Team Solo Mid's 2016 Season Outlook
As the train screeches to a grinding halt we proceed to lift the safety restraints and find ourselves getting off Mr. Dinh's wild ride.
The past 6 weeks have indeed been a roller-coaster ride for fans in both NA and EU. With the disintegration of teams such as Alliance, TiP, GV, H2K, (although they have since re-assembled a formidable roster) and the introduction of Vitality, Immortals, and NRG we have experienced turnover of organizational talent never before seen in a single western off-season. The organization that seems to have won the off-season has been none other than Team Solo Mid. Through some candid luck, immaculate timing, and per$everance Andy “Reginald” Dinh has managed to assemble a roster worthy of being mentioned as a legitimate contender for the 'Best in the West'. Let's first examine their new additions and the impact they will have on TSM for the incoming season.
Doublelift: Arguably the single most shocking roster move in League of Legends history. The plethora of factors that make this move so controversial have been well documented and for the sake of redundancy I won't mention them in this article. Doublelift is a player capable of achieving extreme highs and disappointing lows. Switching over to TSM, he finds himself for first time in a long time in a position where he isn't the best player on his team - he isn't even the second best player in this current iteration of TSM. His performances will be vital to TSM's success however he no longer needs to carry every game for his team to succeed. Having a legitimate world class team-mate in Bjergsen as a secondary carry takes a ton of pressure off, giving Doublelift the opportunity to play team fights and skirmishes in a way that will perhaps make him less susceptible to risky positioning and questionable decisions.
Secondly, being paired with YellOwStaR - the greatest support the West has ever seen as his bot lane partner and shot-caller gives him the tools to unlock every bit of excess, latent potential possible. By the Summer Split (giving them Spring to gel) we should see the best version of Doublelift... ever. His peripheral support staff, along with the respect he undoubtedly has for his new team-mates should keep his previous negativity from re-surfacing. All in all, this season Doublelift has all the tools at his disposal to climb to levels we haven't regarded him at since Season 2.
YellOwStaR: If I would have mentioned a TSM YellOwStaR/Doublelift bot lane being a possibility six weeks ago, I would have been down-voted into oblivion. This is now a pleasant reality for one North American squad. YellOwStaR's attributes as a player seem to cover up all of TSM's biggest faults from last season. Mid game shot-calling, effective communication, decisiveness, and a stable presence to deal with tilt are qualities YellOwStaR brings in spades. While I don't think he will be TSM's most important player (will cover this point shortly) in 2016, he will have the biggest impact when it comes to making this roster greater than the sum of its parts. His ability to take control of the shot-calling will take pressure off Bjergsen and enable the Dane to fully focus on his own role without having to spend time thinking about how he should marshal his troops around the map. Just like Doublelift, Bjergsen will be stripped of prior existing limitations and should have nothing to hold him back from solidifying his spot as one of the top mid laners in the world. To sum it up, YellOwStaR will be the oil that keeps friction from slowing down the TSM hype-train.
Hauntzer: To quote Dyrus, “hauntzer is really good dont know why people are putting him down, the only problems that I see would be fixed by being on a team with bjerg”. Last season, Hauntzer played on Gravity with Keane as his mid. In the summer split, Keane had the 13th highest Average Share of Team’s Total Damage to Champions (28.3%) and 10th highest Damage per Minute (525) out of all mid laners in NA. Bjergsen was 1st in both (42.5%, 756). It’s a lot harder to look good if your traditional biggest carry threat isn’t outputting the damage needed from his role. This change in environment, along with two top tier carry threats for their positions should simplify Hauntzer’s role and allow him to focus on playing a more controlled style, capable at adapting to whatever is best for the team.
Hauntzer is also potentially TSM's most important player in 2016. Important in the sense that his development will be vital to TSM's chances at international events. As we've seen at worlds, if the right meta-game rolls around one player can carry the game on their back. One player can also lose his team the game if he’s not playing near the level of his competition. This year, Korea’s top lane monsters sSumday, Marin, and Smeb were let loose on their international competition and the results were devastating. Hauntzer is relatively new to the professional scene and his lack of international experience (IEM San Jose was his first international event) is potentially TSM’s biggest weakness when it comes to doing well at MSI/Worlds/IEM. In the NA LCS, his only real foreseeable competition is Impact, Zionspartan, and Huni. Out of those three, only Huni is a true lane dominant bully that can truly outclass Hauntzer to the point where the game is snowballed off a single lane. His development from playing against a player like Huni both in scrims and competitively should help him grow and learn as a player to reach a point where international (Korean) players such as Duke, Marin, sSumday, and Smeb won’t turn a game around through top lane dominance.
Svenskeren: A true wildcard. At his best, he’s one of the best junglers in the west. At his worst he’s unpredictable and his over aggression makes him a non-factor. Predicting how Svenskeren will assimilate into TSM is anyone’s guess. Will TSM mold him into what they require out of a jungler or will Sven keep up his traditional counter-jungling, aggressive playstyle? I think it will be a combination, leaning more towards the former. Every once in a while it dawns on a player that they are on a caliber of team not a lot of people get to experience. If he wants to be truly great he will figure out his role quickly within TSM’s specific team dynamic and find a style that works best. Svenskeren and Hauntzer don’t have the pressure of carrying games on their shoulders. That is to say that they aren’t expected to carry, not that they shouldn’t play to do so when the moment calls. Any performance where they bail TSM out of losing situations should be praised much like bench depth and the 6th man is praised in the NBA. That is the luxury TSM has with this roster, where former star players aren’t required to become the focal point of their teams success. What TSM needs from Sven is controlled aggression to help their presumably winning lanes from getting pressured by the opposing teams’ jungler.
NA LCS & International Projections: An important part of becoming a world class team is also the competition you play against on a consistent basis. In season 4, LMQ took the NA LCS by storm and forced teams to adapt or be blown away by their levels of aggression. This helped TSM and C9 step up their level of gameplay just by playing with better teams. This year, NA has 6 teams fielding rosters capable of making it to worlds, effectively upping the ante across the board. The newly formed NRG and IMT are squads filled with top tier talent across multiple positions. C9 has also improved tremendously by picking up Rush, arguably the best western jungler in the game today while Incarnati0n is set to continue his improvement after one split under his belt. Team Liquid, although losing Quas can’t be counted out seeing as they had the best regular season record in the summer split before their usual play-off collapse. TSM’s fate will therefore hinge on how well their peers develop and if they can push each other to achieve greater heights.
Realistic expectations of TSM for the spring split would be to go a combined 7-1 against the teams formerly known as TiP & Gravity and Dignitas/Renegades. Moving on, reasonable expectations would conservatively assume a record of either 6-4 or 7-3 against NRG, IMT, CLG, TL, and C9. That would likely set them up for a ~13-5 record to end their first split together, likely being given a first round play-off BYE. Winning domestically however should only be the first goal. International success is all about how a team is moulded together to become greater than the sum of its parts. TSM’s support staff, namely Jarge and KC need to instil a winning culture, capable of overcoming momentary adversity and finding a play style that works within their specific group dynamic. All in all, TSM have the potential to become the best North American squad ever fielded at worlds. What this means for their prospects advancing into the bracket stage and potentially making a deep run is still up to debate and only time will tell.