Photo: Riot Games

For our third gauntlet Best of 5, we have a clash for the ages: Team SoloMid vs. Clutch Gaming. Now, regardless of whom you cheer for, it’s hard not to be at least a little bit excited about this one. There are so many exciting narratives surrounding both teams and if they play to the best of their ability, we’re bound to get some insane League of Legends.

There’s also a lot to go over, so let’s first delve a bit deeper into both teams and their paths up to this point.

First of all, it’s impossible not to highlight Team SoloMid’s current momentum wave, or lack thereof. For a staple organization, for a veteran-filled roster, for an LCS giant, they’re not doing as hot as everyone anticipated coming into the 2019 Summer Split. Perhaps that’s even an understatement.

They have the least amount of hype and momentum as humanly possible, and that fact is even further highlighted and enlarged because of their legendary status. Heck, the sights of them trading heavy blows with Team Liquid in the Spring Split finals are still fresh in everyone’s minds. Not a lot of time has passed since that point, and yet they imploded and fell off the tracks — by TSM standards.

The last time we saw them, they were being smacked around the Summoner’s Rift by none other than Clutch Gaming. It was a shocking upset, although it made some sense in the grand scheme of things. After all, Team SoloMid was playing with a substitute jungler. And no, we’re not talking about Grig, nor are we talking about Akaadian. The two jungler they had signed, the two players who are definitely worthy of playing on the LCS stage and already have built-in synergy with the rest of the team weren’t even given the chance to start in the playoffs. In fact, they weren’t even signed on as replacements.

That one decision made absolutely no sense, and it wasn’t the first time Team SoloMid opted for such an ill-advised twist. Now, obviously only they know what they’re doing and why, but if they fail to lock down a ticket to the World Championship it’s going to be for one reason and one reason only — because they decided to make such a tremendous change so late into the split; to make a change they had no business making.

But there’s a positive side as well. Or at least a potentially positive one. We haven’t seen the boys in black and white play in quite a long while. They had more than enough time to adjust, to work on their issues, to communicate and come up with a solid game plan. They had the luxury of watching their opponents skirmish on the Summoner’s Rift. They had to show everything in order to advance, whereas Team SoloMid kept all of their cards close to the chest.

In other words, they showed nothing. We also know they have a well-rounded, highly capable coaching staff. Pair that with a lot of free time and you’re bound to get improvement sooner rather than later. Everything, it seems, is going in their favor. Even Spica, the jungler they opted for, had to show something great in order to warrant a spot on the starting line-up.

They have the edge, and even though that might not be the overall consensus right now, they should not be underestimated. Not in the slightest. They’ve been waiting things out, working on their problems and they’re bound to enter the LCS arena and start swinging. They’re hungry, they want redemption and they know what’s on the line. They’ve worked too hard up to this point and not going to Worlds would truly be a failure of seismic proportions.

Again, we can’t know how well they’ll play, but the odds are definitely stacked in their favor, even though they’re universally deemed as underdogs coming into this Best of 5.

And even if we say Spica isn’t up to snuff (although there’s evidence that suggests otherwise), we mustn’t forget that he’s surrounded by four exceptional players, three of which are experienced, grizzled veterans that have been playing at the biggest of stages for years. He has some of the best players in the world to learn from, so there’s definitely ample room to grow and develop. Whether or not that happened, of course, is an entirely different matter, but it’s not like Team SoloMid — once all of a sudden — don’t have the necessary tools to compete. On the contrary, the few weeks that went by shouldn’t erase what they’ve done and accomplished in the recent past.

They’re still a fantastic challenger, albeit a painfully inconsistent one as well.

But the team on the opposite side is perhaps even more interesting. They’re the definition of volatile, and we all love ’em for it. They’re insane, and are the closest North America has to G2 Esports playstyle-wise. Obviously, we’re comparing apples and oranges here, but the crazy tendencies and sheer insanity that Clutch has displayed over the last couple of weeks truly is akin to the way G2 Esports plays League of Legends.

And their run so far has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. First they took down Team SoloMid without breaking much of a sweat. Then they nearly took down the defending champions Team Liquid in what was a nerve-wracking five-game brawler. Then came their reverse sweep loss to Counter Logic Gaming just a week later; yet another insane clash in which they displayed admirable fortitude and mechanical prowess.

Then they outclassed FlyQuest in the first round of the gauntlet, before actually getting revenge on Counter Logic Gaming yesterday in relatively clean 3-1 fashion.

Talk about a spectacular run. A thrilling roller coaster in every regard. 

And throughout this chaos, Clutch persevered with a smile on their face, unrelenting in their aggression and bravado. These couple of weeks heavily resemble the Cloud9 miracle gauntlet run from 2015 back when Hai decided to try his hand as a jungler. We’ve yet to see whether it ends on a positive note, but so far it’s been every bit as crazy and unexpected.

To say that Clutch Gaming is potentially a Top 3 team in North America in 2019 boggles the mind. It makes no sense whatsoever. And yet it seems like it’s the truth. They’re one-dimensional — we all know that, but they’re so strong and cohesive in the things they do that they’re somewhat unstoppable, at least against mid-tier opposition.

Their most recent win over Counter Logic Gaming was eerily similar to their reverse sweep loss. Everything was developing in such a fashion. The first two games were exceptionally dominant. Then Counter Logic Gaming bounced back in style in the third before getting a lead in the fourth. But Clutch Gaming came prepared. After their crushing defeat they went back to the drawing board and worked on their biggest faults. Sure, they’re still inherently flawed as a team but they worked out a ton of problems, as evident from yesterday’s play.

There are two sides of the Clutch coin right now, a positive and a negative one. The positive one is that they’re accustomed to the LCS stage and have wasted no time. They’re in sync and are ready to go at a moment’s notice. There are no stage jitters whatsoever. That’s good. What’s bad, however, is that they played  almost twenty games over the last couple of weeks.

They might not be feeling the impending burnout, but they definitely did give Team SoloMid a metric ton of footage to go over. Their strengths and weaknesses are on full display, and they’ve hidden nothing. They’ve reached the very end of the gauntlet and are about to face the final boss — a team that was awarded such a prestigious position primarily because of their success in Spring.

What a ludicrous turn of events. And yet there is no better way to end the season.

Team SoloMid have the edge this time around. That’s a fact. They know darn well how Clutch wants to play the game. They know of their ten-minute Rift Herald. They know of their relatively shallow champion pool and the way they want to play around the map. They’ve seen it all. Every single thing.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop it. That’s why this is so darn exciting. Whenever Clutch steps foot on stage we know we’re in for absolute chaos. It’s so hard to prepare for them, in spite of their one-dimensional nature. You know exactly what they’re going to do and yet it’s so hard to stop them because they’re going head-first through any impending obstacle.

Team SoloMid needs to step up. They need to prove their worth, and they know just how dangerous of a spot they’ve found themselves in. Furthermore, one could argue (perhaps a bit dramatically) that their spot in the LCS pantheon getting challenged. They have to get the job on this one. Otherwise their entire 2019 run has been for naught.

That said, it’s downright impossible not to give Clutch Gaming the benefit of the doubt on this one. They’ve already beaten this iteration of Team SoloMid mere weeks ago and have stood strong in the face of many diverse challenges. They’re not perfect. Heck, they’re not even close. But they embraced their inherent flaws and are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

It would truly be refreshing to see such a fearless North American challenger go to Worlds. They’re bringing their own flavor to the game; their own twist, and it’s refreshing to see. It might not be particularly one-sided, but Clutch should once again be able to get the win.

Winner: Clutch Gaming, 1.55 (odds @ Betway)