After being relegated to the lower bracket following their 3-1 loss to Team Liquid, FlyQuest was expected to meet the loser of Cloud9 vs. Evil Geniuses in Round 2 of the lower bracket, proceeding with a predicted “easy” win over their opponent, TSM, in the first round. This expectation was based primarily on FlyQuest’s comparatively stronger Summer Split performance. As opposed to TSM’s lackluster 6-12 finish, FlyQuest managed to put together a winning record of 10-8. With a four-win margin between them, a head-to-head matchup heavily favored the boys in green.
As it turns out, TSM was not ready to cave and take an 0-3 loss. Despite an “evident” skill gap indicated by their records, TSM had not managed to put together a stable roster until Week 6. This roster, while still very weak, accrued a 3-4 record in their remaining games, a significant improvement from the previous iterations’ 3-8 run. With additional time to practice and a thirst for revenge, the seventh-place team rallied to make a statement 3-2 victory over their statistically-superior opponent.
The Importance of Roster Lock for the TSM Underdogs
Although the exact date is not published anywhere, all LCS teams must lock in their playoff roster prior to the end of the Summer Split. This lock-in, referred to as Roster Lock, is intended to ensure that teams competing in the playoffs have a fixed roster prior to the end of the split. This way, teams in the playoffs cannot make sweeping changes to their rosters after the end of the split and before the playoffs. This protects non-playoff teams from having their best players removed from them to benefit a playoff team and prevents playoff teams from making drastic changes while their opponents are making preparations against specific rosters from Summer.
While Roster Lock appears to be a limitation, it does have one important clause: participating teams are not limited to just five players. Although the game fields five players, teams can include any players from their Academy or LCS lineups in Roster Lock. This means that LCS teams can have rosters upwards of 10 players to be used in the playoffs. Although most teams stick to the five players they found the most success with in Summer, TSM’s roster instability across the Summer Split meant that they got to test multiple iterations and players over the course of their 18-game season.
Using their various games as a reference point, TSM opted to include six players in their playoff roster. While the entirety of their lineup from the end of the Summer Split was locked, they also listed Tactical, an ADC from one of their previous rosters with a different champion pool than their most recent starting ADC.
The TSM Tactical Difference
After starting off hot with the opening victory against FlyQuest, TSM faltered heavily in the second game, ceding it to their opponent and bringing the scoreline to 1-1. Disappointed with the performance of their ADC, Instinct, in the second match, TSM opted to substitute Tactical in for him for the next game.
Having not played on the LCS stage since week 3, Tactical did not find success instantly. FlyQuest took the third game and the lead in the series, bringing the analysts to question whether or not Tactical would play in game four. The TSM coaching staff, however, were much more sure about their decision. Recognizing that Tactical was performing better than Instinct, and their loss was his first game back in almost eight weeks, TSM opted to retain him for the following match.
On the brink of elimination, Tactical shook off his playoff and first-game jitters to secure TSM a much-needed victory and delay their elimination at least one more game. Now tied at 2-2, the final game swung heavily in FlyQuest’s favor for the majority of the early and mid-game. Where most inexperienced players would have already given up, Tactical stepped up to bring TSM back into the game. Using his years of experience under a championship team in Team Liquid, Tactical managed to help TSM rally and win the final match, pulling off an upset that highlights the importance of the LCS’s eight-team playoff format.