Welcome to my 2018 NA LCS Spring Split Preview Series! I’ll be releasing my thoughts on each team during the 10 days before the season opener on Saturday, January 20th.
Now, the fourth contender and defending champions: Team SoloMid
You know the story. Team SoloMid looks unstoppable in North America. They win the NA LCS title in style. They qualify for Worlds easily, and look decent through the first round robin. This is the year, you think, that TSM makes a run. This is the year they prove NA isn’t a Wildcard region. This is the year they cement their place among the world’s best.
And then? Darkness. Elimination. Recrimination. Rinse. Repeat.
After their most recent debacle at Worlds 2017, TSM owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh felt enough was enough. Something had to change.
“The only reason I created TSM was to win Worlds,” said Regi at a press conference last year. “And after such a disappointing season, I went into the offseason with the expectation to build the best possible team in the Western Hemisphere. I reached out to every single player that I wanted, the best coach, the best bot lane in the West, and even the best jungler that was in free agency. And I got them all.”
Regi didn’t exactly tear it all down; TSM’s heart remains intact. But the fragile hands that faltered, the feet that were not fleet, the tendons that could not hold; they were amputated to save the patient. In their places, new features were attached in the hope that things would improve.
When it became clear that G2 Esports’ bot lane was available and were eager to join TSM, Regi didn’t hesitate. AD carry Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “mithy” Rodríguez soon became the newest members of TSM, leaving Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang out of a job. Doublelift learned he was fired via Reddit (ditto for Biofrost), and both were acquired by new teams within days.
Zven and mithy bring a championship pedigree to TSM, which aligns well with their new team’s history of success. As members of G2, they won three straight EU LCS championships, placed second at MSI 2017, and nearly got out of the Group of Death at Worlds 2017. They have a tendency to favor scaling picks, with Zven often farming for the first 25 minutes before his team makes a real move. TSM displayed an alarming overcommitment to scaling at Worlds, passively farming through the early game in order to win late. That strategy didn’t work as well for them as it did G2, so perhaps the best practitioners of the craft can help tighten loose screws.
Key to the scaling strategy is simply not dying, and in EU LCS Summer 2017, only AD carry Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort and jungler Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir had a lower death percentage than Zven (among player with 30 or more appearances, per Oracle’s Elixir). Zven was incredible at navigating teamfights, often doing so while standing behind mithy’s trusty tank support. mithy spent most of Summer 2017 on a combination of Alistar, Tahm Kench, and Braum, only switching back to shield supports when Ardent Censer because the must-have accessory. If Zven and mithy can continue their stalwart presence on the map and farm well, TSM might finally smooth their rough late-game scaling path.
However, the addition of Zven and mithy had consequences beyond replacing one of the strongest bot lanes in NA. Due to import restrictions, TSM could no longer field jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen in the starting lineup. Despite his underwhelming showing at Worlds, Svenskeren didn’t stay a free agent for long. In his place, TSM picked up the hottest free agent on the market: Jungler Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung. Recently released from Phoenix 1 after they were denied admission to the NA LCS, MikeYeung completed his storybook ascendance from missing his high school graduation to starting for the six-time NA LCS champions in just half a year’s time.
MikeYeung is the x-factor in a TSM lineup full of proven commodities. His stunning debut in Summer 2017 left no doubt he belongs at this level (having being Challenger tier since the age of 13), but one split’s worth of professional games is a very small sample size to bet your World’s future on. Mike has had moments of absolute brilliance on carry junglers like Lee Sin and Nidalee, but as the meta shifted toward tanks, he wasn’t nearly as effective. While the tank jungle meta hasn’t completely gone away (picks like Gragas and Sejuani are still strong), carry junglers have made a tentative re-entrance, leaving the door open for Mike to get back on what he does best.
While a member of Phoenix 1, MikeYeung paid almost exclusive attention to his solo lanes early in games. If that trend continues, it’ll be a boon to top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Though they’re excellent soloists in their own right, TSM only truly finds harmony when those two are able to spread their resources across the map. Mike’s presence will accelerate that process, but if Bjergsen and Hauntzer find themselves stuck farming in lane instead of making proactive cross-map plays, TSM will run into the same passivity that defeated them at Worlds. They’ll need Mike’s spark to jumpstart their scaling comps.
TSM’s chances both in NA LCS and at Worlds hinge on MikeYeung’s development, and the veterans that surround him know it. Even with new head coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo calling picks and bans, I don’t expect TSM to have it all put together from the start. A notoriously shaky Game 1 team in the best-of-three era, TSM is heavily susceptible to cheese and misexecution of newly-made meta compositions. TSM will need to deal with all of these issues, plus one more: The fact that their roster moves, upgrades though they might be, have armed all three major challengers to their throne. Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, and Cloud9 all employ players determined to see TSM fail, threatening the cycle of dominance the Kings of NA have enjoyed for five straight years.
But TSM’s story is no longer about NA LCS titles. They’ve got nothing left to prove in North America, to themselves or anyone else. The goal is getting out of groups at Worlds, and if they can do that, I think Regi and company will consider it a happy ending.
Team SoloMid Academy Roster:
Top: Brandon “Brandini” Chen
Jungle: Jonathan “Grig” Armao
Mid: Nicholas “Ablazeolive” Antonio Abbott
AD Carry: Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm
Support: Jordan “Shady” Robison
Thanks for reading, everyone. Let NA LCS Spring Split 2018 begin!