The Great White Hope
The 2016 League of Legends World Championship may not be over yet, but it already has been decided which team disappointed the most: Team SoloMid. Heading into the tournament, TSM was respected as one of the world's very best teams by fans, players, and experts alike. What could have happened to the NA giant? How could such a team not even make it out of groups?
TSM's summer NA LCS season looked clean, sharp; almost perfect. In nearly every game, they were able to overpower their counterparts in lane, swiftly start a snowball, then aggressively push advantages all the way towards victory. TSM steamrolled over the league, ending the season 17-1. Many fans believed North America's time had finally come.
The hype surrounding this year's TSM was not produced, as it had been in previous seasons, by wishful thinking and selective perception. Most experts expected TSM to be the team that would finally "close the gap", based on not only their local dominance but also scrim tales from Korea.
Even Korean teams were vocal about their fear of TSM. After the group draw, SSG head coach Woobum "Edgar" Choi made it clear he was most concerned about the faceoff against TSM: "[TSM] is strong, and they will even have the home advantage... everyone will be cheering for them."
The press was no exception, either; every reputable eSports publication had TSM pegged in the top 5 of their power rankings, most placing the team at 3rd or 4th.
Respect was unanimous.
An American Tragedy
TSM did start off on the right foot. Despite losing to RNG in their opening match, they bounced right back in the same week by crushing Samsung and Splyce in quick succession. TSM may not have been at their best, but the team's strength was still apparent, especially against SSG.
Hauntzer was doing much more than merely staying even in lane. Bjergsen was creating solo kills with regularity. Svenskeren's performances on Lee Sin were enough for many to consider him the best jungler at Worlds. It seemed as if the first week would only be the beginning for TSM.
It only took a single day for all that hope to bite the dust. For some inexplicable reason, TSM had lost all of their shine from Week 1. The team looked to be playing under a haze in all three games, and could only eke out a slim victory against Splyce by virtue of Wunder's faulty itemization.
TSM finished third in groups, failing to advance to the knockout stage.
A tiny group of enraged fans questioned whether head-to-head advantage should even be a thing, and a larger number tried to console themselves with the fact that Group D was the toughest group out of the four. The majority, however, were left reeling in shock and disbelief.
The Weakest Link
In the wake of TSM's exit, many fans questioned aloud the reasons for their fall. To the unbiased spectators, however, that question had a very clear and obvious answer: Doublelift. As cruel as it may be to single him out, shying away from the truth never did anyone any favors in the long term.
Doublelift has always been one of the biggest names in League of Legends. One of the best ADCs in the world at his peak, he inspired countless other gamers to play and even go pro in his position. Unlike what can be said of most clips back from Season 2, his highlights are still very impressive by today's standards, and continue to entrance newcomers to the scene.
Despite his more-than-stellar mechanics, Doublelift has not achieved much success over his career. Some attribute it to his past personality, but an equal if not larger case can be made for blaming his actual play. "Mysterious" deaths have plagued Doublelift for most of his career. Dozens of games were singlehandedly lost by his making the most unnecessary decisions, whether it be going off to splitpush an unwarded side of the map or positioning way too naively at the start of teamfights.
This summer was different. It looked to have finally come: the season in which Doublelift would finally stop throwing with regularity. He was maintaining his signature aggression in lane and teamfights while no longer dying needlessly. Stepping up massively in terms of decisionmaking, shotcalling, and teamwork, he led TSM to one of the most dominant NA LCS victories ever.
He had finally reached his fabled true "potential".
Or so it seemed.
From the moment he landed in San Francisco, all of Doublelift's old demons came back to haunt him. Clearing lanes without vision. Arrogantly holding onto Flash. Wandering near the frontline for no reason. The ghosts of the past were all back, in full force.
It would of course be wrong to blame Doublelift for the entirety of TSM's failings; after all, there is only so much outsiders can ascertain without access to draft and in-game comms. However, TSM's impressive rotational play during their summer season heavily suggests most of Doublelift's bizarre choices at Worlds could not have been team decisions.
Some may argue that a few random deaths here and there could hardly have caused TSM to crash and burn so dramatically. They should realize, however, how much snowballing a game relies on momentum and timing, and how much of TSM's strategies revolved around speedily closing games off of early game advantages.
It cannot be stressed enough how critical it is for the ADC to stay alive during that process.
Not all those who wander are lost
To have borne such genuine faith, only to in a day helplessly watch it crumble. To have given up so much in sincerity, only to in the end have nothing to show. To have so dreamt of seizing everything you ever wanted, only to be left facing the desolate abyss of having let it slip...
No one would want to be TSM right now. It is difficult to even imagine how much disappointment and sorrow the players must have endured, must be enduring. Yet Worlds goes on, as does the world, as will next season; what's done is done, and 2017 will be another year for the Baylife boys.
Whether the gap is closing, and will it ever, are not questions TSM's true fans should be asking.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
The old that is strong should not wither.
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