Team SoloMid didn’t have a standout off-season. Sure, picking up a veteran support in Andy "Smoothie" Ta seemed like a step in the right direction, but it was hard to say the same about taking a chance on the relatively unknown top laner Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik. Combine that with the fact that TSM had to make a last-minute roster change by promoting their academy jungler Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham to the starting position, and they raised a lot of red flags coming into the LCS.
Fast-forward to week 4 of the 2019 Spring Split, and TSM are 4-4 in the standings, their record a seeming reflection of their mediocre off-season. Yet, numbers can be misleading. And if you look at the pieces TSM have assembled, they have everything they need to become the most explosive team in North America.
If you were to go back to the end of 2018 and announce that TSM were rebuilding into a team that thrives on aggression, most LCS fans would welcome this news with open arms. The previous iteration of TSM was notorious for its sluggish early game and reactive playstyle. Many of their games dragged past the 35-minute mark only to be decided by a single 5v5 teamfight, and while TSM were decent at this style, they could’ve been so much more if they made an effort to accelerate the pace of their games.
2019's TSM tackle the opposite problem.
They put a strong emphasis on drafting winning matchups and dominating the early game, but they’re also quick to throw their leads through head-scratching invades and disjointed skirmishes. And it's all-too-common to see them fall victim to their own aggression. It would be easy to chalk this up to bad judgment calls and individual mistakes, but there’s a bigger problem hiding underneath the misplays.
That is, there’s a clear disconnect between the old and the new members of Team SoloMid.
It’s no secret that Zven and Bjergsen adopt a very controlled approach to the game. They take calculated trades, play around conventional back timings and try their hardest to reduce the number of risks they take to a minimum. Broken Blade and Akaadian play very different League of Legends in comparison. They want to get into the driver’s seat and overwhelm their opponents from the first minutes of the game, and usually, they find a way to pull this playstyle off. Unfortunately, they never ease off the throttle, so they keep fighting even when the risk/reward ratio isn't there to justify it. Throw in Smoothie, who’s torn between these conflicting ideas, and it’s easy to see why TSM aren’t at the top of the LCS standings.
So, which playstyle is better?
Zven and Bjergsen have already been tested by time. Their measured approach to the game allowed them to reach dizzying heights in their home regions. A similar playstyle also laid the foundation of the SK Telecom T1 dynasty that dominated the League of Legends landscape for several years in a row. However, Broken Blade and Akaadian aren't in the wrong either. If Worlds 2018 is any indication, the time of risk-averse playstyles might be long in the past, so TSM need to ramp up their aggression if they want to stay ahead of the competition.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
TSM’s week 4 match against Team Liquid already gave us a sneak peek of how dominant they can look when their conflicting playstyles come together. Not only did they put TL on the back foot with heavy top lane pressure and constant jungle skirmishes, but they did a great job of pressing this lead by setting up vision in enemy territory and playing around Broken Blade’s splitpushing. They proved this approach can work, now it’s just a matter of executing it.
In the end, TSM are a work in progress. Broken Blade and Akaadian are striving to find consistency, Zven and Smoothie are getting used to playing as a unit, and Bjergsen is tailoring his playstyle towards the needs of his teammates. But these are the growing pains that every newly-formed team goes through, and if you look at the general direction of the 2019 TSM, it’s still overwhelmingly positive.