Team SoloMid enter IEM with a lot of good things going for them. They won last year's NA LCS, made it to the quarterfinals of last year's Worlds before getting knocked out by the eventual champions, and currently sit where they're accustomed to being: atop the NA LCS standings. Still, a stigma follows them after all their accolades — TSM live and die by how well Bjergsen plays.
The impression everyone has is that Team SoloMid is summed up in their name; they have an incredibly talented mid-laner in Bjergsen and his play dictates how far the team goes. The team plays around his heavy carry champions and put their attention onto him, creating moments where the other team can focus their energy on making the top lane a living hell for TSM's Dyrus.
The criticism isn't wrong — Dyrus has the most deaths on the team and routinely gives up first blood due to teams knowing TSM's attentions lies elsewhere, but can you blame TSM? Team SoloMid aren't some rookie team that are using a one-pick pony strategy to surprise the better teams in NA LCS. They've been in every single NA LCS final, won two of them, and have made it to three straight World Championships.
As seen at Worlds, a team with the pedigree and talent of Samsung White can pick apart TSM's mid-centric strategies and stop them cold. But that Samsung team is also one of the best teams to play the game and only dropped two games the entire tournament. TSM know that they need to branch out their play style and not put so much weight on Bjergsen's performance, but why change something drastically when it works against their regional competition?
That brings us to Katowice, with teams like the GE Tigers, CJ Entus and SK Gaming entering the picture. When asked about TSM's chances in the tournament, a lot of people will say that it's all on Bjergsen and that if he can beat the other mid-laners, then TSM can win. While that has worked in the NA LCS this past year, this tournament is going to come down to the players around Bjergsen.
TSM are in a group that pits them against World Elite and one of Gambit Gaming or CJ Entus. Bjergsen doesn't lack in skill against any of his opponents, even CJ Entus' CoCo, but the reason TSM doesn't go far or can take a series from their first Korean team will be due to how the rest of the team performs.
The key match-up in their first game against World Elite will be centred around the player who has been overlooked the most this year: Dyrus. WE are bringing a new lineup that will throw a Bjergsen a curveball in the name of Xiye in the mid lane. They are also bringing in Mystic, the former Jin Air AD carry, as the starter after spending time as the No. 1 player on China's solo queue ladder.
The only constant besides WE's ace player - Spirit in the jungle - is their top-laner Aluka. The Chinese player has experienced a nightmarish split in the LPL, having a losing record on every champion he's played; he's seen as the weak point on a team that sits last in the league. Dyrus might be discarded at times when it comes to help up top or fall down early, but the veteran knows how to catch his bearings, settle down and bring himself back into a game when the other team takes him out early.
TSM have opened up the past few weeks to give other players a chance at taking on the lead role, most notably the game where WildTurtle almost had a double Pentakill on Jinx. The amazing performance came in a game they eventually lost, but it showed that WildTurtle can take the pressure off Bjergsen if needed. He leads the NA LCS in kills this season and is bouncing back from a Summer season last year where he didn't play to the best of his capabilities.
Santorin has played the role of the shield to Bjergsen's sword for most of the season, but he's been slowly given more games where he can take more of a carry role in the jungle. He was once known as a jungler that teams could center around as a carry threat, but he's taken much more of a subdued role on TSM where he has been essential in wins through his strong partnership with Bjergsen. With Spirit (WE), Diamond (Gambit), and Ambition (CJ) on his plate in the group, he'll have an opportunity to establish himself as one of the best junglers in the West.
A solid top-laner who can provide a tank and/or utility. A knowledgeable jungler who creates a powerful partnership with the mid-laner. An aggressive mid-laner who makes the big plays and is the ace of the team. A secondary carry in the ADC position that can step up if needed. And a support that can work in a number of different styles and isn't afraid to be a primary engage.
Team SoloMid has changed players throughout their history, but their identity and brand stay true. Bjergsen is the star of the squad, but that doesn't mean he wins by himself. The other four members of the team help Bjergsen to showcase his talents in the mid-lane and be the true ace of the squad.
The playing through mid style will win TSM NA titles, but it won't win them their ultimate goal: toppling Asian teams to win a world championship. The thing is, that they have the talent on the roster to do that.
WildTurtle has the talent to be a strong hyper carry, but he needs to cut down on his league leading AD carry deaths. Santorin can step up as a carry but needs to show consistency and clear up the bad memories of his IEM San Jose performance. Dyrus can be the type of player that destroys Aluka in lane and is at the helm of a victory over World Elite, but he needs the opportunity and tools. Lustboy is Lustboy and will continue being the backbone that does the little things to push his team towards victory in a support role.
TSM get another shot at the world this weekend. It's their chance to prove that their team name might represent many things — a Western dynasty, a fanatical fan base, Oddone — but it doesn't represent the only way they can win games.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports, and he will be bringing in-depth coverage of the IEM LoL World Championships in Katowice. He still hears chants of 'TSM, TSM, TSM' in his sleep due to covering NA LCS. You can follow him on Twitter.