In-depth NA LCS Play-off Preview: TSM's Strengths, Weaknesses, and how they'll do versus Gravity
Team SoloMid (11-7, 5th seed)
For one of the first times in team history, Team SoloMid find themselves limping into the playoffs. Longstanding fans of the team may be surprised to hear that – the team has established a trend of turning it on for deep playoff runs. However, many of TSM’s best performances came only after a run of strong performance heading into the tournament. For instance, TSM was unable to beat the top teams for much of the Season 4 regular season, but the combination of Lustboy and a Locodoco-driven change in Amazing’s playstyle led to a strong run of form heading into the playoffs. A look at the other splits shows a similar pattern. TSM have indeed turned it on for the play-offs, but they have rarely done so off of a dry start.
The only time TSM ever entered the play-offs on a poor note came in the Summer Split of Season 3. In the final round robin of the split, TSM had gone 3-4, and their three wins had came against bottom-feeders Curse, Coast, and Velocity. Nonetheless, Reginald and TheOddOne were able to play a mid-focused strategy, snowballing champions like Zed, Ahri, and Karthus to lead TSM to victory against CLG (who had gone 4-0 against TSM in the regular season) and Vulcun (who had finished the season 20-8 to TSM’s 14-14.) This season, Reginald has once again tried to save TSM with his own hands, this time by stepping in as head coach. Facing a tough play-off lineup with a team full of underperforming players, this will be the hardest challenge of his career.
Strengths: Disruptive teamfighter, stable laner, strong pedigree
Weaknesses: Low damage carry potential, Not good at pushing advantages, Mediocre TP engager
Favorite Champions: Gnar, Rumble, Maokai
Last split, TSM repeatedly sacrificed Dyrus to get their mid and bot side of the map ahead, a decision which Dyrus accepted but which naturally led to some of the worst performances of his career. After their weak MSI performance, TSM resolved to give Dyrus a bigger role in the team, a decision which has been moderately rewarded. Dyrus remains the same player he has been for much of his career. He is a stable laner who excels at disrupting his opponents in teamfights. However, Dyrus’s performance thus far has been solid but not nearly enough for TSM. Bjergsen currently deals over 40% of his team’s damage, the highest in the world. Dyrus has been one of the team’s main culprits. After including tie-breaker games, he deals the second least damage in the LCS, in front of only Balls. While Dyrus’s champion pool isn’t ideal for dealing damage, players like ZionSpartan and Hauntzer have dealt far more damage when they play similar champion picks.
Throughout his tenure on TSM, Dyrus has always shown the potential to step it up and become a major threat – TSM’s strong Season 4 run came in large part due to Dyrus’s manhandling of ackerman and Balls as the play-offs advanced. If TSM wants to perform well, they will need either Dyrus or WildTurtle to rediscover their peak form. Judging from their play over the last year, the most likely candidate is definitely Dyrus.
Strengths: Using synergy once he develops it, vision-centric playstyle
Weaknesses: Early game passivity, hasn’t had good team synergy this split, poor decision making
Favorite Champions: Rek’Sai, Gragas, Jarvan IV
Santorin has been an interesting player during his time on TSM. Fans and pundits alike have suggested that this split’s poor play has suggested that he didn’t deserve last split’s Rookie of the Year award. Indeed, players like TiP’s Rush, Gravity’s Hauntzer, and Dignitas’s Gamsu, who were all rookies last split, have greatly outperformed Santorin. However, one of Santorin’s most important strengths, ever since his time in the Challenger Scene, has been his ability to exploit his synergy with his teammates. On Coast, Santorin played side-lane focused champions like Rengar to easily gank for DontMashMe and Sheep in the bot lane. During TSM’s first split, Santorin was able to adapt to a mid-lane focus with picks like Vi or Jarvan IV. He also developed a strong vision game and would frequently roam for deep wards and skirmishes with Lustboy.
This season, Santorin has taken a massive step backwards. Santorin has seemingly lost his synergy with both Lustboy and Bjergsen, and without teammates to play off of his gameplay so far has been directionless. It’s hard to tell why Santorin stopped working well with his teammates, but TSM needs to resolve this problem immediately. Both Santorin and TSM are at their best when the Danish jungler focuses on ganking mid and scoring vision for his teammates.
Strengths: Still the best player in the NA LCS, dominant laner, extreme damage threat
Weaknesses: Mediocre shotcalling
Favorite Champions: Ezreal, Kog’Maw, Viktor
There really isn’t much to say about Bjergsen. TSM’s star mid laner deals more of his team’s damage than any other player in the world, comes out of lane with more gold than any other player in the league (+160.6 gold at 10 minutes, per OraclesElixir.com), and leads all mid laners in kill participation. It’s true that Bjergsen receives the lion’s share of TSM’s resources. Bjerg receives 28% of the team’s gold but deals 43% of the team’s damage, a disgusting return on investment. Ignoring his team’s mediocre win rate, Bjergsen hasn’t declined at all this season – if anything, his powers have only grown higher.
The biggest issue with Bjergsen is that his weak teammates mean that his champion options always place him in a catch-22. With Santorin’s dwindling early game presence and Lustboy shackled by WildTurtle, Bjergsen is his team’s only early game playmaker. This means that when he plays champions like Ezreal or Kog’Maw, TSM will always find themselves in an uphill battle. Unfortunately, if Bjergsen plays an early-game oriented assassin, WildTurtle’s inability to deal damage this split means that TSM won’t be able to convert their early game advantages. One important fact to note is that Bjergsen is the team’s shotcaller. His shotcalling style has always been a “brute force” approach, but that simply hasn’t worked this season due to TSM’s poor early game. Overall, if Bjergsen wants to win NA Regionals, he has a treacherous road ahead of him.
Strengths: Strong pedigree gives TSM fans some hope for a return to form
Weaknesses: Positioning, terrible damage dealer, poor laning, champion pool (doesn't like to play Sivir), all-around play
Favorite Champions: Corki, Kalista, Tristana
It’s hard to say how much of TSM’s poor performance in the regular season has been due to WildTurtle – his negative impact this season has been tremendous, as he is a burden in the lane phase, teamfighting, and even champion selection. The only reason TSM could possibly be keeping him is that they couldn’t make things work with Keith or are praying for a return to form. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely. While WildTurtle was once a very strong player, he has gotten worse and worse with each passing split since his peak in Season 3. This split, WildTurtle has dealt less damage to champions than any player other than NME’s otter and T8’s maplestreet, who played 2 games. Fans are right to point out that because TSM doesn’t focus on bot lane, Turtle shouldn’t be the team’s main damage dealer, but that understates just how awful Turtle has been. Turtle has taken more gold than Sneaky, Nien, CoreJJ but deals less damage than all of them. Due to TiP’s winning ways, Apollo has more gold than WildTurtle, but WT takes a higher percentage of his team’s gold than Apollo…and still deals less damage. To make matters even worse, the rest of the league has already identified WildTurtle’s lack of teamfighting ability, and have begun aggressively disrespecting him. In GV’s second match against TSM, Keane used his glass cannon Jarvan IV’s ultimate on a 50 HP Bjergsen instead of the full HP WildTurtle. WildTurtle needs to punish this disrespectful play if TSM wants to advance in the playoffs. It’s completely understandable if Altec doesn’t play a hypercarry role like Altec or Piglet – TSM doesn’t set him up to do that. Unfortunately, WildTurtle is performing worse than almost every single player in the league, even though many of these players receive even less resources from their teams.
It’s shocking to say this but WildTurtle’s big issue isn’t even his teamfighting – it’s his awful laning phase. For whatever reason, TSM is terrified of WildTurtle losing lane, and will make poor tactical decisions to accommodate him. For instance, TSM refuses to first pick Sivir or pick her into losing lane matchups even though Sivir is an ideal champ for a poor-performing AD Carry to play. After going 8-0 with Sivir between last split and the first few games of Summer, TSM didn’t pick Sivir again until their Week 9 loss to Cloud9. It's hard to tell if this is a team-wide draft problem or not, but TSM should try and resolve this problem, especially because Sivir is a champion who can be extremely useful outside of dealing damage. These issues extend outside of champion select – Lustboy is loathe to leave WildTurtle in lane, which has crippled his early roams.
Strengths: Playmaking, vision control, one of the few good engagers in NA
Weaknesses: Poor team synergy this season
On an individual basis, Lustboy remains one of the best supports in the West, and possibly the best support of his region. The Korean veteran still boasts the strong defensive playmaking and vision control which has been a hallmark of his play ever since his days playing alongside Cpt Jack on Azubu Blaze. In teamfights, Lustboy will often look to engage before quickly walking backwards to peel for his carries. In the Spring Split, his use of double speed items (Talisman and Righteous Glory) on his beloved Annie and Lulu provided the perfect mix of engage strength and carry defense.
When Lustboy is given the chance to make plays, it seems like he is still one of the better players in the league, but his synergy with his teammates has been poor this season. This has been a strange develop for a player who joined TSM in the middle of the season last year and immediately looked like a natural fit. One of the biggest issues seems to be that he is forced to spend the early game protecting WildTurtle. For this reason he has been unable to roam as much and his roams have come at awkward times for the rest of the team. In particular, Lustboy and Santorin have not done a good job playing together for vision this season. Although rare, some of Lustboy’s engages have also come at poor times for his teammates. For instance, in the Week 9 game against Cloud9, Lustboy flashed forwards to ult the grouped Cloud9 members, but Bjergsen did not flash forwards alongside him to deal damage, leading to a won teamfight for Cloud9. Lustboy is still a strong player, but he will have to communicate better with his teammates if he wants to succeed in playoffs.
Biggest Strengths: Bjergsen’s Firepower, Strong History
Fittingly, Team SoloMid’s most important player has been their mid laner. As mentioned in his player breakdown, Bjerg’s statistics are disgusting. Per OraclesElixir.com, he deals 42.5% of his team’s damage, leaves lane up an average of 160 gold, and was the only player in either league to break triple digits in kills, finishing with 107 kills in 18 games. TSM’s mediocre performance this season makes it unlikely that Bjergsen will win yet another North American MVP, but to me he is still the league’s most valuable player – TSM would be a relegation team if it weren’t for him. If TSM wins this year’s Regionals, it will be on the back of their mid lane prince.
Discussing TSM’s history in Seasons 2 and 3 are largely irrelevant, as only Dyrus is still playing on this current TSM lineup. However, this 5-man group of Dyrus, Santorin, Bjergsen, WildTurtle, and Lustboy have already shown a tendency for strong results. They were easily the best team in NA last split, and although their road to the IEM title was a lot easier than most TSM fans would like to admit, they displayed impressive play en route to winning the championship. Even in this split they have shown some strong runs of form, going on a 6-game win streak, which included strong wins against teams like CLG, GV, and TL. When TSM was on top, they looked like the most complete team in North America. If they can rediscover that form, they will easily reclaim the North American title.
Biggest Weaknesses: WildTurtle, Lack of synergy
There’s no need to go further in-depth, as WildTurtle’s issues were already covered in the player profile. Considering his inability to play a simple cleanup role, it’s possible that he’s the worst starting AD Carry in any of the four major regions.
However, these issues extend beyond WildTurtle’s poor play. TSM’s synergy this season has fallen apart. Two of the team’s distinguishing hallmarks during their strong run of form in the Spring split was their coordinated engages and early roams for vision. We haven’t seen either of these things this season, and it’ll be up to Lustboy and Santorin to iron out whatever coordination issues they’ve had this season.
In the first round, TSM will play Team Gravity. Were it not for Gravity’s terrible Week 8 & 9 (a combined 1-4 record, with their one win coming after multiple miraculous Baron steals by Move’s Vi. Gravity is entering the play-offs with a slew of problems of their own. The team which once looked like the regions rising stars is entering the playoffs on a run of bad form which has equaled TSM’s own poor play. Gravity’s strengths and weaknesses have been placed into stark relief in the last two weeks. The team is incredibly reliant on Hauntzer and Altec to carry. In the early game, Gravity will try to protect Altec’s laning phase by swapping him into favorable matchups and giving Bunny the opportunity to roam. On the other hand, Hauntzer will often draw the short end of the stick, going into poor matchups down creeps and experience. GV is dependent on Hauntzer winning these difficult lane matchups, otherwise they will enter the mid-game teamfights at a large deficit. Two of Gravity’s biggest early game threats are Bunny and Move. Both players love to skirmish and place deep wards. However, both players significantly drop-off in impact during the teamfight phase. If TSM can avoid falling too far behind off of their roams, TSM will be able to exploit their mediocre teamfighting abilities.
In teamfights, GV are probably the best in the league, but they are basically a two-man team. Hauntzer is by far the team’s best engager and peel player, and Altec deals almost all of the team’s teamfight damage. The rest of Gravity (Move, Bunny, and Keane) are all fairly one-dimensional in that they only provide pick potential and supplementary engage. On both his anti-carry champions (Urgot, Jarvan, Hecarim, etc.) and standard picks (Azir, Ori, TF) Keane will look to play a secondary engage role. Both TiP and TDK have shown the world how to beat Gravity in teamfights. Gravity is extremely reliant on Hauntzer winning losing lanes. If Dyrus can keep Hauntzer older control when GV switches back to the 1v1 (TSM should look to give him a strong counterpick) Gravity won’t be able to force teamfights. The other secret to defeating Gravity is to ignore their frontline. Gravity rarely peels for Altec and instead will aggressively dive at the team’s backline hoping to draw away attention. Bjergsen should avoid playing poke champs and should instead pick champions which can ignore GV’s front line so that he can quickly kill Altec. Without Altec, Gravity’s second largest damage threat is Hauntzer, who won’t be able to carry fights by himself.
However, things won’t be that simple for TSM. While it’s easy to say that TSM should punish GV for their poor lane swap play neither Dyrus nor WildTurtle are the kinds of players who regularly smash their lane opponents. Both of TSM’s veterans have once shown this form, but neither has played like a lane bully in over a year. To make matters worse, TSM doesn’t look like they’ll be able to take advantage of Gravity’s poor peel play. Gravity’s strategy of dogpiling onto the backline is extremely effective against teams with only a single carry threat, and GV has had TSM’s number ever since Keane locked in Urgot against Bjergsen last split. (GV went 1-1 with TSM this split, but the game they lost was due to a bugged Rumble ult from Hauntzer.) The key to TSM will be to somehow change their approach. GV’s strategy of hard engage counters poke carries so perhaps Bjergsen should consider playing bruisers or assassins.
The other way to counter GV is through superior rotational play. They regularly give up multiple towers to try and chase kills. However, Bjergsen’s shotcalling has been poor this season, and TSM probably shouldn’t rely too heavily on a rotational game. If they do manage to outrotate GV, that may make up for the team’s inability to punish Hauntzer or Altec in lane, meaning that TSM will have the gold leads they need to take uneven mid-game fights.
Overall, what the series should come down to is the mental state of both teams. Gravity has the playstyle needed to counter TSM, but are unproven in a long series and have been prone to tilt. In addition, TSM have shown to adapt well to teams in a BoX series, and Gravity is extremely one-dimensional. However, TSM themselves are entering the play-offs in the worst state in franchise history, so expect a poor series from both sides.
Expect a series similar to TSM’s matchup against ZionSpartan’s Dig in last year’s play-offs. The issue is that TSM will likely have to challenge GV in teamfights, traditionally their strong point, since it doesn’t seem like Turtle or Dyrus will return to their peak form in lane any time soon. However, GV’s poor performance in the last two weeks has made me lose a lot of faith in their teamfighting play. This series is hard to call because both teams are entering on such poor forms. Even though Gravity's style means that they excel against teams with only a single main carry, I think TSM's experience will shine through in a messy series. Overall, I expect TSM to win out 3-0 or 3-1 in an ugly series. Barring any major improvements, neither team is good enough to win cleanly.