CG shocked the LCS with a 3-1 victory over North American darlings TSM, before pushing CLG to their limits in the postseason in a 3-2 loss. Their run to the semi-finals earned them enough championship points to enter the regional bracket for potential Worlds qualification.
Now star mid laner Damonte has locked his sights on defeating TSM again, and claiming revenge against CLG. He told Dignitas he felt they were better than every team they faced in the bracket, and said he’s ready to show that on the Rift this weekend.
“I would say that we were favorites in every best of five, except against CLG and even then we as a team thought we were better than them,” Damonte said.
“I think TSM is kind of similar to FlyQuest, they lost pretty early and have had a lot of time off so it’s just the same thing where they can either be much better, or they could get frustrated, and if they come back the same as before it shouldn’t be too difficult to beat them.”
Damonte believes Clutch can defeat TSM and CLG in the regional finals.
There were not many that expected Clutch to shine the way they did in the LCS playoffs. After finishing second last in Spring, the Dignitas-backed team improved to a .500 record and scraped into the postseason. There, they flipped their year’s script on it’s head.
While it was a shock for most NA fans, Damonte said the new coaching system changed everything for the players.
“Our new (Dignitas) coaches did an amazing job of coming into the team with only four weeks of LCS left to play and they kind of turned everything on its head,” he explained.
Regional finals first-seed TSM lost 3-1 to Clutch Gaming in the Summer playoffs.
“Since then, we’ve been winning a lot. Their approach to atmosphere and how they were handling the team helped take all five of us and make us click. I think everyone wants to prove (now) that we are not worse than CLG. That rematch is going to be super important.”
If the team can run the gauntlet of three best of five series, the LCS’ fifth-placed team from Summer could be headed for an international event in Europe. It would be the first time since Cloud9 qualified in 2015 that a first-round gauntlet team won all three series.
Clutch Gaming begin their run at qualification to the 2019 World Championship on Friday evening when they face FlyQuest.
CLG and TSM have been seeded second and first respectively in the king of the kill regional gauntlet.
Golden Guardians’ new Mid Laner Nicholas ‘Ablazeolive’ Abbott isn’t a household name yet. While LCS 2021 expectations are low for the rookie squad, he has high hopes of proving pundits wrong.
Worlds 2020 ended on a sour note for North America, more so than any year previously. The region’s failures were being exposed on a platform like never before, and changes were needed.
As it was all going down in Shanghai, Ablazeolive was sitting back home, patiently waiting for a potential call-up to the LCS. Five years after he made his competitive debut in NACS with Zenith Esports, it finally came.
Abbott is one of three rookies Golden Guardians put faith in for LCS 2021. They didn’t take long to impress, beating CLG in their first game at Lock In. Despite the experience gap between the two squads, the youngsters looked like the veterans.
“I actually wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I was a lot more nervous in my Academy debut. I’m not sure why, I’m still trying to figure that one out, but I felt really comfortable,” he told Dexerto.
It took five years and hundreds of Academy games to get his LCS call-up, but Ablazeolive is hungry to make up lost time.
The 22-year-old has been on the cusp of LCS stardom since 2016, but never actually got the go-ahead. It was taxing at times, but Ablazeolive never lost sight of that dream.
“I had a very positive outlook after 2019. I thought from when I was talking to people and their opinions of me, and my own interpretations of my own strength, I thought I was pretty likely to get into the LCS in 2020, and when that didn’t happen, I was pretty disappointed.
“Golden Guardians as an organization showed faith in me and saw the potential and took a chance on me — and I’m very glad that I’m able to show them they were right in choosing me as their Mid Laner.”
Shaped by Bjergsen
Although he never was on stage against the best, behind closed doors, he had the best mentor you could ask for — Soren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg. Two years on TSM Academy with the star Dane taught Ablazeolive not just invaluable lessons in-game, but off the Rift too.
“Naturally, he was really good in-game, and nobody would be surprised to know I learned a lot from him. However, the most important thing he taught me was to not be as nervous on stage. He showed me how to get over it, talked to me, and helped me work it out. I was very grateful for that,” he explained.
While he won’t get the chance to play against Bjerg on stage after his retirement, Abbott isn’t concerned about not giving his tutor a send-off. Instead, he’s trying to build the same reputation himself.
“I like to think he retired because of me. He started out as this unreachable goal and I didn’t know how I could improve and get better than him. While it’s sad I won’t be able to play him, I’m not upset. I’d still feel confident against him, like I’d be confident against any other Mid Laner.”
Ablazeolive won LCS Academy Spring 2019 on TSM Academy while under Bjergsen’s wing.
LCS 2021: Year of the rookies?
Ablazeolive is trying to turn around the perception of NA Mid Laners as a whole too. There’s been a distinct shift in the NA mindset this off-season — away from importing every half-decent European player. Instead, the focus has become on local, homegrown talent.
Golden Guardians is the epitome of that, but they’re far from the exception. Immortals, Dignitas, and FlyQuest have all done the same. This is especially true in the Mid Lane, with six North Americans finally outnumbering their European counterparts for the first time in years. This investment in Academy players, in Ablazeolive’s eyes, is the only way NA can redeem themselves internationally.
“That’s the only way NA can rebuild itself. Relying on imports and other regions to supply our good players isn’t going to be a realistic strategy to become dominant or even competitive at Worlds. You have to be able to take these risks on these younger talent, and I think this year, a lot of teams have done that which is very surprising,” he said.
“It’s great that we have so many [Academy Mids] coming up, because it’s always been a meme that NA Mids are really bad, but it’s also because no one tries to play them. Maybe if we play and get the exposure and practice, then we can show our improvement.”
Worlds isn’t on the horizon yet for Ablazeolive. However, LCS playoffs are.
All eyes on LCS 2021 Playoffs
It’s a long-term plan, but it’s one that ultimately could shift where NA ends up in the global power rankings. Worlds might seem like a distant dream for Ablazeolive for now, but he’s at least confident Golden Guardians can defy expectations and really show what homegrown talent can do.
“A lot of people aren’t expecting us to make Playoffs, but personally from scrims and how we’ve been playing, I’d actually be quite surprised if we didn’t make Playoffs. A lot of the teams, at least starting off, don’t look like they’re fully together yet.
“This isn’t going to be the same Golden Guardians in five months, or three months. We’re going to get better — the difference between us at the beginning of scrims and now is mind-blowing, and that’s very directly attributed to our coaching staff helping us out individually and as a team.”
Golden Guardians next play against the top-of-the-table 100 Thieves on Friday, January 22 at 4PM PT.