hauntzer on Jarven IV. The only carry they left on a meta pick was Doublelift’s Tristana, which in turn struggled against the imposing Maokai’s tankiness. By adjusting only their own champions in the second game, TSM disrespected Dignitas individually and as a team. While allowing Hauntzer a new champion to play into Ssumday’s Maokai certainly shows trust in their toplaner, TSM ignored the strengths of Dignitas and allowed them to play to the same strengths which had just defeated them.
In looking at Cloud 9’s reaction, the exact opposite happens. They see the strengths of Dignitas’ tank play, quickly determine a way to answer it, and put it into play. They still put faith in their players- just through a different way than TSM. Instead of hoping individual efforts can overcome Dignitas’ game plan, Cloud 9 trusted their players enough that they completely rethought their approach and play the game with a whole new set of win conditions.
At the end of the week, the back and forth between these three teams tells us something about each of them. TSM remains too proud, not giving Dignitas the respect and bans required for victory. Cloud 9, despite their recent inconsistency, demonstrated their rapid adaptability and draft brilliance. Dignitas showed that when they find a gameplan that works, they can run with it- they just need to know how to tweak it and avoid becoming fully countered.
Moving into week eight, Cloud 9 and TSM both look towards relatively less daunting matchups, with both teams facing FlyQuest. For TSM, this should be a week to reaffirm their strength following their decisive victory over Echo Fox. They also have the opportunity to beat Team Envy, who just last week toppled Cloud 9. Cloud 9, meanwhile, will likely look to establish the strength of their own gameplan against Team Liquid and to reaffirm who the better iteration of Cloud 9 is as they face FlyQuest. Dignitas, looking at a faceoff against Immortals, has the toughest challenge ahead as they take on the league’s top team to prove that their hyped up playoff push isn’t over yet.