Once North America’s only hope, the legacy of Team SoloMid (TSM) is being called into question due to the team’s recent struggles in the jungle position. But in 2020, TSM’s roster is hoping to silence the calls of “TSM = Talent Suppression Machine.”
The beginning of the problem
TSM’s jungle issues began with the first “modern” TSM roster. In 2014’s Summer Split, TSM was swept in back-to-back finals by Cloud9, a team that relied on incredibly aggressive jungling and ahead of its time macro play to close out games. TSM knew they had to rebuild to keep up with C9, and they did. They brought in two import players, jungle and support, and won their first championship in over a year. While their macro improved, TSM’s primary playstyle was to put all their cards on feeding Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Sound familiar?
The 2015 iteration with TSM with Lukas “Santorin” Larsen in the jungle would have similar goals to find success, snowball Bjergsen and win the game. In the spring split, Santorin was incredibly proactive in the jungle. He participated in 24 of TSM’s 26 kills in the first two weeks and easily captured rookie of the split. However, the summer split was a different story.
TSM was behind from the start. Team Liquid and Counter Logic Gaming beat them in the regular season. In the playoffs, TSM’s improvement was marginal. In the official LCS broadcast of the summer finals, the broadcasters described Santorin as being a “moving pink-ward.” TSM was wholly outclassed by CLG’s plays across every position, and they were swept in the finals.
As the team struggled more and more, Santorin’s impact across the map greatly diminished and became more and more centered around him supporting Bjergsen. This is almost exactly what occurred in TSM’s 2019 season. Yet, this strategy of play has been outdated for nearly five years. Since he left TSM, Santorin has been placed on the LCS All-Pro Teams twice with FlyQuest, and he has received universal praise. A stark contrast to the community opinion of him during his TSM days.
Even with a new roster, the jungle still suffered
While the 2016 and 2017 iterations of TSM enjoyed significant success, the jungle issues persisted. When the team did not succeed, the new jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, was usually the first scapegoat for both fans and the organization. In a similar fashion to Santorin, Svenskeren’s play overtime became increasingly muted over his tenure with the team. After a lackluster World Championship performance in 2017, he was removed from the team. Since then, Svenskeren has enjoyed far greater success than TSM has in the same time frame, enjoying an MVP campaign, two finals appearances, and two worlds appearances with Cloud9.
Clearly, the players on TSM are not the issue. The mid lane has always ruled over TSM’s playstyle. In the original roster, TSM owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh helmed the mid lane and controlled the map. When Bjergsen joined the team, he dominated from the same position. TSM’s history has been to pile all their resources on the mid lane. This stranglehold of resources is most evident in the jungle. Throughout the season, the jungler simply becomes a support for the mid laner. This diminishes their impact across the map and makes them ineffective in their role.
What makes TSM’s 2020 roster different?
In this writer’s eyes, nothing. In fact, the issues we have seen in previous seasons may be more severe due to their choice of players. The new jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is a talented player with a history of having an incredibly defined playstyle, but an attitude problem in a team setting. He has bounced from team to team as he creates internal conflict among them. TSM has acquired Dardoch with this in mind. By bringing someone into the team who possesses a strong voice and ego, that way they won’t be able to control him, even if they wanted to.
But, with TSM maintaining the same coaching and managerial staff that was with them through the failure of the 2019 season, it seems more likely that they repeat the mistakes that they make time and time again. If TSM’s current struggle continues, they will once again look to the jungler for the change. However, instead of Dardoch taking a more muted playstyle as have junglers in the past, he will simply incite extreme discontent within the team à la “Team Liquid Breaking Point.” This team is a powder keg, it’s less of a matter of if this team will explode, but a matter of when.
TSM cannot and will not succeed if they don’t recognize the pattern of issues that have led them to this point. TSM’s 2020 roster doesn’t address the issues that have plagued them in recent years. They may have enjoyed their highest highs with their historic mid-centric playstyle. But, they also have endured their lowest lows. It is time for Team SoloMid to make a monumental change.