Last season's NA LCS Grand Finals started a chain reaction to where we sit now halfway through week five of the Summer split. Team SoloMid took home their second straight NA championship, knocking off rivals Cloud9 to bring their overall tally to three LCS crowns.
Reeling from back-to-back silver finishes in NA, Cloud9 decided to make their first roster change in 100 LCS matches, switching out captain, shot-caller, and mid laner Hai for the European amateur Incarnati0n.
The win against Cloud9 and an IEM world championship victory earlier in the year put expectations onto TSM heading into the Mid-Season Invitational. Those expectations were doused early, the North American hopefuls getting eliminated from the tournament in the group stage on home soil.
Albeit holding a stronghold over their domestic region and winning countless titles, TSM's goal was the end of the year Worlds in Europe. Victories against home teams were fine and expected, but their true aspiration was to beat the Asian powerhouses in the fall and take home North America's first Summoner's Cup in the game's history.
With their persistent and predictable style broken down by the top teams at MSI, TSM also went into the second half of the NA LCS year needing to change their ways if they wanted to reach their ultimate destination.
The best way to describe Team SoloMid last season would be cruise control. Their unsurprising playstyle and over-reliance on Bjergsen's carrying talents were never truly punished, TSM's sluggish play getting them to a top spot in the regular season and a defense of their title in the playoffs.
The ignoring of Dyrus in the top lane to focus on objectives was a constant narrative last season, the three-time NA LCS champion being left on an island alone to get slaughtered for most of the game. No team really snowballed the advantage they gained from Dyrus, and if they did, TSM were able to fall back on their late-game prowess to pull off a quick reversal or steal a game that they probably shouldn't have won.
And, if all else failed, TSM went back to where they always began: hoping Bjergsen can pull them through with a clutch outplay or can lead the team back from the brink. With the best player in the league on their team, no matter how dire the situation got, Team SoloMid could always trust in their ace to make something happen to bring them back to life.
This way of playing was flushed out at MSI, the other regional champions making quick work of a slower-paced, stagnant TSM. The other top laners were more than happy to get an advantage and carry at their positions, and the old trick of Bjergsen didn't work out quite as well when his opponents were Faker, Pawn, and Febiven.
While there was a chance that TSM's old standby of throwing everything at Bjergsen and ignoring the top lane in the process could result in a third straight title, TSM have decided to switch up their style this season. Not in first after the first seven games of the season, they still sit at a respectable 5-2, winning five of their last six after dropping the opening game of the season in a comeback loss to the new Cloud9 roster.
TSM's biggest change from last season to now is in the top lane with Dyrus. TSM's top laner went through last season with only 27 kills through 18 games, dying a staggering 57 times as a result of how TSM played the map and what they put their resources towards.
Quite possibly the biggest stat from Dyrus last season was his kill participation, only partaking in roughly 51% of TSM's kills. The rest of the TSM sat comfortably around 70% and above in the category, Dyrus being the outlier, dying constantly and playing by himself while the rest of his team won games.
This season has already shown a considerable difference seven games in. Dyrus is already at 23 kills, his deaths are lowered, and his kill participation is up 14% from last season. Santorin and the rest of the team are focusing more on helping and playing around Dyrus in the laning phase, and in return Dyrus is doing well in lane and helping out in team fights with the necessary items he's allowed with the extra income in the early game.
It isn't a whirlwind change and Dyrus isn't all of a sudden the best player in the league or the team's ace — that is and should be Bjergsen — but TSM are now showing that they can play on all sides of the Rift.
TSM's biggest worry heading into the rest of the regular season is WildTurtle in the AD carry position. With Dyrus' rise in the top lane, Turtle's reverted back to the problems he appeared to mature out of last season. His deaths are considerably up, currently dying five more times than Dyrus has this season. He only has one more kill than Dyrus, his stats are down, and the rookie mistakes of getting caught out and being mispositioned are coming back to bring down a TSM team that are trying to adapt their style.
Lustboy's stats and play are solid as ever and consistent for the most part next to last season's totals, but Turtle will need to get back into the shape he was last season if TSM want to be a force reckoned with at Worlds.
Bjergsen is Bjergsen. He's the two-time NA LCS MVP. He's the best player in the NA LCS. He's the ace of TSM. We can talk about the team changing up their style, and we should, it's an important step in TSM's evolution, but they will still need Bjergsen to be their best player if they want to do anything at Worlds.
Due to Turtle's shortcomings so far this season, Bjergsen's picked up the slack, already on a pace to break his regular season kill score of last split. His kill participation remains steady, hovering around 80% when it comes to being apart of TSM's kills. Bjergsen's most telling stat from last season to now the percent of damage he does for the overall team, shooting up to 37% from last campaign's 34%.
The reconstructing of TSM's foundation and style is going well. They aren't blowing out many teams and aren't playing to the level they're capable, but the improvements and growth are there. A reinvigorated Dyrus and monster in Bjergsen with a supporting staff of Santorin and Lustboy is a step up from last season's squad, but they need WildTurtle to be the final piece of this developing and ever-changing puzzle.
And then there is Cloud9.
The opposite record of TSM after the first seven games, 2-5, their rebuilding effort hasn't gone as smoothly. Instead of only needing to change their style of play and varying up their strategies, Cloud9 have needed to adjust to a copious amount of changes.
They traded out their leader and shot-caller for an amateur player with his prominence coming solely from his play in solo queue. With Hai getting moved out as the voice of the squad, it also meant that Meteos, their star jungler and secondary voice on the team, would need to step up into the role as captain and main shot-caller.
If you look at the stats, the most worrying thing about Cloud9 is that Incarnati0n isn't their biggest problem. He hasn't lit the world on fire or been carrying games on assassins, but he's been doing a decent job as a rookie coming into his first pro season. He accounts for almost 40% of C9's overall damage, is involved in 72% of their kills, and has been able to make big plays in the late-game if given the opportunity. Instead of him being awful and being the obvious problem for the team, he's been able to hold his own against most of the league's mids.
The big problem for C9 is that they are a macro team. Hai, no matter what his stats said in kills or deaths, did a lot more for C9 than just scorelines could tell. He was their voice and general, moving the pieces across the map like a maestro chess player, knowing when to attack and make a sweeping move to capture the enemy's objectives.
The current C9 have the pieces of a team that is probably better in the long run than Hai's C9 squad, but they don't have anywhere near the same synched movements or overarching play on the map. Instead of the genius maneuvers and outsmarting C9 were known for, they're now a team that comes off as disorganized, falling behind early and not able to do anything when they fall into a hole.
This was to be expected. Maybe not to the extend that they've suffered through the first seven games, but it was something that the team knew was going to happen. A top two bye would have been nice if everything came together and the stars aligned, except the NA LCS isn't a Disney movie — it takes time, sometimes a great amount of time, for a team to come together.
C9 don't have a Bjergsen, and that's one of the reasons why they picked up Incarnati0n. They want that ace carry that can stack up with the world's best and can bring back games from impossible deficits. Incarnati0n's putting out damage and performing a few flashy plays, but he isn't on the same playing field as Bjergsen yet.
As with the team shot calling, the team gelling as a five man unit without Hai, and adjusting to all the changes, everything is going to take time; C9 either has get back to their old macro style of playing the map or find a new identity we've never seen from them before.
It isn't time to start throwing dirt on C9's grave and preparing the eulogy for their funeral. The players and management are there to make a top tier team in the West. Everyone knew it was going to take weeks or even months to come together, and it's now a race against the clock to see if they can do it before they fall too far outside a playoff spot.
If C9 can grab one of the bottom playoff seeds and head into the playoffs with a full head of steam, Worlds should be on the horizon.
If not, it's going to be a long winter for the former kings of North America, wondering if shooting for the stars was the thing that brought down the sky all around them.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions.
Stats for the article from http://oracleselixir.com/