OP-ED: Defining World Class and TSM's Wildturtle problem
What is "World Class"? It's a standard that is often presented to us and debated by coaches, players, analysts and casters. We love talking about it. Is such and such player a world class player? Do they have the potential to become a world class player? But, we never ask ourselves "What is a world class player? Is it a player good enough to qualify for Worlds? That doesn't seem right. There is a laundry list of players who have qualified for Worlds and most definitely weren't even in the top 20 of their position world-wide. Perhaps it's a player good enough to carry on the world stage. But then, there are a number of players considered among the top ten of all time at their position that have shit the bed at Worlds with Namei being perhaps the most famous example. Maybe it has nothing to do with Worlds at all, and it's just a catch-all phrase we use to imply that a player is really really good.
There's an inherent problem with the concept of a world class player. For starters, it's a fluid concept. World Class can change at any time depending on the current depth of a specific position. I don't think it's a stretch to argue that the jungle position is much less deep this season than it has been in past seasons. The god-like junglers of the early years have either retired or fallen off, while the Korean exodus and some rather strange role swaps have left some of the best junglers currently playing on either the bench, terrible teams, or occupying the top lane position. World Class at the jungle position means a lot less now than it did in the days that Diamondprox and Insec ruled the rift, and even as recently as last season when Dandy, Spirit and others fought for supremacy. A player's skill can change as well, often falling off long before we're willing to admit their decline. Or it can peak temporarily, giving us the perception of World Class for a short time before falling back into comparable mediocrity. Sometimes, the player was never World Class at all. And that brings me to TSM's notorious ADC, Wildturtle.
Wildturtle was arguably the best ADC in North America in Season 3. I say arguably because he was much flashier than Sneaky was at the time and played for both splits instead of just the Summer Split, but obviously played for the weaker team. At Season 3 Worlds, he was the lone shining light for a TSM roster that was clearly dated and not remotely competitive. While he still showed the overaggressive nature that would become his hallmark, his excellent team play frequently kept TSM in games far longer than they had any right to be. For that tournament alone, we could charitably call Wildturtle a World Class player. Ever since then, he has been anything but. The cracks started to show in the Spring of 2014, as the once vaunted pairing of Xpecial and Wildturtle started to lose lane more often than not. This problem became a pandemic in the Summer Split as Wildturtle and Gleeb (and then Lustboy) struggled so hard in lane that TSM was forced to lane swap them away every single game in order to protect Wildturtle and ensure he survived the laning phase to get to the mid and late game where his still above average team play could shine through. While the return of Corki to the Meta just in time for Worlds masked some of Wildturtle's deficiencies, his laning deficiencies were heavily exposed by teams like Royal Club that featured strong duos. But those deficiencies wouldn't prepare TSM fans for this past Spring Split when Turtle's overall level fell off a cliff.
It's hard to bash a guy who is legitimately one of the cheeriest guys in the scene, and a fan favorite. In truth, it's been a long time since Wildturtle was the player we watched in Season 3. In the beginning, many assumed there was no decline at all and that the loss of Xpecial and turmoil at the support position was contributing to his struggles. Then his laning really did start to go, but his team fighting was still not bad so everything was fine (ish). The problem with Wildturtle in his current form is that his laning is terrible AND his team fighting is terrible. He's somehow finding himself getting caught from being out of position AND too far back to deal any meaningful damage in team fights. It literally makes no sense. His efficiency is bottom of the league, taking a disproportionately high amount of his team's gold compared to the damage he is dealing out. The result is Bjergsen dealing a massive 40% of his teams damage on average, with spikes as high as 54%. Basically, if you kill Bjergsen you win.
If you know what to look for, TSM Legends can be very enlightening. You can see Dyrus's maturation as a player, and a respected veteran presence in the way he coaches his teammates after games on mistakes they made and what they can do to fix them. You can see the absolute horror on Parth and Loco's face after the Gravity game at knowing they had clearly failed their team in picks and bans and prep. A recent segment featured Locodoco talking about Wildturtle and Keith and how they will go with whichever one becomes a "World Class" ADC. Whether it's Wildturtle "returning to form" or Keith improving and reaching that level. There's just one problem. It's exceedingly rare in professional sports of any kind, whether it's a traditional sport or an eSport, for a player's level to drastically increase so far into their career. Sometimes, a Meta arrives that really suits a player and makes them look godlike for a while. xPeke at Season 3 Worlds is a great example of this. In the year and a half prior to that tournament, one could argue that Froggen, Alex Ich and even Nukeduck at times had exceeded xPeke in performance. xPeke is without a doubt one of the west's greatest players of all time, but he was an utter god at the Season 3 World Championship in part because the Assassin meta was his wheelhouse and Kassadin was at the peak of his power. That is different. It's also possible for a player to seem better when they join a team that better fits their play style or is built around them, or when a young player leaves a toxic atmosphere for a team that betters suits their emotional state. But what you'll almost never see is a player's level increasing drastically out of no where in the middle or latter half of their career. Once that downward slope starts, you're only delaying the inevitable.
And that's TSM's problem, Wildturtle is never going to be a World Class player again. It's quite possible that he never was. Every single game that TSM starts Wildturtle at this point is a waste if their goal really is to do well at Worlds. We know TSM's level with Wildturtle. Even at the peak of their current roster, they weren't good enough to beat the best Korean and Chinese teams and Wildturtle is only getting worse. Why invest so much in a known, subpar quantity? Locodoco's logic for starting Wildturtle against Gravity was that it was an important game and they wanted the Veteran in there, but was it really that important? TSM would still be tied for first place, even if they lost. They have an absurdly easy route to Worlds that pretty much requires them to just not collapse like CLG circa 2014 at this point. But fine, whatever. You want the win and guaranteed tiebreaker. I can swallow that. But why is Wildturtle starting against Team 8, a bottom of the standings team using subs? TSM likely paid a decent amount for Keith's services, and it would make sense for them to see what they have. We know what Wildturtle is, but we haven't seen enough of Keith to get a firm grasp of his level or potential. So why not give him more LCS experience against a bottom feeder team? If you aren't going to start him against good teams, and you aren't going to start him against bad teams, than who will you start him against? Instead, TSM is now living with the absolute worst case scenario. They lost both games AND they are no closer to figuring out what they have in Keith. We're almost halfway through July. Playoffs and Regionals are approaching, with Worlds not too far after. You know with utmost certainty that you will not win Worlds with Wildturtle, and it's quite possible you won't even escape groups. Failing to work with Keith to see what you have and see if you can build him into a player that can do what TSM needs an ADC to do is essentially throwing in the towel. You can't say your goal is Worlds when you're playing with a roster you know can't win and not trying everything you have to try in order to improve. TSM doesn't need an Uzi, in fact such a player would imbalance the team. They just need an ADC that can be safely left in a 2v2 or 1v1, stand there and deal consistent, reliable DPS and position well in team fights. I was a TSM fan long before I was recruited to do some writing for Goldper10, and I will always be a fan first. It infuriates me to see TSM shooting themselves in the foot. The TSM of the past, the one that made roster changes with conviction, would have never done this. They'd have never played the Liquid game and juggled two players. They would have cut the dead weight without hesitation and moved on to bigger and better teams. That's the reason TSM has stayed at the top of NA for so long. Other teams rise and fall, but not TSM. We all thought that Cloud 9 was different. More like TSM than the rest of the region. But even Cloud 9 has fallen. Unable to survive their very first roster change since joining the LCS two years ago. Yet, TSM remains. And if they're going to keep their spot at the top, they need to remember who they are and why they are here.