I was awestruck. The first game of semifinals between TSM and DIG in the 2017 NA LCS Playoffs was good enough to be called a classic. It wasn't a game with a lot of kills, but every subtle move, from the draft till the last teamfight, was a decisive one.
Unfortuatnely for DIG, this game was what sealed DIG's fate in the semifinals in a match that was supposed to be the best-of-five.
■ It takes two to tango
As the red team, DIG was able to make the first move in the draft phase and was free to choose between mid and top. With DIG picking Taliyah for their fourth pick, DIG's intention was clear. Taliyah was a champion that had no real bad matchups, and her exceptional roaming ability allows her to empower other lanes. To top it off, they even banned LeBlanc, one of few champions who could threaten Taliyah in the laning phase.
As expected, DIG finished their draft with Renekton. The reason why DIG banned Maokai was also in line with DIG's plan. DIG wanted to win the game by overwhelming TSM from the toplane. If TSM picked Gnar instead, DIG would have picked Kennen instead. No matter what TSM did, DIG was planning to focus on the toplane from the start.
Renekton needs to have the initiative in order to thrive. If the team doesn't have the initiative, there isn't much that Renekton can do. After all, Renekton isn't like Camille who can escape easily from ganks - being exposed to ganks is not a situation that Renekton would want to be in. So, DIG decided to pick Kalista and Blitzcrank to seize the early game initiative in the botlane. It was a possible pick because Jarvan could be flexed into either as toplaner or a jungler.
The ball was on TSM's court. For TSM, having Taliyah roaming around the Rift would have been a big problem, as it would lead to Renekton being unstoppable. What TSM did to stop this from happening was Bjergsen's Kassadin. Kassadin could not only put pressure on DIG's Taliyah, but he was also apt at split-pushing, which would allow TSM to minimize the influence of Renekton. To help Kassadin maximize his strength and even make him a threat in a teamfight, TSM even threw in Shen in the mix.
Of course, TSM could have chosen safer AP champions rather than an assassin like Kassadin. Whether it was based on their confidence of being the best of NA LCS or based on the region's good results - 5-3 - with Kassadin, there was no denying that Kassadin was not a popular champion. In fact, Bjergsen only played with Kassadin just once this split.
However, TSM made a decision fit for a champion. Going straight for DIg's jugular. That's what makes TSM the strongest team in NA LCS. If TSM picked 'safer' champions, such as Victor or Corki, instead, DIG would have been able to have easier time playing that game.
■ A well-executed plan meets a better-executed counter
DIG, as they have planned, gave a lot of attention to the toplane. Shrimp's Jarvan IV started the jungle route from the toplane, and he constantly warded TSM's Blue camp. Ssumday's Renekton was able to push the lane without worrying about being ganked.
However, without the initiative, DIG had to make a move first. If the game went on like this, Kassadin would have been able to put more pressure on Taliyah, and Renekton won't be able to move much. Also, TSM's Tristana had much bigger late game potential than Kalista. Time was firmly on TSM's side.
So, DIG made a decisive play by sending the botlane duo to the toplane to quickly demolish the turret, at the cost of losing the minion wave at the bot lane. TSM, however, was able to counter DIG's play. Without hesitation, TSM also send their botlane duo to the toplane and managed to stop the attack. A second of hesitation would have allowed DIG to get ahead, however, TSM quickly reacted to DIG's play, allowing the game to go on in TSM's favor.
■ DIG's one last chance and TSM's finishing blow.
DIG knew that the time was running out. They knew that their only chance to come back into the game was the mid-game teamfight where Renekton and Kalista thrives. DIG initiated a teamfight - and they won. Not only that, they managed to feed Renekton with a lot of kills.
With this teamfight, DIG was able to come back into the game. The team seized the initiative once again while feeding Renekton at the same time. With the Blade of the Ruined King and other offense items, Renekton will always be able to have the upper hand in 1-on-1 against Shen and be able to splitpush at his will.
Unfortunately, their dream was shortlived because of TSM's decisive Baron call. DIG was just trying to recall after winning another skirmish, but TSM took that opportunity to steal Baron while DIG was absent. DIG effectively gave TSM a free Baron.
The rest is history. TSM's Kassadin and Shen were able to shake up DIG as much as they'd like. There was no way for Renekton to do a split push, let alone being able to stop TSM from tearing their base. TSM's macro was clean as ever, and DIG was helpless against TSM's onslaught.
■ Hindsight is 20/20
Was DIG's decision to put the fate of the game on Renekton's shoulder a right decision? Since they did all they needed to do in order to win with their strategy, we would have said that they made a right decision - if they won. A good drafting, after all, is often decided by whether the game ended with a win or a loss.
What we can say for sure is how the statistics might have predicted this from happening. Ssumday's record with Renekton this split was 3-5 with 38% win rate. It was his second most picked champion of the split, but it didn't work out often enough. Also, Renekton didn't really overwhelm Shen in the laning phase, while he was able to perform exceptionally in the teamfight like he always have.
■ No more ace in the hole
Although it was only Game 1, the loss was a decisive one. DIG's gambit didn't work out, and they had nothing else that they could pull out against TSM.
In Game 2, they tried 'Protect-the-ADC' composition with Nunu, which was something they previously employed in the playoffs. From this point, Ssumday started to choose 'safe' picks with tanky chapmions. However, that wasn't what DIG needed to do in order to defeat a strong team like TSM.
There was no way for TSM to not exploit Nunu's weakness - extremely weak presence in the early game. TSM was free to counterjungle against DIG, and DIG's laners were constantly in fear being ganked. As matter of fact, Hauntzer even managed to score a solo kill against Nunu in DIG's own jungle. Nunu isn't going to cut it against those who knows how to play against Nunu.
Of course, there is no excuse for TSM to be constantly throwing the game with numerous mistakes and allowing Ssumday to dominate the decisive teamfight, but it wasn't long enough before TSM came back to their senses and ended the match in Game 4. For DIG to defeat TSM, Ssumday needed to play more than just tanky champions, but Ssumday couldn't do so. After all, the match was effectively over when DIG's best hand in Game 1 was trumped by TSM.