As a TSM fan I am disappointed but not surprised at how TSM underperformed at MSI. I realized that TSM was going to lose this tournament badly after seeing Fnatic’s pick ban strategy work against TSM. It was spot on and targeted directly at TSM’s weakness.
As someone who follows international leagues and is an amateur analyst I want to bring you guys some of my insight towards TSM and why they are underperforming at MSI.
I want to highlight that this problem is pretty complex and has everything to do with team preparation and playstyle. It has nothing to do with the misplay of an individual player or players. I am not pointing any fingers at anyone, except maybe the coaching and support staff, and am inviting readers to take deeper look at TSM in the current meta.
To understand why TSM has been underperforming we need to first understand the current meta in detail. The meta I am talking about is of course the tank meta.
The most important changes in this meta is the cinderhulk jungle item which allows junglers to become hypertanks and scale well into the late game. Another important change to note is the emergence of strong unorthodox tanky champions in the middle and bottom lanes. These tanky champions I’m talking about are “Cho’gath, Urgot, Nautilus, etc.”
In the current meta a team is almost guaranteed to go with a tank in the jungle. Beyond the jungle, there are strong tanky picks that are available as options in both the mid and bottom lane. If a team does decide to go with a tanky picks in jungle, as well as either bot or mid, this means that there’s a lot weight taken off top as being the primary tank as in previous metas.
This means top is now a position that not only plays only tanks but strong carries, creating a huge realm of new possibility in team composition and strategic diversity.
This diversity allows versatile teams that are playing against another team who is not as versatile and has a discernible weakness in a specific lane (i.e. top), to counter their opponent’s early game by putting defensive picks in their opponent’s strong priority lanes, and put a damage dealing carry in their opponent’s weakest lane and apply maximum jungle pressure in that area.
Examples – Fnatic and SKTT1’s Pick & Bans vs. TSM
We saw this in the Fnatic vs. TSM game, where Fnatic went with a very tanky jungler Gragas and a tanky defensive bottom lane of Nautilus and Urgot that was almost impossible to gank. This rounded out their team’s tank requirements and allowed Fnatic to put Huni in a hypercarry position on Cassiopeia, to abuse TSM’s weak top priority playstyle.
SKT followed the same strategy when playing against TSM and put in a tanky jungler on Rek’sai, and a defensive oriented tanky bottom lane of Alistar and Urgot, a lane that is almost impossible to gank and kill. SKT put Marin on Gnar against Hecarim and put strong jungle pressure to counter TSM’s weak top priority playstyle.
Both SKT and Fnatic used pick and bans to force Dyrus on carry champions and the team in an unfamiliar playstyle. A carry champion requires jungle pressure, and gold to scale into the late game. However, because TSM were unfamiliar with playing top priority, they went with their traditional playstyle of leaving Dyrus alone as a punching bag, not recognizing that the strategy doesn’t work if he’s not on a hypertank or a support top champion. SKT and Fnatic both decided to play top priority to exploit TSM’s weakness and made these games brutal to watch.
As a TSM fan it broke my heart to see Dyrus overextend for cs because he knew the opponent top laner was getting big and that without any gold he would be useless to his team. He knew he was falling behind and tried to do everything he could to make the slightest difference. Yet it didn’t matter, Fnatic and SKT had a field day in top lane and ganked Dyrus every time he was overextended, and dove him when a large minion wave crashed into tower, knowing that Santorin would not be there to respond.
In both games Santorin wandered around mid and bottom as per his usual playstyle. With the opponent’s team playing extremely defensively there was almost 0 opportunities for Santorin to gank, and every aggressive action felt forced. (i.e. the failed dive on SKT’s bot lane)
TSM should not be too disappointed with MSI. If nothing else their performance has confirmed their weaknesses as a team without enough strategic diversity to take on the very best.
If they truly want to be world contenders, they need to work on playing top priority and having greater synergy between Dyrus and Santorin. Dyrus cannot simply be put aside as an option to carry the game. The team needs to build Dyrus’ confidence and champion pool into one that can play hypertanks, but also carries.
If they can channel Dyrus’ aggression and build him into a carry that is capable of drawing attention to the top lane of the map, then the team can put Bjergsen on hard scaling champs like Azir and Cassiopeia where he can dominate his lane in cs differential, having more room to breathe a la Easyhoon & Faker in the current SKT and in the current meta.
I still stand by the belief that TSM is the West’s greatest chance the West has to take World’s. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance in strategic play, but currently are crippled by a weakness that is too visible and too exploitable by top level teams.
I hope Loco doco and the rest of the coaching staff recognizes this and pushes the team to experiment in more during scrims and games next split without any inhibition and fear of new play styles losing them scrims and games.
A true champion is not disheartened by loss but only sees it as an opportunity to improve. A true champion will not stop until they are at the top.
TDLR: Tank meta allows teams to play with great strategic diversity in top, mid, or bot priority. TSM has weak top priority playstyle. Opponents at MSI exploit weakness and lack of preparation and counter with aggressive top priority, brutalizing TSM.