TSM are one of the most decorated teams in western League of Legends. They have made it into every single one of NA LCS finals during their time in the League. They have dominated their domestic region and are, for many, the West’s flag-bearers for competitive League of Legends. Yet the team has never found any international success. Ever since the introduction of the group stage system 3 years ago at worlds, they have not managed to qualify out once. Western Teams such as Cloud9 and Fnatic and Misfits have all gotten through, so there is something specific to TSM that’s causing this trend.
A misuse of Svenskeren and the Jungle role
A lot of TSM’s problems start with with Svenskeren. Once the terror of EU LCS, his dominating jungle style saw him repeatedly shut out the enemy jungler and dictate the pace of the game. His invades, deep vision, and objective control were the most influential on the Jungle role in EU since the legendary DiamondProx. His transfer over to TSM saw many fans hoping for the same level of impact and domination in NA, and for it to catapult TSM to international fame and success. However Svenskeren would soon stop playing the carry orientated champions of Nidalee, Graves, Rek'sai, and settle into the tank meta of endless Gragas games. The impact of this switch in champion pools was exacerbated by his continued solo invades into the enemy jungle, still trying desperately to make that 1v1 jungle style work. But now he didn’t have the champions – or his team-mates – to back him up. His movements into the enemy jungle were erratic and always solo, very rarely having his solo laners backing him up. This would become painfully apparent during worlds, putting his team at disadvantages during key stages of the game. All of this showed that his team-mates, as well as the wider coaching staff at TSM, did not know what to do with his carry-oriented play style. The inability to integrate such a great player, and instead force him into this generalist playstyle, raises questions about effectiveness about TSM coaching.
Long-standing coaching Issues.
Coaching is not a new problem for TSM. Previously they had failed to fully integrate previous jungler Santorin, or such international superstars such as Yellowstar into their lineup. The roster issues, and the rigidity at which they were approached, speaks to a long standing criticism that many fans and analysts have had of TSM – their coaching. A further issue with the coaching can be found with their weaknesses in their draft. More than one game at Worlds was lost due to TSM never truly being able to gain the upper hand during the much important pre-game phase. One example was the occasion when TSM drafted 3 losing Lanes against Misfits (twice!). Things are always going to be tough when a team puts themselves at a massive disadvantage even before the game starts. TSM looked lost when drafting, not prioritizing practiced picks, or meta champions, ending up with weaker compositions that usually relied on very late game scaling. They would consistently choose lanes which would be out pressured and out rotated, hoping that their late game teamfighting would be superior. This would be systematically exploited, and TSM would look lost not able to stall out the games, garnering massive early game deficits. [caption id="attachment_83486" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Parth, TSM's coach. Image via Lol Flickr.[/caption] Granted, Coaches are not solely responsible for draft – players have a huge input, too. But it is the coach's role to make players understand the draft phase fully. Losing every single drafting phase is an impressive feat in and of itself, and speaks volumes about the state of your coaching. Things would only go downhill once they entered the game. Even when they got their preferred champions TSM, did not seem to understand their victory conditions. Playing reactively to the enemy team, SoloMid were never the ones initiating or looking to pull ahead. TSM were statistically the worst team at Worlds before 20 minutes. They failed to get a single first blood in any of their games, and had one of the highest gold deficits in the early game. For a team containing western superstars, playmakers such as Bjergsen and Doublelift, this was incredibly surprising.
The regional issue
It’s undeniable that TSM failed for a myriad of reasons, and people will certainly disagree on which of those are the most salient. It may well be failings an individual level, with players not performing to an expected level, or crumbling under the pressure of Worlds. It may be these players were never as good as they seemed domestically, or coaching issues were made more acute in an international environment. The fundamental truth is that the domestic region is simply weak, and this means that any or all of the previous points could theoretically be true. A split in NA LCS (or EU for that matter) can mask a whole range of issues, that just won’t come to light until international teams exert a higher level of pressure. This can be true of all western teams, but felt most acute with TSM, a western super team that has such a storied legacy of domestic success, who focused their entire season on trying to make it in Worlds. That, more then anything, is the sad truth of why TSM failed at worlds. Their weaknesses were simply not exposed early enough.