TSM is on a tear. In the past two weeks, TSM has won all four of its games games to claim sole possession of 3rd Place. A week 3 fiesta vs. OpTic was followed by a clean win over Team Liquid to give the North American champion its first loss of the split.
In week 4, TSM dismantled Counter Logic Gaming through a dominant bot lane performance from Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and Andy "Smoothie" TSM rolled right into Sunday in full stride to defeat FlyQuest, and now sits at 6-4 behind Cloud 9 (8-2) and Team Liquid (9-1).
Zven sat down with Nick Geracie to break down TSM's stomp of CLG, his team's mid game improvements, and the bizarre world of the current Bot Lane meta.
I'm here with Zven after an absolute stomp of CLG, which started right from the get-go in the Bot Lane. Can you tell us how you got such a massive advantage over Stixxay and Biofrost early on?
I've played this matchup before in practice as all four of the champions are pretty standard in this meta, but it is never this one-sided, even in scrims. This game was an outlier.
Level1 is hard for Ezreal and Galio, and Kai'Sa and Thresh have a good Level 1 and Level 2. Normally, as Ezreal, you just lose a few CS early on and then once Galio has all of his abilities, you're able to fight. But today, Stixxay got hooked and died at level 1, and that's really bad for Ezreal. Usually, you want to have your TP for your first back to buy your Sheen and Tear of the Goddess, or at least one of them. If Ezreal doesn't get at least one of those items on his first back, it's very bad for him.
Things snowballed from there: since Stixxay used flash and died at level 1, he didn't have flash against a Thresh with flash and a Taliyah mid. When Bjergsen roamed down bot, that was when things went really wrong for them. I went to base afterwards and got my B.F. Sword, which is the best early buy for Kai'Sa. Stixxay only had Sheen, and if Kai'Sa has B.F. Sword and Boots, you want to have more than that by then on Ezreal to try and match.
After that, we got the Ocean drake, and after that, it felt like CLG's bot lane couldn't really play the game anymore. Stixxay could only farm from max range with his abilities, and they kept getting ganked and there wasn't much they could do about it. They didn't have any more safe mechanisms, so the entire game ended up snowballing out of control from a bad level 1 and good hooks from Smoothie.
No one was dying anywhere except for the Bot Lane, so the mid game played out from our advantage: We took all five plates on the bot tower before destroying it. Then, we got Ocean drake, went to Top Lane, secured Rift Herald, got top tower, and then mid tower with the Eye of the Herald. After that, our gold lead at 15 minutes was astronomical. Ezreal is fine against Kai'Sa, but if you're behind, it's really bad for either marksmen.
TSM as a whole played great, but Smoothie was unreal on Thresh. What did you think of his performance today?
I think Smoothie had a good game today and played super well. AD Carries don't have always have the most agency in the lane. They can trade, but the big plays that result in kills are usually made by the Supports. Today, Smoothie hit every hook and got me kills. Once I got the kills and bought items, it was my job to carry the game from there onwards.
Smoothie played super well in laning phase and got me a bunch of kills, but also went an roamed mid to get kills as well. He helped us secure drake, and after that, I was able to take on Ezreal 1-on-1 top side and take all of the turret plates to continue getting to the point that I needed to carry teamfights.
TSM has now won three games in a row, including giving TL its first loss. What has TSM been working on to improve so drastically?
We were sloppy in the mid game for the first few weeks because we were still a new team. We had leads in a lot of our games, even in our losses, but our mid game is where we would drop the ball and not push through as well as we should have been. Even now, our early game is still better than our mid game, and that's something we need to work on. We've been focusing a lot on how to actually win a game from our individual leads so we can close games out consistently.
That's why you see OpTic's games go so long because, sorry to say, they're not a good team. With the way the game works right now, winning is not hard if you are ahead. If the game goes more than 40 minutes, it usually means that someone f****d up their lead.
We've been practicing hard on our early game and mid game, and once our mid game becomes better, we'll be in a great spot. We have a great early game right now, at least most of the time.
Last season, TSM's early game was its weak point, and now, it's your greatest strength. Is that a changed mindset in the organization, or does it have to do with your new players on the roster?
Last year, we played a lot towards mid and late game and focused on scaling. It wasn't because we didn't want to be proactive, we were playing the way we thought was good. We play the champions and style that we think is ideal for the meta, and right now, it's no different. Strong champions have good early games, so we want to use that early game to snowball. If someone makes a mistake like Stixxay did today at Level 1, then we can snowball the game even harder from that position.
Now that we finally have a good mid game, we can use that advantage around the map and win the whole game in like 25 minutes.
Games in North America have gone a lot longer than other regions in the past few weeks. Is this indicative of NA's weakness as a region, or is it a stylistic preference?
It can be both. If the compositions being played have two carries, two tanks, and a support, then the game is going to be a long game unless someone mega-ints. Europe likes to play lane kingdom champions. For example, LEC teams play Draven a lot, and no one in LCS plays it except for Golden Guardians. European teams like to play through lane more than other regions do. Even the games in Korea go a little longer than the games in Europe.
I'd say China and Europe probably play the fastest right now, whereas Korea and NA are slightly longer. NA players don't like to play for lane as much as EU players, which is fine. However, Right now, lane is really important, so NA and Korea may be a bit behind as a whole, but Korea is definitely ahead of us. NA is one of the weaker regions right now; we only have a few good teams. You can play whatever you want, as long as it works of course, but right now, I think early game and mid game are the most important parts of the game.
Speaking of playing whatever you want, we're seeing marksman, mages, and even bruisers in the bot lane after the changes to the Conquerer keystone. Is there a best way to play Bot right now?
I think a lot of champs are viable in the Bot Lane right now. Before last year's marksman nerf, people weren't really open to the idea. Once the nerf came in, people were more open-minded to non-marksman Bot Laners. Even after bringing marksmen back into the meta, people realized that mages are still good bot lane, so everyone kept playing them. I think it's good for the game and a lot more fun and spicy for people to watch.
Would you say that mages have always been good in the Bot Lane, but no one was willing to try it until they felt they had to?
I think they've probably always been good, and people just didn't know it. But once something gets nerfed, people approach new ideas with a more open mind. Also, sometimes you see a champion get a small buff, like +5 movement speed, and people will try it out because it got buffed, even though it was actually viable before as well and no one tried it.
I'm sure that if you played mages in season 7 or something, it would have been good then as well. People just didn't think about it. I'm sure Swain, Vladimir, and Cassiopeia bot lane have been good for a while, but no one tried it until traditional marksmen were nerfed even though they were probably viable in the first place.
Some teams are having trouble seiging without a dedicated marksman. Is that a team-specific issue, or a drawback of a no-marksman composition?
I think it's a mixture of both. Champions like Yasuo and Irelia in the Bot Lane are better in scrims than on stage because people don't die as often in lane on stage. Today, that wasn't the case, but normally, you don't die as much on stage as you do compared to scrims.
Scrims are very fast paced and people play much more loose, so teams are more willing to play lane kingdom in scrims and go super aggressive at all levels. Teams go on stage on the weekend and get nervous about playing aggressively all of the time. Strong winning lanes are good on stage, but less good than they are in scrims. I still think the meta points towards playing strong lanes, but I think teams are more resilient on stage against aggression. This is why you see teams just go for scaling.
What are the differences between last year's roster and TSM's roster this year?
First of all, our new players are good. Broken Blade is young, but he has a lot of talent. Akaadian is learning very quickly, and he's a good person to work with. Smoothie and I have good synergy; we have a good laning phase most of the time and I think we're getting better every day. We duo queue around ten games every single day after scrims.
Overall, our team has a very good mood. The atmosphere is great, and everyone likes each other as friends and teammates. Our current coaching staff fits better with our team than last year as well. I think Ssong struggled to convey his ideas and implement his approach into our team. I liked working with Ssong, and I think he's a good coach, but he had a hard time teaching us what he wanted us to learn. I think he works better with Korean players, and he's on Echo Fox now with Rush and Fenix, it's probably a better situation for him as well. I'm happy that he got there.
Zikz fits well with our coaching staff, and Lustboy has been with TSM for a long time. All of our additional staff, like Goldman and our analysts help make the team really good. Everyone works well together, and the staff and the players fit much better together this year.
Now that you've had some time to gel with Smoothie, how would you say your dynamic compares to you and Mithy as a Bot Lane?
I think synergy is a bit overrated at this point. If both players are good, you can work together without having much practice. There's a few things that you have to get used to, like communications and champion picks, but after the first month, synergy is no longer a problem. You know what each other want by then.
At first, there will be things to work out because the players may have their own tendencies from previous chapters of their careers, and then they won't be on the same page. Synergy is something you have to work at, but it doesn't take super long to achieve.
Have you had a chance to catch up with Mithy since he returned to Europe?
Yeah, I talk to a lot of people from EU. I talk to the AD Carries about the meta; the picks; the runes etc. I talk to Mithy, Perkz, and SoaZ sometimes as well online. I try to keep a connection with people I've played with in the past, and we're still good friends. I'm glad that they are all doing well in the LEC. I'm happy for them.
TSM will play against FlyQuest tomorrow for sole possession of 3rd place. Any thoughts heading into that match?
I think last time we played against FlyQuest, I played like ****. We got double-killed in lane in a matchup where that never should happen, and I think if I played better in that game, things would have looked very different and we wouldn't even be thinking about third place right now. We'd be much higher in the standings already, so I think if I can play well tomorrow, we should be fine.
Our team has a lot of confidence and momentum, we're on a hot streak and feeling good, so if we keep playing the way we have been playing and don't get too overconfident, I'm sure we will play well against FlyQuest. They took a tough loss against C9 today after throwing away a lead, so I think we'll look good tomorrow.
Thanks for the interview, Zven. Your in-depth insight on the game is always appreciated. Is there anything you'd like to say to the TSM faithful?
When we were 2-4, I said to trust the process. I'm sure that we're a good team, but I know we're better than this, so hang in there and trust the process. People are starting to believe us when we say we are good, so thank you for sticking with us and I'm sure that in the next couple weeks, we will show how good we really are.