Whether it’s at home or abroad, North American powerhouse TSM operates under a spotlight where high expectations follow the team at every turn. Following an 0-6 performance at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship in October — the first time a Pool 1 team has ever failed to win a game at Worlds — TSM faced their biggest offseason change yet: all-star mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg retired and became their coach. This year, TSM takes the Rift with the same high expectations but with an overhauled roster and rookie coach that are still learning from each other as they try to build synergy and turn the page on last year’s disastrous Worlds performance.
As TSM’s star mid laner and franchise player, Bjergsen’s retirement made headlines. Bjergsen carried TSM to six LCS titles since joining the team in 2013 as one of Europe’s most talented mid laners. Bjergsen and TSM grew to become synonymous over the years as the former became the focal identity of his team both in and out of game. Bjergsen’s knowledge and experience moving into the coaching role is surely tantalizing, but it’s uncharted territory for TSM and necessitates a change in approach.
“Most rosters are built on a two-year cadence, so when a major piece like Bjergsen wants to move on to the coaching role, we have to reorganize and figure out what we want to do as an org,” TSM’s manager Parth “Parth” Naidu said. “Do we want to go in the direction of a rebuild, or do we want to invest in putting a roster together that works with Bjergsen as the head coach?”
Rebuilding a roster from scratch is never easy, and given TSM’s history of sustained success and longtime fandom, the community has set a high bar for the team. Rebuilding becomes even more difficult considering that TSM’s star AD carry Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng retired alongside Bjergsen, leaving the team without two superstars. According to Parth, a big part of the rebuild was finding the elements that Bjergsen brought to the team, but in different players, rather than finding a new superstar to completely anchor the lineup.
“There is no one person we could find to replace everything that Bjergsen brought to the team,“ Parth said. “You have to isolate how a team functions [along] with the kind of things he brought to make sure those aspects are still in the team.”
Bjergsen last competed for TSM at 2020 Worlds. Photo credit: Riot Games
It’s a more pragmatic approach, but it holds up with TSM’s acquisitions this offseason — top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh and AD carry Lawrence “Lost” Hui. These four players are a diverse group of talent, literally spanning the globe from four different regions: Huni from South Korea, PowerOfEvil from Europe, SwordArt from Taiwan and Lost from Oceania. They are joined by TSM’s only returning member, jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu, who rose to the occasion as TSM’s starting jungler en route to a 2020 LCS summer title.
A diverse range of established talent and experience can be pretty exciting, but individual playstyles don’t always jive off the bat. Teams are more than just players on a lineup sheet. Bjergsen recognizes the potential style conflicts and the challenges they can bring.
“A lot of our players have been the star player on a weaker team,” Bjergsen said. “Lost was really the big focal point of TSM Academy where everyone played around him. It’s the same for PowerOfEvil, where he’s been the star carry on a lot of his rosters. In Huni’s case, he was on Dignitas and EG last year, which weren’t particularly strong teams, and it often felt like the game was resting on his shoulders. We can’t play to all three players at the same time, so they have to take a step back and learn to play well without resources. Although, I think Huni and Lost both play really well without resources as well as with resources.”
It’s common knowledge in League of Legends that a team can’t play to all three lanes, otherwise teams would be consistently punished for trying to spread themselves too thin. That’s how the game is played, but individual players have their own quirks, and it can be difficult to find the right balance at times. Just a few games into his new role, Bjergsen still is learning how to balance everyone’s needs.
“I think as a coach, you need to be smart about how you work with different people … different people need different things,” he said. “I think that’s something I didn’t do very well as a player. I would often get upset or frustrated when I was being affected by my teammates’ mistakes and speak to them with frustration or urgency. That is what some people need, but that’s not what everyone needs, so that’s something I’m really learning … how to best work with all the people on our team.”
SwordArt was a 2020 Worlds finalist with Suning. Photo credit: Riot Games
As Bjergsen and his TSM roster grow together, there is one key player that both he and Parth believe will steer the team in the right direction as they learn from each other — SwordArt. SwordArt was a Worlds finalist with LoL Pro League team Suning last year, and he’s expected to make his mark in the LCS through aggressive playmaking, but his role on the team might even be more significant than that.
“He really pushes his teammates to be better and work harder,” Bjergsen said. “He can play all kinds of support styles, so he can really cover for any team weaknesses … It’s SwordArt — he played in the Worlds finals. He knows how to make a winning team, and he was a big part of why Suning did so well … I try to work really closely with him so that we’re always on the same page because the players are going to listen to pretty much everything he says.”
TSM hopes that SwordArt will continue to bring his vibrant energy and lead the team as they grow in 2021, but the roster still has a long way to go after playing together for only two weeks.
Bjergsen and Parth both insist that their roster’s short time together is “no excuse” for their performance during the LCS 2021 Lock In tournament these last two weeks — a 2-2 group stage record and 1-2 quarterfinals loss to Cloud9. However, given that most top teams opted to maintain their core rosters from 2020, a gap in team synergy is expected.
More than anything, the LCS Lock In was an opportunity for everyone to get their feet wet and understand what the team needs to do to succeed in serious games. TSM might have struggled to keep pace in the early game, but they were often competitive behind Huni’s aggressive teamfighting and SwordArt’s shotcalling if they could make it to the mid game. As competitive as Bjergsen, Parth and the rest of TSM are, it was a solid litmus test for the upcoming spring split where wins and losses carry even more weight.
“I don’t think we performed as well as our team could, but it did show us a lot of weaknesses that we wouldn’t have otherwise spotted if we were just scrimming another two weeks leading into the season,” Bjergsen explained. “It’s really the regular season that matters, so I think this is going to prepare us well.”
LCS Lock In is only a preseason tournament in the grand scheme of things, and the regular season is where Bjergsen and his newly minted roster will really make their mark. It’s a brand new TSM, and it’s up to Bjergsen and the team’s reconstructed roster to work together to live up to the organization’s storied legacy.
Lead photo credit: TSM