In the Summer of 2016, Team SoloMid dominated North America, winning every series but one on their way to Worlds. TSM rode high on the performances of superstar carries Doublelift and Bjergsen, but that all came crashing down at the League of Legends World Championship. TSM didn't make it out of the group stages, leaving San Francisco dejected and with nothing to show for all the hard work they had put in. An extra helping of adversity was served in the offseason when Doublelift announced he would be stepping down from the roster to stream.
Spring 2017 has been about Team SoloMid learning to play without its star shotcaller Doublelift, and Bjergsen returning to the main carry role on the team. In Doublelift’s absence, TSM isn’t looking quite as dominant as they did in the summer, but the unit always steps up in the face of defeat. Bjergsen and TSM have demonstrated immense fortitude, especially in continuous 2-1 comeback wins. It's that mental fortitude that Bjergsen believes will carry them through the ups and downs of a long Spring Split.
Still the same team
“I think after we lose a game in a series, we pretty much focus all our talk on adaptation,” Bjergsen says. TSM might have a history of getting stunned in individual games, but it has this uncanny ability to always come up, backs against the wall; things are no different with this iteration of TSM. “After we lose a game, we don’t go in with a defeated mentality ‘Oh we’re gonna lose 0-2.’ It’s just like, we already freaking lost so we might as well give it our all and go HAM. I feel like that’s why we do well after suffering a loss. Everyone just gets the mentality that we can play our game.”
Though that typical TSM tenacity remains, communication and leadership is still a work in progress. However, TSM has a friend in the familiar Wildturtle, and Bjergsen already sees him as a strong ally. “It’s always easy to play with [Wildturtle] because he’s easy to get along with and has pretty decent communication in game as well.” Wildturtle isn’t at the forefront of the team the way Doublelift was, however; top laner Hauntzer has primarily been the one to fill that void with Bjergsen. “I think it’s mostly Hauntzer and me that are setting up and taking over Doublelift’s team roles of communication and leadership.”
While Bjergsen spearheads team communication along with Hauntzer, he exclaims that it really is a balanced team effort in the end. “I have to take a little more responsibility because I have to do more, but we’re kind of dividing our communication between everyone. Everyone has their responsibilities in the game that they’re accountable for every single game.”
Even if miscommunication occurs or TSM flat out makes a bad play, everyone understands what’s at stake. “Everyone has a good understanding of the game as a whole, even if someone drops the ball. Everyone is gonna be there to address that we need to do something. We’re always looking to pick each other up because no one has perfect games.” Individual performances still matter, but no player is alone on TSM.
In some of TSM’s most successful games, Bjergsen showcased the potential of Ryze as a champion, pulling off excellent macro plays around side lanes and Baron. It’s fitting that TSM, with their philosophy, has prospered with a champion that uses such a team-based ultimate. Bjergsen recounts when he first really thought about the potential of Ryze and his ultimate.
“I first saw it from Flash Wolves’s Maple, when in scrims they had this one consistent play in their playbook. They would split-push with Ryze and then just double up the minion wave with supers once he got the enemy to catch the wave. That just got me thinking that it’s actually an insane play. It’s so hard to counter because you have to deal with the Ryze when he can just teleport the wave and himself away. It’s just about being creative with his ult.”
Ryze’s ult is still a finicky ability — while one player initiates the play, whether or not his teammates follow defines its success. Bjergsen has to do the same with TSM. “It definitely requires a lot of coordination because as the Ryze player, I have to pull a bunch of people and be like ‘You guys just have to trust me!’ If I tell someone to take the ulti, they’ll take it and put their faith in me.” Both in-game as Ryze and as a player in general, Bjergsen leads his teammates as they put their faith him.
Willing and able
TSM is currently sitting in second place behind Cloud9, the only team they’ve lost to. Given that, it’s only natural that Bjergsen sees them as TSM's biggest threat going forward. “It’s obviously Cloud9 who is looking like the strongest team, and we lost to them in week one. They’re the team we’re going to be looking to beat.”
When asked about his biggest challengers in the mid lane, two players specifically came to mind. “In terms of players, I think Jensen and Ryu are really consistent, strong players. Jensen plays a little more greedy and takes more risks, versus when I play against Ryu, he makes very few mistakes and is a stable player Phoenix1 can always rely on. Those two are playing really well.” It doesn’t end there though; Bjergsen still is wary of North American mid laner Pobelter as a relevant opponent.
“I have a lot of faith in Pobelter, I don’t think he’s had a great showing so far, but the Pobelter that is playing on Immortals wasn’t the Pobelter that people are saying was getting carried by Reignover or Huni. Pobelter was always playing his matchups correctly, always moving with his team, and playing teamfights well, sort of like Ryu always being a stable point on Phoenix1. He hasn’t been able to show it this split, but the later the season goes, I think he’ll get better.”
Bjergsen is the most popular player in North America on the most popular team, but the expectations that come with the spotlight hardly bother him. “There’s always pressure, I don’t really think there’s more or less this split. I don’t really care too much. It’s mostly about the pressure I put on myself and everyone puts on themselves individually to perform.”
Everyone on TSM is continually working to better themselves and that never stops. Bjergsen always wants to be the best, so Doublelift or not, the gameplan remains the same. “TSM has historically always been about winning, and everyone knows that.”