The Shareholder Mid: Bjergsen’s Underappreciated Spring
For years, Bjergsen has been the most closely watched player in the LCS, or perhaps the second-most behind Doublelift. In many seasons, he has been the best player in the league playing for the most popular team, and that carries a weight of expectation that has only slightly waned over the past two years of Team Liquid + Doublelift dominance.
With news breaking during the offseason that TSM had granted their star mid laner part ownership of the organization, another wrinkle was added to the Bjergsen burden. Would his teammates defer to him more, now that he was, to some extent, their “boss”? Would that affect his play style or his performance?
So far this spring, Bjergsen hasn’t exactly been an MVP candidate (it’s difficult to argue for favouring anyone outside of Cloud9 for that honour, perhaps aside from FlyQuest’s PowerOfEvil), but he has actually been playing quite well, in an under-the-radar way. Some negative perceptions of his play have stemmed from the more supportive role he has been playing within the current TSM roster and the systemic issues in TSM’s team play that have made it difficult for him to shine.
In week 7, TSM put together arguably their best games of the split to date, and Bjergsen was finally granted the opportunity to take a primary role and pop off on an Irelia pick that reminded everyone what he can do. But even before his Irelia game, Bjergsen was reliably doing his job, fulfilling the role assigned to him, and giving his team chances to win, granting the rest of his team more opportunities to succeed in their leading roles.
When most people think of a superstar mid laner, they think of snowballing assassins, flashy playmaking, and team-wiping 5-man Orianna ultimates. Mid lane is historically the most dynamic, exciting role on the map. But the best mid laners know how to change gears and take a back seat when it’s called for, Faker and his classic mid lane Lulu being one of the best examples. Bjergsen has always been willing to at least attempt that gear shift, and his Maokai, Ornn, and Zilean picks this spring attest to his continued flexibility in 2020.
On 2020 TSM, Bjergsen has been asked to win his lane and control the middle of the map in order to make Dardoch’s job in the jungle easier, while Dardoch mostly designs his pathing to boost Broken Blade in the top lane. Bjergsen isn’t being given the tools or the responsibility of heavily roaming, the way a player like Nisqy does. Later in the game, Bjergsen is typically tasked with farming side waves and then grouping up for pick-off plays and team fights, using his control mages like Syndra, Zilean, and Zoe.
Bjergsen hasn’t received very much direct jungle attention in the mid lane–which seems to be a common trend across teams this split, anecdotally–and his movements out of lane have been inconsistent. There are games where he joins Dardoch to make a play onto the side lane, but these have not had consistent success, especially in the first few weeks when it was common for their heavy investment of time and tempo to result in little more than CS denial. In other games, Bjergsen has hardly left the mid lane at all, except to join a setup on a dragon or Rift Herald, which results in some personal benefits by way of CS but gives his lane opponent additional opportunities to affect the map.
TSM have found much more success when they’ve given Bjergsen a simpler, more straightforward control mage role. Out of TSM’s eight wins, Bjergsen has been on a control mage in six, with Irelia and Ornn as the exceptions. In TSM’s six losses, Bjergsen has played Renekton, Taliyah, LeBlanc, and Maokai, a more diverse mix of styles, to go with a Zilean and a Zoe. This is not to say that Bjergsen isn’t capable of playing more dynamic, primary carry champions, but his team has been functioning better as a whole when they are playing “away from” him.
Measuring Bjergsen’s Performance
Represented in numbers, Bjergsen’s split doesn’t seem particularly impressive. His high KDA and strong lane outcomes are offset by mediocre farm and damage numbers. But those farm and damage stats come with a lot of context that speaks in Bjergsen’s favour.
Bjergsen Stats, LCS Spring 2020
LCS Spring 2020 regular season, weeks 1 to 7
Ranks among LCS Mids
TSM have not always done a good job of managing and distributing map-wide farm–their lane control as a team is 50.0%, ranked 6th in the LCS, and their jungle control is just 47.2%, ranked 8th, poor numbers considering their place in the standings–and Bjergsen has typically been the one giving up the farm in favour of Kobbe, whose 35.0% CS%P15 is the highest in the league at any position. This is a systemic team issue, a weakness in how they play the map, and Bjergsen’s relatively farm numbers are a symptom. If Bjergsen was more active in farming in the mid/late game, his team would likely continue to engage awkward fights without him, putting themselves at even greater risk than they typically have been. The team needs to address its map play and communication if they want to prioritize Bjergsen’s gold income more highly.
Bjergsen’s low ranks in damage output stats shouldn’t be seen as too concerning, based on TSM’s farm distribution, on their relatively low combined kills per minute (CKPM) of 0.57, and on Bjergsen’s time on champions like Zilean, Ornn, and Renekton. In fact, Kobbe’s DPM is only a few points higher at 438, tied for 7th among bot laners with at least 4 games played, and that makes Bjergsen’s contributions look relatively impressive. Add the fact that Broken Blade has the highest damage share (DMG%) of all LCS top laners, and again Bjergsen’s low rank in that stat category is much more acceptable.
The main places Bjergsen has been able to shine are in his laning and in games where he gets enough playmaking from his teammates to create openings where he can clean up kills, as he has done on Syndra and Irelia. His laning, especially, has allowed him to contribute quietly and consistently, as the right numbers can show.
Simple laning outcomes (CS, gold, and experience differences) can be useful, but they have always suffered from depending on which champions were being played, and how much jungler intervention was involved. While I don’t have access to data that can help address the jungler question, it is possible to incorporate champion matchups using high-ranked solo queue.
Based on Diamond I+ solo queue stats, we can measure the expected lane outcomes of different champion matchups. First we use a database of ranked solo queue match data to aggregate outcomes of champion matchups, separated by role and patch, and then we compare the expected CSD10s and GXD10s to Bjergsen’s actual outcomes in his LCS games. (Note that for Bjergsen’s Maokai game I used data from three patches, not only the patch he played on, in order to increase the sample size since there were only 7 games of Maokai vs. Zoe mid on patch 10.4.)
Bjergsen Laning Performance
Relative to Champion Matchups
LCS Spring 2020 regular season, weeks 1 to 7
These stats show us two things: 1) TSM has consistently drafted Bjergsen into strong lane matchups, and 2) Bjergsen has modestly outperformed his expected lane outcomes.
Bjergsen has played matchups with positive expected GXD10s in 9 of 14 games. Most notably, he played Renekton into Qiyana (expected GXD10 +1081) and Irelia into Orianna (expected GXD10 +653). In the 5 games with negative matchups, Bjergsen outperformed expectations by an average of +198 GXD10.
The only games where Bjergsen noticeably underperformed expectations have been his two times playing Zoe, where he has averaged -456 GXD10 relative to the expected outcome.
To make any broad claims about how Bjergsen’s laning performance compares to players like Nisqy, Jensen, or PowerOfEvil, I would need to replicate this analysis for the entire league, but these numbers make him look very good, especially if he stays away from Zoe for the rest of the split.
By performing well in lane and allowing himself to play a secondary role, Bjergsen has given his more volatile teammates–specifically Broken Blade and Dardoch–greater opportunity to express themselves and carry the torch for TSM.
If Dardoch played more intentionally for the mid lane instead of camping for Broken Blade, Bjergsen might be able to roam more and snowball harder, but would Broken Blade be able to play effectively as a “weak side” top laner? I don’t believe so.
If Bjergsen received more of the team’s farm instead of sacrificing it to Kobbe, he would probably carry harder, but would Kobbe be able to do as well with reduced farm as Bjergsen has? Unlikely; Kobbe has always played a farm-soaking, team-fighting style.
There’s no question that there’s room for improvement in Bjergsen’s play, but there’s far more room for TSM to improve their overall team dynamic, fundamental macro, and communication. In the meantime, Bjergsen is continuing to do the things that give his team the best chance to win, even if that means stepping out of the spotlight.