An American Dream: how TSM won the IEM World Championship

by Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger Mar 15 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / theScore eSports

As the confetti rained down to celebrate Team SoloMid's biggest tournament win in their team's history, the five members of the team calmly walked over to center stage to raise their hard won trophy. When most would have expected the Western giants to jump up and down to celebrate their conquering of a major international tournament, TSM approached winning as they had all their games that weekend: relaxed and business-like. 

Of course they smiled a few minutes later and let the cheers of 10,000 fans soak in while they lifted the IEM trophy above their heads, but the way they handled the tournament is why they came out on top. In the semifinals, where they were grouped with the yoe Flash Wolves, GE Tigers and Team WE, TSM were head and shoulders above the rest in terms of international experience.

The Wolves gave them a run for their money by taking the first game in the semifinals, but TSM didn't panic. They took a deep breath, believed in themselves and their teammates, and went on to take the next two games in convincing fashion. While the GE Tigers faltered in the semifinals by tilting against a resilient WE team that rallied around their ace, Spirit, Team SoloMid had little problem dispatching the pesky makeshift Chinese team in the finals.

TSM fell down early in Game 1. Spirit and Xiye resembled the players that helped WE shock the world against GE and they helped their team gain a large mid-game lead. When GE fell into the same position yesterday against WE, they forced things to try and get back into the game, which led to them digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole. The North American team took the opposite approach, making World Elite close it out through their own talents instead of attempting a bold, reckless move that could have backfired easily and lost them the game at that moment.

World Elite made incredible strides in only three days, but they didn't have the experience needed to cleanly close out a game. Their team fighting improved tremendously throughout the tournament and Spirit and the rest of WE should be commended for strong vision control, but knowing how to close out a game is something they couldn't learn in such short time together. GE played so sloppy and haphazardly in the semifinals that WE didn't have to work too hard to finish them off.

Beating TSM wouldn't be as simple.

They stepped back into their base to defend from inside, waiting for WE to make a mistake that they could capitalize on. Lustboy and Santorin came up huge, catching the Chinese team in a precarious position and punishing them for it. Everyone on TSM did their job correctly, they won a decisive team fight that got them back into the game, and WE were left frustrated at not being able to convert on their chance to win the game. The mistakes started to pile for WE, and Bjergsen was finally able to start rolling on his LeBlanc.

The Chinese hopefuls were never the same after their failure to finish off TSM in Game 1 and the defending NA LCS champions didn't let their momentum slip away. They forced WE into more bad team fights and shut the door on them when they were given a chance to end it. 

Game 2 looked good on the outside for World Elite as they grabbed four straight kills on Dyrus in lane. The thing was, however, that while they were picking on Dyrus, the rest of TSM were busy picking up free objectives to put themselves in the lead. If there is one thing TSM is accustomed to, it's sacrificing Dyrus for the greater good, and the top laner knows how to stay relevant even when he is constantly being camped.

The next two games were a showcase of the experience TSM had acquired over the past year: the scrimmages at Worlds last year with countless teams, their quarterfinal match against the champions, Samsung White, and even their embarrassing exit to the Unicorns of Love at IEM San Jose. All of these were  invaluable learning experiences that gave them the edge when they needed it the most.

Against World Elite, TSM's biggest challenger was themselves. No offense to the last-placed LPL team that pulled off the biggest upset in professional League of Legends history, but there are things that a team with only a few days of experience together can't accomplish if the team across the stage from them exploit those weaknesses. Instead of forcing the issue and giving WE chances to win through the laning phase, TSM forced WE to beat them at every aspect of the game and win through their own devices.

While the championship win doesn't cement TSM as the best team in the world, it does confirm that they are a world-class team that is constantly getting better. This doesn't mean there isn't a chance they go back to NA and lose in the playoff semifinals, but they've earned the right to be called a team who is dangerous against any other team in the world. They have the experience, great team synergy, and an ace player in Bjergsen who can match up with the best the planet has to offer.

The biggest takeaway from TSM's win, outside of how battle tested and well prepared they were, is Santorin's emergence as a jungler. Four months ago his head was being called for by fans for losing to Kikis' jungle Twisted Fate in the semifinals of IEM SJ. Now, he stands as a player that TSM wouldn't have won an IEM World Championship without. His improvement has had a steady increase since the NA LCS began, starting out as Bjergsen's shield and now transitioning into a player who can take a more active damage role if called upon.

Outside of the player's stellar performances, TSM's coaching staff and analysts need to be praised as well. Locodoco and the two analysts for the team had their squad ready for every single game of the tournament, only dropping one game to the Flash Wolves and then striking back with two straight blowout victories. Every player on the team, even if it meant taking a backseat and being killed constantly (hi Dyrus), played their part to a tee and helped TSM ultimately come out as world champions.

Make no mistake, TSM most likely aren't the most talented team in the world. But in a professional scene where almost every top team or region has had constant changes in the past year, TSM might just be the most disciplined and have the best chemistry. The IEM world champions aren't going to throw out crazy compositions and beat you in versatility, but they will sit across from you and say, "alright, you have the lead. Now beat us."

It happened against CLG for the top spot in the NA standings and it happened again here in Katowice. When all the cards are on the table, TSM are a well-oiled machine that will jump on any mistake in the late-game and turn it around into a clean reversal. You can continually knock them down and kill Dyrus every other minute of the game, but TSM have proven that they are one of, if not the, hardest team in the world to close a game out against.

In the end, TSM's loss to the Unicorns of Love in the preseason was treated like the worst thing in the world, but turned out the best thing that could have ever happened to them. When Santorin was looked at as a weak link, the team came together stronger than ever and forged possibly the greatest team in TSM's long and accomplished history.

Now, the 2015 Worlds are no longer simply about just getting there. Going to Worlds, doing well enough to make it out of groups and be one of the best Western representatives is not good enough anymore.

If TSM are able to return to Europe this November, their goal is to bring back the Summoner's Cup to the United States of America.

Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports, and he tried his best to bring the best in-depth coverage of IEM Katowice possible. He wonders where he can buy 'WE IEM World Champions 2015' t-shirts and hats. You can follow him on Twitter.