It's a different TSM in 2021, of that there can be no doubt. With all the legacy talent on the roster, from Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh, to Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, the obelisk that was Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg is gone or at least gone from the mid lane.
The TSM of 2021 is so different, in fact, that only one player from the 2020 roster returned — jungler Mingyi "Spica" Lu. Surrounded with many teammates he's never played before with, Spica is confronted with challenges aplenty: forge a cohesive communication in the new team, get his lanes ahead, and adapt to a jungle pool that's becoming more and more open with every new patch.
In the wake of TSM's 3-0 showing in week 2 of the LCS, Inven Global sat down with Spica to discuss the revamped TSM and how and why Udyr took a stranglehold over the jungle role.
As the only returning member of the 2020 LCS roster, do you feel more responsible than your new teammates due to being the most familiar with TSM?
I think I've taken a bigger role in communication this season since a lot of the players on this roster aren't super vocal. In 2020, Bjergsen did most of the shotcalling; Doublelift would shotcall sometimes. SwordArt makes a lot of calls in the game, but he's still learning English so sometimes he can't express his ideas. Because of this, I've taken on a bigger role, and communication in the jungle role is really important. Jungle is a team role, you're not playing lanes 1v1. You have to get everyone together to stay safe. I think there's definitely added pressure, but our team is improving at a fast rate.
Are there unique challenges of bringing five first-time teammates together, especially when last summer, you essentially slotted into an otherwise complete roster for the 2020 LCS Summer Split?
Definitely. There's a lot of basic stuff, like someone's role in a fight within the team's identity or what a player's job is in the team's communications. The biggest thing is finding a playstyle.
100 Thieves has four players who have played together for like a year, so they have a really defined playstyle. They know exactly who they want to play towards, what champions everyone likes playing, and what each player's role is on the team. I think it's really easy to improve when you have an identity, but so far we are still trying to find our identity. Everyone has been trying different stuff: who is playing strong side, who is playing weak side, what champions we are playing to enable one another etc. I think that's the biggest thing regarding a brand new team, and that's pretty much been our struggle thus far.
We're not really sure of the roles we are playing within the team's identity in each game, so I think that's why we had a lot of struggles, especially in the early game. Sometimes we get kind of lost because we aren't really playing as a team and we don't know our roles within the system well.
"We are still trying to find our identity."
Do you feel like you have a keener understanding than others in regards to what Bjergsen wants as a Head Coach because of your shared competitive experience?
Yeah, I definitely understand his coaching style a lot. Bjergsen was already doing a lot of coaching last year. On our team, he was the main shotcaller in-game, and in review, he was always very vocal about how he wanted to play the game. I think the transition from Bjergsen playing to Bjergsen coaching has been really smooth, at least, for myself. I know exactly how he wants to play the game and what he thinks is the right way. I'm accustomed to his ideas, so it's been very easy for me.
Has it been easier for you to build synergy with Lost than other players because of your time together on TSM Academy?
I think Lost hasn't changed much since the last time I got to play with him. I wouldn't say he's a very vocal player, but he is always very focused on his own play. I think he's a really good teamfighter and a stable player who always does his job. I already know his playstyle, so it was a bit more comfortable initially. In the team dynamic, junglers and AD carries don't really interact much, so it's mainly just Lost and SwordArt figuring out how they want to play the game together. Overall, I'd say me playing with Lost before has helped us build synergy as a team.
What are your thoughts on the jungle meta and how it's changed in the past patch or two?
I think this meta is really similar to the Worlds 2020 meta. Champions like Nidalee, Lilia, and additions like Taliyah and Udyr — they're all still pretty strong and common. In this meta, you just have to play around your jungler really well. If you do, the game feels a lot easier. I think the nerfs to Udyr, Olaf, and Taliyah in Patch 11.3 opens up the role to a lot of other jungle champions. The role is a lot more flexible than before, so that's what we're experimenting with right now. We can get priority picks for our laners and then I can fill whatever role is needed in the team composition. We have a lot of things we can do better around jungle picks, but so far, I think we are heading in the right direction.
"The transition from Bjergsen playing to Bjergsen coaching has been really smooth."
The general consensus in the LCS is that Udyr is the best jungler in the game right now. What sets him apart from other jungle picks?
Udyr is definitely the strongest jungler right now. He is obviously very high priority; every game he is banned by the team on the red side to prevent a blue side first pick. I think the biggest reason for Udyr's success is that Udyr is a very stable pick. He is very strong in the early game, there are almost no champions who can match it. Udyr clears really fast and he has really good skirmish potential. It makes the game really easy for teams to play when you have this champion who is always faster than the enemy jungler and who will win any skirmish that he comes across in the early game. Teams are just very comfortable when playing Udyr because when you play Udyr, you know that early game is secure and you know everything that's going to happen because his pattern is very predictable. I think that's why almost every team prefers Udyr to anything else in the jungle.
We've seen gank-heavy metas and farm-heavy metas, but more than anything, this jungle meta seems to be defined by champions who can just run at the opponent. What makes champions like this so strong in the current meta?
The biggest thing is how fast they farm and how good they are at skirmishing. I think Olaf has fallen off a little bit, but like I said before, Udyr remains the strongest because he farms faster than any other jungler and he is very strong at level 4. The meta is all about your jungler finishing farming and then fighting. If you can win an early fight, you can secure an early objective on the map, which is good in a dragon-centric meta like this one. When your team gets Dragon Soul, it's pretty hard to lose. In addition, the first Rift Herald can open up a game really fast. I think that's why these champions are very high priority right now.
"We're a new team, so just have patience. We're going to do great when we find our stride."
The community seems to be divided on whether you're overrated or underrated. How would you evaluate your play throughout 2021 so far?
I think I've definitely played below my expectations so far, but it's also a new team and jungle is a team role. Junglers shine the most when their team looks comfortable playing together, so since we are still trying to figure out how we want to play, there are a lot of struggles. I've been starting to play different champions than what I usually play. On previous rosters, my teammates wanted to enable me on picks like Lilia and Nidalee, the latter of which was pretty much my signature pick. However, now there are different players, and different players have different strengths, so I have to adjust to the way my new teammates play. I'm still adjusting to it.
Thanks for the interview, Spica. Is there anything you want to say to the TSM fans?
I just wanna say...have patience, I guess. [laughs] Last split, I ended up playing Kayn in my first game, and it didn't go so well, but then, we ended up winning the 2020 LCS Summer Playoffs. We're a new team, so just have patience. We're going to do great when we find our stride.
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Esports editor and journalist of 10+ years. Lives on black tea and corgi love.