With Bjergsen playing a utility role, TSM is experimenting with new roles for their star-studded roster.
Featured image via Riot Games.

NA LCS Analysis: TSM Explores New Strategies

Jun 16, 2017
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Featured image via Riot Games.

TSM has enjoyed great success with Hauntzer playing a tank and Bjergsen playing a control mage. Now they’re trying to break their own mold by role swapping. No, Hauntzer is not the new TSM mid laner. Instead, TSM is putting Hauntzer on carries like Kennen and Fiora, and Bjergsen on supportive champions, most notably Galio.

Why Is Galio Mid?

Reworked Galio has a lot of strengths: reliable waveclear, a knockup, an AOE taunt, a semi-global ultimate, and a magic damage shield.

Post-rework Galio is a force to be reckoned with on Summoner's Rift.
Newly reworked Galio, The Colossus. (Image via Riot Games.)

Although running Galio top is perfectly acceptable, the champion has been finding success recently in mid — you can thank his wave clear and magic damage shield for that, as it makes Galio a safe pick against most mages. With Galio in mid, you can also feasibly ult either of the side lines, whereas top lane Galio is too far away to use his ult on bot.

Part of Galio’s strength is that he can be picked early in the draft as a flex pick. “Flex” picks are great for securing counterpicks against opponents, mostly because they’re not sure what exact role that pick is going intended for. When you’re drafting a flex pick, you enjoy the benefit of non-commitment early in the draft, and opponents have to rely on guesswork, intuition, and their assessment of your previous drafts to try and figure out what the champion is going to be doing that game. For this reason, flex picks are a great way to bait out unnecessary bans from the other team. However, to gain these benefits from a flex pick, you need multiple teammates that are proficient on the that champion. For example, there’s no threat to flexing Galio if only Hauntzer can perform on the champion.

TSM Stumbles

If you’ve been following TSM, you probably know this already: Bjergsen’s Galio (0-3) and Hauntzer’s Kennen (2-2) leave a lot of room for improvement. The good news is that TSM knows this too, and that’s why they are practicing strategies outside of their traditional paradigm. The bad news is that we are probably going to see more TSM hiccuping and sputtering on their quest to perfect these new approaches to the game.

While Bjergsen’s laning with Galio is superb, it’s possible that this might have contributed to a false sense of proficiency on the champion. After the laning phase in their match against Immortals, Bjergsen was not getting max value out of his abilities: he was failing his taunts, clipping walls with his dash, and using his ultimate as an escape spell rather than to turn a teamfight. Hero’s Entrance is best used to follow up friendly crowd control or to prevent an enemy engage. Using Hero’s Entrance to stay alive isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s an inefficient way to use the spell.

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Bjerg’s repeated use of the spell as an escape can be interpreted in two different ways. First, it’s possible that TSM wasn’t doing enough to set him up to make plays on Galio. The other possibility is that Bjerg was focusing too much on lane dominance, which left him exposed to ganks and forced him to ult to safety.

Playing a CC Tank is also a different strategy than Bjergsen may be used to. In the final fight against Immortals, watch as Bjergson and Svenskeren tunnel their focus on Immortal’s frontline instead of fighting around their own carries or diving Immortal’s carries. Doublelift gets flanked and blown up by Syndra before getting an auto attack off, destroying any chance of winning this fight. Team Solo Mid’s lack of vision in their own jungle was also a huge contributor to this lost fight.

Hauntzer’s Kennen games have been fairly uninspiring, but historically, he’s proven himself to be a player that’s versatile enough to play tanks as well as carries. If Bjergsen is going to play utility mids, Hauntzer needs to return to dominance. While Bjergsen’s difficulties stem from playing an unfamiliar role on the team, Hauntzer is simply slumping.

Disregard The Current Meta

There’s a reason why the tried-and-true “tank top/mage mid” configuration works, and some of it has to do with gold distribution: Mid laners earn more gold in what is a typically uninterrupted laning phase, whereas top laners have to deal with lane swapping and teleporting around the map, both of which inhibit them from farming. A gold-starved tank can still bring utility to his team, but a poor carry will not be useful. Top lane carries can dominate the game, but they’re best situated to do so when the team funnels them farm and the jungler coddles top. This is the kind of strategy that requires full commitment from the team and vigilant map awareness.

TSM Bjergsen giving high-fives to the crowd after the team's victory over CLG.
Bjergsen after his win against CLG.

The onus is on TSM to prove that the “alternative strategies” they are pursuing are worthwhile, and I’ll only be convinced if they use these compositions to win games at the World Championships. Personally, I’d rather see TSM dictate the meta rather than being slaves to whatever the OP picks are in Korea, where Galio mid is currently 12-5. Having a prodigy in every position should be good for something, right?

With Bjergsen playing a utility role for his team, TSM is effectively playing the game on hard-mode. It’s a challenging position to put yourself in, but if it’s successful, TSM will be able to discover new strengths, hopefully without forgetting what they’re already excellent at.

Adam Thao is the head of the University of Minnesota's League of Legends club, event organizer, and scholarship recipient.An overhead view of Summoner's Rift.
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Joseph is a devoted League of Legends player who loves discussing strategy and helping players get better at the game. When he's not gaming, Joseph can be found playing electric guitar, enjoying nature, and taking photographs.
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