The Journey of TSM's Bjergsen
As the 2016 season ramps up, Bjergsen adds a new chapter to his story.
Søren 'Bjergsen' Bjerg, TSM mid laner and newly-minted Red Bull Athlete, has a lot on his plate. As the lone remaining member of the 2015 Team SoloMid squad and de facto captain, he’ll have to lead his team through the rebuilding process in the 2016 season.
At his back is one of the most talented rosters to ever play in the North American LCS. During the offseason, TSM grabbed the gifted ADC Doublelift from CLG, aggressive jungler Svenskeren from SK Gaming, and up-and-coming top laner Hauntzer from Gravity. Oh, and a support player named YellOwStaR. On paper, they’ve got what looks to be the best roster in NA. It’s only a matter of them coming together to form a cohesive unit.
But how did Bjergsen get here? How did a talented young mid laner from Denmark make his way from the amateur scene all the way to the most popular team in North America?
It all began fairly simply for Bjergsen. A humble solo queue player of 15 years old, he began to get noticed by smaller teams on Europe’s Eastern server.
“The first moment I realized I was good enough to become pro was back in 2012 or 13, when I was playing on the Eastern server in Europe. I was invited to play on the best team on that server,” he says. “That made me feel like, if I could get an offer from this team that was destroying everyone at the tournaments on their server, what would stop me from going further?”
From there, it was a rapid climb to the pro stage. He played in more and more smaller online tournaments, and ended up finding his way out West. “Eventually, I ended up on Copenhagen Wolves, went to Dreamhack, and qualified for the LCS.”
It was a slow start for the young Danish player. Copenhagen Wolves were consistently near the bottom of the EU LCS table in the beginning of their first season, something Bjergsen attributes to his lack of understanding of what it takes to be a true professional.
“When I first started playing in the LCS, I didn’t really feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I didn’t really understand how to work hard, how to improve. I didn’t have a super good way of improving myself. I had just played for fun.”
That soon changed, though. Says Bjergsen, “The first year and a half or so was really all about me and my teammates learning how to play together, how to take the game more seriously, how to wake up in the morning, how to practice hard every day, do preparations, study the enemy team. All these things were things we didn’t do.”
He stayed humble. He knew he had the mechanical skill to make it, but soon realized his game knowledge wasn’t up to snuff with the top tier talent in the world. “Even though I was good in lane and good in 1v1’s, in my first year or year and a half, I didn’t really understand how to play as a team, how to translate my lead to the rest of the team,” he says. “I didn’t have any extent of real game knowledge. That was the biggest thing I had to learn back then. I’m still working on that.”
Coming to America
Copenhagen Wolves eventually improved, finishing in 5th place of the 2013 Spring Split. However, during summer, they fell into relegation, and Bjergsen decided it was time to move on.
According to him, much of that decision came when he realized the instability of his situation. “A lot of my teammates were constantly getting switched out,” he says. “We couldn’t find a solid roster. I thought I might have been next [to be benched]. I never thought my performance was at the top. I didn’t want to be the guy that got benched. I wanted solid footing.”
Despite his personal doubts, he had garnered a reputation as one of the best up-and-coming players in Europe. With that, he turned his eyes to North America.
He found his new home on Team SoloMid, replacing legendary mid laner Reginald. “It wasn’t really much of a decision to go to TSM. They’re just such a big org. They were able to support me in every way they needed. They had a nice gaming house, which was a big plus for me,” he laughs. “At that point, I wasn’t really that independent of a person. I was wondering if I could move and live in another country. Not have my family around, not have my friends around, and start over.”
Immediately, after facing the likes of Cloud9, he realized he needed to improve his game sense even further. “I felt like, in the beginning, it was hard for me to realize my mistakes,” he says. “We would just roll through teams purely off mechanical skill and snowballing. But then, I started to look at the people I was playing against, and there were a lot of places where they were better than me...I started looking at other players, and they were playing smarter than me. I was just better mechanically, so I realized I had to improve on that, fast.”
TSM found success domestically with their Bjergsen, but it wasn’t until the 2014 World Championships that he really found out where he stood in the world. Perpetually doubtful of his own skills, he expected to be crushed by the immense talent coming out of Korea. “I was pleasantly surprised that I was at a similar level as a lot of these players. Season 4, TSM actually had a lot of success in scrims,” he says.
On the back of Bjergsen’s career-defining performance, TSM made it out of groups, only to lose to eventual champions Samsung White in the quarterfinals. It may have been an early departure, but Bjergsen had arrived internationally.
2015 was far less successful. TSM lost to CLG in the NA LCS finals, didn’t make it out of groups at Worlds, and eventually dropped everyone on the squad except for Bjergsen himself.
Now, it’s time to rebuild.
Bjergsen may not be the primary shotcaller anymore (that role goes to TSM’s new support YellOwStaR), but he knows that he’ll have to be a leader for TSM to succeed.
“My leadership capabilities can definitely be improved on,” he says. “I came into TSM never really having been a leader, never having to have been a shotcaller. I was just good at my role, and that’s what I focused on. But leadership is something I’ve been focusing on since then and something I can still improve on.”
That leadership starts with setting expectations. Despite the superteam look of the new TSM, he’s very careful to make sure his team - and their fans - don’t expect perfection right out of the gate.
“The main pressure is that the community or fans as a whole are going to expect us to smash NA right away. As soon as we lose a game, they’re going to say that this roster is a failure,” he says. “Since we haven’t played together as much, there’s no reason to set high expectations for our fans or each other. Taking it easy in the beginning, getting to know each other, getting to know how we play together as a team will be much more important.
It’s a slow burn, says Bjergsen. “We’re still going to do our best to win the spring split, but I feel like setting the expectations for our fans or even ourselves by saying, ‘Yeah, of course we’re going to win,’ is just undermining every other team. We’re just going to do our best to focus on ourselves. It’s just about how hard and how well we work together. That’s going to lead to winning.”
What can we expect from Bjergsen this season? “My personal goal in terms of a ranking or a standpoint is to do better than I did last year,” he says. “I failed to do that in 2015 by not going as far at Worlds as I did the previous year. But there’s no doubt that this year, I want to get out of groups or even go to the semifinals.”
Bjergsen may be keeping his expectations low, but he's very optimistic about the 2016 season. "One of the most exciting things [about 2016] is getting to have another support system," he says of becoming a Red Bull Athlete. "Red Bull is committed to help me with pretty much anything I can think of, and have shown me that there's no limit to their support. It also means I'll be able to bring the fans high quality content using Red Bulls years of experience. Being able to join Red Bull’s athlete roster is a great honor for me because they are very selective in who they choose to brand."
We’ll see just how far TSM has settled into their new roster starting Saturday, January 16, when TSM takes on CLG in the first game of the 2016 NA LCS season.