It’s hard to think of an esports fanbase more intense or widespread than TSM’s. The only one that might rival it is Cloud9’s, but even then, its origins aren’t as old or historic. Until recently, the story of TSM was the same one, and a relatively good one. Winning by far more LCS titles than any other organization, before 2018, TSM was the team that was always capable of winning domestically, but never internationally. Despite Cloud9 and CLG both having their turns on the throne, neither were able to win as consistently as TSM. I mean, they made the final in all of the first ten splits.
Nowadays, it’s a completely different story. After their streak of finals appearance was broken in 2018, they’ve only made one out of the last four; where they didn’t manage to win. Two of those splits they failed to even make it into the top four. This consistent change of fortune meant large roster changes heading into this year; swapping both bot lane positions and their jungler. But some still have doubts about their ability to perform.
Bjergsen (left), Zven (middle), and Aakadian (right).
If TSM is lacking in anything, it certainly isn’t talent. Starting in the top lane, they have maybe the best carry top-laner North America has seen in the past year: BrokenBlade. As his name suggests, he started as a Riven one-trick, which means he’s certainly not foreign to doing damage, and killing things. This became pretty obvious as last season went on. There are really only two people in North America who I trust to play Jax; one is Ssumday, and the other is BrokenBlade. Several times last year, he was given this champion; or many others similar to it; and put the team on his back similar to how certain Korean top-laners do. His lack of experience; both in general and in North America; means he’s lacking in many accolades/accomplishments, but I’m certain he has the ability to take them. The only thing I’d knock him for is his tank-playing ability. He’s certainly not the worst at this, but I wouldn’t ask him to play a tank if I was given the choice.
Up next is the newest addition to TSM: jungler Dardoch. Dardoch is a very interesting character, famous for his outstanding mechanical ability, but infamous for his outstanding tendency to not get along with anyone. Debuting for Team Liquid in 2016, Dardoch immediately started building his highlight reel on champions like Elise and Rengar. And his outstanding performance didn’t stop there. Playing for Echo Fox in 2018, him and Huni were almost entirely responsible for their outstanding success in the first split of the year; finishing at third place in the playoffs. However, aside from that season, he hasn’t accomplished much on any of his teams; finishing fourth or lower in every other season he’s played, failing to make it to the World Championship. His mechanical base has not suffered much over the seasons past his initial one, but I think his lack of leadership and team skills may have held him back from being the All-Star jungler everyone has thought him to be.
Dardoch on CLG.
Quite possibly the opposite of Dardoch is Bjergsen; everyone’s favorite North American (well, Danish really…) mid-laner. Playing for only one North American team in his entire career, Bjergsen has become the entirety of TSM, both as a brand and a player. There is zero argument to be made on the statement that Bjergsen is the best mid-laner in North American history. And the only person who is arguably more successful as a North American player is of course, DoubleLift. Aside from his five North American titles and four World Championship appearances, he is owner of four MVP awards and one All-Star 1v1 championship. He is one of the most popular League of Legends streamers, not just because he’s TSM’s mid-laner, but mainly due to his outstanding skill and laning ability. But just because his team’s performance has fallen off doesn’t mean his personal performance has. At the tail-end of 2018, he was single-handedly carrying his entire team to the playoffs, through the playoffs, and into the gauntlet; destroying Cloud9 with his unstoppable Akali. And despite not getting first place, he managed to snag second in the 2017 All-Star tournament for himself, barely losing to Uzi. So, unsurprisingly, TSM still manages to have the most skillful and most accomplished NA mid-laner to date.
The bot lane is where things get interesting, and a bit more confusing. Coming into 2020, TSM let go of former ADC Zven for new ADC Kobbe. Kobbe is a semi-recent addition to the pro scene, starting off in EU LCS/LEC in 2016 with Splyce, and playing with them for the past four years. On the team, he was able to make two World Championships, including this past year’s, and in 2016, but despite following his initial success with two years of failure, each and every year his performance has only been getting better. This past season, with support Norskeren, he received first place all-pro for his position in spring, and while he didn’t make the all-pro team in summer, his carry potential was one of maybe two reasons for Splyce’s success; the other being jungler Xerxe. Many people have started comparing Kobbe to the ADC they just got rid of; Zven; before he went to TSM, and was one of the best players in the world. But I personally don’t see that exact level of skill out of him, even though I think he’s talented. His performance was significantly better than Zven’s in 2019, but I wouldn’t put it on the level of Zven in 2017.
Kobbe, last year on LEC team Splyce.
The final addition to the roster is a player who already has a history on TSM, and that’s support Biofrost. A couple of years ago, there was no doubt that Biofrost was the best support in North America, but toward the end of his stint on TSM, DoubleLift was vocal about his belief toward Biofrost, saying he didn’t think he was good enough to play with him. This resulted in his departure for CLG, where he’s spent the past two years. His work on TSM was without a doubt the best time of his career, taking them to the world championship and being part of maybe the best bottom lane in LCS history; with only now CoreJJ and DoubleLift rivaling that, in my mind. But since his time on CLG, his biggest accomplishment was in finishing third place this past summer. His mechanical skill hasn’t faltered, however, receiving the honor of being the second all-pro North American support, as he used mage supports like Lux to carry Stixxay and then his team. I trust Biofrost to be one of the top support talents in North America, but I do think this position as a mage-player is what he’s best at. If it’s a tank support meta, I don’t think he’s towards the bottom of the list, but I think he’d rank lower than if he were to play something like Zyra.
The next piece of the puzzle is the one TSM has been missing for the past couple of years, and that’s teamwork. TSM managed to keep their two solo laners from last season, resulting in at least a small backbone for chemistry, but the revival of TSM Biofrost is likely to serve as a decent background for teamwork as well. No one on the team except for Bjergsen has experience with him, but the support + mid duo is important, and will provide a lot just on its own. That being said, they’re once again tasked with implementing a new, European ADC, and jungler along with everyone else; and that seemed to be the biggest issue over the past couple of seasons. This gets even harder when you understand that first, Dardoch has historically been one of the most difficult people to deal with in a team environment, and second, Kobbe has only existed in one team environment his whole professional career. The experience each has had in terms of successful teamwork is either nonexistent, or existent in only one environment.
Basketball player Steph Curry, at the Game Awards, wearing a TSM jacket.
The biggest and most underwhelming factor in TSM’s recent success is the work of the coaching/management. As I said, TSM has rarely lacked talent, and that could be said for the past two seasons specifically. Sure, many people might point to the jungle as being lackluster recently, but I still wouldn’t put Grig or Akkadian toward the bottom of the list, and they had four people surrounding them that were all mechanically outstanding. Because of that, and there not being many huge changes to their coaching staff; with the exception of a few departures; I don’t have much faith in their team to have a good, focused direction. Perhaps Peter Zhang, their head coach, has learned something since the failure of their late summer performance, but unless he has, I don’t know how they’re going to change their staple, “lack-of-identity” that everyone has cited as their largest issue.
TSM already had possibly the greatest top and mid duo in the league coming into this season. Their task in the offseason was to surround them with good players, and teammates, to help them succeed. They certainly didn’t fail on the talent front, grasping one of the greatest European ADCs, the agreed-second-best support in NA, and perhaps the greatest jungler in terms of mechanics, but they still have several issues to work out. I would say their overall talent level is slightly above what they ended with in 2019, mainly coming out of the jungle, but talent doesn’t solve everything. Dardoch does have the potential they’re looking for, but without proper implementation into their system, he won’t provide much at all. Lacking a main focus and playstyle has also recently hindered them from winning championships, and until that somehow has a large turnaround, I don’t believe they’re capable of doing that again. I will say, I find it hard to believe this team won’t at least make playoffs, even with teamwork issues. But I’m looking at this team to be similar to TSM in last spring, where they had a slow start, and eventually ended as one of the best teams as soon as things were figured out. Because of these struggles, I have them finishing fourth or fifth at the end of the season, but then maybe making second or third through the playoffs.