There seem to be three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Team SoloMid playing in the final match of a NA LCS season.
When No.5 seed FlyQuest plays top-seeded Team SoloMid on Sunday in the NA League of Legends Championship Series spring semifinals, it'll be fighting more than the regular-season champion -- it'll be fighting history. Since the NA LCS began at the beginning of 2013, each split has ended the same: TSM in the finals, playing against either Cloud9 (five times), Counter Logic Gaming (twice), or, in the inaugural split, the now-defunct Good Game University.
Fly's starting mid laner, Hai "Hai" Lam, is no stranger to this fact; he's been a part of most of those C9 teams that faced TSM in the final. Joining him are teammates An "Balls" Le and Daerek "LemonNation" Hart. Not only would a FlyQuest victory go down as one, if not the biggest upset in league playoff history, but it'll be at the expense of TSM's historic streak.
Here are the top four narratives to watch for heading into Sunday's semifinal matchup between FlyQuest and TSM.
1. Can FlyQuest really break the streak?
TSM's eight straight trips to the NA LCS finals cannot be overstated enough. Yes, it isn't the toughest region in the world, and some seasons -- like this very one -- even have the players inside the league saying the teams aren't fully gelled together just yet. Still, going to the finals every single season is a testament to the infrastructure and players inside the TSM organization. Even clubs like Fnatic and SK Telecom T1, who've controlled the European and South Korean regions respectively, haven't made it to the final every single season of their league's existence.
And the seeding doesn't seem to matter -- TSM hobbled into the playoffs as a No.6 seed last spring split. It lost to Counter Logic Gaming in the finals, but still the point remains: TSM made it to the finals.
FlyQuest, on paper at least, shouldn't be the team to end the streak. Immortals, a team that only dropped a single map last spring, was the team that was supposed to finish off TSM in the semifinals. Instead, TSM came alive at the right time, Immortals showed an unwillingness to adapt -- we have not seen top Lucian since -- and it became the next victim in the long list of teams to fail at stopping TSM.
It was a mini miracle for Fly to even get into the semis. It lost its first game to CLG in the first round of the playoffs in the most embarrassing way possible, only picking up a single kill compared to CLG's 22. Down 2-0, FLY had to pull off the reverse-sweep and a comeback in game five to even get into the semifinals.
Eight teams have fallen to TSM in the semifinals. Will FlyQuest become the ninth?
2. The rivalry between Hai and Bjergsen rages on
The the intense rivalry in NA LCS history between Hai and Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg was thought to be over a year ago. Hai was heading into retirement and Bjergsen had just won his third MVP award. Hai returning as FLY's mid laner was a surprise after hinting at possibly not transferring with the team from Challenger to the NA LCS, and now we're back again with the two playing against each other in the playoffs.
The most decorated mid laners in the league's history, each bring a different set of strengths to the Rift. Bjergsen has always been the fire, and Hai has always been the ice. Bjergsen with his fiery, unmatched mechanics, and a technical talent to best anyone in North America. Hai, the most renowned shot-caller NA has ever produced, making cool, decisive calls that are two steps ahead of his opponent.
"I want to show [Bjergsen's] not the best, at least in some categories," Hai told ESPN in a recent interview following the team's victory in the quarterfinals. "Everyone says he's the best all-around mid laner completely, and I want to prove that wrong. Every mid laner has their strengths. I think he's very good with his micro play, but I think I can outsmart him and make better plays for the team. But we'll see if I can do that."
3. Another MVP for TSM -- this time in the top lane?
Bjergsen has won the NA LCS MVP award three times and is the only player to win the honor more than once. Since TSM was formed, the mid lane has always been the point of pride for the organization, and the legacy of its two mid laners, Andy "Reginald" Dinh and Bjergsen, are extraordinary.
That's why what TSM top laner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell is doing this season is special. Once thought of as merely a role player in his early days on former club Gravity, the top laner was handpicked by TSM to replace stalwart starter Marcus "Dyrus" Hill at the position. His growth has been on a steady incline, climbing up the ranks of top laners in North America the last year. At Worlds last year, it was the first time Hauntzer broke out into the limelight, elite players at his position internationally, including at the time ROX Tigers superstar Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, naming him in interviews as a top laner they respected and wanted to play against.
His momentum hasn't slowed down since the kickoff of the spring split. He's developed even more, becoming the best player at his position in the league and even carrying TSM through rough patches in the season. Also, with the absence of large voice Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng in the lineup, he also began to step up as a shot caller, eventually being a large factor in TSM's regular-season crown.
The semifinals should be a place where Hauntzer puts an exclamation point on his possible MVP-winning season. Balls, formerly considered the best top laner in his early days, has transformed into what Hauntzer began his career as: a respectable utility top laner that primarily plays tanks, with the exception of his signature Rumble. Its a lane where Hauntzer should get early advantages, and its the positional matchup where FlyQuest will have the toughest time keeping even, especially if Hauntzer is on his A-game.
Which, aside from a game here or there, has been what's he been on the entire split.
4. Will FlyQuest pull out the bag of tricks?
One aspect of Fly's win over CLG that has been overlooked is the lack of off-meta picks the team chose to go with in its comeback victory. The team was cast as a tricky squad during the split, and that might have been have the been wrong classification if the win over CLG is anything to go off of.
But, against an even tougher opponent in TSM, could we see the return of Galen "Moon" Holgate's ill-fated Shaco? What about Jarvan in the top or mid lane? Blitzcrank? Mundo? Brand? Mordekaiser?
Fly proved it can win games without stepping to its own beat, however, there is always the chance we might see something new come out in the attempt to break TSM's historic streak of NA LCS final appearances.