Let’s get the facts out of the way: TSM are a better team now than they were a week ago. TSM’s second win of the 2022 LCS Spring Split against Golden Guardians to close out week 5 was their most convincing yet, though when considering the only victory it can be compared to was a late game throw giftwrapped by Immortals two weeks ago, it’s easy to discount its value.
However, whether through legitimate growth or a roster swap, TSM’s improvements have been apparent, albeit relatively incremental.
Week 3: Shenyi benched
After an abysmal 0-4 start, TSM announced a roster change. Starting support Wei "Shenyi" Zi-Jie was sent down to TSM Academy to improve on his communication in English following the squad’s abandonment of a mixed language approach to comms after week 1 and TSMA support Wang "Yursan" Sheng-Yu was promoted to the LCS in his place.
Yursan, while not a native speaker of English, has played for TSMA since the start of last season and has had much more time to figure out how to communicate in-game through a partial language barrier. Still, the organization was met with criticism for the perceived abandonment of a young talent in Shenyi, who, before starting in the LCS, only had a few LPL games under his belt from last year as a substitute on FunPlus Phoenix.
TSM got their first win of the split on Yursan’s first ever day in the LCS, and while AD carry Edward “Tactical” Ra looked more comfortable with Yursan in lane than he did with Shenyi, that factor did not play a huge part in TSM’s win. Instead, Immortals, after possessing a gold advantage for nearly the entire game, made a single mistake in the late game, and that was all TSM needed to scratch out a win.
The next day, TSM nearly managed to topple Cloud9, a team most likely still reeling from the abrupt release of their head coach Nick ‘LS’ De Cesare only one day prior, but was unable to close out their lead. Even with the loss to C9, TSM’s week 3 performance showed their best on-stage form yet, but a lot of what the team was able to do right against Cloud9 was attributed more to a stressful, off-form weekend from C9 as opposed to a vastly improved TSM.
TSM came into the superweek of week 4 of the LCS Spring Split with big challenges on the horizon. Their opponents were defending LCS champion 100 Thieves, defending LCS Lock In champion Team Liquid, and legacy rival Counter Logic Gaming, who began the week tied with TSM for last place. After a slightly better week 3 with Yursan in the lineup, the superweek slate of matches was a crucial moment for TSM to attempt to turn their season around.
Instead, TSM went 0-3 and finished the superweek in sole possession of last place. TSM’s bot lane continued to show better cohesion with Yursan in the lineup, but a good portion of that was due to all the eggs being put in the Tactical basket in terms of resources.
When it came to how heavily TSM was focusing Tactical to allow him to carry, Team Liquid mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg was underwhelmed by the marksman’s utilization of his team’s resources.
"I think their biggest strength is Spica and Huni, but they've been playing Smite Top every single game and funneling every single resource into Tactical, which is why he's been looking good,” Bjergsen explained in an interview with Inven Global. “TSM is just drafting for only him to carry, and I don't think he's done amazingly with that. He's been doing okay, but they have five people bottom literally every single game.”
After TSM’s loss to 100 Thieves to start out the superweek, jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu was optimistic about the team’s improvements, specifically his bot lane. “Obviously, Yursan's only been with us for two weeks at this point, so I'm really proud of how they performed today against FBI and huhi, who are one of the best bot lanes in the league,” said Spica.
The TSM jungler attributed some of this to a lesser language barrier between Tactical and Yursan, but also praised Yursan’s openness as a player: “I feel like Yursan is a lot more vocal in-game. He always says what he wants to do and that just makes things a lot easier.”
Spica said that while the results had yet to improve on stage, he had already noticed forward motion for TSM that wasn’t present in the first two weeks of the Spring Split.
“We aren't doing super well, but you have to start small. As long as we see improvement week-to-week, I'm happy,” Spica said. “Everybody says Spring Split doesn't matter, but all I want is to just see improvement. I feel like that's the most important thing and what I felt was lacking in the first two weeks of the Spring Split. It didn't feel like we were moving forward. That's why we brought in Yursan.”
Unfortunately for TSM, Yursan was not enough to stop TSM from losing to CLG in a battle to avoid last place in the LCS. After the loss, top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon was forthright about TSM’s current form, though shared Spica’s sentiment that marginal improvements had been made.
As the environment was, we've gotten a lot better outside of the game. Inside of the game, we still need to work on a lot. The fact that we just lost against Counter Logic Gaming means that we honestly just need to accept that we are not playing well,” Huni said flatly. “We're just bad, pretty much, so there's a lot of things that we need to work on as a team.”
Week 5: Keaiduo out, Shenyi in
After the 0-3 superweek, TSM made another roster change heading into week 5 of the LCS Spring Split. It was announced that Shenyi would be returning to the LCS roster, and alongside him, TSM Academy mid laner Ji "Takeover" Cha Hyeun-min would be making his LCS debut in place of starting mid laner Zhu "Keaiduo" Xiong.
Previous stream clips and other details uncovered by the community (Spica doesn’t follow Shenyi on Twitter, for example) led to suspicions, and in some cases, outright vitriol towards Spica for sabotaging Shenyi’s chances with the team.
It is probably for this reason that TSM was very willing to share Shenyi’s actual reason for his benching in announcing his return to the LCS roster. Shenyi had apparently locked in a champion during a week 2 match against the wishes of the coaching staff, and when approached about it after the game, was disrespectful. TSM then benched Shenyi, telling him that he could come back in two weeks.
Keiaduo had started off well enough in the LCS for a player with such little experience, but his form as the weeks went on had not progressed and he was heavily exploited in TSM’s 0-3 week 4, despite a heavy investment of TSM’s other members into his improvement.
“Right now, I'm just trying to help Keaiduo,” Spica admitted in his interview with Inven Global. “He's very new, so I'm helping him a lot on in-game stuff. He's always asking questions about where he should ward and I'll always help him in terms of whether he should push his wave or other things like that.”
Spica admitted that this focus was not a role he signed up for, and that it had also affected his individual level of play, a sentiment echoed by Huni in his interview the following day:
“I feel exactly how Spica feels. I just need to find some balance in terms of how much I can help my teammates and how much I can focus solely on myself trying to do my own job. This is why it's really important for every individual to do their job in a five-man unit. If everyone is doing that, your teamplay can get much better.”
The Keaiduo focus extended beyond the veterans of the TSM roster. When asked about head coach Wong "Chawy" Xing Lei’s competitive approach, Spica had very little insight of his own experience with Chawy — mostly because he hasn’t had one: “His main goal right now is to help Keaiduo as much as possible…Chawy is pretty much coaching mid-lane like a positional coach; that's what he's mostly focused on and what we are doing right now.”
In week 5, Takeover didn’t just require less facilitation than Keiaduo, he was TSM’s best performing player. Takeover’s proactive roams and shadowing of Spica in the early game were significantly improved from Keaiduo, and while Spica’s performance in week 5 was still a mixed bag, having another solo laner with more autonomy allowed Huni to focus more on himself.
TSM’s game against Golden Guardians was particularly exemplary of this, in which Tactical was put onto an early game focused AD carry in Varus as opposed to the quintessential hypercarries of the current bot lane meta. Huni, given the opportunity to carry on Graves, did more than his part to get TSM the win.
This isn’t to place blame on Keiaduo as the sole reason for TSM’s struggles this split, but the team undeniably has looked better in the small sample size of games without him in the roster, and by extension, without him as the primary focus for Spica, Huni, and Chawy.
As one of only two 1-1 weeks so far in the split, week 5 was definitely TSM’s best week this spring. However, many of the improvements shown by the team seem to be more in the individual categories than in terms of team cohesion. TSM was much more willing to play aggressively and set up plays around the bot side than when Shenyi was last in the lineup, but the execution of these plays was a mixed bag in terms of success.
In addition, the increased proactivity of TSM came with its own downsides. Spica and Shenyi were caught out alone multiple times in the game against Golden Guardians alone, a win that could have been much cleaner with better map awareness against an aggressive GG squad.
Even in TSM’s first blood against Golden Guardians, the individual play of Tactical in response to the engage by GG support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung played a much larger part in the First Blood than an improved level of synergy between Tactical and Shenyi.
TSM certainly looked better with Takeover in the lineup, but as indicated by his own strong performance and his lack of time synergizing with the LCS team, those improvements were more as a result of his individual play than an increase in cohesion around the mid lane.
It’s hard to say what TSM will do next and which roster will be seen in week 6, but in week 5, the team showcased an improved level of individual play from multiple positions, and in a few instances, better set up in terms of team plays. To restore the organization to its former glory, this TSM squad has a long way to go, but it’s impossible to deny that they’re a few steps closer than they were a week ago.