TSM has qualified for the 2020 League of Legends World Championship for the first time since 2017. TSM's road to winning the LCS Summer Playoffs was unexpected given that the team started its post-season by getting swept by Golden Guardians, but in winning its first LCS title since the summer of 2017, TSM qualified for Worlds 2020 as North America's #1 seed.
While NA's competitive strength relative to other major regions at Worlds 2020 has been called into question, it is undeniable that TSM improved a lot in the LCS playoffs, and their rise to Worlds-worthy form stems from three major changes the team did.
Spica breaks the mold
Early on in the LoL esports scene, long before the establishment of the league format currently found in regions worldwide, TSM enjoyed its first era of consistent domestic dominance. Its primary win condition in this era was founder and CEO — and at this time, mid laner — Andy "Reginald" Dinh's decisive aggression enabled by the supportive style of jungler Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie.
TSM struck gold in replacing Reginald with Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg at the end of 2013, but after TheOddOne retired one split later, TSM spent a half-decade signing mechanically proficient junglers and then seemingly forcing them into the mold of The General.
There were brief stints in which TSM's jungler was allowed to play to individual strengths, specifically in the eras of rosters featuring Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen or Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham, but overall, the jungler position has remained a problem for TSM even in its best domestic seasons.
This summer, TSM has let Mingyi "Spica" Lu play his game after promoting him from TSM Academy. The aggressive youngster has dictated the early game for TSM all summer long and done so on a variety of champions. When combining games from the 2020 LCS Summer Split and 2020 LCS Summer Playoffs, Spica played 13 champions and his innovation on jungle Shen was integral in TSM's losers bracket run to securing its seventh LCS title.
From meme to mastery: Doublelift's Senna
Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng has built his reputation on resource-heavy, hard-carry playstyle from the AD Carry position, but he has never been lauded for his weak side play. In the 2020 LCS Spring Split, Senna was a premiere AD Carry champion in the meta, and while The Redeemer was Doublelift's most played champion for Team Liquid that spring, his individual performances on the pick did not justify the 0-4 win rate, and the frequency in its selection became a meme in the community.
Doublelift returned to his former team TSM before the start of the 2020 LCS Summer Split, and while the roster boasted immense talent, it struggled to find an identity despite showing signs of improvement on its way to securing the fourth post-season seed with a 12-6 record.
After being swept by Golden Guardians in its first match of the LCS Summer Playoffs, TSM made a crucial adjustment in its playstyle by showing comfort in putting Doublelift and support Vincent "Biofrost" Wang on weak side duty.
Despite not playing Senna since joining TSM, Doublelift had his best games of 2020 throughout the rest of the post-season with a 6-1 record on Senna. The only champion Doublelift played more than Senna was 12 games of Ashe, another utility-focused marksman.
Doublelift's massive improvement on Senna has provided TSM a far more solid option for the bot lane on weakside, which allows the majority of the resources to go to Bjergsen and top laner Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik. If Doublelift can continue his previously established level of play into Worlds 2020, TSM will have a roster capable of carrying from all three lanes.
Bjergsen returns to top form
TSM's improvements as a team deserve recognition and praise, but no other change is more significant than the individual resurgence of Bjergsen. Bjergsen has remained a top mid laner in the LCS for the entirety of his career, but his definitive #1 mid laner/best player in the region status had faded since TSM's last international performance at Worlds 2017.
Bjergsen performed admirably in the 2020 LCS Summer Split, playing more low-econ games than ever in his career to allow the majority of resources to go to Doublelift and Broken Blade. However, once TSM started showcasing more flexibilty and putting one of its side lanes on weak side, Bjergsen showed his best form in two years. Bjergsen was a finalist for the Honda Most Valuable Player Award after the conclusion of the Summer Split, but lost to TL support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in.
Bjergsen was the top performer of any team in the 2020 LCS Summer Playoffs, and it's difficult to imagine TSM's long road to the championship, or even a post-season berth, as a possibility without his return to top form. TSM's ability to succeed internationally, and by extension, North America's ability as well, will always be called into question, but if one thing is for certain at Worlds 2020, it is that Bjergsen is once again a world-class mid laner.
The road ahead
As the #1 LCS seed, TSM was put into pool 1 with League of Legends European Championship Summer champion G2 Esports, League of Legends Champions Korea Summer champion DAMWON Gaming, and League of Legends Pro League Summer champion Top Esports. TSM was seeded into Group C in the Main Stage of Worlds 2020 with #2 LEC seed Fnatic and #3 LCK seed Gen.G. One of the four teams who will qualify for the Main Event from the Play-In will round out Group C.
Once the Play-In of the 2020 World Championship has concluded, the Group Stage of the Main Event will begin on Sunday, October 4th at 4:00 p.m. local time in Shanghai. Instead of taking place in multiple locations around China, the entire event will be held in Shanghai due to COVID-19.
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