At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon in Beverly Hills, Team SoloMid formally introduced their new NA LCS roster for Spring Split 2018.
For a team that has never missed a NA LCS final—and has won three straight dating back to 2016—TSM were surprisingly ruthless with their roster moves. Of the five that were eliminated in the group stage of Worlds 2017, only Top Laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and Mid Laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg remain. Coveted rookie sensation Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung was signed to replace Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen in the jungle. The stalwart bot lane duo of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang were cast aside in favor of two European imports: ADC Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Support Alfonso “mithy” Rodríguez. Head Coach Parth Naidu was repositioned as TSM’s General Manager, allowing ownership to bring in Kim “SSONG” Sang-woo from Immortals as head coach.
“The only reason I created TSM was to win Worlds,” said owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh. “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.”
Each move helps solidify TSM’s position atop NA LCS, the organization on a hill their competition doubtlessly aspires to topple. Zven and mithy bring a championship pedigree from EU LCS, where they won three straight league titles as members of G2 Esports. SSONG won Coach of the 2017 Summer Split for his work dragging Immortals out of North America’s basement and into the World Championships. MikeYeung’s Rookie of the 2017 Summer Split award—barely contested as it was—belies the upside this young, intelligent Jungler possesses, and his improving versatility should put every team on notice.
“I’m an unknown quantity when it comes to my potential,” said MikeYeung. “I knew from the start—two years back, three years back—that TSM was going to be the best platform for me to improve, for me to reach my heights. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to do that when the time comes for me to really prove that I am the best.”
While fan’s eyes will inevitably be drawn to the new names and faces donning the black and white, perhaps TSM’s most significant new partner wore blue. Announced back in September, TSM agreed to a sponsorship deal with Gillette, and their influence permeated Wednesday’s press conference. Greg Via, Gillette’s Global Head of Sports Marketing, kicked off the event by reiterating his company’s proud commitment to TSM. The players themselves echoed his sentiments, repeatedly comparing the dominance TSM has had in League of Legends to Gillette’s dominance in the male (and female) grooming market.
“Gillette’s one the biggest brands out there,” said Hauntzer, “and TSM is one of the biggest esports brands out there, so the culmination of the two coming together really helps progress esports as a whole. We’re becoming more mainstream.”
New players and coaches will doubtlessly help TSM stay competitive on the Rift, but it will be sponsors like Gillette that keep the organization in the hunt for top talent, building a foundation for years to come. Wednesday was only the beginning.
Below is the edited transcript of the Team SoloMid Press Conference. The audio can be found here.
Greg Via, Gillette Global Director of Sports Marketing:
Thank you all for joining us today. Very, very excited today for the unveiling, very excited about our relationship with TSM. It’s something we’re very proud of.
But a little bit about Gillette. We’re the world’s largest male grooming brand, male and female grooming brand, that’s something we’re very proud of in our over 120-year-old history. One of the things that makes us unique is that over the last 100 years we’ve been able to use sports, athletes, and properties to drive the brand and reach our consumers.
Some of the people and some of the properties we’ve been involved with over the years…we were the first exclusive sponsor of the Major League Baseball World Series on radio—some of you may remember radio—it was unique and was also about technology. We were at the forefront of that. We’ve also been a 40-year sponsor of the World Cup, we’ve been involved with the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA. We’ve also been involved with cricket and other sports around the world and currently involved with the Olympics. We’ve also been involved with a lot of great athletes. A lot of athletes in baseball in the early days, but more recently great global athletes like Tiger Woods, Rodger Federer, Thierry Henry, Leo Messi. Currently on our roster, we have a great relationship with FC Barcelona as a premier partner. One of our other talents is Thomas Mueller from Germany, Antoine Griezmann from France, and a guy you may have heard of, Neymar Jr., some kind of minor guy down somewhere that kicks the ball around.
We’ve been very lucky. We’ve used these athletes and our properties to reach our consumer, to really help us talk and give our message. And our message has always been around innovation, about technology, and about precision. And this group has always helped us do that. We’ve also been looking at where we go next, and that forefront has been esports. We’ve been looking at it for a number of years. This is not something that we just decided to turn on. We’ve been involved in gaming for a while with some sports pieces. But we really got interested, especially when you’re seeing the numbers, you see the fan engagement, you see the communities that esports has built. We’ve looked into it and said how do we, as Gillette, become involved, where we become part of the conversation, not just look like we’re trying to jump on the bandwagon. We’ve done some pretty unique things. We’ve done some test and learn, we were involved with the ESL event in Katowice, Poland, we signed our first esports athlete xPeke—really nice young man who I got to spend a lot of time with and actually learned a lot there—just a tremendous person.
We also looked and said, how do we get that, how do we take our learnings and everything that we’re about and say where do we go next? And that led us down the path to Team SoloMid, TSM, and we’ve really created a true partnership. We announced our partnership several months ago, but we’ve also been working very closely with them to help us with the space, but also working closely with them and helping them with some of the things we know, that Proctor and Gamble with Gillette, and growing brands. It’s something we’re very, very proud of.
Andy “Reginald” Dinh:
First off, thanks for having me here. I’m Andy, and just like Ben said, it’s honestly been so amazing to see how much esports has grown. When I started, we were competing in stadiums…not even stadiums, theaters, convention centers with 50 to 100 people, and within the last five years, we’re seeing players competing in massive stadiums, Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center, even some of the stadiums that are used for the Olympics with up to 60,000 people, right? It’s really crazy to be a part of the whole process.
We’re competing in official leagues now, we’re working with sports teams and some of the biggest sponsors in the world like Gillette. And that makes me so proud, to be a part of the Gillette family. They’re a brand about excellence. They work with Neymar Jr., they work with Messi, and from an esports perspective, if you think about excellence, you generally associate TSM with excellence because we’ve been a team that’s gone to practically every single Final in the LCS. Out of ten LCS Finals, we’ve won six. And I think philosophically, our brand is about excellence. We always strive to be the best, we always strive to win, and whenever there’s room for improvement, we always look to improve.
And I think that fits really well with Gillette. They work with the best athletes, they work with the best teams, and they’re always trying to make their product better. They’re always trying to improve their razors, and they’re a leader in their industry, similar to how we are a leader in our industry. And not only that, but just looking at this event, looking at how far esports has grown…You know, three, four years ago I would have never expected to be a part of this event, where you guys are here now, listening to me speak, about esports. I was just a little kid that dropped out of high school, went to college, and started this all as a hobby. So seeing this all grow, in this way, this fast, is amazing.
Seeing Gillette be involved with TSM, believing in esports, believing in our team, believing in our players, just truly gets me excited. They’ve done so much. Just a couple week ago, right after worlds, from a TSM perspective we’re a small start-up, we’re used to working with our camera guy Max, Andrew, just a small production team. And seeing them send several production trucks to our house, close to 100 people, 100 cameramen there, just got me real excited. They’re honestly a really great partner, and they’re treating us like we’re Neymar, like we’re Messi, and that makes me really proud to be here. Thanks guys.
Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, Head Coach for Team SoloMid:
English Thank you Andy, and thank you Gillette for having me here today. I’m happy to take on this new role as Coach for TSM.
Via Interpreter I want to thank Andy and TSM for giving me the opportunity to work on the team and the very good players we have. And I’m really happy to be the coach of this LA team that we get to have. For me, Gillette is a very familiar name because Gillette is like the top brand in Korea too. I use it daily, use it even this morning too. I’m really happy that a big name like Gillette can work with TSM. And being part of that makes me really excited for 2018. I’ve always expected to be the best, and right now, TSM is the best team in North America, but I want it to be the best team in the world. So I hope we can work together and be the best we can be.
What are you most looking forward when it comes to the new additions to the squad?
Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell: Well, you know, sometimes change has to happen. With our past roster…there were some problems we couldn’t fix before Worlds. And with this new roster, we might have some new problems, but I know that those old problems will most likely be gone. I’m excited to play with these new players. They’re all pretty well known, and they have a good understanding of the game, a lot of good skill. And working with them will be really fun.
Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg: I think it’s just really motivating. To get a whole new set of teammates, it’s motivating for all of us to work harder. It’s just nice with a fresh breath of air, and having new people come in with their perspective on the game and/or strategy, I think we’ll all learn a lot from that.
For the new guys on the team, what does it mean to be a part of TSM, and what made you guys join the squad?
Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen: I think both TSM and I, well me and mithy, have in common is that we’ve both been destroying our domestic leagues. But we’ve had kind of lackluster performances at MSI or at Worlds. And when you’re on a new team, you get this honeymoon feeling where everything is great for a while and everyone has motivation to become the best. I mean, you always have that, but you’ve a new breath of fresh air. TSM is probably the biggest team in America, the best one for sure. We have, you know great branding, great sponsors like Gillette and a great team as well of good players and great guys as well. TSM was the only choice for me.
Alfonso “mithy” Rodríguez: Well, I’ve been wanting to join TSM for a while now, but I never really had the right time, it was never really the right time because I wanted to join together with Zven. Now that I’m finally here, it’s like a dream come true. I’ve said it a lot of times, but it really is the truth. I’ve always wanted to win EU and NA LCS, it’s like my biggest goal right now, so that’s something I’m striving for. And I also want to perform at worlds, and want to do well, and I think that’s something we all have in common, me and TSM and funnily enough, with Gillette is that we want to be the best. And I think that’s something we’re going to achieve together.
Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung: Well, so personally for me, I’m a unknown quantity when it comes to my protentional. I knew from the start when, two year back, three years back, that TSM was going to be the best platform for me to improve, and for me to reach my heights. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to do that when the time comes for me to really prove that I am the best. And I just appreciate that gaming and esports is really pushing towards more professionalism with brands that are coming in from normal sports, from NFL, from Olympics sports, like Gillette, I really do see esports reaching one of the most viewed games, one of the most viewed audience sports to watch.
Any bold predictions for the 2018 season?
Bjergsen: I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to win the NA LCS. It’s kind of a given at this point, but after that it’s kind of hard to tell because we still need to play together as a team to see how well we’ll perform internationally. I’m hopeful, but I’m not going to make any bold predictions about that.
Zven: I’ve been in this position before, where I’ve said something stupid and then it backfired really hard. So I think it’s not too much to claim that we’ll win LCS this year and that we’ll be the first players to win both NA and EU LCS, I’m not going to say that, but I think there’s a good chance we will make finals at least, and then we’re going to win.
mithy: I’d say that the minimum goal should be to win NA LCS and make it out of groups at Worlds.
What are you doing around LA now that you’re assembled?
mithy: I heard we’re going for food?
Bjergsen: Taking them out for good food. Mithy just landed last night, so we haven’t had a chance to do a whole lot yet. But we’re going out for team dinner tonight. We should probably plan some other activities too. There’s a lot of things to see and do out in LA. I’m sure we’ll go out and do things as a team.
How does that camaraderie from going out together as a team impact your performance as a team?
MikeYeung: I think the most important thing when we hang out outside the gaming room, and outside of practice, is that we build a bond together, so that we can really go into the small details when it comes to the game play, and make sure we’re covering every single aspect.
Bjergsen: I think when you have a solid friendship outside the game, it allows you to kind of be harder and criticize your teammates when there’s things that you think they should be doing differently. Or if they give you criticism, you’re able to take that and not be defensive. And if you’re friends, you know that when they’re criticizing you, it’as because they want the best for you and the best for your team, not because they’re telling you that you suck or something.
Kevin, how will Gillette change things for the upcoming season?
Hauntzer: It just goes to show, Gillette’s one the biggest brands out there, and TSM is one of the biggest esports brands out there. So the culmination of the two coming together really helps progress esports as a whole. We’re becoming more mainstream, it’s going to become a lot more serious in the future, so a lot of good stuff going forward for esports.
Bjergsen: We’ll definitely be the most handsome team on stage.
Soren, who spends the most time at the mirror?
Bjergsen: I shared a hotel room with Kevin once. I’m pretty sure he thought I was asleep, and I saw him checking himself out shirtless in the mirror. (Laughter) I think I’ll go with Kevin.
Most intimidating look?
Hauntzer: Probably Bjergsen, because he’s the most famous, he’s got a million followers on Twitter (Laughter), it’s kind of scary to talk to him, get on his bad side, you don’t want to do that.
Travis Gafford’s Question: Mithy, you had mentioned that you had wanted to come to TSM for a while. Was it always the plan this offseason for you to try to get to TSM? Was it just a conversation between you and Zven? How did that whole negotiation process go?
mithy: Well, I can’t go into too much detail, but yeah, the main idea for us was to reach…well, I wanted to go to North America because I had to go to win the NA LCS. So we wanted to stick together, go to NA, and join a competitive team. And TSM was pretty much the main team for us to look forward to because they excelled at those three things.
Andy, what does it feel like for you see the entire TSM team up here with Gillette in the Jerseys.
Regi: It’s honestly an amazing experience. Going into the offseason, there was just so much uncertainty. What I wanted out of the offseason was to put together the best possible team. Going to Worlds and losing was so discouraging. I don’t want to go and tell you guys a really long story why I created TSM, but the short version is that I only created TSM as a hobby. And the only reason I created TSM was to win Worlds. And after such a disappointing season, I went into the offseason with the expectation to build the best possible team in the Western Hemisphere, 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. I’m so proud to have this roster here, today, with Gillette. We’re working with Gillette, the best sponsor we have, working with all these players. They’re great, they’re amazing, they’re pretty much the best players in their positions in the West. So I would have to say that I practically got it all this offseason, I couldn’t have done better. And I’m just so proud of myself as well.