Hours after SK Telecom T1 solidified itself as League of Legends' first true dynasty, news that would shake the western region's landscape suddenly broke in rapid succession.
Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, the star player from the reigning North American champion Counter Logic Gaming, had been released due to unreleased reasons. That news, before it could even be digested and speculated upon, was followed up by a video released by Team SoloMid. In said video, TSM's lone remaining starting player and ace carry, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg finds the recently released Doublelift under a pile of garbage, gifts him his very own TSM uniform, and then we watch as the abandoned champion throws his old jersey in the trash.
And with that video (which was less than three minutes long), the entire North American scene had been turned on its head. Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid, one of the fiercest and longest standing rivalries in eSports, appeared to be leaning in the direction of CLG. Often seen as TSM's tortured arch-nemesis, constantly losing in the postseason and imploding in the clutch, CLG had pulled off their most successful season in LCS history this past summer. They broke through the first round of the playoffs, made it all the way to the Grand Finals in New York City, and then topped it off with a magical 3-0 shellacking of TSM at Madison Square Garden, winning their first NA LCS championship over the team that beat them consistently over the past three years.
That night in New York was supposed to be the rebirth of the new Counter Logic Gaming: Doublelift as a more mature and more reliable team player at the helm with the rest of the team standing behind him. They talked about going to Worlds and believing it was possible to win the whole thing. TSM were in a daze, having stagnated as a starting five over the year and not fixing their inevitable attempts of always trying to get into the late-game for Bjergsen to carry them.
Watching CLG celebrate and act like a close-knit family that had powered through strenuous hardship to ultimately dethrone their greatest adversaries was a moment that their faithful fans had been dreaming of for ages. This was the renaissance of Counter Logic. Xmithie's visa issues were fixed days before the World Championships began, giving CLG no excuses after getting drawn into the 'Group of Life.' There were murmurs of the squad doing well in scrims, as Asian teams expressed that they were a team to watch out for. TSM were thrown into a group they were expected to get swept in and all signs were pointing to them needing to retool their when their tournament came to an end.
Now, thousands of people who supported CLG have now gone over with Doublelift to the team that many of them hated days earlier. TSM have wiped their entire roster and started from scratch with the exception of Bjergsen, as they've added the other best western player to their roster with three spots left to fill and an entire offseason still left to scout. Reginald, their founder, former starting mid laner, and owner, has pushed the reset button on his domestic powerhouse.
Meanwhile, the currently engulfed kingdom we call CLG have already made three major changes since failing to make it out of the group stages. Gone is their coach Chris, the reason for his removal being an apparent deviation of the team's culture and a breach of trust within the organization. Along with Doublelift, Pobelter was also taken off the starting roster. With the departure of their star AD Carry as well, the band of brothers that sat on stage with the NA LCS championship two months ago are nothing more than a distant memory — an optimistic, blissful dream that has transitioned into a nightmare with the team's best player wearing the uniform of the sworn enemy.
Team SoloMid needed a complete overhaul, and that is exactly what they've done through the first week of free agency. A team that was reliant on one player to carry them repeatedly in the late-game with little to no variance in their strategy. Dyrus, the team's longest tenured starter, retired from pro-gaming immediately following their final match at worlds. A few days later, Santorin and Lustboy left the team and the organization announced that they would be holding tryouts for the AD Carry position. To top off the deconstruction of the 2015 squad, Locodoco was removed as the team's starting coach and transferred to another job within the organization.
At long last, TSM had finally become their namesake. While at times that's how the team felt when they were slumping, Bjergsen having to do the hard lifting as his teammates were impotent in their play, this was the part of the video game where the player is tired of having to play on the hardest difficulty and starts over with their main weapon still intact. TSM blew everything up, deciding that although their Worlds roster quite possibly could win NA LCS once again in 2016, it would have likely ended in disaster when they met the top teams from the other regions on the international stage.
Instead, Reginald did what he's done before, just on a larger scale. TSM's outspoken owner has never been afraid to pull the trigger on a roster move if he feels like it can take his team to the next level or get them back on track. This season when WildTurtle was going through his slump, they brought in Keith, the former Team Liquid AD carry, to fight for the starting position and attempt to revitalize his starting ADC. The move didn't result in much, Keith only playing in one game before he vanished into the shadows to await his next call from a team to motivate their starting ADC. TSM eventually fell to CLG in the summer finals of the LCS and only won one game at the World Championships, forcing for the plug to be pulled on the current iteration of the team and start anew with their lone Dane in the mid lane searching for his new comrades.
A brazen choice, sure. Anytime you are a top domestic team, popular with the fans, and seemingly comfortable in your position, it's easy to shrug your shoulders, maybe make one roster move, and hope that things can improve with that one changing piece. What Reginald did was look at his North American castle with three NA LCS titles in total and five straight World Championship appearances, realize that international mediocrity wasn't good enough, and burned the structure to the ground. Already with the signing of Doublelift, it's clear that the mission for this newly built Team SoloMid isn't another North American title or even a trophy at on of the year's mid-season events. As unlikely and preposterous it sounds currently with only two starters signed and no head coach in place, TSM are creating a squad to win the Summoner's Cup.
The last year for Team SoloMid, outside of a few occasions, has been a single threat team: the sword of Bjergsen in the middle lane. Everyone else was a shield that stood in front of the Danish carry so that he could get into the late-game where he could carry and eventually, with some big plays and help, win the game. Doublelift's signing means that they'll now have a second weapon, a polished, refined gun, to bring into battle heading into the next year of games.
Bjergsen is a player that has done nothing but impress from the technical side of the game ever since he was picked up two years ago. You honestly couldn't ask for more from a kid who came over from Europe into a new environment and excelled from his first matches with the team. Due to his squad's need for him to carry at all times and no one there to take a piece of the burden, it became too easy for opposing squads to plan against SoloMid. Every time Bjergsen stepped onto Summoner's Rift, you might as well have painted him bright red and put a sign over his head saying I AM THE TEAM. COME KILL ME TO WIN!
Above all else, Bjergsen needed someone he could rely on.
Doublelift is a player who, like his former team's history, can be considered a tragic figure. One of the best days since the beginning of League in the western scene, he's repeatedly been able to put up big games, grab Pentakills, and be one of the sharpest micro players in the region. But, even with his individual skill, there was always talk about his attitude — not gelling with teammates or forcing the play too much in his direction. Regardless of how many kills he put in a game or how many wins he picked up in the regular season, it didn't matter as long as he couldn't win the NA LCS.
When he finally reached the top of the ladder and won the title this summer finals as the team's MVP throughout the playoffs, it felt like he'd quieted his critics with his team play, evolution as a player. He was a true ace that could possibly lead a team into the Top 8 of the World Championships. As his luck would have it, the height of his career would also be the end of his time on CLG, losing at Worlds with a disappointing 2-4 record and leaving the team he had played on for four years only days later.
For Doublelift, especially with his departure from CLG, needed a player that he could put trust into that would help him breakthrough into a new level of play.
Together, they might find what they've been looking for.
The main issue on paper with the pairing of the two North American stars is the obvious fact that they're both alpha dogs. Bjergsen and Doublelift both take up a lot of gold and have been the primary carry of their teams for the past two years. In Bjergsen's case, it's been a necessity for him to carry games with the lack of production from the other parts of the lineup for a majority of the year. And while it'll be a big change for the pair to play together on a team, I think they're both in a stage of their careers where they can fully appreciate having another ace by their side.
For Bjergsen, his next step in his career will be what Faker has done so well on SK Telecom T1. Faker doesn't need to carry games to bring pressure or a massive amount of gold to output damage and win fights. He can play all sides of the game as he trusts his side lines of MaRin and Bang to carry with their own skill. When it comes to one-on-one ability and skirmishing, I'm not worried about Bjergsen when it comes to getting less attention and gold. He's a good enough player where that won't hinder him too much as long as Doublelift can be influential in the bottom lane.
The big issue with Bjergsen that will need to be addressed now with Doublelift on the team is his shot calling. To the credit of TSM as a team, they were actually a solid group in the first 10-to-15 minutes of the games at the World Championships. Their issues came when they were forced into making bold decisions and made the wrong ones with Bjergsen as the main voice. As I mentioned before, technically, Bjergsen can stand with the best. The next step of his evolution, barring TSM don't pick up an experienced in-game leader to take pressure off of Bjergsen, will be in directing his team. When Bjergsen came to TSM, he was entering Reginald's team. Now, with the last remnants of Regi's old team gone, this is officially Bjergsen's team to run.
We saw it at the beginning of the 2015 year with YellOwStaR and Fnatic. This time Bjergsen is at the heart of the team as he picks up his own teammates to fight alongside him come the new year. Just as there were no excuses for CLG when they dropped in the first round of the World Championships in a perceived easy group, there also can't be any for Bjergsen by the end of 2016, either. He has the keys to the car, a proactive owner that has already proven this offseason he will do everything to win, and a carry partner that he can rely on to help him win games consistently.
The 2016 season starts now for the pair of carries. Despite the fact they're going to be a completely new team, the new TSM squad will be the under the biggest microscope any team has ever been under in NA LCS history. Every win and loss will be dissected with a fine-tooth comb to see how the players are getting along or gelling as a group. The expectations have never been higher for a TSM team or their two stars. They're expected to win and prove that CLG made the worst decision in franchise history. If not, no explanation will satisfy the onlookers — succeed on the world stage or be branded as failures.
In the light of the burning wreckage that is the former Team SoloMid, Bjergsen and Doublelift begin their quest to rebuild what has been lost. For Bjergsen, it's to repay his fallen friends and become the strong leader of his new team. For Doublelift, it's to get revenge on the people that didn't believe in him any longer.
Three pieces remain left to be found.
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.