MSI preview -Team SoloMid

The Team

Legendary North American squad Team SoloMid is one of the oldest League of Legends organizations, having participated in the World Championship tournament every year since its inception. This newest iteration of TSM might be the strongest yet, as they won their first regular season LCS split since rivals Cloud 9 burst onto the scene 2 years ago, and then TSM followed up with their second straight playoff championship over that C9 team. Superstar midlaner Bjergsen has dominated in his role of team leader and shotcaller, and there is probably no team in western League of Legends with better pre-game preparation. If Bjergsen can step up against the world’s best and TSM can continue to show their elite technique, they have a chance to challenge for the MSI championship.

The Players

Top – Marcus “Dyrus” Hill
Key Champions – Lulu Maokai Sion

Dyrus is the stalwart elder statesman of TSM, having played on the team consecutively since the middle of season 2. At any given time his champion pool is moderately-sized, but he picks up champions so quickly that it is very difficult to determine which champions are his priorities at any given time. Lately he has been very successful on tanks such as Maokai and Sion, and TSM loves to send him top with Lulu, in contrast to most Eastern teams that prioritize Lulu mid. Dyrus does the dirty jobs on this team, playing supportive tanks, countering split push, and drawing significant enemy focus-fire all game. Even though Dyrus is very effective when grouped with his teammates, it sometimes feels like Dyrus is on his own all game while the other four members of the team are working together. This can be problematic, as there can be a disconnect between Dyrus’ play and that of his teammates, especially in the early game; his teammates make an objective play somewhere and Dyrus allows himself to get caught even though there is no help coming to his lane. Presumably for this reason, teams can have success focusing Dyrus early on, hoping to discombobulate TSM’s odd man out. On the flip side, if Dyrus is left alone, he almost invariably emerges from the laning phase as a beast with incredibly high impact in teamfights, no matter the champion.

Jungle – Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen
Key Champions – Rek’Sai Sejuani Gragas Nidalee

Santorin is TSM’s phenom rookie jungler, acquired from Team Coast at the beginning of the Spring Split and going on to win “Rookie of the Split” for the NA LCS. His safe, disruptive play is a perfect fit for TSM’s style. He has a wide champion pool, lately adding mega tanks Gragas and Sejuani to his already competent Rek’Sai, Nidalee, Vi and Jarvan IV. Though Santorin does not stand out for his individual strength or outplays, he is great roaming together with his team, especially Lustboy, and his decision-making is outstanding. He almost never gets caught and he plays his role perfectly in team fights, which is usually to tank and disrupt. Even after Jarvan’s nerf hurt that champion’s relevancy, Santorin was still having a huge impact lategame with just his knockup and ult placement, freeing Bjergsen to flank and WildTurtle to autoattack safely. Santorin can occasionally fall behind his enemy counterpart in farm, but usually that is because his team leaves him alone in the jungle and has confidence that he can remain relevant even if focused by their opponents.

Mid – Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg
Key Champions – Urgot Leblanc Zed Ahri

Trying to pick key champions for TSM’s star midlaner difficult, since his champion pool is so vast, so the champions listed above are the ones he is comfortable playing on blue side and potentially getting countered. On purple side, Bjergsen almost always gets the last pick to choose a his mid, giving his team poke with AP Kog’Maw, a lane counter like Cho’Gath, or lockdown like Lissandra. However, he has yet to show great play on hyper scaling carries like Azir or Cassiopeia, limiting TSM’s options against super tanky compositions. Apart from his individual skill and commitment to improvement, Bjergsen’s most amazing attribute is his uncanny patience and decisiveness; he is willing to wait for the perfect opportunity to annihilate his target, on his own or with the help of his team. The difference between this year’s Bjergsen and the Bjergsen of years past is that he is now the unquestioned leader of the team. He plays the mid- and lategame with total confidence that his team will do their job, either protecting him and WildTurtle or giving him opportunities to split push and flank with his deadly assassins.

AD Carry – Jason “WildTurtle” Tran
Key Champions – Jinx Corki Sivir

For the most part, WildTurtle plays the public role of secondary carry to Bjergsen, dealing damage and cleaning up kills from behind, while TSM’s more celebrated midlaner makes the flashy plays. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that WildTurtle actually led TSM in kills during the spring split. A huge part of TSM’s team strategy is to have the other four members distract and disrupt while WildTurtle safely cleans up the enemy team from behind. For that reason, TSM loves to put WildTurtle on hard carries like Kalista or Jinx and protect him, or they grab his excellent Corki and let him combine with Bjergsen to push enemies off turrets with safe poke. WildTurtle can at times be too aggressive with his positioning, flashing forward or getting needlessly caught, but when he is playing within TSM’s gameplan, he is perhaps the most lethal player on the team.

Support – Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik
Key Champions – Janna Annie Nami

If Bjergsen is the king of the North American scene, in some ways Lustboy is the power behind the throne. Though he is not known for his great technical plays in the same way as fellow Korean Madlife or North American rival aphromoo, his contributions to his team are arguably greater than either. He is the master of using his time well; if he does not need to be in lane he is off warding or roaming, and he pairs extremely well with Santorin to camp for Bjergsen or get vision control. Lustboy’s roaming is good, but his contribution to vision control is superlative; he almost never gets caught and he has an amazing sense for when he can go ward solo and when he needs his team to back him up. If he has one weakness, it is that he and WildTurtle are not the most outstanding duo lane. They are solid with the occasional spectacular play, but TSM generally works hard to get WildTurtle a safe solo lane to farm to avoid overexposing them.

Picks and Bans

TSM’s bans have lately been fairly formulaic; on blue side they ban a carry toplaner like Rumble, a dangerous support like Morgana or Nautilus, and sometimes a mid laner they do not want to give up as a last pick. On purple side they ban dangerous first pick toplaners like Hecarim and save the last ban to counterban a high priority first pick, such as one of Sejuani or Gragas if the opponent bans the other. In the actual picking phase, TSM can be very difficult to pin down, as they like to give their opponents many different looks to keep them guessing. A consistently popular pick for TSM is Lulu top, with which they often run synergistic champions like Urgot mid or Kog’Maw bottom. TSM’s compositions always have a thematic point. Rather than settle for comfort picks or trying to just outplay their opponents, TSM tries to find the weakness of their opponent’s composition and exploit it, whether it be through tank busting, midgame power, or engage. Sometimes this works beautifully, but other times it seems as if TSM has outthought themselves, making weaker picks just to try to exploit a barely existent flaw in their opponent’s strategy.

Playstyle

Everything about TSM’s game smacks of preparedness. They always have a both a gameplan and the disciplined patience to execute that plan. While individual players, especially WildTurtle and Dyrus, can make technical mistakes or miscalculate, the team as a whole is always moving inexorably toward their specific goals. They do not underestimate their opponents and they are capable of quick adaptation. However all of these factors can work to TSM’s disadvantage as well. TSM chooses thematic, execution-based team compositions, so if their enemy manages to surprise them or outplay them in early skirmishes, TSM can lose their carefully cultivated initiative, dooming them to an uncomfortable midgame. Additionally, their patience in closing out the game or stalling it sometimes feels like a lack of killer instinct, and their opponents can sometimes use that as a window to get back into the game or to push a lead.

TSM uses a creative and varied early game to keep their opponents off-balance, utilizing deep wards and late invades to get the matchups they want. They love to lane swap, freeing Dyrus to farm the jungle and Lustboy to roam, and their final goal is often to have WildTurtle alone farming a sidelane with their jungler, support and top laner roaming around, waiting for an opportunity to push an objective. Once they take a tower, they generally rotate around the map with mid as their fulcrum; Bjergsen holds the lane and makes plays opportunistically while the other four members take towers and vision control. The idea is to constantly be pressuring objectives, offering a trade to their opponent, but also forcing that opponent to be prepared for the trade or risk losing out.

Though TSM plays a number of different compositions, their style of closing the game with most compositions is generally very similar. Most of their compositions can control space and dictate their opponents’ positioning, factors which they use to slow constrict their enemy through vision control and poking or flanking. They have the teamfighting ability to back up their threats, but they prefer to win without fighting, giving their opponent no opportunity to ace them and claw back into the game. To this end, they use a number of tactical late game tools, such as brush camping and sneaky barons to catch their opponents off guard. They can be weak to heavy engage, but it is difficult to beat TSM with tower pushing or objective focus because of their canny map movements.

Player to Watch
Bjergsen

Since joining TSM, Bjergsen has consistently performed at a high level both domestically and internationally, but he has stepped above even that level so far this year. His champion pool is deep and his teamplay is better than ever. Keep an eye on the his lane control, an underrated aspect of mid lane. Bjergsen is unbelievably good at pushing his lane when his team needs the space and other times letting his lane push to put pressure on the enemy laner.

Key Number(s) 5-1

That is TSM’s record over the last year in best of five series after losing game one. In that time, the only series they lost after being down 1-0 came to eventual world champion Samsung White in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2014. This speaks to TSM’s ability to adjust in long series, but also to TSM’s historical tendency of struggling with new matchups. TSM’s track record suggests they will be dangerous if they make the MSI playoffs, but that they might have surprising difficulty even getting there.

Outlook

Team SoloMid looks stronger now than they ever have, and they seem like the best Western hope for keeping up with the Eastern behemoths at the MSI. Their patient, disciplined, objective-driven approach would seem to match up well with some of the more aggressive teams at MSI who will find few mistakes upon which to capitalize. However, TSM’s greatest asset, their outstanding midlaner, will be somewhat negated by the incredible talent at that position, and their slower style of play risks falling behind to teams that ruthlessly finish off passive teams. Compounding this potential issue is that TSM is very accustomed to dealing with brilliant rotational play from their Cloud 9 rivals, but they have yet to face any teams with the raw talent of their MSI competitors. On the whole, TSM’s fortune will rise and fall based on their ability to dictate the pace of the game, as there are few teams at the tournament prepared to beat TSM’s slow constrictive play; even if TSM falls behind early, they are capable of coming back against nearly anyone as long as they slow down their enemy. Thus, TSM is a real threat to any team at the tournament, and even the Eastern favorites should be happy to avoid them in the playoffs.

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