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Team SoloMid and the SK Telecom T1 Model

by theScore Staff Aug 28 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / NA LCS Summer 2016 / Riot Games

Team SoloMid’s magical ability to sap a jungler of his energy has been somewhat of a running joke in the North American League Championship Series for the past few years. Relying on importing European junglers known for their aggressive carry potential, these same players widely fell flat on North American soil and were subsequently seen as failures by the legions of TSM fans. Since the arrival of Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider, who was followed by Lucas “Santorin” Larsen and last split, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, the magical space-time pocket that consumed their previously-displayed carry prowess remained undiscovered. Both Amazing and Santorin had strong performances on other teams upon leaving TSM, and Svenskeren’s initial foray into the NA LCS after his time on SK Gaming seemed to fit the pattern — excellent individual carry prowess but ill-suited for TSM.

This joke has lost a lot of steam recently thanks to Svenskeren’s strong performances in the 2016 NA LCS Spring Playoffs and his subsequent Summer split play. Svenskeren has ascended above his import brethren and reached a comfort level with TSM where he fits perfectly, rather than standing out as another failed carry jungler for TSM. Understanding how Svenskeren has succeeded where others have not involves a look through TSM’s history.

Across multiple iterations extending as far back as the era of Andy “Reginald” Dinh as the team’s mid laner, TSM has primarily been a mid-focused team. Back in the latter half of Season 2, Seasons 3 and 4 and as late as 2015, this wasn’t uncommon, and didn’t specifically isolate TSM from any other NA team by playstyle.

The way the team plays the jungle position — and a good deal about initial concepts of jungling — came from Brian “TheOddOne” Wyllie, who is fondly remembered for pioneering Maokai jungle and his Nunu counter-jungling among many other things. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s arrival to TSM in late 2013 ushered in a new era, but ensured that the team would remain mid-focused for years to come.

Comparing any individual player to Faker will inevitably find said player lacking in comparison. Yet, what is interesting about the Bjergsen to Faker comparison specifically is the myriad of roles they have played for their respective teams — both of which have remained at the top or just below the top of their regions. TSM and SKT have continued to play around their mid lane first, rather than defaulting to a more jungle, top or AD carry-focused style to suit the meta. Even when they devote more in-game resources outside of the mid lane, Bjergsen is the pivot around which TSM revolves. This year was the year that Bjergsen ascended beyond simply the best mid laner who could visibly carry TSM to the best player in NA LCS history.

When SKT needed to shift their attention to Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, Faker adjusted. At the 2015 World Championship, Faker received the lowest percentage of his team’s total gold (23 percent) of any mid laner at the tournament. When Kang “Blank” Sun-gu was initially struggling in the jungle, it was Faker who shifted, playing the likes of Lissandra, Azir and come playoff time Zilean, to control SKT’s teamfights. This allowed Blank to become more of a DPS carry when needed, and affected SKT’s side lanes while Blank farmed.

This year, Bjergsen has played in a similar fashion for TSM, adjusting his role accordingly while continuing to be the most reliable player in North America.

Throughout 2015, TSM waxed and waned, often struggling to find their stride despite taking the 2015 NA LCS Spring title and winning the Season IV IEM World Championship.

Most interesting was the team’s appearance at MSI in 2015. Touted at the time as NA’s best chance at winning an international event, TSM crashed and burned, failing to make it out of the group stage. Their only win came against International Wildcard Representative Beşiktaş e-Sports Club. Bjergsen spent his time on Urgot, Ziggs and Cho’Gath. Opposing teams easily exploited TSM’s lack of support and resources to then-top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill, and Bjergsen did not fall back on his typical stable of assassins to carry the team. During the 2015 NA LCS Summer split, TSM received contrary criticism — that they were overly reliant on Bjergsen. The Danish mid laner accounted for 42.5 percent of his team’s total damage, the highest of any mid laner in the season, while Jason “Wildturtle” Tran did 24.2 percent, the worst of any starting NA AD carry. Upon TSM’s 3-0 loss to Counter Logic Gaming in the summer finals, and failure to advance from the group stage at the 2015 World Championship, it was time for changes.

TSM attacked the 2015-16 offseason. Dyrus retired, Wildturtle left, TSM picked up rival CLG’s world-class AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, signed Gravity Gaming’s promising top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, SK Gaming’s former jungler Svenskeren and topped it off by acquiring former Fnatic star Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, the latter of whom was fresh off of Fnatic’s run to the 2015 World Championship semifinals.

However, what looks good on paper is rarely an exact translation in practice, and TSM spent the majority of the 2016 NA LCS Spring split looking confused and lost. Doublelift and YellOwStaR were never on the same page in lane, YellOwStaR got caught out during routine warding patterns and no one from the team followed up on his engages, TSM’s laneswaps set Hauntzer behind from the get-go and Svenskeren was a complete non-factor. Often, the only thing keeping TSM afloat was Bjergsen, whose consistency was welcome on a team that Doublelift described in a broadcast interview as being “like solo queue.”

Yet, something clicked with TSM in playoffs. TSM shifted gold away from Doublelift and to Svenskeren in the jungle who became a DPS carry on the likes of Nidalee and Graves. Bjergsen controlled games with Azir and Lulu, hopped on Zed and LeBlanc to best his opponent in lane, and even brought out Vel’Koz, stymying Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s Azir.

The arrival of rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang for Doublelift, meant a strong bot lane built for 2v2 dominance, in contrast to YellOwStaR's style which is more focused on roaming. Svenskeren has come alive more utility-oriented options like Rek’Sai and Gragas and has since become the team’s primary initiator. Always behind him, backing him up, is Bjergsen, whose Zilean transformed teamfights for TSM, allowing Svenskeren to dive further and still live. They have returned to an older playstyle, which relies on strong lanes to overwhelm and push opponents before attacking them in the mid game when the time comes to fight over objectives.

TSM are again the strongest team in NA and are bound for their eighth straight LCS Finals — there has never been a finals match since the inception of the LCS system without TSM. Much of this is thanks to plucking Bjergsen from Ninjas in Pyjamas at the end of Season 3. The Danish mid laner has continued to grow, evolve, and expand a vast array of playstyles and champion picks, doing whatever TSM has requested of him while remaining an ever-present threat for opponents, always commanding attention. His flexibility gives TSM free reign in how they can distribute resources among the rest of their players and makes TSM a continuous contender for the NA LCS title. As long as they have Bjergsen, they’ll be one of, if not the best team in North America.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.