That’s the number of dragons taken by TSM at or before the 15-minute mark in their first four games of the 2022 LCS Spring Split.
Not one per game. One single dragon in all four games combined.
Now, TSM aren't the only team with this stat. Golden Guardians have also only taken one dragon. CLG and Immortals have only taken two each. Those four teams combined have three wins this season. But the "why" behind the low dragon stats for each of those teams — particularly for TSM — underlies the essential problem of their poor start to the split.
Although TSM do have one of the lowest dragon take rates at 15 minutes in the LCS (and with it, the fewest dragons taken by any team in the LCS, with four total), they do lead the league in one category: Rift Herald’s taken. TSM have taken seven Rift Heralds in four games, tied for first with Immortals. And this is no accident.
TSM and the anti-meta pattern
A trend that has emerged after two weeks of LCS play has teams picking scaling champions and team comps largely built around strong carries in bot and mid, and playing around the bot lane so they can stack dragons. As a result, teams like Dignitas (3-1), FlyQuest (3-1), and Team Liquid (3-1) have all secured six dragons at or before 15 minutes. Cloud9 (3-1) are next in line with five dragons at 15. Those four teams (together with 100 Thieves) lead the LCS rankings.
This dragon-focused trend is partially governed by the rise of Enchanters in the top lane. After the preseason changes, which largely made top laners have little impact because of their inability to teleport to wards before towers fall at 14 minutes, teams began to — ironically — play around their bot lanes even more. Since top laners could not join plays in the bot lane (other than to repel tower dives), teams decided that they would put their top laners on Enchanters.
Enchanters require very little gold to function in fights, so they can be left to their own devices while the jungler focuses his attention in the bot lane. This lets them and the bot laner get stronger for late-game fights and lets the team stack up early dragons, which forces teams to fight around subsequent dragons earlier. Those teams will be at an advantage because with effectively two supports, it will be very hard to kill the carries and win fights. Just watch back any of Cloud9’s fights in week 1 as evidence of this.
TSM, in either a misread of the meta or a conscious decision to play to their strengths, have not followed this pattern. Instead, TSM have played around their top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon in the early game, sending jungler Mingyi "Spica" Lu to put more pressure on that lane as opposed to bot. This is part of the reason that TSM has been so good at getting those early Heralds, but those Heralds haven’t paid off.
If TSM’s goal is to prioritize early Heralds at the expense of early dragons, especially given the rise in prevalence of the Enchanter top strategy, the idea would go something like this:
- Get Huni on a strong early game champion (thus far, he has played Jayce, Graves, Renekton, plus Lulu)
- Use that early game superiority to bully the weaker opponent, either diving them or pushing them off tower
- Use Herald to get plates top and the first tower gold, then use their gold advantages as the second or third dragon fights begin
Essentially, TSM will sacrifice a few early dragons for the tradeoff of getting early gold and believing they can use that to deny teams from stacking dragons by just winning fights. However, that has not happened.
Why is TSM's plan not working?
First, other teams have smartly picked self-sustaining top laners like Ornn and Gwen, who have been able to repel the pressure that Huni applies. There have also been mechanical errors and miscues by both Huni and Spica that have prevented this strategy from being executed to its fullest potential. Despite the priority placed on the top lane, Huni currently has a -370 gold differential (GD) and -853 XP differential (XPD) at 15 minutes. This is in spite of all the pressure placed around Herald by TSM.
Second, there is the issue of the bot lane. Even in some instances where TSM do put the pressure around their bot duo, Edward "Tactical" Ra and Wei "Shenyi" Zi-Jie haven’t been up to the task. For instance, when TSM tried to play around bot against Golden Guardians, their bot lane got double-killed in a 3v3 despite them already having gotten a kill and three-buffed GGS jungler Milo "Pridestalker" Wehnes. This has manifested in Tactical having the second-worst gold differential (-633) at 15 minutes.
Finally, Spica has not been having the same impact on games as he did during his MVP performance last year. On multiple occasions, he has been caught during rotations or invades (in the bot lane against Dignitas) or in poorly-executed tower dives (against FlyQuest). He and TSM have also given up opportunities to use their power to push for dragons, even when the enemy team really cannot contest.
For instance, in the game against FlyQuest, Spica smartly used Rift Herald to secure first tower bot right before the second dragon spawned. He TSM team crashed Rift into the inner bot tower and potentially could have backed off, taken the dragon, and secured their recall. But they didn’t. Instead, they ceded the control they had over that bot quadrant and gave the dragon to FlyQuest — something they couldn't afford to do, having misplayed the early game quite badly, accrued a gold deficit, and facing an Ornn/Jinx/Zoe scaling comp from FLY.
Whether this decision was made by Spica or the team out of fear of losing tempo or mistiming on the Herald drop, it was an opportunity to prevent the game from getting out of hand too quickly.
All of these factors combined have put TSM in an overall average gold hole of -1683GD@15, the biggest deficit of any team in the LCS. For a team that has given up early dragon priority, this is simply unacceptable. Worse yet, these deficits appear to be not only due to a poor read of the current meta, but also due to individual misplays and poor team decision-making.
Although it may be tempting to write off TSM’s early-season struggles as the result of poor coordination, language barrier, or lack of time playing together, the way in which this team is losing should alarm their fans. This team does not appear to have anything going for it at the moment and no single player can boast to be the shining beacon of hope to play around.
It’s unclear how TSM can be fixed or if they have the personnel to do so but it’s quite alarming to see one of the league’s flagship teams leaking so hard.
Diamond TFT Player & esports watcher.