Mar 18 2017 - 6:46 pm

TSM dominating NA—but must manage their own overconfidence

TSM are on top of North America once again.
League of Legends esports analyst
Photo via Riot Games

For the second straight split, there is no question who the best team is in North America. TSM continues to dominate in the standings, and in crowd support. After unseating Cloud9 at the top of our power rankings last week, TSM is only strengthening its hold on the region.That doesn’t mean their games have gone without a hitch, however. The team has a habit of starting slow as evidenced by game one losses to Team EnVyUs and Immortals, two teams they are clearly better than.

Looking at these losses is a good way to see what the team can work on. The team can still be tested in the playoffs and has yet to really overcome some of their hiccups in international competitions.

In order to do this, they need to get out of their own way—and address their tendency for overconfidence.

TSM .vs. Team EnVyUs: Playing too boldly

This game against EnVyUs started so well for TSM. Both teams prioritized top lane in the draft. EnVy (on blue side) gave jungler Nam "lira" Tae-yoo a big leash on a smite-less red buff. His intentions were clear—beeline for the top lane to get Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong ahead on Rumble.

TSM noted how late the EnVy duo lane showed and planned accordingly. When lira showed up, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell was ready. He turned the gank around, gaining a huge advantage.

Now with shot calling duties, Hauntzer made the good call to have jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg join him on a dive deep into the NV top side, picking up another kill and snowballing is lead.

That’s where the overconfidence struck. Hauntzer was in a good spot—he had teleport advantage, his lane was shoved, and he was far ahead on Camille. He could have accelerated the game by spreading his advantage to other lanes. TSM’s duo lane of Jason “WildTurtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang were performing well on a tough matchup, shoving in the lane and giving TSM a window to tower dive. Instead, Hauntzer called for another gank instead—and this time, NV was able to turn it around to reset the game.

But TSM didn’t quit. A couple of minutes later, they called for yet another gank. This strategy was extremely easy to read and this time, NV saw it far enough in advance that even support Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent made it up from the bot lane to join the fun. Hauntzer’s early lead quickly turned into disaster. From then on TSM tried play after play, each backfiring worse than the last as NV built a massive lead.

Hauntzer is a strong player that TSM can rely on to carry some games. But that’s not his value—his best attribute is his flexibility, which allows him to keep the top lane in good condition while supporting the other carries. This was a greedy, overconfident call by someone still learning that aspect of the game. Next time, Hauntzer should better identify his strengths and what TSM needs from him.

TSM vs. Immortals: Punished for overaggression

For much of last summer, TSM built a strong identity off winning lanes. They would bully the mid and bot lanes and use that pressure to set up vision to contest the enemy jungle. Bjergsen and Svenskeren built a special synergy—Bjergsen shoved in the enemy mid laner, giving Sven routes to ward. In return, Svenskeren’s presence allowed Bjergsen to take aggressive stances and trades in lane.

Bjergsen is still a dominant force in the mid lane—his numbers across the board are at the top of the NA league table. It’s Svenskeren that has struggled a bit as the duo seeks to restore their 2016 form. In some of TSM’s losses jungle-mid synergy is lacking, which allows aggressive junglers like Immortals’ Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett to take advantage.

In the first game of the TSM vs. Immortals series, Svenskeren and Bjergsen tried to set up one of those invades on Dardoch’s wraiths. But Immortals mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park was in on the play. Pobelter and Dardoch focused targets while Bjergsen and Svenskeren were split—the Immortals combo was much more in sync, grabbing First Blood.

Throughout the game, TSM did not account for how aggressive Dardoch could be. Right after that play, he camped Sven’s red side jungle and ambushed him one-on-one for another kill. Things would not get better for TSM.

The crucial play would happen when TSM tried to use their mid lane push and Hauntzer’s global to dive the bot lane. But Bjergsen’s path is just terrible—despite TSM starting the play, Immortals somehow get all five members there first, and it’s a disaster for TSM.

There is no excuse for both Dardoch and Pobelter getting there before Bjergsen. In fact, seeing Bjergsen’s path, TSM probably should have disengaged once Immortals brought in their TP—they had already earned a kill and both summoners on Immortals ADC Cody Sun. They could have sacrificed Svenskeren, reset, and tried the same play over with teleport advantage. Instead, they make a greedy turn to kill Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung and are punished heavily.

Maybe these plays would have gone better with Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng at ADC. Turtle is a fine teamfighter, but Doublelift is a better laner and more clear communicator in hectic situations. Whatever it is, the team has a nasty habit of making overaggressive plays without information, guessing that their opponents won’t match. That’s dangerous in the NA LCS, but could cause catastrophe against better competition.

TSM vs. Team Liquid: More needed from Biofrost

Before the season it seemed like Biofrost may have the most to grow. Without Doublelift calling the shots, he had an opportunity to be even more of a playmaking support.

Instead, things have gone the other way. Biofrost has gone from first in kill participation last summer to fifth so far this spring. Of course, stats can get wonky on a team that stomped as hard as TSM did last summer. All of the players’ numbers from that team should be taken with a grain of salt. And the overall spread of kill participation numbers for all supports has shifted significantly, indicating that the changing meta has had a big impact.

But looking at the way TSM has played, it is clear that they are expecting less from their support. Take this game from the week two series against Liquid. After winning game one, TSM was in total control of game two, with two winning lanes and First Blood. Liquid was able to turn things though by playing much more heavily through support Matt Elento.

There's not much in this play. Matt set up some deep vision, helped his team push off Svenskeren. The reward wasn't game-breaking—they got a blue buff and an ocean drake. But it's these small advantages that good teams build over time to help them snowball leads and win series.

TSM can win in NA by focusing their solo lanes and using Hauntzer and Bjergsen to start parties in the bot lane. But at some point, they are going to need more from Biofrost. In many of TSM’s games, the duo lane is relegated to waveclear duty, relying on the other members to start things and joining only when required.

TSM has been dominant even with these warts. But they'll have to clean up these mistakes if they want their dominance to continue—especially into October.