TSM’s 2021 season was a disappointment for many TSM fans. Spending so much on high-caliber players and still falling short of going to any international events through 2021 was a surprise. Even if NA historically doesn’t do well internationally, TSM usually shows up one way or another. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg leaving after their 2021 season was another huge hit to the org, but sometimes, change is needed.
With a new head coach, some promising imports, and the retention of a great jungler like Mingyi "Spica" Lu, there was some hope that 2022 would give TSM a new lease on life in the LCS.
They were in sole possession of last place for most of the Spring Split until going 2-0 in week 7, with one of those wins being over Cloud9. Despite their improvements, TSM's most recent match ended in a loss to 100 Thieves and mathematical elimination from post-season contention for the first time in 19 LCS splits. Is there still hope for this TSM roster?
The Shenyi diff
Wei “Shenyi” Zi-Jie and Zhu “Keaiduo” Xiong were big question marks coming into the 2022 season. The fact that they’re talent from the LDL (China’s academy equivalent) without a huge amount of experience — none, in the case of Keaiduo — in a major region made these two wildcards. With the language barrier added on top of that, it was easy to be skeptical of how well these two players would do.
Since week 5 of the Spring Split, Keaiduo has been on TSM Academy. Shenyi also played for TSM Academy in weeks 3 and 4 after an incident on stage with him locking a champion without communicating with the team.
It’s clear that communication is a weakspot for TSM, in more ways than one. But, in TSM’s match against Cloud9, Shenyi gapped Kim “Winsome” Dong-keon. Hard.
Shenyi’s Sett performance felt like what you’d normally expect out of a support hailing from China, the most all-in, aggressive region in League of Legends. Even after losing top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon early on in the fight, Shenyi managed to salvage the fight and create a fantastic opportunity for the rest of TSM.
The Sett ult on Nautilus was perfectly set up, allowing Shenyi to zone Kai’Sa out of the fight. He may have whiffed his E, but it was because Volibear was forced to ult away. Shenyi’s ability to initiate and create chaos in C9’s backline was a large part of what won them this fight. And, most of all, Shenyi seemed comfortable with taking the fight to one of the best teams in the LCS. This looked like Shenyi playing his way and winning with confidence.
That isn't to say the rest of TSM played poorly in the win against C9. Mid laner Ji Cha “Takeover” Hyeun-min had a dominant Ryze performance, and he seems to be adjusting well to the team. Spica dominated the early game on Lee Sin. AD carry Edward “Tactical” Ra got his hands on Zeri and used her mobility for unfettered aggression. Huni had a rough early game, but made up for it later on.
But Shenyi is the one that had something to prove in his performance . He’s learning and evolving into the playmaker TSM needs to find openings and close out games.
Keep your head up
Inven Global got to ask Shenyi a few questions at a press conference, but one thing he said stood out amongst the rest. When Shenyi was asked about what may change for TSM going into Summer, he had this to say: “Recently, our scrim results are quite good. Our winrate is a strong 70%. We think we can win official matches just like our scrims, but we cannot play like in scrims. Hopefully, in Summer Split, we can play real matches like we do in scrims and win.”
Teams that have great scrim records and poor stage performances aren’t new. And, in some cases, teams perform much better on stage than they do playing remotely. There are a ton of factors involved in deciding which teams get buffed or nerfed on stage, but the big takeaway is that every team is different.
After their game against Immortals, it’s hard to argue against TSM’s newfound mental fortitude. Spica got dominated in the early game, dying twice before he even got to farm his jungle.
But, despite all that, Spica managed to find some great engagements for TSM. He by no means carried, but the fact that Spica managed to stay relevant despite being set so far behind enabled TSM to stay in the game. Knowing how to play from behind is just as valuable as being able to play from ahead, and the ability not to tilt comes with time. Time TSM has had to develop over the course of Spring.
The reality is that players get nervous. Especially for someone like Shenyi who has had to quickly adapt to living in a new country, working with new teammates, and playing in front of hundreds of thousands of live viewers. That isn’t an easy thing to adjust to. On top of all that, imagine the stress of being on one of esports oldest and most recognized organizations while freefalling into one of the worst win/loss records in the history of the LCS.
It’s impossible for every team to win. For there to be a winner, someone has to lose. That’s the unfortunate reality of competition, and a reality TSM’s players have had to face head-on. For some players on TSM, being at the top was a given. For others, this is their very first LCS split and a less than stellar introduction. Their dreams of making it to the playoffs have already been snuffed out after their loss to 100 Thieves. But Summer is an opportunity to start out with a clean slate.
With management changing and the player experience within TSM hopefully improving, there is a greater chance of seeing on stage what TSM Shenyi talked about in scrims. If TSM can carve out an identity of being an aggressive team that won’t go down without a fight, we might just see them back near the top of the LCS in the Summer Split.
All images by: TSM
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.