Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen has had a fairly long, storied career, coming to the League Championship Series as Cloud9's starting Mid Laner in 2015 following an indefinite ban in 2013 that was later overruled. In his LCS debut, he beat rival org, TSM, despite trailing behind Bjergsen throughout the game, leaving him with a criticism that he could not keep up with the league's best. A criticism he would not shake for years to come, one that would follow him throughout his career.
Cloud9 didn't make it to the Playoffs that season, but thanks to their Championship Points from Spring, they got a chance at Worlds in the Regional Finals, securing the Gauntlet victory and advancing to international play. While they failed to make it out of Groups, it would be the only time Cloud9 failed with Jensen on the roster, eventually making NA history years later with a semi-finals appearance in 2018.
Of all the Mid-Laners currently in the LCS, Jensen could make an argument for having the strongest, most successful career. He's been to MSI Finals and Worlds Semi-Finals, and he has escaped Groups at Worlds three times in total. However, he holds only two NA titles across his 10 Splits, dwarfed by the likes of Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and his five trophies, and eclipsed by NA Mid, Eugene "Pobelter" Park, with his own three. Even Hai "Hai" Lam, who Jensen replaced on Cloud9, is tied with his record, despite retiring years ago, and only playing about half as many splits as a full time starter.
Jensen walked through his career with us, breaking down key moments where he grew, marking moments of pain and frustration, but reflecting on how they shaped him and led him to various successes outside of domestic play. He discusses his narrative and fan perspective, and shares his hopes and plans for his ultimate goal before he one day retires.
What's your perspective of your career as a Mid Laner - both your personal view, your pride, your thoughts, but also what you think about the fans' perspectives and narratives around you? What do you make of it all?
Hmmm, oh man. That's hard to say. I'm not really sure how to describe my career honestly. I feel like it started off pretty good in a way - well both good and bad because I got 7th place my first split - but we still made it to Worlds through Gauntlet, so that was nice. I got to experience what it's like to compete on the international stafe pretty early on in my career.
Then after that, I was always compared to Bjergsen. Like, "Is he the best Mid Laner in the LCS? Is he the second best Mid Laner in the LCS?" And it went on like that for a few years, with me mainly getting 2nd place a lot of the time. And I feel like the community's perception of me at the time was mainly that I was the 2nd best Mid Laner - and maybe I could be the best but until I win something then it doesn't really matter. Which I thought was kind of weird, because if you really think about it, there's a lot of great players and Mid Laners that never really won anything until a certain point in their career.
Man, at the time that kind of triggered me, but I could kind of see where it was coming from at the same time, but yeah then I joined TL eventually, and we went on to win two splits. And the community's reaction was like, "Ah yeah, Jensen's getting carried by Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng!" Hahaha. So you know it was like no matter what I do, there was just no winning for me it felt like. Because I felt like I was playing f****** well, and I felt like I was the best mid laner, but no one ever wanted to give me credit it felt like. No matter what, people always had an excuse.
Yeah, and as far as the Bjergsen comparison... We have these narratives that live for so long, but it's not often that we speak to the people involved in those narratives about them. So what are your thoughts about that comparison to him?
I think that comparison makes a lot of sense. We were both star Mid Laners of our team throughout our careers, and we always went toe to toe, and our games were pretty close. So in that regard, it makes a lot of sense, and I think he kind of set the bar for Mid Laners when he first came to NA. And he was really the guy to beat. And we kind of pushed each other to become better players just playing against each other a lot.
And yeah, I think if he never came to NA, the region as a whole would've been a lot worse, because other teams had to invest in Mid Laners to really compete with him. And that's the truth because he was so far ahead of everyone else when he first started here. So yeah I guess we have a lot of competitive history against each other. And the story line is interesting for the community. But it sounds like the narrative is sticking for too long because that's what's being pushed.
So the players on the All Pro team last split were all completely different EU Mids. We're looking at Nisqy, Jiizuke, and PowerOfEvil as the new generation of dominant EU Mids in NA. So what is your thought about your current perception in reference to the rest of the league, especially the EU imports. Before, it was always, "Either Jensen or Bjergsen is the best," but it doesn't seem that way as much now.
So I think throughout the years, other Mid Laners have kind of caught up to us I guess. But at the same time - to be completely honest - Bjergsen and I are still better than the other Mid Laners. But the game has developed so much that it's about the team game overall, and how synchronized you are with your teammates and the team's decision making and stuff. Because the game isn't so much about individual play anymore.
So I think it's a lot harder now to shine individually than it was before because it's so easy to lose lane gracefully, or if you have a stronger Jungler or Support who can help you out Mid Lane, even if you lose 9 out of 10 times, from a spectator point of view you might not even notice it because it's so easy to bail out someone who is just slightly worse. But I think what really defines a better Mid Laner is how clutch they are in the moment - better positioning, teamfighting, all that stuff. But all of that can be hard to see if you're on a losing team.
I think it was in 2018 or 2019 when Bjergsen was quote "having bad years." He wasn't having the same results as he was in the past. But I don't even think that was related to him being a bad player, I think that was him being stuck in a bad situation honestly. But from the community's point of view, it was that he was a bad player or falling off, but it's hard to shine if you're in a worse team. So yeah, it's really hard to tell which Mid Laner is better or worse just from looking at the LCS I think. Because it's really just about the teams now.
It's hard for players to shine individually without resources, because you can not do anything if your team is losing, that's just how Mid Lane works right now. If your team is losing, and you have no vision control, you can't pressure. That's just a fact. So even if you have the best player in the world, as a Mid Laner, if the side lanes are losing or the Jungler is getting pressured, it's really hard to make an impact.
So the other huge narrative was that for so long you didn't have an NA title. But you also have had the best international career of any current LCS Mid Laner. So how would you measure your overall success? How do you evaluate it given the difference in your international and domestic success?
Oh man. Well when I think back, the first thing that goes to my head is that I deserve more, I should've achieved more. But the way people will think about that when that hear that is, "He's blaming his teammates! He's not that good." Hahaha. That's what people think if I say something like that.
But yeah, I feel like through most of my years I was the best Mid Laner. And at times, I was second to Bjergsen. There are definitely periods that he would play better. But thinking about how many years I've been playing in the LCS, I feel like I should've gotten more titles, better results. But at the same time, I did have good results internationally, so I guess that makes up for it. But yeah that's how I think about it when I really reflect on my career.
Would you trade all the international success for all the NA titles that you almost got?
Right now, definitely not since I did eventually get them. I think if I never had gotten out of Groups I think I'd be like, "Man I really want to get out of Groups this time!" So I think it kind of goes both ways. Like if you never win LCS, you just really want to win LCS, but if you don't get out of Groups, you're just wishing you could get out of Groups. I do think playing internationally is more fun because you get to play against new Mid Laners and different play styles that you don't see every day. So for sure getting international results in that sense feels better, it feels refreshing.
People bring up your Ekko play all the time as this big, terrible moment for you in your story. But I don't think people have ever really asked you about it. Is that actually still a big painful moment for you, or is that just some narrative we are clinging to as a community?
I'd say before I won LCS, it was definitely something that was in the back of my head. Like before I'd have to play Finals, every time, I'd always think about that play. I actually remember the night before I won my first LCS Title with Liquid, I re-watched that game just to remind myself of the emotions I had, and I told myself it was not going to happen again. In a way, it felt like something I had to overcome. I wouldn't say it was necessarily a mental block, but it was for sure something that stuck with me for a few years.
Would you say that moment is the specific moment of hardship that stuck with you the most? There were other big frustrating parts of your career, like the benching on Cloud9 and getting 9th last split, etc. What would you say is the most frustrating or painful part of your career?
It was definitely that moment on Ekko. What that moment taught me the most was that even if I did feel like I was performing really f****** well, there are always things I can keep improving. I remember after that experience, I would always think, "If I just practice a little bit harder, if I just tried a little more, it would've been a completely different outcome." And that's something that really stuck with me that I've kept in mind. It was a good learning experience.
Would you change those experiences then? That, the getting benched thing, the 9th place finish last split, etc.? Would you change those struggles if you could?
I don't know. I think they're all different situations though, right? I mean the whole benching thing was still a bit weird, but not something I'm going to get into now hahaha. And the 9th place one... Honestly, that one was just shitty. I don't really know. I have my ideas as to what happened, but the only thing that really sucked about it the most is that it doesn't seem like there was a big takeaway or learning experience from it. It just felt like a big waste of time. So that one felt the worst because nothing good came from it from my point of view.
Well, I want to push back against that a bit. Because right now you're sitting at the top of the standings. Do you just feel like you should've been here last split? Like you didn't change or learn anything to get you back here necessarily?
Yeah, that's what I feel. Like if I had changed something drastically or had a big realization from that, then that would've been great. But it's not like I changed how I worked or how I make decisions in game. So that's why it sucks. There weren't really any big takeaways from the situation, but that's what failure is supposed to give you. You want to learn something big from it. Of course, if you lose a lot there's always going to be stuff you can take away, but it was mostly minor stuff. So yeah, it was just a shitty situation I guess.
As far as the continuing development of your story and career, including the fans perception and narrative around you as a player, what is your hope and plan moving forward?
Well I still have one big narrative from fans that I feel like I need to change. I think when a lot of people think of me, it's like, "Yeah, he's good for NA standards, but when it comes to international competition, he's like whatever - he's not going to show up." But I feel like the one thing I really want to achieve is international success, more so than before. Like I want to actually win something. And I know I have it in me. It's just that the time just has to come, so that's what I'm focusing on right now.
So not just making it to the Finals, but securing some titles.
Yeah, and actually being competitive. And not being a Mid Laner where people think I'm going to get outclassed. I feel like that's a big narrative right now, that people think I'm not up there with the best Mid Laners. I know I can do it, so that's the one narrative I really want to change before my career is done.
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Even though he never leads the position in scoring, Jensen has been an extremely stable fantasy option in the Mid Lane. His 7-game streak of 20+ point games may have ended against Flyquest, but with his 2nd matchup against Cloud9 out of the way, the schedule sets up for Jensen to start that streak again. His best performances have come on Azir and Twisted Fate, but he is playing more Zoe lately as opponents ban those Champions against him. He is a Top 5 option at the position going forward.
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