Ahead of the 2020 season, TSM was touted as one of the best looking teams on paper, set to rival Team Liquid in contest for the Spring Split trophy. However, after an 0-2 start, losing both games after early leads, TSM's strength already looks confined to paper only.
The man in charge of translating that strength to the Rift is TSM head coach, Zhang "Peter" "Peter Zhang" Yi. He was most recently the TSM Academy coach for 2018, but has a long history of coaching experience, all the way back to 2014.
Peter spoke with Inven Global about how the team hopes to move forward after a disappointing start to the season and their ultimate goal of making Worlds in the summer, not MSI in the Spring. He also shares the pressures of the TSM legacy on himself and the players, and how he is working to improve the TSM culture.
How has your position changed this year in how you work? Last year you were with the Academy team and I know you helped the LCS team out some in the Summer, but now you are the head coach for LCS so what changes have you had to make?
Well we're still running a pretty similar system like what we did last year so there's not that much of a big difference in my opinion, just I'm running the show right now. Originally this year we actually had planned and were actively searching for an LCS head coach. We tried a bunch of candidates, but unfortunately, in the end we didn't find the right person.
The original plan for me on TSM was for me to move on to the coach consulting jobs which I will be helping both the LCS and Academy team, because there are a lot of my good kids on Academy team too, so I don't want to just leave them.
So is that position something that you are still hoping to fill in later, or are you just going to see what happens this split?
I'm still working closely with my Academy team right now since we are moving to the office setup, our Academy and LCS teams are working pretty closely. I will still go watch their scrims and talk with them during the off day. And yeah, if we can find the right person for our LCS team we definitely are looking to do that?
What have the higher stakes and pressure been like for you personally?
Well obviously there's a big difference between LCS and Academy and in terms of the other stuff, I think there's not too much of a difference I would say. I was also on LCS before and doing a similar job, it's just LCS is more about every person having different personalities and how you deal with them and make them work together and that's just a little different than the Academy side.
What has been the culture shift now with the three new players this year? You brought Biofrost back, but also Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup. So what is the team culture like and how has it shifted from last year?
Well one of the big goals we want to do as TSM this year is build a team that is able to contest each other, trust each other, and actually play around a team and be on the same page. I think Dardoch and Kobbe are good fits for us and they are really down to go out together and do team activities together. They're really nice and friendly.
For us, we have basketball event all the time, and we go to the gym together. And we walk and eat out all the time. Especially in Korea, we would do scrims, then after scrims we go out. But the result doesn't really show yet, but I think just slowly we are going to build up our synergy.
That's good to hear. Does the 0-2 start of your split affect how you guys plan and move forward? Does it affect the team atmosphere?
Well yeah. If you say, "We're not sad," obviously that's not true. But if you say, "We're depressed," that's also not true. For us it's like a long road. Especially since Riot changed the formatting, it gave us more room to improve as a team in Spring Split. We do have a lot of struggles because we're a new team and we are just coming together.
I know we did have the Korean bootcamp but it was literally just a month ago. So we're kind of like a brand new team coming here. We did everything in scrims to come to play. I will say, thing's we've been practicing in scrims do show up on stage, so I do think that's a good result, but the overall result doesn't seem very good, though I think slowly we will get there.
I know a lot of people, including myself, rated TSM as top three just based on paper and what you look like with the talent you have available. Do you feel like that's accurate based on what you have and can pull together? Are you still confident in the split for the long run?
I won't say we will be for sure a top team on paper. I think this year, especially some new teams coming in, they all had pretty decent rosters. I'll say we do have the chance, we feel like we should be a contender for the title, but it's all depends on how hard we work this split working as a team together. Our goal is really just trying to make Worlds this year.
I'm not really thinking about, "Can we win Spring and go to MSI?" I'm really working on how we can be a top team in the Summer and be able to contest for a Worlds spot, that's what we want to be focused on.
That definitely provides some clarity. And I know in the past there's been a large discussion around TSM that the org is really hard on their players and the environment is difficult whereas a team like Cloud9 is more fun and games. What do you feel as the coach now for the LCS squad compared to previous jobs you've had, both TSM Academy and otherwise?
I definitely think the culture is getting better. One of the big things we do is last season we brought on David, he's our sports psychology guy who used to work for Cloud9. We brought him on this year and he and I were doing a lot of the job together to try and create a good environment where players would be willing to trust each other and just be honest with each other. I think that's one of the big parts for esports to work well.
And this year we have the office setup, and our players are actually showing they're willing to stay in an office after scrims and not just go home right away. But they stay there and play soloqueue together and talk to the others there. And we have a very good player lounge for players to chill in and talk to the Academy team and talk to the other coaches. So I think this definitely shows our culture is improving, we're just trying to see.
That's great to hear. Lastly, TSM has a great legacy. It's the single team that gets chanted out at every event. So what is it like trying to live up to that wall of history behind you and simultaneously rebuild to return to that greatness?
It's definitely a lot of pressure, I would say, especially for Parth and me. We're kind of running the show right now. Andy "Reginald" Dinh was supporting us in a lot of ways too. But yeah if you look back at TSM history and all the flags in the LCS arena, it's just a lot of things to live up to. And we're going to try and win.
That's one of the biggest things for TSM is we will always have that winning culture behind us, and we'll have those great players who used to win a lot who are supporting us. And I would say pressure is pressure, it's just depends on how you use it. And I think we use it fairly well and we use it as a drive to improve and become a better team.
UPDATE: January 29, 2:00 PST, Parth's comment was added to the body, providing more information about the coaching situation on TSM.
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