Team SoloMid went into their opening round of the NA LCS playoffs with seemingly the whole world against them. Since winning the IEM World Championship tournament back in March, an added pressure was levied onto the shoulders of North America's premiere team. They no longer only had to do well in the LCS and succeed there, but there was now the expectation that getting through the group stages at Worlds wasn't enough. They left Katowice that March as a team that believed they could stare the Korean and Chinese giants in the eyes as equals come Worlds in the fall.
All of their goodwill from winning at IEM was quickly burned come the next big international event, the Mid-Season Invitational, where Team SoloMid were dissected by the champions of the opposing four regions. Although Korea's SKT T1 and China's EDward Gaming were matches TSM weren't favored in, they were embarrassed by Fnatic from Europe and ahq from Taiwan as well, the North American bannermen being sent back to the NA LCS as a team that couldn't live up to the expectations they set for themselves.
The summer season of LCS has been TSM's struggle between trying to toe the line between what makes them great domestically and prepare for another chance at the world's best. When it comes to players in North America, there is no better carry than TSM's Bjergsen, the two-time LCS MVP outputting over 40% of his team's damage. While TSM's reliance on Bjergsen didn't hurt them in the LCS, it was painfully torn apart at MSI, the top teams from the other regions ripping through TSM's weak early-game and burying them in the ground before Bjergsen could gain relevance in the match
The question nagging TSM the entire split was who on the team could pick up the slack for Bjergsen. Maybe the one man show could get them through another LCS campaign and back to Worlds as one of NA's three seeds, but what would happen when they played against the likes of T1 or EDG again? Heading into the postseason as a franchise worst fifth seed, there was still no answer if any of the other players on TSM could help their Danish mid laner shoulder the burden of being a core piece of the team's victories.
Dyrus, for the lack of better words, has been the sacrificial lamb for TSM over the past year. With the addition of Santorin to the squad at the beginning of the year, TSM's style of playing didn't change: Bjergsen was the main carry, and Santorin did everything possible to help him get into the late-game with an advantage. This left Dyrus up alone in the top lane, usually never getting any help and dying countless times in the lane phase as his team would turn him into a martyr to grab objectives across the map.
After the MSI debacle, TSM's top laner became more assertive in the early parts of the summer season, a noticeable difference from the previous season. He was getting involved in more team fights, dying less, and getting more attention from his team in the early-game instead of being left on an island to die to constant attacks from the enemy team. His optimal play would trail off as the split went along, TSM falling back into bad habits and again putting all their hopes into the Bjergsen basket, the team going through a late-season slump that took them from first to fifth by the end of the regular season.
Come their first round series against Gravity, it was expected to be a battle between Bjergsen and Gravity's attempts to stop the best player in the region. WildTurtle still wasn't putting up the numbers or playing like he did in the previous season, going through one of the worst stretches in his pro-gaming career. Santorin was still seen as Bjergsen's shield, doing little to influence the game in terms of damage, and his primary duty being to do anything in his power to make sure his mid laner experienced a smooth road to his late-game carry status.
Dyrus was Dyrus. The longest tenured player on TSM, having seen the likes of Chaox and Xpecial come and go, and even watching as Reginald transformed from a player to a manager, was the rock that everyone who followed SoloMid could rely on. He did his job admirably in any role he was given, possessing the ability to play more than a simple tank or utility champion, but doing anything necessary to get his team to another victory and a step closer to a fourth LCS championship.
When he locked in Olaf to begin the series against Gravity as the last pick in the draft, it was a shock. TSM already locked in Lulu, a champion Dyrus has played countless times as utility in the top lane, it seemed apparent that he would pick up the pixie wielding witch once more to support whatever champion Bjergsen wanted to pick to counter Gravity's line-up. Instead, it was a role reversal, the former MVP going onto a champion with less late-game damage impact while giving Dyrus the core role of playing Olaf, the freight train-like viking that terrorized back lines of enemy teams with the ability to carry the game through his influence.
The pick was successful, TSM caught Gravity off guard with their curveball and won the first map in the Bo5 series. The pick didn't actually result in Dyrus carrying the game through kills, Bjergsen still racked up the most Gravity bodies in the game with 3 in a low-scoring opening affair. SoloMid went back to Olaf in the next two games as well, with Dyrus having his marquee performance in the third contest, securing a quadra kill on the viking and ending the victory with an impressive scoreline of 7/1/5.
"Even though it looks like I've been given more of the carry role, that wasn't the intention of the team at all," Dyrus told theScore following TSM's birth into the semifinals against regular season champions Team Liquid. "We aren't treating me as a carry role, we are treating me as a top laner who should do the right thing and call for things at the right time and even though Bjergsen was on Lulu, we never viewed him as a more supportive role, we just viewed him as someone who is going to team fight and do his job. Everything that we did together we never swapped positions with the carry role, we kind of just picked what was best for the team like I said before, and I never really thought about it that way and not thinking about it that way probably has less pressure on me, because I feel like everyone on our team was a huge threat."
His dominating performance on the third map flowed directly into the final game of the series, Dyrus this time diverging away from Olaf and picking up the all-around champion Gnar. It was another game where he output pressure across the map, not dying once in his 5/0/5 performance that gave him the honor of securing the most kills for TSM in back-to-back maps. Gravity, a team that beat SoloMid in draft and strategy a few weeks prior in the regular season were knocked out of the postseason by the same team. This time SoloMid was the squad that was faster on the trigger in terms of shaking up their stagnant strategies and priorities.
"I never really enforced anything, I just played what was the strongest champion. I never said I should play a passive style, or I should be a carry oriented style - it's never like that. It's 'I'm going to play the strongest champion available to me and I'm going to play it the correct way'. In the past I've had problems playing carry champions because I have a problem not being greedy, so my nature as a top laner is passive, but my nature as a player is 'I'm just going to play the strongest champion.'"
That is Dyrus in a nutshell. He'll play whatever champion that he feels has the best percentage to get his team the W, be it in the form of a slab of meat in the top lane for opponents to chase after, or picking up a carry champion that can lead his team in kills. If WildTurtle was in better condition or was put into a role to carry the game on a high priority champion that slipped through the cracks, Dyrus would fall back onto a Maokai or similar champion, playing in whatever way he was directed to help SoloMid get an inch closer to the Summoner's Cup in Berlin.
SoloMid, already confirmed to play at Madison Square Garden in two weeks, will move to the semifinals this coming Sunday against the top seeded Team Liquid. It will be a jump in competition and experience, TL ending the season on a high note and rolling into the postseason with momentum while Gravity, TL's former academy team, faltered to end the season. It will be another test of TSM's weaker early-game, Liquid leading in a majority of the early-game statistics and when it comes to gold advantage at 15 minutes.
It will be a battle between TSM's togetherness and ability to believe in one another up against Liquid's individual talent in their three main carry positions. Quas, Fenix, and Piglet all hold the firepower to carry Liquid if given a small advantage in the lane phase. SoloMid will hope to defuse the explosiveness of Liquid's offense and turn it into a war of attrition they strive in, using their superior team fighting, late-game objective control and map movement to get them to their sixth straight NA LCS championship.
With the NA LCS field now cut down to four, Dyrus sits at a table of top laners who can all be core carries on their team. Impact, from Team Impulse, is one of the aces of his squad, teaming up with his Korean partner in crime Rush to paint the Rift in the blood of their opponents. CLG's ZionSpartan was the top laner with the most solo kills of anyone at his position in the regular season, famously known for his split pushing exploits. And finally, Dyrus' next opponent, Quas, the player who began the year by putting Liquid on his back for the majority of the season while their Korean carry imports in Piglet and Fenix got acclimated to their new surroundings and teammates.
In regards to his remaining peers in the top lane, Dyrus told theScore, "In the past I've ranked Impact as the best top laner NA, but recently he has been playing more of a supportive role, and even if he is strong mechanically, I feel that his talents are misused. Same for Hauntzer I feel like their talents are misused on more passive top laners and that is because the meta has changed so I believe that if Impact plays a carry champion, I would consider him the best. After that, Quas and ZionSpartan are on even footing in my opinion and for me, I'm probably on even footing with them."
Dyrus doesn't need to be regarded as the secondary carry of SoloMid. The champion that he selects doesn't matter — the result at the end of the game is the only thing he cares about. He wants to prove that he can stand next to the rest of NA's best top laners, but he'll do it his own way. It could be in the form of a surprise carry pick, or he can play a game where he dies twice in lane as Maokai but does the little things in the late-game that helps the team cross the finish line and destroy the enemy's Nexus.
You can kill Dyrus in-game as many times as you like. As long as he's on the team, he'll keep reviving in the fountain, go back to where he is needed, and do whatever he can to help his team succeed. Possibly retiring at the end of the year, Dyrus' long-lasting memory in North America won't be insane carrying, being a split pushing phenom, or being a meat shield — it'll be being the iron heart that has kept the SoloMid dynasty running over the past three years.
Read the full interview with Dyrus after their quarterfinal match with Gravity here.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.