“When I first started playing, I was just a depressed kid in Denmark. League of Legends was just an escape…”
To many of us, video games — and League of Legends, specifically — are an escape. Whether it be simply just to unwind from work, a search for an adventure, a desire for a challenge, or to forget about the hardships and pain from everyday life. From the lowest Iron IV player to the ‘One King,’ Bjergsen, this can be true.
And it is for me too.
Bjergsen’s retirement reawakened in me some nearly forgotten memories. I cried for six hours; I was useless at work for days. Bjergsen meant a lot to me, and he represents an entire period of pain and growth that I may not have survived without him. I know there are others like me, and for them, and for myself, I write this story.
I wholeheartedly believe that League of Legends and esports saved my life, and Bjergsen was and is at the very epicenter of that.
I discovered esports in my second year of college thanks to a couple of random roommates I got paired with. I was apathetic at first, because I knew nothing of the game — nor that esports even existed at all — but it quickly became a fun way to hang out with my new buds. I started learning the game over winter right before Season 4, just in time for Bjergsen’s arrival to TSM, my roommates' favorite team.
Despite being a League novice, it was clear that Bjergsen was special and that his introduction to the team meant a lot. I decided he would be my favorite player. He was new, I was new, and he played for the team my roommates already liked, so it seemed fitting.
Beyond just my newfound joy in watching LoL Esports, however, I was going through the hardest period of my life. I lost multiple grandparents in quick succession, I felt more disconnected with my parents and sister than I ever had before, my best friend was in a deep depression that I couldn’t help with or even understand, and my girlfriend at the time was beginning to become extremely abusive — something I wouldn’t realize until much later.
League very quickly turned from a fun new activity to an almost necessary escape. I can’t say that it was healthy, necessarily, but I began to consume anything League and LCS related that I could on top of playing the game.
As the months trudged along, I began to more fully realize my depression, eventually culminating in near-daily thoughts of suicide. The sole distraction I found was watching and playing League with my friends. I followed Bjergsen and looked up to him as someone with a similar story, crafting a better life. I developed a real reason to consider Bjergsen my favorite player beyond his stylish gameplay. I felt connected to him through our childhood experiences and coping mechanisms. We were both skinny kids with trauma from abuse using a game to distract and escape.
Watching Bjergsen dismantle the league gave me strength when I otherwise had none. I still knew little about the game, especially at its highest level, but it was easy enough to tell Bjergsen was a cut above the rest. His play was inspiring and helped me focus a bit more on life beyond the hurt.
When it was time for Worlds the next Fall, TSM escaped groups under Bjergsen’s helm after their 2-6 run in 2013. Bjergsen had completely rejuvenated the NA LCS, and his story and success were helping to rejuvenate me.
Throughout my career, I’ve never been able to speak to him, but this summer I spoke to Jensen about his relationship with Bjergsen and Bjergsen’s place in the story of the LCS.
“I think if he never came to NA, the region as a whole would've been a lot worse… he was so far ahead of everyone else when he first started here,” Jensen told me.
Bjergsen changed the LCS, and he changed me too.
Like me, Bjergsen was also struggling with anxiety and short-temperedness at the start of his professional career, which he much later revealed in Reset: A TSM Bjergsen Story. “Honestly I just wasn’t happy back then with anything. I was really insecure and anxious every day about little things... I really struggled and the game was my only escape.”
When he left Denmark to become a pro player, his relationships with his teammates and his actions reflected that anxiety. “I was really selfish… Even when I played in a team setting, I didn’t really talk, but I wanted people to play around me… I was still really deeply insecure, but I had this massive ego. It took me a while to realize I was changing as a person, I wasn’t talking to people the way I would. In reality, they’re people just like I am.”
I wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around for a lot of college. I was irritable, selfish, and not very capable of love. I was hanging by a thread. And at the end of that thread was Bjergsen, TSM Legends, and playing the game itself.
Bjerg’s an incredible example of working through hardship, finding a way to become more whole — the perfect role model for me. That’s why his retirement is tough. I’m still on my own journey, working to become a better friend, better worker, and better leader. And though I’ve been given more than enough, I still selfishly want more years of Bjergsen as mid.
But it’s a done deal. He is no longer TSM mid, he is TSM coach. And that’s hard for me.
“Whenever you think about the future and upcoming seasons, and yourself and your play, how do you feel?” Bjergsen was asked in his now last TSM Legends appearance as mid laner.
He sat in silence for 30 seconds.
He would eventually answer how good it felt to be successful again, how rewarding it was to have built a team that could play around each other, step up when necessary, and take a step back if needed. He mentioned his role in helping build the roster along with the other roles he took on beyond just being TSM’s mid laner.
But at the end of his answer, Bjergsen stumbles for a second. “It felt good being a part of that team, but I think I can be a part of…” He looks away for a second, then back up at the camera, “Whether we have the same roster or a different roster, we build a team that can find that success again, and hopefully better.”
Before he even left Shanghai, Bjergsen already knew. And he seemed at peace with his decision. But this person he unknowingly saved has struggled to find peace with it himself. I decided to write out my story soon after hearing of his retirement, but it took two full weeks to get it on paper. The process, while therapeutic, was not smooth.
Two weeks later, peace still has not found me.
I write this for myself, and I write it for others who are struggling now with the news of his change in career paths. Because for me, memories of this TSM mid aren’t just tied to the LCS, but to life itself.
In the 2019 off-season, before what became Bjergsen’s last year as a professional mid laner, he took his fans through his hometown and discussed how he mentally reset from the stress of pro play and how he grew to appreciate things that once represented pain from his earlier life. “For a long time, I was really unhappy [in Denmark] because I was struggling with school, being bullied… Even a few years later when I came back I got that feeling… But I think I put that behind me enough to the point where I don’t think about it.”
It’s hard to grow beyond trauma. It’s hard to find or create self-confidence — especially in a place and context where it was taken from you originally. But it’s my goal and effort every day to make sure I can say the same for myself, though I’m still on my own journey.
While recounting specific childhood memories, Bjergsen shared something called the “Children’s Universe” from his hometown — a place where kids went after school before their parents finished work, essentially like a daycare. As well as its various outdoor activities, this place eventually had a computer room thanks to one of the workers there. “One guy working here, it was his idea to do the gaming room — it was just an attic before. It’s interesting to think about the effect that that one guy had on me. Who knows if I would be a pro if he didn’t do that."
When Bjergsen retired and I collapsed, forced to reconcile with myself what he meant to me and forced to reflect on my life, it’s interesting to note the effect that Bjergsen had on me, in turn. Who knows if I’d be in esports — or here at all — if he didn’t do what he did. So I give my thanks to that one man from a small town in Denmark, too.
At the end of the day, I am happy for Bjergsen. I hope he finds new success in a way that makes him feel accomplished and whole. But I’m also still sad for myself, and that’s okay. Esports saved my life, and Bjergsen is the reason I ever even started paying attention. If it weren’t for him, I definitely wouldn’t have this career or mindset today, and I might not be here at all. So I wish him all the best next year, but I will continue wrestling with his retirement as I look for new ways to focus myself in my writing and in my love for esports and League of Legends.
Thank you, Søren. Thank you, Bjergsen.
Images via: Riot Games
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