TSM: Major Disappointment or Minor Setback?

Team SoloMid was supposed to be North America's perfect child, but the team failed on the big stage. Still, this historic year should be remembered in a mostly positive manner.

Team SoloMid was North America’s perfect child.

On home turf, this was supposed to be North America’s year to find glory at the World Championship, and TSM was supposed to lead the region in its campaign of triumph. The perennial powerhouse had a huge fanbase built up over the years, and this year was finally going to be the year that they delivered and brought honor to North America. Every fan in the country, no matter who they rooted for in the NA LCS, stood behind TSM. The stars were supposed to lead the region to victory, fame and glory.

Yesterday, TSM was knocked out of Worlds in the earliest stage of the tournament and hearts broke across the country.

Before we get too far into that, let’s take a step back and look at TSM’s year as a whole.

Last Spring Split, the star-studded roster was molded around Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. With Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in the top lane, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen in the jungle, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng at ADC and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim at support, TSM was supposed to dominate the NA LCS. A lackluster 9-9 performance saw TSM go into the region’s playoffs as the sixth seed, but fans still had hope. TSM could still win it all.

They almost did, beating Cloud9 3-1 in the quarterfinals and Immortals 3-0 in the semifinals. In the end, the team fell just short after losing 3-2 to Counter Logic Gaming in the finals. Ending the season in a respectable, yet disappointing, second place, TSM had high hopes for the next split. YellOwStar returned home to Fnatic and the EU LCS, so TSM added rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang to the squad for the Summer Split. Fans were skeptical, but they had hope.

In the Summer Split, the rookie shined and the squad turned into the powerhouse that everyone wanted them to be. A 17-1 performance saw TSM dominate the region and enter the playoffs as the clear favorite to take it all. At least, from the perspective of the fans. Ask the other pro players, and most of them picked Cloud9 to win it all heading into the playoffs. Apparently, TSM wasn’t looking as impressive in scrims, while Cloud9 was beating the field. Fans paid no attention.

In dominant fashion, TSM swept CLG 3-0 in the semifinals to set up a fight with Cloud9 in the finals. Despite the predictions from players, TSM won the series relatively handily and only dropped one game. It wasn’t as clean as fans expected, but it was a victory in the finals and that was enough. Surely the team would continue to improve going into the World Championship, and the No. 1 seed would help them. Fans had hope.

The groups were drawn. TSM was put in the “Group of Death” alongside China’s Royal Never Give Up, Korea’s Samsung Galaxy and Europe’s Splyce. It was supposed to be tough, and analysts debated day in and day out over who would win the group. Many predicted TSM, others RNG, others SSG. Still, everyone had TSM at least advancing, and TSM fans had expectations for the squad to win the group and maybe even the whole tournament.

The first week of Worlds for TSM started with a loss to RNG, but no one lost hope. It was just one game. TSM closed out the week by taking a dominant win over SSG and shakily defeating Splyce. Taking a 2-1 record into the second week, expectations were high. TSM was expected to adapt, beat RNG the second time around, go 3-0 in the second week and win the group.

The second week of Worlds saw TSM open with a loss to SSG, but no one lost hope. Fighting for first place in the group was still not out of the question, but second place wouldn’t be too bad either. After beating Splyce, TSM had momentum. By the time their final match against RNG came up, due to other results in the group, first place was no longer an option. Still though, TSM could get second if they just beat RNG. No one lost hope.

Against RNG, TSM was beaten at every turn. This is how the draft played out:

The Bjergsen versus Aurelion Sol match was finally going to happen in a major competition, Doublelift was on a comfort pick with Lucian and all seemed well. As long as TSM showed up, it seemed they had a solid chance to win the game. There was only one major issue with the draft, as Poppy is a hard matchup for Jayce, but this was just a good counter pick from RNG. Besides, given the right jungle pressure, it was assumed that Hauntzer would still do well in lane and that the rest of the squad would perform well enough that it wouldn’t matter too much.

From the start, it was clear that TSM was unprepared for this match.

The team obviously had no idea how to play against an Aurelion Sol, as xiaohu had 100 percent kill participation for a majority of the game, roaming from lane to lane and helping secure kills for his teammates. Bjergsen held a large lead in lane, but was not assisting in pressuring across the map. TSM could never find a good response to xiaohu’s roaming, and many of the roams went unanswered. RNG had control of the map for basically the entire game, always dictating the flow of the match and controlling the minion waves in every lane.

Going back to the top lane problem in the draft, Hauntzer was destroyed. In a bad matchup against Poppy, he was already at a disadvantage. With xiaohu roaming and TSM not responding, Hauntzer was taken down multiple times and was a non factor throughout the game.

All of this was bad, especially the stunning complete lack of preparation for Aurelion Sol, but the icing on the cake was TSM losing the bot lane. Doublelift was on his comfort pick and Biofrost was starting to look better as the tournament went on, but the two were manhandled. RNG, as they pretty much always do, focused their resources on getting their ADC, Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, fed. This is something RNG is known for. It should come as no surprise that the team focused on helping the bot lane. And yet, TSM was seemingly caught unaware. Various roams from xiaohu and jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shi-Yu allowed Uzi to snowball his lead over Doublelift, and RNG’s most important player was fed out of his mind. Again, for the most part, TSM had no solid response.

The team played on their back foot, reverting to Team SoloMid in its truest form as they all relied on Bjergsen to carry the game. The backpack was too heavy, and after making a solid stand in their base, TSM could not relieve enough pressure as RNG took another Baron and closed the game. TSM was out of the tournament, eliminated in the group stage.

If we really want to look deeper at it, TSM’s loss earlier in the day against SSG was what truly got the ball rolling. Lee “Crown” Min-ho is known for being one of the best, if not the best, Viktor players in the world. Teams do not let Crown pick Viktor. TSM let Crown pick Viktor, while Bjergsen picked Zilean into the matchup. Bjergsen looked off all game, making macro and mechanical mistakes. Crown happily played his signature champion and crushed North America’s best mid laner. Pair this with an immaculate performance on Rek’Sai from SSG jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, and TSM never had a chance.

The team’s only other loss in the group stage, the opening game to RNG, was a close affair. It was an admirable performance, one that North American fans were still proud of even after the loss. The two losses in week two against SSG and RNG did not make anyone proud. There’s no point in sugarcoating it. TSM did not look good in either of the matches, save a few minutes or plays sprinkled throughout their defeats. They were thoroughly outmatched, outplayed and outsmarted.

None of the five players had a particularly bad tournament. In fact, you could say that they each had games that were MVP-caliber. They just never seemed to all have very good games at the same time.

Worlds was bad for TSM, bad for TSM fans, and bad for North American fans. Cloud9 is still in the tournament and I realize that. Don’t think I’m counting them out, because I still have hopes for that squad, but a lackluster No. 1 seed is always painful for a region to watch. I have to admit, I am a TSM fan. This one hurts. I am genuinely upset with this team. Now that the dust has settled, however, I can still say that I am proud of what this team has done this year.

In the Spring Split, TSM bounced back from a paltry 9-9 record to almost win the NA LCS playoffs, sweeping the almost-undefeated Immortals in the semifinals and barely coming up short against a very strong CLG team in the finals.

In the Summer Split, TSM absolutely dominated the league with a rookie support by going 17-1 in the regular season and practically sweeping the playoffs.

Dropping out in the group stage is disappointing, to say the least, but look at the two teams that made it out of TSM’s group.

Royal Never Give Up won the Spring Split in the LPL, placed top-four at the Mid-Season Invitational (losing in the semifinals to eventual champions SK Telecom T1) and got second in the LPL Summer Split playoffs. The team also has one of the best ADC players that professional League of Legends has ever seen.

Samsung Galaxy has history in its name. This squad may be Korea’s No. 3 seed, but the No. 3 part means nothing coming from Korea. This is the most dominant region in the world, and many people even believe that it deserves more spots at Worlds. All three Korean seeds have reached at least the tournament quarterfinals in the past two Worlds, and they are poised to do it again this year. SSG is also peaking right now, as the players are performing at a higher level than they have all year.

By no means am I making excuses for TSM. The level of play at Worlds this year is extremely high, and even if TSM had a different group, it is highly likely that they would not have advanced to the quarterfinals. Their lack of preparation going into the second week of play was painfully obvious, and completely irresponsible. Still, the level of competition in Group D was high, and TSM came close to glory.

A lot of this piece was trashing TSM for its performance at Worlds, and I honestly stand by everything I said. TSM underperformed and was not prepared to play these teams. Whether it was a lack of preparation, practice, mental focus, or something else, I don’t know, but TSM fans should be disappointed in their team’s performance at Worlds. This team deserved to lose.

However, what fans should not do is attack TSM and lose their pride in this squad. I am deeply annoyed by the way this squad performed at Worlds, but I am beyond proud of what I have seen them accomplish in the past year. Worlds was bad for TSM, but this year was something beautiful. This roster needs to stay together, because next year will be even more beautiful.

I may have been harsh on TSM, but I still believe in this team. I still think this team can find more success. The hate that I’ve seen directed at TSM and TSM fans from major esports personalities is unwarranted and frankly disturbing. There is no need for anyone to be going out of their way to attack this organization or its players for a bad showing at the World Championship, an event that has the best teams in the world competing. It was a tough event, but they were there. They competed. They worked. They failed and underperformed, but they made it to the World Championship as the No. 1 seed from North America and played their hearts out. They may have messed it up in the end, but this roster and organization deserve respect.

This was a major disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things, it was only a minor setback. TSM as an organization has a commitment to growing competitively. They will be back at Worlds next year, and you can bet that they’ll improve again.

Don’t lose faith, TSM fans, and don’t attack your team.

What do you think of TSM’s performance this year? How will this team’s future play out? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @GAMURScom.

Spencer Hester is an editor for GAMURS and can be contacted by email at [email protected] or on Twitter – @SpenceGAMURS.

Image courtesy of Riot Games Flickr