Team SoloMid's 3-1 victory over Coud9 meant a lot of things — a ticket to Tallahassee for MSI, their third NA LCS title in five seasons — but the most important takeaway from this series is that there is no longer a question about who the kings of North America are. As Cloud9 proved a year ago when they finished off TSM in their back-to-back blowouts to win their two NA LCS titles, the IEM world champions have reasserted themselves as the best team in the entire Western region.
Little would have thought after their disaster against the amateur-turned-pros Unicorns of Love at IEM San Jose that TSM would be where they're at, but they've completed the greatest five months in their team's history. Not only did they go practically wire-to-wire as the top seed in the NA LCS regular season, TSM also brought home an IEM world title following a chaotic weekend that saw them sweep the Chinese underdogs World Elite in the finals.
Even the loss to the Unicorns doesn't look so bad now, as the unorthodox European rookies took their respective region by storm and finished second place in the EU LCS after a close and thrilling final against Fnatic. Santorin, the player who was criticized the most for TSM's falters at IEM San Jose, turned into one of the best Western junglers and took home the Rookie of the Season award for his constantly improving play.
Weirdly, with everything said and done, it still feels like TSM were never forced to shift into the extra gear they showed at IEM. The rest of NA obviously challenged them throughout the season and took important games off them, but with C9's slow start and CLG's backfire at the end of the season, the road to the top seed was relatively painless. They had their eyes set on the final the entire season, doing everything possible to get to that goal and experimenting with champion compositions if given the chance.
TSM lost the first game in both of their playoff matches, yet it seemed to only fuel them to come back in the next three. Impulse and C9 were able to draw first blood against the now back-to-back NA LCS champions, but TSM would readjust and then play more loose in the next three games which led to better performances. The same could be said about how they played at IEM; they got off to a decent start, turning up the pressure as the season went along and eventually climaxing in their best showing of the tournament by sweeping World Elite in a one-sided stomp.
The ultimate goal, as their coach Locodoco and the rest of the team have talked about all season, is the World Championships at the end of the year. TSM didn't do terribly last year, getting to the quarterfinals and even taking a game off the champions Samsung White. But that isn't the extent of what TSM want to be — simply being a scrappy Western team with the potential of maybe getting to the sem-finals is not what they want. They want and firmly believe that their current roster is good enough to win it all in Berlin, Germany when the World Grand Finals take place on Halloween this year.
Until Worlds start to take form in five months, everything else is practice and learning to be the best team possible. This was apparent at the IEM World Championships, winning one of the biggest tournaments of the year, but still talking about how all of it only matters if they can transfer what they learned towards Worlds. The same goes with their performance in the NA LCS. It's an honor to win their third title and make their fifth straight final, and they'll now take all the things they learned from this season and apply it to their next team: the Mid-Season Invitational with the winners of the other regions across the world.
At their core TSM are still the team they've always been — extremely reliant on an aggressive ace in the mid-lane and the rest of the team playing around their star player. It started with Reginald and the responsibility has now been passed down to the shoulders of Bjergsen, who has taken the torch and ran with it. In his now third completed NA LCS season, he has two regular season MVP awards and two championships to go along with his efforts.
While their play is still heavily focused on Bjergsen, and him having a good or bad game routinely decides if TSM can win, they've been sharpening the areas they've been weak on. There were games this season where TSM let WildTurtle take more of a leading role as a carry and even if the team lost with Bjergsen taking a backseat, it allowed Turtle to improve his aggressive positioning and do well in a more focal role.
The same can be said about Dyrus. The stereotype of him being a sacrificial lamb for the greater good of TSM was true for large parts of the season, but this series showcased that he is a lot more than just a lamb that can tank some shots from time to time. Behind all the first bloods and being put down early, Dyrus is one of the best top-laners the Western scene has to offer. On another team with a different style he could be more of a top carry threat and be the type to lead a team through his goal intake, but he plays a more subdued role with TSM and makes it work. Whatever they need Dyrus to do, he will — a veteran who can influence the game if he has four kills at 10 minutes or four deaths at 10 minutes.
Locodoco won Coach of the Season.
Santorin won Rookie of the Season.
Bjergsen won MVP.
They won the regular season title and then for the first time ever won the NA LCS Playoffs without once having to go to a fifth game. TSM were certainly tested at times, but no team, even C9, were able to push the current champions to their limit.
Now looking towards the Mid-season Invitational, we will see if their next gear is flipped on against the Chinese and/or Korean champions. Their season started with a startling upset against UoL, and then TSM locked in for four months of solid, brick wall-type play that came from a strong coaching staff and a team that has a strong chemistry together.
WildTurtle and Lustboy have grown as a strong partnership in the bottom lane. Santorin is getting better each week he plays, becoming more comfortable playing new champions and styles. Dyrus will do whatever TSM needs him to do and be the backbone they need when things get tough. And finally, Bjergsen, their ace, is a world-class player that has the talent to match-up with the best the international scene has to offer.
Team SoloMid are the one true king in North America — but that isn't enough for them.
Team SoloMid are the best team in the Western scene — but that isn't enough for them.
Team SoloMid are a legit contender to make a run for a semifinals at Worlds — but that isn't enough for them.
TSM want to win the world championship and with five months remaining before the tournament kicks off in Paris, France, everything they do will be another step towards that singular goal: lifting the Summoner's Cup and being the one true king in not only North America, but the entire world.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports, and he recaps each week's EU LCS and NA LCS. TSM, TSM, TSM, TSM, TSM, TSM, and so on and so forth. You can follow him on Twitter.