Oct 27 2016 - 7:12 pm
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The Thorin Treatment: Redeeming TSM 2012

TSM's 2012 lineup is often down-played as a side which just dominated NA teams and failed internationally. Thorin sets the record straight and redeems them as an all-time great team.
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Team SoloMid (TSM) is the most successful North American League of Legends organisation in the game's history. Yet, despite numerous years where they fielded the best team in their region, they have rarely been given the same status as the other great Western teams in history. A particularly egregious miscarriage of historical context seems to occur with regularity when their famous lineup of 2012 is discussed, where the addition of Dyrus sparked a streak of making seven finals on North American soil and winning six of them. Their success is down-played, re-contextualised and stripped of its significance in a manner which is neither in keeping with the facts nor a reasonable interpretation of them.

The success of Moscow Five, as the world's best team during this time; the exploits of CLG.EU making the OGN final; and TSM's poor record against Korean opponents all contributed to a narrative that TSM simply dominated their region and were not legitimately one of the world's best teams. The sentiment became that TSM simply stayed at home in NA, due to being scared to be thrashed by Europe's best; didn't go to Korea because all they cared about was streaming money and easier competition; and that they were destroyed in every meeting with Korean teams.

In reality, TSM 2012 won a number of competitions which had an international flavour to them, beat most of Europe's top teams and played the best Korean teams close. History is often told through the passing on of narratives from one fan to another, so now is the time to redeem the TSM lineup of 2012 and reinstate them to their rightful place as one of history's best teams from any region.

Team SoloMid's Championship 2012 lineup:

  • Marcus "Dyrus" Hill (Top)
  • Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie (Jungler)
  • Andy "Reginald" Dinh (Mid)
  • Shan "Chaox" Huang (ADC)
  • Alex "Xpecial" Chu (Support)

Domestically dominant

There are few teams which can be considered among the all-time greats who have not taken care of business at home, keeping down their rivals and securing the silver-ware on offer in their own region. TSM 2012 gives as good an accounting of themselves as one could hope for in this respect. From Dyrus's arrival into the lineup, on the 12th of March, through to the MLG Fall Championship, in early November, TSM were the dominant force in North American LoL and saw opponents who could challenge them in individual games, but not their crown as the region's best.

altOver a span of eight offline events on North American soil, TSM finished as the top placed North American team. In April they won IPL4, beating out top NA teams CLG.NA, Dignitas and Curse. In June there were three offline tournaments and they won all of them. The Reign of Gaming International Invitational was the weakest of the events, since none of the other elite NA teams had qualified, but TSM managed to and secured the top spot. At the MLG Spring Championship they beat Dignitas and a CLG.NA which had xHazzard standing in for new recruit Voyboy. At the GIGABYTE Esports LAN the name of the tournament was not a familiar regular on the circuit, but CLG.NA were beaten again.

In August the MLG Summer Arena saw TSM best Curse 3:0 and only lose games to Azubu Blaze, who took the title and were considered the world's best team at the time, having won the first OGN Champions season a few months earlier. A week later, TSM took the IPL Face Off: San Francisco Showdown, beating Curse in the final there. Finally, at the Season 2 Regional qualifier, where teams would earn their World Championship slots and seeds, Reginald and company bested both Curse and Dignitas to take the top seed.

That marked the end of TSM's run of dominance, but they would finish as the highest placed team from the region at the Season 2 World Championship, where their number one NA seed secured them a direct spot in the quarterfinals, where they lost to the Azubu Frost team who ended up going to the final. No North American team made it out of the group stage.

At the last two events of the year, the MLG Fall Championship and IPL5, TSM at last failed to finish as the top ranked NA team, but with caveats to be considered. At MLG they placed a round behind CLG.NA, but losing only to Korea's NJ SWD and Europe's CLG.EU. At IPL5, they were beaten only by Europe's Curse.EU, CLG.EU from the very same region and Korea's Azubu Blaze. TSM were never eliminated from an NA-based competition in 2012 by an NA team.

The maddening Moscow matchup

A primary problem for those lacking the context of TSM's results comes from the bigger picture perspective that the best team in the world by Dyrus had arrived in the lineup was Europe's Moscow Five (M5), who had won IEM VI Kiev and the IEM VI World Championship, beating the TheRainMan-era lineup of TSM at both competitions. Moscow Five stayed in Europe for the majority of the year, only venturing into NA for the Season 2 World Championship and beyond. As a result, both teams dominated their respective regions, but never met offline while TSM had Dyrus in the lineup. The only times they played online were two series, one in May's Corsair Vengeance Cup and another in July's Elites of Europe. TSM lost both, each 1:2, but took a game each time.

altHad the early battles when TheRainMan was in the lineup not taken place, then the never-to-be-realised matchup between the two teams could have been billed as a Western LoL Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, at least during those boxers' primes. Each had taken care of the people put in their way and fans of both eagerly expected a battle to decide who the best was. A king had to be crowned. The problem for TSM was that M5 were not just the best European team, but had taken the global crown at the IEM World Championship, so it was seen as TSM who needed to prove they were as good or better than M5.

After Dyrus joined, TSM won six offline titles and appeared in seven domestic finals. Over in Europe, M5 won four titles and appeared in five finals over the period prior to the World Championship, which finished in the first two weeks of October. Bearing in mind TSM had a different lineup during the two international events of those five that M5 made the final of, we see that it's actually M5 were the more inactive team. From Dyrus's arrival, TSM attended seven offline events in NA to M5's three in Europe.

Critiquing TSM for not travelling to Europe to play M5 only makes sense from the perspective of M5 being the team that had to, in the minds of fans, knock off to grab the global or Western crown, depending on the period of time in 2012. TSM made far more money winning titles in NA during that span of time than M5 did in Europe. TSM won $121,000 over those seven offline events with Dyrus but prior to the S2WC. In contrast, M5 won only $65,000 in the post-TheRainMan TSM era.

Logic dictates that M5 should have been incentivised to travel to North America and compete for the larger prize pools, being as they were the consensus best team in the world for most of that time period and would have been favoured to finish in first place or at the very least with a top placing. $40,000 of the prize money both teams won was for first place at their regional, a competition each could not have competed in the other's region for, but it's not as if M5 theoretically incapable of attending events other than the regional. CLG.EU, the second best European team for most of the year attended both the European events M5 went to and a number of the North American ones that TSM competed at.

One must give the Russians a pass on the level that their organisation was smaller than many, having somewhat stumbled upon the best team and not bid for their contracts at the time they had reached the time; getting visas from Russia to the United States has proven tricky at times in esports history; and perhaps M5 preferred to compete in Europe and felt that the competition should come to them, as the kings of the game.

Even so, while we give M5 a pass we must also afford TSM the courtesy of acknowledging that it made more financial sense to stay in NA, they could still meet top European teams in competitions there and that the only reason to go to Europe would have been specifically to play M5. Bearing in mind just how many competitions TSM played at, it's asking a lot for them to try and compete in all of the NA competitions and the EU ones collectively, which would have been a much more severe workload than even CLG.EU undertook. M5 and TSM each share some of the blame for why the two dominant regional champions never met. Which is not, though, to suggest that TSM did not test themselves against the best European competition.

The myth of the fearsome Europeans

It's not unreasonable to suggest that Europe had two of the elite teams in the world, between the M5 which dominated and befuddled practically all opposition put before them and CLG.EU, who were the first to properly beat M5 offline and went as deep as any Western team ever managed in OGN Champions, reaching the final of the Summer season of 2012. In their own very different ways, they were two of the best teams in the game and defined their styles of play in the minds of fans the globe over. Yet the absence of M5 from the events TSM were winning the titles of has led to the narrative that TSM simply beat up on the best NA teams and stayed away from Europe due to being scared of playing the best European teams.

In fact, TSM faced and bested many top European teams during their dominance in their region and even when they didn't face them would finish events they had attended in first place, hoisting the trophy. At IPL4, aAa were in attendance, having finished fourth at the IEM VI World Championship the previous month and featuring future FNATIC star sOAZ. They did not meet TSM, as the NA side won the title and aAa were embarrassingly eliminated in last place.

The Reign of Gaming International Invitational saw numerous top European teams upset in the online portion of the competition, so that the offline representatives were Teamless, featuring a then relatively unknown Tabzz, and Curse.EU, who had previously played for the absolute Legends organisation and would become a top 4-5 European team over the Summer. Admittedly, Curse.EU were hamstrung, as they had a player unable to attend and called in Saintvicious, Jungler for the org's NA side, to play the role of Mid lane. TSM beat both squads without dropping a game en route to their easiest offline title.

At the MLG Spring Championship, TSM defeated CLG.EU 2:1, around a week before Froggen's men would down M5 offline at Dreamhack Summer, and toppled FNATIC 2:0, who had acquired sOAZ as their new Top laner less than a week earlier. SK Gaming and Curse.EU were both in attendance, with SK having finished top six at the IEM VI World Championship two months earlier and Curse.EU a week from a third place finish at the aforementioned Dreamhack Summer. Neither got deep enough in the bracket to face TSM, who again lifted the trophy for first place.

The GIGABYTE Esports LAN was purely NA competition and the MLG Summer Arena featured only one European team, made up relative unknowns Rekkles and Svenskeren. TSM swept them cleanly, but it would be unreasonable to rewrite history so the status of those players now is transferred upon them back then, though it is notable that Svenskeren currently wears TSM colours in NA. At the IPL Face Off there were no EU teams in attendance and, for obvious reasons, the Season 2 Regional was NA only.

altIPL4 and MLG were both competitions where some of Europe's best teams played in the field and either lost outright to TSM or simply could not perform well enough to meet them in the bracket, with TSM taking the title both times. TSM never lost a series to a European team over the four competitions in which they were present in the field during TSM's run of domestic titles. It would not be until after the World Championship when Europe began to score offline victories over Chaox and company.

At the MLG Fall Championship, in early November, CLG.EU, admittedly with Jree as a stand-in instead of Krepo, eliminated TSM from the competition in 5th-6th place. At IPL5, TSM were shockingly upset in the group stage by a Curse.EU lineup who had to use dignitas Support patoy as a stand-in. In the upper bracket. a full strength CLG.EU lineup beat them 2:0. They would be eliminated by a Korean team. TSM's record against European competition is better than many might remember or choose to mention.

The embarrassing losing streak against Koreans

By late 2012, a subject of much derision when it came to the topic of TSM's lineup was their losing streak against Korean teams, who had collectively begun to show their power at Western events, domestically in OGN and on an international level in general. From the MLG Summer Arena to IPL5, August to November, TSM lost 11 straight games to Korean opposition and a total of five straight series. What is not often mentioned in connection with TSM's losing streak, is the poor records of practically all the other big Western names or the context of their own wins and losses.

CLG.NA were considered the second best NA team during TSM's reign and had competed in the OGN Invitational and two seasons of Champions over in Korea. Despite such familiarity with the Korean teams, their record, over different lineups and all of 2012, was only 4:11. Looking at their four wins we find they are lower tier Korean opposition that TSM would have been a heavy favourite to beat had they ever met them in competitive play, which of course they didn't. The three opponents CLG.NA lost their 11 games to were NaJin Sword, Azubu Blaze and Azubu Frost - the very same three teams who beat TSM. So, in essence, once performance against the top Korean names is isolated, TSM had an identical record as CLG.NA did, despite not having the benefit of practicing in Korea, as CLG had done for many months.

Moscow Five had now only not ventured over to North America and thus not faced TSM with Dyrus in their lineup, but the CIS squad had not gone to Korea either, meaning their exposure to Koreans was massively limited. The Russian-based squad met only one such opponent in 2012, beating Azubu Blaze 2:1 in the lower bracket of IPL5. That was the first international offline event for new Blaze Top laner Flame and finishing outside of the top eight was a shockingly poor performance from what was otherwise considered a top Korean team.

altThe only top Western team who could actually boast a good record against the Koreans was CLG.EU. Wickd and the lads went 8:10 in games against Korean competition over the year. Again, one must eliminate the cannon fodder, as two of those wins were against the same MVP Blue and IM that CLG.NA had benefited from playing in OGN Champions. Once those are eliminated, the six remaining wins are impressive in nature, with three being against NJ SWD and three against Azubu Frost.

Even so, the only top Korean team CLG.EU had a winning record against was NaJin, who they were 3:2 against over the year. Frost held a 5:3 record against Snoopeh and the gang, while Blaze were 2:0 against them. At the end of the year, as CLG.EU began to slump, they lost to a CJ Entus team who featured dade and inSec but were not considered elite within Korea's borders.

CLG.EU stood as a rare outlier among the top Western teams of being able to compete with the best Korean teams. M5 played too rarely and CLG.NA were essentially as poor as TSM, purely in terms of games won and lost, once one considered the legitimately top tier matches. It's less that TSM struggled against Koreans and more that almost all Western competition did. It was merely amusing and an opportunity to prod at a sore point in the pride of TSM and their fans that led even top Western pros to comment upon TSM's losing streak against the Koreans, using it as an opportunity to pick a hole in their otherwise spectacular reign of dominance in North America.

The forgotten or ignored nature of TSM's Korean wars

All losses are not equal and the nature in which one loses can be telling. When CLG.NA were twice eliminated from the play-offs of OGN Champions, it was in definitive fashion. A number of TSM's big losses to Koreans were far from stomps, though. Despite losing five straight games to Blaze at the MLG Summer Arena, TSM showed a few games in which they truly challenged the Korean side which some considered the best in the world, thanks to having won OGN Spring. In their group stage match, the first game saw TSM team-fight well and make it a bloody but close game.

In the next match, there were skirmishes which went back-and-forth, but Blaze won out in the end. Both games would set the primary trend of how TSM often lost to the very best Korean teams: by seeing the Koreans push and take towers, leading in that respect but otherwise often seeing team-fighting yielded a similar footing for both teams. The final was more dominant from Blaze, but also saw a huge mismatch as Reapered badly out-performed TSM Top laner Dyrus, in an era when the Top lane could snowball heavily and Reapered was known for hard carry champions.

altIt was the same at the Season 2 World Championship. Frost, just as Blaze before them had, came in as the reigning OGN Champions, this time from the Summer season. TSM lost the series in two games, but again team-fought well and gave the Koreans a test in that respect, with the first game being an absolute war in terms of kills, only to see superior understanding of map pressure and how to take towers being the decisive factor for the Korean side.

In their IPL5 series against Blaze, who were fielding rookie Flame, TSM again seemed just as capable as the Koreans in terms of fighting, bringing both games to the 30 minute mark on even ground, only to lose both games in a single big notable team-fight. The NA side no longer found themselves overwhelmed by the turret-pushing style of Korean teams.

The only real instance, aside from the MLG Summer Arena final, of TSM truly being destroyed by a Korean team came in their MLG Fall Championship upper bracket series against NaJin Sword. The team, who would go on to be the next OGN champions, over-powered them and the games were not close.

The World Championship asterisk nobody remembers

TSM's series against Frost at the Season 2 World Championship is also notable not just for the NA side's ability to fight well but lose due to turret pressure, but in the circumstances which led to them facing Frost in the quarterfinals are seemingly never addressed, in what would appear to be another example of selective memory or bias from those who would put down this TSM lineup's accomplishments. M5 and CLG.EU were lauded for their runs to the semifinals, both coming within a game of the final itself, but it's worth noting how all three teams got their respective quarterfinal matchups.

altThe number one seeds from the five major regions could not all be seeded into the quarterfinals, so Riot decided to randomly draw which would have to play through the group stage. Azubu Frost, Korea's number one seed, was the team selected to play in an earlier phase of the tournament than all the other number one seeds. While this meant TSM got to skip into the quarterfinals directly, as did TPA, M5 and WE; it also meant that they could potentially face Frost in that round of the competition, should the Koreans make it out of the group stage. MadLife and company did and that ended up being the draw, seeing M5 as the only number one seed to have to face another number one seed, arguably one of the two best in said category, prior to the semifinals.

On the other hand, M5, Europe's number one seed, face iG, China's second seed, in the quarterfinals and did not meet a number one seed until the semifinals, where they played and fell to TPA 1:2. CLG.EU were the third seed from Europe and got out of their group in second place, playing WE, China's number one seed, and beating them in a controversial series to move on to the semifinals. CLG.EU deservedly had a difficult path, as they were a third seed coming into the tournament and yet most would agree that they got an easier quarterfinal opponent than TSM, especially since this event marked the first at which World Elite used ClearLove and Fzzf, the players who made up the lineup which became the best in the world later that year.

Even ignoring seeding, TSM got a brutal draw when one considers that four teams progressed from the group stage and they got the best of the four. Frost and NaJin Sword, the two Korean teams, finished in first place, while iG and CLG.EU finished second in their respective groups. Had TSM have gotten iG or CLG.EU, it's certainly not ridiculous to suggest their chances of making the semifinals would have gone up. Instead, TSM drew a team who were one of the favourites for the title and ended up going to the final.

One can also not ignore the accusations of cheating against Azubu Frost Woong during the series.  The stage set-up allowed for players to see part of the screen broadcasting the game for spectators and Woong was seen repeatedly looking in the direction of the screen.  The impact this had upon the game is difficult to discern, with some saying it allowed Woong to ping out the location of TSM members.  Nevertheless, Riot Games fined Azubu Frost $30,000 for "unsportsmanlike conduct."

The cloud is lifted

Team SoloMid's 2012 lineup were one of the best teams in the world. They took every domestic tournament title that year in which the field did not feature a Korean team, they beat out directly or outplaced a number of Europe's top teams and they played the top Korean teams, who were beating all of the top Western teams, well in terms of skill but lost out strategically. The prize money won domestically justified them not chasing M5 around Europe and they were much more active than their European rivals. One would be quite unreasonable to ignore the very difficult draw at the World Championship which denied them a chance to make a deep run.

Once all factors are considered and their matches contextualised, TSM are redeemed as one of the all-time great League of Legends sides.

alt

Photo credit: lolesports, Daily e-Sports, IPL, MLG

Custom artwork by Juliette (@Sidoniia on Twitter).

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