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The Deep Dive: Week 3

“I definitely think that this team, this roster, is a strict upgrade over the [2019] roster.”

Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler, during 2020 Spring preseason

A “strict upgrade”: that’s how Riot caster Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler described Team SoloMid (TSM) on Joshua “Jatt” Leesman’s podcast, JLXP, prior to the start of the 2020 Spring split. Jatt then stated that he had power-ranked TSM 3rd in the league, and that he believed “there’s a pretty good chance that this team jumps out of the gate and looks good right away.” It was a reasonable opinion, and one that was matched pretty consistently throughout the analytical community.

Two weeks into the season, those opinions have been put to the early test, and TSM are a pedestrian 2-2 to start the year. While four games are nowhere near enough to render conclusive judgments about the team’s overall potential for 2020, it’s four more games than we had during the preseason, when I (infamously?) projected them to be just the fifth-best team in the LCS. CLG have had an absolutely awful start, and Evil Geniuses have come out of the gate with a 1-3 record, including a loss to TSM, so early results seem to suggest that TSM are doing better than I expected and should be ascending the list, closer towards what people like Kobe and Jatt predicted.

But there’s far more to a team’s performance than their win/loss record, and I’m not prepared to rank them top-3 in the league quite yet! Let’s take a look at the best and worst aspects of TSM’s play so far this split.

The Upside

TSM Kobbe

While I‘m not ready to revise my overall opinion of TSM, I’m happy to celebrate Kobbe’s significant early contributions: he has been TSM’s best player in the early going.

Kobbe Stats, 2020 Spring Regular Season (weeks 1-2)

  KDA KP GXD10 DPM CS%P15
Value 9.5 84.4% 182 533 37.6%
Rank (LCS Bots) 3 2 2 5 1

I admit that I didn’t expect Kobbe to make this big of a difference for TSM, but that’s mostly because I expected TSM to fare worse in the early game, preventing Kobbe from doing his job mid/late like he has been.

To be clear, my criticisms of TSM’s 2020 roster never rested on doubts about Kobbe’s individual ability. Here’s what I wrote about Kobbe in the preseason:

Since TSM chose to import Kobbe, he’ll have to deliver a high level of play to justify those resources. No problem; I think Kobbe’s pretty good. He’s not going to put on a Deft or Uzi cosplay, but he’s a reliable contributor who worked hard in 2019 to earn himself this contract, which presumably comes with a pretty big payday. I don’t feel Kobbe is necessarily a “better” import than Zven was, for what it’s worth, but just because TSM didn’t find success with Zven doesn’t mean they won’t with Kobbe.

If anyone wants to take a shot at me for claiming that Zven and Kobbe have similar skill levels, feel free! But I have always said Kobbe is a good player, and I’m happy that he has been showing it thus far.

If TSM can keep up their early-game play and continue to funnel a league-leading 9.9 CS per minute into Kobbe so that he can continue delivering in the mid/late-game, TSM are going to be okay. (They won’t necessarily be “good” unless they fix the problems we’ll talk about in a minute, but they’ll be okay!)

TSM Bjergsen

TSM’s part-owner, Bjergsen, has also been a bright point, as always! I’ve heard some on-air criticism of Bjergsen that I don’t believe was warranted; I actually think he has been playing pretty well in the first two weeks, relative to his team’s overall performance.

Bjergsen Stats, 2020 Spring Regular Season (weeks 1-2)

  KDA GXD10 DPM CS%P15
Value 8.3 +112 470 21.8%
Rank (LCS Mids) 2 4 4 8

Bjergsen has been coming out of lane ahead, but receiving less of his team’s mid/late-game farm than any other Mid except Nisqy or Ryoma. It’s worth noting that Nisqy’s 7.9 CSPM is higher than Bjergsen’s ninth-ranked 7.3, so it’s possible to argue that Bjergsen’s low CS% is partly due to his own poor mid-game farming. To take it even further, I’d argue that Bjergsen’s poor farming is due to a combination of a champion pool that has kept him grouped up alongside Kobbe and splitting farm as a result, and TSM playing poor macro under those circumstances and proving unable to farm all three lanes effectively. Even with low farm numbers, though, Bjergsen is making good damage contributions and stepping up as a playmaker when he can.

On top of that, Bjergsen has apparently been sick lately, which can go some way towards alleviating concerns about his performance if you have them. Regardless of whether he’s been performing at or below expectations, it can only be a positive if he regains his health and starts getting better practice time in.

Early-Game

As a team, TSM deserve credit for being the second-best early-game team in the LCS so far, according to basic gold stats at least. They have the league’s second-best gold difference at 15 minutes at +1,178, and they’ve picked up First Blood in 3 of 4 games, with Dardoch involved every time. Split out by player, Broken Blade is leading the way with +425 GD10, with Dardoch at +172 GD10 and Kobbe, Bjergsen, and Biofrost all in the plus as well.

Unfortunately, looking beyond the gold numbers, TSM’s early-game story starts to fall apart a little. They’ve only taken 38% of the Rift Heralds in their games, and they’ve only taken the first dragon in 1 of 4 games, with 52% overall dragon control.

TSM Early-Game Stats, 2020 Spring Regular Season (weeks 1-2)

  GD15 FB FD HLD%
Value +1,178 75% 25% 38%
Rank (LCS) 2 T-1 T-8 T-7

It’s good to generate CS leads head-to-head, but if TSM want to consolidate those leads and position themselves better for the mid game, they need to start playing much better around the neutral objectives, which includes doing a much better job of controlling the jungle itself (TSM have the second-lowest jungle control in the league at 47.0%).

The Downside

My biggest concerns with TSM so far have come from the top side of the map, where Broken Blade and Dardoch have had some very unstable games. In their marathon defeat against Immortals, Broken Blade and Dardoch needed to be the ones creating team fight opportunities, and they failed time after time to combine their abilities in a useful way. 

Dardoch has died 15 times in 4 games and has the lowest Kill Participation on the team (64.4%), which happens to the 8th-ranked KP among all LCS Junglers. Dardoch has struggled to find a balance between being afraid to risk an engage, like he was against Immortals, and bashing his head into a fight and dying, like he did repeatedly against CLG. I prefer the latter, for the record, and there has been improvement over time. Dardoch’s late-game play against Evil Geniuses showed growth, for example, with good Gragas counterplay into Svenskeren’s Kindred, and as a whole his week 2 play was noticeably better than week 1 (which isn’t necessarily saying that much, overall).

Speaking about the team more broadly, TSM have struggled to assert control over the neutral parts of the map, with the very poor jungle control that I’ve already mentioned. This has had all kinds of side effects, contributing to Bjergsen’s low farm numbers, for example, and leading to just 25% Baron control. With better map control, TSM should have been able to convert their early gold leads into at least one more win. In fairness, though, TSM also benefited from some opponent mistakes, specifically in their win over EG, where Jiizuke made some cocky plays and EG couldn’t finish executing their split push strategy.

The Verdict

A 2-2 record isn’t a big deal at the start of the Spring split, and TSM can be happy about their 2-0 week 2, and especially their win over long-time rivals CLG in their most recent game. With that victory, TSM clawed their way back onto steadier ground, but in my opinion, it was not enough for TSM to declare themselves as a top-3 team in the LCS quite yet. The team still needs to address some big gaps in their map play, they need to start playing to more than one lane at a time, and they need to show much better synergy in their team fighting. TSM have demonstrated some strengths in their first four games, but the weaknesses they’ve displayed are fundamental, while some other teams’ issues have been more surface-level execution errors.

TSM will improve as the season plays out, and they have enough baseline skill that we should never write them off. Their upcoming schedule features games against Dignitas and Golden Guardians in week 3, then Cloud9 and FlyQuest in week 4. If TSM can look good against Dignitas and crush Golden Guardians, it will go a long way towards improving my perception of them. They have a very high ceiling, and week 3 gives them a clear chance to demonstrate it!

But for now, the profile of TSM’s strengths and weaknesses so far still leaves me concerned about their overall potential.

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