Thoughts on TSM
So far in the 2015 season of League of Legends, we've seen new teams rise in different regions to compete for the championship title in their respective circuits. Some of these teams are comprised of mostly rookies, such as the EU LCS finalists Unicorns of Love. New teams such as Snake over in the LPL defied expectations by maintaining their position at the top portion of their league throughout much of the regular season. Over in Korea, we saw the GE Tigers rise to power, pulling together players who haven’t had the best success in past seasons to make a powerhouse team that dominated one of the most competitive regions in the world. There was, however, a team that despite all the doubts thrown their way, have gone above and beyond what we’ve expected of them: the North American champions Team Solomid.
TSM and their fellow NA rivals Cloud 9 did not have a great showing at the Season 4 world championship. Granted, they faced the two strongest teams in the tournament, with each of them losing 3-1; however, TSM lost to the eventual champions, Samsung Galaxy White, who only dropped one more game after going 3-1 with TSM on their way to winning the tournament. With the season wrapped up and the winners decided, the off-season roster swaps began. TSM had one swap during the break, with their jungler Amazing leaving the team. With Amazing gone, and the Interregional Movement Policy forbidding TSM from signing a non-exempt non-resident jungler to their team, many were skeptical that they’d find someone suited to not only fill in the void left by Amazing’s departure, but to ensure that the team grows.
Enter Santorin, a young Dane who played jungle for Team Coast. Much criticism was thrown TSM's way after it became apparent that he was the new jungler, and not many people expected the team to continue being at the top of the region.
Now, 6 months later, the view of TSM is completely different. TSM has become the best team in the west, and are considered a legitimate contender in the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational. The team has evolved from their standard strategy of helping their mid-lane star Bjergsen get ahead and winning games off of that to a team that has great decision-making, rotational play, objective control, ward control, you name it. It really is quite impressive how far they've come from being 1-dimensional to being very hard to read.
Despite Team Solomid winning the IEM World Championship, as well as the 2015 Spring Split against their rivals Cloud 9, there are still flaws that they are going to have to fix before they reach MSI. Up until now, TSM have not played a Best-of series against any highly ranked Korean or Chinese team. On top of that, TSM seems to have a tendency to lose the 1st game of every Best-of series they play, with some exceptions. If TSM want to be a legitimate competitor at MSI, they cannot freely drop the first game of a series; teams such as EDG, SK Telecom T1, and GE Tigers are strong enough to ride that momentum through the series and punish TSM extensively.
To figure out why TSM seem to drop the first game of every Best-of series, we have to look back at some of the different series they played and find the common problems they have. The games we will look at are the Bo5 vs Cloud 9 in the NA Finals, the Bo5 vs Team Impulse in the NA Semifinals, a Bo3 vs Yoe Flash Wolves in IEM Semifinals, and their Bo5 series vs Team WE at the IEM Finals. We will only be looking at the first game of each series, and determining what they did differently to win or lose each game.
The key issues I want to look at when it comes to these games are in order as follows:
- Early dragons & lane-swap
- Ward control, rotational play & wave control
- Proper use of team compositions
- Jungle focus
Early Dragons & Lane Swap
Starting with the series against Cloud 9, we see that TSM swaps their bot-lane into top and have Dyrus duo-jungle with Santorin early on. This allows Cloud 9 to grab the dragon at around 3:40. What TSM does, however, is they use this opportunity to gank Hai in the mid-lane, trading Santorin's flash for Hai's flash. This is fine for TSM, as they set themselves up to kill Hai in a future gank, where he will not have any way of escaping. Meanwhile, WildTurtle is getting free farm and solo EXP in the top-lane. Overall, this is a good trade for TSM as long as they stick to their guns and return to gank Hai, which they eventually do and they get a kill for Bjergsen on his Ahri.
In the first game against Team Impulse, Dyrus is in a 1v2 lane in top as Lulu against a Sivir and Nautilus. In this lane, Dyrus is able to grab some farm, but as the wave slowly pushes into TIP's side, Dyrus becomes desperate for some help. The team makes the call for Lustboy to leave WildTurtle solo-farming in bot lane against the enemy Shyvana. This leads to Rush using his early power as Nunu to take the first dragon despite TSM having had their duo in bot lane for the beginning of the game.
This could have been played better by TSM. TSM could have kept Lustboy in bot-lane, and sent Santorin down to dragon after he recalled to take the dragon while their strong side is bottom, then sent Lustboy top to help Dyrus. In the end, TSM decides to trade the dragon to help Dyrus, which is strange because they usually are okay with sacrificing him to get early objectives.
In the first game against Yoe Flash Wolves, TSM send their ADC and support duo, along with Santorin on Lee Sin to dive the top tower and kill YFW's top-laner Steak. This ends up being a failed attempt, with only Santorin being in range to do damage to Steak for most of the exchange. WildTurtle flashes in to try to secure the kill, but Steak gets out alive. TSM back off and settle for the tower kill.
Meanwhile in bot-lane, YFW's jungler Karsa heads down to dive Dyrus. Steak recalls after the failed attempt on his life, and teleports down to help his team kill Dyrus. This leads to YFW taking the tower and the dragon uncontested.
In the 4th game we're looking at, TSM face off against Team WE. TSM eventually get a nicely timed gank on the WE bot-lane, which leads to them getting the first dragon of the game. Nearly everything went right for TSM in this gank; Lustboy and WildTurtle reached level 6 before WE's support YuZhe did, therefore he did not have Janna's main disengage tool to help himself escape. Also, Spirit was considerably low and would not realistically be able to contest the dragon. Lustboy then gets the perfect flash-Tibbers combo onto YuZhe, and Santorin flies in with the Assault and Battery to secure the kill for WildTurtle and grab dragon afterward. Not-so-coincidentally, this game was the only game of the 4 that TSM actually got the first dragon, and it was also the only one of the 4 that they won. It's also worth mentioning that this is the only game that did not have a lane-swap, which played a part in the passiveness of the first 10 minutes of the game allowing TSM to get their crucial ultimates and use them to create this advantage.
As previously mentioned, TSM got the first dragon in just one of these games. They did not play heavily around dragon at all, and really only got the one dragon after ensuring that there was no way for it to be countered. They seem to value exp and getting pressure in other lanes over the early dragon, but this has backfired in these games specifically. In the game against Cloud 9, TSM eventually ended up being up in dragons, despite losing.
In the game against Team Impulse, TSM had zero dragons to Team Impulse' five dragons- not only do TIP get the 5th dragon, they get the 5th dragon twice before ending the game.
Against Yoe Flash Wolves, TSM also ended up getting behind a good amount, this time having one dragon by the time YFW got their 5th dragon and ended the game.
Finally, in the game against Team WE the dragon advantage goes to TSM. Team WE was afraid that TSM would reach the crucial 5th dragon, and so when WE went to gain control over the area, TSM engaged on them and ended the game off of the fight that ensued.
I've always said that when you play vs most teams, there are 3 major objectives: Towers, Dragons, and Baron. When you play against TSM, there are 4: Towers, Dragons, Baron, and Dyrus. TSM frequently trades objectives, and the most sacrificed one is without a doubt Dyrus. Opponents of TSM often funnel a lot of resources into killing him, and TSM are generally not afraid to sacrifice him to gain an advantage elsewhere on the map. In the C9 game, we see a lot of focus go into pressuring Dyrus.
Cloud 9 makes an interesting play in the bot lane. They anticipate that Dyrus will be coming out of the jungle soon, and they set up a 4-man dive in bot-lane, with 3 members lying in wait for Dyrus to come catch the wave on the tower. Santorin checks the bush with his Barrel Roll, and LemonNation whiffs the Braum Q, forcing C9 to turn around on Dyrus who is now trapped between C9 on 2 sides, minions one one side, and a wall on the other. If not for a miraculous flash-Bubble by Lustboy's Nami onto 3 C9 members, this would have been a clean first flood for Cloud 9.
The main issue here was that Dyrus needed to stick with Santorin. He got split off, and retreated to his tower thinking he'd be safe. Instead, he put himself exactly where C9 wanted him in the first place, and nearly gave C9 a good lead.
Around 9:30, Meteos heads top to pressure Dyrus and try to see if he can make something happen top. At this point, Cloud 9 does not want to fight for the dragon because Balls has nothing but parts of a catalyst, and Hai is stacking his Tear of the Goddess on Urgot. Dyrus gets out using just his ultimate, but again here we see that C9 target Dyrus when they know there is no chance of a countergank.
Around 14:15 in the game, TSM use 4 people to get the 1st tier turret in the top-lane. Dyrus teleports down from there to bottom, which proves to be a huge mistake. The teleport was rather greedy; TSM should be fine trading tier 1 towers. Instead, Dyrus ends up blowing his flash and still dying to Sneaky and LemonNation.
In the game against TIP, Dyrus is once again on the Lulu. He ends up 1v2ing in the top lane, and Lustboy recalls to go help him stay safe in the lane, which leads to Rush taking the 1st dragon for free.
As the laning phase continues, Dyrus keeps about even in terms of farm with Impact, although he was a bit behind in EXP because of splitting exp with Lustboy.
At around 7:45 into the game, we see Rush come top as the Dyrus and Lustboy duo are pushed far up. TIP engage onto Dyrus and get a kill on him for their ADC.
At about 11:00, Dyrus runs up to top-lane with no 1st tier turret behind him. He is deep in an area where he has no teammates close to him, as Bjergsen had just gotten ganked and killed in the mid-lane. Dyrus ends up dying after trading flashes with Rush.
Despite TSM trying to help Dyrus in the early-game, he ends up having nowhere near the impact had by Impact (i'm not sorry at all) and the strong Shyvana runs through his team in every fight, while he sits in the back trying to utilize the power of their poke comp with shields and some disengage.
In the game vs Yoe Flash Wolves, we previously mentioned that TSM failed a 1v4 dive in the top lane which led to YFW mirroring TSM's dive by going bot and diving Dyrus 1v4. Once again, we see Dyrus taking the fall for his team, except this was one of the times that it wasn't worth it.
In the game vs Team WE, neither team opted for a lane-swap. Dyrus got a 1v1 matchup as his signature champion, Rumble, against Aluka on Sion. Dyrus farmed 1v1 in lane, as there is little kill potential between him and Aluka.
Eventually Spirit ganks Dyrus and forces his flash, then he and Xiye come back for the dive, giving them a kill on Dyrus for their mid-laner. Meanwhile, TSM is bot-lane shoving the tower with 3 people, and Bjergsen is shoving mid alone. Santorin tries to counter with a gank onto bot-lane, but Mystic and YuZhe use all of their summoners and ultimates to get out alive. TSM takes the tower in exchange for Dyrus' life. Again we see TSM allowing the enemy team to bully Dyrus around so they can try to take advantages elsewhere on the map.
The reason TSM didn't have to worry about Dyrus dying here compared to the other games is that this time not only is he is actually well farmed, but he's playing a high-impact champion. He is about on-par with Aluka in farm, and despite being against a very mobile team, he had some great Equalizers throughout the game that zoned Team WE into favorable positions for his team to clean up.
Now, this style generally works for TSM. The problem seen in these games is that TSM sometimes misjudges how much they should help Dyrus, whether they give him too much assistance early like they did against TIP, or they give him much too little resources like against YFW. In the YFW game, Steak was lvl 1 when Dyrus was lvl 4. He had 1 cs to Dyrus' 30 cs at one point. The fact that he was able to crawl back into the game highlights TSM's inability to adapt in-game to focus the enemy where they are weakest.
These last topics all tie into each other heavily, so I want to talk about them in the context of each other. To start, we see that in the game against Cloud 9, TSM played mainly to the top side of the map.
They littered the river with wards, both to protect WildTurtle as he farmed alone in top-lane and to be ready to gank Hai whenever they have the opportunity. This was very efficient use of their wards. When TSM swapped WildTurtle back down to bot-lane, they also warded heavily around that lane to ensure that he could farm and push for the tower safely. More often than not this game, TSM made sure to ward between mid and wherever WildTurtle was, as seen here:
Seeing as he was on Jinx, a champion that can kill towers and snowball teamfights very well, this was good allocation of their wards. Also, TSM used the tower-taking power of Jinx to great effect. They sent Jinx around the map to take towers while scaling in power with good farm.
When it came to rotational play, TSM outplayed C9 a good amount early on. This changed later on, however, when Cloud 9 started to expose some of TSM's flaws in rotational play. TSM is very good at warding their flanks and deep in the enemy jungle to prepare to siege a tower. Despite this, TSM was very poor when it came to warding defensively and taking into account the enemy composition.
In the game against TIP, we saw TSM make positional mistakes frequently, particularly getting flanked and caught out as a poke comp vs a strong teamfighting composition. In the image above, Bjergsen goes to grab blue buff with no vision control anywhere in the area other than a pink ward in front of baron. This leads to him getting charged by 4 members of TIP. The mistake TIP made, however, is not using the Orianna shockwave. They thought Bjergsen was a goner so they didn't want to waste it, but once again Lustboy saves the day with a flash ultimate to rescue his teammate.
In the game against Cloud 9, this moment where TSM funnel into a narrow corridor against C9's heavy CC teamcomp was very upsetting. They had been playing well into C9's comp the entire game, and they forget themselves and group in 1) next to a wall over which they have no vision at all and 2) in a place where all C9 members can run at them from different directions and do massive AoE damage. Despite this catastrophic mistake, TSM is saved by Lustboy's quick reactions; he flashes away from the Glacial Prison in time to get off his Nami ultimate, which delays C9, and TSM walk away with Bjergsen being the only casualty. This fight could have gone so much worse, but the quick thinking of Lustboy saves TSM.
In the game against Team WE, Lustboy again makes up for TSM's teamfighting mistakes with his flashy plays.
In each of these occasions, Lustboy catches Mystic and either Spirit or Aluka to allow his team to re-engage on them and clean up the fight. The problem comes when Lustboy can't be the one to engage, whether it's because he is too weak or the enemy team is more careful.
Going back to the game against Cloud 9, we see here that C9 wants to engage on TSM. TSM up until that point had been fine with disengaging from C9 whenever they tried to have a huge teamfight, but now they are at a positional and strategical disadvantage. C9's composition is reaching a huge powerspike, and with Hai completing his Muramana he would be doing insane amounts of damage to TSM's single-tank composition. TSM continually walk in to make sure C9 isn't doing Baron, and eventually C9 pulls the trigger and charges them. Meteos lands a beautiful 5-man Glacial Prison and Cloud 9 clean house, grabbing 4 kills for 1, getting the baron and the 2nd tier mid tower right after.
TSM was desperate to not allow C9 to get the baron. They are perfectly willing to concede dragons when they know contesting would be bad, but when it came to baron they jumped the gun and get destroyed. One thing they could have done was not stay so close together. You'd think they'd learned their lesson after the fight near dragon nearly cost them their entire team, but they didn't heed Meteos' warning shot and this time he got all 5 of them.
Despite C9 having baron, TSM take advantage of C9's recalls to grab their 3rd dragon. Meanwhile, C9 charges down mid-lane with 5 people. Here is also where we see another flaw in TSM's play; they send 2 people to help WildTurtle secure his red buff, while C9 rush for the mid inhib tower and take it uncontested. They then take the inhibitor and back off, right as they lose their baron buff. TSM miscalculated C9's aggression, thinking that they could get back into position before C9 started hitting their tower.
The main issue seen in many of these situations is that most of the time TSM know what they need to do, but they get antsy and over-think situations when the enemies are the ones forcing the pace of the game. It is apparent that Lustboy covers a lot of their flaws, particularly in engaging and disengaging, as well as positioning in teamfights. TSM tends to use Dyrus as bait for the enemy team to chase while they grab towers on the opposite side of the map. TSM's early dives aren't great, as seen in the game against YFW, and their early dragon control has been mediocre at best. TSM tends to have Santorin help mid and bot, while Meteos leans toward top and bot. Naturally, it is much harder to help bot and top rather than top and mid, because of simple geography. Santorin doesn't have to overextend himself to help the lanes he wants to help. Add this on to the way Lustboy roams the map and supports his entire team, often leaving WildTurtle alone to solo farm, we can draw some conclusions.
- TSM has great tower control, often sacrificing Dyrus to get them.
- TSM, in the first game of each series, when they lose it tends to be when they are down heavily in dragons. They try to give them up to gain leads but it costs them too many dragons and it can snowball out of control.
- TSM plays their comps well, but slip up sometimes. Many of these slip-ups were in the game 1's that they lost.
- TSM need to respect the enemy's warding. They are often in their jungle farming camps, and assuming that the enemy does not see them.
- TSM do not ward defensively when they are being sieged. Against C9, they allowed themselves to be taken by surprise and lost an inhib tower and an inhibitor for it.
- TSM prioritize farm on WildTurtle and Bjergsen over everything but towers and baron. Bjergsen got outroamed by every mid he played against, while TSM put Turtle in lanes alone to farm very often. Better teams could take advantage of Bjergsen's inactivity elsewhere on the map to snowball their advantages.
I hope some of this information piqued some peoples' interest. I know it's long, I laid out my thoughts on these games and what I think TSM does well and doesn't do well.