The last time the League of Legends World Championship was held on Korean soil, it was Danish jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen’s first chance at the big stage. But he almost didn’t even get a chance to play—he was suspended for three games for using a racist username while preparing for the tournament.
This year, Svenskeren is back on Korean soil for Worlds and everything is different. Sure, he still got into trouble with Riot. But he also led NA LCS team Cloud9 to the first semifinals appearance for a North American team in seven years. North America has experienced a lot of failure at Worlds until now, but Svenskeren’s carried a particularly heavy burden.
Svenskeren’s tortured history at international events makes his story one of the best at Worlds this year.
A diamond in the rough
After Svenskeren left SK Gaming in 2015, he found the perfect situation: he joined North American powerhouse TSM. TSM had everything: A winning history, a fantastic all-new roster, and the chance to play with a Danish superstar in the mid lane.
TSM took a split to jell but then turned on the jets to dominate North America for most of 2016 and 2017. They won three straight titles and went to three straight international tournaments as the first seed from the region. But they lost in the group stage all three times, embarrassing themselves and their fans in the process. They almost didn’t even get out of the group stage at MSI in 2017 before predictably crashing out of the group stage.
Svenskeren received a lot of blame for TSM’s failures. Chinese fans nicknamed him “Brother Sven” on online forums, a euphemism to describe his tendency to make game-winning plays for the wrong team. In this way, he was like a big brother to TSM’s opponents. The nickname stuck—it even turned into a feature on the official League esports website.
The blame and criticism couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, Svenskeren did dumb things like invading the enemy jungle when his lanes didn’t have priority. But that was symptomatic of several underlying defects in TSM’s view of the game, such as their insistence on contesting enemy buffs, their unwillingness to pressure bot lane early, and inability to trade when behind in lane.
Svenskeren was the team’s best performer at Worlds in 2016, carrying on his signature Lee Sin and innovating with an unexpected Skarner pick. His aggressive jungle form had TSM in strong shape heading into Worlds last year, but as the tournament neared, TSM unexpectedly lost its nerve. After Rift Rivals, Svenskeren was consigned to a heavy diet of tank junglers as TSM tried to adapt to a new Ardent Censer meta.
And that’s the great tragedy of Svenskeren on TSM. After getting unlucky in 2016, they tilted, figuring that the only way they could beat the Chinese and Korean teams at the top of the world was to play like them. In the end, it not only didn’t work, but TSM couldn’t even beat LCS teams—they crashed out of Worlds again by losing to EU LCS team Misfits in a tiebreaker.
An unexpected journey
When Svenskeren left TSM after Worlds last year, it was fate accompli. The team felt cursed—they couldn’t continue with the same roster that had failed so many times. He unexpectedly wound up in another good situation with a Cloud9 team that did actually make it out of the groups at Worlds.
But for nearly the entire Spring Split this year, Cloud9 tried to play like TSM of old. Svenskeren was relegated to tank duty—Sejuani remains his most-played champion this year. The team underperformed and before long, Svenskeren was benched for Academy jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang.
Blaber acquitted himself well as a new player thrown into a tough situation. The team rallied behind him, even when he made gross errors, and it actually brought them closer together. But the real shift was what happened to Svenskeren in the Academy league.
He still played a lot of tanks like Gragas. But he also experimented with the likes of Olaf and Graves. It ignited his inner carry-oriented mentality, and the fire is still burning strong. His champions at Worlds have almost exclusively been those with early impact, From Xin Zhao to Nocturne to Taliyah.
For the first time, Svenskeren flew under the radar at Worlds as Cloud9’s backup jungler. But we’ve said for weeks that he was Cloud9’s best bet at advancing, and apparently the team agrees—he’s the starter now, a dramatic role reversal in the middle of the tournament. He’s kicking ass on the aggressive carry champions that happen to perfectly fit Cloud9’s new fight-first mentality.
The ironic thing is, he had almost all of this on his previous TSM teams, but they never realized it. Cloud9 may not be the best NA team of late, but they are the only ones to figure out how to win against teams at the highest level. And they’ve done it by unlocking Svenskeren and counting on him to carry games.
That makes this year’s Worlds a great story of redemption for Svenskeren. He went from suspended to cursed to benched—and now he’s on the precipice of winning it all. Worlds 2018 is full of redemption stories, but none are sweeter than Svenskeren’s.