TSM announced via twitter Tuesday morning that Matt "Akaadian" Higginbotham would be taking over as the full-time starting LCS Jungler of the team. Akaadian has spent the 2019 LCS Summer Split in a platoon with Jonathan "Grig" Armao, but will head into Week 7 as the team's full-time starting Jungler.
TSM's Jungle position has been in flux for well over a year at this point. After promising young talent Mike "MikeYeung" Yeung was unable to be integrated into the team last season, a swap with TSM Academy brought Grig up for a start in the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split. Grig ended up being a better fit for the team, specifically with Mid Laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and retained the starting spot for the rest of the year.
Akaadian was signed by TSM in the final hours of the off-season after a forgettable season on OpTic Gaming. Akaadian was set to jungle for TSM Academy in the 2019 NA Academy League Spring Split. However, wrist problems put Grig out of commission, and Akaadian got a chance to start in LCS once again. Akaadian showed impressive growth and tenacity, and TSM's new, re-built squad made it all the way to the 2019 LCS Spring Final.
Before the start of the Summer Split, it was announced that Grig would return to the LCS. Grig's wrists had healed during the spring, but with the team's comfort and synergy from such frequent time with Akaadian on the rift, Grig shook the rust off on TSM Academy. However, heading into summer, TSM's starting roster would be a six-man squad.
In an exclusive interview with Inven Global, Akaadian told Nick Geracie about the pivotal points in TSM's process that led to him earning the starting spot full-time once again. "The team was splitting time to see if it would be useful to have two Junglers because Grig and I play different styles," Akaadian explained. "The team goes different ways with either Jungler, and TSM was experimenting with what style we would be more comfortable playing."
Akaadian and Grig have extremely different playstyles, but after Rift Rivals 2019: NA vs. EU, it became clear what worked best for TSM. "After Rift Rivals, the team thought the way I played was a better fit," Akaadian explained. "I think Grig is still a really good player, but I fit the other four players on the team better than he does. I don't think I'm way better than him individually, I just think I may be better for this team because of the various personalities and stuff."
Playing against the LEC Junglers at Rift Rivals showed Akaadian a distinct difference in how EU plays the early game. "I think the LEC Junglers play the game from lvl 1," TSM's starting Jungler said. "They start playing at minion spawn, not after killing six camps and a crab." Akaadian's more recent looks for plays in even the earliest phases of the early game has given TSM more dimension and variety, allowing the team's strong laners to become a points of threat instead of bastions of stability.
Setting its sights on a five-man starting roster going forward should be a boon to TSM's rate of growth. Roster experimentation is helpful in carving out a team's identity, but it certainly does put more strain on the players. During Rift Rivals 2019: NA vs. EU, TSM Top Laner Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik spoke to Nick Geracie about the benefits and consequences of a Jungle platoon:
"The rest of us get to play 100% of the games, and because both of our junglers don't, they have to train even harder...It makes it more difficult for the other players as well, because we all have to play differently to adapt to the difference in style."
With only six games left in the split, TSM has put its trust in Akaadian to hold down the full-time Jungle position in a more definitive context than ever before. Currently sitting at 7-5, TSM is tied for 3rd place with Counter Logic Gaming. TSM faces off against Golden Guardians and OpTic Gaming in week 7 of the 2019 LCS Summer Split.
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